It's a big day in UK politics today, because today is crunch time for Brexit. I can't bear to watch the news, and I've been staying off all social media.
I have little hope left that the country will see sense; if you need me, I'll be hiding under this duvet with a bottle of gin.
Over the past week my Internet radio feed has been almost exclusively switched to a stream of episodes of the 1950s classic radio comedy The Goon Show, which has its own dedicated channel at Abacus.FM. That's all that the channel plays, twenty-four hours a day, a fact that continues to be a source of wonder and amazement for me.
What is also a source of wonder and amazement is the fact that, despite the last new Goon Show being recorded in 1972, I have listened to episodes this week that I'd never heard before. Although nearly 250 shows were broadcast, there are only 160 episodes of the show still in existence, and they aren't broadcast on "traditional" radio stations that often any more. Second-hand, out-of-print CDs of collections of the shows sell for large sums of money on the Internet.
The shows were first broadcast before I was born, so I can't really process just ground-breaking and innovative they were. What is clear, however, is that there is a profound difference in comedy shows that were made before The Goons and those made afterwards. The Goons' chaotic approach was a massive influence on comedy shows that I loved in my childhood like Do Not Adjust Your Set and Monty Python's Flying Circus on television, as well as radio shows like I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again. I can only imagine the stunned reaction of audiences back in the Fifties, when people used to staid, formal (and frequently dull) performances of scripts were suddenly confronted with a cast who often set each other off in fits of giggles (Sellers was a chronic corpser and giggler), delivering a show that was usually riddled with copious ad-libs and asides about the flimsiness of the show's plot (or its complete absence). Even the limited number of players in the cast would be mocked with a disarming sense of the ridiculous:
HENRY CRUN (Peter Sellers):
Aargh! Now who was that knocking?
MORIARTY (Spike Milligan):
It was my friend, Grytpype-Thynne.
I can’t see him.
That’s because you are playing him!
He’s never here when you’re here.
I don’t understand...
Neither do the audience, that’s why it isn’t getting a laugh!
Milligan's writing talents were extraordinary. Although the shows are frequently shambolic and the audio quality is patchy and often muddy enough to obscure some of the dialogue, I have found myself snorting with amusement and laughing out loud at something in every episode I've listened to. I've heard enough of the show now to understand some of the standing jokes that recur from week to week, such as the cheering that always greets Bluebottle's distressed wail of "You filthy rotten swine!" which is guaranteed to follow any particularly destructive explosion that other characters have contrived to bring about. I was already very fond of the interplay between Eccles (Spike Milligan) and Bluebottle (Peter Sellers) but it's Sellers's other characters, particularly Henry Crun and Major Dennis Bloodnok, that I've found myself enjoying the most in my recent listens. It's usually one of these two characters that leaves Secombe and Milligan audibly gasping for breath while they try to prepare to deliver their next line without laughing. They frequently fail to do so. The chemistry between them is a joy to listen to (the three principal members of the cast remained friends for the rest of their lives).
I've also been stunned by the quality of the music on the shows, which was all performed live; The BBC Orchestra under the direction of Wally Stott contribute so much to the delivery of the show that they become part of the cast, and the interludes provided each week first by Dutch harmonica player Max Geldray and then jazz drummer and singer Ray Ellington and his Quartet are always impressive performances. I found myself wondering how many microphones were used to record the performances; the music is always mixed impeccably well, and yet the "acting" usually sounds as if the entire cast were sharing a single mic.
The atmosphere of a comedy show being recorded live in front of an audience is something that I have always loved. Modern podcasts can be very entertaining, but they don't have the edge that I can hear in every episode of the Goons. It's worth tuning in.
I ended up making a trip to the local shopping mall yesterday. I wasn't planning to, but I needed to buy a new toaster after the one that I've been using for just under ten years gave up the ghost at breakfast time. How long do your domestic appliances usually last? The first toaster I had was given to me as a present when I moved into my first house back in 1986, and that lasted for well over a decade, outlasting its matching kettle by several years. The guy in the shop where I bought my new toaster reckoned that if you bought one that still worked after three years these days, you'd got a good deal.
