Awaiting the sensation of a short, sharp shock

Do not concern yourselves, dear readers, I do not (yet) live in a fear of an axe-wielding madman – even one with a cheap and chippy chopper – pursuing me through the streets of Southampton.  This risk may be real but I am already entertaining a range of other fears at my maximum capability and cannot spare the neurons needed to worry about a potential rendezvous with a big black block.  If I’m being honest, I generally believe that I share my flat with my killer: though whether he will finish me off directly with malice aforethought, kill me slowly with (apparently) benign neglect or take me out in an act of terminal clumsiness, I am less sure.

Even the casual viewer of the inanities that I attempt to pass-off as insight through this platform will be aware that I go out to see live culture “quite a bit”.  This has an impact on how I view live culture, as what passes for my brain habituates to the normal range of such experience.  This effect seems more marked for soi-disant high culture for reasons which I am unable to explain.  These days, when in the concert hall I find I want more than a nice Mozart Concert, Haydn Quartet or Beethoven Sonata: I’m looking for more challenging content to adorn the programme.  I will enjoy the more classic repertoire but to pick the “gig” and devote two hours of my evening to attending, I want to be taking a bit of a risk!  I’ve particularly noticed this effect in my theatre-going where I seem to be looking for an every more extreme experience.

When I started my proper, adult theatre-going a few years back, I was more than happy to devote significant time and money to going to see the classics performed in the flesh.  Slowly, I sprinkled in a range of new writing and often found myself enjoying this more and new writing came to largely supplant more familiar work in my choices when picking a play.  Over the last few years, I have seem some really amazing writing but the plays that stick in my mind were those that did something out of the ordinary: that spoke to me of different experiences or which expanded my idea of what could be done with theatre.  However, over the years these have become more difficult to find.  I also have the feeling that, as I age, my attention span is shortening: I see good review for a play that looks interesting and then see that it has a three hour run-time and find myself thinking (a) “No” and (b) “Couldn’t they afford an editor?”.  I also find myself more reluctant to travel to London for theatre, and endure the extra cost and later night, particularly when the NST here in Southampton offers such a varied programme: some nights they have three pieces of theatre on the go at the same time (which is frankly unfair on a man who has perfected neither cloning nor how to successfully combine the separate memories of the clones back to the template, me – or me, or me…).

Over the last couple of years, I have been to see quite a few LBGTQIA+ themed plays on the basis that they are, to an extent, forced to tell stories that have not been done-to-death in the long history of the medium.  This has proved a fairly successful strategy but I fear may be running out of steam.  I was watching Homos, or Everyone In America by Jordan Seavey at the Finborough in the summer.  This was staged in a version of my personal hell, viz a cross between a sandy beach and a branch of Lush – the combined prospect of sand worming its abrasive way where I’d prefer it didn’t and too much aroma in one place.  However, that was not really my issue – and it was certainly novel – and the play was well-acted and entertaining.  My issue arose about two-thirds of the way through when it struck me that plus-or-minus a few references to specific forms of oppression the gay-theming was slightly irrelevant and the themes of middle-class relationship angst with a bit of tragedy thrown in to heighten the emotional stakes were something I’d seen too often before.

I suppose this entirely as it should be: in most respects, in the still mostly-liberal West, a gay (or LBTQIA+) relationship should be very like any other and is likely to encounter most of the same, or very similar, issues that arise when two different human beings try to create and share a life together.  There still remains very real – and currently growing – threats to any one who alone, or as part of a relationship, can be perceived in some way as not “normal”: though having just read the excellent The Unexpected Truth About Animals by Lucy Cooke the range of normal that even a very thin slice of nature can provide suggests we humans are still barely paddling on the shoreline of what the animal kingdom encompasses as normal.  For myself, I am a firm believer in giving more power to the elbows (or any other relevant body parts) to any group of consenting adults wishing to try any form of relationship that gives all involved pleasure, without harming others.  If they are willing to try something new, rather than continue with an existing slightly-hackneyed trope, all the better!

