Popping my festival cherry

Fear not dear reader, my other cherry (or cherries? – I’ll have to admit that I’m really not fully on top of this US idiom) remain intact and so this post will not veer into unduly racy territory.  However, low level smut is always a risk.

This last weekend, I attended my first proper multi-day, field-based festival.  I suspect that I did the festival-going experience in my own way (or at least, not in the traditional style) and this post will bring together some of the highlights (and the odd lowlight, but I’ll steer clear of tea-lights) of my four days at the Cambridge Folk Festival.  Apologies to those unfortunate enough to have be-friended me on Facebook (though I’d like to point out that nobody forced them to – or so I have been assuming), but some of the content of this post has been up-cycled from that platform: very much in line with the green credentials claimed by the festival.

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Before the crowds!  Not a typeface I’d advise for your dissertation…

I chose the Cambridge Folk Festival partly because I have an interest in folk music, but also because whilst it does take place in some fields, these fields are situated close to a city and one that I know well.  This meant that if the whole festival became too much, I could escape to a relatively safe space.

I did not camp either on the festival site itself or on the two other campsites offered as I felt I’d like my digs to offer a contrast to a day in a field and offer better facilities than would be forthcoming from the sort of tent I could carry on the train.  I did not choose to glamp in a luxury yurt (which I presume is a yurt with the scent of yak reduced until it is almost, but not quite, undetectable) but went with my normal choice of accommodation in a university town outside of term-time: student halls of residence.  This was my first time at Murray Edwards College (which normally focuses on young women) which is not the closest college to Cherry Hinton but was definitely the cheapest available.  It was also very comfy, offering en-suite facilities, excellent wifi, a decent breakfast and in-room biscuits: all without even a hint of yak!

The interior of my “tent” and a glimpse of the wider “campsite”!

Its distance from the festival site and the rather erratic weather did mean I made a lot of use of the local buses.  Luckily, my bus skills are second-to-none.  Not for me the slow and crowded (if recommended) Citi 3 from the city centre to the festival, not when the fast and near-empty Citi 2 is available.  BTW: I feel the Citi 2 is an excellent bus route for a pub crawl: it passes within close proximity of several of the city’s finer hostelries and, if you head southbound, ends up at Addenbrooke’s hospital to deal with any incidents related to imbibing not wisely but too well.  The combination of the Citi 2 and Citi 5 provided a near door-to-door service and use of a Megarider kept the costs below that of a single cab ride.

The CFF has much to recommend it.  There was a wide range of music with the idea of folk interpreted fairly broadly and with 3-4 gigs going on at any one time.  The sound, lighting and use of smoke was excellent and the time-keeping unexpectedly Swiss.  There was a very good range of decent cake on offer and, despite my best efforts, I did not manage to sample every possible variety.  There was also a good range of vegetarian eating options and Otter brewery’s finest to wash it all down with.

The festival was oddly secretive about running order, or indeed when the music started on day one (luckily, my years of forecasting came into their own and I correctly guessed the ~5pm start).  They did seem very clear on not bringing glass on to the site (though, as it transpired, were more than willing to sell you some in the form of an £8 commemorative tankard) and also seemed opposed to the bringing of chairs (unless age or disability made them essential).  Given the number of camping chairs on the site, I think I may have been the only person to take this second requirement seriously.

I discovered that around 5 hours at the festival, mostly at gigs, was about my limit.  The discomfort of standing in mud-capable shoes reaches some sort of critical threshold around that point and I decided it was time to do something else.  It would seem that shoes good for the ascent of Cader Idris are not necessarily ideal for standing around in: though speaking to other festival-goers, this would seem to be a tall order for any shoes (and I did see several people barefoot and I was slightly tempted to join them).  I also found that all the standing around caused significant complaint from my right buttock (my left remained happy throughout).  Luckily, I had semi-organised a range of other potential activities to keep myself amused away from the festival, giving my feet and buttocks a rest (or at least some variety).

The weather was very erratic and at times exceedingly wet, which I feel added a degree of authenticity and the mud never became too bad.  Luckily the worst of the rain was focused at times I wasn’t on site, except on Saturday evening (though Saturday night was even worse, and I was particularly glad not to be under canvas).  On these occasions, a lot of people try to squeeze into the stage tents, many of them by this stage several pints into a major session, and I did find my claustrophobia became an issue in Stage 1 (for some reason I was fine in the smaller Stage 2) and had to leave.  Still, my planning had paid off and my wet-weather gear and shoes did sterling work in keeping me dry.

