Oh some do say the farmer’s best (But I must needs say no…)

It is the 7th of January…

 

In 1998 I spend the day in Shrewsbury, taking advantage of the sales to buy cheap Carry On videos in Smiths. In 1999 I slog up from Newport to Longford for Games (It didn’t occur to me to simply bunk off that sort of thing for another nine months). Conversation as we trekked up the lane mostly consisted of discussing Buffy, which was the style at the time.

In 2000 I produce the second edition of The World, one of the succession of fake newspapers I used to cobble together in Publisher in preference to getting something above a D for my compulsory GCSE in DT. It was this sort of thing that eventually spawned KTAB News.

In 2001 I happily invest the day playing Civ II.

In 2002, having finally ceased to use a 486 as my primary computer, I spend it playing Deus Ex.

In 2003 I mope about in the wake of a breakup.

in 2004 I spent the evening talking to Ruth on MSN.

In 2005 we’re reduced to talking by phone as she recounts her adventures getting to Mauld’s Meaburn, inaccessible due to floods.

In 2006 I take a driving lesson in Aberystywth with Mike who points out that I’m driving too close to the kerb.

In 2007 the photograph is falling from my hand I exhaust myself at the half-tech rehearsal for the Panto in Wallingford.

In 2008 I take a Welsh lesson with Islywn and spend the evening making a shortlist of wedding venues, with brochures spread across the living room of the Uberflat. The shortlist boils down to Rowton Castle, Walcot Hall and Madeley Court.

In 2009 I spend the day working in Lending in Hugh Owen as part of my Graduate Traineeship.

In 2010 I lend Wendy a screwdriver so she can unjam her door in Caerleon.

In 2011 I stay up until 03:45 watching Star Wars and helping Ruth assemble the remarkably complicated birthday cake for Dan’s surprise party.

In 2012, no longer on Old Earth, we play Mansions of Madness in the kitchen of our much nicer house in Kennington.

In 2013, in the wake of the Jethrik incident I fire off a job application (I don’t get beyond the second round, although I’m even pleased by that): my interview for my current job is in two day’s time, and I’m frantically trying to work out what the job description requires.

In 2014 however, I spend the day in the John Radcliffe hospital, surviving mainly on stubbornness and the odd cup of sugary tea. I finally get to bed at 05:30, on the morning of January 8th. It was not a particularly fun day.

(In other news, there’s a lot to be said for building up a big pile of records you can refer back to in later years)

 

It’s probably become apparent to you by now that Tiny has made an appearance (and, as you might expect from my life, I made the first, proper, blog post about it on behalf of Three Rings). So far, she’s sleeping most of the time. I’m vaguely hoping that’s because she’s a naturally quiet and unobtrusive baby, rather than just because she’s very new, but we’ll see…

I’d like to put it on record that I am a very firm believer in the sensible, old-fashioned approach to childbirth wherein the father gets to sit outside in the corridor, pacing and taking cigars as he might feel necessary, and only has to put in an appearance once everything has calmed down. Sitting around making vague encouraging noises and trying to look reassuring while someone else is clearly miserable and in a tremendous amount of pain, it turns out, is not something I’m good at.

That said, everyone survived (thanks, first world medicine of the 21st Century!) so I have at least been spared a rapid descent into port-swilling gout, and the expense of getting builders in to construct a wall behind which I can order the garden be sealed off forever.

 

I’m sure Ruth will talk more about the actual experience of childbirth. I don’t remember overmuch of it, now, because it all tended to blur into one long, exhausting slog. I do remember that, somewhere around the 29-hour mark, I found myself gazing out of the window with a bass line stuck in my head on loop: it wasn’t until I was driving listening to music a couple of days later that I realised what it was:  Abney Park’s Scupper Shanty, which at least has the benefit of having a pretty apposite chorus.

 

Tiny is, fortunately, feeding well, and seems pretty happy and content. The midwives have largely been nice and helpful people, and barring the lack of sleep we’re all settling into the new rythm pretty well, I think.

Beyond that, I don’t actually have very much to say about her; I’ve been to the record office and officially registered the birth, so she does now exist (thank God we live this side of 1837!), and of course there was the obligatory photo that went with the 3R blog post… but I’m sort of feeling like my work here is done. And, to be honest, there’s probably a limit to how long anyone reading this can sit and nod politely at their monitor before it starts to feel socially awkward, so I might call that quits at this point.

Still, for those of you who do want such things, here’s a picture of me being left holding the baby:

As promised, a photo of me with the baby

 

As promised, JTA talks about work and badges.

OK, so last time I blogged I apparently promised to talk about my new job, and about having badges on my coat. And then because I had a new job, and was still doing voluntary work for Three Rings and the British Red Cross, I never really got around to it. And then I couldn’t blog about anything else because I’d promised to talk about having a job and badges, and the previous post didn’t seem like it was the ideal wall of text in which to make promises I then failed to keep. So here we go. You’re more than welcome to skip the “reading” part, I just wanted to get this done so as not to lie to the Internet.

I used to work for Blackwell’s Library Supply, and it was a not-completely terrible job, but the lack of human contact didn’t really suit me – the people I worked with were great, but it turns out that I’m actually slightly more likely to enjoy work when I feel like I’m directly helping people. Which is a surprise to me, too. Oh, and I worked 8-4 in a warehouse with no windows, which meant I got hammered by SAD the year we were living in a south-facing terraced house with windows on one and a half sides. Plus, it wasn’t a library, and having put in quite a lot of work to become an information professional, it seemed worth trying to get a job as an information professional.

So I sent a few job applications out, with the inevitable result that some people never wrote back, some really cool people got me along for interviews or just enough of the pre-selection process to make sure I was extra disappointed when things went no further… and one very nice employer not only invited me to interview but called me as I was leaving my dentist later that afternoon to ask if I minded very much if they took up my references. (I very much did not mind).

A few weeks later I missed a call whilst half way up an Alp, and discovered on calling back, that I had a snazzy new job. Hooray! Weirdly, according to the policies of the organisation I now work for, I cannot link to their website from my personal blog. (Which is a policy that has the capacity to be excitingly spec-ops-y, but sadly is not).

I can tell you that I work in public libraries, and I could if I wanted write out the URL of their website in full, or link you to another site whose sole contents were a link to their website, or link to a page of search results for their name with instructions to click the top link… but that feels a little bit like I’d be embiggening loopholes for fun, and since one of my other hats is the publicity side of things for the Three Rings project, I’d feel bad doing that.

Still I’m an information services librarian, and get to do a lot of work with social media which is terribly exciting, and with online and printed reference resources, which is also keeping me busy. And every now and then I help out on the reference desk and get to help actual people with actual research, so all is well! I’ve spent the past few months hammering away to get my CILIP chartership portfolio done (it’s currently away being reviewed by the board), so with a bit of luck I shall soon be the proud owner of a bunch more postnominals. Huzzah!

And that’s all there is to say about that, I guess.

 

Then we have the issue of putting badges on my coat, which I’ve been working on doing since the first Real Ale Ramble. Then I stopped for a while, because I got Miriam and consequently spent less time wearing a coat and more time driving, but as my coat usage increased during my Masters I started thinking about it again and I figure at some point in the future it’d be worth having a record of what badges got stuck on when and why. Because I actually am exactly that sort of hoarde-the-information-for-the-future kind of information professional. Sorry.

 

So, for reference, here are the badges on the back and left shoulder of my coat:

The badges on the back of JTA's coat There we see the original badge, from the Real Ale Ramble, surmounted by the flag of Shropshire (because if you’re going to have a county badge, it might as well be from the best county). Off below the Ramble badge is a patch I managed to get in Les Gets, the afternoon I received the job offer I mentioned earlier (so that’s clearly a good omen). It’s presently waiting to be offset by an NCR badge, which I’ve not got the time to sew on… And then on the shoulder there’s the inevitable “Look I am a geek and like BSG” badge, which has won me compliments from two different waiters and a cute girl in the Games Workshop on New Inn Hall Street. Good things, badges.

Betimes, over on the front of the coat, things get more involved:

The badges on the front of JTA's coatAt extreme left of this shot, and not quite visible at this angle is my Aberystwyth University crest, which is useful for confusing Oxford tourists under the impression it’s a college they’ve not yet seen from their open-top bus tour, and then there comes another BSG reference which suggests I’m capable of flying the Mark II Viper (old, low-tech and yet ultimately reliable right when you really, really need it to be, so it’s perhaps inevitable that I like it).

