[ occasional pirate ], [ scribbly fellow ], [ hat devotee ], [ improviser ], [ cat dad ], [ sometimes unhappy in the brain ], [ AFOL ], [ consumer of eye-candy ], [ beer drinker ], [ enraged cyclist ], [ please talk to me about Transformers ], [ very bad at DIY ], [ enthusiastic duct-taper ]
[ occasional pirate ], [ scribbly fellow ], [ hat devotee ], [ improviser ], [ cat dad ], [ sometimes unhappy in the brain ], [ AFOL ], [ consumer of eye-candy ], [ beer drinker ], [ enraged cyclist ], [ please talk to me about Transformers ], [ very bad at DIY ], [ enthusiastic duct-taper ]
A quote from a song to begin with. Probably. I only associate the song with that amazing opening sequence of Watchmen. Anyway – for last Christmas we couldn’t afford to buy Lego’s Winter Village Toy Shop 10199, so I built our own with Brickset’s helpful instructions. Obviously I ran out of key bricks and had to improvise a bit. It turned out right nice. I’ve been reluctant to dismantle it because it made me so happy. But I did want to do something with it, so I updated it for the change of seasons – not that you can tell it’s going from Winter to Spring to Summer in England, but I can read a calendar.
As ever, the simplest of plans got absurdly complicated because of the um, challenging solutions I’d found to the roof in the first place.
Here’s what it would have looked like if I’d actually ponied up for the set:
Here’s how it looked at Christmas:
And here’s how it looks after being neatened up for Spring!
We Make Our Own Damned Beds
As you can see, I got a bit carried away. Originally I was just going to take the snow off the roof. Clearly that involved making a new, identical roof out of brown Lego, and I just kept adding on to it. It’s impossible to photograph but I ended up re-engineering the main roof’s join to the building. That was after I pressed down too hard and exploded the whole model across the floor. Twice.
In great unhappiness I seized the “opportunity” to change the windowsills, window frames, left side of the building, do a colour swap for the garret, rebuild the chimney (and add smoke!), change the windows and make an even fancier roof. There are lots of tiny changes I can’t even remember anymore.
I think I like this version even more. As before, a lot of the changes were driven by lacking the exact same bricks I’d used before. It makes for an interesting constraint. It’s possible that my favourite thing is the smoke.
I wonder what the next set of changes will be (assuming I smash the thing by accident again)…
You can see the whole lot and compare and contrast for yourself on Flickr.
I’ve had a good few days in the last fortnight when I could cheerfully have killed everyone I’ve ever met, followed by myself. I would have been equally content doing it the other way round. It’s not a marvellous state to be in. The sheer internal vibrations threaten to shake a fellow to pieces.
Thank goodness there’s whiskey, and sleep and occasional poems.
I’m genuinely baffled that there aren’t more killing sprees and general outbursts of insanity from people pushed to the edge of their tolerance zone. It probably speaks well of us that we usually manage to cram it down inside into self-loathing instead. Yeah, that’s ace.
Anger management tip of the week
If someone (or the world) makes you really angry, just reflect on the fact that one day they’ll all be dead.
I have been burying myself in films and books this last week. It’s much easier than dealing with the world. It also reminds me of why I so rarely read non-fiction: I already live in this world, why would I want to read about it? I’d much rather dissolve into a realm of beasts, robots, battles and magic/futuristic science. I guess that also influences my current feelings about what I enjoy in improvisation. Kitchen sink drama and work conflicts are fine – often beautifully acted and affecting, but I’ve got those things already. Bring on the absurd, far-fetched and unimaginable.
In even bigger personal news I am going on a short solo break. Yup, I’m escaping from everybody for a few days next week and vanishing off to Amsterdam. I don’t know what I’m going to do when I get there, but I’m hopeful it will be a helpful soothing of what few wits I have left. Of course, the prospect of travelling and going off on my own has also provoked a degree of anxiety… dammit!
To add further change to the mix we’ve also acquired delightful new monsters as cushions for our front room. I love ’em.
Yet again I had a great time playing with The Same Facesin Leicester. Parky and I joined Tom, Allan, Doug and Dave for an evening of gay abandon. It’s refreshing to play the classic Whose Line games again with a fun bunch of chaps and an audience happy to be pleased. They’re back in Leicester at The Criterion on Saturday 7th June.
I’m delighted to have discovered that Helix is finally continuing on Channel 5. They did the first half of the series earlier in the year and I just happened to notice it was being repeated… and continuing with the rest of the show. I don’t know how you’re supposed to find out this is happening unless you watch the bloody thing all the time. Thank the digital masters of creation for giving us boxes to record whole series on. Anyway… it’s great – the claustrophobic genetic horror is banging along nicely. The arrival of Seven of NineJeri Ryan seems to have kicked off a tonne more drama, and a better effects budget too. We’re finally getting a glimpse of just how big the base is with some lovely CGI views (from an elevator). I’m enjoying it enormously.