Friday night was also wet, but I had strayed from the world of folk to catch some of the Cambridge Summer Music Festival.  I managed to dodge all of the rain in Trinity College Chapel listening to the glorious choral singing of Tenebrae, seated on an actual chair (I paid the modest supplement to upgrade from a pew).  Joby Talbot’s Path of Miracles was particularly stunning.

Saturday morning and early afternoon I also spent in central Cambridge.  I started at the Fitzwilliam Museum where my random wanderings took me past pottery from ancient Greece and 20th century Britain and into a glorious exhibition of 17th century samplers.  I think I may have to add embroidery as a pastime to my long list of desired retirement activities.  While there, I also took in a CSMF concert covering the violin sonatas of Debussy and Strauss: a very different use of the fiddle to that in evidence a couple of miles down the road.

A friend and I then wandered over (I say wandered, more fought our way through the press of language students and tour groups) to the Arts Picturehouse for a fortifying slice of Guinness cake (very fine, and a variety not available from the festival) and to see The Big Sick.  The film is very good and funny, though did also leave me in floods of tears (and not for the last time that weekend).

Sunday morning I also spent with my friend as she demonstrated her new euphonium skills, and we jointly discovered how to properly drain the instrument.  She, along with a horn player I saw a month or so back, insist that the fluid being drained is condensation and not spit: I very nearly believe them…  That evening I also fled the folk (to an extent while the buses were still running) and spent an evening listening to live jazz at the Tram Depot: which as well as jazz offered a good range of bitters (the trams, I’m afraid, are long gone).

My favourite acts at the CFF were Talisk, the Rheingans Sisters, Thom Ashworth, Chris TT and Josie Duncan and Pablo Lafuente – but I found much to enjoy in everything I saw.  Chris TT was responsible for my second major weeping incident of the weekend.  I think he normally sings punky political songs, but on this occasion brought a punky sung vibe to the poetry of AA Milne – from Now We Are Six (among others).  I am clearly now of a certain age (though NWAS was old even when I was 6) as his rendition of Binker, especially after explaining a little of its context, reduced me to uncontrollable tears.  I had to acquire – and more importantly eat – more cake to recover (lemon and almond, if you’re interested).

I spent most of my time at Stage 2, though did enjoy the music issuing from Stage 1 when I was wandering around or acquiring and consuming victuals and beer: the Eskies seems a lot of fun!  My favourite venue was The Den with its rugs and more chilled, seated (or even more recumbent) vibe – and that’s not just my feet and buttocks talking.  It was also fun occasionally encountering impromptu sessions in the bars and cafes on the site, though there were fewer of these than I expected – perhaps they get going after the main gigs are over and I’d toddled home to my digs?  I most enjoyed the afternoon gigs and the Thursday evening when the site was less busy: I’m quite fond of humanity, but this position is best maintained by it being delivered to my “grill” in relatively small doses.

Overall I had a whale of a time and would definitely go to further festivals: as long as I could do so on my terms, i.e. with alternative, building-based activities and accommodation to allow me to break it into manageable chunks. I also really enjoyed the pseudo live blogging of my experience through Facebook and the feedback from my unwitting audience: I’ll have to see if a more “live” element could be brought to GofaDM…

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Dad 321

It had to happen eventually (it didn’t), I have finally experienced the joys of fatherhood (true, but misleading).  And now I shall just leave matters there, in an attempt to build some dramatic tension…

I spent last week in Edinburgh, at the famous Fringe and its much smaller cousin, the International Festival.  As usual, I attempted to fit way too much culture into a week, but as last year I attempted to manage my addiction by refusing to attend any show starting after 22:00.  I may have been massively over-stimulated, but at least I was tucked up in bed before midnight!  Effectively my ego was acting as a rather laissez-faire parent to my id, but did at least impose some boundaries (okay, one boundary – but you have to start somewhere).

