Till-side temptation

For many years, supermarkets kept confectionary by the tills so the queuing shopper (or more likely any associated children) could be tempted into unplanned purchases.  In recent years, this practise has reduced – or so we are told.

When I am required to visit Woking for “the man”, I tend to acquire the elements of my lunch at a small branch of Marks and Spencer which is handily sited adjacent to Woking station.  There is a strange selection of random items on the way to the tills, mostly of a snackable nature – some healthy, some less so.  However, the most prominent display, as I wait for a till to become available, is a wide selection of gins (and no tonic).  For the slightly shorter shopper, Scottish whisky is there to tempt – whilst the giant (or stilt-user) is offered brandy.

I presume these spirits are not there to tempt small children, who would be faced with a selection of sweet sherries, as the licensing laws would mean M&S were swiftly hauled up before the beak.  So, they must be there to tempt their older clientele into impulse dipsomania.  Given the store’s location, welcoming recent arrivals to the dubious delights of Woking, M&S must assume that any visitors will require access to a stiff drink (or several) before they are able to cope with the horrors that lie ahead.  Or is gin – rather than a chocolate bar – a typical last-minute, till-side purchase for the Woking shopper?  I’ve never thought of the town as particularly Hogarthian – but perhaps I have underestimated how louche its denizens are behind closed doors.

You (and my employers) will be pleased to know that I have (so far) managed to resist temptation.  I make no guarantees as to my future conduct…

Lining your own clouds

I believe silver is the popular choice, despite the difficulties of hallmarking and the danger to aviation.

Many readers may feel that my life is pretty cloud-free – and most of the minor clouds that do occasionally occlude the azure perfection of my vista are of my own making or relate to worrying about things I cannot affect or problems (sorry, opportunities) I  am unable to solve (apparently in common with my seven billion closest friends).  I do occasionally ponder moving to a marginal constituency so that my vote might actually have an impact on the outcome of an election and so that the political parties might feel they have to woo (or indeed bribe) me – but it is quite an expensive and personally disruptive route to political enfranchisement.  Anyway, this post is not intended to represent a serious attempt at satire, but merely to introduce some diary material in a slightly oblique (maybe even interesting) way.

As I have mentioned before, de temps en temps I am required as a condition of my servitude to “the man” to visit the Surrey town of Woking.  I am sure Woking must have many fine features to commend it, but thus far it has kept them concealed from me – and I have even journeyed as far as Old Woking (which does boast a decent restaurant, but this alone is not enough to save Woking in my estimation).  To line the cloud of these excursions, I usually contrive to visit London to have some fun after the working day is done.

Last week, I headed on into Waterloo for a visit to the Southbank Centre.  It has become my custom to partake of a rapid supper at Canteen, ranged deep in the bowels of the Royal Festival Hall.  Their food is perfectly decent, not expensive by London standards and swiftly served: on previous visits they have also offered two points of bitter for the price of one.  Perhaps fortunately, this offer has now ended as it does add an element of danger for the single chap en route to a concert, even one who can boast many years of highly competitive bladder control (as I can).

My original thinking was to go see Gustavo Dudamel conduct some Mahler, but unsurprisingly it was sold out so I took a chance on Boris Giltburg at the Queen Elizabeth Hall next door.  Not that much of a risk as the young pianist (very much the unfashionable side of 30) had excellent reviews and could also boast an unusually broad range of somewhat geeky interests for a professional musician.  I think the workings of chance were my friend and I enjoyed the better concert at the SBC that night.  The piano playing was truly staggering – the lad has clearly made it a lot further through Hanon’s The Virtuoso Pianist in 60 Exercises than have I (then again, I’m still working on exercises 1 and 2, and on current form the human lifespan will have to be very substantially increased if I am to ever trouble exercise 60).

After a good 1.75 hours of playing some seriously difficult repertoire – his hands were literally (in the correct sense of that word) a blur – with a bare 20 minute interval for ice cream, Mr Giltburg then played three encores to a very appreciative audience.  So, not only a better concert than at the RFH but better value for money: value I further enhanced by sitting in the front row of rear stalls rather than the back row of the front stalls – saving £7 by being 6 feet further from the stage and all of those 6 feet were mine in extra legroom (so I was doubly the winner).  Concert Halls have yet to learn the value of legroom from the airlines – for which my legs and wallet are grateful.

As I’ve mentioned before, I will make someone a very good maiden aunt.  As I was watching Boris play, I couldn’t help but worry about the poor chap’s back – for much of the time it was dreadfully rounded and I fear he is storing up problems for later life.  I now worry that my own piano playing is further rounding the shoulders already suffering from years of desk work and cycling.  I (and Boris) need to find a hobby which curves the spine in the opposite direction – though I struggle to bring such a hobby to mind.  Any ideas?

Still, this blog was supposed to be about making the most of chances that life throws your way, rather than fretting about my vertebrae – it seems that I am always looking for a cloud to fill my linings.  Is it (long past) time for therapy?  Or just more marsala in my cocoa?