Probably the right way up (and once mistaken by a friendly chugger for the flag of a minor African state), is my Browncoats patch in the middle. (I have a coat, and it is sorta brown. There had to be a Firefly reference somewhere). Interestingly, nobody knows which way up these things go, because when Jos Weedon was asked he said “The point goes up”. I assume he meant the point of the star rather than the triangle, because the other way up looks strange and is, additionally, a pain to sew on neatly.

The KSLI bage I wear on account of it’s being my grandfather’s old regiment (although his sole advice to me for when I got conscripted – he died before anyone noticed what shocking collapsed arches I’ve got – was to “throw down all your kit when they let you out the landing craft” on the grounds that there’d be plenty to pick back up once you’d managed to flounder out of the shallows and into some cover). I once got approached by an in-retrospect grumpy old man who’s opening gambit was “You. I actually served in that regiment.” but I was so pleased to find someone who recognised it that I was half way through eagerly reminiscing and asking where he’d been before I realised he probably thought I was just wearing it on spec, and by that time he’d realised I wasn’t. So that was kinda nice.

Oh, and then there’s a modicum of assorted metal badges: one very old British Red Cross badge, two little badges that you get free with every x pints of blood, and a final BSG reference whereby I get to be in charge of a Battlestar. Should the opportunity present itself.

 

So there we go. I have duly fulfilled the promise of what my next blog post would be from last time. I suspect I just put that line in there so as to take the edge off the rest of the post, intending to pop back and lash together a quick post by way of pushing the miserable-looking Jethrik post further down the archive, but I never found the time. Still, with this patently uninteresting blog post now done I think we can count the blog decks cleared ahead of any Tiny-related blog posts I might feel the need to write, and that’s the main thing.

In other news, I have resumed playing LoTGD, and am happily ambling around in my third incarnation. It’s good fun, I still recommend it. But I’m not going to promise to blog about it next time. We’ll see how we go, I think.

The man who took the lid off

People who like less oblique introductions may well appreciate Ruth’s blog post covering this topic.

Long-time readers of this blog might have spotted occasional glimpses of my (moderate and reasonable) inclination to protect the people and things I care about by doing what’s best for them in the most direct and sustainable way to hand.

Never let it be said, however, that I am a one-quirk guy. People who’ve lived with me (or, indeed, even borrowed somewhere to sleep on a work night) will probably recognise the following exchange:

A simple dwelling place. NPC1 is idly reading a book. Noises off. JTA enters, setting down his bag.

NPC1: Hey, JTA! How was work?
JTA: Eh, fine. How are you?

 

Particularly sharp guests will have noticed that I’m likely to say that irrespective of what work was actually like. It’s not that my jobs don’t interest me, it’s just that I default to ‘uncommunicatively discrete’ and I’m never entirely comfortable talking about how lunch was really tense ‘because Jenkins didn’t get his RJ-17 in, and then Barry accidentally cc’d the boss in on his email bitching about the shoddy state of the rec room’ and so on.

I enjoy my work, but when I go home at the end of the day, I kinda like to leave it where it is. It makes it easier to tell the difference between the 37 weekly hours of work I get paid for, and the 20-plus hours of work a week I inexplicably do for no recompense whatsoever, and also shifts the conversation from being about how I am, which I know, to the rather more interesting subject of how other people are, which I might be able to help with.

 

All of which is a slightly complicated way of saying that while I like to know how other people are feeling, and while I’m certainly the world leader in offering people a cup of tea if I think they might be sad (which, indeed I’ve previously managed to do more or less in my sleep, at about three in the morning) I get twitchy about foisting my feelings onto other people.

But see Rule One: Do not fuck with people I like. Because if I find someone I care about is unhappy, I will tread hot coals trying to fix things, swearing at whatever arse invented firelighters all along the way. So while my instinctive reaction was to keep the lid on this subject good and proper, that’s proven to be impractical in terms of keeping people cheery.

 

I had a shit New Year’s Eve. Ruth, I think, had it worse (although she got to have a free shot of general anaesthetic, which at least knocked her out for part of the day), but out of the 27 New Years Eve’s I’ve sat through, 2012 was the stinker of all stinkers. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that if anyone out there is considering experiencing a missed miscarriage, they’d ought to do their best to schedule it as far away from the comedy stylings of Jools Holland as they can. Nothing puts a downer on an evening like some nerk shouting ‘hootenanny’ down the barrel of Camera 3.

 

At this point, some of you might feel like you’d benefit from having more information to work with on this one. In brief, it goes after this fashion: after a degree of uhm-ing and ah-ing, Ruth and I decided last autumn that a mere seven billion human beings per Universe didn’t seem like very many to go around (there are whole planets out there without access to even a communal human being, after all), so we proposed to try with the babies thing.

For a while we had news, and it seemed good: things were geared for the 12-week ultrasound the Wednesday before we were to take off skiing (which, in fact, is why all our travel to the Alps this year relied upon surface transport rather than aeroplanes). Then, around the 29th of December, in the general ten-week bracket, Ruth started getting very nasty cramps.

Things went downhill from there; we got booked in for an emergency ultrasound, and at a little after 9 o’clock on New Years Eve got to see a blurry image of an embryo that appeared to have got bored and packed it in somewhere around about the 8-week stage. By that point, I think we’d both seen it coming, although seeing the ultrasound image somehow made the entire enterprise feel a lot more real, while simultaneously putting the kybosh on the whole thing. Even braced for it, that seriously sucked.

We’re by no means unusual here; lots of people have this happen, on account of the first trimester of a pregnancy is where a lot of the quality control and unit testing goes on, so it seems likely there was a chromosome out of whack or something. (It might’ve been something else, but somewhere in the region of 66-75% of all miscarriages turn out to be embryos failing quality control due to slacker chromosomes, depending on what study you care to read).

In fact, it was due to the risk of finding something wrong with the scheme that we only told about eight people what was going on back in November. Then, after New Year, it didn’t seem entirely fair to tell people that a thing they hadn’t known was happening now wasn’t: it’d be a bit like telling you you’d been uninvited to a surprise party that you actually weren’t asked to in the first place.

I feel like this entire blog post is getting a little heavy, here, so please take a moment to enjoy a total lightening of subject brought to you through the cheerful and nostalgic opening credits of Superted:

…It is entirely possible that I am a Bad Person.

I should stress at this point that we aren’t completely gutted and broken over here. We were sad – I wasn’t kidding when I said I had a shit New Year – and as 2012 was departing (I was home by then, and had a tot of whisky, thank God), I took the opportunity to hurl abuse at it via Twitter.

JTA swears at 2012, via Twitter.

We had a rough few weeks (it didn’t help much that they were also spectacularly busy weeks, because all our weeks are spectacularly busy these days), and having rashly gone about telling eight different people that there was a pregnancy going on, we then had to go around redacting the statement, which was awkward and miserable for everyone (although in at least one case, it was more awkward and miserable because the person in question had been running their mouth to a bunch more people. We left them to get out of that hole on their own).

The worst thing about that part of the business, for me at least, was the gap between how everyone seemed to think I should be feeling (completely defeated and an emotional shambles) and how I actually felt (kinda sad and mainly worried about Ruth). I think it would have been a lot worse if things had gone wrong at, say, eight months. Or if tragedy had struck at 27 months when the little nerk toddled into the road and got flattened by a runaway traction engine.

At 10 weeks, when odds of problems were astoundingly high anyway, I hadn’t been certain enough of anything to be destroyed by being wrong, although I admit I steered clear of profiling books on either a) neonatal medicine, or b) early childhood education for a few weeks.

We were, as I say, sad. Not distraught, but sad. The best way I can describe it is as faint nostalgia for something that you don’t exactly miss terribly. Remember when PJM had a student bar? Or when the Halls in Aber had deep fat fryers in the kitchen? Or when living in Aber was perfect because it was such an awesome place to be a student? Yeah, I miss those days, too. But the PJM bar wasn’t as cool as it sounds like it should be, I never wanted to deep fry anything, and the thing about being a student that nobody tells students is that it’s less fun than being an adult with a proper income and just enough free time that you actually appreciate lie-ins rather than merely defaulting to them. I miss the old days, kinda, but my life isn’t bereft just because they ended.

