An Augmented Verb

While I continue to doubt my credentials as a ‘writer’, I cannot deny that I have some sort of fetish for language.  Over the past weekend alone, I have found myself musing as to whether ‘rusticity’ and ‘vespine’ are words – or just word-like formulations of my own devising (as it transpires, I can lay claim to neither – despite the doubts of both WordPress and Google when it comes to ‘vespine’, Mr Collins is clear that they have existed for quite a while).

One of the many ways in which I indulge my fetish is by listening to The Verb via its podcast.  I was introduced to The Verb by its host: not directly, but via his Twitter feed (one of many introductions for which I must thank the blue bird of both happiness and truly hideous abuse).  In common with much of Radio 4 – or at least those parts I enjoy via podcast – The Verb is on holiday, but as a sop to those addicts among us is offering selected back-numbers to help us make it through the difficult, dog days of summer.

Usually, I listen to podcasts at home or on a train (or occasionally, a plane) but to celebrate what might have been the last gasp of summer (our canine friends will soon have to cede the temporal stage to another creature – the duck days of autumn?), yesterday I decided to indulge in a little al fresco consumption.  So I took my self, iPod, and a pair of headphones up to the Common to enjoy the sunshine and temperatures on the upper cusp of their teens.  After a pleasant walk around the Common, the obligatory soft ice cream (which, if I’m honest, was the primary reason for my excursion) and a little light butterfly stalking, I sat down on the grass and started a Verb from distant 2013 (before I became a regular consumer).

I rarely sit on the grass – perhaps an age- and height-related desire to avoid both the long way down and the even longer return journey – and I think I’ve been missing out.  The world looks surprisingly beautiful when observed from rather lower than my usual viewpoint – once again, being tall is revealed as massively over-rated.  Wearing my cloak of invisibility – OK, mirrored shades and a pair of headphones – I watched the (mostly) young people enjoying the Common in the sunshine.  As I people-watched, I couldn’t help feeling that I have had far too little fun with a frisbee in my life (though using one on my own would, I fear, look unutterably sad).

My tristesse was assuaged by the aural cosseting provided via my headphones.  The near-perfect line-up included Boo Hewerdine, the Listening Machine (who, with the help of the Britten Sinfonia, turn Twitter into audio gold) and David Sedaris.  Hearing Ian McMillan interviewing David Sedaris is almost too much: two such distinctive voices brought together in fascinating dialogue feels almost dangerous – like crossing the streams.

Some might imagine that these musings aspire to achieve the level of style and quality exhibited by Mr Sedaris’ work – but it wasn’t until yesterday that I had even considered making such a comparison (and then very hurriedly reversed away from it).  I feel an aspiration should at least have some vague hope of achievement, or at least offer the hope of reaching a destination in broadly the same time zone – and this would not be the case with Mr S.  In a similar vein, I recently spotted a competition to find a new comic writer – but this competition was named after P G Wodehouse.  Who would feel bold enough to enter a competition with the name of such a master attached?  When naming a competition, you need to find someone who has achieved greatness through obvious effort – rather than those blessed with an incondign mastery.

[BTW: Has anyone else noticed that WordPress seems to suffer from a diminishing vocabulary but imposes this with far greater vehemence on the unfortunate writer?  It frequently chooses to correct my writing after I’ve completed the proof-reading – which is less than helpful.]

Mr Sedaris was enthralling, with all manner of insights drawn out by Ian McMillan.  He keeps a diary in surprising detail (though still less than he finds he wants) and will keep material for years (the number seventeen was mentioned) waiting for other elements to arrive which will combine felicitously to form a ‘story’ (or ‘post’ if translated to my own life).  My poor brain can rarely retain an incident for more than a week or two – and so unless it finds a home in that time it is lost forever (or until a heavy night on the red wine which sometimes knocks old ideas loose).  This makes me realise that too many posts are rushed to press, when waiting a little (or a lot) longer would create a much improved product: less of a diary entry with mildly amusing asides and more of a proper piece of writing.  Still, I’m not convinced that I have the discipline to keep a diary or know what it should include – then again, that which goes unattempted must perforce remain impossible so perhaps I should venture in hope of some future gain.

