It’s not King Lear…

I am fully aware that I have a rather pedestrian intellect and have access to no great wellsprings of creativity that lie within but, I think in common with everyone else, do like to have some creative outlets in my life. This has become even more important over the last pandemic-ridden months while proving simultaneously harder to accomplish thanks to the depletion of various forms of get-up-and-go and, indeed, focus. Despite the time on my hands, I have (disappointingly) not become a concert pianist and, if anything, my level of practice has probably declined rather than improved.

I haven’t exactly swamped GofaDM with new content either. However, on the positive side of the slate, in most weeks I have prepared, or at least continued, a new adventure in Generic Fantasy Landia which does require a degree of planning, plotting, improvisation and the creation of artwork of varying quality and styles. Last weekend, I did find myself attempting to sketch my own torso as the model for a statue and, to be honest, I had not turned turned the heating sufficiently high enough to make this entirely comfortable. Still, I like to think the result was recognisably a torso, though not really mine, though it did (intentionally) have two necks and no nipples. Later, during our time in GFL, I did find I was striking myself repeatedly over the head with a very sharp 8.25″ cook’s knife protected only by my Akubra Stockman’s hat. This was not a cry for help, or a slightly odd failed suicide, but was rather a practical demonstration of the quality of my decision making as Dungeon Master. With hindsight, I was placing a lot of (entirely justified, as it transpired) faith in the protective quality of my millinery. Both I and my hat were entirely unharmed by this practical demonstration and if Akubra wish to add its protective qualities to their advertising, I do have a GIF which they can use for a very modest fee…

I have now massively over-written six quizzes for a weekly Quiz Pub that a bunch of friends and I have been holding since the first lockdown. We have just passed quiz number 42, which I think shows a degree of commitment to a project, and an increasing number of memes have been spawned over the months. My ability with PowerPoint has also improved significantly, which may prove to be a marketable skill at some future stage in my career…

Finally, in the annals of “hasn’t he achieved a lot”, I put together a menu for a remote, Zoom-based dinner party each month with Quaranstein 10 coming up in 10 days time. Given the timing, it will have a Scottish theme…

Despite the suggestions at the start of the first lockdown, I have not written the modern King Lear – though I am far from alone in this particular failure. However, between Christmas and New Year, when I had limited paid work and, thanks to insomnia, a lot of waking hours on my hands, I penned a play! I may not be the modern Shakespeare but am, perhaps, an Ernie Wise de nos jours: my legs are not especially short or fat but they are at least decently hairy.

One of the (many) things that I have missed at the turning of the year was being able to see one (or even a few) Mummers Plays and so I decided that I would write my own. I felt this would represent tangible progress towards my intent to write my own pantomime, which has otherwise seen no movement in nearly three decades now. I felt a Mummers Play had some of the panto vibe but with the benefit of being considerably shorter and without the need for musical numbers or celebrity casting. The Mummers Play what I wrote is rooted in the tradition but does take a few liberties and is rather more overtly topical and satirical than I think is usual.

This Monday it was my turn to set the quiz, and in place of the usual Music Round (where I sight-read an unfamiliar piece of well-known music and play it on an unfamiliar or poorly practiced instrument to a combination of hilarity and horror), I decided we would hold a performance of “the play”. Everyone was forewarned of this alarming development and volunteers sought to play some of the dramatis personae. Well, as 9pm on Plough Monday arrived an unexpectedly (worryingly) large audience had assembled in the mighty Zoom Theatre and it was time for the, entirely unrehearsed (one doesn’t want to lose any of the immediacy of live performance) world premiere of my play.

The performance both went and was received far better than I could have imagined in my wildest dreams. The cast of strolling players were excellent, all entering into the spirit of the thing and many providing their own props and costume and even providing suitable voices. As the writer, I played three (mostly) small roles and more-or-less managed the required costume changes, though rather more slowly than would have been ideal, and I do need to work on a south Manchester accent. Even the audience had a role, as my version of a Mummers Play includes a Greek Chorus (and obeyed at least two of the three unities) and so they had a chance to join (another nod to panto). Between us, and despite a minor degree of chaos at my end, we brought my words to ridiculous, uproarious, joyous life.