We thought we knew where 2013 was taking us, and we turned out to be wrong. It sucked. But I’ve regretted too many bigger and deeper losses to blow this particular loss out of its natural proportion as a disappointing and unhappy hiccup on the way to what, I hope, will be better things.

 

We were sad, but we’re OK. That’s the core message of this post, I think.

Except that we do keep meeting old friends who ask us what our plans are in the ‘having children’ line, which makes things a little tricky. See, I was keeping the secret largely because I didn’t want people to feel awkward or (worse) terribly, terribly sorry for me when actually I’m more disappointed than heartbroken. But that ain’t a very good reason to keep something secret, especially when doing so is getting in the way of information and making it harder for us to be actually honest about what’s going on with our lives.

A couple of weekends back, I had about six different people directly ask me if we were thinking of starting a family and, by the fifth time I was looking an old friend in the eye and lying through my teeth, it began to feel like I wasn’t being completely straight with them.

More than that, it didn’t feel entirely right keeping all of my feelings closed off from people that I used to volunteer with. It’s pretty much a solid fact that anyone who has been in the Org will go out of their way to prop up a fellow Org member in time of crisis, even after they’ve left. I didn’t, in fact, need propping up, but it still felt weird to be telling them everything was fine and concealing a major event that happened since I saw them last rather than telling them about the event and then explaining that everything was fine.

Plus, I don’t know about you, but when I’m aware that I can’t tell someone something, I’m continually referring back to the secret to check I’m not about to say something that will accidentally invite questions leading towards the secret: it slows down conversation and takes up attention I should be putting towards actual listening. And, for Ruth at least, knowing we were deliberately concealing what happened in the vague fear other people might feel bad made her feel a lot worse.

I don’t want you buggers to feel bad if I can help it, and I was trying to make sure you didn’t, but if the choice is telling you something that might leave you feeling bad or keeping a secret that’s making Ruth feel bad you could save everyone a lot of time by throwing yourself under the Miserybus right now. No offence.

So, there we go. I have now Been Open About Feelings, and can safely retire that experience to my Bucket List of Adventurous Things I Hope Not To Do, alongside ‘a bungee jump’ and ‘dislike crisps’.

 

Next time on Electric Quaker: JTA gets a new job (but doesn’t talk about it much, because that would be weird), and sticks some extra badges on his coat! Yay, badges!

CIAK Day-Per-Page Diaries: Paper quality

I’ve been keeping a diary since 1998. With the exception of some real shoddiness between late-2004 and 2006, I’ve done pretty well at maintaining a solid record, which is always satisfying. I started out with a Discworld Diary (and, on digging out that link, am mildly annoyed to discover that if I hadn’t written in it every single day for a year, it would be worth around £110, a sum I imagine is likely to be sorely diminished by my thirteen-year-old scrawl, at least unless I become famous). For quite a long time I was on WH Smith generic page-a-day jobs, which were perfectly acceptable in a choice-between-black-and-silver sort of way, and then I got fussy and started looking for cooler diaries.

Which brings me to Ciak. Ciak do colours which aren’t just black or silver (although they’ve no green. I want a deep green A4 page-a-day Ciak diary for 2014, man at Ciak whose job it is to trawl the Internet for reviews to translate into Italian. Grazie.), and they’re softcover leatherbound things, with a horizontal elastic band (which is rather more useful than the Moleskine vertical-band approach from a tucking-things-in point of view).

And they’re really good value – usually less than £20, for a handmade, leatherbound full-size diary. The paper is eco friendly (if you care about that sort of thing), and more importantly is acid-free (which you should care about, because if you go around keeping a diary on acidic paper it’ll begin to eat itself within the century, which is profoundly unhelpful).

 

The one criticism I kept seeing around the Internet was a consistent variation on ‘The paper quality is really low in these diaries compared to their notebooks. Ink bleeds straight through’.

Now, this is a problem. In much the same way that a CRT monitor with a refresh rate of <80Hz used to give me headaches, low-gsm paper is one of those things that’s horrible from both a tactile and an aesthetic perspective, especially since my writing is always smoother with a fountain pen. I was particularly bothered by this review suggesting the paper was only about 70gm. But I took a punt on a 2012 diary anyway, because I figured at the price I was paying I could risk getting uselessly thin paper and still have enough pennies left to get another black WH Smith diary if there was a serious problem, and the chance to get an orange diary was too good to not take the risk.

And, in the end, I was really pleased. As Paper Pens Ink observes, the ink does show through, even in biro, but it doesn’t do so in a particularly bleed-y way: it’s possible to see that something is written overleaf, but not to tell what it is, and it doesn’t make the current page unreadable. Sure, the paper could be a little heavier, but it’s not actually that much of a problem.

 

Anyway, by way of a better blog update than my last one, I thought I’d throw around a few shots of how Ciak diaries cope with fountain pens. I’m on a medium-nibbed Waterman, and I kept the ink pressure higher than I normally would in order to get as much ink on the pages as possible, but I think things turned out OK.

To begin with, here’s a shot of a page filled out (I’m working in the Notes section here, rather than one of the daily pages, but the line spacing is the same in both: pretty wide and with lots of space for both high and low letters. Occasionally a problem on super-busy days, but good enough for most things):

 

Ciak Diary page, written on one side

 (Assuming we can forgive me the apparently wonky writing – I was transcribing for speed rather than style! – we’ll see there that there’s no real bleeding going on, and the letters stay more or less where they were put).

Close up of section of page with very heavy ink flow

I really piled on the ink for this paragraph, which is why the ‘R’ of ‘Richard’ is so thick, but again you’ll notice that’s not really due to bleeding through the grain of the paper; the nib just dumped the ink down and the paper held it there until it dried.

The other side of a written pageThis is the verso of the page I’ve just written. You can see what Paper Pens Ink was talking about: the in’k from overleaf is clearly showing through (and the ‘Richard Hannay’ paragraph is particularly obvious). But…

Double-page spread, left page written on both sides…As you can see on the left hand side of this double-spread, once you’ve written on both sides of a page, you can’t really tell that the ink used to show through: the writing on this side of the page covers the bleed-through without affecting the legibility of either page.

Close up of heavily inked page written on both sidesHere’s our old friend the ‘Richard Hannay’ paragraph, now written on both sides. You can still see the top of the R showing through clearly, but everything’s still legible (even where I caught my little finger on the ‘tired’!)

I don’t disagree with the argument that Ciak could be using heavier paper in their diaries, but – at least for me – I don’t think it’s so thin that there’s a problem. The ink does show through the page, but that’s only really noticeable for as long as the reverse is blank. Once you’ve written on both sides of the page, the bleed-through isn’t really noticable, and, crucially, it doesn’t affect legibility.

For acid-free paper in a leather cover (and a snazzy looking leather cover at that), Ciak are pushing seiously good value at less than £20. If they were asking more than £30 quid, I’d say the paper quality wasn’t good enough for the price, not least because it’d be up against serious contenders in the £30 – £50 diary bracket, even before the luxury diary market kicks in (yes, there’s such a thing as a luxury diary market), but right now they work for me. Which, let’s be honest, is all I’m likely to worry about in picking out diaries.

Oh, and just in case anyone’s lagging behind in the identification-of-text stakes, what I’ve been transcribing there is the opening paragraphs of The Thirty-Nine Steps. Which is awesome, you should go read that.

I aten’t dead

I just haven’t updated my blog in months, because life is still keeping me super-busy (Oxford’s nice, but it’s much harder to sit around doing nothing than it ever was in Aberystwyth, because there keep being interesting one-off things to go and do!)

I stopped volunteering for FESS back in May and instead began working with BRC’s Event First Aid, and spent a couple of tremendously tiring weekends strapping slings, thumping Annies and getting carpet burns from being thrown in and out of the recovery position.

Most of my time got eaten up with preparations for the Three Rings Conference back in November (turns out that organising a conference is surprisingly hard work: I didn’t even know I had the stamina to pull two months’ of nineteen hour days!), but that went really well, and I also managed to scrape together some time to hit up the Edinburgh Fringe for a week and to take a short break in Jersey with Ruth (pro tip: Jersey closes at the end of October. Next time we’ll have to go in the summer!)

Plus, we’re still having people come down to Earth either for the big things like the Summer Party or for smaller games nights in the manner of Katie’s recent visit, so that’s all cool.

And we just shipped 180 Three Rings Christmas cards (with printed addresses rather than handwritten ones, thank goodness).

