Wednesday, 31 December 2014

The Unwelcome Question.

Another little disaster today. I can’t be bothered to elucidate. Suffice it to say that when I aborted the shopping trip and returned to the domicile to effect such repairs as were possible (with moderate success, it has to be said) the question which none of us likes to ask because it makes us feel like a wimp ingratiated its unwelcome but inevitable presence anyway:

Why me?

I’ve had four unremitting years of this – four years next month to be precise – and it’s getting on my nerves. Accordingly, the dear old blog was doomed to remain torpid until I found a nicely apposite passage in Slaughterhouse 5 which I should like to quote:

The protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, has been abducted by aliens and taken aboard their spaceship. He’s asked whether he has any questions. He asks ‘why me?’

‘That is a very earthling question to ask, Mr Pilgrim. Why you? Why us for that matter? Why anything? Because this moment simply is. Have you ever seen a bug trapped in amber?’

‘Yes.’ Billy, in fact, had a paperweight in his office which was a blob of polished amber with three ladybugs embedded in it.

‘Well, here we are, Mr Pilgrim, trapped in the amber of this moment. There is no why.

I like this book.

On a mostly unrelated note, I have to say that I’ve also grown to quite like certain aspects of American linguistic idioms. I’ve even taken a few of them on board. One exception that seems to have been universally adopted these days is that habit of serving you with something (like a YouTube upload, for example) and then inviting you to ‘enjoy!’ One word. It doesn’t sound like an invitation, it sounds like an order. It’s cheap, smug and patronising, and I don’t like it.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Being a Bean.

Following on from the last post about ‘correctness’ and style in the use of English, I suppose I have to admit that even I draw the line somewhere. I found the following comment appended to Dave Brubeck’s Take Five on YouTube.

‘I’m a original human bean that likes this thing that you all need to know I like.’

What I find most fascinating about this is that he put the apostrophe in ‘I’m.’ Could it betray the fact that he’s actually a skilled writer who is having a joke at the expense of YouTubers?

Somebody else commented:

‘I like soup.’

Well said. So do I.

Monday, 29 December 2014

A Comment on Style.

Making the transition from Lolita to Slaughterhouse 5 is interesting. Kurt Vonnegut writes in a simple, direct style which has more than a hint of the vernacular about it. Some might say it’s coarse, even incorrect here and there. I might say so, but that would be silly.

There’s no such thing, strictly speaking, as correctness in the use of English. There is only received form. Nevertheless, it troubles me slightly when somebody writes ‘His friend was the only person he could talk to.’ Being a purist who likes to have prepositions in their proper place, I would prefer ‘His friend was the only person to whom he could talk.’ But there’s no such thing as purity either. When Sherlock Holmes reads a letter written in English by an anonymous writer whom Holmes has calculated to be the King of Bohemia, he remarks: ‘The writer must be a German speaker. Only a German would be so disrespectful to his verbs.’ Quite so, but it hardly matters.

A person might write ‘incorrect’ English out of ignorance or choice. The former betrays a lack of knowledge, the latter proclaims a selection of style. Sometimes we change our style to suit the sense of the moment. I do, and I’m sure Vonnegut knew what he was doing just as much as Nabokov did. In Lolita, Nabokov’s style is that of a fine vintage brandy; in Slaughterhouse 5, Vonnegut’s is redolent of a strawberry milkshake. Mostly I prefer the brandy, but they both taste good.

Manifesting the Characters.

I saw a perfect Lolita standing outside a shop today. She was exactly as Nabokov brilliantly described her – same age, same height, same build, same hair, and that precocious look in the eyes which I’m not as well equipped as Vladimir to describe. It took me straight back into the novel, and especially the growing, grinding sense that all the major characters are victims of one sort or another. I read somewhere that Nabokov suffered a few bereavements in which family members were killed accidentally while young. It’s said that he had a lifelong fixation with victims.

Oddly, back in the day when I was reading the His Dark Materials trilogy, I was taking daily bus rides. Most days an image of Lyra would get on, sit down, and then stare at me, frowning intensely. I could see it out of the corner of my eye, I could feel it even, and it took some effort of will not to stare back. I permitted myself the odd glance to make sure I wasn’t mistaken, which I wasn’t. I never spoke to her so I’ve no idea what was going through her head. Memories of my place in a parallel universe, perhaps.

