Plus ça change…

plus c’est la même chose.  That’s your actual French!  This somewhat Hackneyed (or should I be using some cognate Parisian arrondissement?  Is Cliché somewhere in the banlieue, peut-être?) old phrase was brought to mind by a couple of recent events which, if you are sitting comfortably, I shall now go on to relate.

After a few days of relative dryness and warmth – on a couple of occasions I was bold enough to venture out without the prophylaxis provided by waterproofs, and on some 50% of these excursions I didn’t even get wet – normal service has been resumed.  This particular part of “flaming” June is, of course, famed for its extreme precipitation: forming as it does that dangerous conjunction of the Glastonbury Festival and the start of Wimbledon.  Such is the mythic power of Glastonbury, that even in a year marked by its festival’s absence it is still able to cast a pall over the weather.  This is a part of the grail and Arthurian legends that is little mentioned, though Joseph of Arimathea was supposed to have arrived by boat across the flooded countryside, which should perhaps have been a warning (many myths do hold some small germ of truth within).  The foolish organisers of the Isle of Wight festival – and more cogently those choosing either to attend their event or who merely wished to visit or escape the Isle – are paying for their hubris in moving to such an ill-omened weekend.  If there is one thing Tlaloc loves more than a four day bank holiday, it’s the conjunction of an outdoor festival and a tennis tournament.  I rather think he is a fan of the concert hall and Real Tennis: talking of the former, I did wonder if Gustavo Dudamel had been mis-informed about the climate of Stirling when he choose to hold a concert outdoors last night (rather than choosing an indoor setting), the poor audience did look very storm-wracked.

In an attempt to find some psychic shelter from recent meteorological conditions, I have been watching the re-booted version of Hawaii Five O: it does rain quite a bit, but it does look like very warm rain.  This is all very glossy and seems to have the sort of budget of which British television can only dream.  It also tends to be a tad irritating, but I’ve kept watching it (so far) for Scott Caan’s Danno who is allowed to be sardonic and to limp (though the latter may not be acting, I have not researched the real-life state of his cruciate ligament).  However, my primary beef is that it suffers from the same issue as Midsomer Murders (among many others) – no, it is not that the cast is overwhelmingly white and given that it is set in the US, I am willing to believe the rate of violent death portrayed may be realistic (though I have not checked the stats on this) – it is just that the villain is always the most famous member of the guest cast.  The only saving grace is that my knowledge of the relative fame of US actors is less finely nuanced than it is back home, and so for a few episodes there does remain a small element of mystery as to whodunit.  I think this may be why I find Scandinavian detective drama so effective – I don’t (yet) know their pool of acting talent and so I can still rely on the traditional bases of good police work (so far as I’m aware, CID are unable to use the fame of their suspects to find their (wo)man).  I really feel casting is in need of a revolutionary new approach – both here and across the Herring Pond – if detective drama is to regain its ability to confound my expectations.

The quality of mercy

is supposedly like the gentle rain from Heaven, though recent events would suggest that celestial mercy may be rather strained.  Recent precipitation brings retribution to mind rather than mercy, and suggests a vengeful deity with an itchy trigger finger.

In the last 15 days, I have been soaked to the skin on three days (though four occasions) and have have been rendered pretty wet on a further ten days.  This is despite attempts on my part to use intelligence from the Met Office to travel at times of lower risk wherever possible.  In an attempt to restore the much-missed drought, I never leave the house without being laden down with waterproofs and an umbrella.  I have also purchased additional waterproof clothing (which gives my existing waterproofs longer to dry after each drenching) and even scarified the lawn (which has always generated desiccating weather in previous years).  What more can any man do?  If reverse psychology has stopped working on the weather then we really have wrecked the climate.