So, yeah, still madly busy, but looking forward to Christmas (not heard Fairtale of New York yet, but apparently it’s nearly Christmas anyway). And if we’re very lucky I might manage to write another blog post before we hit 2013…

Today: praise for doing what we ought. Tomorrow: Caecilius condemned in hedge-fund scandal

It’s been a busy Bank Holiday weekend so far. Not least because yesterday we drove up from Oxford to Helwith Bridge, for a Jubilee Barbecue. It threw it down with rain the whole day.

The rain, I think, was pretty much inevitable from the point at which Mal announced he was moving the annual barbecue forwards from the August Bank Holiday to the June one in the hope that he’d actually get some sun this year. It rains every single time Mal runs a barbecue.

(It’s not raining here, because this photo is taken neither at a barbecue nor at Mal’s house. But it is a good photo of the guy, and he has a nice coat).

I’m not entirely convinced that Dan and Ruth, who I dragged out of the house at 09:00 hours, were entirely convinced, when we got back home at 23:56 that the 465-mile round trip had been entirely worth it for the three and a half hours we spent sitting inside an old mill and having barbecued food brought in to us by people who braved the wind and rain to save us from going outside.

I, on the other hand, am listing yesterday as one of the top five bits of good work I’ve managed this year. It turns out it’s been five years since I made it up there, and as well as meeting some cool young people (I’d forgotten, in the years since I was 18, just how very certain I was about everything, and it’s kinda sweet to see someone so idealistic and full of determination, and be able to see how nice they’ll be once they’ve got a few corners knocked off) it was nice how strongly I felt that it couldn’t possibly have been that lond.

More than that, though, I feel better for having seen Mal, and other old friends like John C and John B (one of my earliest understandings of the complexities of life was the day I was told John was coming down to visit, and then discovered that the other John had come instead. Valuable lesson about the importance of filing by surname, that was). Plus, of course, John C was the guy who picked my up and carried me, howling, back down to the house, the time I tried to set up an obstacle course in the garden and ran full-tilt at a broom balanced on a pair of bricks, failed to clear the jump and stripped the skin from both my palms when I rejoined the path on the other side. And Mal recounted a humerous but embarrasing story from a time when I was very small and didn’t know any better.

I don’t see these people often enough, but I like it when I do, and they’re very old family friends so it feels important that I do so. (Yay! Issues!) Plus, after the past few weeks, which if they haven’t been the worst I’ve weathered, have nevertheless been Godawful, it’s good to be reminded that there are representatives of the previous generation who aren’t seriously imbalanced.

 

In response to some phenomenal asshattery from crazy relatives I’ve found I called in a lot of favours in the past few weeks, and it got me thinking: I am really glad that life is not like the Sims. Especially Sims 2. I find the Sims kinda fun, if I’m honest, because you can create some wonderfully art deco houses,  but Sims 2 had a real problem, because it was impossible to have any friends in it. Or, rather, you could have friends in it, and often needed them for career progression, but they were all abhorent narcissists and if you didn’t call them up every day, or spend at least half of your free time with them in any given week, they’d go away and sulk and become “distant friends”.

(It was usually easier for me to ramp all my skills up over a period of time, create a house of 10-or-so clones, dump them in a neighbourhood and grind the befriending process until I got to the top of the career tree than it was to play “properly” – because you only need to take a couple of days where you didn’t call them before they’d decide you’d never been friends in the first place, regardless of how long you’d spent maintaing the relationship in the past.) In Sims 3, they’ve fixed this a bit because you can spend some of the “happy points” you build up on a perk called “make the game like real life, which ensures that friends never become distant friends, even if you don’t have time to call them on a nightly basis. I think it’s awesome that real people can manage to work like that: I’ve not seen Mansbridge since his wedding, nor for about five years before that, but within ten minutes of catching up with him at his reception I was mocking him for something or other and he was trying to punch me, and it was like we’d never been apart. It’s an awesome thing when that happens.

That was nicely in evidence yesterday, because I’ve not seen Mal for a little over 18 months, and I’ve not seen Christine for five years, and I think I last saw John B at some point in the early 90s, but we all seemed to get on OK, and sure there was a bit of procedural upkeep while we updated each other on stuff, but it never felt awkward: things just slotted back in to the dynamic.

It’s nice when that happens. It’s important, too, since I’m such a terrible correspondent (I have emails sat unread in my inbox so I can reply to them which have been there since October, no joke). It’s even nicer when I can call in a favour (and by that I mean “request a favour, since I still owe him for getting help when I broke my wrist in 1995″) from someone I’ve not seen in person for about a decade and a half, and it’s nice that when I did drop Jason a message to get some advice on his special area of expertise he didn’t mind and he just dug up the information and passed it on and hoped I was OK. Probably not for my sake, I think, because strictly he doesn’t really know me that well anymore, but he did it for the sake of the friendship we used to have.

I got to thinking this way because I think that’s why it’s important to give people good funerals. It probably doesn’t make much odds to the actual deceased, and I know it’s often valuable for the bereaved, but I think it’s good to be able to demonstrate, too, that this person was worth the effort. What existed between you doesn’t exist in the same way any more, but for the sake of what it was, it’s important to take the time to do what you can.

I do like Mal, and I had a good time yesterday, but I couldn’t say how much of the time I invested in that trip, or how much of the fun I had, was being paid off by the knowledge I was doing keeping an old friendship alive even after one of the friends in it had died. And, the brilliant thing is, it doesn’t matter. Because of what it was, I’m doing what I can to honour it. But because I’m taking the time to honour it, it’s turning into a really solid friendship.

‘s funny how that works. Makes me kinda hopeful.

 

Anyway. I should really be trying to get a totally different blog updated. But the About Me was giving me gyp, so I figured I’d come over here and be introspective. And now I’ll go away again, possibly for a very long time, and when I come back the blog will still be here and we can pick up where we left off. Hooray!

 

 

The fish pie’s snoek, got it? Snoek.*

So, I think possibly I just panic bought fuel. That’s a bit disappointing.

I legitimately needed fuel, mind: since mostly Isis just commutes back and forth round the ring road for work and shopping I tend to keep less than a quarter of a tank in at any one time (because otherwise, it feels like I’m driving past two filling stations in four miles and burning fuel for no reason other than to carry the weight of extra diesel that I don’t need).

Normally I fill up all the way if I’m actually going off somewhere. But my warning light came on this morning, and I need to get to Reading in good time on Monday, which I could do by public transport, but I’m going for an interview for what is possibly the most awesome job for me in the entire South and I’d rather not risk my arriving on time to the tender mercies of First Great Western. So I figured I’d pop back out this evening and stick 20 quid or so in the tank, to tide me over.

We’re lucky, in Oxford, because you actually can get places by public transport: we’ve got awesome buses to London, and trains that aren’t as bad as others I’ve seen, and just about everything is flat so you can cycle. (I’ve been off cycling with my busted wrist, but helpfully got the green light from the physio just today so I can cycle in to work tomorrow, which is probably wise. Add to that the fact that Isis is pretty damn fuel efficient, and my expectation that things will be back to normal once the distribution infrastructure recovers from the beasting Maude lovingly doled out to it, and I figured twenty quid would see me right enough.

Which, probably, it would. But by the time I’d sat listening to the whole of Bottom Line, and the 9 o’clock news, and most of an interesting programme about whether or not rooks are as intelligent as apes, slowly creeping forward from Cowley junction to the Tesco filling station at what I genuinely believed would be a quiet point in the day, I rather thought I’d better fill up after all. Isis only has a 40 litre tank, and I put 39.11 litres into her, so I think I’m probably being more rational than someone who, say, sits with their 4×4’s engine idling for just as long as I did, and then drives away having only put in a tenner’s worth of unleaded, but I still feel bad about it.

However, I got to Tesco by way of Sainsbury’s, where the forecourt was closed for a tanker to unload, and when I got in and popped into the shop over the way I had a very nice chat with the guy who runs it (interrupting his stressed debate with the woman manning the till about whether or not they were going to have to charge VAT on some of their baked goods or not), and was able to clue them in to the possibility that they might have some fuel at Sainsbury’s, if the tanker had finished re-supplying them. That pleased me because apart from giving me the chance to Be Useful it felt reassuringly like the Shropshire grapevine where you might find out that Mr Pope was slaughtering a pig and maybe there’d be sausages in the offing, or perhaps a few cuts of lamb. All pull together, and what-not. Very Home Front, very sweet.**

 

Sigh. Like I say, bike tomorrow.