Respecting the Promise.

You know, I once gave up the most precious thing I ever had, and all because somebody called in a promise. A promise must be sacrosanct; it mustn’t be broken, for to do so would make the very concept redundant and that wouldn’t do. The promise is one of the most valuable resources available to the human condition. It’s why I’m very careful about making promises, and why I don’t break them.

This is in answer to a question posed earlier.

2.47 am. Roxy Music are singing about unavailable fantasies. Night.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Being Strange to Succeed.

I began Slaughterhouse 5 tonight. Vonnegut has a very strange style. Easy to read, but strange. Lots of short sentences strung together. This is considered quite improper, or at least unattractive.

I, on the other hand, try to vary the size and weight of my sentences, which is considered more proper, or at least more attractive. That makes me boring, humdrum, conventional, lacking any recognisable style. I agree. It makes sense, and so the message is:

Never do things properly if you want to be noticed.

(Mr V also has more interesting things to say than I do. That helps as well.)

The Media's Mixed Messages.

I suppose it isn’t surprising that so many of the TV adverts, idents, preview sequences etc at this time of the year feature snow. That’s because snow is attractive; snow is cutesy, comfy and Christmassy. Snow sells products and productions.

Ah, but then the Met Office forecasts a band of real snow crossing the country tomorrow and the media leap into hype mode. Tomorrow is going to be bad. If you worry about nothing else tonight, worry about tomorrow because it’s going to snow! Suddenly snow is ugly, snow is disruptive, snow is even dangerous. Remain indoors! (That’s for fans of Mitchell and Webb.)

Well, I agree. Snow is ugly and disruptive. It’s a damn nuisance. But then I never claimed that it was cutesy, comfy and Christmassy, did I?

And incidentally, one of the headlines on the TV text pages covered a bit of a shock/horror story about temperatures in Britain having fallen below freezing last night. ‘Sub-zero’ was the preferred term. Sounds more polar, doesn’t it? And the default verb is always ‘plunged.’ OK, so can anybody explain to me why the fact that a country situated as far north as Labrador and Siberia had freezing temperatures at night and in the winter should be considered newsworthy? Tonight is a little colder. Whatever will they write tomorrow?

Next Up...

…on the reading list is Slaughterhouse 5 which, from what I’ve been told, is another tour de force of humanity at its most hale and hearty. It came recommended. It was even a gift, which unsettled me slightly and also established a perceived obligation to read it. Maybe I should raise my sights and start reading Harry Potter once Mr Vonnegut has been safely digested. I might comment.

Lo: Dancing a Tragedy.

Remember I was reading Lolita? It got put on ice for a week or two while The Struggle was holding my undivided attention. I picked it up again a few nights ago and finished it tonight. So what did I think of it? Do you want to know? No? OK, I’ll make it brief.

I thought it superbly well written, intelligent, complex and engaging. Unfortunately, the plot began to depress me about two thirds of the way through and it got worse the further it progressed. I mean no disrespect to Nabokov, of course. Tragedies are perfectly legitimate and aren’t supposed to be enjoyable. (‘He broke her heart. I only broke her life.’) In short, what I read was a tragedy about different sorts of victim locked in a dolorous (no pun intended) dance to one form of destruction or another. (Note: I didn’t say innocent victim. Remember what Mandela said about the guards at Robben Island?)

And then I read what some New York literary professor said about it and felt a little irritated. It seemed to me that he had engaged Nearest Shibboleth Mode and come up with a view that was politically correct but ludicrously over-simplified. I thought of writing a long article myself, but decided against it because:

1. I can’t be bothered. I don’t have the mental energy for long articles at the moment.

2. Hardly anybody would ever read it, even if I published it here.

3. It would necessitate using the only word in the English language which I decline ever to use either verbally or in writing. And that includes now. Please don’t even try to guess, let alone ask.

So now it’s off to watch another episode of Jeremy Brett’s Sherlock Holmes. After the power of Lolita, a bit of easy listening is called for.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

The White Stuff and Me.

We had a moderate snowfall last night - about 4" I should say - so today brought the first walk in a white winter landscape. Very nice, but that'll do for this year, thank you. I'm no fan of snow generally, and the visual appeal of monochrome landscapes wears thin after about ten minutes.

Friday, 26 December 2014

Being a Reluctant Receiver.