Rodent athletics: revisited

As those that know the way my mind works will already have realised, I am back from my sojourn in Edinburgh and am back to the rat race.

It was great living the life of the flâneur for a whole week, albeit one with rather limited exposure to green vegetables coupled with not insubstantial consumption of fried food and alcohol.  When in Rome as they say…    Normal service has very much had to resume, since my return I have completed my tax return for 2011/2 and finished my latest assignment for the Open University.  This was the dreaded “reflective essay” where I have to talk about myself as a student and despite what you may have inferred from this blog, I really don’t like writing about myself in any serious way.  I realise that I should in theory know far more about the Fish than I do about the art of Benin or the string quartets of Dmitri Shostakovich – but somehow it never feels that way.  Still, it’s done now – so my navel can go back to accumulating fluff unobserved by its owner.

My return has also meant the need to return to the day job.  As if this were not horrifying enough, I shall have to spend two days (and the night they encompass) in Woking.  I have another thrill unpacked day in Surrey next week as well.  Woe, woe and thrice woe king, to paraphrase the soothsayer of Up Pompeii!  Truly, I am the monarch of dolor.

I also find myself missing the heady mix of comedy, poetry and theatre that filled my time among the Picts.  The combination of Luke Wright and Dirty Great Love Story – which had significant chunks in verse – reminded me of how little use I have made of my rhyming dictionary.  Before I doze off of at night, I have been trying to construct poetry to fill this void but with little success.  For some reason my wind wanders either to work – be it paid, voluntary or OU – or to construct poor quality jokes.  As an example of this latter, I present “Exhibit A”:

Q: Why do Balladeers make very poor surveyors.

A: Because they constantly vacillate between three and four feet to their meter.  (The correct value is 3.28 feet).

I did warn you it was poor and should probably have mentioned that it requires knowledge of the metrical form of the ballad.  It would work better with a verse form entirely in trimeter, but I was unable to find any in English and I thought Greek verse would be needlessly obscure (even for GofaDM).

My yearning for the theatre was partially satisfied by BBC2 on Sunday night with Murder: Joint Endeavour.  Not a cheery piece this, definite hints of Scandi-noir (not too surprising as it was directed by a chap who cut his teeth on The Killing), but an absolutely brilliant piece of television and really quite theatrical (I could see it working as a play without too much difficulty)- if none too kind to my birthplace. I think all this theatre-going is expanding my taste in drama: to continue the good work, I wonder if I can sneak in a  visit to the stalls on one of my journeys back from Woking?  Must be worth a try…

Five old rings

I am hoping this title will allow me to stay free of the clutches of the LOCOG brand police, but this will be a post about the orgy of sport (and pseudo-sport) about to engulf London.

This evening we will have the Opening Ceremony, though this seems slightly tardy as the sporting events started a couple of days ago.  Oddly, these events, which form part of the London Olympics, have been held in places as far afield as Cardiff and Glasgow – the latter being almost 350 miles from London.  I think that even Ryanair would be a little embarrassed to land in Glasgow and claim it was a London airport – or perhaps not, “Welcome to London Prestwick”, anybody?  Forget building new airport capacity in the Thames estuary or expanding Heathrow, let’s build the new London airport in South Ayrshire!

I had thought that hiding out in South Cambs, I would be relatively unaffected by the “games”, but it seems not.  Strange foreign and retired buses have been sighted around Cambridge this week – visitors from Lincoln, Northampton and the scrap-yard – and I had vaguely wondered why: there had been no obvious increase in service frequency that would require extra vehicles.  My local free paper explained the reason: our nice new buses have been taken to ferry athletes around “London” – though if they were real athletes they’d make their own way (though I will accept it is quite a long walk/bike ride/swim to Glasgow).  Surely, athletes (and officials) cycling (or walking) along the special Olympic Lanes around London would be a much more inspiring sight than seeing them imprisoned within buses or limos?  Would this not provide a stronger message leading to a long-term boost to the nation’s fitness and cleaner air through reduced car usage?  Let’s keep the Olympic lanes, but allocate them to human-powered modes of transport!

However, the final straw came earlier in the week when I bought my copy of the Mortician’s Gazette (aka The Radio Times) – still the only listings magazine which gives any degree of coverage of he radio.  The price had increased by more than 40% – not because it was listing any more television or radio, in fact, in many ways rather less as several channels are showing nothing but the extended sportsday – but presumably to fund the unwanted Olympic supplement.  Surely, as little more than extra advertising, this should have reduced the cost of the publication rather than increasing it?