 

* Yeah, that’s a pretty obscure reference.

**That one too, probably.

I think it’s only fair to warn you…

Well, this past month has just been all over the place. What with the whole broken wrist thing, and then Peter’s being killed February turned out pretty appallingly.

March, on the other hand, is going kinda well. For starters, I’m almost better: I’ve not got my full range of movement back in my wrist, yet, and it’s still a struggle to bear weight on it for things like shoving doors or getting in and out of chairs, but I can type and use a mouse and write and hold a straight razor without severing anything essential. That’s pretty cool.

Then HMRC wrote to me and apologised for overtaxing me not just for the last two tax years, but also for an unspecified tax year back in the past, and sent me a cheque which I can now use to clear all of my overdraft, which will save me plugging away at it in small, ill-affordable chunks each paycheque. That overdraft has been sneaking along behind me pretty much since I was first a student, so I’ll be glad to see it sling it’s unecessarily barbed hook.

Plus, as a confusingly-right-in-the-middle-of-funeral-preparation bonus, I got my results from the Masters (I handed the Diss in way back in August, but had to wait for an Examinations Board meeting before they could confirm the results not-quite-three-years after I set off along this route). Apparently I never troubled to blog very much whilst I was doing either the course or the Diss, probably because I was stupidly busy with a combination of either coursework and two part-time jobs and two voluntary jobs, or just coursework and one full-time job and two voluntary jobs. But, anyway, pretend there’s a link here to me saying that it seems to be going well but I’m nervous about results.

Well, boy, was I wrong. I’ve passed with a Merit. Which has a pleasing symmetry, because it was getting a Merit in the Scholarships that took me to Aberystwyth in the first place. If I had any use for business cards I could now get ones with “BA (Hons), MSc (Econ)” written on them, which is very snazzy.

I am slightly self-conscious about being pleased over this, but I think on reflection I’m entitled to be. It hasn’t actually been easy all the way along, and apart from the screamingly painful errors in the Diss – like the bit where I moronically say “staple” twice in as many sentences, and which nearly makes my eyes bleed – I am actually pretty pleased with how well it reads.

So, aye. I am, in fact, a Librarian. Awesome!

What I Did On My Holidays

This post proposes to be bigger on the photos than the words, and brief nevertheless. Still, time I did an update.

Ruth & I postponed honeymooning after the wedding, going for a more traditional ‘save up for a bigger one later’ motif, which had the added benefit of giving us time to learn German first.

Then we decided not to go to Germany after all, and spent one week at a spa in Wales, and one in La Clusaz, a ski resort in France. I tried skiing in Chamonix with Gareth & Penny a few years back, and crippled my knees something shocking; given the unhelpful twist my shins make it’s about twice as much work for me to snowplough as it is for everyone else, which severely hampered my capacity to enjoy it.

Then last spring we went out to visit Owen in Meribel, where I continued to think the Alps are amazing, but was too busy with reading for my Diss to try and improve things (besides which, last year was afwul for snow late season). While we were out there, though, we met some awesome people who put the case that I should try snowboarding as something liable to combine the fun going-fast-downhill-with-spectacular-views bit of skiing with all the reduced horrific-boots-and-knees-discomfort of boarding.

So we took a couple of intensive jump-start lessons at Milton Keynes and duly headed out in search of some actual mountains.

 

After a lesson, and looking consequently tired. Also slightly distracted by the two people in the background who, if I remember rightly, couldn’t agree on whether or not Savoie belonged to the Nords.

Ruth & JTA at the top of Beauregard

 

It was really good. Button lifts confounded me all the first day, and I fetched myself a whacking great bruise when I came straight down on my tailbone, and when we had a powder day I had to take my hired board back for a wax, but Daniel, our awesome mountain/ice/anything that looks insanely hard work-climbing instructor did a really good job and I was doing pretty damn well by the end of our booked lessons on Wednesday (we wanted some free time to relax, too!). Plus there is something tremendously satisfying in going fast enough to create the sensation of wind whilst not on some mechanical thing.

 

I don’t remember exactly what Daniel (in blue) is saying here, but I am 100% sure it is either ‘tourne, tourne,’ or ‘compass!’. Awesome guy.

JTA & Daniel during a lesson

So aye, after a few years of feeling thoroughly grumpy because I wasn’t physically cut out for skiiing I have found a snowsport that fits! Give me a while to save up, and I shall have to get back out there (althoughI’m also thinking a post-season return to MK to keep my hand in wouldn’t hurt, either…)

 

Also, our chalet was awesome, which does make a difference. Plus, we got some killer views from the balcony, particularly in the sun towards the end of the week:

Just behind my head is the gondola up to the Beauregard Plateau, with the tail end of the long black run La Noire to its left. At right, the blue Guy Périllat also returns from Beauregard whilst Les Riffoids is a very gentle nursery slope.

 

JTA on a balcony with his arm in a cast

 

Oh… Yeah. Also I fell somehow and apparently rolled over my own wrist and fractured the only rarely buggered pisiform bone. Apparently you can tell it’s broken on an X-ray, if you avoid the pitfall my lovely French doctor fell into and don’t get too distracted by my weird knuckles.

Not Owning a lightbox, I had to jury-rig one with a velux window. I’m pretty sure there aren’t really any trees visible in my bones.

An X-ray of JTA's hand

Breaking the right wrist turns out to be a bit of a bugger, since my left arm is not only fairly malcoordinated but also unused to work, and liable to get tired quickly. And I can’t hold books properly at the moment. So I have bought a Kindle.

Mmm. We’ll see how that goes. But, in the event I turn out to like it, having one will save a significant quantity of luggage space next time we go out, which I can instead devote to the wrist guards they told my not to buy in Milton Keynes (don’t get me wrong, my doctor was awesome, but was totally cheated out of a run down Périllat, and that wants fixing…)

And that is what I did on my holidays. Which is a good title, because writing with my left hand does make it look like I’m back in Mrs Sutton’s class again…

 

John Cleland it Ain’t.

Potentially, NSFWish.

OK, I am elbow deep in Dissertation write-ups right now, and it’s getting to the point where I’m losing the ability to write, or indeed sleep without feeling guilty about not writing, hence the lack of blog, which is the Wrong Kind Of Writing. But I had to share this one.

Today, I found myself profiling two books two books which were just… ouch.

I am not convinced that “It’s just like Twilight, but with more sex!” ought to have been a winning sales pitch. But “It’s just like Twilight with some quite badly written sex!” ought to have got you shot.

It’s hard to write sex well, I guess. At least, the Internet seems to think so, and if there’s one thing the Internet knows about, I’m pretty sure it’s how to write bad sex scenes. But seriously…

Is it just me that thinks the phrases “Fisting his hand in her hair” and “As pleasure broke her into a thousand iridescent pieces” do not sit comfortably together? I’m pretty sure they don’t even sit comfortably on opposite sides of the room whilst staring intently at the carpet, personally.

Even so, I was holding it together, only to be made to burst out laughing by the end-of-scene paragraph which ran, verbatim, “And the kisses… he sucked and licked and nipped at her neck, her mouth, throughout, making her feel unbearably cherished even as he sexed her brains out.”

Oh dear.

It was going so well! And then you suddenly ran out of ideas and just finished like that. That’s just embarrassing, that is.

I seem to recall there’s an award for awful sex scenes. I should look it up and send them copies. Well, not copies, because that would increase sales of the damn thing, but I could email them the ISBN, or something.

Huh.

I somehow missed the news that London Calling is being used to market the 2012 Olympics last week. But it’s mildly amusing.

Also, as long as we’re making total Regans of ourselves, can TfL please try to  reduce queues at underground stations by  marketing Oyster Cards to tourists by way of The Jam?

Good ol’ Ferrett!

Always there with a timely in-light-of-what-I-was-just-thinking essay! Here he is with thoughts on  love as the least valuable resource in a relationship, and how broken things can still work.

I like that guy.

Rule One

The man who killed my father is called Nigel John Hughes.

We’ll come back to that one.

So it’s father’s day again. I know this because I’ve spent the last week or so being told that I should take advantage of this day to ply my father with a large supply of whisky. It’d be a nice gesture, I suppose, but also an absolutely unforgivable waste of good spirits, so I’m liable to go with the fifth-best option, and guzzle the stuff myself.