Agents of SHIELD continues to be quite fun and entirely undemanding viewing. It’s really not reaching the heights it’s capable of, but we have now caught up with the effects of Captain America – The Winter Soldier. I’m still hoping it will make a terrific character leap forwards and become truly unmissable, like the films it accompanies.
We watched the first episode of Fargo last week. I was a bit reluctant, mainly because the trailer looked like it was just mocking the sweet Minnesotan accent, and also I often find Martin Freeman to be entirely bland and unlikeable. Maybe it’s just Freeman with a comedy accent, but I’m enjoying his pathetic everyman very much. I was impressed by the first episode’s high body count – they’ve set up a lot for the series to work through. It also made me laugh a great deal watching Billy Bob Thornton‘s grim humoured hitman wreak havoc on the stupid. I’ll get to watch episode 2 this week.
I’ve just finished Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. I finished book five at the beginning of last week and dove straight into six afterwards. It’s been a very satisfying series, and markedly different to Butcher’s better known wizard detective Dresden books. At first I was disappointed by the apparent lack of Harry’s grim humour, but that gallows style developed throughout the five books, as the situation and the stakes grew ever higher and more dangerous.
Like most good fantasy worlds it’s an once familiar and disconcerting. This is swords and sorcery stuff combined with the rise to power of an unassuming youth. Magic here is by manipulating the furies, elemental spirits present across all of Alera. They provide some outstanding battles and inventive plots throughout. The peoples of Alera are surrounded by barbarous neighbours (as ever) and diverse threats both externally and internally.
The character base is mostly the middle to upper echelons of society as we follow young Tavi’s progress from shepherd to spy-in-training and into soldiery (more would provide too many spoilers). There are some very affecting relationships and hard decisions for everyone. The series gets increasingly epic and confident until it reaches its final brutal conflict. I’ve very much enjoyed the series and am now rather sad that it is over. I hope Mr Butcher decides to return to the world some day.
Last year I bent to the will of the tabloid abomination The Daily Mail (land of bigotries of diverse kinds, terrible reporting and a bizarre attitude to cancer), for they were stuffing their pages with Lego. I feel shame, but the allure of cheap Lego is just too great. I do actually return the newspaper once I’ve been given the Lego though – that usually gets a very confused look from the staff at the till. I guess I’m paying with my soul.
One of the many sets we acquired is this awesome Gandalf The Grey at Dol Guldur. I’m very fond of it, especially of the giveaway polybags because it’s got a whole mini diorama goin’ on – it’s not just a car (it’s not a car at all… this is a terrible example).
It makes a fine little heap for building too:
There are a decent number of bricks and of a very useful kind. I’m obsessed with slopes. I have no idea why, but I crave them, especially the 1×1 cheese slopes. I went nuts in the Lego Shop in Sheffield and got handfuls of the olive green ones recently *ecstatic shudder*.
But my god the extras! Tendril/creeper, flame, minifig skull head, weapons: spear and staff (you cannot have too many weapons), a spider (horrid thing) and, perhaps most important of all, that gorgeous 2×2 tile with the printed map of Middle Earth. Oh, and Gandalf of course! He’s got a beard, cape and a cool hat.
I’m delighted every time I build this little set. Every time? Yes. They also released these in Nottingham with the Evening Post quite recently. I believe we now have about ten of them… They are gradually being fed to me from a hiding placce somewhere within the dark lands upstairs. You see, I need that many map tiles because um… I really really want them. At some point I’ll be able to do a map wall. Or something. I just love this little set.
Yup, that’s my plan this week. I’m pushing outside of my own comfort levels by some considerable distance and am having a few days away in Amsterdam on my own. So I’ve no idea if I’m going to be posting anything much this week. If I get my act together you might get some random updates on spots of outstanding Netherlandish intriguement. Or you might get a dizzying silence… I’ve got some pretty exciting (and geeky) events lined up for myself. Excited/terrified.
This last week we’ve been working on relaxing and doing as little as possible. I’ve even been back to the doc’s! I recognise that I’m teetering on the verge of breaking quite badly so I’ve got some daytime anti-anxiety stuff as well now. It’s taking a bit of getting used to, but I think it’s going to help. Unbelieveably last week was only four working days but I packed a fucktonne of work and frustration into it.
Events of Coolness
We were rewarded with Gorilla Burgerwhich was just as much fun as usual. I’m really enjoying being the master of the chaos and compereing it. I can sort of see how much fun it must have been for Clive Anderson in Whose Line? Nice to see the expanded Fisticuffs universe bringing some strangeness to their monoscenes, with a scene set in a revolutionary Russian cafe. Splendid.