As I headed north for my annual cultural overload, the weather was set fair – or so the Met Office claimed, erroneously as it transpired.  So damp and totally unlike the forecast was the actual weather that a lesser man might suspect the Met Office to be in the pay of an unscrupulous cabal of Scots mackintosh and umbrella vendors, attempting to lure gullible Sassenachs north with insufficient wet-weather gear.  Fortunately, years of childhood holidays in Wales mean that I am not so easily fooled.

As is traditional, my Fringe had an underlying bedrock of comedy, but this made up the smallest proportion of my gigs yet. Before going I had left myself a note to see a chap called Tom Ballard, though I no longer had any idea why.  Trusting in the judgment of past-me I dutifully went to see the youth – and was surprised to find he was Australian.  Despite this handicap, I had a great time at his gig and current-me can thoroughly recommend the lad: however, I still have absolutely no idea why past-me had made a note of his name.  Does this suggest that my work in temporal mechanics will shortly bear fruit and that I use the breakthrough to provide gig recommendations to my past selves?

In a further nod to tradition, several mornings were spend at the Queens Hall soaking up some classical music.  Mark Padmore made a vastly better fist of An die ferne Geliebte than I ever have – and I was watching him (and listening) very closely for tips.   Despite this hawk-like observation, I still cannot say how he filled the whole venue while also singing piano and even pianissimo.  Other musical highlights were the Dunedin Consort playing Handel, accompanied by the stunning voice of Louise Alder (where required, she sat out the concerti grossi) and a concert of piano, viola and clarinet centred around György Kurtág.  This is a very fine grouping of instruments and the works by Mark Simpson, Marco Stroppa and Robert Schumann have opened a whole new area of music to me, though I may need a little more time to fully embrace Mr Kurtág himself.

Circus also played a big part in my week, once again demonstrating that I have a long way to go before running away to the big top is a viable career plan.  Most of the circus seemed to originate from Australia, perhaps indicating greater legal protection for French-Canadians (who, like elephants, can no longer be exploited to thrill an audience), and was very good.  My two avourites were A Simple Space and Elixir which both combined amazing skills with a lot of fun – and, in the case of the latter, the first time I have seen a man actually steam.   In fact, every circus I saw was good and introduced some new physical feat or new way of approaching an old idea which suggests that there is life in the form for some time to come: which is good new for my long term career planning.

For the first time in Edinburgh, I branched out into dance and saw an amazing piece called Smother.  This claimed to be hip-hop dance, though given my limited (okay, non-existent) knowledge of the genre I wouldn’t have guessed, and the 55 minutes flew past.  It would seem that hip-hop embraces rather more than a rap-based musical style: you live and learn!  I am now more keen then ever to extend my limited gymnastic skills into  b-boying – though was distressed to discover that even in this apparently free form of dance, one is still expected to keep in time with the beat (or at least the young performers clearly acted as though this were required).  Do evening classes still exist, or are we supposed to leaen everything from YouTube videos now? Music-wise I also went to see the Melbourne Ska Orchestra which was a great experience, though unlike much of the audience I did resist the urge to dance (too early in the day for my blood-alcohol levels to have reached the threshold required for dancing), but I’ll admit it was a close-run thing and had the seating been a little less cramped I might have “cut a rug” (as I believe the young people say).  My other favourite musical piece is harder to describe, it was a combination of fairly thin spoken autobiography, a music lesson and some virtuoso piano playing by Will Pickvance (a chap I had heard on The Verb, purveyor of many good things).  This, in a place where animals were once dissected, was a thing of total joy and a complete contrast to everything else I saw.  It somehow seemed to recharge my cultural batteries.

I also looked at some art and discovered that 10am is rather to early to face the full onslaught of surrealism.  It also became clear that Bridget Riley’s work is not ideal for the sufferer of astigmatism: though staring at some of her works does function as a suprisingly effective legal high!  I can fully recommend Inspiring Impressionism at the Scottish National Gallery which opened my eyes to the the role of Daubigny in so much of the impressionist art – and indeed beyond – I have seen over the years.  The exhibition ends with a wonderful, if heart-breaking and very late, painting by Vincent Van Gogh: it would seem I now cry at paintings too.