There’s a Christmas present sitting on the bookcase in my office, still elegantly wrapped and be-ribboned, and complete with a matching gift tag to affirm the pedigree of the giver. It’s the first time in all of my life that a Christmas gift has remained unopened at the end of Christmas Day. What’s odd is that I haven’t felt driven to open it. What’s less odd is that I have no desire for gifts, at least not the material sort.

I rarely feel grateful for material gifts. I’m often grateful to receive a communication from one of the few special people, and no doubt I would be most grateful to be caught if I was about to fall off a cliff. Such gifts touch the soul and the safety centre respectively, but material gifts are more likely to evoke a mixture of confusion and guilt.

‘Why has this been given to me?’ is always my first response. ‘Have I done something to earn it?’ If I have, then it’s no more than fair recompense and fails to qualify for the title of gift in the strictest sense. If I haven’t, a sense of imbalance sets in. It’s undeserved, and therefore a reason to feel guilty.

(When I was around six or seven, one of the older boys in the street had been ordered by his mother to get rid of some of his little-used toys. He knocked on our door and gave them to me. I remember bursting into tears, and I’ve never quite worked out why. I don’t burst into tears these days, but I do still feel uncomfortable when people give me things.)

So will I open this one tomorrow? I don’t know yet. As I said, this is the first time it’s ever happened.

And I’m critically aware that this blog is turning into something resembling episodes from a second rate post-modern novel, and what used to be multi-coloured has become, almost unremittingly, a darker shade of indigo. Maybe that’s why visitor numbers have fallen for the third month in succession. Not that numbers matter a jot, of course, but writing has been my primary focus for the last twelve years. Without it, where would I be?

It also occurred to me today that psychopaths must have a relatively easy life.

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Christmas Speculation.

I wonder what would happen if some archaeologist discovered an ancient manuscript which proved that the whole Christmas story is baloney (which it probably is.) Let’s say it was written by a learned and literate man who was personally acquainted with the Jesus family, who knew that Jesus was just an ordinary baby born in Nazareth (which he probably was,) who followed Jesus’s ministry with interest just because he was interested, and who wrote it all down just because he could. We now have the one true Gospel written by the only contemporary witness, and it tells a very different story from those which form the Canon.

I wonder what damage that would do to Christmas, the economy and Christianity itself. Maybe somebody should write a novel based on such a proposition. Maybe somebody has.

*  *  *

This is in lieu of the discarded post which considered the question of whether all tribulations are actually trials, and if so, who is sitting on the panel and why. It was far too deep for my current mood.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

The Christmas Chart Topper.

I fell to considering the question of whether there is one impression of Christmas as a child which stands out above the others. I came up with four impressions very quickly, and yes, there is one that stands out. I list them in ascending order.

4. Reading the Christmas TV schedules on Christmas Eve. We didn’t take a listings magazine, but even the local newspaper, simple black and white rag that it was, had Christmas images like snowflakes and stars on the listings pages for the three principal days of Christmas. Christmas Eve was the first, and so it signalled the final lap on the journey to Christmas Day.

3. Smelling the turkey cooking on Christmas morning. My mother often cooked it slowly overnight and the ground floor of the house was filled with its aroma on coming downstairs in the morning. Turkey was a once a year treat, and so the smell cried a resounding Christmas is Here.

2. Waking up on Christmas morning and rising anxiously to see whether Santa Claus had visited and left a sack of presents at the foot of the bed. He always had. To a child from a poor background who received virtually no gifts through the rest of the year – apart from one or two on my birthday – that was about as exciting as life could get.

1. My mother used to clear a space for the Christmas tree and cover it with cotton wool to represent snow, and then carefully arrange a tableau of plastic reindeer, fir trees, a Santa Claus on a sleigh, and a cottage under the tree. It was as fine a landscape as you could wish to see, and I liked nothing better after dark than to turn off the room lamps and see it lit by only the multi-coloured tree lights. I would look at it for ages, and feel a thrill stirring inside which I could never explain. Looking back on it now, I realise that it was quite unlike the other aspects of Christmas. They were all about simple sensory input and the pleasure of acquisition. This was about visual input going deeper and triggering something abstract and profound. That was what made it magical, and that’s why it’s number 1.

Useful Irrelevance and Senseless Death.