So far as I can remember, this is the first time that anything I’ve written has been performed on even a virtual stage: at most, I’ve read out a short eulogy or speech I’ve prepared in advance. The combination of a group of people bringing my idiot words to life and an appreciative audience is a seriously intoxicating one. I think it is the most fun I have yet had on Zoom – and I have managed a surprisingly large amount of fun on Zoom over the last 10 months – and I stayed on a high for several hours afterwards. It did play merry hell with my sleep hygiene but was absolutely worth it! I am now seriously on the look-out for an excuse/subject for another short, somewhat comic play: though that will be the difficult sophomore play, people will now have expectations…

As the play was such a success, I thought I should publish it here – while recognising that it should (a) date quite quickly and (b) mean very little to anyone outside the UK (and probably to many within it!). Indeed, it went so well, that we are going to try and record a version for posterity (or future blackmail material).

Anyway, after not too much more than 1000 words of ado, GofaDM proudly presents the play what I wrote…

The Plague’s the Thing…

Dramatis Personae

CharacterInspiration (where relevant)
Old Father Christmas
“Prince” GeorgeBoris Johnson
The ExpertScientists
Pestilence
FamineJacob Rees Mogg
Death
The Slithy GoveMichael Gove
The DoctorDominic Cummings
The StrikerMarcus Rashford
The TurkUgur Sahin und Özlem Türeci
The CroniesA Greek Chorus of the Profiteers

Play Text

Enter Old Father Christmas...

Old Father Christmas:
In comes I, Old Father Christmas; Welcome or welcome not,
I 'ope old Father Christmas will ne’er be forgot.
'Ere but a short time to stay,
I'll show you sport and larks afore I must away.
A tale of deeds most dark that do afflict the land.
Corruption in the highest ranks soon you’ll understand.
As our players do strut and fret: behold here comes the first buffoon...
Now immorality will be exposed on this, our virtual stage, praise be to Zoom!

Enter “Prince” George...

“Prince” George
In comes I, Prince George, from England I claim to spring
Though I be a clown, with lasses I’ve had many a fling.
Children I’ve sired, ask me not to make a count.
I’m no good with detail, and don’t know the exact amount.
For naught but my own ambition will I be seen to care.
If trouble be sighted, you’ll find me in the frigidaire.!

Enter The Expert…

The Expert
In comes I, the Expert, a seeker after truth and fact
Against those that spread cant and lies will I react.
With reasoned argument I’ll share the science
A method in which all folk can place reliance.

“Prince” George
Be gone! Your expertise is not welcome in my demesne.
The sheep must accept my words, even when they sound insane.

The Expert
My honour will not allow me to quit this fray.
Do your worst; the truth must see the light of day!

The Cronies
See Prince George strap on his mighty shield of bluster
Though his sword be sharp his thrusts lack lustre.
But the Expert has no weapon but his pipette
We fear the knavish fool may slay him yet…

Prince George and the Expert fight; the Expert is killed…

Old Father Christmas
You have slain expertise, does this not your conscience prick?

“Prince” George
Ha! Not a bit! Their insistence on logic and facts made me sick!
My pie-crust promises I no longer needs defend nor discuss,
Just command them to be writ large on the sides of a bus!

Prince George exits…
Pestilence, Death and Famine enter and menace the audience….

Pestilence
In comes I, Pestilence, my fell gifts to share,
Wherever two or more are gathered, I too am there

Death
In comes I, the Reaper Grim
My harvest now I’ll gather in!
In this charnel house I’ll set up shop,
I see no-one here to make me stop.

Famine
With jobs and savings lost, the children starve
But I am famine and this makes me laugh!
So many holes in the safety net:
Loren ipsum dolor sit amet.

Prince George returns…

“Prince” George
Come to me o’ slithy Gove, cease your gyring in that wabe.

