Living ridiculously

I sometimes worry that my approach to life lacks a certain seriousness – and, more recently, that I may be passing this deep inner frivolousness onto others.  This blog is clearly one vehicle for such transmission but I fear that the contagion hazard is far higher if one is directly, physically exposed to the author on a regular basis.  At the time of writing, there is no known vaccine to protect against such exposure – but I like to hope that in a laboratory (somewhere) scientists are developing weaker versions of the author that can be used to inoculate those at particularly high risk.  In the remainder of this post, I will use yesterday to illustrate the potential scale of the problem to act as a spur to funding agencies and government to take the issue seriously…

The day started seriously enough with an update on my mother’s condition: which is unclear but does not seem at all good.  I suppose this event might give some explanatory context to the rest of the day: though, I’m not aware of it having any direct bearing on my foolishness.

In the morning, I (or, more accurately, my robotic assistant) prepared the dough to make a batch of bread rolls.  These needed to be left to prove around lunch-time and I used this opportunity – and my desire to impose meaningless thematic unity on my life – to go and see an actual Rolls.  This rather fine, if impractically large, motor from the early 90s was delivering a version of the Queen to NST City as part of the build-up to their staging of The Audience which starts later this week.  This was a gloriously surreal experience as the actor playing the Queen arrived in fine style to be greeted by a class of primary school children and staff from NST waving Union Jacks accompanied by a few bemused passers-by.  The Rolls itself is was somewhat famous having had a starring role delivering other ersatz Queens on both our cinema and TV screens.  On this occasion, “Her Majesty” was accompanied not just by a chauffeur, an equerry and a footman but also by a stuffed, plush corgi: this final arrival, if I’m honest, rather upstaged its human companions.  She also came equipped with a rather modest sceptre, which I believe was sourced from Ann Summers: who, as yet, lack a Royal Warrant of Appointment – I assume the royals must be looking elsewhere for their expertise in sexual innovation…

The afternoon was spent relatively sensibly, though on bumping into a friend while enjoying the sunshine on the Common I did somehow become embroiled on a conversation on Fleming’s Left (or Right) Hand Grip Rule.  As a result, I did feel compelled to remind myself of the details: something I had last covered in the early eighties.

The early evening was spend at a Pint of Science event, among other things having my first experience of virtual reality in a fabricated Alpine landscape designed to create a safe space for cancer patients where they can improve their abilities at self-compassion.  After this, I wandered over to the Guide Dog to continue with the pint theme, but transition from science to music.  This is where matters started to spiral out of control and draw in, relatively, innocent bystanders.

The musical gathering I was attending is known as the Southampton Swing Steady Session: a reference to the swing-style of music being played.  In attempting to post about the fun on Facebook, I attempted to “check-in” to the event and in doing so entered the character stream “southampton swing”.  At this point, I did not find the desired event but did find the Southampton Swingers Association.  This, of itself, was enough to make me giggle (look, I did grow up – if at all – in the seventies) but Facebook provided further information which transmuted my titters into guffaws.  The SSA has not been the rip-roaring success that its founders might have hoped, as Facebook reported that only two people had ever checked-in.  I can’t help feeling that this is not enough for a successful night of swinging: you may throw your keys into a bowl but you will still find yourself driving home with the person you came with.  I was sorely tempted to check-in, just to give the other two members hope – but then decided that this was just too cruel…  Trying to put a more positive spin on matters, perhaps the SSA’s members are so busy swinging that they are just too sweaty, or lack the time or free hand(s), to update their social media presence with all their gene-flow high jinx.

It was not long after the swinging incident, during a break in the music, that a friend – and member of the musical throng – announced a plan to leverage his possession of an Instagram account to eschew traditional, pensionable employ in favour of becoming an influencer.  So far, so 2019 (or at least 2017) you may think.  However, his choice of the domain on which he was going to bring his influence to bear came as something of a surprise: cockles.  Far be it from me to malign the economic analysis of another, but I am far from convinced that ‘big cockle’ has the financial mussel (sorry, muscle), or marketing budget, to support an influencer in the manner to which he might wish to become accustomed.  Cockles themselves certainly have no head for business: or indeed for anything else.