A recent article in the Guardian (or at least its headline, I refused to read further for fear of raising my blood pressure) exhorted cyclists to enjoy riding in the warm summer rain.  With temperatures struggling to reach my age (in Fahrenheit) and with 10-40mph of wind chill to add to that, I don’t really feel the rain is terribly warm (though one of the Inuit or Saami might take a different view).  If warmth were on offer, I might consider an alternative approach and swap the waterproofs for an absolute minimum of clothing (though cycling naked strikes me as a very dangerous and painful choice) and some shower gel: my skin would dry quicker and I’d save both on time and my water bill.  The only downside is that arriving in little more than my birthday suit at a theatre, concert hall or railway station, I would probably be considered a tad under-dressed however clean and sweet-smelling I was.

Whilst recognising the dangers of solipsism, on several occasions the weather has been dry for an extended period before my journey, with the first spots only appearing as I leave the shelter of a building.  I begin to think that rain-generation is either a third, unwanted super-power or to wonder if the fact that I called God a lousy lay in a previous post might have returned to haunt me.  On the plus side, I suppose I could hire myself out to drought-stricken regions of the globe or join the Fire Brigade (though they’d have to relax their eye-sight requirements and I’m not good with heights) and, of course, I should only be used for some types of fire (adding rain to those involving electricity or very hot metal would not be advisable).

He who makes things sprout

The second four day bank holiday of 2012 is upon us, and once again Tlaloc is giving unstintingly of his benison.  Perhaps stung by criticism that his previous offerings have not been wholly effective in delivering us from drought, temperatures have also plummeted. No longer will the water companies be able to complain that the rain is evaporating before it can enter their reservoirs.

Still, the good offices of the Aztec God of Rain have not been beneficial to all.  The water companies’ gain must be balanced against the adverse effects on so many outdoor events, whether Royalist or Republican, planned to mark the Jubilee and into which so much work has gone.  It was obvious to me that planning to hold the Jubilee over a bank holiday weekend was going to be asking for trouble.  You’d think that after 60 years as monarch of these rather damp islands the Queen would know better – but, as she has never had a 9-5 job and famously doesn’t carry money (much like myself), perhaps the whole bank holiday concept has rather escaped her notice.

Then again, perhaps it wasn’t Her Majesty’s fault: after all, it was the government (only Her’s in name) who moved the bank holiday at the end of May from its traditional temporal location, a weekend of high temperatures and glorious sunshine, to its new date and the cold, wet conditions we are currently experiencing.  I fear the poor saps can’t even organise bread and circuses successfully (a failure which rarely boded well for the rulers of Ancient Rome) and sadly, unlike the taxes on pasties and static caravans, I fear it is too late for a U-turn to do much good.

Still, I’m sure my fellow countrymen (and women) will be able to cope with a little (or more relevantly, a lot) of rain – let’s face it, we are rarely short of opportunities to practice.  After all, is this not the country that invented the mac?  And did so long before Apple came along and claimed the name, making it far more cool but far less waterproof.

Pharos

Over this last weekend, there was a strange light in the sky over South Cambs.  Village elders claimed that this was called the “sun” and used to be a regular visitor – but I’m sceptical and suspect they were gently ribbing we younglings.  Some even claimed that the brief warming we experienced was an atavistic glimpse of something called a “summer” which apparently once lasted for many weeks, but that’s clearly fantasy.  Still, I did use the opportunity to sport both my panama hat and my fivefingers to considerable acclaim (well, the hat part anyway).  Luckily, the normal world order has now been restored and I have been zipped back into my waterproofs for the week.

As part of my efforts to keep the arts going in Cambridge going single-handed, I was out every evening last week from Monday to Saturday.  This did enable me to cover theatre, music, comedy and cinema – but also took its toll.  I’m not sure how my mind and body would have stood up to such exertions when my telomeres were rather longer – largely because I was not foolish enough to put matters to the test in my youth – but by yesterday I was really quite tired.  So, I scheduled an evening catching up on the output of BBC4 – that pharos of the mind – which I had missed during the week.