In a related area, I am often impressed by how much effort people are willing to put into expressing their authentic selves: I haven’t even glimpsed mine from a distance and am, frankly, running out of time – perhaps I don’t have one?

Anyway, I seem not so much to have wandered but to have strode confidently off-topic.  Whilst I do find myself needing an ever more powerful “hit” from a play – like some sort of addict – it does still happen.  Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising, there are so many stories out there and only a tiny fraction have been told – often clustered around those relating to very small range of viewpoints.  I have been lucky enough to see some really exciting theatre recently and often without having to travel far from home.  I did go up to London to see The Jungle – booked by a friend (and so overcoming my natural inertia and the fact that it was longer than I’d normally pick) – which was a really amazing experience and with more laughs than you might expect: don’t get me wrong, I left properly harrowed by the experience.  The staging, the range of faces and accents rarely seen on “stage” and the power of the story-telling all set this apart – as to an extent did the hopelessness of any practical response I felt able to provide when it was over.

A couple of weeks ago I went to Chichester to see Cock by Mark Bartlett.  This had been recommended by a friend but I will admit that I may have made an extra effort to catch it given huge volume of (just barely) double entendre potential it offered for my Facebook feed.  Let’s just say that I have never enjoyed 90 minutes of cock so much!  It is hard (OK, I will stop now) to say why I enjoyed it so much but it provided the hit that I needed – despite minimal staging, very strict limitations on the actors and a middle-class relationships-based plot.  It was also quite exciting to see some diversity in a Chichester audience and a fair wedge of young people!

Closer to home, Medusa, the show put on by the associate artists at NST and starring the incredible Elf Lyons, was amazing – and how they did it on such a shoestring budget I cannot imagine.  I really hope this has a life beyond three nights at NST City.  I’ve also really enjoyed the shows they’ve brought to their new studio theatre: it’s been like having the Edinburgh Fringe coming to me (not that I ever begrudge a trip to Auld Reekie).  The Believers are but Brothers and Bullish stood out in a really excellent strand of programming covering a wide range of different voices and subjects.  NST just need to work out how to attract a larger audience to these shows…

Last week, I saw the latest show from 1927, The Children and Animals Took to the Streets, which was just a tour-de-force of art, animation, acting and music.  It managed to be clever and magical and enchanting and dystopian and so much more – and all with just three live actors.  It is the sort of thing you immediately want to see again to catch some of the subtle visual treats you missed the first time round.

With 500 words looming, I should probably try and bring this discursion to some sort of conclusion.  For the last few years, one of the most reliable ways to scratch my, ever harder to service, theatrical itch has been the work of the Nuffield Youth Theatre.  I’ll mention their work with a couple of plays by Evan Placey (but only because they came first to my mind) but all of their work with new writing has been so good.  Perhaps their most extraordinary achievement was a physical theatre rendering of the comic book Epileptic by David B: which is almost certainly like no comic book you may be imagining.  This may only have happened once and on a budget that probably wouldn’t have funded a single latte – but it is one of those theatrical experiences which has stuck with me.  As a result, I was really excited to discover that as part of Southampton Film Week, a series of short films produced and directed by its director, were being shown.  Each covers one of Shakespeare’s better known speeches but with a change of context to make sense within modern Southampton and starring various alumni of the NYT (the full suite can be found here).


Introducing Price Hal…

These shorts were really good and the language stands up very well to a modern re-purposing – which I guess is the mark of a great writer.  The project also has the honour of being the first time that any production of any part of Hamlet has brought a tear to my eye ( and as the screening also offered an unexpected bonus of free tea and jaffa cakes, I think we can be reassured that this wasn’t just a response to some more basic biological need.)  I’ve seen very good performances of the play, but generally find myself wondering how the eponymous hero survives until almost the final reel – had I been in Elsinore, he would have had an unfortunate “accident” early doors to cut down on the self-obsessed moping!