On Sunday we (the Nottingham Legonauts – as I’ve decided we ought to be called) trekked over to the National Space Centre in Leicester to see the Brickish weekend’s display amongst the cosmonaut clutter. The Space Centre itself was good as well – they’ve got some excellent hunks of metal and suits. We watched a short film about the potential for alien life in the Patrick Moore Planetarium (and avoided having some kind of hideous anxiety attack) which was very cool – infinitely better than 3D cinema in my opinion. There’s a baffling timeline running around much of the exhibit tracking influential events such as the rise of Nazism and the invention of the Slinky. Weird. We were captivated by an hilariously narrated Soviet perspective video which we watched sitting at a circular table in a red tent. The plight of the poor animals we dumped into space has probably scarred us all.
It was the Lego we were really there for though. Sooo much awesome. My camera is terrible so I haven’t taken any pictures and I’ll have to wait for one of the gang to upload some shots for me to steal. Along with a massive Westminster Abbey build they had a wonderful range of the Brickish Association’s models. I loved the Stingray and Terrahawks designs, partly because of how much I loved those shows. I hadn’t previously noticed how much the Zeroids resembled the Telstar satellite, or that the satellite was clearly the inspiration for the Death Star. I acquired a few bobs and bits of Lego from the MiniFigForLife stall that looked very handy – I fell in love with the door arches I first saw in the Hobbit Lake Town set.
I accidentally stumbled into a room filled with fantastic Lego Space stuff and realised I’d seen half the stuff on Flickr and across the web. Much of it is the stunning work of LegoLoverMan (Peter Reid) and Rogue Bantha (Tim Goddard). Peter’s the creator of the soon-to-be-released Lego Cusoo Exosuit model, and the pair have both contributed to official Lego inspiration books. Lego Space (and Blacktron) are the stuff I adored when I was little and it’s thrilling to see it still being made. I couldn’t help myself but buy their gorgeous book Lego Space: Building The Future . I’ll review it properly when I’ve read it. It was really nice to meet them both, they and their team are brilliant and very friendly. I was excited to be dragged back in to watch them take long exposure shots of their spacey wonders!
Oh, and because we opted to chip in via Gift Aid when buying our tickets we were automatically upgraded to annual passes – it’s great when you’re unexpectedly rewarded just for doing something nice.
MissImp are supporting this awesome event with a special Unspeakable Act! It’s going to be crazy good fun. I loved reading the Illuminatus trilogy when horribly wasted…
There’s a glorious convoluted history that connects KLF co-founder and former Julian Cope manager Bill Drummond with the maverick theatre director and monologist Ken Campbell. They connected during Ken’s epic production of the cult Illuminatus trilogy, in the process creating some of the most memorable theatre of its day.
Illuminatus itself was co-written by Robert Anton Wilson, who had no intention of spawning a bunch of conspiracy-fixated readers, but some didn’t get that the books were among other things a work of satire. And hence Wilson inadvertently created a fashion for Illuminati-spotting that’s caught up everyone from Dan Brown to Beyonce in its wake. Which is a shame, as there was so much more to his work: he knew everyone from Tim Leary to William Burroughs, and has been celebrated as an influence by Alan Moore and Coldcut.
We’ll be celebrating all this and more with Daisy Campbell, who is bringing Wilson’s autobiography Cosmic Trigger to the stage. Joining her will be John Higgs, whose book The KLF: Chaos, Magic, And The Band Who Burned A Million Pounds is a treat. Nottingham’s impro comedy stars MissImp will be performing, and Adrian Reynolds will be doing a talk touching on madness, magic, mesmerism and medicine. The event will be presented by Anna Reynolds, who will also present a modern day fairy tale.
Pulling Your Cosmic Trigger
Saturday 17 May, 5pm, £5 The Corner 8 Stoney Street Nottingham Profits will go to support Daisy’s forthcoming Kickstarter campaign.
*Note from the pen monkey who uploaded this article: It is LeftLion’s 6660th article. The number of the beast? A weird coincidence? Ah, who cares I’ve gorra tonne more to put up.
I am arrived! Amsterdam is as pleasant as I remember. What’s especially delighting is that I know no one here and have no demands, responsibilities or requirements on me whatsoever. It’s like a cool breeze… that might be an aftershave advert.