It’s interesting how the mind has a way of deflecting you from a course of action that would be ill advised. There you are burning with a wild, hot rage, or freezing in the visceral chill of high anxiety, or languishing in the dark pit of depression, considering whether suicide or homicide would be the better option since there appears to be no other solution (and you know you’ve come perilously close to both on at least one occasion in your life.) Suddenly an incongruent thought breaks upon you and demands attention:

I wonder how many boys and men there are in the world called Harry Potter, and how awful it must be for them.

I was ironing shirts at the time.

*  *  *

Yesterday I received some crushing financial news from a bureaucratic organisation. It seems I’m going to be even poorer than I anticipated and I wasn’t happy, so I went for a short walk to try and shake it off. I reached the wood at the top of the lane and stood aside to let a vehicle have the road unhindered. When the car had passed I looked down at my feet and saw that I was standing next to a squirrel lying on his stomach with his head resting on a branch, as though in sleep. His right paw was clutching the same branch and his eyes were open. His bushy tail stretched out behind him and he was completely unmarked. He was utterly beautiful and quite dead. I suppose he’d been hit by a car but not mangled as road kills usually are. I asked the question:

‘Why do you show me this when I’m feeling the way I do?’

I received no answer, and I’ve no idea to whom the question was addressed.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

The Great Cookery Turn Off.

Having got back into a bit of TV watching after a nine month lay off, I find myself a little disturbed by the extent to which the schedules are dominated by cookery programmes. Objections listed here:

1. There are too many of them.

2. The presenters are all too full of themselves and over-the-top to have anything to do with the real world.

3. The ratio of effort:output seems to me to be scandalously unbalanced.

4. I find the sight of people stuffing food in their mouths more than a little disgusting, especially when they then open those mouths to make ooing and cooing noises and indulge in shallow hyperbole like a bunch of untrained thespians, and most especially when the thing they’re shoving into their mouths is a piece of dead animal (often with its blood still evident.)

5. I associate the epicurean principle with privilege, pretension and the darker side of decadence.

6. There are millions of people in this world lacking even the basic means of sustenance. There are children dying of hunger. Being grateful that we have enough to eat is fine, but making shallow entertainment out of the fact strikes me as disrespectful.

7. I’ve never been into posh food. My taste has always been for the simple little delights like a handful of unsalted cashew nuts or a toasted cheese and tomato sandwich.

8. I get hot under the collar when I see how much washing up they’re making.

9. I’m adding a nine because I dislike eights.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Seeing the Seasonal Sham.

I open the TV text news pages and read a report about the latest atrocity committed by men claiming to have God on their side. This time they’ve slaughtered a hundred children or kidnapped a whole village. I come out of text and into picture, and there’s an advert from an organisation seeking donations to help them rescue children in this country from abuse and neglect. But then we're given the antidote. Some suave and slimy guy with gelled hair and a Porsche gets the girl because he uses the best aftershave. Happiness, it seems, comes in a bottle marked Paco Rabanne and all's right with the world after all. That’s the point at which I feel that none of us has the right to be happy as long as the human condition contains so much that is so indescribably vile.

So, Compliments of the Season, everybody. If you have a God, I hope It’s a kind one, and I trust your trees will be heavy with designer labels and sweet-smelling sedatives.

Sorry this is so dark, but there’s a lot of it about one way and another. And besides, I have reason to dread this Christmas most potently. I must be confusing the seasons because I feel more like Jesus waiting for the nails than a wise man bearing gifts.

Dreaming of the Untouchable.

The young woman in the Met gift shop saw me admiring something or other – I don’t remember what – and engaged me in polite conversation.

‘Are you English?’ she asked eventually.

‘I am. Are you American?’

‘Ha! Yeah.’

‘Small world.’

This is nonsense of course, and incomprehensible to all save two.

My moods are becoming stranger these days. A week ago I lost my mind temporarily – I saw it floating away from my head (to the left) and it took an effort of will to get it back. A singular and interesting experience you must admit, and one that took a while to get over.

Nevertheless, it bothers me sometimes that you can never know life until you feel her breath on your cheek.

I wonder why the world contains so much that is so disgustingly horrible, and why the low-moaning wind of winter chills the spirit so comprehensively.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

A Winter Novelty.

