Late Life Crisis - December 2019

It's "Nine Lessons", Jim, but not as we know them.

Readers below a certain age should consult someone familiar with Star Trek.

Last year's Carol Concert for charity was an outing to St Paul's Cathedral. For the cost of a West End theatre ticket you got a wonderful performance from choirs, musicians and readers, with The Alzheimers Society pocketing a (I hope sizeable) chunk of money.

It's good to ring the changes, so this year's choice was something completely different, "Nine Lessons and Carols for Curious People", at King's Place. It offered  a "celebration of the creative" and a "variety night like no other".

You bet.

Ok it would have been daft to imagine something conventional. A programme promoted to include ideas, experimemts and songs signposted a touch of irony, probably a more literal interpretation of  "lessons" than readings from the Bible. But there was more to it than that. 

After an opening from an inoffensive jazz trio, a fifty-something cardigan on steroids bounced on to the stage. This was Robin Ince, comedian, actor, writer, and partner in crime in radio show "The Infinite Monkey Cage" of Brian Cox, that nice emollient man who is good at explaining stuff about planets. 

I had not seen or heard Ince before, but let's just say that he is rather different from Cox. If you have a picture of Adrian Edmondson and Rik Mayall in The Young Ones, you could visualise Ince, a man out of the school of comedy that involves a lot of shouting and generally talking very fast, pretending that you are all over the place but probably underneath working to a tightly honed script. However, this observation comes from a man whose idea of wit is Peter Cook and Dudley Moore or John Bird and John Fortune, so I am a lost cause to the Ince style. 

Amidst all the shouting it became clear that Ince was compere for the evening. I would like to give the names of the performers, but with one exception I will not. This is mainly as I did not recognise the names, and anyway Ince explained that certain billed performers could not make it but that stellar others had been brought in. For "balance", I should add that the show - or what I saw of it (spoiler) - was tightly run, each performer having a strict eight-minute slot. 

It all started promisingly, with an engineer explaining how you get a lemon into space, using screen graphics to demonstrate the working of the equations; it felt like The Royal Institution Christmas Lectures for nice children from respectable family backgrounds. We all nodded at the equations with furrowed brows.

I should knock out of the way the other contributions I enjoyed.  There was a science academic from Imperial College, who did a spirited and entertaining talk on a subject I can't remember. And there was a spot from Professor Jim Al-Khalili, a name I did recognise from occasional listenings to The Life Scientific on Radio 4 - I am seriously stereotyipng myself through admitting this.

The Prof, accordng to Wikipedia, is "Professor of Theoretical Physics and Chair in Public Engagement in Science at the University of Surrey" - I suspect that at drinks parties he prefers to introduce himself via his media profile. He talked about something on theoretical physics. I could not understand any of it (that "O" Level "E" did not help"), but he was also a thoroughly decent chap. Anyway, he was received with the degree of reverence that would be afforded to David Attenborough, so you would not dare to say anything unkind about him.

The contributions I have not so far noted were of a different tone. And now is the moment to observe that the Election result was, shall we say, inconvenient to certain performers. The clue was in what appeared to be Ince's own political disposition; I will rapidly retract if I have got this one wrong, but I did think I heard an example of Godwin's Law in Ince using the words "Boris" and "Nazi" in the same breath. (Of course this could not possibly be offensive as it concerned Boris Johnson and was "a joke`').

The first angry contributor was a guitar-playing singer-songwriter. She reminded me of the extremely talented Michelle Shocked, and I am delighted that while writing this I persuaded Siri to play some of the latter's songs. Anyway, this woman (I wanted to say lady out of outdated politeness, but this could be taken as misogynistic), was very angry. And you could understand her anger, as she explained that she had spent the month before the Election playing at Labour Party rallies. In fact she had a great voice, and I could discern some at least of the lyrics, but this was largely a full-frontal left-wing assault, with what seemed a message that how could any of those fools vote Conservative when Twitter was directing you towards the correct path.

There was also a punk rock female band. Here there were very few lyrics I could work out, but what I could work out, coupled with introductions, suggested even greater anger that what was supposed to be an evening of celebration had gone horribly wrong. They included a guitarist who disquietingly was wearing a trouser suit without the trousers, but again it would be inappropriate to comment further.

So to the interval, and a big decision. Well, really no decision at all - time for escape to a glass of wine and a whispered rendition of Oh Come All Ye Faithful (is one allowed to say that carol title?). And before anyone reacts, it was entirely my own fault for not doing enough due diligence. There were many faithful there, but they did not include me.


Dust. Nothing to do with His Dark Materials, but back to tales from the Underground.

At a Christmas lunch with a friend he enlightened me on dust, or rather on brake dust. This was based on a number of years he had spent in London Transport management. The immediate moral of the story is never stand at the end of a carriage with an open window and where the open window is blowing in air against the direction of travel.

Why you ask, when the draught is giving a little respite from the cattle-truck atmosphere? The reason, he explained, is that in so doing you are ingesting dust generated by the braking of the train. Apparently the stuff does not score well on toxicity, although I would not like to scare anyone into thinking that we are in asbestosis territory. 

My friend also suggested that the argument that you cannot have air-conditioned deep level tube trains as you cannot realistically vent the air below up to surface level, is wrong. His case is that it is possible to have air-con units that cleanse the air and recycle it, like restaurant kitchen ventilation units that have no external venting. But that would be.....very expensive. End of story, and of course I stand to be corrected on all this.


How tempting to finish with no further thoughts on politics, but then again. As I write, it looks pretty certain that Rebecca Long-Bailey, annointed by John McDonnell, is about to enter the race to replace Jeremy Corbyn. She has just written a piece for The Guardian promoting the concept of "progressive patriotism". We can take from this that although Labour has not yet learnt the lessons from defeat, at least someone has learnt the power of alliteration.

And on language, the old chestnut of John McDonnell's Who's Who entry is worth a final roasting on an open fire. The entry refers to one of his interests being "fermenting (sic) the overthrow of capitalism". It seems a cheap shot with those of McDonnell's belief down on the canvas, but the length of time it will take for Labour to recover suggests that there was prescience in the incorrect word usage.

And finally to the soon retiring leader. Oh Jeremy Corbyn! Again, a little empathy makes one feel for him in the excruciating experience of his walking through to the House Lords with triumphant Johnson for the Queen's Speech, Corbyn a leaden-faced figure alongside the bumptious specimen from the Lower Sixth. Yet one is forced to think about what could be his next career. The inspirational following suggestion comes from a sketchwriter and is not original to me, but yes JC could do an Undertaker.


Happy New Year, all!