Bread and circuses

Before we proceed with the main agenda of today’s post, I felt it was time to inject a little, much-needed structure into the madcap anarchy that usually typifies GofaDM.  So, let’s start with Matters Arising from the last post.

Having boasted of my skill and perspicacity in organising a rather successful trip to the Athens of the North, I feel I should perhaps give a little credit to mother nature (you really don’t want to end up on the wrong side of Gaia).  The weather in Edinburgh was unusually clement – so much so that I began to regret my failure to pack sunscreen (or a parasol).  According to the natives, this was not typical of summer 2015 as a whole and, in my brief visit, I estimate that I experienced more than 40% of the actual summer.  The sun is not always a friend to the Fringe-goer as the venues have a tendency to become rather toasty (and, indeed, sweaty) if the mercury rises by even a modest degree.  Here again, years of practice came to my aid and I chose to spend my whole Festival in shorts, thus gifting the general public with 360° views of my all-too-rarely exposed calves and shins (despite the potential provocation, swooning was, fortunately, kept to a minimum).  This additional exposed flesh seemed to work wonders for my body’s temperature regulation – well, either that or the Fringe have become better at venue cooling.  And now, that little piece of business out of the way, we can return to the main agenda.

Despite the title, I should prepare any lovers of the baker’s art for disappointment now.  Loaf-lovers will find little succour for their obsession here as I shall be concentrating on the expanse of title lying to the right of its conjunction.  At this year’s Fringe, I took in twenty-five shows over my six-and-a-half day visit – but this included four that might be considered to fall within the genre of circus.  This might not seem that many to you, but it exceeds in number all the circus-based entertainment I had attended in my adult life prior to that point.

When I say circus, you can keep your jugglers, fire-eaters, clowns and any animals whose participation remains morally viable: I’m really just interested in the gymnastic and/or acrobatic elements of the modern circus, basically, I’m looking for inspiration or tips.  The four shows were all very different, with a wide range of feats performed and a variety of approaches taken to link the physical feats together (and give the performers a brief opportunity to rest).  I could thoroughly recommend them all.

Something – a curious name for a show (does one go to the box office and ask for an hour of something?) – was the most approachable of the four shows, i.e. a few of the feats I can almost do and rather more I can imagine one day attempting.  It used the floor, tables and a ring or chain suspended from above.  The more physical elements were linked by slapstick and comedy and there were lots of costume changes – it definitely provided the most laughs of the four shows.

La Meute – used a lot of props, and in particular a lethal looking all-metal swing (constructed of something akin to scaffold poles).  This involved the cast being flung scarily into the air before summersaulting back down to a landing pad.  It also included some comedy (albeit of a slightly curious, French nature) and the male cast performed the whole show wearing only towels (which miraculously did not fall off – I can’t even keep a towel on whilst shaving).  I will not be attempting any of this in the near – or even distant – future: far too much need for split-second timing and risk of being smacked with extreme force somewhere painful (or worse) by a scaffold pole.  Irritatingly, most of the cast demonstrated that they could also sing or play a range of musical instruments as well as perform such extraordinary acts of physical derring-do.  I had thought that I was unique in trying to learn to sing and be a gymnast at the same time.

You – another oddly named show – had a single performer, ex of the Cirque du Soleil (which I know only via an episode of The Simpsons).  He used more limited equipment – a Swiss ball, some books and a frame with some long straps hanging down.  He maintained quite an odd monologue through most of the show – which given that I can barely speak having performed much more basic activities was rather impressive (even if the content revealed some substantial gaps in his understanding of nuclear physics and genetics).  He did do a few things which I might aim towards (and many far more impressive ones which may have to await my reincarnation into a more flexible form) – but he will not be invited to use my library given his treatment of his own books.  The show was good, but rather strange with a finale involving a lot of pudding rice and the audience being invited to throw it around on stage.

