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Saturday, 16 February 2013

Urban Riding With Flannuering

It feels like an eighteen pound weight is pressing down on my forehead - not suddenly, but with an inexorable pressure. The reason it feels as if  an eighteen pound weight is pressing down on my forehead is because an eighteen pound weight actually is pressing down on my forehead. Said weight is also furry and pinkish ginger. It is five am and once again I am in a desperate race to wake up before aforementioned eighteen pound weight abandons its policy of gentle pressure, and with an accompanying loud "Miaow" commences to claw at the tip of my nose. When the unimaginably sharp tip of this particular cats's scimitar claw - for by now you should have realized the eighteen pound item  in question is a cat - hooks under the leading edge of one's nostrils and flicks ever so gently, it can cut like a razor. Strangely enough, it does not hurt at the time, but days later, you may have occasion to sneeze violently. When you do so, the lining of the nostrils come under some pressure and when a healing cat-inflicted paper-cut re-tears as a result of the odd sniffle, the pain is indescribable.

[NOTA BENE: I feel it is incumbent on me to point out that at this stage, I am not now going to go on and describe the pain which I have just categorised as "indescribable". It is necessary to mention this because I read so much bad science fiction where the writer says something like "The pain was undescribable. It was as if .... etc etc". Frankly I am thinking of launching a campaign to stamp out this sort of stuff].

All of which explains why I respond to the animal, desperately,  and quickly,  at five am every morning. Difficult as this may be for non-cat owners to believe, getting up at this unGodly hour is the best course of action available to me, and arguably, to all of humanity.  This  is because there is  nothing that will stop him (the cat) in his morning rituals. I cannot even physically confine him, because he can open most doors, so he simply paws at door handles of closed rooms until the door opens. If he (the cat) cannot open the door, he miaows loudly and repeatedly and claws at the door.  Once, I him (the cat)  an a cage overnight (for other reasons) and he (the cat) overturned the cage (it)  by sheer brute force (the noise of which woke both self and RHB).

[Another Nota Bene: you may notice that in the proceeding paragraph I have adopted the particularly  annoying stylistic affectation, to wit:    " he(the cat) " . Imagine marking fifteen five thousand word essays where practically all of one's students have spontaneously decided that this grammatical device is the correct way to write academically.].

I have to confess, I also have some sympathy with Tosh (the cat in question) as  his mission is simply to get outside. So every morning at five, after I feel the soft pressure of eighteen pounds on my forehead, and unwilling to risk a nose scratch, I arise and let him  (he ) out the rear door (I will ignore any comments about cat flaps - inconceivable because of heat-loss/security). He (him)  always gives a little "miaow"of victory as he (Tosh)* escapes, which I am convinced is - in his mind - the roar of the mighty lion as it exits its lair (Tosh doesnt read sci-fi but does read a lot of Sword and Sandals stuff about lions).  As winter has drawn on, an envy of Tosh has grown. He may be a cat with delusions of lionhood, but in that there is about a square acre behind the house of interconnected gardens and fields before you get to the next road,  he does get out into the equivalent of wilderness every morning. He gets away from the clutter and comfort of home and enters the wild spaces where there are foxes and squirrels, birds and beasts, dragons and snakes, relying on only his wits and (probably more useful to him as his wits are so small that if he had to rely on them, he would be in very serious trouble most of the time) the annoying "whine" he utters when he is threatened. This "whine" is supposed to be intimidating, and accompanies an arched back and fully bushed up tail, but in truth it is so irritating that I expect that when he does encounter another animal that he considers threatening (and he is so stupid that this has included hedgehogs, frogs and lawn mowers in the past) and therefore deems it appropriate to start whining, the threat rapidly retreats, irritated beyond sanity. None the less, the cat is enjoying himself in the great outdoors and the principle that  nature, red in tooth and claw is an experience that is good for the soul, holds also for humans.  According last weekend, we headed out, striking boldly for the coast, Crosstowner and Trek united on a mission to convey their riders (self and RHB)  to a location where we could all see some semi-rural industrial farmland.

