Fly-tipping

A “sport” many might consider easier than the traditional(?) cow-tipping, but I would beg to differ.  Some might imagine that the fly’s lower mass would make the task easier, but I would point out that your typical fly has its centre of gravity (and mass, for that matter) much nearer the ground than its bovine counterpart.  The fly further enhances its stablity relative to its mooing rival by dint of its two additional legs.  Perhaps most importantly, not only can the fly see the potential tipper coming from a much wider range of angles but also has the option of taking to the air: not something the earth-bound Fresian or Hereford can manage (without some sort of powered exoskeleton, which I think would be against the spirit – if not the rules – of the sport).

Why, you might ask, have you been subjected to the previous paragraph?  Well, it is because the author was tempted to indulge in a little fly-tipping of late (based on its more common definition).  Actually, to be honest, he was more tempted to arrange a burial at sea (it is somehow a more romantic end), but as a species we have used the oceans as a dumping ground for far too long (presumably on the basis that out-of-sight equals out-of-mind which in turn banishes the unwanted matter from existence: something which even disposal in black hole may struggle to guarantee) and I felt it would be poor form on my part to add to their burden.

Following the emptying of the storage unit, I had some stuff that needed disposal.  This stuff could not be placed into the bin, nor was it substantial enough to count as bulky waste, and so it was up to me to take it to the tip (or recyling centre as I believe we should now call them – though that description would hold more water in South Cambs than it does in South Ampton).  In common with most municipal tips, my nearest one is not located or laid out in a manner which is friendly to the pedestrian or cyclist with rubbish in need of the last rites (but wishing to avoid them his- or her-self).   However, the city council is clearly worried that its traffic-friendly policies are not attracting enough precious vehicles into the city and hopes that the additional traffic generated by the tip will bring its dream of gridlock a little closer.  Having given my car away some time ago, I was forced to hazard my disposal trip on my bicycle.

On a positive note, the disposal process worked – my rubbish is gone and I am still walking (or cycling) through the shadow of the valley of death.  On the downside, I may be unable to have children: which, should perhaps be counted as part of the upside.  Does anyone really want these genes to be propogated?

I have been mountain biking though, in the interests of full disclosure, I should clarify that no mountain was involved.  BUT, I have ridden a mountain bike, off-road, on unprepared surfaces in terrain with closely grouped contour lines.  Technically, the areas involved in North Yorshire and the North Pennines did not involve mountains, just hills, but I think the principles of the activity were fully covered (including a sudden, unplanned dismount into a stream).  I thought this – and 3.5 years living in Southampton – had prepared me for cycling on uneven road surfaces: but I was wrong.

The route between my tiny home and the tip contains quite the worst surface (whilst metalled, I fear I cannot call it a “road” for fear of being called before an OED Board of Enquiry) I have ever had the misfortune to experience from a bike.  If anyone wishes to dislodge a loose tooth, sheep tick or unwanted limb or spouse, could I recommend cycling along Third Avenue (in either direction): it will do the trick.  I do seem to have retained most of my body’s vital appurtenances (and several of my fillings) – but the frequent, heavy impact between the saddle and my nether regions may have destroyed any residual hope for further grandchildren that my parents might have been nurturing.

I think I can say that the Romans would despair of what we have made of their legacy, at least in terms of their transport infrastructure.  Next time (if there is a next time), let’s just say that I shall be wearing a lot more padding “down there”, or should I embrace a future as a soprano?

Three Nights in Southampton

I have, of course, spent rather more than a trilogy of nights in Southampton – despite my regular excursions across the water to Hibernia – but in the interest of brevity will limit the scope of this post to the a recent run of three.  This post is both a response to a lot of recent fun and to the discovery (indirect) that some of the more priviledged indigenes of the Chichester area seem to view Southampton as a Hampshire based dystopia, a south-coast Somalia if you will (a reference which may be a tad dated).