TV adverts are a novelty to me. I only watch the TV during the dark period when there’s a fire in the grate and the current book has grown too heavy to hold. (Lolita, for example, is causing some disquiet at the moment.) At such times the trends, the methodology and the social implications provoke some interest and the need to make notes. Today’s are offered here for what they’re worth.

1. Adverts for products relating to bodily functions have become rather more explicit than I remember them, and those excretions which belong in the privacy of the toilet bowl for as short a time as possible are now sitting cheek-by-jowl (which is almost a pun) on the Christmas dinner table with the strangely contrived lump of matter which the supermarket chains would have us you eat to provide their genesis.

2. A theme is becoming evident. The TV screens are replete with a seemingly inexhaustible array of pretty young women, the size and brilliance of whose teeth and the expensive regimentation of whose hairstyles extinguish any trace of personality which might previously have been present. This, it appears, is the dominant idée fixe of the 21st century.

3. Adverts for over-the-counter cold & flu relief preparations exaggerate the efficacy of their products to such an extent that they’re effectively dishonest, which is supposed to be illegal.

4. Let us suppose for the sake of our muse that the people who devise TV adverts are really very clever, and really, really understand the minds of the many to whom they aim their manipulative messages. If we assume this to be true, then even a cursory glance at their efforts would lead the average alien from the wasteland to have serious doubts as to the state of the minds of the many, would it not?

5. I confess to an attack of pomposity, but please don’t hold it against me. The fault lies elsewhere.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Tidings of Great Joy...

…from the Christmas TV ads. I could have chosen any number of them, almost all in fact, but I’ll stick with just three in the hope of avoiding an outbreak of fainting and self-flagellation.

The good news for the men: Did you know that all the most beautiful women in the world are genetically programmed to seek out and sleep with the man who buys the most expensive aftershave? True, apparently. Don’t worry that every aftershave is just another bottle of coloured water with different chemicals stirred in. As long as the price tag’s right, they’ll know…

The good news for the women: You will become irresistible to every hunk in the universe as long as your hair dryer comes out of a box which has the magic words ‘Britney’ and ‘Spears’ printed on it. I don’t know what the words mean, and I don’t know how the magic works, but we are reliably assured that it does. I suppose it’s just another miracle like all the rest.

The good news for the suburban mum (and I expect it works for moms, too.) One of the leading supermarket chains is offering the ultimate in miracle meals for the magical Christmas Dinner. This gift from the gods will:

a. Instil in you a dizzying sense of achievement.

b. Ensure that your husband remains (or becomes) a model of fidelity for life.

c. Programme your children to be veritable Rocks of Ages when you get to an age where you need to be prevented from using the cat as a lavatory brush.

The very appearance of this royal repast is evidence enough of its inestimable value. It's a slab of some indeterminate pink stuff which looks for all the world like mechanically recovered meat, snugly encased in a shiny brown, seemingly plastic, coating. It’s so shiny, in fact, that the faces of your adoring family will be reflected therein to lighten your path through the dark days of winter and beyond. Enjoy and give thanks.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

To the Faithful Few.

It is just possible that the Priestess (remember her?) was referring to me when she wrote in a blog post today ‘you’re a fraud,’ although it’s more likely that she was referring to a type of which I might be cited as an example. In either case I commend her insight (it’s one of the qualities which made her so important to me for so long.) For it might reasonably be argued that those of us who go through life never really connecting, but instead observing and playing roles – and in so doing draw other players into our dramas and then mostly discard them when the roles become tedious – are frauds of a sort. In my case, however, she might have got one thing wrong. And then there’s the question of mirrors to be considered.

But this is a minor aside. The real point is that I regret having gone so long again without making a post of my own. The fact is that I really have only one post to make at the moment, and I’m constrained from making it by the knowledge that this is a public blog and I have no control over who reads it. Such a consideration matters sometimes. I hope to be back to normal eventually, if normal I could ever be and if ‘normal’ could ever be unequivocally defined.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

On Gulags and Getting in the Way.

Mel’s analogy of the wasteland to which we cyborg-resisters are being consigned (not quite gulags yet, but maybe they’re coming) seems nicely appropriate to my life at present. I thought of making a slightly clever post about how wastelands are too cold to be comfortable, too dark to see anything, and too thinly populated to afford the opportunity for meaningful communication with fellow humans except at a distance. But then I asked myself whether being slightly clever affords sufficient justification for committing one of the direst of sins – being miserable and therefore tedious. I decided it didn’t, and so the post landed on stony ground and duly perished. (There must be a label for this technique; there’s a label for everything else. Madelines probably know.) Instead I thought I would recount the mildly interesting story of a creature encounter.