 Above shows a section of track shortly after we set off. The picture below shows the same section of track two hours later, and not on the return journey. In fact it is only when I went to upload these shots that I realised it was the same bit of highway  and that we must have ridden  it at least twice when we thought we were going somewhere else. .
In truth we did not make it out of the city. This does not mean that we did not ride for a relatively long time. It was on a cycle path that had looped recursively so that after two hours of riding we were closer to our own house (about 400 yards) than we were to our destination (about sixteen miles minus 400 yds) that RHB observed that I might have considered purchasing a map. I agreed, shamefaced at not being able to find my way out of such a tiny city and we went home for a nice cup of tea. However, later that evening in the pub, chatting to an acquaintance who had observed us - on our ride-  pass his house (several times), I could not face admitting that we had gotten lost in a perfectly flat signposted environment and instead claimed that we were part of a new 'urban riding' movement that had incorporated 'flanneuring' into its activities. Ashamed as I am of this deciet, I would also say that I would not be surprised if "urban cycling with flanneuring' becomes a 'trend' in social media.

*I added a few more examples in this paragraph just in case you didnt beleive how irritating it (doing that) is. 

Saturday, 9 February 2013

San Blas and I

I should write that this post is called SAn Blas for no other reason than to acknowledge the activities of RHB's sister (who for the purposes of this blog we will callلديها شعر طويل   ) who is sailing round the world and has now reached the San Blas Islands off the coast of Panama.  I am, first of all,  of course mindful of the adventure embarked upon, and the "get up and go" it has taken to advance in sailing qualifications,  and break into a world of long distance sailing from an initial position of no contact with that world to one where her next step is the long haul across the Pacific.  لديها شعر طويل adventures are available on Facebook if anyone wishes to see some photographs and I would thoroughly recommend them to anyone who does a nice comfortable job and lives a very safe life (as I currently do) but actually likes the idea of being active or doing that great adventure (as I pretend to) - they will make you feel insanely jealous and completely inadequate.

لديها شعر طويل 's photographs though prove that once the current austerity at Large Mansions has worked (as it surely must based as it is on that creation of the finest minds available to all humanity - David Cameron and Gideon George Osborne) we will also be able to embark on our own adventures, as long as we can find someone to feed the cats while we are away, of course. Training for such adventures starts this afternoon with a reconnaosiance mission to a secret trail we know which enables on to ride 18 miles straight to a wonderful coast without once hitting traffick . And the trail is not 'off road' in the sense of being bone shaking, it is off road in the sense that it is not a road. The Crosstowner and I attempted the ride two weeks ago in the snow and were defeated by a six inch layer of snow and no snow tyres. Today Crosstowner is joined by the TREK , RHB"s bike. If we can avoid black ice it will be a good day.

However , another string to the master plan is also to finish renovating this house , and here  we have some evidence that austerity measures  may not always be a brilliant thing. Our own bedroom stands as reminder of this. In the twilight of last year - about September of so, I assured RHB that we had sufficient bamboo planks  left (from our downsstairs) to start to complete a project that involved flooring our hallway , spare bedroom and our own bedroom in the middle level of our house. The phrase 'start to complete' is important.  Completion of the completion would be achieved by dint of simply laying all the flooring we had, then working out how short we were  in area for completion , then buying --at very small cost - the very minimal amount  necessary to finish this layer.  "You are sure that you have not miscalculated and we have no where near enough planks?  " insisted RHB "and that this wont be a disaster and we will be left with a half completed floor and you will fall over the half completed lip and break your neck and then I will have to cook my own dinner until you regain sufficient mobility or - in the case that you dont recover use of your limbs - are provided with programmable cooking prosthetics ?",  "Of course not" I laughed, rebuffing her suggestions while simultaneously having a nightmare scenario of immobility permanently etched into my mind, thus adding to the number of reasons Sonombulus is often an impossible dream " If I have miscalculated, it is simply by a tad, a smidgeon, a mere bagatelle. I have the finest powers of estimation of materials known to all humanity!"