If only this particular diary entry could properly capture the joy of people and nature watching in a sunny park whilst listening to The Verb – as close to the realm eternal as I am likely to manage in this life (or probably – subject to its existence – the next) – then I would be (temporarily) happy.

Praising podcasts

Don’t worry, I’m not planning to start a podcast any time soon – so you will be spared my dulcet tones.

Through this blog I like to give the impression that I am a renaissance man, known for his erudition and learning.  I’ll admit that this impression is rather ameliorated by my continued difficulty in effectively proof-reading my own ramblings. Yesterday, my poor pretentions at learning were brought home to me even more forcibly – two fictional characters that I had always assumed to be of the stronger sex were both revealed to be men.

These revelations were brought about by the medium of the podcast, or as the BBC seems to have renamed them downloads (an overly generic term, but one which presumably removes any risk of the product being mistaken for a commercial endorsement – other groupings of cetaceans are available).

In an attempt to reduce the sheer number of books I seem to consume each year, I have taken to downloading podcasts onto my generic MP3 player and listening to them while travelling on public transport. The podcast also comes into its own on a packed Central line train (a pleasure that was I granted yesterday evening) when there is no room to open a book (I didn’t even attempt cat swinging) and also while cooking (when you need both hands free – or at least I do).

Yesterday’s offerings were all both educational and from the BBC – though I do sample less serious examples and those from other organisations as well.  A particularly enjoyable More or Less ensured that I shall now always know the difference between the “deficit” and the “debt” with which we are all saddled during these trying times of austerity: sadly it was unable to explain how the measures our masters are enacting will help either (though there may be a very good reason for this lack).  In particular, I do wonder how punishing the Banks that we taxpayers now own is going to help us obtain a decent return on our investment as a nation: surely we should let them make money until we can sell them at a profit, then nail the blackguards.

An especially good and spirited edition of In Our Time revealed that the eponymous heroine of Voltaire’s Candide was a hero and that the book is a surprisingly short read (though usually in large print, as publishers like to make it look longer than it is) among many pearls of new wisdom.  As a result, I now feel obliged to move its reading up my “to-do” list.  The edition did also make me laugh out loud several times, which did attract a number of looks askance from fellow passengers (sorry, customers) waiting on the concourse at Liverpool Street station (I’d probably have been taken off by men in white coats if they’d known what I was listening to at the time and if those parts of the NHS catering to the mentally ill were not so chronically underfunded.  Yes, it may be keeping your taxes down – but it is leaving me free to pun again!).  Still, I’m used to pitying looks from the general public after all these years of mild eccentricity: long ago, I did wonder if I should make the effort to be more “normal”, but apathy rather ixnayed that idea and I suspect it is now much too late.

The Life Scientific interviewed the redoubtable James Lovelace – if I’m as sparky when I’m 92 I shall be more than pleased: to be honest, at only half his age I’d still be grateful to be as doubly dubious.

My finally delight was Shakespeare’s Restless World with Neil McGregor. Like Sam West, I could listen to Neil McGregor read the ‘phone book – probably even the Da Vinci Code – and still enjoy the experience for the voice alone.  However, this episode also provided background to the Union flag and the revelation that Cymbeline was a British King – and not a female sidhe as I’d previously assumed.

Talking of the Bard, on Tuesday night I saw my first of his history plays – Henry V (the French, as it transpired.  1-0 to the boy Hal in a tricky away fixture) in the English Touring/Globe Theatre production at the Cambridge Arts Theatre.  This was a particularly fine night out, and I now feel the need to cover the remaining Henrys and perhaps take in a Richard or two.  Neil McGregor’s earlier attempts to educate me also paid off, as I knew why Falstaff dies off-stage: a row with the actor who previously played the part caused him to be written out. Sometimes it feels as though surprisingly little has changed in the last 400 years – we may have whizzy new technology, but people are much the same as are their issues.

So, if you are not already doing so, I thoroughly recommend investigating the world of dolphin theatre (“pod cast” – see, I told you I’d pun again) as I suspect there is something out there for everyone.  I use something called Downcast which is mildly ironic as its use leaves me uplifted, but there are a whole host of free products available to capture these pearls for your delectation.  Go on, give it punt!