*  *  *

I was walking through a wood the other day when I heard a scrabbling noise to my left and a fox broke cover only a few yards in front of me. He ran across the path and headed up the rising ground to my right. He was a big dog fox, and his heavy winter coat rippled sequentially with the muscles evidently beneath it. In fact, he looked remarkably powerful for a fox, and that’s the closest I’ve ever been to a wild one.

And then I noticed two pheasants walking in sedate pheasant fashion a little further along the path, and it seemed I had interrupted Mr Reynard’s pursuit of his dinner. That troubled me. I have a profound dislike of nature’s requirement that one thing has to kill another in order to survive, but I take the view that I have no right to interfere.

I looked up the lea to see Mr R looking back at me. I apologised mentally, but he didn’t look at all pleased.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

On Winds Good and Bad.

How I dislike that low-moaning wind that’s given to sudden and frequent bursts of hysterical crescendo. This is no friendly ship driver or healthy heather shaker. It’s a wild, mindless thing, offering nothing but the potential for wanton destruction.

(I was going to make a post about Lolita and homicidal ghosts, but it was a bit TMI and I didn't want to come across as being negative...)

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

On Usefulness to Garden Gnomes.

Now that I’m having nightly coal fires again, I’ve also started watching the odd TV programme (at an average of about two a week. TV programmes are not generally designed to suit aliens living beyond the Pale.) And because the TV has re-entered my world, so has the weekly TV listings guide. Ironically, what I find most interesting about TV listings guides isn’t actually the list of what’s on the TV, it’s those little marketing magazines which come with them – the ones compiled by unscrupulous marketing people and aimed at ageing suburbanites who are desperate to find something on which to spend money, no matter how useless it is.

This week’s favourite hilarious article was plastic garden hedging. (Does plastic belong in a garden, you might ask. Well, yes; plastic belongs everywhere, as long as it doesn’t pretend to be anything other than plastic. Like leaves, for example.) Its official title is Faux-ivy Privacy Fence. Each panel costs £29.99, which is a bit expensive for a bit of plastic but the blurb assures us that it ‘helps ensure your privacy.’

Privacy, eh? I like privacy, so I sneaked a look. It comes in panels of regimented little green shapes, like so many poor bloody infantrymen at Waterloo, only the wrong colour. What’s interesting are the dimensions of the panel: 3m long by 1m high. 1m = 3ft 3ins, which is unlikely to provide much privacy unless you happen to be a garden gnome, which I’m not. Not yet.

There’s also a picture of a cat scratching itself on an arch made of wire bristles. They call it ‘the Purrfect Arch.’ Such wit. At £14.99 (or 14.99 GBP as modern parlance would have it) it’s a snip, since it ensures you won’t expire prematurely from a surfeit of cat hairs. Given the restricted dimensions of the average garden gnome, that must be a very real concern.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Being Pushed Beyond the Pale.

Whenever I’ve been on blogging hiatus for more than twenty four hours I feel compelled to mark the return with something of suitable gravitas (for the sake of the Faithful Few, you understand.) Tonight I decided it should be the recounting of Mel’s latest theory with regard to the Changing Status of the Human Being in the Modern World. But first the preamble:

The last three years or so have been the most difficult and disturbing of my life to date. (I can hardly claim ‘challenging’ for the most part. ‘Grinding’ would be the more apposite participle.) In so being, they have engendered many questions around, and reflections upon, issues such as personal identity, the nature of our particular beast, and what the hell is the point of it all anyway. But it doesn’t stop at me. I’ve noticed that several people within my orbit – most notably Mel, my daughter, and my friend Ms Wong – have been passing through a similar process. Details vary a little, but the principle is the same.

Preamble over. Onward to Mel’s theory.

She thinks the cyborgs are responsible. She is becoming half-convinced that 95% of the human population is being gradually subsumed into a new matrix which has as its foundation unwitting subjugation to, and unthinking reliance upon, the technological imperative and its commercial corollary. In short, the machines are taking over and the new lieutenants are the corporate executives and advertising neophytes.  The remaining 5% of the population, of which we and a few others form individual components, are becoming aliens in this new order. As such, and being unremittingly recalcitrant, we are being forced ever further into a wasteland of distress, disturbance and dysfunction. That is, after all, what most people would consider the most fitting repository for aliens while the belongers get on with belonging to the real world.

