An Augmented Verb

While I continue to doubt my credentials as a ‘writer’, I cannot deny that I have some sort of fetish for language.  Over the past weekend alone, I have found myself musing as to whether ‘rusticity’ and ‘vespine’ are words – or just word-like formulations of my own devising (as it transpires, I can lay claim to neither – despite the doubts of both WordPress and Google when it comes to ‘vespine’, Mr Collins is clear that they have existed for quite a while).

One of the many ways in which I indulge my fetish is by listening to The Verb via its podcast.  I was introduced to The Verb by its host: not directly, but via his Twitter feed (one of many introductions for which I must thank the blue bird of both happiness and truly hideous abuse).  In common with much of Radio 4 – or at least those parts I enjoy via podcast – The Verb is on holiday, but as a sop to those addicts among us is offering selected back-numbers to help us make it through the difficult, dog days of summer.

Usually, I listen to podcasts at home or on a train (or occasionally, a plane) but to celebrate what might have been the last gasp of summer (our canine friends will soon have to cede the temporal stage to another creature – the duck days of autumn?), yesterday I decided to indulge in a little al fresco consumption.  So I took my self, iPod, and a pair of headphones up to the Common to enjoy the sunshine and temperatures on the upper cusp of their teens.  After a pleasant walk around the Common, the obligatory soft ice cream (which, if I’m honest, was the primary reason for my excursion) and a little light butterfly stalking, I sat down on the grass and started a Verb from distant 2013 (before I became a regular consumer).

I rarely sit on the grass – perhaps an age- and height-related desire to avoid both the long way down and the even longer return journey – and I think I’ve been missing out.  The world looks surprisingly beautiful when observed from rather lower than my usual viewpoint – once again, being tall is revealed as massively over-rated.  Wearing my cloak of invisibility – OK, mirrored shades and a pair of headphones – I watched the (mostly) young people enjoying the Common in the sunshine.  As I people-watched, I couldn’t help feeling that I have had far too little fun with a frisbee in my life (though using one on my own would, I fear, look unutterably sad).

My tristesse was assuaged by the aural cosseting provided via my headphones.  The near-perfect line-up included Boo Hewerdine, the Listening Machine (who, with the help of the Britten Sinfonia, turn Twitter into audio gold) and David Sedaris.  Hearing Ian McMillan interviewing David Sedaris is almost too much: two such distinctive voices brought together in fascinating dialogue feels almost dangerous – like crossing the streams.

Some might imagine that these musings aspire to achieve the level of style and quality exhibited by Mr Sedaris’ work – but it wasn’t until yesterday that I had even considered making such a comparison (and then very hurriedly reversed away from it).  I feel an aspiration should at least have some vague hope of achievement, or at least offer the hope of reaching a destination in broadly the same time zone – and this would not be the case with Mr S.  In a similar vein, I recently spotted a competition to find a new comic writer – but this competition was named after P G Wodehouse.  Who would feel bold enough to enter a competition with the name of such a master attached?  When naming a competition, you need to find someone who has achieved greatness through obvious effort – rather than those blessed with an incondign mastery.

[BTW: Has anyone else noticed that WordPress seems to suffer from a diminishing vocabulary but imposes this with far greater vehemence on the unfortunate writer?  It frequently chooses to correct my writing after I’ve completed the proof-reading – which is less than helpful.]

Mr Sedaris was enthralling, with all manner of insights drawn out by Ian McMillan.  He keeps a diary in surprising detail (though still less than he finds he wants) and will keep material for years (the number seventeen was mentioned) waiting for other elements to arrive which will combine felicitously to form a ‘story’ (or ‘post’ if translated to my own life).  My poor brain can rarely retain an incident for more than a week or two – and so unless it finds a home in that time it is lost forever (or until a heavy night on the red wine which sometimes knocks old ideas loose).  This makes me realise that too many posts are rushed to press, when waiting a little (or a lot) longer would create a much improved product: less of a diary entry with mildly amusing asides and more of a proper piece of writing.  Still, I’m not convinced that I have the discipline to keep a diary or know what it should include – then again, that which goes unattempted must perforce remain impossible so perhaps I should venture in hope of some future gain.