Why is it, though, that toasters have not changed dimensions over the years to accommodate changes in the size and shape of loaves of bread? Every toaster I looked at had slots that weren't tall enough. Many had slots that were too thin to accommodate other products such as crumpets (and as I regularly have crumpets for breakfast in the morning, this resulted in many of the different models I looked at being rejected). Although I'm happy that I have ended up with a decent toaster (it's an own-brand model from John Lewis) I have resigned myself to the fact that if I want my slices of bread to be evenly-toasted, I'll just have to turn over the bread at the half-way stage. (Whilst using the grill on my cooker produces perfect toast, the energy costs of using it just to toast a couple of slices of bread are untenable; at 2700 watts, the grill uses exactly three times as much power as the new toaster and it takes longer to warm up.)
Toast; such is the reduced ambit of my life at the moment. I think it might be about time I started seriously looking for another job. While I still have some mental faculties left.
I mentioned last month that I had started listening to Internet radio, and I continue to enjoy tuning in to a variety of different channels. There are some great music stations out there; in particular I've been listening to WFMU and dublab a lot in the past week or so. I've also discovered a few more ambient chillout channels in the same vein as the ambient sleeping pill channel I mentioned last month. I've been surprised by how effective they are.
Ambient sleeping pill broadcasts gentle washes of music drenched in reverb, with almost no rhythmical content faster than that of slow breathing. The music is intentionally designed to be unobtrusive, with no features that will suddenly catch your attention. It's ideal background noise to have on as you drift off to sleep. If you want something that doesn't even have melodic content, there are channels that broadcast nothing other than white, pink, or brown noise to soothe you to sleep. If you want something a little more sophisticated to tune out to than static, there's Seasounds Radio, which broadcasts recordings of waves crashing on the beach recorded at locations all over the world (a nice touch is that the location of each recording is displayed by my radio.) If rainfall is your thing instead, Sleepscapes provide a number of channels that play recordings of showers or distant storms to help you relax. And finally, if you were a fan of the late lamented DAB birdsong channel, you'll be pleased to know that the Internet now has several versions streaming over the web 24 hours a day.
I've started listening to the chillout channels when I go to bed, and for the first time ever I've been using the sleep timer on my bedside radio. Although it's early days yet, I think that I have been finding it easier to fall asleep.
After five days of failing to draw anything at all for Inktober, I had to conclude that it wasn't going to be my thing this year. Rather than enjoying the creative challenge, it just felt like I was putting myself under unnecessary pressure. I've had a good year creatively so far, particularly with my music, but rather than continuing until my tank is drained completely dry, it's time to take a break. To mangle my metaphors, it's time to let the batteries recharge ready for the next challenge.
Although the Fifty/Ninety site will still accept new music from participants until the end of tomorrow, I've decided that enough is enough; I uploaded an instrumental and two sets of lyrics to the site today, which means that this year my final tally amounted to a staggering 75 tracks. I overachieved by a whopping fifty per cent. This is what not going to work will let you accomplish, folks. I've broken my old record by eight songs, and this year only one of the songs I've submitted was a collaboration.
I feel like I've made good progress this year, and there were one or two tracks in that pile that I'm really rather pleased with. I still need to work on my playing, but you can check my efforts out for yourself on my profile page— although thanks to regular DDOS attacks on the server (yes, there are wankers out there who just want to spoil other people's fun), you may get a blank page, in which case I'd recommend trying again later.
Yesterday evening I thought I'd finished my musical activities for the day when an idiotic thought popped into my head. It was irresistible. "You know what?" it asked me. "Why don't you write a villanelle?" Dylan Thomas's poem Do not go gentle into that good night is probably the most famous example of the form, but I also have much fondness for They Might Be Giants's Hate The Villanelle, which is a genuine villanelle set to music. If you want to try writing one, the form is explained in the first link in this paragraph, but in simple terms (spoiler: they're not simple at all) you get nineteen lines to play with, and both the structure and rhyming scheme must be rigidly adhered to. The first and third lines recur throughout the poem and the idea is that they will change their context as a result of the preceding lines. I could explain further but in true Austin Powers fashion I would probably go cross-eyed. I added my attempt to my profile page this morning. It's only at the lyric stage right now, but I'm happy with how The Lesson has turned out. The trick, I discovered, is to write the last two lines first.
I'm going to take a break for a day or two before I start my next creative challenge of the year. It's Inktober once again and my pens and drawing board are ready and waiting for me...