The Gatsby of Campania

I return to The Smoke tonight, having come home to finish off an essay on the Cena Trimalchionis from the Satyricon of Petronius which was driving me mad. Only 1,500 words and it ended up taking days to complete satisfactorily. I found myself asking a question usually saved for when spiralling circumstances deposit one in the gutter with a bottle of whisky (probably something embarrassing like Bell’s) in one hand: how has it come to this?

The answer is typically multi-tiered (short attention span definitely factors into it), but I’ll just go ahead and say that a big consideration is that we’re probably not getting our money’s worth at university (cue cheers of affirmation from many humanities students). I’ll make it clear, though, that – by and large – tutors themselves aren’t to blame. Plenty of my own lecturers are passionate about their chosen topic and manage to convey that excitement and interest to their students. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the classes and taken great pleasure in reading around the subject and picking up more information on it.

Unfortunately, although that’s certainly what I had hoped to get out of university, the methods of assessment don’t really seem to want to look into that. Even at a tertiary level of education, we’re encouraged to memorise and regurgitate for exams, and to write essays according to a series of arbitrary rules that seem to me – someone with, I like to think, at least one creative bone in my body – designed to produce a set of twenty nigh-identical papers. I of course value the merits of proper citation and bibliography and the like, but in the course of research I find myself reading articles and books with a decidedly personal flair to them – first-person perspectives, narrative passages, sentence fragments and even the odd bit of slang for good measure – in exactly the manner that would get red pen scrawled over one of our essays. Are we paying those fees for something that feels alarmingly like secondary school all over again?

To put it another way – for £3,125 a year (and more for future students – but that’s a topic for another day) I get between 6 and 8 hours of lectures a week, a maximum of two (restrictive) essays a term, and plenty to complain about. Not really value for money, is it?

But enough of my whining. The new term is beginning, and that means shows and gigs coming up. We’re heading up to Bristol on the 12th February, so if you’re in the area come see a joint gig between the UCLU Jazz Society and the Bristol Uni Big Bands. Warwick Uni Big Band are also coming down to London at the beginning of March, and we have our second term Garage Theatre Workshop show towards the end of term. On top of all that, Down for the Count have a live gig in London planned at some point over the next few months, so watch this space! Or their website, that works too.

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Holiday Wishes

My my my, it’s certainly been a while. And what a while it’s been. Shows, gigs and whatnot galore, and now we get to settle down, maxin’ relaxin’ all cool (b-ball shooting outside of an educational institution optional). So before I launch into the inevitable winter festivity hogwash, a brief rundown of a couple of exciting things over the last term:

– Sax and the City, the UCLU Jazz Society Bloomsbury Theatre show back in November, was marvellous. Though not the sell-out spectacular we’d hoped for, the big band, jazz choir (the artist formerly known as vocal group), small groups and soloists all performed fantastically and had a great reception from the audience. From the screaming Gonna Fly Now (as recorded by Maynard Ferguson) to the more relaxed tunes like The Way You Look Tonight, to cheesy favourites like Soul Bossa Nova (from that one movie about that guy), it all looked and sounded tight as hell. And we even got the culmination of a year and a half’s worth of Anchorman jokes with a little rendition of Afternoon Delight. Groovy times.

– Anything Goes, this term’s musical, was simply sensational. Easily the best musical of which I’ve been a part, so kudos to UCLU Musical Theatre Society for that. And for their choice of the angel Gabriel too. I had a number of people tell me afterwards that it was West End standard, and a couple who even said it was better than the 2003 run – and that one had John Barrowman, so we must’ve been good.

– I stepped in for a recording with Down for the Count a month or two ago, and recently did another gig with them (at an RAF base of all places). The CD is sounding fab, so head on over to the website and order a copy or ten! Sadly it won’t be in time for Christmas, but hey, you don’t need an excuse like that to buy it right? Right.

So, before I depart to sleep soundly, eat too much and fret over an essay on the Satyricon (which is basically about sex), I wish you all happy holidays, a merry Winter-Solstice-Festival-Of-Your-Choosing and best wishes for 2011, which I hear is going to be a pretty sweet year all things considered, though sadly bereft of those novelty new year glasses it seems.

London, City of Dreams and Stuff

“How can you be bored in London? Go for a walk! There’s always something to do, you just have to look for it.”

So a friend of mine once chastised me when I complained of occasionally having nothing to do in my first year at UCL. I of course realised shortly afterwards that he was absolutely right, and took to taking the odd moonlit stroll through the city to see bits of it I hadn’t before and narrowly avoid getting mugged. I did a lot in my first two years of university – I took in places like the British Museum in my own time, took a boat trip down the Thames and discovered delightful little shops, cafes and pubs hidden away in plain sight.

So far this year, however, I’ve found myself too busy or too exhausted to entertain that particular fancy of mine, which is a shame. With the pressures of third year kicking in on top of running a society, I find myself with relatively little free time, and what little I do have I often prefer to spend resting my aching feet rather than sending them off to discover new places. Still, maybe all I needed was a little nudge to keep my head above water – I think I shall take a walk. Well…maybe tomorrow.

The Jazz Society held its great Garage Theatre Workshop show last week, Ray!: The Abridged Version. Billed as ‘reviv[ing] the music from the Oscar® winning film Ray! by cutting out all the boring bits like plot and dialogue’, it was certainly an entertaining three nights, so to those of you who didn’t come along, shame on you. Don’t worry though, there’s a chance to redeem yourself: our big Bloomsbury Theatre show, Sax and the City, is looming at the end of November. With tickets starting as low as £4, it’s a TV and film music-filled night not to be missed. Hope to see you there.