I will start with Thursday and a stroll to the wilds of Shirley.  The evening proper began with a stiffener at the Overdraft: a craft ale bar which brings a hint of Brooklyn to the south coast (as long as you don’t look out of the windows).  Despite being a craft ale bar, it is usually easy to “keep it session” (as we PCDs say) from the ever changing selection of cask ales.  So the author retained the vast majority of his sobriety for the short stroll up to the Santo Lounge.  The Lounge is a sort of bar-cum-cafe, but on Thursday night played host to a little corrner of Spain.  Jero Ferec, guitarrista of this parish (or at least with links to one nearby) was peforming: with three female colleagues from Spain providing the bulk of the cante and baile.  It was an incredible night of music, complex rhythms and energetic dance: by the second half it seemd the whole cafe was enrapt.  I was left with a strong desire to go back to Iberia and brush up my horribly rusty Spanish (though I fear I will still struggle with the pressure to eat very late at night).  In case you were worrying, the evening – in common with all three I shall be describing – also offered some excellent cake: it is, after all, thirsty work watching people exert themselves for my entertainment and it is very dangerous to partake of liquids without the natural safety harness we find in cake.  Also, with the gig being free, I felt it was encumbent on me to support a local venue via the method of cake consumption (it’s not that I wanted to, more that I felt an obligation, you should understand).

The photo above I have “borrowed” from my Facebook feed as it appears to have been captured by a vastly more competent student of the photgraphic arts than I (he or she may also have brought better equipment – not that doing the same would necessarily have improved my own efforts by much, merely weaken this particular workman’s tool-related attempts to shift the blame).

Friday evening brought another free gig, this time at the Notes Cafe with the folk-inflected trio Tenderlore, who I had always assumed were local.  However, researching this post indicates that while they met at university here, they hail from across the south: Rob from the traumatic (to me) site of my driving test(s).  If I slept at night, I would no doubt still be haunted by nighmare visions of the hills and junctions of Herne Bay.  A totally different musical vibe to Thursday night, but the blending of voices and strings (and the occasional ‘ting’ from a glockenspiel) with music both complex and catchy made for a really enjoyable night.  It was also my first encounter with the U-bass, which is a bass for the player with limited carrying capacity – basically a ukelele with massively thick rubber strings – which is suprisingly effective (and I imagine, comfy on the fingers).  One of the best things about the modest gigs I go to in Southampton (other than the intimacy of the experience) is that not only the audience, but also the band are usually clearing having a really good time.  Even Rob was unusually smiley (not that I’m an expert on the effusiveness of his facial expressions, but I was under the impression he was known for his poker-face).  On this occasion, my cake served to protect me from the risk of an unaccompanied rosé: well, it is summer and I’m confident in my almost complete lack of sexuality (plus it was on special offer – and my momma didn’t raise no fool!).

On Saturday evening, for the first time in this post, I had to part with money (though not very much) to go to a gig: this time at the Art House Cafe.  This was the most unknown of the week’s musical offerings: an Italian group called Armonite who play violin-rock (not a concept of whose existence I was previously aware) with influences from the prog-rock of my youth.  They were amazing – and by some distance the loudest thing I’ve heard at the Art House.  Their set alternated between their own compositions and violin-rock versions of film scores.  Having heard the latter, this is definitely the best way to score a film (well, perhaps not during the quiet bits).  I (and the lucky few in the audience) had a ridiculous amount of fun and will have no cause to count our manhood cheap: as some 7 billion of the rest of you might.  Below is a ‘selfie’ taken by the band of themselves (the 4 youthful Italian-looking chaps in the foreground) and the audience (general older, less Latin in apppearance and further away).  For the avoidance of doubt (and anyone who knows what the author looks like), the expression on the face of the chap standing to my immediate right has nothing to do with me: I suspect he may have a medical condition (or have imbibed not wisely, but too well).

I feel the violin, at least in its electric form coupled to a Pod HD500X (which is the coolest looking set of effects pedals I’ve ever seen) , may have missed its métier.  It’s all very well en-masse in an orchestra, but perhaps its natural home is fronting some hard rock.  The bass was also rather an impressive beast: 5-strings and the biggest head I’ve ever seen on a guitar-derived instrument.  It looked like it weighed a ton.