Interestingly, Nuffield (the N of NST) have more current form in making old Will more palatable.  This year, another member of the team (as Curious Pheasant Theatre – no I haven’t asked him why and will admit I have been remiss in this) was involved in producing an LGBT take on Romeo and Juliet, which I saw an early version of and was among those contributing feedback.  It was then taken to Edinburgh and returned for Southampton Pride, trailing glory.  It worked really well and seemed to cover all the important plot, in a rather clever modern staging, and be done in 45 minutes: a lesson there for this blog, perhaps.  As I heard someone comment on leaving, (I shall paraphrase) “that was great and they cut out all the boring stuff”.  Certainly, a great writer does not have to be enjoyed in his (or her) full 3-4 hour authentic pomp to get a powerful message across.  As the auteur behind GofaDM is far from a great writer, I shall perhaps continue to eschew undue brevity for the time being: but it does offer a target to aim for in the future.  In pursuit of that aim, I’m back at Southampton Film Week tonight to see a series of BAFTA Shorts (which I believe are film-lets rather than kecks sponsored by a screen-related charity): let’s see if any good habits rub off on me…

The Art of Recovery

My weekend was something of a cultural binge: taking in two (and a bit) art exhibitions and some 12 hours of theatrical extravaganza (though, so far as I know, there are no suggested government limits on the maximum safe volume of culture to be consumed in 24 hours).  You might ask why I chose to subject myself to quite so much culture over one weekend: go on, you know you want to!

Well, as you asked so nicely, I can tell you in a single word (or perhaps a single word with a definite article): the Olympics.  Shortly, travelling into, and to an even greater extent around, London is going to become a significantly more challenging and unpleasant experience as it will be full of folk hoping to take part in an orgy of corporate branding with the odd sporting event thrown-in.  Since I suffer from claustrophobia in crowds (and even more so in small spaces filled with a crowd: yes London Underground, I’m talking to you), I am trying to squeeze in as much London-based culture before the hordes descend.  There is also the need to catch plays and exhibitions that will be over by the time it is safe to return.  So, I had my own little cultural Olympiad over the weekend.

Talking of the Olympics, I wonder if the current flourishing of Shakespeare on the television and in theatres across the land is relying on a probable misunderstanding: that the Stratford of the games and of the Bard are the same place?  I do wonder how many disappointed visitors will be unable to find Anne Hathaway’s cottage in E15?

Art-wise, on Saturday I took in the Master Drawings at the Courtauld and on Sunday “A taste of Impressionism” from Paris via the US to the Royal Academy.  I would thoroughly recommend both – some truly beautiful works.  The tragedy, as always, is that they are already fading from my useless visual memory – I shall have to return.  Luckily, I will be able to go back to both for nowt – thanks to my (paid) friendships with the National Art Fund and Royal Academy (so not entirely free, but sunk cost at least).  While at the RA, I was also able to see the contents of the John Madejski Fine Rooms.  I’ve known of the existence of these rooms for some time, but they had never been open on all my many previous visits – and I assumed they were like Brigadoon and only accessible once a century (so elusive are they, that I couldn’t even access the relevant part of the RA website when researching this post to check the spelling).  The rooms contained works by Academicians – and all held at least some interest, and a couple were real stunners (for me at least).