 Unfortunatley, while my powers of materials estimation are quite accurate, my powers of estimation of budgetary matters lacks some of the same authority and the price of bamboo (or rather the price of the  shipping of the particular type of bamboo we had originally ordered) has become a matter related to the elevation at which the grass grows, rather than related to its status as grass: to whit, it has become very expensive. So we are left with a half-completed bedroom as the photos show. The good news is we will finish sometime in the next few months and I have laid a reddish, furry-type  bathroom rug down across the transitions where flooring is at differnet levels. Nothing can go wrong.

 Above: This picture shows a half completed bedroom floor. To the left is planks of bamboo, expertly laid. Then, in th emiddle is a greyish strip. This is carpet that we are recycling to use as underlay for the flooring. Then a strip of attractive packing tape , then at the right the original floor is revealed. This original floor is about one inch lower than the bamboo so at the transition I place and attractive reddish mat to avoid trip hazards. It mostly works.
 Newell post: This is not as bad as it looks. In fact, in a few weeks, this newel post will be completely restored. What looks like random pieces of wood stuck on to the newell post are actually carefully selected softwoods, pinned onto the post via wooden dowels (matches) which are deliberately oversized so that I can carve them down to match the exact profile and curve of the original post.
 This is actually nearly complete. It is a wardrobe in our bedroom, entirely made from recycled materials . It lacks only an upper door and handles. There are no legs for all of the furniture we have planned for the bedrooms - all the wardrobes and cupbpoards will 'float' . This is a design conceit, to do with my hatred for very heavy traditional furniture and the apparent desire, if building into an alcove, to fill the whole alcove, even the redundant spaces, with wood, or trim, or unnecessary fancy ness. This was a particular tendency in CAnadian homes - 'cabinetry' everywhere. 
  Below is another unfinished transition showing the original floor boards close to the camera and the bamboo further away. It will look good when finished.
 Unfortunatley, while my powers of materials estimation are quite accurate, my powers of estimation of budgetary matters lacks some of the same authority and the price of bamboo (or rather the price of the  shipping of the particular type of bamboo we had originally ordered) has become a matter related to the elevation at which the grass grows, rather than related to its status as grass: to whit, it has become very expensive. So we ARE left with a half-completed bedroom. The good news is we will finish sometime in the next few months and I have laid a reddish, furry-type  bathroom rug down across the transitions where flooring is at differnet levels. Nothing can go wrong.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

The Blessed Return of Misery - Lets Hope it gets Funny

Last night was a guilty pleasure - a night of musical extravagance amid a sea of austerity. And that austerity - like an algal bloom - has spread, even unto Large Mansions. As a writer, I sigh a sigh of relief - the misery has returned, I can write again! Of misery, more later.  But starting in order, the music of last night warrrants some description because the final howl of feedback that sounded like a transitional fossil's dying last utterance and which ended the show was a particularly apt noise to signal this new era. Cutting back further, last night was an extravagance because I havent paid more than about five English pounds to see a musical performance for about ten years. In fact the last time I paid more than this was about 2001 when I went to see Billy Bragg in a club in Halifax, NS. Which may or may not be ironic because I dont really like Billy Bragg's music very much (although based on some personal experience, the man is very personable and nice) and because during the 1980's  I used to see him about five times per year for nothing as we had 'music biz' pals in common. Which brings us back to now -  I approached last night in somewhat of a similar frame of mind,  because last night's act was a double bill combining the talents of Mick Chapman, legendary guitarist and songwriter and Thurston Moore, legendary guitarist and songwriter. I wasnt really sure if I liked Mike Chapman's music or not. I knew I liked Thurston Moore's stuff but I was paying ten pounds for a gig where I might not like at least half of it.