My own protest is limited to refusing to buy anything from any company sponsoring the games – not much of an imposition as I would be avoiding the vast majority of the corporations involved regardless of their sport-bothering commercial activities due to more quotidian issues with the products or ethics.  However, in conjunction with a refusal to buy bottled water (we have perfectly good di-hydrogen monoxide available from the tap) or any liquid which claims to provide some health benefit, this did make it rather tricky to acquire a cold (non-alcoholic) drink on Tuesday night to refresh me after a rather warm ride into Cambridge to see an excellent concert structured around Paganini’s time in the UK.  Some days, I do wonder if I suffer from a form of OCD…

Still, I wouldn’t like to leave you with the impression that the Olympics have brought nothing positive to the country.  As an all too regular visitor to Woking, I had almost grown inured to the quality of the roads in that Surrey town: roads that most developing nations would be embarrassed to host, roads so poor that the speed bumps provide the smoothest portion of any driven or cycled journey.  Well, some sort of sporting endeavour is taking place in the environs of Woking, and the good burghers of that town were concerned that the world-at-large would seem their secret shame were there to be any helicopter coverage – and so, by the last time I visited many of the worst offenders had been miraculously re-surfaced.  £15 billion well spent.  (OK, perhaps they could have re-surfaced the roads slightly more cheaply – but it’s the thought that counts!).

Going underground

Yesterday, I was once again required to visit our nation’s capital: though I initially only attempted to traverse it on my way to the fleshpots of Woking.  This time, the cattle of Essex were safely imprisoned in their fields and so I made it to the city in good time.

At Tottenham Hale (named for the days when goods were haled from boats on the nearby river Lee), I left the realm of daylight and descended into the netherworld that is the Tube.  As with Napoleon, all went well until I approached Waterloo – in my case, this was with a Bakerloo line train rather than a sizeable French army.  A mere stone’s throw from the London terminus most often immortalised in chart hits (OK, I have not checked this in detail – but I can think of two hits for Waterloo and nary a one for any of the other termini), my journey came to a premature halt.  The signals had failed – and it soon became clear that switching the PC off and then back on again was not going to be enough to fix the problem.

A 40 minute wait ensued, as the Bakerloo’s boffins tried to get us on our way again.  The driver was very good at keeping us informed, but had little good news to impart for quite a while.  At one stage, it looked likely that we would have to disembark (or de-train, to use the rather ugly railway jargon) and walk along the tracks to achieve our destination.  Part of me was disappointed when this didn’t happen: it would have been quite exciting, but I was wearing a suit and my best shoes both (all three?) of which I fear may have suffered from contact with the filth that I strongly suspect lines the Tube’s tunnels.  The passengers (or should I say customers nowadays?) of some other trains did apparently have this additional experience (at, no extra charge!) – and this rather held up the resolution of my own journey.  Eventually, the train in front of mine pulled a little beyond its normal stopping point on the platform at Waterloo, just enough so that the first carriage of my train could pull into the station.   We could then walk through the train and disembark from the one set of doors with access to a platform.

While we awaited this solution, our train became a liminal space (it would be embarrassing to admit how long I have waited for the opportunity to use the word ‘liminal’ in a post) and so we passengers were able to talk to each other (an activity so outré that it is normally only practised by the foreign or insane).  In my little area of the train, we all (students and men of business alike) agreed that we much preferred the bus – it may (usually) be slower, but if anything goes wrong you can just get off (de-bus anyone?) and walk.  You can even notify anybody that you might be meeting that you will be late – or you can if you are carrying a mobile phone, carrier pigeon, distress flare or other aid to communication.

On my return home some hours later, my Victoria line train started going very slowly – with many an unscheduled stop (well, I assume they were unscheduled).  I did begin to wonder if I was cursed: had I offended Hades or Persephone and was doomed to remain trapped in their realm?  Was I in need of rescue by my own Orpheus-analogue? Though, had that been the case, I would insist he was fitted with a neck-brace before the rescue commenced to prevent any looking back: I’m no Eurydice (whatever you may have heard).

I think the driver of this Victoria line train also tried to keep us informed of what ailed the line, but whereas the Bakerloo train (built in 1972) had a clear public address system the Victoria train (built in 2010) could barely produce a whisper, so I have no idea what he was trying to tell us.  So much for the cult of youth, mark up another victory for the middle-aged!

First for Martians

No blogs yesterday as I was in Woking on business. What can I say about Woking that hasn’t been said before? Something nice perhaps?

I do know one slightly diverting thing about Woking…

In recent years, when this planet has been invaded from space (I refer to the medium of soi-disant entertainment, rather than alluding to any government cover-ups), our wannabe alien overlords seems to choose New York, Washington or some other major, recognisable US city as their first target. I think we can blame Hollywood and its satellites for this projected focus for extra-terrestrial plans for lebensraum.

In the last few years, BBC Wales has done its best to convince us that Cardiff is, in fact, the primary target for non-human interest in the earth. However, if we return to the first tale of alien invasion, we find their primary target was (drum roll, please) Woking! Yes, in H G Wells original “War of the Worlds” the Martians chose Woking for the spearhead of their attack. He who controls Woking, controls the world! Or they did in the late Victorian era when rather more of the world map was coloured pink than is now the case. Even today, invading Martians would have access to fast, regular rail services to Waterloo and the South West – but I wouldn’t recommend they use the roads, some of the pot-holes could swallow a tripod whole!