Theatrically, I saw Last of the Hausmanns at the National and Diplomacy at the Old Vic on Saturday – both plays well worth two-and-a-half hours of anyone’s time (I even managed to learn some relatively recent European history).  But, on Sunday I went to see Gatz which starts at 14:30 and doesn’t finish until 22:45.  They do offer you three intervals – two of 15 minutes and one of over an hour to have dinner – but it’s still a very long time to be folded up in a theatre seat.  The “play” is quite extraordinary and well-worth seeing:  The concept is an amazing idea for anyone to have come up with, and perhaps even more incredible that they managed to convince enough others to enable it to actually happen.  However, by the end I did wonder if my lower body would ever work again and most of my upper body was none too pleased with me either.  It also seemed that all that concentrated culture had turned my brain to mush: perhaps HMG should have a suggested limit for culture after all.  Miraculously, given my age, I do seem to have recovered pretty rapidly – or so I thought until I went to the cinema this afternoon.  After a couple of hours in the usually comfortable embrace of the Arts Cinema’s seating, I was having flashbacks to Sunday night.  I think I will have to start rationing my culture in future: perhaps limit myself to no more than 6 hours per weekend.  Either that or find a personal trainer who can prepare my body for the ordeal of sustaining the arts in this country: oddly, most seem more obsessed with helping me lose weight (and here’s me struggling to retain what little weight I have) than preparing me for the theatre or gallery.  This seems to be a rather serious gap in the market, if you ask me…

Ynys Enlli

is what my forefathers (or at least the Welsh ones) would have called Bardsey Island,  a place I rather fancy visiting one of these days.  However, given the rash of productions of his plays and documentaries about his life at present, I think perhaps the whole of Great Britain could be considered “Bard see island”.  Given that 2012 does not seem to represent any particular anniversary for old Will, I assume this is driven by the Jubilee and/or Olympics.

Not that I’m complaining (about the Shakespeare: the Jubilee and Olympics themselves do little for me, but I don’t begrudge others their fun – which may make me unique in the blogging community) – for a start, I’ve enjoyed several of the documentaries spread across Radio 4 and BBC4.  Talking of TV history documentaries, I felt compelled to watch the first quarter of Simon Schama’s recent contribution to the oeuvre without being able to see the screen as I was fighting with a model at the time in pursuit of my day job (for the avoidance of doubt, the model was of the computer rather than the human variety).  This highlighted the extent to which many (if not, most) of the visuals from TV history documentaries are unnecessary: the radio with a fairly short, synchronised slide show would be sufficient unto the material, and probably rather cheaper to produce in these days of declining budgets.  Surely, this sort of approach should be readily achievable in this modern technological age?

As well as taking in a couple of productions the plays by each of the National and the Globe, I have also seen the RSC’s take on the shipwreck trilogy at the Roundhouse.  This wonderful building, I discovered yesterday, used to be an engine shed with a turntable to rotate steam engines (or to play very large vinyl records).  There is little need for such turntables these days as most modern rolling stock is symmetrical (and development of the MP3 player) – with no real distinction between bow and stern (to borrow the nautical terminology).  The only exceptions I could think of are the Class 91 Electric Locomotive and the Class 82 Driving Van Trailer (DVT) – and I have seen a 91 back-to-front – so I wonder how they turn these round?  Also, would a pair of DVT socks help when driving a 225 rake south?  (Yes, that was a joke for any train spotters who have stumbled here by mistake).

Back to the Bard, I saw the shipwrecked based plays in the order The Comedy of Errors, The Tempest and finally Twelfth Night.  It was rather interesting seeing three plays with similar premises, and sharing the same production, basic staging and cast.  All could be recommended, though my favourite was Twelfth Night and coincidentally this made the most extensive use of the ‘ocean’ which formed part of the set.  This also provided the answer to a question which had been puzzling me for some years.  In a piece about Greenfleeves (a passing melodious roundalay), Michael Flanders mentions a number of plays from the 16th century – including something I have previously interpreted as Gorba Duck (he introduced perestroika to many a pond, you know).  However, now I know it was the play Gorboduc (thanks to the surtitles provided at the Roundhouse for the hard of hearing, or in my case, understanding) by Norton and Sackville.  Subtitled Ferrex and Porrex,with hints of Antigone in the plotting (I’m thinking it wasn’t a comedy, for laughs you should look to Ralph Roister Doister) it was considered quite controversial back in 1562 – but sadly would not have been in existence (and neither would RDD) when Henry VIII (allegedly) took a brief break from wife-swapping to pen Greensleeves (yes, I am fact-checking the beloved dead).  Still, I’m willing to forgive Flanders and Swann for taking minor liberties with history given the enjoyment their output has given me over the years.