I find this a most compelling theory. It fits the facts, accords with the experience, and helps identify the fellow alien nicely. One thing does confuse me, however. Where would the most eminently interesting Mistress M of upstate New York fit into this scenario? It is surely inconceivable that somebody doing a PhD at an Ivy League university could belong anywhere other than in the real world. And yet somehow I have my doubts, but she does have an iPad and she hasn’t spoken to me in ages…

Next up will be the preferred post on the subject of plastic hedging and its usefulness to garden gnomes.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

A Shadow on Sherlock.

I watched an episode of Sherlock Holmes tonight. It was from a TV series made in the 80s and 90s which was much vaunted for its faithfulness to the original stories. Well now, I found a flaw in the logic leading to the solving of the mystery, an indisputable flaw, and one so fundamental that the whole story falls by it. There’s no credit to be had on my part. Anybody who understands that the height of the sun varies from day to day should have spotted the same error. It’s that simple.

It seems that maybe the veneration and mystique that has developed around the great logician is overlooking one fact: Sherlock Holmes is a fictional character, and so his powers of deduction can only be as good as those of the real doctor who created him. Thankfully, he still entertains.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Ageing out of Sync.

I’ve made occasional mention on this blog of an ex-girlfriend called Mary Davies. She was the one I used to lift over my head to show off. She was the one who saw me on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, another lad on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, and the biker lads from the local pub on Sundays (as I found out later.) She was the one who fell asleep on the way home in my car after I’d bought her two vodka-and-limes and was never seen again. (Or was it vodka-and-orange? Or tonic? Don’t remember.)

What I did remember this afternoon was that her birthday was six days after mine (we split up just before our eighteenth) which means it was last Thursday. And then I realised how old she is now, and got quite a shock. How on earth did she get that far ahead of me?

On Desktops and Disorientation.

Imagine this:

It’s three o’clock in the morning; you’re feeling a little tired and mildly inebriated. You decide it’s time for bed and proceed to switch off the computer, but only get as far as closing the browser. Then you fall asleep.

You’re woken somewhat indecorously by an urgent beeping noise and realise that your dormant fingers are pressing certain keys on the keyboard. You remove them hastily and open your eyes, only to be met with a strange sight, a surreal sight, an unnatural sight. The desktop on your monitor has turned a full 90° to the right. The North Pole is now somewhere in the South China Sea and the South Pole has migrated to Ecuador. To feelings of tiredness and mild inebriation is added an indefinable degree of disorientation. And then the horror sets in: 'My Computer is Broken,' you shriek inwardly. Two questions immediately occur to you. Firstly, how did this happen? Secondly, what do you do about it? (Or it might have been the other way round in my case, I really don’t remember.) Such was my dilemma at a point in the diurnal round when I gather the human mind is most susceptible to torture.

My mind, as is it is routinely wont to do in difficult situations, emulated the amoeba. It split in two; but, quite unlike its single-celled model, it proceeded to engage in debate.

‘You’re tired.’

‘I know.’

‘And slightly inebriated.’

‘I know.’

‘And a little disoriented.’

‘I know that, too.’

‘So go to bed and sort it out tomorrow.’

‘You must be joking. There’s no way I’m going to bed with this hanging over me. Do you realise what an issue a broken computer is to me?’

‘Yes, but tomorrow you can call a computer engineer and get it seen to.’

‘It’s Saturday tomorrow.’

‘Oh, yes.’

‘And Sunday the day after that.’

‘So it is.’

‘It would mean spending at least two days without a computer, possibly more. I have to see whether there’s anything I can do using my own ingenuity.’


‘Go away.’

I tried to remember where my fingers were when that impolite bleeping assaulted my senses. Somewhere at the bottom of the keyboard, I think. That’s useful… I pressed everything, but without success. I tried all the F keys, even though they're at the top. Same result. This was going to take logic and a systematic approach. Jeez!