I feel moderately cheated there; I’m pretty sure the best my father managed as a father’s day gift will have been presents in the wonkily-handmade-card-and-liquorice-allsorts line, which in retrospect looks a little shoddy even before accounting for my habit of stealing the coconut wheels and little blue speckly things. So I think it’s reasonable to consider his shuffling off the mortal whatsit before I got to a point where I needed excuses to hit up the Whisky Shop on Turl Street to be thoroughly unfair on everyone.

Still, we make the best of what we’ve got, I guess, and trust that nobody notices the bits where we just papered over the doors, Sleeping Murder style.

That said, it feels only fair I should mention the point where we threw a rug over the massive hole in the floor, just in case some moron takes it into their head to jump on it. Honestly, I don’t feel like this is a necessary warning. Certainly I don’t feel that it should be necessary, but I offer it up in the spirit of May Contain Nuts, ie so nobody can complain later, simply because my experience suggests that people will complain later if they can, even if they end up doing so from a crumpled heap at the bottom of the cellar steps.

The hole under the rug, then, is a fine example of emotional baggage, and as long as you play by Rule One, you’ll be happily free from the sussuration of accelerating tapestries. Simple enough, aye? I’ve said it before, but once again on the Laser Display Board: Rule One: Do Not Fuck With People I Like.

The key there is the definition of “fuck with,” and I carefully worked in an expletive so as to convey the right level of taboo-breaking intent. I have, of course, previously expounded on this, in one form or another (ranging from the tangental, to the incoherent, to the genuinely well-expressed as well it might be after sixteen revisions). Even so, just rarely – which I swear is far more often than I’d like – people screw this one up.

By way of eliminating confusion, therefore: if you deliberately attack a person I care about, then you and I have a very serious and potentially insoluble problem. Odds are high that we’ll never get on again, and even if we talk I fear it’ll take too much effort on my part to make for easy companionship.

So. The man who killed my father was called Nigel John Hughes.

In 1997 he lived in Waters Upton, just north of the main Telford conurbation, although the last I saw he was living at 21 Monet Close, Shawbirch, Telford. I know that because I spent quite a long time idly speculating about how one killed someone and didn’t get caught (not with any view to actually attempting anything, you understand, but in that way one wills a nettle sting to stop hurting by thinking very hard about finding a dock leaf). After a while, I stopped even doing that, because I’ve pretty much forgiven the murdering little fuckstick – although, as I may have revealed there,  I still don’t like him very much.

I don’t hate him enough to want him dead, but I hate him enough that if I met him in a pub, and knew who he was, I’d publicly buy him a drink and make a big fuss about how forgiving I was being, just to peel back his end of the scar tissue and see how things had been healing up,and maybe add in a spot of grit, or something.

Thing is, it ain’t actually worth bearing a grudge against Nigel. Sure, he killed a man, and a man I was bloody fond of, but he wasn’t trying to kill anyone. He was a shit lorry driver, and he fucked up, and he got caught. But he didn’t do it out of malice, just stupidity. It’s pretty easy to fuck up one way or another, and when that happens the best you can hope for is that you don’t cause much damage.

Nigel screwed up in pretty well the worst way he could – once he’d shoved his fat arse of a truck over the road, there was no way anything was going to avoid him, they reckon – but it was an accident. A horrible, world-shattering cunt of an accident, yes, but an accident nevertheless. He didn’t intend to cause anything like the hurt he did, and so he didn’t break Rule One. (Although he did manage to create the damn thing, because I’m pretty sure it’s that one colossal failure to protect people from getting hurt that triggered all the subsequent stubbornness).

Nigel wasn’t out to kill anyone, that morning. He’d probably never left the house wanting to kill someone; that fact Nigel Hughes had previously been cited for tailgating a family down the motorway, the fact he just wasn’t a very good driver, his habitual failure to pay attention, the fact that by his own admission he couldn’t see the road, and didn’t know it was clear, but drove through the junction anyway, the fact that after he’d killed a man he crumpled up in his cab whimpering that if he lost his license he’d lose his job as a professional lorry driver… none of that affects the fact that he probably didn’t want anyone to die.

If he’d had the choice, I expect he’d have picked that day as the day he paid more attention to the road, but it doesn’t really matter. Drive like Nigel Hughes, and sooner or later, someone is going to get killed. That’s just playing the odds. But to drive without skill or awareness isn’t to drive with malice, and without malice you can’t get had up for breaking Rule One. Nor for murder, which is somewhere between justice and a pity, but never mind…

But to hone and craft a letter until it’s as hard and cruel as you can manage, to send a rival out to die, pursue them round a building, to try and pull a personality apart, to withdraw your re-enforcements out when you swore to send them in… To question someone for hours and try to betray them as soon as you get outside… that fucking breaks Rule One.

And to break Rule One is an unforgivable thing to do, because to actually break Rule One as far as I can apply it you need to know someone I care about, and to know me, and I’m pretty damn sure anyone who knows me better than yesterday’s bus driver knows Rule One, and so they know we’ll be done the second they dip their toes in the Rubicon. And when they dive in anyway, well, that always hurts.

I don’t make a secret of this. I’ve never made a secret of this, because apart from anything else I can’t afford to. I wish I could have all the authority of a Godfather, and have people too scared of the consequences to ever try anything, but I haven’t. All I’ve got is the capacity to warn people in advance, and trust that they know I’m not bluffing, and that they like me enough that they don’t want to sacrifice our friendship. And if they don’t think our friendship is worth showing some consideration even on my account, well… shit.

Honestly, on a couple of occasions, I couldn’t tell you whether I was more upset by someone smashing through Rule One or by their carefree willingness to ride over all our history to do so. But I’m too proud, and too protective, and at the root of it all, too bloody damaged to sell myself out for a painless transition, and so things crumble away, and often I’m sad to see them go. But I’ve weathered worse in my time, because pretty well the only upside of a year like the one I went through is that after it’s happened once, it’s genuinely impossible for it to happen again, and it gives you one Hell of a perspective on what counts as sorrow.

On balance, I’d probably do something to stop acting like this if I knew how. I don’t like dropping people, and the closer people get, the worse it is, and even when I try to cobble something together out of the scraps, it’s always more brittle than before. And I hate that, but I’m genuinely not in a position to do anything about it. I spent a bloody long time making sure that people I cared about were going to be OK, and I pretty well hammered out Rule One on the anvils they were raining down on us. And then we won, so I ain’t letting anyone argue with that.

So on the one hand, I stick with Rule One because I don’t know how to drop it even when it burns, but on the other there’s nothing quite like a burn to remind you why you’re shielding everyone else from the flames.

And this is pretty well where we came in, and here I am again, hoping that the lot of us can just work our way around the rug without anyone dropping through the hole. Because I like having friends in the living room, but I can’t plug the hole without restructuring my entire foundation. And no matter how you might smash the rules, that would count for a bigger betrayal than any of youse lot could manage.

No malice, therefore. And I can’t compel it, and I’ve got no more authority to ask for it than any of you should exercise in return, and all I can promise you is this: if you stick by me, I’ll stick by you, and like for like, I promise I’ll do whatever I can do to pull you from the soup should you need it. But hurt people a-purpose, out of deliberation and malice, counting our friendship for nothing and dismissing Rule One as the request of someone whose wishes are worth nothing to you… well then the best I can promise you is that it when I respond by breaking our friendship apart, it won’t be done with your malice, but with my regret. And the best I can hope is that it’d prove a rough deal on the both of us.

Energy Supply Weekly Hi-Lo Lights

Well, last weekend was apparently my second annual destruction limit test. I actually got slightly more sleep than I did the last time I moved house – or, at least, I slept in bigger chunks – but I’m still feeling it. On the one hand, my knees still don’t hurt, because every other damn joint that moved is still complaining, and I seem to have developed a perpetual headache somewhere inside my right eye, but on the other hand I’m more or less functioning normally.

One of these days, I will get more than six hours sleep, and I can start buying back some of the debt I racked up this time round. In the meantime I’m in the minute-at-a-time equivalent of Zimmerman’s Valley. At least it hasn’t been all-nighters, this time (although the amount of heavy lifting there was, it might as well have been), and I’ve not done anything spectacularly stupid or dangerous, unless you count forgetting which side of the road I was supposed to drive on whilst returning a van on Monday morning.