His choice has the advantage that competition on Instagram will be limited (though more than 10,000 posts do somewhat give the lie to my theory): so the mantle of the world’s premier cockle influence is very much his oyster!  However, as a regular visitor to Dublin, I am all too aware that reliance on big cockle (even with additional support from big mussel) for your income does not always end happily: just ask poor Molly Malone.  She may have been immortalised in busty bronze (known to the locals as ‘The Tart with the Cart’) but neither her embrace of the seafood business nor her sweetness were enough to save her from an untimely death.

On the plus side, our proto-influencer did recognise that not everyone is ready to accept cockles into their lives (and more importantly mouths and digestive tracts) for reasons of health, religion or morality and so was also willing to act as a mouthpiece for the cockle’s more vegetative counterpart/stunt double: the chickpea.  However, I fear that the chickpea already possesses a range of cheerleaders celebrating its many merits across social media and the message about its use as a cockle-substitute may be lost.  Perhaps if each chickpea were given a pair of artificial ‘shells’ – ribbed (and possibly branded) for your viewing pleasure – it would allow it to stand out from the hordes of naked chickpeas not being touted as a cockle-ternative?  (BTW: I am claiming the intellectual property rights on the neologism cockle-ternative:  I suspect it may have applications beyond seafood.)

The evening’s final foolishness was the elaboration of a marketing plan for (N)YTMG originally developed on Saturday thanks to the ministrations of the Steam Town and Red Cat breweries (though remembered by only one of its parents, viz me).  In addition to the red rotating light, tea tray and guerrilla film crew (or at least camera operator) originally envisaged, this project now also requires a substantial cast of extras and at least one (preferably two) brass bands.  If we manage to pull this ambitious – and completely ridiculous – project off, I have hopes that it could go pandemically viral and eclipse any level of influence big cockle could hope for in its most fevered of dreams.  I like to think it could put Southampton and its music scene on the map (or at least a map and/or watch-list).

I think we can now all agree that the concerns expressed in the opening paragraph are totally overblown and it is entirely safe to associate with the author: both through this blog and in person…

The King and I

Writers are often asked where their ideas come from.  Oddly, I have yet to be asked this particular question: I am forced to assume that my public persona is too forbidding and people are afraid to approach me to raise such an inquiry.

Extrapolating from my huge sample size of one (viz me), still more evidence than will be supporting most of the claims we’ll hear between now and early June, I would imagine that writers find this question almost impossible to answer.  I have no idea where my inspiration comes from or fails to come from (as the case may be).  In general, it comes from doing stuff and being out in the world, rather than staring into space in my tiny garret – but beyond that the affairs of the muse are subtle and thrillingly mysterious.

Last night I enjoyed a very entertaining evening of storytelling at the Art House.  This was far from my first experience of storytelling.  Many years ago, an unfortunate Argentine, who had the misfortune to look to me as his line manager, claimed I was unable to say anything without turning into a narrative: he probably had a point.  Back in the mists of time (ok the mid-nineties), I was an habitué of the Cumberland Arms in Byker to enjoy the regular storytelling evenings run by A Bit Craic.  On a couple of occasions, I even summoned up sufficient pluck to tell a story myself.

As well as the traditional elements of such an evening, the two storytellers last night (Jason Buck and Mike Rogers) filled in the space before the performance and during the intermission by playing a game of chess: well, after a fashion.  As I arrived, there were hints of Det sjunde inseglet, though it quickly became apparent that there would be more laughs on offer than are traditionally associated with the work of Ingmar Bergman (I can’t speak to his private life, which may have been a complete laugh riot).  

I think they started with a plan to play chess to the rules of Monopoly, but this quickly morphed under the influence of the audience.  Elements of Mornington Crescent, Connect Four and Play Your Cards Right soon arrived and then my surprisingly extensive knowledge of the back catalogue of the band Queen came to the fore: gained not through direct experience, but spending a lot of time in the podcast company of John Robins (and Elis James, Prods D and V).