The Slithy Gove
[whispers to audience] In come I, the slithy Gove, I smarm to your face and do your lab-
ours but to slip this dagger into your back is my true desire
[to the Prince] What is your bidding, most sagacious sire?

“Prince” George
Despite my efforts, we have but horsemen three.
How might I complete the set? Fetch thee War for me!

The Slithy Gove
Gunboats to the channel I’ll now dispatch.
No European shall share our fishy catch!

The Cronies
Prince George, you kingdom is in disarray
The dead stack up like cordwood, have you naught to say?

“Prince” George
My policies have but sped them on their way,
With pre-existing conditions, they already stood in Death’s foyer.
These many dead are but of the common herd,
Their sacrifice will deliver immunity: you have my word!

The Cronies
He offers us his word, the Prince of Lies
With confused, half-cocked rulings he stupifies.

We fear for our fortunes as the economy tanks...

“Prince” George
Here, have a billion!  More will follow, no need for thanks…

Pestilence places his hand upon Prince George’s shoulder…

Suddenly, I feel mighty queer!  *cough* *cough* *cough*
I am a great Prince, or did you not hear?

Pestilence
I care not for mortal titles, your lies, your fakèd news
I shall stake my claim upon whom soe’er I choose!

“Prince” George
My cough is dry, all scents have gone.
I have no time for indisposition,
Summon now my crack physician!

The Slithy Gove
Your quack, o Prince, is purblind and in haste hies he to County Durham.
You must isolate alone, ‘til his return bearing some curative nostrum.

The Cronies
O great nation, rudderless with its shoy-hoy leader struck down:
Or perhaps ‘tis better off in the absence of the scruffy clown?

Enter the Doctor in great haste…

The Doctor
In comes I, Doctor Dom: famed for my goings and my cummings.
Be not afraid, I’ll soon return you to your Tweedledumming!

The Cronies
What can you cure, Doctor?

The Doctor
I can fix scrofula, dropsy, palsy and gout,
Galloping knob-rot I’ll soon root out!
Apoplexy, ague and gripe:
Each can I swiftly put to flight!

The Cronies
What is your fee, Doctor?

The Doctor
Ten pounds is all, praise be to the NHS our great protector.

Sorry, I had forgotten that you were a private patient
But at ten thousand pounds, for speedy service, the cost is not imprudent.

“Prince” George
OK, OK, a grateful nation will pay whate’er you will.
Just, I beg you, exercise now your skill!

The Doctor
Swallow first this pill, ‘tis but six inches across.
It kills 99% of germs, just like Domestos.
Then place these drops against your lips
Every night afore ye kips.
In a mere two weeks of this regime you’ll find
Rude good health restored and peace of mind!

If you’ll now pay my fee, I must away:
Many more opticians must I visit this day!

The Doctor exits, clutching his cash and smirking…

The Cronies
All seems lost, the country is in a parlous state.
Our millions may not save us, who’ll come to our aid?

Enter the Striker and the Turk...

The Striker
In comes I, the Striker, my skill with boots and ball has made me rich.
But I come of humble stock, when young with hunger did my belly often itch.
Come nation, unite! Throw off the chains of Mammon!
If we all pull together we can soon rout Famine!

Famine
Argh! Those with little, spend even that to feed the poor.
Even weakened Hospitality shows me the door!
I am mastered and now must flee this forum:
Infinitus est numerus stultorum!

Famine flees before the Striker and his allies…

The Turk
In comes I, the Turk, founder of Biontech
The plans of Pestilence soon I’ll wreck!

Pestilence
Not so fast, I am not finished yet! 
See, my R number rises: I am still a threat!

The Turk
We now have all we need for your defeat.
We need but time and our victory is complete!
We must follow science to complete your doom.
Then all can celebrate together, in the flesh, no need of Zoom!

The Striker and the Turk approach the fallen Expert…

Old Father Christmas
See, the death of Expertise is exaggerate.
He doth but sleep and for this time didst wait.
Rise now and take your rightful place,
We need your wisdom as to vaccinate we race!

As the Expert rises, Death and Pestilence retreat...