The weirdest effect this time round has been a strange sort of short-term memory loss, not on the scale Dan managed, but still distinctly sub-normal: my job is pretty much ‘Electronic Blurb,’ and it involves a lot of careful study of books in order to describe them into a laughably antiquated fixed-field system, which is doing wonders for my ability to condense monographs into a little under 200 columns of data. Except for the past few days I reach the afternoon and find that I’m finishing the profiling of books that my boss has checked for me, and have no recollection of having seen them ever before. I must have, because my signifier number is in the right place, and the notes look like my style, and my boss isn’t the sort of person to throw completely random books at me (in case I get ‘em wrong and we lose a sale, I suspect), so I must have done the damn things, but I’m not remembering doing them, or even thinking about them. That’s a bit alarming.

The coolest thing* so far, however, has been waking up on Sunday morning in the exact same position that I fell asleep in five and a half hours earlier. Not sure I’ve ever done that before. Now that I’ve unlocked the achievement, however, I’m pretty sure I never want to move house again. Except possibly to somewhere where the top floor is the Library out of Name of the Rose, which I just finished re-reading. I totally want one of those.

* At least, until I moved and discovered that all of me had pins & needles.

A genuine question

Does granting people the freedom of choice amount to giving them permission to make bad choices?

I ask this because I got involved in a discussion on my sister’s Faceboke page last week. I’d asked her to re-share the video I linked to from here, and it generated a certain amount of discussion.  I’ve got to say, much of that discussion had rather an air of third-form PSE about it, with people pulling assertions out of thin air, and then getting huffy when people questioned them, so it was nice to see national political standards being upheld.

Since this was an Internet discussion – and about politics to boot – it wasn’t long before Nazis came up, although, in this particular instance, the sleek menace of fascism was rather cleverly disguised behind the quaggy jowls of Nick Griffin and the British National Party.

One of my sister’s friends decided that a political system that requires candidate to be elected with a majority would be a boon to the BNP. My sister argued that it wasn’t, and observed that Nick Griffin was himself opposed to electoral reform for just that reason. However, she pointed out, as long as a BNP candidate was elected with a majority vote, at least that would be what most people wanted.

Later on, another of her friends took exception to this, and I ended up trying to argue it out with him. In essence, his argument was that, 1) The BNP are a racist party, and would, if elected, act to remove the rights of minorities. 2) Therefore people should be prohibited from voting for the BNP, in order to protect their democratic rights.

I think I’m doing justice to the guy in my representation of his point above, but just to be sure I’m going to violate Facebook’s copyright to his words and reprint the crux of his argument here:

You really shouldn’t be willing to concede that in a ‘liberal democracy’ the BNP should be allowed to contest and potentially win elections. Is this not like extending sexual freedom to encompass the ability to rape? To say people have the right to vote to strip others of their rights seems to be an inherent inconsistency. It would take some amount of work to justify democracy taking a form where it can destroy itself.

I honestly do not know if it is just me that feels that train of thought makes no sense. I believe that either people are free, or they are not, and that people can either vote as they believe they should, or they cannot. The notion that people should be deprived of the right to vote according to their conscience in order to safeguard their rights is one of those ideas which absolutely will not fit into my head.

We didn’t actually get things sorted out – partly because we got predictably hung up arguing over whether it was fair to say that an act that causes immediate harm on the scale of rape is equal to an act that causes the potential for the potential for harm subject to due parliamentary process (I, uh, think it isn’t, by the way) – so in the end we called a truce.

Practically speaking, of course, we’ve got the latter, but I wondered if other people thought that we should, or if it was just me. Is it possible to have freedom in a digital form, where you can be free to do what you like except make a decision that might impede your freedom? Or is freedom an analogue state, which you either have, with all the potential to enact its own destruction, or have not?

I cling to the hope that it’s the latter, but that could just be gut paranoia of a slippery slope, where one day you can’t vote BNP, and the next you can’t vote UKIP*, and the week after that it turns out we’ve been fighting Eastasia all along.

Still, I thought that would be an interesting question, and would help to take minds off the fact that last week was a moderate let down. Although I notice that nearly a third of the voters went yes, which I don’t account a bad thing, in such a conservative place as Britain (and even less of a bad one in the face of the negative campaigning by the No guys, which at points reached an almost Teabagging level of craziness). And I was pleased to see that Oxford was one of the places that went Yes.

So onward and forward. I’d even stand to Phonebank again, I think, but I’d be grateful if the massed populations of Southwark and Grenwich would take the time to invest in Ansaphones first**, because apparently such things aren’t permitted in the Capital, and waiting for one to kick in when it isn’t there is pretty weird.

* I’d just like to make it clear that, obviously, I wouldn’t vote UKIP even for a new pair of knees. Some principles are worth hurting twenty-seven days each month.

** Excluding, obviously, the people who picked up, and the super-apologetic forgetful guy whose work got interrupted when I chivvied him off to the polling station.

Anybody for a sprig of lilac?*

Here is a lovely video which I hope you’re already seeing all over the place:

What with the referendum coming up, I’m actually having quite a busy time (hence the re-reduced blogging frequency!) I’m glad of these past few long weekends, at least: I now have a first draft of my Literature Review away and awaiting comments from my tutor, which is very exciting, and I have also been out leafleting. A couple of weeks back, we were in Whitney, which was rather fun, and then on Saturday I invested a couple of hours handing out AV leaflets on Cornmarket, and occasionally explaining how it worked to people. Then I rounded things off by door-to-door leafleting Barton, just over the ring road, which was hot and tiring, but actually quite good fun. I haven’t leafleted for years, and even then it was only for Betta Bedrooms (Who appear, surprisingly, to still be in business. Assuming they’ve changed their logo a bit, anyway…) Then I’m lined up to do a bit of phonebanking on Thursday evening.

Generally speaking, I have to say, the results I’m hearing are fairly positive. There are a few “No” people out there, but I’ve not found that many, even in Whitney. And I suspect the media line that people are apathetic is just wrong; from what I’ve seen, people are very interested and very geared up, and it’s just the media that can’t be bothered to cover that. Still, it’s encouraging.

I honestly have no idea which way things will go on Thursday, I’ve not got enough of a sense of a national picture, but I’m actually pretty proud in the knowledge that if this referendum somehow turns into the Serenity Valley of modern political reform, it ain’t going to be because I was scared of a few blisters. Apart from anything else, I’m nicely buoyed up with genuine political activism, and I thought I’d lost my faith in that back in 2003. And it’s a buzzier feeling than I remembered, which is just awesome.

*NO TAXPAYER’S MONEY WAS USED TO PAY FOR THIS BLOG POST!!1! BUT DON’T TRUST THOSE OTHER BLOGS THAT DON’T SAY SO IN CAPITALS!!one!!

Nick Clegg: Face like a doorknob

(The title, there, is a Coupling reference, which I mention just in case you’ve somehow got through life without amassing a vast mental collection of useless soundbites. You weirdo.)

Wherein I ramble on about politics. And how, in all conscience, and in this day and age, could I attempt a political blog post without that I first encourage you to watch a 31-year-old satirical sketch?

I like that one. So, apparently does Dave “How many Blacks is Oxford holding up? One, count ‘em, forty-, er, no, one” Cameron. Still, I find it’s occasionally hard to dislike Dave; he might be an arrogant rubberfaced Tory bigot, but he isn’t actually Michael Portillo. And, of course, he genuinely believes that fucking everyone over is the right thing to do. This is much nicer than the other way round, where you fuck everyone over, but endlessly carp on about how bad it makes you feel.

Incidentally, the other week saw The Guardian report that Nick Clegg showed his vulnerable side in an interview with Jemima Kahn. Or, for those of you who prefer your Internet without tautology, Nick Clegg gave an interview.

Movingly, he related how his children have been asking difficult questions like ‘Why are the students angry with you, Papa?’ That’s got to be a difficult thing to hear. No man wants to go home after a long day and realise that he’s brought into the world a child who can’t understand the six o’clock news. However, I think I’ve finally worked out the actual answer, which is to say, obviously the answer to the question is “Because Papa bleedin’ stabbed the students in the back after he promised them he was the sort of man who could be trusted with sharp objects,” but I think I’ve worked out why that became the answer: the silly bugger is trying to be nice.