Limbo – was the last, and most expensive, of the shows I saw.  It also had the largest cast and set and included sword swallowing and fire-eating – which I will admit is quite impressive (and very hot) when you are seeing it from the second row.  It covered almost all the physical feats I have seen in previous circus acts, but generally added at least one little extra twist.  There was an extraordinary section where five of the cast were atop flexible poles swinging together and out into the audience which I have never seen before (and won’t be trying at home).  However, by far the most impressive element of the show was the most flexible man I have ever seen in my life.  I can only assume he must live a dairy-free life (an existence I am not willing to copy) and has no bones at all.  Not only flexible but incredibly strong in what seem impossible and unstable positions.  His acrobatics manoeuvres were the most impressive to me as they started without momentum – and I don’t feel the audience gave him the credit he deserved (showier colleagues gained the greater plaudits).

I rather fear that I am becoming obsessed by the circus: so many new feats to try (one day) or at least at which to take (very distant) aim.  If nothing else, I will be rather more diligent at working on my flexibility and stretching in the weeks to come.  I also found that the circus shows made an excellent counterpoint to the wordier fare which made up my other Fringe-going (and this very blog).  Should I be adding a more physical element to GofaDM, do you think?

Snow day…

like show day.  Like snow day I know?

Today I awoke to see snow from my bedroom window and while I downed my breakfast porridge the skies poured forth their white, flaky bounty with some vigour.  “So what?”, I imagine those of you living at higher altitudes or latitudes shouting at your screens.  Well, I’ve been in Southampton for 18 months now and this is the first time I have seen snow – so my inner 8 year old was quite excited.  If I’m honest, it was pretty weak snow – only a few millimetres worth and it was more air than snow, a sort of snow mousse – but the weather has to be given some credit for trying.  It struggled to lay, though away from tarmac-covered surfaces it had a go – but by early afternoon it was all gone.  I feel that there is a metaphor for life somewhere in that last sentence, but I shall leave its extraction as an exercise for the reader.

The snow was accompanied by quite chilly conditions (for the jewel of the Solent that is, but obviously very toasty compared to 99+% of the universe).  It struck me that if these conditions continue much longer I may have to turn on the heating and eschew the shorts as I cycle to the gym – but not today, my legs once again did their best to make a little vitamin D in the weak winter sunlight.  In lieu of heating, I am currently cooking a raw (golden) beetroot – quite a slow and energy expensive process.  Perhaps foolishly, after cooking I shall allow it to cool (like a sort of vegetable storage heater) and then use it in a salad: nothing says salad like sub-zero temperatures and a mini-blizzard!

Lest readers are left with an image of the author as some sort of hard-as-nails, macho stereotype I can reveal that my other main task today has been sewing missing buttons back onto some shirts.  I wouldn’t want to suggest I’m about to take the world of tapestry by storm, but I am a somewhat competent seamstress (seamster?) in this very limited area.  I may not be quick or elegant, but buttons I have reattached tend to stay attached.  Oh yes ladies (and/or gents), I’m the complete package!

Unexpected descriptions of the author

The title might equally have said “inaccurate” as you will see.  I try to live by the Delphic maxim to “Know Thyself” and as this blog has oft noted, I live both alone and with an idiot.  Like everyone else (I assume), I am occasionally dazzled by my own genius – but this feeling is quickly replaced as my default stupidity re-asserts control.

I have as recently as the last month been referred to as “young man” by someone who was not obvious mentally or optically deficient nor in imminent hopes of an express communication from Her Majesty.  I like to imagine this is down to my boyish good looks (well, I like to imagine that I could imagine that), but fear it may have more to do with my childish demeanour.

A while back, a friend – who knows me reasonably well – asked me the following question: “When did you realise you had an extraordinary mind?”.  I admit I struggled to furnish them with any sort of answer, though like to imagine that I blushed modestly (maybe even coquettishly).  If there is one thing a maths degree, the 27 years thereafter and writing this blog has taught me then it is that I have a very pedestrian mind.  At best, I have a half decent memory and have managed to maintain a curiosity about the world around me – which helps to keep the contents of my memory topped up with new pieces of useless information.