Anyway, documentaries and plays by the Bard of Avon are stacking up on my PVR thanks to the BBC and Humax, so I ought to watch some of them.  If the first 45 minutes of the RSC’s all black production of Julius Caesar is anything to go by – which were quite incredible, and not a sign of Kenneth Williams (whose portrayal I have relied on heretofore), though I have yet to reach the famous Infamy speech – I am in for a treat!

What’s in a name?

A rose, famously, would smell as sweet even with a different moniker – though I am uncertain whether Shakespeare’s hypothesis has ever been put to the test.  I do have some friends with very young children, so perhaps one would be amenable to always referring to roses as “thargs” in their offspring’s presence and see whether this affects their later olfactory enjoyment of the bloom.  However, I suppose that would only produce a single piece of anecdotal evidence – I’d really need to recruit an entire cohort of the very young and even then double-blinding the study would be near impossible.  OK, let’s just take Will’s word for it.

You should, by now, be aware that, among many other things, I am referred to as The Spicy Fish (if not, you really should be paying more attention to these musings).  An anodyne enough appellation I would have thought – surely there is nothing offensive about spice, fish or the definite article – but Microsoft would beg to differ.

De temps en temps, when registering for some on-line service or another, I eschew the name which my parents bestowed on me all those years ago – and by which I am known to the machinery of the British State – in favour of a more “fun” identity.  I tried doing this with Microsoft’s Zune music service – but apparently The Spicy Fish breaches some policy on taste or decency relating to user names.  I recognise that I may be slow to take offence (or offense or, indeed, a fence) but I’ve been racking my brain for some time and can still see nothing problematic in The Spicy Fish.  Even grouping the letters in an unusual way or searching for embedded words (à la Scunthorpe) has yielded nothing.  I can create a mild swear word via anagram – but this would be true of any words including both “S” and “I” that follow a definite article, so it surely can’t be this.

So, as a result of this mysterious intransigence by Microsoft, I have been forced to come up with a new (though homophonous) “secret” identity.  So, from now on I will be known as “The Spy C Fish”.  Not sure yet for what the “C” will stand: I could use the Welsh form of my middle name, Cennydd – but does that have the right feel for a man steeped in the murky world of espionage?  Whilst Courtney would clearly be funny, it is entirely unsuitable for the secret service’s finest.  I think the search goes on…

Nevertheless, the scene with Goldfinger and a laser does work quite nicely for my new alias (NB: Please read with the appropriate accents to heighten your reading pleasure):

The Spy C Fish:  Do you expect me to talk?

Auric Goldfinger:  No, Mr Fish.  I expect you to fry!

Character investment

I could so easily use this title as an excuse to rant about the soul-less corporations (though, that may be tautology as my limited theology would suggest that all corporations lack souls) that buy up the rights to much loved characters from book, stage or screen.  This process seems particularly prevalent with those characters that we first meet in childhood – perhaps because in this arena we are must vulnerable to the limited wiles of the commercially obsessed.  The characters once sold into corporate slavery are then ruthlessly de-based and re-purposed to meet the imputed tastes or needs of a modern audience.  It is perhaps ironic that such ruthless exploitation produces such a ruthful result.