Between the cerebral delights of BBC4, my recording device chose to revert to Channel 4 for some reason and so I caught brief glimpses of one of the Twilight movies.  Young people today are often criticised for having very short attention spans, but many of them (I believe) enjoy these films despite the fact that this one, at least, was interminable.  I managed to watch an episode of the Bridge, a documentary on the Antikythera mechanism and hold a telephone conversation of reasonable length and yet still the film was continuing when I shut-up shop for the night.  The plot seemed to revolve around a miserable girl moping a lot, quite often in heavy rain.  She seemed to keep afflicting herself on some lad who initially had long hair and dressed relatively normally but later had clearly had a haircut and spent most of his time wandering around topless in shorts and heavy rain.  I presume he had been driven to this by the relentless melancholy of his female chum, perhaps in the hope that he would catch his death of cold and be spared her attentions?

Anyway, this lad (I think he may have been the J of the series’ very own Jedward) seemed to have a very healthy all-over tan for someone who spends quite so much time in the rain.  I do not seem to have been similarly blessed despite the recent precipitation – perhaps I should be cycling around topless?  If nothing else it would resolve the issues caused by my waterproofs (human skin, as recently reported, is waterproof thanks to some of the fats in the stratum corneum) and as a bonus could yield a healthy glow.  However, it was not the boy’s skin tone that caught my attention but his teeth.  Even in the screen-based “entertainments” from the land of the free, where the whiteness of one’s dentition is seen as strangely important, I have never seen such brilliantly white teeth before.  They were literally fluorescently white: positively glowing.  If his movie career doesn’t take off (and on the evidence of the clips I saw, acting may not be his strong suit), he could find work with Trinity House keeping ships safe from rocks (and other maritime hazards) around this country’s shoreline.

Late April Fools

A think tank (which I suspect has as little to do with thinking as it does tanks) has garnered significant press coverage (and a mention in GofaDM) after deciding that UK GDP would be significantly boosted if we did away with bank holidays.

If we temporarily accept the hypothesis that GDP is the best thing a nation can produce, and put to one side the fact that any gain is likely to benefit the very few at the expense of the many, I still fear that this “analysis” contains more schoolboy errors than the entire output of St Custard’s.

Off the top of my head, I could point to the following silly mistakes:

  • The huge loss of GDP recently caused by the Banks might have been slowed (or even reduced) had they taken a few more holidays.
  • The UK actually makes very little (trust me, I’ve tried buying stuff we make and it’s not easy), we are mostly a service economy.  I’m not sure how many more haircuts, insurance policies and the like it is actually possible to sell (legally) in the extra days provided.
  • Many people seem to do most of their consuming on bank holidays, without them I fear for the future of the DIY, sofa, travel and tourist businesses to name but a few.
  • It is a common fallacy that working more hours produces more “stuff” which I thought  Cyril Northcote Parkinson had de-bunked pretty successfully back in 1955.  Whilst it is dangerous to generalise from a sample of one (particularly if that sample is me), I find that not only does it take me longer to do anything when I am working longer hours with less time off, I also tend to make more of a hash of the thing being done.

So, I fear that this plan would result in a poorer, unhappier nation which produces less work of a lower standard from an even smaller number of sectors – and one in which our bankers have way too much office time on their hands to produce dangerous, marginally legal (from the wrong side of the margin) financial products.

But, none of these represents the main thrust of my argument to retain – and indeed increase – our bank holidays.  My argument is, in fact, hydrological.  Over this current bank holiday weekend, most of the UK has seen more rainfall than in the preceding three months put together.  If the government is serious about tackling drought – and the very severe (and real) economic impact thereof – it should be increasing our quota of bank holidays.  Given the well-established fact that Tlaloc is a big fan of the bank holiday, we need to appeal to him to offer us his beneficence (in the from of precipitation) by adding some extras: especially in that difficult and dry September-to-March period where there are so few (and those that do exist are dedicated to other deities who are frankly failing to deliver on the cold, warm or occluded fronts).

