I recently came across a quote, attributed to Marcel Duchamp, - "I have forced myself to contradict myself in order to avoid conforming to my own taste" - which jolted me into remembering not to get stuck in my ways. It was perhaps with this in mind that I decided to buy a ticket to Disney/Pixar’s latest film, Inside Out. I'm pleased to say that it didn't disappoint insofar as it is, as the critics say, smart, funny and imaginative, but I reckon I might have had a fuller experience if I had taken some kids along. Later that day I pushed myself a little harder, watching Eden, a French film about an aspiring DJ on the Paris club scene during the 90s and 00s. From my point of view, the experience was akin to watching a subtitled educational video on what, to me, were imperceptible differences between House, Garage and Techno dance music. I found it neither informing nor engaging. With the Disney film I had the advantage of having once been there - childhood, I mean - whereas the club-dance thing happened in a parallel universe and now it's too late to catch up. It goes to show that, interesting though it may be to leave one's familiar cultural zone from time to time, there's no guarantee that it will be either stimulating or productive.
I was on safer, more familiar ground with the continuation of my current series of mini-expeditions to some of Britain's "drive-by" counties. This week it was Dumfries, that part of Scotland reached by turning left at Gretna instead of proceeding north to Glasgow and the Highlands beyond. There's a new and unusual attraction there, the Crawick Multiverse, a fantastically landscaped series of slag-heaps, the logic of which may be gloriously obscure, but is heart-gladdeningly realised nonetheless. It wouldn't look out of place in Disneyland, come to think of it.
Crawick Multiverse is so new that there are no "heritage" road-signs to guide you to it, which might explain why there was nobody there, but even established sites were thinly populated with visitors. At Caerlaverock Castle the café ladies were unprepared for my request for coffee at 10.00 and, although they bestirred themselves valiantly to oblige, it seemed they were not expecting many customers. I had the castle to myself for a while and enjoyed a quiet contemplation of medieval life before a woman turned up with two young boys, both brandishing plastic swords, and put an end to my reverie.
Next stop was the birthplace of John Paul Jones (well signposted) where there is a small museum and an adjacent campervan site. I looked forward to killing two birds with one stone: an overnight stop and a chance to learn more about one of Led Zeppelin's less high-profile founding members. Or was he that blues singer from the 60s who is now a DJ on Radio 2? In fact he was neither. The John Paul Jones of Kirkbean grew up - very rapidly - to become a famous sailor, founder and hero of the U.S. Navy. I wasn't expecting that but, since there was nobody else at either the museum or the camp-site, my astonishment went un-remarked. At least it wasn't necessary for me to hide my embarrassment.
Back at home, relaxing not exploring, I watched Life in Squares, the TV dramatisation of the private lives of the Bloomsbury set. Their ideas successfully challenged the cultural boundaries of their time and eventually merged with the rich mainstream we now enjoy. Afterwards, nursing a bottle of Caol Ila 12 year-old single malt, I listened to Frank Sinatra reminding me that it's very nice to go trav'lin' but it's so much nicer to come home and raised a glass to Bloomsbury: and another to Monsieur Duchamp.