Eschewing Community Chest

Southampton is fairly generously served with cinemas and screens, and further options exist a short way off in Winchester (and a new cinema is apparently being constructed).  However, this apparent bounty does not extend to offering a particularly wide range of films.  Basically, each of the cinemas – even the art house ones – just offer a subset of the films showing at the main multiplex.  In the extreme case of the Picturehouse and Cineworld, doing so barely 100 yards from one another.

This contrasts with Cambridge, where the Arts Picturehouse offered a very wide range of films – though it did only make some of its more obscuring offerings available on a single occasion and at rather odd times.  I think this is down to perceived (or perhaps even actual) supply and demand: the cinema managers of Wessex do not feel their audiences are up for any particularly challenging (or even just slightly quirky) fare.  Given the number of copies of the Daily Heil one sees around, they may well be right – but it is a disappointment for the more eccentric denizens of these parts (which certainly includes me, though I’m reasonably sure I’m not entirely alone).

The only ray of light breaching these clouds of conformity are Discover Tuesdays (a terrible name in many ways, as I think few people are still surprised to find a day lurking between Monday and Wednesday) when we are allowed to see something more interesting: as long as we are willing to have an early tea and hit the cinema by 18:00 (the concept of having a late tea, some time after eight, is clearly a non-starter – unless you fancy gorging on wafer-thin chocolate-covered mints).  Annoyingly, this time slot does tend to clash with desirable concerts at Turner Sims – events which I tend to book further ahead than trips to the flicks and so I’ve missed out on several films that I might otherwise have found stimulating.

This week, my visit to Turner Sims was on Thursday to see Schubert’s last three piano sonatas.  This was worthwhile, if only for hearing the stunning way Christian Blackshaw played the second movement of D960 (for the avoidance of doubt, he played the rest very well too – but this movement really stood out).  However, it did in turn mean missing out on a gig at the Art House Cafe which also looked like a lot of fun.  Life is full of regrets – unless you are Edith Piaf or a UK wetland (oh no, sorry, that’s egrets).

As a result I did have the chance to Discover Tuesday (it was located as expected and still named after Tiw), but the film was unknown to me and I hemmed and hawed about it.  Eventually, I decided to take a chance (blow my £8) and go – if nothing else, I felt I needed to encourage the Harbour Lights in its more adventurous programming (and if I won’t, who will?).  I’m very glad I did as I really enjoyed The Best Beneath My Feet – in some ways, it is a British take on the US High School movie but being British has strayed quite some way from the source genre.

Whilst it is set in the present (I think) it has some of the feel of a period piece.  This is partly because we see very few cars and our hero’s laptop and mobile phone are not the most recent, but mostly down to the school our hero attends.  For the first time in ages, a school being shown on screen reminded me very strongly of my own experiences in the seventies and early eighties..  The classrooms and corridors were all very familiar – though the chemistry lab was a bit of a giveaway as to the more modern period: no ancient, heavy (and heavily scarred) wooden desks with built-in bunsen burners accessed by high wooden stools (I do feel that when it comes to chemistry, the youth of today are missing out).

Our hero himself is also slightly disconnected from the present, his school uniform and parka would have been (almost) entirely at home at my own school circa 1980 (a slightly different tie and the wrong badge on the blazer were the only clues that would have given him away to anything but a detailed uniform inspection).  Perhaps because of this, he reminded me very strongly of the youthful me, though I think there were also strong visual similarities.  He certainly had my terrible posture and a similar build and was even somewhat facially similar (though you should bear in mind I have not seen my teenage face in 30 years).  I had (and still have) less musical ability but on the plus side don’t think I wore such awful glasses and was (a bit) less of a loner.

Another bonus was the sight of one-time, teen heart-throb Luke Perry, who is very slightly younger than me.  I have no particular interest in him personally (and am unfamiliar with the rest of his oeuvre), but was very pleased to see that he is not wearing as well as I am.  Now, I do appreciate he was playing a very dissipated character in the film, but I like to imagine that I can tell what was make-up and what was the ravages of time.