The final category of fun was theatrical.  My favourite piece came from Belgium and had the unpromising start time of 10am and subject matter of the terrorist massacre at the high school in Beslan.  Despite this unholy trinity of issues, Us/Them was an amazing piece of work and made the whole week in Edinbugh worthwhile on its own.  In fact, Summerhall was awash with interesting Belgian theatre (mostly Flemish) – of which I had time to see far too little – so I think I may have to spend some quality time in Brussels.

Right, I suppose I’ve kept you waiting long enough, I should explain my recent fatherhood and introduce my new son (who has a bushy beard and probably out-weighs his father).  My second favourite piece of theatre was Every Brilliant Thing, which I wanted to see last year but was sold-out and so this year I got myself organised (just a little bit, to quote that sage of life planning, Gina G).  It was worth the wait, though I did blub a little (well, I was more involved than usual in the plot) having made it through Us/Them with (almost) dry eyes.  The play stars one half of Jonny and the Baptists (I don’t think it would be too much of a spoiler to reveal it is not “the Baptists” and that one should never trust a swan) and, as it turns out, quite a lot of the audience.  Many people are handed a slip of paper to declaim at the appropriate moment: mine was numbered 321 (not, so far as I know, in tribute to the late Ted Rogers).  However, a few of us had larger roles and I had to play Jonny’s father (and to an extent Jonny).  This seemed a fairly modest obligation at first, safely discharged from my seat with only a minimum of speaking (just the one word, albeit delivered several times) or acting required (so very much pitched at my level of skill).  This contrasted with one member of the audience who had a lot more work to do while wearing only one shoe: and in my performance she was so good at her part I still wonder if she had been practising.  However, just when I thought it was safe to rest on my laurels (or cushion, no laurels were provided) I was dragged centre-stage and required to give an impromptu wedding speech as the father of the groom.  I’m sure my readers would not have been caught napping, but I had come woefully unprepared with not so much as a best man’s speech on me.  Luckily the discovery that Jonny (my son) was very much shorter than me provided an “in”(by way of reference to his tiny mother) and I managed to extremporise a small speech which went down suprisingly well.   It is rather nice being applauded by an entire theatre, if also a tad embarrassing, and I rather fear a monster has been created.  In future, I shall expect a round of applause for any impromptu declaration exceeding a couple of sentences.

Gosh, that was a long one – and such a range of references, if I were a better chap I’d provide footnotes.  Suffice to say, I had a splendid holiday but very little (if any) of a rest.

Getting the boot

Many of us, though by no means all, will find ourselves in a soi disant new year.  Many of you will already be surrounded by the broken shards of your resolutions – a fate I neatly side-step by never making any.

To add to the sense of jollity and mirth which characterises this time of year, kindly Father Janus has brought me a cold in his bulging sack.  The two-faced wretch!  So I find myself writing between sneezes, surrounded by discarded tissues (please try and lift those minds free of the gutter for just a moment).

The weather seems to have paid little attention to the currently fashionable calendar, even one followed by a sizable a portion of humanity.  It has begun 2016 much as it ended 2015, with yet more rain and strong winds and despite shaving a degree or two off the temperature remains unseasonably mild (or so it seems to those of us relying on recent history to form a view as to what is seasonally appropriate).  As my waterproofs are continually put to the test (and not always found sufficient to the task), I like to imagine that if Southampton is copping a load, then perhaps northern England will be spared.  Sadly, the weather doesn’t seem to work in quite that way and there seems to be more than enough sky-borne water to go round.

Despite the south coast having seen less rain than much of the country (and possessing a rather quicker route back to the sea for that which does fall), it is still becoming an increasing challenge to find walking routes around town where the water level does not overtop the protection offered by even the tallest of my shoes.  As a result, I find myself considering the purchase and use of wellington boots for the first time since my childhood.  I recall them as being rather uncomfortable and sweaty back in the 1970s, but surely we have made vast technological strides (and I don’t mean mechanical, antipodean trousers) since then? .  Hopefully, we haven’t devoted too much attention to shaving a tenth of a millimetre off the depth of the next generation of mobile phones and as a consequence neglected the humble wellie.

A little research suggests that there is quite the range of wellies available to suit even the most bloated of pockets, including something described as a ‘surf wellie’ (which I imagine is nearly as practical as an ironing wellie or ballet wellie).  I rather fear I may have to sample some of the Iron Duke’s eponymous footwear to ensure it meets my exacting requirements.  The purchase will be overshadowed by the fear that as soon as I am suitably shod, the rain will cease and be immediately replaced by a hosepipe ban: still, I am willing to ‘take one for the team’.