In my recent gig-going, I have seen a wide range of stringed instruments wired for sound, even a viola: though that was an acoustic instrument with a mike.  I have never seen even a partially electrified viola da gamba: let alone a fully electric version.  And don’t get me started on the theorbo or the violone.  I think I’ve identified a gap in the market and will be going into production, just soon as I can clear my current to-do list and get myself vaguely organised (so, don’t hold your breath or anything fragile, folks).

Three nights, three great gigs, three totally different styles of music, musicians from three countries.  To paraphrase a local musician, Southampton “is not a shit-hole”, though this is not (as yet) the city’s motto.  (I apologise for the language, but I’ve heard worse of Radio 4 at 18:30, so it can’t be that shocking).  Sometime it almost has too much culture: on Friday there were at least two other gigs I was tempted by in the city:  I need to work on my tele-prescence (or cloning – though I refuse to live with any of my clones, one of me is quite enough).

Orange megaphone

“Where is he going with this title?” you may wonder.  The thought “Why has he been so poor at updating the blog of late?” might also have crossed your mind.  At most one of these questions will receive an answer (though not necessarily a satisfactory one) in the text that inevitably follows.

Southampton is a city of hidden delights.  Before moving here, I checked to see that it had all of my vital needs covered: an art house cinema, a theatre, a classical music venue, a John Lewis, decent rail links (in theory at least) and a blood donor centre.  A slightly odd list of needs – and certainly one which suggests I see myself as some way from the foot of Mr Maslow’s triangular hierarchy.  This post will cover none of these key conditions precedent to my relocation, but a lucky find that has oft been mentioned before in this blog will now be thrust into the limelight.

On my first visit to Southampton (as an adult, I may have come here as a child), to reconnoitre the town and view my flat-to-be, my first stop after leaving the station was the Art House Cafe for a spot of lunch.  No-one wants to meet an estate agent on an empty stomach (or, indeed, at all).  The internet had pointed out the cafe to me as a likely spot to offer some cake-centred breaking of my relatively brief fast.  The internet had not been economical with the truth and I was suitably fortified before my rendezvous.

Time passed (as is its wont).

I then discovered that the Art House also staged events, and so went to a few comedy nights there – at this stage, all starring Andrew O’Neill who managed to bring three different shows in a year.  After this lengthy introduction to their first-floor ‘venue’ (fools may rush in, but I don’t like to be so easily typecast), I branched out and started to attend some of their fairly regular musical offerings.  These have now become the mainstay of the rapid recent growth in my CD collection.

Going to a gig at the Art House is not unlike having the music performed in your front room – except, their venue is a little larger than my deceptively-spacious (OK, small) lounge and has a vastly better sound system (indeed, for my money offers the best venue sound in Southampton other, perhaps, than Turner Sims).  I nearly almost always manage to sit in the front row – offering good leg-room and allowing my glasses to remain in their case – as others seem to fear the potential for audience participation (though this has only happened rarely, despite my obvious star quality).  They also book the ‘talent’ and deal with all the admin and set-up (and down) – which is a major boon.

As a cafe, they can also provide drinks to satisfy both the temperate and the dipsomaniac, which can be consumed during the gig from ceramic or vitreous vessels (no plastic beakers here), and a selection of food, including cake.  Somehow, the lack of an interval ice cream is much easier to bear if a thick slice of cake is available in its stead.  Their cake is vegan – not something I have ever attempted to make at home – and I have no idea what they use in lieu of eggs (and will perhaps be happier remaining in ignorance), but the results are delicious.  As I have discovered over the last week, they also make the best mince pies in Southampton (based on my slightly limited, but growing, experience).

I have enjoyed some wonderful music there: recent highlights include the folk and gypsy-jazz infused work of Kadia (unusual, perhaps, for having a cellist on lead vocal) and the more classically strung delights of the Stringbeans Quartet (who improvised not one but two pieces in a key and style of the audience’s choosing: apparently C# Major is quite the challenge).

