Traditions

For those of a certain vintage, tradition becomes increasingly important – if only as a bulwark against the ever-increasing rate of change.  I also find that I start to develop a growing number of traditions of my own – and the last couple of days has scored quite highly in the I-Spy Book of Fish Traditions (a book with a rather limited potential market I’ll admit – but that’s the joy of e-publishing, or so I’m told).

On Thursday I made my annual August pilgrimage to Edinburgh and, as is my wont, spent most of the journey stuffing my face with the nourishing largesse provide by East Coast to its first class passengers.  Unusually, my journey was routed via Kings Cross – as this offered the cheapest Advance fare at the time of booking (I may be first class, but I am still cheap and do manage to consume most of my fare in free food and drink, further boosting its value for money credentials) – so I was able to check out the newly revamped station.  This is a significant improvement on the old rather tatty concourse, and has even gained a platform – though those travelling with an owl will be disappointed to learn that it is numbered 0 (zero) rather than 9.75.  As part of the revamp, there has been a major boost to increase standards of customer care, evidenced by the announcements advising us to take care as we wandered around the terminal because of the “inclement weather”; this on one of this year’s all-too-rare warm, dry and sunny mornings.  If only other sections of our rail network aspired to – and better still delivered – such high standards.

Auld Reekie was bathed in glorious sunshine and in my first 24 hours in the city I managed to cover pretty much all of the traditional activities I have accreted over the last few years.

  • Seriously good classical music: Tick.  The Arcangelo consort and Iestyn Davies doing the honours at Greyfriars Kirk (no relation to James T, so far as I know).
  • Quirky comedy: double Tick.  Both Matthew Crosby and Stuart Goldsmith were huge fun.  I’m always puzzled where Mr G is not better known: I caught him as part of a triple bill of folk trying out their Edinburgh acts in Cambridge a few years ago (3 for £5) and discovered he was brilliant.  Yet another example of why it is important to try things you don;t yet know you like.  Push that envelope!  Lick that stamp!
  • Serious cake: Tick.  The Falko konditorei in Bruntsfield does provide some serious cake (or more accurately torte) action for the true connoisseur – and the hike across the Meadows from the Pleasance does significantly ameliorate any feelings of guilt that might otherwise be involved.
  • Bonsai: Tick.  On my first ever visit to the Fringe, I needed to find a decent eatery near the Pleasance – and the miracle of the interweb brought me to Bonsai.  This could be the best bit of browsing I’ve ever done as it is now my regular haunt whenever I’m in Edinburgh.  Japanese food is genuinely fast and sustaining, and so I can grab a quick “course” between gigs.  I have been known to visit five times in a single day – so often have I been, that the staff recognise me even though I’m only a customer for a single week each year.

The second 24 hours was pretty good too.  I can add Michael Legge and Lloyd Langford to my comedy recommendations – though I’d see the former sooner rather than later, as I’m not sure his heart will hold out much longer.  My plan to try and do a little bit less is working nicely – though doesn’t seem to be generating much in the way of earlier nights yet.  Yesterday, it meant that I escaped from the rather limited (for which read, non-existent) cask ale offerings at the Fringe venues to visit the Regency splendour of the Cafe Royal.  Not a cafe, but a very fine pub which provided your truly with a brace of pints of Deuchars IPA at a significantly lower price than the nitro-kegged horrors on offer at the Assembly Rooms (though still at a price level that shocks those who fondly remember Joey Holt’s at 99p/pint in the Bluebell in Moston).  My visit also scored me another minor celebrity spotting to add to my list: the long-haired TV archeologist Neil Oliver.

Yesterday also yielded another traditional (and for the reader, tedious) trope with news reaching me of the official opinion on my latest OU essay.  It once again yielded 95 of your English marks (somehow I can never quite make it to 96): given the amount of blowing this particular trumpet is receiving at my hands, my embrasure must be coming along nicely.

Today I shall be breaking new ground, with my first visit to the theatre in Scotland – but first, back to tradition: the full Scottish breakfast.  So for the next hour or so, black pudding, bacon and sausages will be deemed to be vegetables (mostly).

Creeps in this petty pace

Procrastination is, as is widely known, the thief of time.  Somehow, despite this fact, it remains at large to commit new and blatant acts of temporal larceny: I must admit I am beginning to suspect some degree of corruption at the heart of the authorities charged with its apprehension, I suspect they have been bribed with stolen hours.

The word comes to us from Latin – suggesting the thief has been operating for millenia – and their word for tomorrow.  However, it comes to my mind as a result of the many delays to work commencing on my latest essay for the Open University.  This, which is to cover ideas about the transmission of medical knowledge from the Islamic world to Europe, was supposed to have appeared in its dreadful first draft form the weekend before last, but did not.  I would claim that this was not the result of procrastination but because the day job consumed much of my time and mental resource.  Under interrogation, I would also have to admit that the Cambridge Comedy and Summer Musical Festivals (and my attendance thereat) were also involved.  I somehow allowed that week to slip through my fingers in broadly the same way, but by the Friday night I was all out of excuses and planned to set to work.  Somehow nothing happened once more.  Why you ask?  Let’s just say Danny Boyle has a lot to answer for! (I toyed with “for which to answer”, but that seemed a little stilted, even for GofaDM).