Strange weather

As I may have mentioned before, I am no stranger to the Stevenson screen (invented by the father of Robert Louis Stevenson, apparently) having been a stalwart of the Weather Club when at secondary modern school back in the late 1970s.  Having the keys to the “screen” made me a very desirable chap, I can tell you – not just any lad of 12 could offer a look at his wet-and-dry bulb.

After a few years of cycling around South Cambs, I have realised my understanding of the weather is not quite as great as I might have imagined.  I used to think that fog and strong wind were mortally enemies – wherever there was fog, strong wind would be absent and vice versa.  Either I was wrong, or they have had a major rapprochement since 1979, but I can assure you that strong wind and fog can now often be seen out and about together.  I’m not sure how this works – you’d think a stiff breeze would disperse the fog – but it is nice to see ancient enemies burying the hatchet.

Today, I encountered another new weather phenomenon.  Before departing Fish Towers, I checked the forecast (dry) and the rainfall radar (not a shower within 100 miles of Sawston) and so was slightly surprised by the continuous and insistent rainfall that was my companion as I headed into Cambridge for a little last-minute Christmas shopping.  It would seem that the boffins at Qinetiq (or one of our other, somewhat euphemistically named, defence companies) have succeeded in developing stealth rain!  Yes, finally the dream of rain that is totally invisible to radar is a reality – though, the real breakthrough will be invisible fog (ideal for airports!).  No longer will the UK need recourse to fire- or cluster-bombing of civilian populations in order to undermine enemy morale.  No, in future the mere threat of being able to ruin fêtes and barbecues without warning should quickly bring Her Majesty’s foes to their knees and/or senses;  and how pleasing that we are finally able to use one of this country’s greatest strengths, and bring drizzle to bear in the field of conflict.

Still, bad weather is not without the odd delight.  Last week, while almost freezing rain was being hurled at me with stinging force by a fierce crosswind, I did have the pleasure of seeing a rainbow.  Not just seeing one, but for the first time ever I could actually see the end of the rainbow and where exactly it touched the ground: in a hedge less than 100 yards from me.  No sign of a diminutive Irish chappie with (or without) a pot of gold though.  Maybe all those TV offers to buy your gold through the post had proven too much of a temptation?  Or have the leprechauns all been recalled as part of the attempt to bail-out the flagging economy back home?

Playtime

As a young lad, I seem to recall going to the Marlowe theatre in Canterbury to see a pantomime.  All I can remember, after all these years, is that a very angry Christmas pudding had a major (or at least memorable) role.  The theatre is named after local lad Christopher Marlowe and yesterday afternoon at Shakespeare’s Globe I finally saw some of his own work (I believe the panto was penned by another), “The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus”.

As previously mentioned, I had invested in a seat and cushion – and a very sound investment they proved.  Whilst sitting down in comfort was good, even better was the protection provided by the thatched roof that we ‘nobs’ enjoyed during the reign (and I use that word deliberately) of old Queen Bess.  Just before the play began, the light rain we had been “enjoying” was replaced by thunder, lightning and really heavy rain – in some ways, rather appropriate for the subject matter (if slightly mis-timed) – but not much fun for the groundlings or those actors who had to emerge from the shelter of the stage canopy.  My day-job predicting the future once again proving its worth – it’s Wimbledon week and Glastonbury starts today, heavy rain was almost inevitable!  The sun did arrive by the interval – so I could enjoy my rather fine (if London-priced) tub of ice cream in its warming rays.

This post will now attempt to hang a sharp left, and try a little bit of theatrical review – though I suspect the late Sheridan Morley has little to fear.  Once upon a time, I used to see the RSC pretty regularly, but have fallen out of the habit of theatre-going in recent years and as a result was strangely over-excited as the curtain of rain came down over the stage (no fabric curtain for the Globe – too anachronistic).  I think the play provided everything one should expect from Elizabethan entertainment – and probably more. Bawdy comedy – and some of it seriously bawdy, with the expected knob and fart jokes joined by at least one clear allusion to what stand-ups call the C-bomb (but which James Naughtie calls the Culture Secretary), tragedy, music on period instruments, poetry, dance, a bit of rather out-dated astronomy (Marlowe was no Brian Cox) and even puppetry.

