Monthly Archives: May 2008

D’ye Ken John Plunk In His Plunk So Gay?

Many years ago, I inherited a few books from my brother. They were Spike Milligan’s war diaries (which included, within the first ten pages, my first sight of the ‘C’ word) and a couple of the Molesworth books by Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle. I was hooked instantly, despite not really understanding the setting, a public (i.e. fee-paying and therefore effectively private) and pretty grotty boarding school. I come from an area of the UK, and from a generation, that don’t remember grammar schools or comprehensives, and private boarding schools were financially, academically, and (I can now claim) politically out of my reach.

Despite this, I immediately fell for the mispellings, bizarre imaginative inventions, dark humour, and descriptions of Nigel Molesworth’s fellow schoolboys (Peason, Fotherington-Thomas, and who could forget Grabber, the “head of the skool, captane of everything and winner of the mrs joyful prize for raffia work”) and the masters. Geoffrey Willans’ hilarious and subtle writing (in the first person from the perspective of our hero Nigel) coupled with Ronald Searle’s scratchily detailed drawings of sullen boys, crows, the school dog and the assemblage of crooks and thugs that run the school, made sure I tracked down the books I didn’t have.

The books (now available in a single volume) are understandably popular with many BBC, government and literary types, and they may be accused of being over-praised in some quarters. Thomas Jones in the London Review Of Books thinks so – but that is more a criticism of the foreword writers than the books themselves.

The BBC connection goes deeper. Radio 4 did a dramatisation, or some kind of radio adapation, of the books a few years ago, and I can’t really remember much about it, apart fom the fact they got the voice of Nigel Molesworth completely wrong. They gave him a breathlessly naïve voice, while everyone knows he would have had a wry cynical tone. I’m surprised they didn’t get Geoffrey McGivern to play him with a lisp.

There is another famous fictional boarding school with bizarre goings on, described in a series of popular books. It was only a matter of time before somebody wrote some Harry Potter/Nigel Moleworth Fan Fiction.

1966 Seaman’s Strike – Photos of Stranded Ships

I found these photos in my Dad’s stuff. In May 1966, a strike by seamen caused several cruise liners and other large ships to be stranded in Southampton Docks. My family were on holiday down there at the time, and they went on a boat trip around the docks. My Dad took these photos (click for larger versions, or here for the full set in Flickr). Amongst the ships are the SS Canberra and the Queen Mary.

Southampton, 1966 Seaman's Strike Southampton, 1966 Seaman's Strike
Southampton, 1966 Seaman's Strike Southampton, 1966 Seaman's Strike
Southampton, 1966 Seaman's Strike Southampton, 1966 Seaman's Strike
Southampton, 1966 Seaman's Strike
Southampton, 1966 Seaman's Strike Southampton, 1966 Seaman's Strike
Southampton, 1966 Seaman's Strike Southampton, 1966 Seaman's Strike
Southampton, 1966 Seaman's Strike

Sweaty Greeks

Thursday. Audience = 20.

This is one those liveblogging things where I’m typing backstage, while Tiresias applies her Amy Winehouse eye makeup, and on stage Oedipus and Jocasta discuss the stories that will soon intertwine to reveal their terrible fate. Not exactly liveblogging, because this won’t hit the web until later, but kinda.

My first two scenes were hot: both in the sweltering-under-the-lights hot and pretty-damn-good hot. Of course, I’ve jinxed myself by saying that, but we’ll see. The energy is up, but I am involved with stuff as usual, so I need to concentrate. It has become my duty later on to mop up after Jocasta, because she enters covered in blood, so I mop up after her to prevent the dressing room and the cast getting smeared. I feel like Norman Bates: “Mother?! Blood! Blood!!”

A Cigar Tube At 35,000 feet

This post was written on March 26 2008 while trying to doze off on allergy pills. Warning – contains introspection, fractured sentences and fear.

This is being written on my EeePC while listening to the new Sigur Ros CD in the in-flight system over the coast of Greenland, approaching Godthab. I’m in a Boeing 747-400, in seat 51B, I have my earphones in, but they don’t block out the baby crying.

I’m flying to Los Angeles to visit Cassie. It was nearly a year ago that I flew to see her the first time. In fact it was exactly a year ago.