Autumn Samba

I never thought I’d have occasion to say this, but I almost feel as though this summer has been too long. Not in terms of weather or anything – we’ve only had about four real days of summer this year if that were the indicator – but rather just the time between everything winding down at the end of one academic year and starting up again at the beginning of the next. I’ve found myself wishing I had something to do rather more often than I’m used to, and the musical scene has been unusually arid.

So with this in mind I must confess I’m rather looking forward to returning to UCL for my final year at the end of this month. Things have started being set in motion for the coming year and I’m already feeling more invigorated than I have in quite some time. I’ve been doing all those little organisational things that give you a small but beguiling sense of productivity: re-enrolling, sorting out student finance, picking modules, looking up course books. The latter has admittedly been a bit of a dead end – if Amazon or AbeBooks (normally full of such good bargains) were to have its way I could end up paying more than my rent for reading material. The cunning swines.

I’ve been looking a bit into various styles of big band lead trumpeting. The one with which I’ve become most familiar over the last few years has probably been the Wayne Bergeron: powerful, with much screamingly high playing when necessary to cut across the band and say ‘I am trumpet, hear me roar.’ He’s a great player, with a fantastic tone and range and (as I just discovered) an extensive resumé. I was recently introduced to the works of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, and was astonished at the professionalism and sound of their brass section (obviously the rest of the ensemble is fantastic too but it’s the trumpets that piqued my interest). Even at the higher end of the stave there was an incredible blend of the tone and texture, like it was one super-brasser with several instruments. It was wonderful.

I finished the final book of the Millennium trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest, just now, and have to say that I thoroughly approved. As I mentioned before, the translation could be slightly clunky from time to time, and the story does begin to test the limits of suspended disbelief from about three-quarters of the way through the second book, but overall I thought it was extremely well-written. What I particularly liked was the ending – fear not, I won’t spoil anything – because it is, in my experience, the most difficult bit of a book to get right. It’s much easier in standalone books, where there isn’t so much to deal with, but if the author wishes to give a satisfactory ending to a whole series, there is always the risk of it coming across as unnecessarily twee and corny, à la Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I feel Stieg Larsson struck just the right chord.

Finally, with term starting up again in a couple of weeks, I feel compelled to remind you all that several of the bands with whom I’m involved will be commencing rehearsals again – if you would like to hire them or me, head over to the Contact page.

The Very Model

I have two kinds of news for you today everyone: good news, and better news. Firstly, my flatmates and I are closing the deal on a new flat at last, one that’s (a) cheaper than my place last year, (b) superbly convenient to get to (it’s the other side of Mornington Crescent from where I was last year) and (c) actually looks a very nice place to live. Our tenancy doesn’t start until 1st October though, so we’ll have to get through Freshers Week jetting up and down to London on the trains and the Tube.

The better news? In my time spent with Mass Effect 2 recently, I discovered that one of the crew members used to perform Gilbert and Sullivan. Wonderful.

OK, I suppose you had to be there.

A Long Hard Slog

Flathunting is proving more fickle than we expected, as is often the case. Jonna and I spent most of this morning on the phone to every estate agent known to man, and were either told that they had no properties at the moment or that the ones they did have were out of our budget. We have a single viewing booked for this week at the moment. Here’s hoping it’s a goodun.

On the plus side, being back in the country has been good for getting back in touch with people. I went to the London Double Header at Twickenham Stadium on Saturday with a friend I hadn’t really seen in about a year and spent more time reminiscing and catching up than watching the games (London Irish v Saracens was a tad boring but Wasps v Quins was highly entertaining). And I’ll be seeing my teacher Andy Bush this week as well after what can only be described as Far Too Long.

I recently started Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, beginning with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo which I finished last week. Now halfway into the 2nd in the series, I have to confess I’m rather enjoying them. The translation can be a bit clunky at times – it often seems that a convenient phrase is reused more than necessary for a particularly difficult-to-translate Swedish idiom – but the characterisation is impeccable, the storytelling is enjoyable and, as many reviewers have pounced upon, the heroine, Lisbeth Salander, is quite original.

But enough about me: how are you today?

Back in Blighty II

So we’re back in town once again. Sadly the return seems to have coincided with a splitting headache and illness on my part, which is a shame as it prohibited me from celebrating a 21st birthday in Bath this evening (and getting some much needed trumpet practice in to boot). Still, that aside I intend to enjoy the bank holiday weekend as best I can.

I played a little Lego Batman with Jonna this afternoon – I’ve been a big fan of the Lego games (which have included Star Wars and Indiana Jones in the past and have recently added Harry Potter to the mix), with their quirky sense of humour and fun gameplay. The one niggle I always have is the camera angle and the same-screen multiplayer problems, but it seems they’re trying split-screen for Harry Potter so we’ll see how that goes.

I also recently ordered Mass Effect 2 and Bioshock 2 on Amazon for (relatively) dirt cheap which I’m quite happy about. A recent Penny Arcade comic and post did get me thinking about the used games market and its effects on developers, but frankly – and it does pain me to say this as I’d love to support them in whatever way I can – I just don’t have the cash to flash to keep buying new games at initial retail price which can be anywhere between £40 and £60 often. So I buy second hand. It’s probably selfish in a way, but that’s my vice.

In and around the fun of flat-hunting (friends of mine are starting to Facebook and tweet about their new flats so I’m getting antsy) I have to prepare for a gig with the UCLU Jazz Society Big Band at a civil partnership at the end of September, giving me the unique (at least apart from the other guys playing) get-out for any other events planned that night of: ‘Sorry, I’m playing at a lesbian wedding.’ It’s all rather exciting. Maybe I’ll wear a fez.