But now I must leave you and return my head to a bowl of steaming water, to which a few drops of Olbas oil have been added.  This oil, despite an expiry date safely in the last millennium, seems to remain surprisingly potent.  I reckon the bottle contains another seven years worth of contents at the current rate of usage – which made it a surprisingly good buy back in the 1990s.

Trend Setter

Not, I was slightly disappointed to learn, a particularly stylish breed of gun dog.  Instead, this will be an attempt to prove that where I lead, others follow.  I shall have resort to only two examples, but I think you will agree that these generalise very nicely.

Today, in the UK at least, is National Poetry Day.  By contrast, it would seem that the novella rates an entire month (which, in case you missed it, was back in June) and continuing the apparent trend one must assume that the novel requires an entire year, if it is to be given justice.  I am, of course, well ahead of the game here and have been obsessed by the poem for some weeks now.  As a sign of what a kind and generous author I am, I have decided to spare you any of my own attempts at poesy (not an offer you’ll find in many other places).  Still, I felt I should mark the day in some form and so once again braved the tumbleweed which blows through the poetry section of the Southampton Central Library.  Thus it was that I came to bring Rain home with me (and without any recourse to dance).  Some may think we have had more than enough rain already this week, but my Rain is a collection of poems by Don Patterson.  I’d seen a copy of his poem Motive in a tweet earlier in the day and was inspired to give his wider oeuvre a go: a decision cemented by the dedication to Michael Donaghy which opens the collection.  Later this evening, I will return to the same library where Luke Wright and others (including one Open Mike, who I trust will not be over-sharing) will be performing poetry to mark this ‘special’ day.

This week also brought to England (the other home nations have been doing this for some time) a legal requirement to charge at least 5p for the plastic carrier bags provided by larger shops.  When I was but a callow youth, supermarkets charged for bags and so I always carried my own to help eek-out my meagre student grant (a grant which would seem a princely gift to today’s students).  This habit has stayed with me ever since and I have been widely mocked for it over the years.  Who’s laughing now, eh?  My thrift – or environmental conscience (if I’m trying to cast matters in a more flattering light) – is finally vindicated.  The bag-of-bags which has cluttered my gaffs over the years is finally going to pay its way.

As a consequence of this new charge, sales assistants have clearly been trained to ask, in advance, if customers would like a bag.  Earlier this afternoon, I bought a mini-tube of toothpaste to use when flying (I do like to travel light).   Sadly, those I had acquired for free from my days of occasional business-class intercontinental travel have all run out.  Arriving at the till, I was offered a carrier bag for my wares (or ware).  When I produced my item, the female assistant remarked that she was expecting something larger.  Quick as a flash (or at least after only a brief lacuna) I retorted that this was a phrase I had heard too many times before.  Cue hilarity!  OK, that might be a slight over-statement but she did giggle her way through the remainder of the transaction.

I will admit that there remains a little way to go before my section of the Oxford Dictionary of Humorous Quotations consumes as many column inches as that devoted to Oscar Wilde – but I think we can all agree that in (at least) two areas over the course of a single week (and it’s still only Wednesday) I am very much the man to follow when it comes to lifestyle.  [In the meantime, I shall be working on some quips about the skeletal structure of the upper arm as my entrée to the Oxford Dictionary of Humerus Quotations].

Beating the odds

I have had to travel outdoors on three separate occasions today, each in a separate hour of the day.  On each occasion the Met Office had suggested the probability of rain was <5% (which is as unlikely as they will ever admit rain to be in these temperate, maritime lands).  On each occasion, I was rained upon.  Given that the Met Office had the opportunity to revise their estimates after each bout of rain, but left them unchanged I am going to assume that there was no cross-correlation between the three incidents of rain.  So, today I have already beaten odds of 8000-1 – and probably much greater than that as the probability of rain could have been a lot less than 5%.