Of course I really nearly didn’t get here at all. My pre-planning is meticulous – it’s a good way to manage anxiety. I have an absurdly detailed list of things to pack and bring with me, including a tick list of the things that go into the pockets of my jacket. Seems insane, but is very helpful. So I’d been packing stuff into a box (pre-bag prep!) and by Tuesday morning I only had about three things left to sort – boarding pass, and the stuff that ends up on me (like my hat – yep, that’s on the list too). And then it all started to come apart…
I’d no intention of spending two hours at the airport prior to the flight, so I checked in online and planned to have an hour there before my flight. And then Skylink happened (not Skynet, though that seemed entirely credible yesterday). Or rather it didn’t. The bus runs from Mecca (bingo) straight to the airport, it’s incredibly convenient what with running every twenty minutes. Or forty-five minutes waiting in my case.
The Drugs Work, They Really Do
The amitriptyline I’ve recently started taking during the day were champions – even as the bus failed to arrive, cutting ever more savagely into the clock, I was aware that the freaking out and roiling anxiety were simply failing to blossom. Sure, I was concerned, but vastly more sanguine than I normally would be. When it finally arrived and Marilyn waved me off, I must confess a tendril of tension wrapped its thorny grip about my heart and stomach. But even then… Mainly I was cursing the interminable flow of senior citizens using the bus to get to and from the shops. Why this bus…? Why?!
Finally we arrived at the airport – at 12.19. My flight was at 13.00, the gate closes at 12.30 and finally at 12.45. I ran. First up, security. A winding queue of glazed meat people, thankfully moving quite fast. Through friendliness and desperation I got shunted into the express lane and dumped all my gear in the boxes. Then I got scanned. I’m not made of metal, I swear, but I got scanned all over and touched up by the nice gentleman. He asked after my moustache; I felt we were more than friends.
12.29: they lost my hat. My beautiful new corduroy hat. I guess I needed the time to put my boots back on and repack my rucksack. Even during this I was relatively calm – none of that anxious sweating horror. They found my hat: crushed flat by the cocking scanning machine. It is now more versatile. I took it and ran.
Miracles! The gate I needed was the first one – all I had to do was get through the baffling labyrinth of duty free shops clotting the route. Again, a number of mindless humans, their minds gorging on the prospect of goods fractionally less expensive (if not more) than in a supermarket. 12:39 – boarding in progress. I joined the queue and celebrated by eating crystallised ginger.
Ah it was a tiny plane, just 88 passengers. I got an aisle seat right at the back, next to a business-business sort of fellow who constantly wanted to get out and go to the loo. I spent the flight grinding crystallised ginger and scribbling in my writing book. It was a good flight, only the landing made me feel especially awful. Watching the clouds and boats below was quite cheering. After that we got through Arrivals quickly, though they don’t stamp passports anymore. Bastards.
Welcome to Amsterdam
Schiphol airport has a nice train station which confused me immediately, but I bumped into an entirely bonkers but lovely Dutch lady who was also confused but had the benefit of language to resolve our perplexity. In return I helped lug her enormous luggage filled with Italian wine on and off the train. We got on famously.
It’s a quick enough ride to Amsterdam Centraal Station. I’d spent too much time sitting down all day already, so I decided to walk to the apartment. It would help me get my bearings, provided I didn’t get completely lost on the way. I didn’t. Just barely, though it was further than I thought. The brilliant and unexpected sunshine and blue sky was an added bonus to a nice walk through the town and across three of the canals down to the apartment. I was maybe twenty minutes later than I thought I’d be, but I made it! All on my ownsome too.
The apartment is up three flights of steep stairs (which I’m enjoying bounding up and down enormously). I was greeted by one of the owners who showed me how to turn lights and the oven on and then left me to it. Very friendly. This place is lovely – kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and a large living room with a daybed. Exactly what I’m seeking for a few days of solitude and relaxation. Oh, and a balcony for staring at strangers and smoking. Time to explore and then hit the opera!
So, my apartment is great, and not being in it makes me feel like I’m neglecting it somehow. Nonetheless, my first task (after removing the t-shirt entirely glued to me) was to exit the flat and begin some circulatory exploration. I know that I get anxious if I think I’m lost, so getting to know the area is vital for my sanity. I started just spiralling out from the road, Fokke Simonstraat, getting a feel for where the apartment is relative to the city around me. I’m not good with maps. Christ, I genuinely struggle with left and right, never mind NSWE and rotating a damned map. I’ve already been using the Tripadvisor Amsterdam app on my tablet and phone to mark up places of interest and start learning street and canal names again.
My other purpose in wandering, besides just how pleasant Amsterdam is to wander around, was to find a supermarket – a source of fridge beer and breakfast. I’m exactly the kind of traveller who brings his own teabags and preferred coffee with him. I am not sorry for that. Routine and familiarity enable my mind and heart to run in the tracks, not to judder out of them. This trip is all about getting back in the groove of myself. Hugely pretentious, yet important. I wandered a looong way off track, all the way up Utrechstraat by accident, which was really handy as I found places that I knew from last time we were here – Rembrandtplein, and even better had almost made it to Waterlooplein where I would need to be later.