So, all-in-all, taking a chance played off handsomely.  A fun film, an opportunity to wallow in nostalgia and to feel that I am ageing relatively well (not quite a £10 win in a beauty content, but at my age you take what you can get) – and all for less than a (small) round of drinks.  Since this came only a couple of days after a similarly late and uncertain decision to see David Goo and The 150 Friends Club, I feel my spontaneous decision-making to see culture “because it’s there” is going rather well.  As a result, I’m going to try two separate events organised by Pint of Science this coming week – one related to physics the other to biology, but both (I assume) related to beer – which are taking place in nearby pubs as part of some broader UK-wide pub-based science festival (whose existence I discovered from a flyer I spotted at Turner Sims on Thursday).  If anything interesting happens (and quite possibly if it doesn’t) you will be the first to hear about it!

A bridge too far?

I learned to play Bridge while at school – which may tell you something about my age and social background (or may not).  I did not live anywhere terribly posh during my school days and my schooling was provided by the State.  Perhaps curiously, I was taught by my chemistry teacher – which I suspect he did in his own time (Bridge certainly wasn’t on the curriculum) – or this may be entirely normal (a web search suggest this link between chemistry and contract bridge may not be entirely uncommon).  I have no idea whether today’s young people are exposed to the delights of Acol and Blackwood whilst in their teens – I fear they may have superficially more exciting things to do than we had in the early 80s.

Bridge is a very cheap hobby (unless you bet on the outcome): all you need is a deck of cards, three friends (or you could use complete strangers, but this may be harder to arrange without an inappropriate degree of coercion) and a pen and paper to keep score.  I played at school, at my grandfather’s and most recently on a holiday in Iceland.  I do find it is becoming harder to find people who are both able and willing to play Bridge, which is a pity – or perhaps I just move in the wrong social circles.

But why is the old fool banging on about Bridge?  Well, you should blame HMRC for I learned in the news today that the Courts have agreed with HMRC that Bridge is a game rather than a sport.  I think I’d always known this: it is clearly a card game (like cribbage, whist or Newmarket), I am not aware of any card sports (though this may be a result of my sheltered upbringing).  Confusingly, when I was forced to play sports at schools, the lessons were described in the timetable as “Games”.

One might wonder why the judiciary and excise should be bothered by this difference – well apparently sports are not subject to VAT while games are.  Yes, it is the whole Jaffa Cake debacle again whereby cakes and biscuits have different VAT treatment and the courts had to decide into which camp the orangey treat should be placed.  I suppose I shouldn’t blame HMRC, they merely enforce the laws of taxation – it is government that creates these laws.  I find it hard to explain why successive UK governments have decided that sport and biscuits are good, but games and cakes are bad.

I suppose sport has supposed health benefits – though does also seem to generate an awful lot of injuries (everyone I know who played football in their twenties had totally wrecked their knees by their early thirties) which is not something which I would expect from playing Bridge.  I suppose sport might also have benefitted from the Victorian vogue for muscular Christianity.  However, I fear it does give the impression that the State is rather keener on brawn than brain and I’m not sure this is going to help us in the “Global Race” (which is apparently so important to the current government), unless this race is a rather more literal one than I had previously understood.  It also seems to reinforce the school stereotype that “jocks” are more lauded than “geeks”.

The preference for biscuits over cake is unfathomable – does the state have some issue with raising agents?  Was this an attempt to support British biscuits against an onslaught of imported cakes (a flood of gateaux and torte)?  I suppose baking powder et al work their magic through the production of carbon dioxide, so perhaps this is an early attempt at green taxation to tackle global warming?  Still, I can’t imagine that the baking of cakes is a major contributor to atmospheric CO2: even given my own consumption.