I turned my head sideways to check that the desktop was intact, if a little (!!!) out of position. So far so good. I tried moving the pointer around. It was hardly fluent (and fluency is useful to the disoriented mind) but I was able to place it where I wanted it with some effort. I selected Start-Control Panel and examined the options. Nothing suitable. Plan B: close down and re-boot. That usually puts things right, doesn’t it? It didn’t. The two actions thus described took longer than it takes to describe them, and a lot longer than it takes to read them. Fortunately, the Triple Alliance of Tiredness, Inebriation and Disorientation was losing its grip; a second wind was rising (the mental sort, that is.) I had a brainwave. I typed desktop turned sideways into Google and received a lot of returns. I selected the first.

‘My cat has walked over my keyboard,’ bleated the first query in some forum or other, ‘and now my desktop has turned sideways. What do I do?’

It seems funnier now than it did at the time. At the time I eagerly scrolled down to the first answer, the best answer proclaimed the heading. It was simple, no frills. I liked that.

‘Press Ctrl-Alt-Up.

I pressed Ctrl-Alt-Up, and within minutes was heading bedwards, insufficiently tired and no longer inebriated, but cured of disorientation and much lighter of heart. Thank you Google (for a change.)

Changing the Focus.

The night being cold and the fireside warm, I watched a 1½ hour TV documentary on Herbert von Karajan. I subsequently intended to make a curmudgeonly post about how readily we overstate greatness in order to fill space in some medium or other, and Karajan wasn’t the only target. The fallibility of Sherlock Holmes's deductive reasoning and the phenomenon of YouTube providing a forum for the Moronic Tendency were jostling for attention too.

But I couldn’t be bothered. Instead I went out and stood in the frosty garden to admire the full moon. I decided that the moon and frost make a good marriage, and Orion impresses as a fitting page.

Friday, 5 December 2014

A Seasonal Note.

For three days there’s been a housefly (in December?) sitting in more or less the same spot on my bathroom window frame. Now it’s dead.

What a life, eh? You get born, you sit for three days by a cold window, and then you die. That sort of thing bothers me.

The first snow is forecast for next week.

A Little Tease.

The British Royal Navy has an interesting attitude to the matter of violence. Visiting death and other forms of wanton destruction upon Frenchmen, Germans, Spaniards, Dutchmen – even Americans back in the days when we were first cousins but had as yet no special relationship – is a matter of honour and unimpeachable propriety. Coming to blows with a fellow officer cadet, however – even under cover of darkness in a college dormitory, and even though the adversary is an Iranian (as far as I’m aware, the Royal Navy never closed for action with a Persian vessel) – is a grave affair indeed, potentially attracting the direst of punishments. But such was the situation I found myself in one cold winter’s night at BRNC Dartmouth in the Year of Our Lord AD something-or-other, and such was the punishment I faced.

So should I tell the story? It shows the worst and the best of me (strictly in that order) but I can’t at present think of a moral. And if there’s no moral, why would anybody be interested?

At the moment I’m in no condition to judge. Apart from The Issues, my difficult knee is giving me the runaround tonight. (It wakes me up at around 5 in the morning sometimes. I’m lying there with a bent leg and a painful knee. The only way to alleviate the pain is to stretch the leg out, the process of which is even more painful, but it has to be done…)

As for telling the story of how Cadet Razhegi and I came to exchange people power, I might or I might not.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

The Costa Rica Ditty.

Tonight I discovered an old post of mine which bemoaned the difficulty of finding a rhyme for Costa Rica. That was back in sunnier days when the doe-eyed, dark-voiced and delightfully reticent Zoe still considered me a creature of some little note, and she offered a suggestion by way of the comment form. (All the way from… Pennsylvania, I think it was. I’m sure it was before she went east, though not as far as Ashbourne.) The ditty, however, never got written.

But then today, despite the close proximity of issues, issues and further issues, not to mention the fact that winter generally depresses me anyway, a ditty of sorts dropped into my head. This is odd, since those suffering a surfeit of issues and winter are not generally inclined towards writing ditties. (I have a suspicion that it might have something to do with Mr Nabokov, whose tale and writing style continue to enthrall, but probably not.)

When I went to Costa Rica
Unto to me a kind man said
‘What you need’s a lovely chica
For to warm your lonely bed’

Now, not being a Spanish speaker
I’d no clue to what he meant
So I left old Costa Rica
With my dignity unspent

Not much of a ditty, I grant, but at least it’s the first one for absolutely ages and it goes some little way to bringing the Lady ZZ’s suggestion belatedly to fruition.