Travel me if you will to the inaccurately named Triangle pub on Halifax Nova, Scotia, sometime in 2000. I have heard, quite by accident, an artist guitar playeron the radio who is playing this particular pub. I call my friend Grasshopper, a fellow guitarist. "You have to come and see this guy" I say "He's incredible. He does, like, this roots fnger picking stuff and he's probably one of the best at this I have ever beard if the track I've just heard is anything to go by". Grasshopper agrees and we ghost off the the Triangle (not the Sidhe Na Gael - but that's another story) , grab a seat near the front and sit down expectantly,  eagerly, like two dogs left outside a shop. Shortly, the guitarist comes on and he definitely looks the part - wind swept hair, girlish fingers, perhaps a glint of madness in the eye, ethnic-y waistcoat, granddad shirt. He picks his guitar up like someone who is not embarrased to be on stage - YOU will be impressed. And we are, as sounds begin glissading from his guitar, notes falling over notes, circular themes living and dying, quickly, slowly, loud and soft. He is quite frankly brilliant, one of the best finger picking guitarists I have ever heard and this is in an area of the world that has produced more than its fair share of great folk musicians, and said as someone who has seen a reasonable amount of music. Then, after about six songs, a lady sitting near the stage gets up, possibly to go to the bar. She stumbles as she gets up and gently bumps into the small stage, ruffling the microphone stand. The guitarist stops mid-flow, glares at her and delivers a string of invective, calling her a drunk, and an idiot and tells her to "F*** Off". The effect is immediate. Grasshopper and I look at eachother, finish our drinks and leave.

The reason this is relevant is because while the immediate effect was our departure, the longer term effect is that I now have no idea what the name of this idiot guitarist is. His behaviour was such that I didnt seek out his music after the gig, didnt scour "What's On" lists so I could see him again. I just forgot his name as quickly as possible. Being a good musician, a liked musician, someone who interprets our emotions through the transference of frequencies requires, for me,  more than technical ability. You dont have to be a nice guy or smiley - you can be a bit of an asshole or angry or challenging  - but one thing you cannot be is petty, and irrelevantly so. All of which provides a contrast with last night's entertainment. I walk in half way through Mike Chapman's first song but dont even reach the bar. In the fifteen foot between entering the room and the bar, the guitarist does something so astonishing, so beautiful,  that I stop, thoughts of drink forgotten. His song ends, I shake my head to clear it, and I set out for the bar again, but then he starts plaing again and I am transfixed for the second time. It takes me four songs to get to the bar and by the time I get there I need whisky. This man is brilliant. And also very, very funny. And nice. And relevant. I had done my due diligence and checked out You tube etc. but his is the type of music that just does not work unless experienced live, similarly to  classical music. But experienced live, it is something powerful, lyrical, effortlessly complicated and unsophisticated. I'[m not a reviewer, but Thurston Moore follows, and although hardly a technician in the same vein as  Mr Chapman, is still a virtuoso. He is also very funny and warm, telling stories of second hand clothes shopping, meeting Inspiral Carpets on the motorway and wondering where they got their name from and riffing on Jarvis Cocker's initials (JC). 

As I mentioned at the start, austerity has bitten, and bitten hard at Large Mansions. Once again, by dint of planning and executing a bold career move, I have succeeded in turning a relatively successful financial enterprise - the good ship Red Haired Boffin - into a black hole of costs and expenses. In my defence, I have not overspent, gone wild on a new bike seat, bought expensive clothes or showered all my friend (singular deliberate) in Hull with expensive presents. Rather, supporting work (carpentry, project management) has dried up completely now and costs continue. I have also spectacularly failed to obtain even a 'sou' in grant or other financial support for my research despite applying to everyone I can think of. This is perhaps the most puzzling thing, because the people who cannot fund my research  have often described the work as "important' and "interesting". The net result is that after a financial summit meeting last weekend, we have taken urgent and important action to reverse our deficit. I was thinking a lot about this prior to going last night, even considering trading in my ticket but I'm glad I didnt. At the end of last night's gig, Moore and Chapman joined together for ten minutes or so of spontaneously improvised feedback. Nothing original but both musicians are very good at this, so the noise they produced was - as I mentioned right at the start - primal, angry, familiar: the type of sound that would accompany a new evolutionary leap. Or would signal the start of austerity.

NOTE : the above reference to the feedback contains an allusion to the idea that evolution is
a) a progress of some type
b) occurs in fits and starts

I would like to point out that this is purely a literary (or unliterary) device. And as for punctuated equilibrium, dont even get me started.