A few months ago, a chap approached me in the gym and asked me how I managed to be so “super-fit”.  I will admit that he was somewhat more stricken in both years and girth than I am (and seemed to have put his whites and reds into the same wash), however, I am a country mile from super-fit.  Trying to be a gymnast in my late 40s, I do sometimes watch real gymnasts who would merit this label – and my level of fitness is a very very long way away.  I suppose I am probably fitter than your average bear (of 48), and would certainly by willing to pilfer some dainties from an unguarded picker-nick basket (if the opportunity arose) – but that is as close as I get.

This very morn, when the mercury was still cowering under the duvet with its electric blanket on, I cycled across town to the gym.  I did this, as is my wont (unless it is very wet), in shorts – as this means one less item of clothing to put on and remove and means that I can forego the cycle clip (which can bite into my calves).  Whilst waiting at one of the many traffic lights that Southampton affords the traveller, a youth scampered across the road by me.  His gaze seemed drawn to my lallies – catching as they were the gloom of the morning sun obscured by cloud – and he called out “You are a lad” [his emphasis], grinning broadly before he continued to scamper across the road (in a manner which would have horrified Tufty) before entering the nearby Police Station.  He didn’t strike me as a PC or brief, so may perhaps have been a local scally – though one, I like to imagine, with a heart of gold.  I’ve never really thought of myself as a lad – even when I was age-appropriate to the epithet (and would a true lad use the word “epithet”?) – but this compliment (however misplaced), from one who should probably know, buoyed me up on a chilly morn.

So, if I were to believe others, I could start to see myself as a hyper-intelligent, lad-hunk.   They do say “See yourself as others see you” – but in this case I should probably pass.  Luckily, all the while that reflective surfaces and even a modicum of self-awareness remain available to me I shall continue to recognise myself as a middle-aged, clumsy idiot – which is a lot closer to the Delphic truth (and not a tripod seat in sight).

Wintry wardrobe

Despite many Southampton trees clinging on to some of their anthocyanin-dyed leaves, it is hard to deny that winter has laid its wintery cloak upon us.

I have yet to turn on the heating in the flat, but I have stopped flouncing around with my torso clad only in a t-shirt – I have moved to longer sleeves or added a cardigan – so it is definitely growing colder.  Soon, I may have to stop journeying to the gym wearing shorts – though seeing lasses wearing even less in the way of leg-covering at the end of last week has sparked the last gasp of my manhood into continued resistance to the lure of long trousers.  In my (admittedly limited) experience, whilst the fairer sex tend to have colder flesh and a greater desire to run the heating when indoors, when outside they seem much better able to resist the cold than we members of the weaker sex.

I, of course, have a long history of wearing shorts all year round.  As a young lad, I tended to fall over quite a lot (some would say that little has changed) and this tended to destroy the knees of my trousers.  Given that trousers do not grow on trees (surely a project there for the genetic engineers among us), for much of my primary school career I was dispatched in shorts right through the depths of the Kentish winters of the 1970s – and in those days, we had proper winters!  For, as my mother quite rightly said, “Your knees will mend the trousers won’t”.

As I approach middle-age – apparently they’ve moved the goalposts and I have yet to arrive (I assume this is linked to the receding retirement age) – I find myself far less reluctant to wear a vest than I did when younger.  I still hate to wear a jumper – I’d rather be cold – so I use the layers approach and I’ve realised the vest can play a useful role as layer no. 1.  As a result of my recent vest-wearing, I have noticed that I seem to have a rather abrasive navel given its ability to erode the inside my vest and deposit the results within’t.  Should I be moisturising more thoroughly?

However, the biggest joy brought by the return of winter is the ability to wear a scarf without appearing overly affected or victimised by that fickle jade, fashion.  I nurture the illusion that I look rather good, raffish even, wearing a scarf.  Readers should feel free to help me to maintain this illusion despite all the evidence.  I suspect early exposure to Tom Baker’s Doctor might have something to do with this, though my own scarves are very modest in both length and colour-scheme compared to his.  The scarf doesn’t really work on the bike, so I’ve had rather more chance to wear it now that I live within walking distance of the city-centre: which is a definitely plus to my new life on the south-coast.

Breaking leg…

…wear news.