I came across Marqt (on Utrechtstraat) which is a really cool, upmarket supermarket (like M&S with hipsters and a funky soundtrack). I found many beer, including the alcohol free Weistephanen (lovely), as well as awesome bread and cheese (note: must get more cheese). Then I spazzed out because my phone told me it was five to seven. The opera is at seven thirty. I quite quickly got back home and established that my phone had added an extra hour to the time. I continued breathing… I had proven I could find my way home under pressure = victory.
A Pact With The Devil
I’ve adored Faust since it was studied by the other class at A Level, and I played Marlowe’s bad doctor himself on stage. I got a beautiful copy of Charles Gounod’s opera of Faust in Oxford many years ago, with the programme and tickets from the 1920s inside. One of the first events I heard about when I began to look at this week in Amsterdam was Faust at the Nationale Opera & Ballet. It ain’t cheap, and I struggled with committing myself to it. That’s a complex mix of value and self-worth. I’m glad I got the ticket. I went for the best fourth class ticket available, which was 82.50 EU. That got me a seat just off the end of the 13th row – an almost perfect unimpeded view of stage – close enough to see every movement of their extraordinary throats.
My plan (as a fool) was to get there early and find somewhere to eat. I’m glad I was too disorganised to sort that out however, as once I’d picked my ticket and ambled upstairs to mingle with hundreds of far more smartly decked out audience members, and went to order a beer and some amazing flapjack I learned that the show started at seven, not half past. I reassured the bartender that I could deal with the beer in under a minute. Oo-rah. I took my seat, with no expectations whatsoever and it all began…
The stage is set with a vast plastic screen in the middle, with an airlock door at one end and a keyboard at the other. Across the top of the arch we are told this is the ‘Human Homunculus Project’ – the doctor of philosophy has been updated to master of genetics. Behind the screen we see strange organic columns being tended to by men in huge biohazard/environment suits. And it all begins…
I don’t think I can really capture the experience of my first opera. It was incredible. Never mind the singing – I was carried along by the (not brilliant) surtitles while the opera plays on in Italian (of course). The sounds emerging from these people’s throats is just extraordinary. I’d have been content to just listen to the throat music. Add to that an orchestra with two massive harps and everything else besides and it’s already an auditory treat. Not content with that, the set design is ingenious, the plastic wall is removed, replaced with red towers that throb with lust and darkness, columns of lights that switch from candlelight to prison cells, menace to romance as they rise and fall. It was astonishingly done.
The Devil Has All The Best Threads
The costumes were perhaps even weirder – Mephistopheles (the fucker) is immaculately dressed, even when stripped by his minions to a skeletal body stocking (looking amazing under the lights), which is matched by the tactical combat gear of the soldiers. The women, who are the focus of Faust’s ill-thought lusts, are either virgins or whores (natch). We first encounter the women in a bar, and they all have the most disturbing costumes which make them look like shop mannequins with their joins clearly showing. That was upsetting. It was made worse by the arrival of the wives and older ladies – with their absurdly enhanced breasts, like footballs up their jumpers.
I’m going to find the trailer for it – because trying to describe how it plays out is almost impossible. We were presented with endless disturbing scenarios and imagery. I found Marguerite (how the human body can produce such notes I have no idea) with her powder blue hair and hands unbearably affecting, especially when she drowns her baby.
There’s a fantastically upsetting moment when Mephistopheles offers to share his wine with the rest of the bar – he raises a pedestal to sing from, which is a tank of water with a naked woman in it. He taps the glass and blood blossoms through it. While the woman writhes in pain he draws off glasses for the crowd.
It was remarkable. In Hell we get a feast and orgy whose depravity shames even Faust – it wasn’t much easier to watch from the audience. When they bring the babies out for eating and waving… Gosh. I’ve never seen anything like it before. It was one hell of a first night out! Afterwards the crowds empty the opera house fast.
Faust received an ecstatic ten minute standing ovation, which it was a privilege to take part in. I’m glad my hands can take it – it’s the closest to exercise my shoulders have had since knackering my right wrist. A huge cast – the opera, not my arm, and entirely deserving of applause. It was also nice to see the director and get some sense of the cast as a group of people wavering into bows and clearly pleased with themselves.
On leaving the opera, mind-blown and delighted with the visual and auditory feast, I took the opportunity to call my other half and bumble back towards my apartment. I did go slight awry, since I was talking and looking for a place to get some food. Indecision lead to me reaching home without actually having eaten. I recalled that I’d passed a bunch of cafes and restaurants down Spuistraat, which joins my street, so I went that way.
Shwarma was my only choice left… a vast pitta filled with spicy meat strips and salad. It wasn’t amazing but it certainly filled a hole and went down very well with the Dutch IPA I’d picked up earlier. That gave me a chance to Skype back to the UK, though we somehow bollixed the cameras and couldn’t properly see each other. Never mind!