However, due to a recent rather dilatory approach to this blog, this post has been hanging around as an unfinished draft for quite a while and so the inspiration for putting digits to keyboard was a Sunday afternoon gig way back in October.  This was even more intimate than usual with myself lounging on a comfy sofa with a truly massive chunk of cake (and a responsible pot of tea) to enjoy some Hungarian indie synth pop from The Kolin.  I had zero idea in advance what they might be like, but the gig was amazing fun: the only disappointment being that they did not sing in Hungarian. How the band came to be performing in my local cafe/venue, on their four date UK tour, I have no idea but I’m grateful for the improbable juxtaposition.

The band have a certain fame for the use of body paint, rather than more traditional habiliments.  However, on the day they were fully clothed though I fear the drummer may have taken his style tips from the Swingtown Lads (perhaps ironically).  However, painting was still much in evidence – with some incredible face and body painting going on to one side of the stage (the stuff you see on children was as nothing to this) and a mural being painted on the other.  An afternoon at the Art House can truly be a gesamtkunstwerk.

The lead singer (keyboard player and driving force) of The Kolin as well as using a normal-seeming mike also used the style of microphone I had previously associated with taxi drivers and policeman for some lyrics.  For one song, he even used an orange megaphone (see figure 1).

Orange Megaphone

Figure 1: The title explained!

As you will glimpse, they are also the first band I’ve seen at the Art House who brought their own neon signage!  (You can also see a corner of the Muriel and the artist hard at work).

This reminds me of another great thing about an Art House gig: the performers seem to enjoy themselves as much as the audience.  It is wonderful to see musicians clearly having a really good time: it makes for a special evening (or afternoon) out.  While many of my readers may not have the good fortune to be local to Above Bar Street (oddly, not famed for its subterranean drinking dens), I suspect many a town or city will have a decent, independent music (and more) venue and at a time of year when people are making new resolutions might I suggest people plan to check out their local ‘Art House’ in 2016.  You probably won’t regret it (and I’m sure they could use your support) – and I’m taking no responsibility even if you do.  The buck doesn’t even slow down here.

Hamwic: Redux

Sad to say, this post will not be about the ignitable core of my new pork candle: not a euphemism!  That particular product remains stuck in development (and at odds with my mostly vegetarian lifestyle – I’m not sure ‘facon’ would work as well).

Hamwic (aka Hamtun) was the name of the original Saxon village which over time has migrated westwards but somehow gained the prefix ‘south’ to become Southampton.  The city has a surprising amount of surviving heritage – the Luftwaffe and subsequent town planners failed to destroy it all (though they deserve some sort of commendation for their efforts).  I must admit that I have only really discovered this ‘hidden’ heritage through the need to find somewhere novel to take visitors (once I’d exhausted the possibilities offered by the Common).

The city has a surprisingly complete and solid city wall: built, as you might imagine, to keep the dastardly French at bay (though they may have had some justification for their raids: dodgy, biased scales and the export of Plantagenet troops to reclaim their French holdings might have riled them, just a tad).  Until surprisingly recently, the western and southern walls gave out directly onto the sea (I’ve seen the painting to prove it!): today it overlooks the docks, an ugly dual-carriageway and a range of retail parks (I’m not entirely sure this is progress – but the cruise ships would have struggled to moor against the old quayside).

The city also contains some surprising survivals: including merchant’s houses from the 13th and 16th centuries – but has buildings (or sizeable fragments thereof) going back to the Normans.  The Medieval Merchant’s gaff was ‘revealed’ when the bombs cleared away many of its neighbours – though I couldn’t, in general, recommend aerial bombardment as an archeological tool (it lacks the discernment of hand trowel and brush).  Both contain museums and a variety of local artefacts of which my favourite was a hot cross bun in the Tudor House.  It was described as ‘very old’ by a visitor who visited when the museum opened in 1912, so it is now exceeding old and does look a little wan and rather hard: it certainly isn’t hot and has lost its cross (if ever it had one), but it is still clearly a bun (and has been preserved, incorruptible – which may make it a saint among buns).