My own personal bugbear (not intended as a pun but I’ll take what I can get!) is the Disney corporation’s treatment of the works of A A Milne.  For me, Winnie the Pooh and his limited circle of friends will always be as they appear in the books, illustrated in pen-and-ink by E H Shepard – or perhaps as water-coloured (though for me, still in black and white) for Jackanory in the Willie Rushton narration of my youth (though, for younger readers, Mr Rushton may be replaced by Alan Bennett).  I have even been to the bridge in the Ashdown Forest and cast my own wooden offering upon the waters (must be a -mancy of some sort I’m sure.  Lignomancy?).  However, these whimsical tales were not enough for their new corporate masters – they must be transposed to North America with a lurid colour-palette (our poor hero is forced to wear a bright red jacket at all times: I presume that naked bears would be too much for the delicate sensibilities of our American cousins – though they don’t seem to clothe their own indigenous members of the family Ursidae).  It would also seem that Mr Milne wrote far too few stories, with an inadequate cast, and those he did write lack the excitement and drama which modern youth are being programmed to crave – but luckily this can all be fixed too.

There!  Told you it would be easy!

Equally, I could alude to the basis of the writing systems common in eastern Asia.  Many of these countries are described as having tiger economies, which I presume does not refer to their imminent risk of extinction but to some other aspect of tigerness (stripes?).  I could then segue from the writing to the suggestion that the associated economies are ripe for investment – or would be if they didn’t already have all our money (which we have swapped for the stuff we seem to need, but no longer make ourselves).

But no, that would just be another red herring or perhaps a smokescreen – or perhaps both, which would yield a red kipper or bloater given time.  No, at almost 500 words in, we finally reach the meat (and two veg) of the matter.

Over the weekend I was musing on what it is about certain characters in print, stage or screen which causes us (well, more specifically me – as I was the only one in the room at the time) to “invest” in them.  There are plenty of characters whose activities, thoughts or speech is entertaining, stimulating or interesting – and plenty more who drive you up the wall, fictitious though they may be.  Sometimes, it is the interactions between characters that excite the audience: for example, Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado.  While 400+ years have passed since the play was written, these two still seem to act as the archetypes for so many (much more poorly written) romantic comedies – though, if we all stopped writing if we couldn’t match the dazzling dialogue of old Bill S, then this blog for one would be an awful lot shorter!  I’m pretty sure I can’t write believable dialogue, I’m fairly sure I don’t even speak using it.  But there are a few characters where one goes further, and starts to care to a perhaps immoderate extent about them.   As I “met” two such characters over the weekend, I was set to wondering what it was about them that has this effect?  Could I identify any common elements or themes linking them?  At the risk of rendering the rest of this post redundant, you should prepare yourselves for disappointment now (look, I’m a consultant – I need to manage your expectations ahead of delivery.  By the way, that last sentence does yield a previously unrecognised link between my job and that of a midwife).

The first was the un-named (well, he probably is named, but his name is never revealed) principal protagonist of Mystery Man.  He does suffer from a wide range of mental and physical issues (only a few of which I share), has some pretty strong views (only some of which I might admit to supporting) and runs a bookshop (whereas I’m rather reluctant to let books go).  The second is Rory Williams, who travels in the Tardis as a sidekick (I think assistant may be the preferred nomenclature) to the Doctor, who is a nurse (but I dropped biology in the 3rd form) and sometime (plastic) Roman centurion (I’m way too young and my Latin too limited) and who seems a thoroughly decent (if slightly put-upon) chap married to a dishy red-head (aha – at last some common ground.  No, I am not secretly married to a dishy red-head before the rumours start – but I do appreciate the Titian-haired and am clearly a decent cove).  Why do these two characters appeal I wondered?  I was hoping to make some sort of reference to solipsism, and claim that they must (more than most fictional characters) represent some aspects of myself.  Rory is quite well-provided for nasally and the Mystery Man does have quite an obsession with books – but it’s not really looking a terribly water-tight case at this stage.  Perhaps instead they represent some sort of Platonic ideal to which I am aspiring.  Does this mean I should go and open a bookshop for Roman nurses (whilst trying to augment my current physical and mental frailties)?  It is all most perplexing.  I feel there is an important lesson to be learned here – but any insight remains (frustratingly) entirely out of sight.