It’s Cultural, Right?
Almost next to the kebab house I’d seen a closed shuttered building Mellow Yellow, naught but minutes from my place. It was only midnight… so it was time to go out again. I haven’t smoked weed for years, not properly like back in the olden days. I’ve sort of missed it, yet prize my ability to feel things and remember stuff more. But it’s Amsterdam man…
Apparently Mellow Yellow is one of the original coffeeshops (mind you, this seems to be a common claim, a bit like oldest pubs in Nottingham), although under different management now. I’d considered going to a whole bunch of cool coffeeshops, but faced with the opportunity, I find that I’d rather be quiet and relaxed at home, than in a bar full of smoke and gawping tourists.
The reggae labelled the place as neatly as anything could, though it’s clientele was a curious mix of locals and (presumably) tourists staying nearby. It’s quite a way out of the centre, so I doubt many would be seeking it out specifically. The guys were friendly and open to offering recommendations to someone who “wants to relax, but not get fucked”. Blueberry it is then.
I realise that one of the things I missed the most about casual cannabis use is the meditative joy of skinning up. I’ve always enjoyed it, and my fingers clearly remember the task. I found a nice seat overlooking the ground floor, where I could see the customers amble in and out as well as watch Mel Gibson’s Payback on the TV. Satisfyingly I caught it from about half way, which is where I stopped watching it in England a couple of weeks ago. With Kindle in one hand, and spliff in the other I was perfectly content.
I stayed just for that one, and took the rest of my gramme home. There followed more reading, of Steven Erikson’s third Malazan Book Of The Fallen – Memories of Ice, another spleef and alcohol free Weistephanen. I must be getting old… but it’s been a pretty good first evening in Amsterdam.
Ooosh, what a lovely week. Sure, Monday was kinda manic, and I won’t know until I return to work whether any of it actually paid off! However, it is only now that work is even returning to my mind. I spent most of last week in Amsterdam, a place famed for stripping the mind of thought while simultaneously offering diverse amusements, both frivolous and educational. It has been great.
I seemed to find a measure of peace and internal quiet just from continuously walking around the city. For a smallish city I’ve laid down a lot of shoe rubber. I think it’s done what I wanted, which was to empty my brain. It’s also been a useful time to get used to my new daytime medication regime. I’m still trying to write up the stuff I did while I was in Amsterdam, but for now I’ve only got Day One…
I’d completely forgotten about the events on Saturday. I only realised I was going to be at Elvaston Castle when I read an email from Furthest From The Sea on Friday morning. I briefly panicked, then had some beer. It meant I’d have to get up at about 6.30 so that I could get a lift from Derby at 8. I’m glad I did! It was another gloriously sunny day, which meant I wanted to hide in the shade. We had an excellent day with lovely thousands of people to amuse and entertain. As ever, the gang had laid out a wide range of acts, from the combined Derby Rock Choirthrough to Gardina and the Derby Capoeira Group. It were a grand day out. And we were surrounded by food. I brought a bagful of beer home.
We’d been asked to join in for the Discordian chaos, so we did. We opened the show with an Unspeakable Act based on the most recent The Manchurian Candidate. We swiftly diverged from the original plot, as you would hope. It went down well, and it was lots of fun having tiny candy cigarettes with tiny chainsaws in them. That was followed up with a series of talks by Adrian Reynolds, Anna Reynolds, Daisy Campell and John Higgs, all representing different facets of Robert Anton Wilson‘s bonkers Illuminatus legacy. It was fun, thought provoking and a decidedly odd way to spend a Saturday night. The crowdfunding for Daisy’s play Cosmic Trigger kicks off on 23rd May. Find out more here: Cosmic Trigger
I slept really well, and woke to the street sounds then dozed off some more. I was surprised to find that it was only 10.30 when I finally got up. I’d acquired bread and cheese the day before so breakfast, plus tea and coffee made for a sane beginning to the day.
Gorgeous sunshine greeted me as I hopped back down the three flights of stairs. I’m going without headphones today – partly to be better at evading the streams of wheeled traffic and just to absorb the noise. I felt pretty good about my sense of direction and figured the easy way to begin the day would be something I already knew.
Het Kattenkabinet is a damn sight easier to find from this end of town. I remember it being tricksy last time we were here. Today it’s just three canals and a bit left away. If you haven’t been here, and like cats then you probably should go. It’s a three storey canalside house entirely devoted to cat art. I have two motivations for being here, partly I do adore cats and second that there’s usually at least one real cat lounging about the place.