The Expert
As from cumbrous death I rise, I find a world transformed.
While some will always peddle lies, the people seek the well-informed!

Old Father Christmas
Remember, gentles all, that Pestilence spreads on the air,
Drafts and distance our are allies here.
If for some more months we steadfast stay,
With summer’s lease will come much freer days!

"Prince" George returns...

“Prince” George
Be gone, old fool, your hopes still languish far away
My confederacy of dunces still holds sway.
I’ve cancelled Christmas at the 11th hour;
Mendacity and incompetence will rule while I still hold power!

Old Father Christmas
Methinks I hear a final gust of wind from that buffoon
His support is melting and, like a snowman, he will join it soon!

Be of good cheer, for our tale now all is told!
Applaud our players, whose skills at acting are manifold!

Now is time to wave adieu to bright showbiz!
Now return we all to the sodding Quiz!

© MMXXI

Channelling Gogol: What even is time?

I seem to have become detached from my temporal moorings and have drifted free of traditional societal definitions of time.  The sun continues to rise and fall (or rather the earth continues to spin at roughly its wonted speed) and so days are still happening but otherwise the usual markers of the hour or day have largely been rendered (temporarily) obsolete.  I am fortunate to still have some work to keep me somewhat occupied with external stimuli and a few times each week this offers up a conference call scheduled for a specific time: oh the excitement of a timed appointment!  I am forced to admit that my digestive system and its rapacious need for new input, despite my – in theory – reduced energy expenditure also provides a solid indication of the passage of time.

I believe we are now well into week four of lockdown, which means that it is more than four weeks since I last felt the touch of another human being (or indeed mammal, or to be frank, member of phylum Chordata).  I have not yet reached the stage of laying on my own arm until it loses feeling to simulate the experience of being touched by another but, as this sentence demonstrates, the thought has crossed my mind.  On three occasions, when out acquiring victuals, I have encountered someone I know and have had a brief conversation at a range of a few metres.  Otherwise, almost all my interactions with other members of my species have been via a screen or phone.

While I think we all want to try and spend time with friends on-line, none of us have actually done very much from which to build the metaphorical champagne bottle which would launch a conversation: frankly, it’s a struggle to generate so much as a conversational micro-Helen.  To this end, it has been important to come up with pretexts to get together that can automatically generate the seeds of conversation that the presence of good company will germinate.  For the last three weeks, a bunch of habitués of the Guide Dog, fuelled in many cases by take-out from the aforementioned Guide Dog, have been using Monday night as Quiz night.  This week it was my turn to act as Inquisitor and set the questions.

My quiz had six rounds, with the first three based very loosely on categories in Trivial Pursuit: Science and Nature, Geography and Art and Literature.  On occasions like this, it is brought forcibly to my attention that what I consider to be general knowledge held by the vast majority of the populace is, in fact, just random crap that I have unusually both encountered and contrived to remember whereas most people probably won’t have even bumped into it, let alone committed it to the fleshy tablets of their mind.

Round four was a picture round, six pictures of local bands in local venues which I sourced from my very extensive camera roll of examples.  Preparing this round frittered away most of last Saturday morning as I simultaneously cheered and depressed myself remembering all the fun I’ve had at gigs over the last few years.

Round five, the Music Round, was very much my own innovation.  I found a free portion of the piano score on-line (generally the first page) for four well-known popular songs in a relatively tractable key (C, G or F Major) which I deliberately did not practice (very easily achieved).  For the round, I played each tune by sight-reading the score live (both hands and one pedal!) in front of an audience with the challenge for them to guess what I was musically massacring.  I played most tunes a couple of times in an attempt to maximise the portions of the music where the right notes were played in roughly the right order at least once.  I will admit that alcohol had been taken in order to give me the necessary Dutch courage to follow through with my own idiotic idea and it would appear that I tend to provide a live commentary (some of it only vocalisations) of my process.  I am told that this was by far the best round of the quiz and I believe was found very funny by those not playing the piano.  For me, it was somewhat traumatic at the time – I well remember half the audience (most of whom are far more skilled musicians than I and one of whom is my piano teacher) shouting B-flat when I’d played a natural during a piece in F Major – but I feel that one of my few useful functions at this (or any other) time is to bring some silliness into people’s lives.  Since I have mostly out-lived my shame, I am more than happy to sacrifice what passes for my dignity in this cause.  For my next quiz, could it be time for the recorder to take to the stage?