What other weird incentives is our VAT system giving to the good folk of the UK?  I seem to recall there is some strange difference in treatment between hot and cold food – with cold food favoured (very much not the position taken by generations of mothers – but I suppose for much of history they were not given the vote and even now are rare in government).

Many in this country (and probably others) whinge about the European Union and its supposed legislation on the curvature of bananas and the definition of carrots as fruit (so that the Portuguese can make jam out of them).  I really don’t think we need to look to Europe for such irrationality, perhaps we should focus our efforts on our own taxation system.  That way we could reduce the scope of confusion and expensive court cases and rationalise the incentives we provide to our citizens.   Let’s have a level playing field: whether it be of grass or green baize.  Let’s have fair competition between the cake and the biscuit!

Back to school

Last Saturday I took the next step in my cunning plan to become an expert on The Arts: Past and Present (sadly, the Open University is unwilling to offer me mastery of The Arts: Future – or not at this level and/or cost) and attended my first Day School.  This very much does what it says on the tin, in that it lasted the whole day (OK, 10:30 to 16:00 – but that counts as a long day for me) and it took place in a school (OK, a very highly rated sixth form college).  School does seem to have gone rather upmarket since I last attended, though the chair technology seems to have moved forward not one jot.  It is an oft quoted “fact” that back pain costs this nation a fortune in lost working hours each year: perhaps a modest investment in more lumbar-friendly seating for our young folk would be a wise one.

But, I seem to have divagated from my point somewhat (and we can thank my OU course for that rather handy piece of new vocabulary).  I spent a fair chunk of the day in a room that was dedicated to PE (Physical Education).  In my day, this would have involved parquet flooring, bars, mats and an unwanted requirement to engage in coordinated, physical activity – but this room had desks, chairs and a fair volume of IT equipment and, as a result, no room for anything terribly strenuous.  If PE had been more like this in the seventies, I might have taken more of an interest and who knows what sporting prowess I might have achieved.  This room also introduced me to the East Anglian pastime of dwile flonking (its name was pasted to one of the notice boards around the room, along with the names of more familiar sporting activities).  Strangely, this sport was not on the curriculum in my day – but sounds a great deal more fun than those that were, and could well be one of the few in which the UK still leads the world.

The day itself was divided into four sessions, and an introduction.  Regular readers will be pleased to know that I only attended three of the sessions (I don’t want to seem too needy): the lunch break provided was insufficient for anything other than sandwiches, and after two trips to Woking for the day job in the preceding week I’d had enough of John Montagu’s invention.  Added to this, the 6th form college was next door to a restaurant that had received very positive reviews and which I’ve been intending to visit for some time, so the Dalai Lama didn’t stand a chance.

The day (well the 7/9ths I attended) was enormous fun and it was good to meet a wider selection of my fellow students.  The feedback forms seemed to suggest the day was wholly designed to help us with our next assignment (sadly, it seems that all education – even the elective – is now skewed at passing exams rather than learning anything) at which it was only mildly successful, I’d suggest they should be seeking feedback on a wider range of outcomes from the day.

Talking of assignments, this week also brought the marks for my second assignment (TMA02)- which was basically re-writing the weaker half of the first assignment and reflecting on the comments that had been made thereon.  Once again, the author received very good marks – even better than TMA01 – yes, as before this post is just an excuse to boast about my incondign mastery of the art of essay writing.  This weekend, I need to start work on TMA03 and I’m starting to experience performance anxiety.  All these decent marks are creating a rod for my own back: do I have anything worthwhile to say about the Dalai Lama and Plato’s Meno?  Will I come to I regret my lotus-eating last Saturday lunch-time?  I’m not feeling much love from the muse at the moment, so I may just have to stop procrastinating and hope that 90% perspiration will either (a) be enough or (b) act as a spur to at least a few percent of inspiration.  Sadly, unlike Mr Edison I don’t have a large team whose combination of sweat and innovation I can claim as my own.