An astonishing range of artists have donated their work or seen it passed on to the cat house, including Picasso. Despite the great art I think I’m most drawn to the advertising posters and metal signs that litter the first floor landing. Much of the Kabinet is like this, artwork piled up the walls, narrowly obscuring the beautiful decoration of the house itself. They’ve added quite a lot since I was here last, despite the top floor not being open today. That’s okay – they’ve got a skinned cat up there and I don’t really want to see it anyway.
Amongst the sculptures and frequently odd paintings I finally found a beastie. This big delightful grey tabby was fast asleep and barely moved when I started stroking him. Turns out he likes atomic nug-nugs and we spent a few purring minutes before moving on. It’s a shame the Katten Kabinet doesn’t do a full catalogue of all the bizarre things they’ve acquired over the years. I snagged just a few postcards, as we already have the programme from a previous visit.
Before ambling out again I met the other pussy cat – rather older, a little skin and bones beastling with a throaty purr. It’s a quiet and peaceful haven from everything. I love the place. They’ve got a limited selection of their vast collection on their website, plus you can take a virtual tour and see some better pictures than I can take.
Shopping and um… Shopping
Not much buying though. I ventured up to Damrak, along the route I’m now familiar with, alternately turning off the main road and following the parallel side streets. The shops are of course, exactly the same as everywhere else, plus shops full of touristy clog keychains and crap that would embarrass even Blackpool. I found nothing that I wanted… other than a couple of useful things like a candle (to light even the darkest night).
I did stumble across The English Bookshop which is a very well stocked version of The Works, but very pleasant to poke around. My real destination was Damrak 66 – the site of the Gunther von Hagen’s Body Worlds exhibition.
I suppose everyone’s familiar with the Gunther von Hagen‘s strange anatomical sculpture – except it’s not really sculpture since it’s all dead people. You aren’t allowed to take any photographs, so all I have is this lovely flying pig from the reception area. The title of this exhibition is Happiness. It’s six floors of body parts, sliced and peeled, presented with the aim of understanding human happiness. Mental. Yet beautiful. I’ve been interested in the functioning chunks of meat that make up the human body since finding Gray’s Anatomy on my Dad’s bookshelf when I was very young.
This exhibit takes you on a journey through the parts of the body – the nervous system, the organs, the vascular system, musculature, reproduction and sex. Oddly the plastination process (all the ‘models’ are referred to as ‘plastinates’ rather than people – I guess they aren’t really people any more) makes everything look completely fake. It is both deeply moving and disorienting. I loved the bodies and limbs stripped down just to a webwork of veins. They even have a whole duck pared back to the veins and arteries, presumably just because it looks cool.
The first human we see is a gentleman whose head has been cut in half and opened like a book, so you can see his calm, peaceful expression and fine blonde eyebrows before peering directly into his brain and mouth. I kept expecting him to open his eyes or smile. None of the other plastinates were quite as affecting, though several were much more disturbing – the lady leaping out of a rock, leaving behind her hair and skin for example.
Endless upbeat positive messages appear around the gallery, exhorting us to enjoy what we have, to strive for interpersonal relationships and to do what makes us happy. It is undoubtedly uplifting, even when being shown the spread of lung cancer and the stages of embryo development from one to twenty four weeks. It’s especially strange to be looking at the plastinated foetuses, including one nestled in its mother’s womb and realise that I’m looking at a series of dead babies in jars.
I completely agree with the materialist sensibilities though – we are our bodies, our feelings and pains are entirely physical whether located in our brains or our past. Failing to grasp the essential nature of ourselves – as a complex machine made of meat leads to the horrors and inanaties of religion and new age cod-philosophy. Our bodies wear out, or we break them, and we die. Looking at dead people makes you feel more alive. I think.
It’s not an enormous exhibition, but there is so much to read and absorb that I spent an hour and a half in there. For a while I was following Bill Bailey about (he’s got a show in Amsterdam this week), and was avoiding some noisy Americans. It’s nice to find that people don’t assume I speak English (which I do, but poorly) and that’s invaluable for avoidance of humanity. It’s possible I haven’t learned anything from this exhibition!
I only bought a copy of Von Hagen’s Animals Gallery, since I’d seen enough of men stripped back to the muscles in their cheeks, but retaining their eyebrows (a bizarre and hilarious affectation).
After looking at the human body spread for inspection I wandered around, trying to find a specific pub. Still in my head was the disturbing (yet uplifting) imagery of Body Worlds. I found some toy shops to pootle around, but found Lego to be maybe 15% more expensive than back home. Disappointing, but good – I don’t have space for Lego in my luggage.