It was at some point during this interplay between the audience, the storytellers, a chess board, the streets and stations of London et al that we we found ourselves led to Kennington Oval. From nowhere, my subconscious decided that I should sing this (out loud to the assembled minitude – like a multitude, only smaller) to the tune of Getting to Know You:

🎶 Kennington Oval

🎶 Kennington Ov-all about you etc.

[I’m afraid you’ll have to imagine me singing this with the look of a frock-begirt Deborah Kerr but the angelic voice of Marni Nixon.  Quite a stretch I fear, but at least I have discovered how to insert notes into a post: so that’s a major step forward for GofaDM!]

This is a terribly insidious earworm which I have now infected you with as well.  A trouble shared is a trouble doubled!  I fear none of you will be able to use the southern reaches of the Northern Line or the home of Surrey county cricket (the club with the fringe on top) without bringing to mind a little of Richard Rodgers work in the King and I.  Luckily for us, and unhappily for the estate of the late RR, there is no PRS to pay as long as the tune stays inside safely your head.


All together now: “Kennington Oval…”



Inheriting the family business

Something which I might be considered to have done, insofar as I have spent much of my soi disant career working in the industry that brought my parents together.  Consider it some sort of pay back, if you will.

However, rather than myself, it was the forthcoming Jubilee weekend which caused me to think about inherited position.  Despite being 60 years in the making, it does seem to have come as rather a surprise – neither I, nor most of those I have spoken to this week, seemed aware that next Tuesday was a “bonus” bank holiday.  As a result, my planned trip to the National Theatre on Tuesday evening may involve proximity to both rather more people and a higher risk of encountering Railtrack at their worst than anticipated.

The Queen has now been on the throne for 60 years – you’d think someone would have introduced her to the prune or senna pod by now – and is surely due for parole or time off for good behaviour.  I suppose the promotion in the field of monarchy is still very much a matter of dead men’s shoes.  Why anyone puts up with being royal has always baffled me: I’m sure the role breaches the European Convention on Human Rights and heaps of money (or the Civil List as I believe it’s more officially known) only compensates for so much.  A gilded cage is still a cage.  However, people do still seem willing to sign themselves and their gluteally-favoured siblings up for the whole shebang.

I feel I should be doing more to infuse my life with the spirit of the occasion: either covering everything in bunting and flags or becoming consumed by republican ire – however, I am merely covered in, or consumed by, apathy.  I would appear to be far from alone in my languor in this corner of East Anglia: there is a serious lack of bunting to be seen (with one honourable exception, a house which has more bunting et al than every other I’ve seen put together).

The problem with handing control of the family business down to the eldest son (or daughter) is that one is  at the mercy of a random blending of inherited genes coupled with a sprinkling of mutations.  This fact must have been brought home quite forcibly to Rupert Murdoch of late, with his male heir proving to have a far from fully functional hypocampus and/or amygdala.  Actually, given the amnesia that has also afflicted Murdoch père the trait seems positive Lamarckian; thinking more broadly, the very widespread of symptoms consistent with exposure to the water of the river Lethe afflicting those who came into contact with New International suggests some sort of airborne pathogen might be to blame.  If you value your marbles, I suggest steering clear of Wapping…

I was also reminded of the dangers of primogeniture when viewing last week’s offering from Lovefilm: Thor.  This provided a certain degree of entertainment, but Odin was left with two rather unsuitable children to carry on the Asgard corporation.  Luckily, barely twenty-four hours as a mortal and some associated affection from Natalie Portman was enough to set one son back on the straight and narrow (obviously, her earlier failure with the young Darth Vader has led Ms Portman to up her game significantly).  Sadly, she was quite unable (in the time available) to do anything about his atrocious accent – I’m not quite sure what Chris Hemsworth was aiming for, but it did not sit well in the context of Northern European mythology or with the accents of his parents and brother.