The final round was Ditloid Movie Night – I shall leave researching the word puzzle that is the Ditloid to the reader – which I thought was impossibly difficult but was found to be relatively easy by most of my victims.

I greatly enjoyed my time as Quizmaster and between the quiz and post-quiz drinking, the Zoom chat kept going until past midnight: no last orders when drinking from home!

The previous weekend, I had the idea to make use of my copy of Cards Against Humanity to play a game with friends.  This had a few challenges as only I possessed a copy of the all-important cards and while you can download a file to allow the cards to be printed, my friends do not have a printer.  Luckily, they are both developers and so the more talented half of the (N)YTMG team was able to knock up a card dealer in the (N)YTMG test environment from a spreadsheet I created from the Response cards.   We had to make some minor modifications to the standard rules of the game, replacing the Card Tsar with a more democratic selection of the winner of each round: a protocol I feel is a much better option all-round.  I am proud to say that we were able to achieve the move from Tsar to democracy without a single execution, very limited terror and almost no Purges.  I read out the Prompt cards with each player being able to use their acting skills to help sell their chosen Response(s).  It made for a thoroughly enjoyable, filthy and entirely unsafe-for-work evening of alcohol-fuelled silliness and can be heartily recommended, assuming any of your surviving maiden aunts are sufficiently broad-minded.

This weekend, I am going to attempt to stage a Frankenlunch – renamed Quaranstein – across Zoom: lunch is entering the cloud!  The idea is that everyone will cook the same dishes together in real-time, with me playing the part of Delia Smith and shouting drunken encouragement at half-time.  Excitingly, the opportunity exists to burn down multiple properties in southern England as we will all be playing with fire!  I am currently channelling my inner Cecil B DeMille to work out how to obtain sufficient camera coverage of my process without damaging any of the “cameras” (laptops) via heat, steam, fire or ingress of ingredients.  I feel quite certain that a report on proceedings will follow in due course through this august document of record.

Other than the foolishness described above, I continue to make it through lockdown more successfully than expected, by me at least.  I’d expected to be carted off in a wicker basket to spend the duration in a secure facility long before now.  Like everyone else, I feel low at times but mostly I seem to bounce back pretty quickly with the aid of live streamed culture and planning or participating in on-line idiocy with friends: I am a lucky chap!  Work has also been helpful in providing time away from my terrible flatmate and, somewhat to my surprise, Radio 3 has proven very successfully at starting each day with a positive vibe – and barely a mention of the C-word!

Today has also seen a major boost in morale on the home front.  The relatively flattering (i.e. dim) light above the bathroom mirror failed nearly three weeks ago and I have been forced to use the “big” light ever since.  At 54, morale is not improved by the sight of my crumbling visage being well lit: so many il/de-lusions have been shattered.  However, today, my heroic postman has delivered a replacement fluorescent tube and this morning’s ablutions could return to being performed in a state of tenebrous grace!

Anyway, I must away to consult with my DOP for tomorrow and prepare my dungeon for next weekend: further reports will follow…

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…

 

Let’s get Quizzical

On Monday evening, I was sitting at home (I know!) feeling vaguely sorry for myself.  There are a number of reasons (or at least rationalisations) that I might present to explain the ennui which was gripping me.

Firstly, I had just finished my current book (of the fictional variety) which is always a bittersweet moment.  It is always nice to know what happened and achieve the dreaded ‘closure’, but I am also wrenched from the company of my new fictional friends and don’t know when we’ll be reunited.  In this case, I believe the next book in the series has finally been translated from French after a mere 20 years – and, before regular readers ask, no I was not left in charge of its translation.