For someone who usually experiences drama via television, cinema or the book some elements of the live theatre seem quite weak – but others were a revelation.  The fight scenes and special effects cannot compete with modern filming and CGI – or even my imagination (which I should probably have been exercising).  On the screen you get used to seeing actors very close-up and with them talking quite quietly, which does make the theatre – especially in the rather loud weather of the first act – initially a rather different experience which takes a little while to adjust to.  The costume though was easily the equal of other media (and some of the changes seemed inhumanly fast – or at least one pair of unadvertised twins was involved) and the music not only extremely well suited to the mood and action but was only added where appropriate – most of the time the audience was trusted to find the correct emotional response unaided!  Some elements would never work on a screen, but were truly brilliant on stage – the dance and puppetry were very effective and Lucifer having the damned demonstrate the Seven Deadly Sins was incredible as was Hell itself at the end.

The acting seemed good to me – and you do get full 3D without wearing silly glasses as the action comes out into the audience (as did at least one thrown stick of celery and the odd grape!).  Paul Hilton as Faustus does make you believe in the man, despite his rather foolish and inconsistent actions.  Arthur Darvill (who always seemed so nice in the past) as Mephistopheles was really quite frightening when suddenly switching from Fautus’ servant/accomplice/confidant to his true nature as the demon with a soul to collect. Not only did these two get the main parts, but they were the only characters who get a chance to snack on stage – an important consideration for yours truly if he is ever to tread the boards.  The supporting cast were great and had to play several, widely varied parts each and I think part of the fun is trying to spot who they were last – I never did recognise Lucifer in his other roles (though I did see an awful lot of him in one of these).

The underlying story of Faustus does suffer the same defect as most tales involving a character with enormous occult powers – they don’t really do very much with them.  In Fautus case, he does little more than a few practical jokes and a bit of historical re-enactment.  If I were given all the power of Hell (not, I would suggest a very wise thing for anyone to give me) I’d like to think I’d get something done.  Then again, Marlowe did have to operate given the constraints on special effects in the late 1580s – so he has more excuse than more contemporary scribes who tend to allow a bunch of American teens to prevail over the massed forces of darkness.

To conclude, the whole thing was amazingly entertaining – though it’s hard to pin down exactly why.  I think there must just be something about the live theatre that means it is greater than the sum of its parts (a bit like live music) – that’s synergy, man.  Certainly, based on this experience, other trips to “proper” theatre could well be on the cards, and so could make their way into this blog if we aren’t all very careful…

Cake Walk

Safely ensconced at Glandwr Mill, it would seem that the title of this post does not create quite the dialectical opposition I had previously suggested.  My first two days in Cymru have each yielded both a fine walk and an excellent cake.  As a result, I can confirm that T H Roberts remains the cake connoisseur’s cafe of choice in this part of the world.

The rain, for which Wales is justly famed (and which my Sawston garden sorely needs), does serve at least two very useful purposes.  This morning’s downpours permitted a guilt-free lie-in and lazy morning (neither of which will be delivered by tomorrow’s sunny prognosis).   When the sun came out this afternoon (I’d always suspected something, you never hear mention of a girlfriend), we discovered it had also re-charged the local rivers so the Torrent Walk more than lived up to its billing – some seriously raging waters and evidence (for the more fanciful rambler) of a game of Pooh sticks played by local giants (I suppose there might be a more prosaic explanation for the tree trunks in the river – but I’m sticking with whimsy).

Tomorrow’s itinerary does not allow an excursion into Dolgellau, so any posts tomorrow night could see our hero going through the cake equivalent of cold turkey.  What this will mean for the quality (or even quantity) of any material produced is hard to judge…