I think it is time to broaden my scholarship.  I always quite fancied the trivium or quadrivium of the classical era and perhaps now is the time to tackle one or both (or should that be all seven?).

The Great Globe itself

Readers may have noticed the lack of verse which has followed my earlier threats – and may, indeed, be thanking their lucky stars for this (though, my knowledge of astronomy is insufficient to suggest which particular stars should be in line for your thanks).  Thus far, my verse had remained entirely blank – not in the sense of iambic pentameter, but rather as a description both of the paper on which it is it be written and of the mind that is to write it.

In an attempt to remedy this lamentable situation, I decided to turn to the master of blank verse: Will.iamb Shakespeare himself (who so generously provided our title).  While there are always those who will dispute whether the Bard actually penned the plays wot he wrote, with one C Marlowe coming to a premature end in Deptford in 1593 and with my chosen play not being written until 1598 I think I can be reasonably confident.  So, yesterday I hied me back to Shakespeare’s Globe to catch their production of “Much Ado about Nothing”.

I had never previously seen Much Ado in the theatre, but I had seen the acclaimed Kenneth Branagh film at the Manors in Newcastle in the early 90s.  I arrived very late for the film and so had to sit in the front row and, as a result, my main memory of the film is the frankly disturbing sight of a 20 foot-wide projection of Emma Thompson’s bosom viewed at point blank range.  Still, time is a great healer (and, as previously established, I have a mercifully poor visual memory).

The Globe production of the play blows the film (good though it is) right out of the water – it was possibly the finest theatrical production I’ve ever seen and it is hard to imagine how Much Ado could be done better.  The cast and production were brilliant and, unlike some productions of Shakespearean comedies, it was really funny.  On the basis of my very limited Global sample (2) of late 16th century theatre, I would say that Bill is very much Chris’s superior in the play-writing stakes (which I believe are run over 7 furlongs).  The three hours flew by – though the interval sped past even faster: I barely had time to scarf the obligatory tub of ice cream!

To descend into cliché (to be honest, it wasn’t far out of my way): I laughed (a lot); I cried (a bit).  All a bit embarrassing the latter, as it was in broad daylight and I usually restrict my more lachrymose moments to the privacy of Fish Towers or the encircling gloom of the cinema.  Still, mild asthma can be used to cover a multitude of sins (well, perhaps ‘a multitude’ is over-playing my hand, but red eyes and a running nose are certainly covered).

There are a handful of performances still to go and readers should make every effort to grab a ticket – though I should point out that GofaDM cannot condone the breaking of any laws in your ticket procurement process.  Well, one can’t be too careful in these post-riot days – magistrates are handing down some pretty stiff sentences, in contrast to my own rather limp offerings.


The Bard of Avon truly said that “summer’s lease hath all too short a date” in sonnet number 18.

On Sunday, I found myself in Brighton in a heat wave (neither of which came as a surprise as I had journeyed in a purposive manner to the south coast and the heat had been forecast by the Met Office: I merely used the verb “to find” in a futile attempt to leaven my leaden prose) – despite the best efforts of London underground to seal Victoria station off from the rest of the city.  Whilst in Brighton, I enjoyed a rather sparsely attended gig by the Esterházy Chamber Choir entitled Summer Romance followed by a sun-drenched picnic in Preston Park.  Yesterday, summer continued with the temperature and humidity in Sawston soaring and trains in the east delayed by the wrong sort of heat on the line (the catenaries in this case) for the first time in 2011.

Today, the lease expired in spectacular fashion – thunderbolts and lightning galore reminding those d’un certain âge of Bohemia and the persecuted populariser of the heliocentric universe who so kindly contributed our title.