From previous posts, you may have detected my slight lack of enthusiasm for all things Olympic – but I felt some sort of duty to at least glance at the Opening Ceremony as it had garnered so much coverage in the media (so much, that even I had been unable to avoid it).  OMG! As I believe the young people say, which I believe celebrated the British synth-pop band Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Gloaming (who later, of course, found fame as OMD).  What an incredible piece of theatre – though one can only wonder what the rest of the world might have made if it, as it was really rather British (perhaps there were handouts for foreign broadcasters).  I was hooked – and my essay remained unwritten – until well after my normal bedtime.  I even stuck around to watch quite a lot of the athletes parading round the stadium – how nice to see so many people smiling – and was particularly impressed by the Czechs in their very natty wellies and matching brollies, they at least had noticed the rather moist weather we’ve been enjoying (and which does seem to have returned).  Apparently, the ceremony cost £27 million and peaked at 27 million viewers in the UK – and I, for one, do not begrudge them my pound.  One of the best quid I’ve ever spent!

Last Sunday, tomorrow (and tomorrow and tomorrow) finally arrived and my excuses were at an  end, so I was forced to knuckle-down and generate a first draft of the essay (you see, it was pro-crastination, not am-crastination).  For some reason, this has proved by far the most difficult essay to draft: it took all day to place my ideas and arguments into some sort of vaguely logical and coherent order.  Once the back was broken, this Friday I managed to hack it into better shape and rein in my verbosity comply with the word limit, though, as usual, consuming almost all of the permitted +10%.  Oh yes, when writing essays I quite literally give it 110%!  Yesterday, it was finally submitted and a great weight was lifted – some of it is even quite well written (I think, or at least hope), though it is somewhat turgid elsewhere I fear.

By yesterday afternoon I was feeling quite good about myself and then WordPress notified me of a new post from James Devine, the man who I now think of as my nemesis.  While I was pfaffing around and writing one essay, he managed to build a muon detector.  I am going to have to up my game quite substantially if I’m planning to compete.

Perhaps appropriately for a post about procrastination, this entry in the GofaDM canon was mostly drafted a week ago.   I seem to have been temporizing to an extraordinary degree since then – though I might blame the need to write for both work and the OU for having exhausted my writing muscles.  Still, pleasing to have the link back to Macbeth (the last time I studied the Arts) and particularly appropriate as this same soliloquy brings us the wonderful words “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing”: which could stand as the mission statement for GofaDM.

Play Away!

Before I start on the meat, or perhaps I ought to say the tofu (as a, mainly, vegetarian), of this post I thought I should provide some content for those readers that view this blog as a soap opera.  Admittedly, it is rather shorter on sex and violence than the more popular soaps of today (and I have no plans to change this position) and does tend to focus on only one character – and as it is based on the truth, perhaps it is closer to the genre of reality programming – but on the plus side, it is free!

After some major re-writes on Friday, and some more tweaking yesterday, I have finally submitted my latest assignment (TMA03) to the OU for judgement.  I can’t say that either essay makes for a particularly gripping read (a fact with which subscribers to this blog will be all too familiar) but I think I have answered the questions in the appropriately dry academic style required.  TMA04 should be m0re fun: for a start I have 1200 words to play with, and I am able to choose the topic (from a list of two) – so goodbye Augustus Welby Pugin and hello dissent in the string quartets of Dmitri Shostakovich (an artist whose work I very much admire).  The bad news is that I have to prepare an Essay Plan: anathema to we creatives who prefer the stream-of-consciousness approach.  I bet James Joyce didn’t have to prepare an essay plan for Ulysses (though, equally, he may not have acquired any sort of qualification from the OU).  Oh well…

My chores over with, I headed into town for my singing lesson.  It is a source of both joy and astonishment to me that I am now singing (however poorly) half of the song cycle An die ferne Geliebte by some cove called Beethoven.  It is a glorious experience and I am a very lucky chap to be enjoying it.  I do need to work on my facial expression though: I would seem to have almost no proprioception in this respect, and so have no idea what my face is doing while I sing.  I wonder if I ought to take some acting lessons, or just start spending more than the absolute minimum time in front of a mirror?  (The latter would certainly be cheaper, though probably less fun.)

Being too lazy to cycle home and then back into Cambridge later, I took my dinner in town.  As a result, I can thoroughly recommend the Oak Bistro – a slightly curious location for fine dining (though offering excellent views of one of Cambridge’s busiest road junctions) but offering excellent food and service.

However, it is time to put out more flags as I have finally reached the entry to this post’s much delayed theme.  My final activity for the day was to attend a Camerata Musica concert at the delightfully intimate (if rather too pink for my taste) theatre at Peterhouse.  This offered Arcangelo, conducted from the keyboard by Jonathan Cohen.  Now, I seem to recall that it was one Jonathan Cohen who used to act as the musical director for Play Away! – also from the keyboard.  I must say that he has aged very well, he looks younger now than he did in the seventies.  Or perhaps the title is an hereditary one, and has been handed down through the generations to reach the current incumbent.  Brian Cant was not on hand to sing, but was ably replaced (and comprehensively out-scored on the Scrabble board) by the American counter-tenor, Lawrence Zazzo.  He was also wearing a particularly fine pair of shoes (not something one sees very often on stage – or indeed, off it): I was tempted to ask at the stage door where he had obtained them, but felt this might mark me out as slightly odd.

The concert was stunning – and only the second time I’d seen a counter-tenor in action (the first had been in the Handel opera Agrippina where the head of the Roman navy was so portrayed to my significant surprise when he first opened his mouth).  As a bass, I do find the counter-tenor a truly miraculous thing – and somehow even more extraordinary now that I know a little about singing.  Among many highlights were the cantata La Gelosia by Nicola Porpora and a Lute concerto by Vivaldi (nice to hear the coolest of the Medieval stringed instruments – at least according to Hal from Being Human, and as a character he is old enough to remember the Medieval period) moving centre-stage.

Yesterday was truly a day to count my blessings: not only the joys described above, but I managed to spend significant chunks of the afternoon and evening outside without encountering more than the a couple of spots of precipitation, which might even count as a fully-fledged miracle.