For many years, I have not been in weekly receipt of a free local “news”paper (perhaps down to buying a new home) but this situation has now changed.  Each Thursday, I take reluctant delivery of the Cambridge News and Crier (though who the lachrymose individual might be is not made clear) which proudly boasts that it is “Free weekly newspaper of the year in the East of England”.

This week’s front page lead (actually, the only story on the front page) relates the harrowing tale of a local lad who has been forced to endure warmer-than-wanted legs as a result of his school’s banning of shorts (the leg wear, rather than the drink – though, as the child is only 12, I presume this is also banned).  To alleviate his distress, he has taken to wearing a skirt – on the grounds that some of his fellow pupils (the girls and any immigrant Scots, I assume) are permitted this luxury.

At the risk of sounding my age, they don’t know they’re born these days!

When I was a lad, I went to school throughout the year in shorts (trudging, thus attired, through the deep Kentish snows of the 1970s) up to the age of eleven.  This was not a school policy, but that of my mother.  As a child I used to fall over quite a lot (so, not much has changed there – except the cause) and my mother reasoned that my knees would mend and my trousers wouldn’t.  The switch to secondary school – with its stricter uniform policy – brought some relief as I was then compelled to wear long trousers.  The requirement for long trousers obtained throughout the year and, being the inmate of an all boys school, the skirt option really wasn’t available.  However, it wasn’t all overheating in my teenage years – when we played football or hockey the teams were distinguished by the members of one team wearing coloured “bibs”.  Well, that was the theory, but as a result of funding issues (I assume that was the cause, though it could just have been sadism) there were not enough bibs – and so one team had to play in “skins”, i.e. naked from the waist up.  Football and hockey were only played in winter, and often in driving rain as I recall – but it never did me any (lasting) harm.

In some ways, the enforced experience of extremes of temperature has proved beneficial in my later life.  I think my childhood rather over-loaded my body’s temperature sensing ability, and as a result when I later moved to Newcastle (the one upon Tyne, and the best – beware imitations) I was well able to fit in with the locals and go throughout the winter wearing minimal clothing (to be brutally frank, I often found myself wearing less than the locals).

I’m not quite as good in heat, but did still manage to give an all day training course, suited and booted, in a London basement office with no opening windows or air-conditioning, when the outside temperature was 38ºC with 100% humidity.  Worse, I was sharing this office with a projector, 4 desktop PCs (not mini-constables) and three Italians.  I did warn the Italians that the office would be hot and they should dress appropriately, but for some reason they assumed I was joking about the lack of cooling and dressed for style (way too much wool) rather than comfort.  Let’s just say, it was very hot in that room and the PCs weren’t the only things humming!  But, we survived – and, at least one of us was able to spin the straw of that day’s suffering into blogging gold (yes, I am the electronic answer to Rumplestiltskin – though I reckon my name would have been even harder to guess)!

I do worry that, in some ways, we are making childhood too easy for our young people and the real world is going to come as a terrible shock (as it did to my Italian friends) when (and, if – let’s face it, I’m still resisting) they grow up.


It’s not just exotic fruits, today has brought two further harbingers of Spring.  For the avoidance of doubt, these signs prefigure the tilting of the Earth’s northern hemisphere towards the sun and not the recent Flemish performing arts based kids’ soap opera (and there’s a conjunction of adjectives I never expected to be able to use).

Portent 1: For the first time in 2011 I have been out cycling in shorts!

Portent 2: The first snowdrops are flowering in my garden.

To boost the visual appeal of this blog, I decided to include a photograph of one of these events.  To spare you, my dear readers, any further distress, I have gone with the snowdrop option.

A harbinger of Spring

If there is sufficient public demand, a picture of the author in cycling shorts might be posted at some time in the future.  If nothing else, it could be used to keep slugs off your brassicas.

Returning to less disturbing thoughts, I found myself worrying about the common name for members of the Genus Galanthus (as regularly readers will have realised, this blog is sponsored by the Linnean Society).  It makes about as much sense as rain flakes (as opposed to Reign flakes, the Queen’s breakfast of choice) – perhaps we should refer back to the Greek nomenclature and create the composite (but more logical) name of Milkdrop for these early heralds of Persephone’s return from the kingdom of Hades. Unless you have a better idea…