For the mythology connoisseur, there were some indications that the writers had carried out a little basic research, however, there were a number of disappointments.  For a start, the horses of Asgard were very deficient in the leg department: Odin’s steed, Sleipnir, is famed for his eight-legs but only 50% of these were provided to the cinema-goer (presumably the feat of co-ordination of so many limbs at a gallop was beyond the skill of the CGI artists).  In a piece of admirably colour-blind casting, Idris Elba (perhaps best known from The Wire) played Heimdallr: who has many talents (apparently he had nine mothers – which must make for a tense and expensive Mothering Sunday in Himinbjörg) but is described as the whitest of the gods.  It was also disappointing to see the rather limited use made of Yggdrasil, the world tree: it’s all very well equating it to a collection of wormholes but this misses out on Ratatoskr, the squirrel that carries insults from the dragon that lives at the base of the tree to the eagle that lives at its top (and vice versa).  Who cannot help but love a mythology which includes an insult carrying squirrel!  The monotheistic religions may all be well and good, but where are the bad-mouthing rodents?  I am seriously tempted to become Viking by religion: the stories you are expected to believe in are so much more fun and I reckon it would be able to see off even the most determined atheist (Dawkins doesn’t know he easy he has it, plying his “trade” in the 21st century).

But, my biggest gripe, and the one which made me wince whenever it occurred, was the word chosen to describe the inhabitants of Asgard, viz Asgardians: a truly horrible word.  As Snorri Sturluson could have told them way back in the 13th century, the inhabitants of Asgard are the Æsir.  I expected better of Kenny Branagh but perhaps he was over-ruled by his North American paymasters, fearing audience incomprehension in their home market.

Game old bird!

Listening to 6Music, I just heard “Queen gets 3rd in Derby” as a news headline.  Not bad for a woman in her eighties!  Particularly impressive when you consider the rest of the competitors were on horseback.

Or perhaps she was taking part in a look-a-like competition in the East Midlands?  If so, I wonder who she came as?  Disappointing result if she came as herself…

Later in the same bulletin, I heard someone being interviewed say that there were anti-aircraft batteries in the theatre.  Sadly, I didn’t catch which theatre (I should probably be paying more attention) – I hope it’s not the Globe as they will distract from the performance and certainly don’t fit with the Elizabethan vibe for which the Globe seems to be aiming (though I suppose they could be fired without damaging the roof).  I do wonder if I should have allowed that last sentence (prior to its parenthetic extension) to end with “for”, but old habits die hard and at least, with the construction I chose, Fowler will have been appeased.

The one with the flake in it

Despite the powers-that-be at Channel 4 ensuring for the last decade (and more) that at any time you can be guaranteed that one of its myriad channels will be showing an episode of Friends (it’s analogous to never being more than 8 feet from a rat), I am strangely (perhaps, inappropriately) proud never to have seen one in its entirety.  It hasn’t been easy, let me tell you, but despite my total abstinence some knowledge of the sitcom has wormed its way into my brain – and the title of this post could easily have belonged to an episode from that much repeated series.

But I digress, the allusion is obviously to ice cream as this post is number 99 (and if mere mention of a flake causes you to imagine the author lying languid and naked in an over-flowing bath, then you should probably see a trained psychiatric professional).  It was either ice cream, or a reference to Maxwell Smart’s significantly more competent partner – and even I’m not old enough to remember her, so I eighty-sixed that idea (there will be a prize for understanding that gag).  This post represents a nervous number for a batsman given our decimal counting system: can this blog make it to its first century?  Or will it find itself the electronic equivalent of lbw?  Of course, had cricket been played in ancient Babylon a score of 100 would be meaningless – batsman would be aiming for 60 runs as the key milestone of an innings and 59 would be the time for nerves.  But advanced as the peoples of ancient Mesopotamia were, they never developed cricket – probably as well, not sure their maths could have handled the Duckworth-Lewis method.

I wonder if I will receive some sort of telegram from the Queen of WordPress when I reach 100 posts?  Is WordPress even a constitutional monarchy?

As you can read, excitement is mounting here in Fish Towers but I am starting to feel some pressure to pull something special “out of the bag” for post 100.  Get your suggestions in now if you want to be a part of blog history!  You should be thinking Henry V and St Crispin’s Day here – you’d hate to think yourselves accursed and counting your manhoods cheap (heaven forfend) when this blog breaks into 3 figures!