In most classic senses, I actually -- despite the cosplaying and the fanfiction and my encyclopedic knowledge of truly random crap -- fail at being a nerd. I've never really played D&D; I don't give a crap about dragons. And yet, I have this deep, expansive love for old time and traditional music with British Isles & Irish stuff as a first preference, but with a fair amount of affection for Breton and Appalachian stuff too (because it all has the same roots).

I come by this as dishonestly as most Americans my age: my parents were 1970s victims of the British/Irish folk resurgence and so The Clancy Brothers were the music of my childhood and I never quite recovered. I've written about one of those childhood experiences here before, but I do have some stories about Clancy Brothers and other gigs that I should also tell at some point.

Anyway, long story short I listen to Martin Carthy and the ilk all day long at work at least several times a week. It suits my interest in things passing out of the world, in the awkward union between joy and mourning in certain types of fiction, and my probably unpleasant habit of viewing all narrative as ultimately personal.

So when hunting for something to do in London on Sunday night (after discovering that there just isn't really evening theatre there at the end of the week), when I saw the listing for the gig in Time Out, I couldn't really believe it. To me, Martin Carthy is a big deal, and not the sort of person I could just stumble on playing in a random vegetarian pub in Camden.

Yay, random vegetarian pub in Camden.

There are certain types of perfectly normal social activities I find very hard to do on my own, or even with people sometimes. Bars and pubs are at the top of this list for me. Everywhere, they have clear, unwritten rules that are often highly gendered and require a certain level of extroversion to properly execute. As I'm often inappropriately gendered and inherently introverted, bars Stress Me Out if I don't have someone to run interference for me, so between being tired and mentally churny from Bristol and my recent medical ordeal it was a bit hard to get out the door, but my hotel was freaking me out pretty badly, so eventually the taxidermied owl got me on the damn tube (photos soon!).

I got there early enough to manage a seat at the bar, although I would be preferred a table, and sat there gaping. 15 quid and a room that wasn't going to hold more than 40 people for Martin Carthy? Well, yeah, sure enough.

I hardly noticed him come on stage, but suddenly he was playing one of my favorites, "High Germany" (the version he sang was darker, far more forceful and slower than this, but this is the closest I can find), and then I knew that this was exactly what I was supposed to be doing. Really, it was somewhat remarkable the degree to which this entire trip found its theme and then stayed there for the entire trip, regardless of my pre-planning.

It was interesting to watch Carthy settle in to being on stage. He seemed shy at first, but was hilarious and charismatic and chatty, as you really have to be with traditional music, because a lot of the songs require ridiculously long set-up narratives, a couple of songs in. He told a few jokes I didn't really get about race and ethnicity as conceived in the UK, but it was the tone that mystified me as much as the contents. One joke, clearly at the expense of the Welsh was weirdly full of affection. UK culture seems constantly full of teasing in a way I just don't get, not just because I'm from here instead, but because teasing is something that my childhood has largely unequipped me to deal with. But with Carthy's humor I had the sense that the overwhelming message was that the machine of state shits on us all, so lets elbow each other in the gut about it and sing some songs.

This was perhaps most apparent in Carthy's rendering of "My Son John" which is one of those traditional tunes I've known forever. He's updated it though, to be about Iraq and Afghanistan, yet not completely. The traditional chorus about running a race with a canon ball is still there, even as one of the verses now talks about carbon-fiber legs. And it's angry and it's daring you to be angry with the mucking about with tradition. But "My Son John" was never meant to be an historical artifact but began as a contemporary song about the horror of war. Carthy makes it contemporary again.

He also played "The Famous Flower of Serving Men" which is one of those songs that's really interesting for all it's gender fuckery. He provided some background for it that I didn't previously know and I was struck, as I always am that anyone of any gender can assume the "I" of these great old story songs and it's of no note. For someone like me, it's always of tremendous note.

He did a few instrumental songs and a few a capella pieces as well, which he sang with his eyes closed. The bulk of my own guitar playing knowledge, which is not at all from this tradition, is an essentially transmitted tradition -- nothing is written down, it is merely taught and remembered. I don't know Carthy's process, but often I had that sense of him looking for the place where a given piece was stored before engaging in it.