Pubs Glorious Pubs
In De Wildeman is one of those pubs reputed to have hundreds of beers available. It’s a mindblowing hoptophile experience. It’s only tiny as well. The sheer choice nearly gave me brain disease. Eventually I narrowed my focus to the chalkboards and was able to make some decisions. First up the remarkable Schneider Porter-Weisse which is a chocolate malt dream. It’s a nice pub to sit quietly in a corner and scribble a few illegible postcards. For a second drink, bearing it mind that it was now about 4.30 and I hadn’t eaten since breakfast I had a half of Hoptimist which was light and snappy on the tongue. To assuage my stomach (I am terrible at remembering to eat when I’m on holiday) I had a dinky little Guinness and steak pie which certainly filled a void.
I’ve been deliberating whether to get utterly fucked up while in Amsterdam, and although it is tempting I’ve concluded that I just don’t want to. That’s vaguely disappointing – surely what I want most is to get gruesomely hammered and blunder around foreign streets giggling at the barbar jabber of the natives. Apparently not. My intent this week is to do what I want to do, and I’m learning that this is harder to do than I expected. What I really want is to sit in absolute quiet with a beer and enjoy my book. Either I am 70 or somehow broken.
I Must Eat
Heading back home I had every intention of stopping in at a restaurant and reading over a meal. But looking in, every restaurant had a coterie of stereotypical tourists and I felt I wanted no part of it. I’d passed a Chinese takeaway on the way through and idly looked it up while in In De Wildeman’s. Turns out Shanghai Noodle gets some pretty good ratings. It’s a tiny place, with narrow cramped tables… and take away service. I ordered black bean beef and assorted dim sum. And then waited. And waited. That’s almost complaining, which is unjust as I had no haste whatsoever in my mind.
While waiting (but not waiting) I was accosted by a lady who spotted my “MissImp Improvised Comedy” badge and asked if I was a comedian. I get asked this occasionally and have not yet perfected my answer, but I gave what’s closest to my heart – “only by accident and on occasion”. She is also a comedian, of an improvised background and next time I’m here I can probably get a gig. That was nice. I also enjoyed making faces at the young girl who was there with her mum.
The order came, and with it two free cans of Heineken! Apparently I had been waiting too long. I did not care. On the way back to my apartment I was stopped by (I think) the tenth person who has asked me for directions. Rarely, I was able to give them. I feel (briefly) like I live here.
The food is exceptional, even from plastic boxes, and goes down very well with Weistephaner Dunkel. That pretty much sets the course for my evening, which is to be dominated by a lengthy bath (plus beer and book), more smoking on the balcony, a spot of the Highlander TV series and a relatively early night.
I think is. It appears to be Wednesday night yet I’m sure I just got back from Amsterdam the other day… but no. I’ve been back for gosh, nearly two weeks and so far I’ve managed to document up to the end of day two. I am a baaaad blogger. I sincerely apologise. In the meantime, many things have occurred.
There is a galactic-scale metric fuck-tonne of work to sort out. Without giving too many details (because I shouldn’t) we’re right in the middle of severing a public sector organisation into public and private organisations. I’m in the IT side of it and well, it’s going catastrophically. We’re being deluged daily with new, late, contradictory, implausible, insane and incorrect information – all at a rate too great to get our own heads around, let alone adequately convey its meaning to users. Nonetheless it’s going ahead, out of our control entirely despite endless protests, argument and risk. Ho hum. It’s migration week, so that’s why I’m a bit out of touch. Right now (9.30pm) I’m logged into all of my computers!
But these things are not interesting – they are the day meat that enables me to feed and live in the evening and weekend.
Scotland – There And Back Again
This is deserving of far more time and detail, but for my sanity (see above) I’ll just give ye a wee snippet. Last weekend I travelled up to Scotland with my mum, step-dad, brother and sister. We went to scatter my uncle Colin Barnfather’s ashes in the area he died in a walking accident last September. It’s a remote place called Stob a Ohbain in the area of Kinloch Hourn. It’s an utterly beautiful area, and difficult to get to (I’m struggling to get Google maps to show me the right place – a later post will have the coordinates and stuff). We scattered his ashes near to where his body was found, and where the helicopter and POLSAR team communications van implausibly parked.
We had a lovely time, and though it might seem rather odd to return Col’s ashes to the place he died it makes a kind of sense for us. The journey was as much about seeing where and why he went there to begin with.
It was an epic drive from Nottingham to Inverness on day one, then a trip about Scotland via Fort William, Glasgow and Gretna Green before finally heading home. I don’t like being in cars. On the plus side we listened to almost all of the BBC Radio dramatisation of Lord of The Rings – very fitting for the extraordinary countryside we were in.
The only show of its kind in Derby, Interrobang features an improvised comedy jam in which everyone can take part followed by a showcase of the best improv in the region. Proudly presented by Furthest From The Sea and Derby Live.
The Bookcafe Cathedral Quarter Derby DE1 2PL 7.30pm – £5