Turbulence is a bit rough, and the guy in 51C can’t write in his logic puzzle book. I can’t type either, but that’s nothing new.

So I’m going back now to spend more time with Cassie, and while I’m here I’m flying up to San Francisco to meet a guy about a job. This job would involve me moving to San Francisco to live. Long term. It would mean packing my life, sticking some of it on a pallet, and shipping it weeks away. I would rent my flat in London out to a young professional couple who want to enhance that segment of Tooting’s demographic.

So am I moving to be with Cassie? Yes, partly. To be more accurate, we want to check if we want to be together. Seems a bit drastic for something uncertain. That is, I’m certain I want to be with her. It’s taken on a life of its own now, really. Lots of momentum, if that’s the word.

Turbulence really hotting up now.

Some people say inertia when they mean momentum, but I’m not sure momentum is the right word either. Kinetic energy? That’s potential, isn’t it?

My Mum hated flying. She would be crying right about now. She once got some Valium to knock her out before a flight. She took it before boarding, then the plane was delayed by 7 hours, during which time she was conked out on a plastic bench in the airport. She came around just in time to board and fly. Poor thing.

I’ll be seeing Cassie’s parents again this time. Dinner. They’re very nice. Cassie said it’s a shame that she and her parents will never meet mine, and I agree. I’ll have to get Simon and Jacquie and their families over there. We’re also seeing Don, Cassie’s brother, and his family. Also very nice. Christmas with them was great. Three cute nephews.

Am I ready to make this change, this move? Who knows. I’m financially and physically ready. I’m able and capable. I’m inclined and encouraged. I’m more than inclined, I’m positively hopping to get there. Suck it and see I guess. Nothing that can’t be undone. To trot out the joke I’ve been boring everyone with, if things with Cassie don’t work out, the ratio of straight guys to straight girls in SF is well in my favour (me being a straight guy).

The turbulence has settled, I’m going to nap.

Photos Of Miracles

My lodger/roomie, Yusuf is a photographer by – not by trade, not yet. By what then, paying hobby? He takes pictures which go up on walls and in magazines and people pay for them and have them framed and hang them in their homes. Nice pictures too. I don’t know much about photography, but his thing seems to be capturing juxtapositions in everyday scenes, usually on the Tube. The compositions are quick snaps, the sort of thing you often see in and around a big city with large adverts and masses f people. He’s got a knack for grabbing interesting combinations. His site has all his work and info about shows and buying prints. He’s had a couple of displays in galleries and the like, most recently at Flaxon Ptootch, a salon/bar/gallery in Kentish Town. Run by the flamboyant and welcoming Michael Flaxon, it seems to be a social focal point in the area. All the hair-cutting stuff was covered up for the evening, and a pair of decks stood ready. There was a good turnout of people (including my friend jkneale) to look at the photos, and also to hear a new band perform. My ex, now friend, Mairi, had formed a band, and this was their first gig. The band, Of Miracles, was playing covers this time, but they are working on original stuff.

They describe themselves on MySpace as indie/alternative - I see them as a shoegazey kind of thing, with guitars, bass, drums, keyboards and vocals, Mairi performing these two last. Delicate vocals, nice synth lines, and Roman tends towards the harder edge of the guitar, with his multiple effects pedals. Nice combination. Sorry, juxtaposition.

I’d already seen Of Miracles at their first invitation-only rehearsal, which took place in basement flat in a sports-car filled street in Chalk Farm. The set at the gig above was reordered from the rehearsal, but contained the same set of good covers. I don’t remember the full set, or the order, but it contained the following:

  • British Sea Power
  • Echo and the Bunnymen
  • The Manic Street Preachers (always a favourite of hers)
  • Tainted Love, done in a rollicking rock version.
  • The Jesus And Mary Chain
  • and many more

It was a great first gig, and I look forward to their next. I hear they’re writing
original stuff, with a new drummer. Good luck!

We’re Surrounded!

Saturday 3 May. Audience: 20 / 20ish.