If only this particular diary entry could properly capture the joy of people and nature watching in a sunny park whilst listening to The Verb – as close to the realm eternal as I am likely to manage in this life (or probably – subject to its existence – the next) – then I would be (temporarily) happy.

Sepulchral over-tread

This post will be relatively light on jokes (aren’t they all?) but may provide some entirely unwanted insight in to the author.

As I started to make my lunch, I also started the podcast version of The Verb (several mentions of which on GofaDM have so far failed to produce lucrative sponsorship from either BBC Radio 3 or Ian McMillan) as I find it usually makes an excellent accompaniment to meal preparation – somehow both the hands and mind are busy, but not in conflict.  Virtually at the opening, the Mexican poet Pedro Serrano read a few lines of his work in his (and its) native tongue.  Immediately, all the hairs on my arms stood to attention, followed by a manly tear (or two) gracing my cheeks (well, two of them at any rate) and my legs being reduced to jelly.  I had to hold on to the work surface for support and ultimately had to abandon lunch for a little while and have a sit-down.  I can’t really explain why it had such a powerful effect on me: my Spanish – once described as “lower operational” – is really very rusty and I’ve never tried it up against poetry (mostly up against electricity market regulations, which are as far from poetry as one is likely to find – but were at least in Castilian Spanish).  Perhaps it was the combination of his voice and the sonic shape of the words?  Poems later in the programme had a similar impact, though only when read in Spanish – which was sadly faded out for the English translation.  I suppose that Mexican poetry fans are not a core demographic for Radio 3, but given its rather modest listenership it really can’t afford to alienate them.  I think I need to acquire some of Pedro’s work in Spanish and reclaim my two-volume Spanish dictionary (en tapas blandas) from storage and see if I can recreate the experience at home.  I would certainly pay good money to hear him reading his own work – but not in translation, it needs to be the original.

Having already felt that someone had walked over my grave, I was then knocked further from my axis by hearing Suzanne Andrade reading from her play Golem – what incredible and unsettling words.  A play it would seem I shall now have to take in – or at least acquire the play script (assuming it exists).  The show ended in emotionally safer – but no less fascinating – territory, with airline pilot Mark Vanoenacker and the story of waypoints and their sometimes surprising names.

For those of you worrying, I did (in due course) resume creation and then moved on to the demolition of my lunch – so my blood sugar levels are fine.  You needn’t rush out to bring my a snack – though, I wouldn’t say no.

Oddly, this feeds into a realisation I had yesterday sitting in the baseball court-like performance space of the Winchester Discovery Centre – well, it has the same flooring and even folding “bleachers” like a US high school sports hall – whilst enjoying a little chamber music.  It struck me that if we remove physical fuelling of the self, and the basics required for maintenance of the aforementioned self and his modest home, almost all of my economic activity is linked to the Arts (well, if we ignore the costs associated with my foolish plan to become a gymnast dreadfully late in life).  Most of my travel and eating (and drinking) out are because I’m off to see a play, some music, a little comedy or the like.  Even my trips to visit friends have as an ulterior (or at least bonus) motive of their being a chance to take in something (or preferably several somethings) cultural.  Frankly, I would be at a complete dead-loss without the Arts: I’d have to manufacture an interest in sport or cars or girls (or boys); and nobody wants to see that.

Lifelong learning

Lifelong learning has intermittently been popular with our political masters, so long as it doesn’t cost them anything in terms of either effort or money (and certainly does not cause us to start thinking for ourselves).  For me, the discovery of new knowledge provides much of the grease which eases my way through this veil of tears whilst retaining at least a nodding acquaintance with sanity.  For you dear reader, matters are far less sunny as I feel the need to share at least a proportion of this new learning with you via GofaDM.  Still, in the words of Westley (aka The Dread Pirate Roberts, at the time), “life is suffering, Highness” and so I shall continue unabashed (as previously noted in this far-from-august organ, I have largely out-lived my shame).