Part of me likes to think that the clustering of extreme events around me makes it a good time to buy a lottery ticket.  The lapsed mathematician within tells that part that this is arrant nonsense, the “system” has no memory and there is no reason to believe that becoming unexpectedly damp correlates in the slightest degree with the (presumably) random choice of plastic balls.  However, if anyone (of a less rational or more hopeful bent) is interested my pick for the next National Lottery draw is: 33, 35, 37, 39, 46 and 48 (Bonus Ball 1).  If anyone chooses these numbers and, as a result, becomes insanely wealthy I shall expect a modest cut!

Incidentally, if those numbers do win big at the next draw (whenever that is) I may have to rethink the whole basis of my life.  At the very least it would be deeply disturbing…

A new banking crisis?

It is, of course, well known that bankers are unpopular with very many people.  This is based on their misdeeds over much of the last decade – misdeeds which I suspect continue little hindered by contrition or conscience – where they gambled with enormous sums of other people’s money and (largely) lost.  I think the fact that many were paid huge bonuses to lose their employers vast sums of money (as it rather soon transpired) which may be more galling to the general public.  Away from banking (and a few other privileged sectors of the economy), large bonuses are not forthcoming however much of your employer’s money you try (or even manage) to lose (unless one considers a P45 a bonus).

Still, I am not here to convince you to transfer your money from the bank to your mattress – particularly if you happen to be a princess: that way lies chronic insomnia.  Though, having said that, if one were to place one’s trust in the Slumberland Savings Bank then you could only ever lose the money entrusted to their care – whether that loss be as a result of fire, theft or third party (the third party does seem to be so much more dangerous than the second or fourth – if only there were some way to bypass it altogether).  This contrasts with the financial services sector which, by the miracle of derivatives trading, can lose many times the amount of money which would otherwise languish beneath one’s sleeping form.  So, perhaps my mattress idea is not quite as foolish as it might have first appeared – and the beleaguered Spanish economy could well benefit from wealthy old lags retiring to enjoy its coastal sunshine.

Which, circuitous route, brings me to my actual point.  Whilst it is well known that much of humanity despises bankers, I begin to think this might have spread to the super-natural realm.  I fear Mother Nature (Gaia, if you will) or perhaps All Mighty Zeus has been offended by their antics and is (quite literally) raining down ineffective retribution upon them.

In recent years, it has become widely believed that bad weather inevitably accompanies a bank holiday – those official days off which the State so generously grants to some of us.  I will leave it as an exercise to the reader to check whether this is actually the case, or merely the result of biased human perception and memory.  Today, I found myself wondering whether this was also the case in the days when such holidays were still more closely linked to a formal religious occasion.

As the day began, I left Scotland – where it was (and still is) a normal working day – and the sun beamed down on my upturned apple cheeks.  However, as I headed south through the country I entered England – where today is a bank holiday – and the sun vanished to be replaced by continuous rain.  The evidence of the previous couple of weeks suggests that Scotland does not generally have such a favoured-nation status with those numinous forces which control our weather – so I conclude that there was something special about today.  I may be seeing causation where only correlation exists, but I posit that the supernatural world has sent rain to England to dampen the spirits of bankers on their day-off.  Sadly, this no doubt well-intentioned attempt to deliver a little divine retribution has generated rather a lot of collateral damage to the plans and happiness of the majority (non-banker) population of England (ironically, much like the banking crisis itself).  Is it wrong to yearn for those ancient days when angry gods were much more focused in their choice of delivery mechanism, viz the thunderbolt?  Is it time to rename our State holidays after some less offensive profession?  Nurse or Fireman holidays, perhaps?  Just an idea, but surely worth a try…

Egocentric? Moi?

As a single, white, middle-aged man living in the West I am probably at quite a high risk of coming to believe myself to be the centre of the universe. Despite the risk factors involved, I fondly like to imagine that I mostly avoid the worst excesses of the egocentric (but then, perhaps this is true of all egomaniacs?).  At least I have been spared the horrors of fame which seems to substantially raise the risks.

Usually, if my ego threatens to break loose of its bonds, my habit of travelling by public transport quickly disabuses me of any notions of being the centre of the universe.  When travelling by Greater Anglia, it is usually pretty clear that no passenger (sorry, customer) is even remotely near the centre of their corporate universe.  Last week, even a stray swan was further up the pecking order then we mere customers – I know that urban myth suggests swans can break your arm, but I’d never previously heard anyone suggest they can break a train.  Other than some of our larger waterfowl, I’m not entirely clear for whose benefit Greater Anglia is run.  I suspect one objective is just to be marginally better than First Capital Connect and so stay off the bottom of the rail satisfaction league tables.