The only other song I can remember by name was "The Blind Harper" which is of note because it's not about a bard, but a street busker/con artist. "The song made a lot more sense when I figured that out!" he explained.

Finally, after saying he was done he did an a capella song about a "jolly little tailor" who gets drunk, trades clothes with a chick at a pub (yes, exactly) and has his wallet, britches and pocket watch stolen. It was hilarious and the audience was roaring with laughter, and so was I, but I was teary too.

Everything wrapped up real fast then, so we could all get the last tube train to points elsewhere. But it was really perfect, and, no matter how much I tell you about it, largely inexplicable.
Well, about to get on the tube for Heathrow. Am at the hotel where I'd left my bags most of the day and they are blasting random musical theatre in the lobby. So weird.

Today I saw the Household Cavalry Guards (oh man, uniforms make me hot. I mean, I know this, and then I forget, and then I stumble on something like this and I'm like "oh yeah, I'm a perv), St. James Park, Whitehall, 10 Downing Street (people were just mad to get pictures of it, and I was like "er, so?"), the Centotaph, Duck Island (ducks are fucking evil, but really cool), Buckingham Palace from a distance, Islington and Mayfair. I walked enough that I now understand how everything connections.

It's raining, so I hope it doesn't mess with my flight too hard.

ETA: no matter how convoluted my relationship is with fandom and the Mermaid Quay memorial, this really, really upsets me.
You know all those Torchwood fics I write about Jack involving space ports or other odd austere, fundamentally colonialist environments? I am in the porntastic luxury hotel equivalent right now.

First off, it's in Bethnal Green, which is a bit the end of the world. Secondly, it's in a building from around 1810, that's been made dark, dreary and austere in a Kubrick-esque sort of way. The staff is Eastern European and both slightly hostile and overly helpful and there are enough weird decor items around that the whole thing feels a bit David Lynch as well.

The room itself is huge and one wall is all floor to ceiling glass windows that can be opened entirely to let in the air, as everything is covered with a weird, artful, modernist metal grating. The bathroom is completely exposed to the bedroom thanks to the glass wall the separates it (although there's a curtain that can be pulled across for privacy, but it can only be pulled across from the bedroom side, which is sort of sketchy).

It is soothing and lonely and the sort of place that says "use me in a location shoot for film about a luxury spa secretly run by malevolent aliens."

Right now, I'm trying to figure out the correct emotional response (although, you have to admit it's arguably the appropriate setting for the aftermath of this whole thing) and whether I should (or even can with the dreaded Sunday tube closures) figure out how to get to Camden Town for a Martin Carthy (dudes, Martin Carthy, I'm out of my mind if I don't go, but motivation feels challenging) gig.

ETA: There is a rubber ducky in the bathroom named LaLa (it's written on her). Pictures of EVERYTHING later.

plan

Jul. 9th, 2010 06:50 am
About to get dressed and go do an errand. Then I'll come back and pack, head to St. Katherine's Dock, get food things, then head to the station for the train to Bristol. On the train to Bristol I'll do some work, which I'll send when I have Internet when I arrive at my hotel there.

Then I'll type up the notes I made for my response (btw, that analogy is really the devil, it's nearly impossible to avoid, I'll explain at some point because it's so comical) and then meet Kali and her partner at a pub.

At least I got my fucking WIAD done.

And while both of these things without specification make my life sound WAY more glamorous than it is, hey, there's nothing like the sweet smell of contracts in the morning. And talking TV production. Yayish.

Zoom zoom zoom.
Today I was ridiculously productive.

I started the day with the Imperial War Museum.

Pro-tip #1: No matter how affecting someone tells you it is, they are understating the case.
Pro-tip #2: Don't try to see more one or two exhibits at a time, because no one has that sort of informational or emotional capacity.

I started with "The Children's War" about WWII seen through the eyes of UK children. This was largely, but not exclusively, about the evacuation of children from London during the war. This is a fact I've known about, in some detail, because it was a central narrative of my own childhood, because my private school boarded UK girls fleeing during that time.

