Channelling Gogol: Weak Too

The release of this post into the wild indicates that the author has survived a second week of being locked-down. So far as I can tell, my tenuous grasp on sanity has not suffered to any significant degree.  Or perhaps I am locked in some sort of fugue state, hallucinating the writing of this post.  If so, I trust that my jacket is securely fastened at the back and that I am located in a room with nice soft, sound-proof walls.

In fact, for the seven days that my cold took to run through its main-sequence course, I only left the flat once for the very short walk to the dustbin: otherwise, at no stage did my feet touch the ground (for the avoidance of doubt, they did touch the floor of my flat as I have yet to master hovering – or, some would say, hoovering).   Prior to the last fortnight, I would have assumed that being trapped in the flat for a whole week with only myself (and briefly a wasp) for company would have had a seriously deleterious effect on my mental health: not so much pushing me over the edge, as firing me over it with the aid of some serious rocketry.  It would seem that my hastily cobbled-together coping mechanisms have been an unexpected triumph (or at least a disciplined strategic retreat).

I will admit that alcohol has played its role, with some very fine local beers helping to allow the evenings so pass more (subjectively) swiftly.  It also helps that for most evenings I am attending, albeit without leaving the flat, multiple gigs which provides a degree of continuity with my previous life.  I think I am also becoming better at attending virtually, nattering with friends in the Comments field (where permitted) definitely boosts the experience of being “there” together.  The music gigs I attended at the end of last week had a proper live feel of friends coming together to have a good time, despite being separated in space.

I’ve also enjoyed to a couple of storytelling gigs via Zoom which worked really well as the host can see the audience reaction and again I really feel part of a shared experience.

Since we can’t actually spend time “with” friends and family any more – though, there is some hope that one day the current period of physical isolation will end – I find we are all making more of an effort to come together in both dodgy sound and glorious technicolor [sic] through a variety of video conferencing platforms.  None of these are ideal, but they are better than both nothing and anything that has gone before and I fear that holodeck technology still lies some way in the future.  Plus, it must be noted, that holodecks do not have the best safety record: I fear that the powers of the Health and Safety Executive have become rather seriously eroded by the 24th Century.

As previously noted, a video conference can serve as a virtual pub and forum for jigsaw critique: subject, number of pieces and ‘playa’ style were all up for debate.  On Monday, some friends and I participated in our own virtual pub quiz which was a very silly and drunken success: Tuesday was something of a write-off as a result as lockdown seems to intensify the strength and impact of a hangover (that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it).  This is due to become a regular feature of Monday’s (meaning the quiz, but I strongly suspect that the foolish- and drunken-ness may be entangled at the quantum level) and in a couple of weeks I shall be Quizmaster.  I need to start channelling my inner Waley-Cohen and/or McGaughey to devise some suitably fiendish questions.  I should possibly also prepare some suggestive opening or closing remarks involving Michael Portillo, or an alternative, slightly improbable, celebrity of my own choosing.  Following my quiz-based excess, I did ‘enjoy’ my first dry day of the lockdown which I seem to have survived without major issues.  It seems I can, if absolutely necessary, function without the psychological crutch of alcohol: though I would not recommend it!

Communal music playing is still proving a challenge, though the Steam Town acoustic session has moved online with a degree of success.  I have even been encouraged (virtually bullied) to massacre a piece on the piano in each of the last two weeks.  While my pool playing does improve after a couple of pints, I don’t think we can say the same for my ability at the piano: I suspect knowing there is an audience may also adversely impact my stress levels which are already somewhat elevated by the current circumstances and my chronic insomnia.  In a fit of insanity, I have just agreed to take part in a recital on Monday with two work colleagues using a Hangouts Meet: I believe one of them is rather a good pianist, so my Easter weekend may be (certainly should be) spent in a feverish whirl of practice!

Virtually, I have been able to join in on the guitar when someone else is playing as long as my microphone is muted: this avoids the issues of latency which otherwise bedevil the dispersed band of musicians.  It also removes the embarrassment that arises when I “guess” the wrong chord from the usual folk/pop choices of I, IV or V: you’d think I’d have a one-in-three chance of being right (higher if I stick with I) but this theory does not seem to hold in the real world.  Musician friends still have hope that the right app and a direct Ethernet connection might make a proper session or gig a reality but I have my doubts and success would expose my secret incompetence.