A matinee performance where the audience outnumbered the cast? Unthinkable. But there we were, with people… looking at us… on all sides. Despite this unforeseen hiccup, the first performance was good with lots of energy. I think I saw the fabled Man of Wimbledon, with his harrumphing and stretching, but he’s always there. Didn’t see his flask of tea, but one can assume it was there. I was in a much better mood because of stuff anyway, so that helped lift it, even if it didn’t help the concentration.

After the first run, I joined Susie, Kylie and Ryan at the Gourmet Burger Kitchen for too much food. The back to the theatre for some tips and tweaks to the chorus parts, and how they interact with the principals. Some good new bits that you ungrateful wretches that come and see it will never appreciate.

The evening run suffered a little from lack of energy, on my part at least, due to the hundredweight of beef in my stomach. But it was a good’un, and the audience was even bigger, as was I.

Derivative Horsesh1t

This band thing is catching. Around the same time as Mairi was forming her not-so-merry* band (which I have yet to talk about – blog post pending, along with photos), I was at a gig at the new Marquee club in London, watching Pocket, and I was very much taken with their support, which was a guy with a suit and saxophone, accompanied by a dude with a laptop. The sax-man would recite some imagery, then strike a dramatic gesture and bare his teeth, at which point the laptop dude would let loose with a screech of some cacophonic noise. Then the sax-man would play a frantic rambling jumble of notes on the sax. Repeat to fade. Fantastic. (The sax-man was someone I know’s Dad – Robin, who was it again?) UPDATE: It was Blurt, AKA Ted Milton, Maud’s Dad.

At which point Gren turned to Robin and I and said, “So shall we form a band then?”. Robin and I barely made eye contact before shrugging and saying yes, why not.

So after the gig we sat and talked about what we would do. Gren and Robin are at least vaguely musicians: Gren has and plays a guitar; Robin has a guitar and an old synth that he covered badly with wood-effect sticky-backed plastic. I’m not really musical apart from being able to sing, and an affinity for electronic stuff. So what could we do?

We agreed we would each choose a couple of cover versions that we wanted to do, and then the rest of the band would come together to realise the vision of the person who chose the song. Fair enough. This would require some compromise as far as complex instrumentality was concerned. I like compromise.

But what could I play? I didn’t have a laptop, and if I was going to buy one, it would have to be pretty powerful to act as a sound machine, which would put it out of my desired price range. So I shopped around, and bought a Korg Electribe EM-1, which is a “groovebox” with 2 synth parts, 8 drum parts, and many built-in samples which can be heavily filtered by the also-built-in filter bank. It sounds amazing, at least according to the demo loops which are programmed into it. Dauntingly so, in fact. It’s definitely designed for dance music, as the demos also prove. Everything from Techno to House to UK Kackstep to Ambient Gabba. You need the brilliant Ishkur’s Guide to Electronic Music just to figure the demos out.

We dithered around for a few weeks, during which time Mairi had recruited two guitarists, a bass player, a drummer, found rehearsal space, and put together a 10-song set. Something wrong there, I think.

No progress has been made since then, really. I still have the Electribe, which now lives in a wicked aluminium flight briefcase from Maplin. I also now have a laptop – my little toy children’s baby laptop for women (according to some silly American girls), the Asus EeePC. I’ve been figuring out how to use it as a sequencer to drive the Korg (using Seq24), with some success. But I’ve found that I just don’t have the time, what with all that is going on, and with what might go on soon. I’ll keep hold of it though, along with the cool aluminium flight case which holds the Korg, the laptop, a power strip and all the cables and manuals.

But what to stencil on the side of said case? We only just came up with a name. After great deliberation, and after various name-generating mechanisms were tried including the Butthole Surfers’ method of random selection, only set in an Islington Mexican restuarant, we decided on, and drank a glass of Hennegan’s Red Label to - THE CONAN ANALOGUE.

Long may they reign. May they even perform or record something just the once as well. That would be nice.

* by which I mean they do stuff that is on the dark side, rather than implying they’re not happy jolly people.

Social Oedipus

Friday 2 May

Audience – 4 + 6

Good one tonight. Bit more pace. I was more confident. Small audience, but at least there was someone there. I was a bit distracted, what with the same old stuff. So it was nice to go to the pub afterwards.