Secondly, I think I am reaching my limit when it comes to coping with cold, grey and wet weather for this winter.  Sadly, winter has other ideas though, perhaps in an attempt to improve the morale of the wider populace, the Met Office are currently forecasting a degree of improvement in both temperature and the availability of sunshine for the denizens of Southampton over the next few days.  I haven’t even seen a single snowdrop yet this winter, though I have seen a lone daffodil displaying its cheerful yellow trumpet, despite the unfavourable conditions.

Finally (for now), I have acquired an odd subcutaneous lump in the palm of my right-hand.  At this stage, it is unclear whether this is a physical injury I don’t remember inflicting upon myself, my body’s response to some sort of infective agent or whether I have been drugged and some sort of tracking device has been fitted by a curious spying agency or alien power (it was always only a matter of time!).  Until the forces of medical orthodoxy take a look at it on Friday morning and deliver a diagnosis (I’m hoping for something other than murder), I have had to suspend training for the human flag as a precautionary measure.

Having established the emotional state and underlying motivation of our hero, I can now reveal that it was at this point that my mobile phone rang.  Yes, unusually, I actually had the sound switched on and so I heard it call out (terrible attention-seeking behaviour which I probably shouldn’t encourage) rather than letting it sob silent and ignored in whichever location I had last left it languishing.  Taking this is an omen, I answered and was greeted with a question which I shall paraphrase (sadly, my calls are not recorded even for the all too necessary purpose of training) as ‘are you coming to the quiz?’.  The distant voices also seemed keen for me to generate a name for their team using my basic skills with the pun.  I hadn’t planned on going to the quiz (though I’m always up for a pun), but I had nothing particular planned and the rain was temporarily in abeyance and so agreed to haul my sorry ashes to the Talking Heads for some light-hearted interrogation.

It is quite a while since I last went to a pub quiz and I will admit that my hopes were not high.  However, my re-casting of my mother’s advice (dating from when I was reluctant to go to school) to propose that I will feel better if I go out was once again proved to be on the money.  I had a really great evening out – and my team (‘Natural Quiz-aster’) came within a gnat’s crochet of winning, if only I’d been more confident about my guess as to the name of New Orleans International Airport!  I don’t need to expound upon the cruelty of the penalty shoot-out – or in this case, sudden-death anagram.  Still, this last gasp defeat in no way prevented me from having a jolly good time.

If I were to analyse why I had so much fun, I might start by pointing to the replacement of my fictional French friends with some live, real British ones.  There was also a much lower risk that my real friends would be topped by a psychotic failed opera singer than their virtual counterparts.  I would also have to admit that the pub quiz format certainly offers an excellent opportunity for me to show off the vast morass of useless knowledge that I have accumulated (and failed to lose) over the last half century or so.  Sometimes even I don’t know where the answer comes from, I’ve just learned that I should usually trust the source.

Finally, I can point to the return to the bar of a real ale from a source other than Palmers: a brewery which fails to bring joy to this drinker’s heart, except by its absence.  Even better, the guest ale was Mosiac from Red Cat: a brewery which has brought a lot of joy into my recent life with an almost infeasibly good range of decent ales.  I think they may be my favourite brewer of the moment!  In researching this post, I have discovered that Red Cat do offer tours of their Winchester brewery with what looks like unlimited ale included in the ticket price.  It is way past time that I found 5 friends (or, at a pinch, total strangers) and availed myself of this opportunity!

 

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The tragic last pint of Mosaic!  I’m drinking the line pack…

I was also the recipient (or victim) of a portrait by one of my team mates.  This was drawn without looking at the paper or removing the pen from the paper – but with lots of eye contact with the sitter.  I, naturally, enjoyed being the centre of attention!

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An uncanny likeness of the author?

Following the quiz, my team repaired to the green room of the Talking Heads (a place I have never visited, but will obviously be returning to with my band and our rider in the not too distant future) to watch the last episode of the current series of Inside No. 9.  This really is a consistently well and interestingly written 30 minutes of television.  However, it was only the following day that I realised that the series has a connection to my own life…

I shall leave you to ponder the baroque, often macabre, twists of my life that might connect it to the works of Messrs Shearsmith and Pemberton.  Instead, I shall leave you with the thought that going out with friends is an excellent cure for accidie.