Given recent posts have covered Philosophy, Politics and Economics, readers may fear that I am trying to become a rather elderly SPAD (or am hoping for the call to help out in Westminster) – a fear that may not be helped by the knowledge that I studied at Oxbridge (or Camford, if you prefer – though no-one does).  Fear not, gentle reader, my preferred reading of PPE is Personal Protective Equipment (give me a helmet and some goggles any day!) – if only this were more generally the case in the corridors of power!

Sometimes new knowledge comes upon one unbidden – at times answering an earlier question or a seed which may have grown into a question – and at others I actively seek it out.  I think I prefer the former – as a single chap, too much of my life is self-directed (by a fool) and a bit of serendipity is welcome – but both can be fun.  This post will share some of each from the last few days…

Over the weekend, the peerless Ella Fitzgerald came up on my MP3 player while I was working out.  For some reason, I seem to have been paying more than my usual degree of attention to the lyrics of The Lady is a Tramp and so discovered that included in the list of indicators of being a tramp is “I go to opera and stay wide awake”.  On this basis (and no doubt many others), I am a tramp – though most of my opera-going lies a few years in the past now.  Actually, in this specific case it is quite hard to separate being a tramp from chronic insomnia – so perhaps I should withhold judgement for the time being.

Whilst listening to a recent edition of The Verb (an activity I heartily recommend to all readers) I think I discovered the answer to a question I had yet to ask.  In my younger days, every train and airline seat was fitted with a rather cheap and nasty antimacassar – whilst cheap, these were presumably still too expensive for the privatised rail companies as they do seem to have vanished.  Well, the guests on The Verb discussed macassar oil which styled the male Victorian barnet long before the days of L’Oreal Studio Line and its range of gels, muds and fudges, before even Brylcream.  This was made from coconut or palm oil and would make a terrible mess of a seat if the head were rested against it – hence the need for some sort of countermeasure.  I am slightly worried that if macassar oil were brought into contact with an antimacassar they would annihilate with a release of significant energy – or perhaps the Standard Model does nor offer a good description for haircare products?  Time for a Large Hairdron Collider?

Age brings many things, including a modest degree of self-awareness.  As a result, I know that I am far from being an original thinker – but sometimes this is brought home rather forcibly.  On this very blog, I have noted the advantage to be gained by avoiding use of my glasses in conjunction with a mirror (or other reflective surface) if one wishes to retain some illusions about one’s continued contact with fleeting youth.  Last night, I was reading Letter from America by Alistair (né Alfred) Cooke and found he has beaten me to my observation by almost 50 years.  Way back in 1946, he noted that “the great gift of astigmatism is to rob a face of its peculiar lapses from the ideal”.  Whilst he was talking about girls as viewed by his teenage self he had clearly beaten me to the punch.  Given the style of the essays which make up GofaDM, I rather fear astigmatism (and a Y-chromosome) may be all Mr Cooke and I have in common (and I still haven’t left the 1940s).

On Monday, I was able to give blood again for the first time in twelve months – and for the first time in Southampton.  Once again, my blood fell stone-like through a vial of copper sulphate – and so my haemoglobin is officially back to pre-lapsarian levels.  As I lay back, flirting with the NBS staff, I noted a bottle of the fluid used to clean the hands before they are used to puncture the donor with a needle.  This promised to have both an antibacterial and fungicidal action – which left me wondering about the third great realm of prokaryotic life: would it deal with any unwanted Archaea?  Does archaea eschew the hospital environment?  Perhaps it’s squeamish?  Nobody knew, and so I have had to research it myself using Dr Internet.  It would seem that, in general, antibacterial agents do not affect archaea as their cell walls are rather differently constituted – and they are also generally proof against antibiotics.  As a result, long after we have gone, I suspect the fate of the Earth will be decided in a knock-down, drag-out fight between antibiotic-resistant bacteria and archaea – and the archaea may have something to prove having previously been enslaved by bacteria to form the eukaryotic cell and put to work as mitochondria.  If there were any way to collect my winnings, my money would be on the archaea as they have already had a billion years to plot their revenge for past indignities.

So, GofaDM may not be as well written as Letter from America, but to Hades with the quality just feel the width of topics covered!