I started crying about 30-seconds into this exhibit and couldn't stop. Whether it was about a girl hero was received multiple medals at age 14 for being a message runner, or a small toy that was the only possession a child was able to save, this was hard. And the letters from children, the penmanship the same method I was taught -- it was suddenly as if my friends could have written those letters.

The exhibit also included a full-scale replica of a house from the era, which was lit, decorated and included sounds from the time -- records playing, radio broadcasts about the war. A half-finished dress on a mannequin in a sitting room; a slip laid out on a bed. I won't lie, this hit me somewhat from a place of fiction, but wasn't any more pleasant for that.

Perhaps most remarkable, however, were people on site who had been part of those children evacuated who were available to talk about their experiences on a one-on-one basis.

I also went to the trenches exhibit, as someone here had suggested. I found this difficult, but less affecting, perhaps because there were other people there, and I was too nauseous from the scent of it to take in the other details, not that that wasn't informative.

I also tried to do the Holocaust exhibit, but only managed to in the most cursory of ways. As with most Holocaust exhibits content on LGBT people was limited to men (women wore the black triangle, and not for having sex with other women, but for not serving the Reich in appropriately feminine ways, such as childbearing). I don't expect to be more than a footnote, but I hate not being one.

I thought the exhibit was impressive for its clarity and clinicalness. It let the events speak for themselves, and made an effort to demystify life under the Nazi's -- not just for Jews, but for those who were not targeted. The museum is very very good overall at letting small details paint large pictures.

I also wandered through a bunch of WWII stuff, but skipped a lot of it because I was far too overwhelmed by that point (having done more crying at the Holocaust exhibit) and was crying at weird crap by then. Also, too many groups of teenagers who couldn't be quiet where quiet was needed.

After that I went to check out the tattoo parlor that I liked very much. So I am tentatively going to do that Monday, but that dependent on a number of factors including my ongoing health. (I passed the stone. Everything is still sore.)

Then I went to the Sainsbury's in Whitechapel and got my gluten-free groceries before heading back to Brick Lane to eat dinner.

Now I am EXHAUSTED (also the tube was all fucked because someone went under a train at Ealing and I must have gone through 20 stations in my running about today), back in the room, and knowing I need to take the notes for my paper response and make them into something coherent, as well as write my WIAD and do a bit of other work. All doable, but I want a nap. A nap, however, is risky, as I might well sleep 'til morning.

I still owe you the airport story. And I still need to plan out tomorrow which is highly sensitive as far as timing goes.

Link round-up later if I can manage it, although other than work I want to wander around here in the evening a little. Also, I owe you all a thing about the construction of masculinity and clothing here as opposed to the US.

London

Jul. 8th, 2010 01:02 pm
I've arrived in London.

The computer system at the 5-star hotel (which means good service by men in funny hats) is down, so checking in was a bit complex.

Also, Canary Wharf is a giant maze of wacky, made only slightly better by my wandering around in it lost singing "My Boy Builds Coffins," which should give you something of an indicator on what the flight over was like.

Speaking of, I have tales and tales and tales from the flight over (involving a very, very chatty girl who thought we were exactly alike... um, yeah, no), but that's for later.

When the tales were not transpiring though, I watched a random episode of Being Human, which I had never seen before. It was great (and Russell Tovey is scrumptious), but I'm not actually sure I'm going to be able to watch the show. It was the first episode of season 2 cut since it apparently hasn't aired in the US yet )

Then I watched the second half of "The End of Time" because that seemed appropriate. Most appropriate? I fell asleep after the seen of Ten gagged and woke up again for the scene with Jack and Alonso, because I am awesome like that. Those were the only two reasons I was watching anyway.

Meanwhile, the stone still hasn't passed.

Also, on a whim, I emailed the most famous tattoo shop in London a couple of days ago to see if they could fit me in to get a tattoo I've been planning for a while, since this trip seemed appropriate to the occasion. It takes months to get an appointment at this place. Months! They just emailed. They can fit me in. So I'm heading over there in a bit to talk to them about it, so maybe maybe.

First, food, beverage and the Imperial War Museum. Tonight, working on resisting going to an outdoor concert with fireworks at Kew Gardens as I absolutely must work on my response paper and eat chicken dopiazza instead.

London misses Patty and so do I.

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