To add to my hand-balancing in the lounge and occasional excursions into the terrifying wasteland of “the outside” for victuals, I have added skipping into my fitness regime.  I did start this before the cold but managed to break my old skipping rope in the first five minutes.  A new skipping rope has now been delivered and I have started skipping in the little garden area behind the flat.  I am not one of nature’s natural skippers and my style is decidedly pedestrian (or, to be more accurate, clumsy).  Despite my lack of style, it does raise the heart-rate while allowing me to remain suitably distant from others: if they get too close, they receive a skipping rope in the mazzard!  Yesterday, I managed 300 skips and so today my calves are taking their revenge for this maltreatment.  I think I need to re-learn how to skip as I don’t recall these issues at primary school, then again I was somewhat lighter back then…

The foolishness of friends on-line has also been regular source of filips to the old mental health: as has creating my own foolishness to share.  I would particular recommend the rather odd, daily Bring Out Your Dead updates from Here in Spirit (which also provides some very fine fiddle tunes and some liquor) for a few minutes of diversion in your day: “May the blessings of Bob, and all in this house, be upon you“.  You may need to watch them at least somewhat in sequence to follow the narrative arc…

Some days do prove more difficult than others – last night in particular the long-term lack of physical contact with others (which had just hit three weeks) became something of a challenge: I had the inexplicable desire to hug a particular friend who I have never hugged and it would definitely be weird were we ever to hug as we are neither of us natural huggers, though do both regularly find ourselves the object of the verb to hug (in its transitive guise).  However, the writing of this post seems to have boosted morale (well, it’s boosted mine, I can offer no warranty – express or implied – for its impact on yours) and there is fun stuff to look forward to later in the day.  I still find myself mildly frustrated by my lack of productivity – I am yet to become an acrobat, professional musician or even the possessor of a clean and tidy home – but I have the impression that everyone (bar a few outliers, or nutjobs as I shall call then) is in a broadly similar ocean-going vessel, so I shall try and cut myself some slack.  I should note that I am ‘the boss of me’ both literally and metaphorically, but have yet to seriously consider either furloughing myself or letting myself go: well, I have somewhat let myself go, I haven’t worn trousers for more than a fortnight but I do still dress for the day and shave regularly.  We will see whether I can still make this boast in my next post…


Life is like a sewer

To quote the immortal words of Tom Lehrer, who went on to say “what you get out of it depends on what you put into it”.  I was reminded of these words as I have been listening to the collected works of the great mathematician as I’ve been working out over the last week.  Some may consider this an odd choice of listening, and in the early days of using my own music to drown out the awful noise served up in the modern gym under the guise of music I did try to use slightly more traditional, motivational musical tracks (though never anything by Survivor).  However, over time I have drifted away from this “ideal” and used klezmer, Jake Thackeray and The Mikado (to name but three) to accompany my physical jerks.  These have all been fine, but not all music works – for some reason the standard symphonic and classical string quartet repertoire is decidedly unsuccessful.

It was lovely to return to Mr Lehrer’s oeuvre after an absence, a return initiated by the seasonal need to listen to I’m Spending Hanukkah in Santa Monica – which I feel is cruelly overlooked in Christmas playlists.  Anyway, that seems to have covered the source of the title, so perhaps I ought to add some content which might have occasioned its use.

I’m not entirely sure what I have put into this life, though it certainly includes a lot of hours – well over 400,000 by the time of writing, which seems to suggest a pretty decent attendance record, if nothing else.  I am even less sure what I want to get out of it.  I tried to think back to previous versions of me to see if my current life might have been what they (previous-me, that is) would have been hoping for – but this generated remarkably few insights.  I think past-me might be quite pleased that I only work part-time, but probably disappointed that it has taken more than 27 years to make any sort of start on number theory.  He would be astounded (and perhaps horrified) to find he had turned into a (mostly) vegetarian gymnast-wannabe.  I think past-me might also expect current-me to have more of the answers – I have spent my life assiduously collecting answers (mostly, unintentionally), but have been even more successful at collecting questions so the net position is sadly on a downward trajectory.