In my more paranoid moments, I do wonder if the fact that Greater Anglia is owned by the Dutch may be relevant (let’s face it, much of our critical infrastructure is owned by Johnny foreigner).  By keeping a significant portion of the UK’s working population regularly heavily delayed and so tired and frustrated, they are helping to keep the country from economic recovery to the benefit of our competitors in the Netherlands (and elsewhere).  However, my more rational mind tends to remind me that the people of Holland really don’t need to exert themselves to delay our recovery when our own government is doing such an excellent job on its own.

Whilst Greater Anglia is doing its best to keep my feet firmly on the ground (well, it’s often cleaner than the seats), my life a-wheel oft has the opposite effect.  On Friday, I headed into Cambridge to visit the flicks and then go on to a soirée to celebrate mid-summer.  The weather forecast said “dry” – so I took some precautions – but nevertheless headed out into dry sunshine.  Within 100 yards of leaving home, the sun departed and the rain arrived.  I put up with this for a mile or so, but it became more insistent so I removed by shades and put on my jacket before continuing onwards.  Within 100 yards of this wardrobe change, the rain stopped and the sun re-appeared and so I found myself squinting and sweating.  After a couple of miles of this, I changed back out of my jacket and replaced my sunnies.  Again, within 100 yards of me re-starting my journey the sun once again disappeared and it started spitting.  This spitting grow stronger and after a mile or so had become torrential rain, and so I was once again forced to change my attire.  This time it took some 200 yards before the rain vanished and the sun returned – but I’d had enough and so sweated and squinted the remaining three miles into town.

It would seem that the rain and sun were following me with an explicit plan to be as irritating as possible – a plan they delivered on with admirable thoroughness.  It reminds me of a story from childhood where the sun and wind have a competition to make a passer-by remove his coat.  Perhaps I am the centre of the universe?  Or of someone else’s nursery story?  Or at least a VIP in the world of earth-based weather phenomena?  Lest we forget, when I last visited Florida it snowed – for the first time in 80 years!  Coincidence?  Well, quite possibly yes.

Yesterday, I headed down to Lewes for a concert – and so had to cycle to the station to catch a specific train.  The day was dry except for one (relatively brief) period.  From the earliest time I could sensibly leave for my train until just after the last time I could leave and hope to catch my train it rained.  Well, more than rained, it hammered down with Biblical intensity.  As with the previous day, the extraordinarily tight focus on my own outdoor movement plans is highly suspicious.  This time, the plan failed – I made it to the train with nearly 30 seconds to spare.  However, I did have to ride like the very wind and endure significant initial moistening on departure.  I think this failure did rather knock the wind out of the weather’s sails, and for the rest of the day it only made very lacklustre attempts to drench me.

The way things are going, I fear I may be entirely lost to solipsism after a couple more times out on the old velocipede.  Then again, as a philosophy it doesn’t sound much fun at all given how much fun the world outside the self can offer!

On Friday, my slightly damp body was delivered to the quite excellent Before Midnight at the Arts Picturehouse before I then went on to a truly marvellous party (one I feel Noel Coward himself may have approved of).  Fine company and conversation were accompanied by a little gentle music provided by some of the guests.  Added to this, I managed to eat a truly prodigious amount of cheese washed down with more than a little white wine.

Yesterday, good company and fine music were once again on the cards as soon as I reached East Sussex (by now having dried off), this time thanks to the Esterházy Chamber Choir and their summer concert.  The concert had a strangely appropriate first act closer (as I believe they say in the business known as show): a setting by George Shearing of “Hey, ho, the wind and the rain” (by old Bill Shakespeare, but placed into the mouth of Feste).  Does someone if the choir have the second sight?

So, I shall try to resist the rise of my ego and maintain myself at a suitable distance from the centre of the universe – something which I’m sure any decent cosmologist would tell me doesn’t even exist.  Whilst I’m pretty sure I’m not the centre of the universe, I do sometimes wonder if I am (in fact) a minor character in a very long running sitcom.  As a result, I do always have half an eye out for the studio audience…