Perhaps the city’s most distinctive (if most hidden) feature is the extensive vaults which lie beneath the old town.  In ye olden days, Southampton was the main centre for the import of wine for much of the country (at least as far north as Nottingham) and many properties had vaults beneath to keep the product fresh.  I believe twenty or so (from an original 50 ish) survive and I have now been to seven (and peered into the gloom of a couple more).  Five of these came on the excellent Vaults Tour which leaves from the Tudor Merchant’s House and provides a fascinating insight into the city’s past: I think these happen only rarely, but are well worth catching if you can.  Fascinatingly, many of the vaults came as the Medieval equivalent of a ‘flat-pack’ – though it must be said that not all the builders were of the best quality and the instructions have not always been followed to the letter (or at all).  One vault, and the one in which I have spent the most time, has clearly been recycled from an earlier vault and is decidedly gerry-built: though as it has outlived most of the rest of the city, one can’t be too critical.

Several of the vaults can be hired for events and, indeed, the upcoming Music in the City festival (OK, day: how many days make a festival, I wonder?) will use many as venues.  A chap with a significant anniversary on the horizon could consider using them for some sort of celebration (or wake), but they are unheated and lacking in anywhere to recline which might make them a challenge for less hardy celebrants in February (even in balmy West Hamwic).

A Musical Chain

Before we start, it seems worth noting that this far-from-august organ has been in existence for five years.  Who, back in 2010, would have thought it?  What pointless commitment to a rather foolish idea this demonstrates: if only I could generate the same long-term dedication to something more useful.  So, that little bit of admin over, let us proceed with post 675!

I should start by making clear that I have no intention of impinging on the copyright of Messrs Radcliffe and Maconie: rather than linking tracks, I shall be linking gigs through the interstitial medium of my own life.  Southampton has a surprisingly vibrant cultural scene, but does work quite hard to conceal this fact from the casual (or merely mildly determined) viewer.  I am becoming better connected, largely by using social media to stalk any individual, group or organisation that, by lucky chance, I discover – but this is a slow old process.  It would seem that most use social media to share images of themselves, their food or children and to shore-up their political beliefs and share videos of cats: I seem to mis-use it terribly by sharing bad jokes and attempting to find interesting gigs – but I don’t seem to be breaking any rules, so I shall continue with my slightly outré take on the virtual world.

Still, the last ten days have been pretty fruitful when it comes to finding live music.  It started, as so much does, at the Arthouse Cafe with my first visit to a Three Monkeys gig.  This involves three, unrelated guitarists who each play a song.  This is repeated three times, followed by an interval and then another 3×3 set of songs.  This is a very entertaining format and occurs every month – so I’ve only missed 24 or so.  At the end, I discovered that an Oxjam gig was taking place the following day in a vault beneath Southampton High Street – not much notice, but better than the negative notice which often accompanies my discovery of local culture (which is less than helpful given that my best wormhole, to date, has only allowed a worm to move a short distance within space).

The Oxjam gig involved a series of ‘acts’ playing a ~30 minute set across the afternoon and evening.  A broad range of music was covered, though mostly involving stringed instruments and remaining within sight (albeit sometimes aided by binoculars) of the folk genre.  A lot of fun, if a lot of standing up, and a chance to see half-a-dozen acts before I was forced to retire (a wise decision as my walk home just managed to beat the start of the monsoon which has been such a major characteristic of the end of August 2015).  Most significantly, the gig introduced me to a local singer-songwriter called Jack Dale and another two CDs were added to my collection.  I also discovered that another charitable gig involving a line-up of local, musical talent was taking place the following Sunday (or ‘yesterday’ as I now like to call it – but only for another twelve hours or so) at a pub just a short walk from Fish Towers.

I rather enjoyed spending the afternoon in a dank vault as the last of the summer’s sun beat down on those foolish enough to be outside.  No need to worry about UV protection for me!  However, I can’t help feeling that Oxfam would have done a little better financially had the gig been more widely publicised: it was rather sparsely attended and I only found out about it by chance (and would like to view myself as fairly core, potential audience).