Part of my problem with developing a life plan is the fact that I seem to have rejected almost all the ready-made plans which our society would suggest we use.  I have shown little interest in procreation (or the supposedly fun activities that can lead to this end) and so my body is largely acting as a long-term prison for my genes (with no sign of parole), rather than as a vessel for their transmission.  Whilst I quite like people – both as a concept and often in the flesh – I have singularly failed to pick a specific person on whom to lavish some seriously concentrated “liking” (for which you should all be grateful).  I haven’t pursued vast wealth, career progression, fame or power over others – as, frankly, all of these strike me as seriously inconvenient to possess and would probably require some significant effort on my part to achieve (so very much a lose-lose scenario).  I haven’t even climbed the property ladder or its motor vehicle analogue (ramp?) – my current flat is the smallest home I have owned and my car is also the smallest and least powerful yet (and, the poor thing is barely used).  I fear I may be holding back the whole country in the “global race” in which it seems to be so important we all compete.  The best life plan current-me has been able to produce is to avoid disappointing future-me – but as I have little idea what future-me might value, this is not a particularly constructive strategy.

Against this aimless backdrop, the whole world seems to be heading for the realm of Hades in a small portable whicker vessel.  Only today I saw further proof of this fact (and you may find this hard to believe, but I assure you that it is true) when I saw something described as an “artisan kettle”.  It wasn’t clear if this was marketed at the artisan – though the price would suggest not – of if the electric kettle in question was made by kettle craftsmen (or women) in the same way they have been making them since the sixteenth century.  A chap could despair – how long until the first artisanal 4K television hits the shelves?

Despite all of the above, my flat is often filled with laughter – sadly much of it directed at me rather than with me, but you have to take what you can get when you live alone.  I seem able to have fun on a relatively modest budget – my last theatrical trip (to see Tree at the Old Vic) cost a mere £13 (+£1.50 booking fee) and allowed me to laugh at third parties for an evening (I try to avoid laughing at fire or theft, potentially inappropriate).  I can usually get enough answers right on Only Connect (even if this did require some very unexpected – and embarrassing – knowledge of the surnames of the less famous 80% of One Direction on Monday) to feel that I am not a total idiot (despite the evidence from the other 167.5 hours in the week).  As a result (perhaps), I suddenly realised whilst watching Birdman (odd, but worth a look) at the flicks last weekend that I was happy – not just at that moment, but in general.  Obviously life still has its frustrations and annoyances, but I think I may essentially be happy – so previous-mes are off the hook for the moment, I could wish they had done things differently but can’t complain too much about where their efforts (or lack thereof) have delivered me.  So, I find I am inclined to continue without any sort of life plan and just allow muddling-through coupled with the pursuit of reasonably-priced divertissement to continue and hope it carries-on delivering me to somewhere pleasing.  I think this might be quite a Buddhist and/or Jedi approach with its almost complete lack of striving – but given that neither religion made an appearance in my Religious Studies O-level (which rarely left the shallows of St Luke’s gospel), I could well be mis-representing their teachings.  Maybe, in later times, this post will be considered the foundation text of my own eponymous faith – my first analect – though given my verbosity and tendency to go off at a tangent, I do fear there will be enormous scope for schisms among my future followers: it might be important to write a post about the importance of tolerance, the evils of dogma and my love for the heretic before too long…


News reaches me today from the Antipodes that watching too much television can shorten your life (I assume they have controlled for living upside down and the additional tension created by vocal pitch rising at the end of each sentence).

At the same time, it seems likely that, in response to funding cuts, the BBC will be scaling back BBC4.  As BBC4 is the mainstay of my televisual viewing, it seems that I shall be watching a lot less television in future.

A threat is revealed and then resolved in but a single day.  My plans for practical immortality (as opposed for my rather different plans for practical immorality) are back on track – I had already aced this week’s earlier reported requirement for 15 minutes of exercise per day.  I’m now jolly glad I re-organised my bookcase last week as it seems I shall be increasingly reliant on the print medium for my kicks (and the intellectual underpinning of this blog) in future and will need the extra room.

Still, for now BBC4 is still with us and last night saw the eagerly awaited return of “Only Connect” – the sole TV quiz I’m willing to watch: both for the challenge presented by its questions and the presence of Victoria Coren in the chair.  She’s enough to make a chap go quite weak at the knees (and in the morals)…