Unlike the recent heat, the Met Office did not forecast today’s thunderstorms – well, not until after the event and as a professional in the field of divination, I can assure you working ex-post makes it much easier.  As a consequence, I went out on my bicycle well-prepared for heavy rain but not for electric death to descend from the heavens.  To be honest, beyond an up-to-date will and recent confession, I’m not sure there is much the cyclist can do to prepare for a lightning strike.  In this field, the car is definitely the superior form of transport providing, as it does, a Faraday Cage which keeps the charge away from the user.  The inch of insulation which the rubber of my tyres offers (and even the 3 layers of Kevlar contained within) would, I fear, do little to dissuade an errant bolt from selecting me and my steed as a viable route to earth.  Back in my schooldays, a simple silk net was sufficient to provide the Faraday Cage effect – but I will admit that this was challenged with little more than the static generated from a polythene rod rubbed with some fur (real or faux I never asked).  I somehow doubt that a silk net would protect me from the fury unleashed by a cumulonimbus in its pomp.

This made for a nervous journey home from Cambridge.  Luck, or more likely random happenstance, was my friend.  I had a stop-off to make on my return journey and reached that temporary sanctuary just as the first thunder shook the skies over Cambridge.  By the time I came to depart, the vanguard of the storm had passed and I was granted just enough time to return home before its full force arrived.  And what a storm it was!   Even without the electric content I was jolly glad not to be caught outside during it – being British I have been drenched before and will, no doubt, be again (unless carried off rather suddenly to my eternal reward) but it is always very pleasing to dodge that particular bullet.  It somehow puts a positive spin on the whole day which is, of course, the same spin as would be offered by two electrons – though I never find a Cooper Pair quite as satisfying somehow.  On the plus side (something an electron would find rather attractive), portable super-conduction might one day protect the cyclist from an unwanted discharge (and lightning strikes!).

The play’s the thing

Regular readers will know that our hero sees himself as some sort of renaissance man and counts an evening wasted if not spent at some event of high culture.  However, it strikes me I may have rather focused on those arts associated with Euterpe and Thalia (though, some might think that enjoying a bit of stand-up is pushing the definition of high art somewhat) to the exception of the other muses.  My reading does encompass Clio and Urania (not yet used as the name of a small family hatchback for some reason) and I do occasionally glance at a poem (not sure whether they are epic or lyric though).

So, I decided it was time to give Melpomene her time in the spotlight and see some serious theatre.  As a result I’ve booked a trip to Shakespeare’s Globe (well, more Wanamaker’s Globe) to see Dr Faustus (the play by Christopher Marlowe, rather than my GP – who has not, to my knowledge, made a pact with the Devil) which is generally considered to be a tragedy (though I guess that depends on your point of view).

Talking of Marlowe, I notice that conspiracy theorists rarely suggest his plays were written by old Will – whereas, the reverse hypothesis is all too frequently entertained.  I wonder if the Bard of Avon would have faked his own death (allegedly) had his agent been a bit more savvy – or perhaps he was just too sensible to hang around Deptford drinking dens, as this would have been well before that area of south-east London was gentrified (as indeed was the 1990s when I last visited and, as indeed, may well still be the case today).

I’ve been fascinated in the story of Dr Faustus since a lad – not quite sure why, as I’m not really looking for 24 years of power on earth, but I think it is probably the wonderful feel of the name Mephistophiles on the tongue (though it wouldn’t really work with my surname – too many F sounds – so I’ll stick with the Stuart for now).  This production will feature renaissance costume (not I hope for the audience, as I’m far from convinced I have the legs for tights) and apparently will also provide poetry and comedy – thus covering three muses in a single sitting (perhaps “muse-bagging” could become a new cultural phenomenon).  Talking of sitting, whilst being a groundling might well be the more authentic experience, I’ve gone for a seat – and having visited the Globe before – invested in the hire of a cushion (as discussed before, I like to sit down for culture – and many other things!).  The hiring of cushions in hard-seated venues is something I’d like to see become much more common – that and high quality ice creams in the interval – and ought to be a good money-spinner in these days of declining grants. Perhaps a career in arts management beckons – though if so, it is being awfully discrete about it.