Yesterday (see above), the Big Gig at The Shooting Star – a pub with a bar billiards table (among other delights), a rare sight in these debased times – was huge fun (and, I was even able to spend much of it sitting down).  The three bands on the bill, included two fronted by soloists seen the previous week at Oxjam.  The Horse – fronted by the aforementioned Jack Dale – were particularly entertaining and meant that I ended the night with a smile on my face (and once again, a lucky return home just before the heavens opened: I feel I’m going to pay for this continuing good fortune at some stage).    Another two CDs also managed to sneak their way into my flat: this burgeoning habit might start becoming a storage issue if I’m not careful.

The chain of musical events will continue on 3 October, which I now know to be Music in the City: where live music fills all manner of odd spaces across Southampton (and of which I’ve only missed two through complete ignorance of their existence).  I can only hope that this in turn reveals more musical events which have so far been hidden from my insufficiently curious gaze…

Mastered by mortification

Today, for the first time and after a mere twenty-three month residence in the city, I finally visited the Southampton City Art Gallery.  I cannot claim that it lies in an especially remote location – it is little more than five minutes walk from my home and lies directly above a regular haunt of mine, the central library.  Entry is also free, and so I cannot blame my much lauded fiscal responsibility.  It does have somewhat limited opening hours – though I can only blame those for twenty-two hours of my delay in visiting.  I did attempt my first visit yesterday, but in my successful attempt to avoid school parties arrived too late for entry.

If I am to find a sink for my culpability in taking quite so long to make my first visit, then I fear I must look to human psychology – and mine in particular.  As a result of its ease of access, I can always tell myself that I will visit tomorrow – an internal monologue which would seem to have worked for some 700 tomorrows.   You may wonder what finally broke this long succession of unfulfilled internal promises and so it would seem churlish of me to deny you that knowledge.

A little while ago, I think at an event at the Nuffield,  I learned that the City of Southampton boasts a rather impressive collection of art – though only a fraction of this is on display at any one time.  As a result, I resolved to visit – and so the weeks passed but still my resolution remained stubbornly unresolved.  Then, earlier this week, I was asked to take part in a customer survey about the gallery as I left the library, and it was the crippling sense of guilt about my inability to answer any of the questions in a useful fashion that finally spurred me to act.  Oddly, I do seem quite a popular choice to proffer my opinion on subjects of which I have little or no knowledge: relatively recently I have also been quizzed (on camera) for my thoughts on the Premiership relegation battle and (on mike) about hip-hop (I had very few useful thoughts on either but was persuaded to make some up – after a short briefing – for the camera).  I don’t think I give off an art gallery-visiting, beautiful game loving, straight outta Compton vibe – but perhaps my subconscious or face have other ideas?  I do feel that my experiences help to illuminate the general pointlessness of vox populi and hope they might help encourage the media to quietly (and quickly) ditch the whole idiotic idea.  Whilst the number of people who are well-informed on a topic are clearly massively outnumbered by those who are not, I still feel it is worth making a little effort to seek out the former.

Anyway, having now seen off the amuse bouche we should probably move onto the meal proper.  I must say that the gallery was rather a pleasant surprise – with a modest but interesting collection of works spread over substantial and almost deserted gallery space (I did cunningly arrived just after two parties of primary school children departed, which I suspect improved my experience).  I rather enjoyed the paintings of Southampton through the ages – and I now have oil-painted evidence that the city was once a Georgian architectural theme park, before the Luftwaffe and post-war town planners had their wicked way with it.  Pleasingly, in one such painting I’m pretty sure I could see my flat (a first for me – I don’t think I’ve ever seen my primary domicile portrayed in proper art before) – though in those days it probably hadn’t been subdivided.  Green as the city is today, it once boasted even more parkland in the centre and its suburbs were – as recently as the nineteenth century –  rather beautiful downland.  Seeing images of the city, painted over the course some three hundred years, does incline a chap of a slightly romantic disposition to see ghosts wherever he treads.  Still, knocked about a bit though it is, I have grown oddly fond of modern day Southampton over my tenure and find myself keen not to leave just yet.