But before that I went out and watched ‘Antigone’ in the audience, with Georgina (hence
the +2 above). It was good to finally see the second part of the show I’m in. I’ve never
managed it in rehearsal – too busy learning lines in the kitchen.

‘Antigone’ is a pretty dismal story, but it was done with sharpness, depth and sensitivity. It’s a bit weird to watch Julian playing an older version of my character. Strictly speaking, I’m playing a younger version of his character – and only for the last two weeks. Because of this, I found myself thinking how I can make my portrayal more in tune with his. My final act is to stand in a spotlight and consider my future and those of Oedipus’ children, so I can now try to visibly become the man in the second act.

I’d stuck around to watch the full show, but also to socialise with the rest of the cast. We went to the awful Wetherspoons (The Chav and Rickets, or something), where hateful
scum go to get blasted on cheap beer, hump each other behnd the bins and conceive the
next generation of rat-faced social liabilities. If this sounds like snobbery, that’s because it is – but no less true.

But it did mean that I could buy a round for everyone in the cast and have enough change
from a fiver for a pie, a woman, and the bus home.

I was on a down anyway because of stuff, and I had a bit of a moan to a very understanding Oedipus – who you’d think would be happy to hear about someone else’s
problems for a change. When I got home at about midnight I despondently checked my email, just in case, and found the thing I’d been waiting for. So then I was up until
3am on Skype with Cassie, and trying to figure out what just happened.

‘Heroes’ Is Based On Me

In the new series (sorry, “season”, cos that’s what we call them now, right?) of Heroes, one of the titular super-mutants is experimenting with her limb-regenerating ability. She scissors her little toe off, it amusingly pops off and flies across the room. For a moment you think her Pomeranian is going to eat it.

The media is currently going a bit doolally about this guy who apparently “grew back a finger” after his mate sprinkled powdered pig intesines on it. Ben Goldacre’s excellent Bad Science blog covered the story yesterday, and what the sensational stories don’t make clear is that he lost some skin and flesh, but no bone or nail. This happened to me once, and I didn’t need any quackery to get my left little fingertip back. I have a small circle of pink skin without any fingerprints there, where the cheese grater decided to turn the White Cheddar into Red Leicester. Does this mean I am a regenerative superhero? Of course not. The Heroes girl has the ability to grow back bone, and flesh, and skin, while you watch. Us normal humans can grow back flesh and skin over a matter of days or weeks. Both are amazing, one is real.

Update: Ben Goldacre was on the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme this morning talking about this very story.

What is also amazing is how certain parts of the media get so excited about stuff that is very wrong. In 2004, The New Scientist famously printed a report about some homemade fully artificially intelligent ‘ChatNannies’ which would protect “the children” from online paedophiles. It wasn’t clear how, but the AI was very impressive, considering it was apparently thrown together in someone’s shed. More impressive than the current state of the art in AI. Too impressive. Less impressive was the background of the creator Jim Wightman (aka Death’s Head), who turned out to be a Holocaust denier and nasty man in general, with a history of lying about his programming exploits. But as he said, the skeptical scientific community only hurt their own children by questioning him.

Science and tech are complicated subjects, but trying to simplify them too much just ends up confusing more than enlightening. The problem is that a lot of it is interpreting statistics and test results, which is a tedious and delicate process. All the more reason to have knowledgeable people reporting on it, or at least people who understand the process, and the limits. You wouldn’t have the cookery columnist reporting on the credit crunch – although that does sound tasty.

Update: more from Mr. Goldacre

Is There A Shepherd In The House?

Thursday 1 May

Audience – about 8

“Does anyone know the herdsman?”

I have one reasonable-sized speech in the play, explaining why Creon wouldn’t want Oedipus’ position. I (Creon) point out that I could have grabbed the top job when it was empty, but I didn’t want it.

“Where is the herdsman?”

Except that I didn’t last night, because I messed up and missed that bit of the speech. Luckily Creon is a bit bumbly, so he can fumble and mumble his way through it.

“Bring me the herdsman!”

Still very frustrating though. Stuff to do with my future plans that I don’t want to go into yet is bringing me down. I wish I could write more.

“For frak’s sake someone fetch the frakkin’ herdsman!”

I guess the thing to do is to put my head down and do what’s required, at work, at home and at the theatre.