Plus c’est la même chose

When I was nobbut a lad, my reading habits were not entirely as they are today.  I did make my way through some of the children’s classics (e.g. The House at Pooh Corner) and key works of the day (e.g. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) but also started my life with science fiction after borrowing Galactic Patrol by E E ‘Doc’ Smith from my dad’s bookshelves at the age of seven.  I don’t recall there being encyclopaedias in the house, but as a child I was obsessed by facts and the acquisition of knowledge (at least in some fields) and so my parents provided a number of works to feed this desire (and, I presume, in an attempt to shut me up).  I recall 365 Things to Know and another work with a title involving 3 or 4 of the key question words (i.e. how, why, what, where, when, who) and a conjunction – but I’m fairly sure there were others.

Not only do I remember the books, but I also remember hauling myself to the headmaster’s office on several occasions to show him my latest tome of fabulous facts.  He seemed quite good at evincing mild interest, which I feel may have been a mistake on his part.  I am starting to suspect that I might have been quite an annoying child (which I’m sure readers deduced several hundred posts ago).  However, despite my unpaid marketing efforts on behalf of the fact-based publishing industry, I did eventually rise to the primary school equivalent of head boy.  This may stand as my greatest achievement to-date.

Yes, even at primary school, I was preparing myself for pub quiz participation when I finally came of age.  Well, it was either that or I was training to be a QI elf several decades before John Lloyd came up with the idea for QI: which makes my continued lack of elf-hood all the more galling.  To return briefly to quizzing, I do not approve of people learning facts purely because they will be useful in a quiz environment: all my facts have been learned either for the sheer joy they brought or they arrived by chance and I have subsequently been unable to discard them.  I feel this is the true Corinthian spirit of quiz participation – anything else smacks of professionalisation and the grubby intrusion of market values.

As so often arises at around this stage in a post, the audience is left wondering why the fool is sharing his largely irrelevant history – though, I should probably make clear that this blog may one day form the basis for my best-selling memoirs (the diary is so last millennium).  Well, if you are all sitting comfortably, I shall continue.

The availability of new non-fiction works in my personal library has recently fallen to a very low level (not having gainful employ does mean I hit the bookshelves rather hard): though following an unseasonal visit to October Books yesterday, the position has briefly improved.  As a result, my current and previous reading has reverted to a rather similar style to that which I used to share with my old headmaster – and, as in those far off days, both were bought for me by my parents.  Question Everything from New Scientist could have been written with the nine-year-old author in mind and did not disappoint his four-decades-later successor: it was full of interesting answers to some jolly fine questions (all I lacked was a headmaster to share it with – so you, dear readers, have been drafted in).

I have now moved on to 50 Moments that Rocked the Classical Music World, brought to us by Classic FM.  Its roots do show through in places, and its definition of ‘moment’ is rather flexible (at times smacking more of geology than music), but it still contains plenty to fascinate the late-forties fact-fan.  It is particular fun when read in conjunction with Spotify as I can listen to most of the pieces mentioned (some were never recorded) as I go.  In consequence, I have been streaming quite the range of classical music over the last few days.  From early polyphony with Tallis and Palestrina to a refresher on the Rite of Spring: indeed, even as I type budget-busting Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique accompanies me in commemoration of the first use of truly substantial orchestral forces.  However, the most fun was my introduction to Erik Satie – how can you not love the chap who composed Flabby Preludes for a Dog and the Bureaucratic Sonatina?  For some idiotic reason, I’d never imagined French classical composers having quite such an impish sense of fun.

What this recent reading makes all too clear, and which my parents had obviously realised, is that I have not changed very much from the boy who went to Lansdown CP School in the dark days of the 1970s (well, it was during the 3-day week).  Truly, the boy is father (and also nearer than expected) to the man.