Among the gallery’s temporary delights, I was rather taken with Spatial Objects by Dan Holdsworth (I fear the lighting in the linked photo does not do them justice) – though I’m not sure I have a home for them (even if I could have sneaked one out under my jacket).  My highlight was a photograph taken by an HND Photography student from Brockenhurst College (one Isabelle Orman) as part of her coursework.  It was of a rather mundane industrial-looking scene, but captured in a quite extraordinary light.  It took a view that most of us would have dismissed as rather ugly and made it truly beautiful.  If that’s not Art, I don’t know what is – the latter may, sadly, be true but I am trying to slowly educate myself.

I shall try and avoid waiting another two years before the difficult sophomore visit – but I’ve made unkept promises on GofaDM before, so I’d recommend you judge me on results rather than good intentions (which I believe make decent pavers for an express route to Mount Avernus).  Nevertheless, I am hopeful that the promise of seeing more of the gallery’s rotating collection (from which, were I a company, I could hire examples at a very reasonable rate) may help me to stay true to my once avowed intent.

Trip hazard

For those expecting me to hold up a dark mirror to Trip Advisor, or to take on Lonely Planet, I see only disappointment in your immediate future (1 star).  Equally, if you are hoping for some insight into the issues which arise from the dropping of acid, you will find little here to help.  All I will say is that if you are carrying anything much stronger than a decent white wine vinegar you should really be using a fume cupboard and wearing appropriate PPE (gloves, safety specs et al).  If the balloon really does go up, and the flask down, my best advice is to use some ground carbonate: baking powder might be a good choice in the domestic realm.

When we are small, by which I mean lacking in years rather than just height, it is not uncommon to avoid walking on the cracks between the paving stones (NB: may not be real stones).  Often, stepping on the cracks is associated with some form of existential peril – mostly commonly (I believe) bear attack.  This risk has even been immortalised in song by Carly Simon: a woman with a broad advisory remit: safe, bear-free use of the pavement and dress-etiquette when embarking a yacht.

This fear of ursine assault puzzles me.  The last wild bear on these Isles shuffled off its mortal coil (or, more likely, had it shuffled off by a hostile biped) around 500 AD (or CE for the theistically challenged).  As a result, the risk of encountering a bear would seem low, barring some sort of zoo-based containment issue.  I am aware that in the quantum world, it is possible for a lepton-antilepton pair to be “borrowed” from the universe – and thus appear to be created spontaneously – as long as it (the universe) is paid back pretty darned quick.  However, the instantiation of a bear (and matching anti-bear) via this sort of loan arrangement seems both very unlikely and exceedingly dangerous in a built-up area.  Frankly, the antimatter comprising the anti-bear is going to be a far bigger issue than the teeth or claws of the bear itself.

Buy why am I suddenly obsessed with being assailed by bears (or their anti-matter equivalents)?  Well, let me explain…

This blog has previously mentioned the rather poor quality of road surface in the Southampton area and the concomitant impact on the contents of a chap’s unmentionables.  Well, a similar issue also affects the footpaths of the city, with many paving slabs being very poorly bedded into the underlying substrate.  As a result, if one treads too near (or on) the cracks one’s foot can be swamped in the muddy water that had, until that moment, lain concealed ‘neath the concrete slab.  Perhaps worse, if one is even slightly uncertain of balance, you can be pitched into a passerby or item of street furniture (or, in the case of a tallboy: both).  Now, I will admit that this could be a handy excuse for a bit of highly desirable physical contact with a fancied (and physically proximate) fellow pedestrian – though I think it would take some practise (and a little finesse) to make the “accident” appear fully convincing.  I’m also fairly certain that institutional apathy (or inefficiency), rather than the provision of imaginative flirting opportunities, is behind the poor state of our footpaths.  I am often surprised at how few of the elderly or blind I encounter littering the pavements around my inner-city garret: could it be that the local ambulance service is particularly efficient?  (or is the tidying up down to the street sweepers?)  Still, good to know that my local authority is doing its bit to keep the cost of welfare down – even if some of this saving is transferred to the already strained budget of the NHS.