The problem, really, is that Nick Clegg is a nice man in a silly position. I’m pretty sure he’s the first Liberal to manage that since little David Steel squeezed himself into the role of David Owen’s tiny pocket-puppet. Which in case you forgot, looks like this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0yvda9Ek49Y

Ol’ Charlie Kennedy, now, or Paddy Ashdown, wouldn’t have got themselves into Nick’s position, I don’t think. For my money, they’d have reacted to an election result like the one we got last May by forming up a minority Government with Labour. It wouldn’t have got much done, I suppose, but it would have been a nice kick up the arse for all the people out there who thought that voting for their local Conservative candidate was somehow a magic vote for Cameron (of whom you’d think there would be none, but it bloody terrifying how many people out there don’t understand how the system actually works). And Menzies “Old Man In A Hurry” Campbell would have got himself into Clegg’s position, but the difference is he’d have enjoyed it, and zimmer-framed about with a great deal of determination and making speeches about how it was necessary to cut absolutely everything because a) we have no money, and b) he used to run races, and therefore ought to be in charge of everything.

But, no, Nick Clegg felt it was only fair if he palled up with the largest single party in the Commons, and he said he’d do that before it became necessary and so he felt he should when it did. That was actually very honourable, he gets points for that. He gets points, too, for ensuring that an agreement got thrashed out that didn’t entirely shaft him, which was actually very sensible.

But he loses nearly all those points immediately, because somewhere along the way Cameron seems to have convinced him that the important thing with a Coalition Government is to make sure there are no obvious divisions. Which is just crazy. Of course there are going to be divisions, that’s what a coalition is; a group of parties who unite in spite of their differences. Hell, you’d even get divisions if the Tories went and formed a coalition with UKIP (although admittedly, they’d probably be over who got to pull the triggers first). Divisions are a political problem if they appear within a single-party cabinet, because they suggest a lack of coherence and discipline, but in a multi-party cabinet, they’re pretty much what you’d expect to see.

More than that, they’re what you want to see. You want to be able to look at a cabinet and say “Well, I don’t agree with that either! I’m glad to see someone’s backing me up over there!”. We haven’t got that. What we have are hidden divisions, that nobody tells us about, and it’s left us without a sense of contrast. I believe there are differences, and they’re probably thumping massive ones, but we’re not allowed to see them because Dave has convinced Clegg that it would be bad for government if they were apparent. By which, of course, he means it would be bad for him, because if the Lib Dem MPs started to reject the party whips then Cameron would start to lose out.

Actually, of course, such gaps might be bad for The Government, but not for government in general. Politically, divisions in a coalition can be a very healthy thing; it should be possible for a government motion to fail because not enough MPs backed it irrespective of which parties are sharing power. It should be possible for a motion proposed under a coalition government to fail because some members of that Government instead unite with the loyal opposition to defeat the bill, and force the cabinet to re-negotiate with its own supporters in order to get something that better reflects the wishes of the parties, and the supporters of the parties, involved.

(And you need to be able to compromise on the fly, and to be seen to be compromising on the fly, because otherwise it’s a fast track to page 184 and nobody can tell the pigs from the bleedin’ farmers…)

So we’re in this absurd position of having got ourselves a coalition government that agrees on everything, even the things half of it don’t agree with. That’s why the students are angry at papa, little Clegglets. To the students – to everyone – it looks like Papa has teamed up with a man who wants to make everyone’s lives more miserable, and that Papa is jumping up and down with delight over it. The man doesn’t like it, you can tell he doesn’t like it, but he doesn’t have the balls to say that he doesn’t like it, because he’s promised Dave that he won’t.

(Whereas Dave, you’ll notice, is more than happy to run around telling everyone they should keep the superannuated excuse for a system that is First Past the Post, because only the immigrants, and the unemployed, and the bogeymen want alternative vote… but that’s an acceptable sign of division, to him because it divides Dave out in such a way that he looks good to people who like Dave, and if Dave is anything printable then he’s definitely a man keeping his monocle trained on his chances for the next General Election.)

I can’t think of any other explanation for Clegg acting like that. I thought for a long time that he was a bit of a Henry Collingridge, the weak and ineffectually well-meaning Prime Minister from House of Cards (which if you haven’t seen, you really should, because it is just amazing. I continue to offer up a choice of whiskies and sofas to people who want to come watch it on Earth, because it really is that good.) Francis Urquhart describes Collingridge’s greatest need as being “That people should like him,” which is a pretty good summation of a terrible damn flaw.

We had a Guild President like that while I was still an Undergraduate. Tremendously popular, quite leftist, and not at all the usual hack. No real grasp of what she wanted, so far as I could tell, so she was forever having to be told by people with their own agendas, and whenever you met with her so she could tell you that she was going to bugger everything up (and so you could patiently explain for the seventeenth time that she’d be doing nothing of the bloody sort, thank you all the same) she employed big sad eyes that said “Don’t hate me, I’m only doing what I’ve been told to do by people who are more devious than I am”, and then agree with you until she next met the people giving her dubious advice, when she’d back-flip. She was a really nice person, but frankly her methods didn’t improve the buggery as much as she thought they did.

Actually, though, I think that’s wrong; Clegg isn’t acting like Henry Collingridge at all. No, he’s acting like Geoffrey Booza Pitt, a cheerful bufoon whom Urquhart raises to office during The Final Cut, with the result that the Opposition nickname him “Sooty,” and make little glove-puppet mimes whenever he speaks. It’s terribly cruel on the poor chap, who’s actually very nice, and quite clever, and generally very well-meaning, but not at all politically nimble (whereas Urquhart really is. Seriously, if you still haven’t seen it either get a copy or let me know and we’ll try and fix it. ‘s only about twelve hours to watch all three series, and you’re allowed to take breaks now and then).

If you have watched the whole thing, here is a nice little video of Urquhart & Booza-Pitt together, which helpfully illustrates why a name like Sooty would stick…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PnDFQDkXsGg

Poor Geoffrey. And, indeed, poor Nick, because I’m pretty sure that the relationship dynamic with him and Cameron must feel pretty similar from time to time. When he isn’t being invited to posh Oxfordshire dinner parties, for example. But for all that, the man has actually given a really good interview; it feels like he’s starting to hint that maybe he might not be a Sooty after all, might just occasionally object to things on ethical grounds, even if he winds up asking people to back them for political reasons. If he could just start saying that sort of thing in public, I reckon that’d help his image.

I’m not even sure it would take very much of that to stop him looking like Cameron’s own Sooty, even now (although to be sure, he’s got a hell of a lead to pull back).

It’s got to be worth a try though; even if he can only make it to Sweep, that’d be a good start. At least Sweep had a squeaker.

Hidden tragedies, hidden truths (because, in literary criticism, the truth is *always* where you put it)

Disclaimer:

This is more than usually not-completely serious. At least, for such a dark topic, it comes in from an overly sunny backwards angle, with a cheek full of tongue. It gets more serious later, but it doesn’t qualify for the role of a “useful resource” so be warned. By way of all the apology you’re getting, I’ve scattered the latter half of the post with semi-random helpful links, just in case it sets you thinking. Stick with them for the genuine advice; stay here if you’re well-enough off that you can afford the luxury of me amusing myself with a sort-of thought experiment in misusing critical thinking.

Benefits of listening to Jack? It’s better than a poke in the eye. And we don’t repeat a single song in the workday– Jack FM.


Disadvantages: sometimes they play things that suck (they just do it a lot less than some what I could mention). So it was that today I got stuck listening to Kate Nash’s Foundations again. Which has always struck me as a soulless, naïve sort of a song. In the event you’ve happily skipped it, you can catch up with it here:

See? I’m pretty sure I ain’t copping any blame for thinking that was staggeringly shallow. Holding onto the cracks? What good is that meant to do, you inflectionless moron?

…Or so I thought. But then I realised I wasn’t listening closely enough: it’s not just holding onto cracks, but specifically, the cracks in our [relationship’s] foundations. Which begs the question, ‘what good is that meant to do, you inflectionless moron?’

Answer: none at all. On account of this isn’t the shallow pap initially suggested by the surface tone of the song, but is actually quite a clever piece about someone trapped in an abusive relationship.

If this comes as no surprise at all, I apologise, but you need to understand that my reaction to Remains of the Day was something like ‘Yay Stevens! Nuts to Miss Kenton, she’s a disloyal flake, and you’re better off without the feckless cow. Better to go back home and see if you can’t train that slacker Faraday to behave in a manner more befitting! “Banter” indeed…’ Which, they tell me, slightly misses the point somehow… .

Anyway, I offer that by way of demonstrating that I generally show too much faith to notice an unreliable narrator on the first couple of passes, and it took me several encounters with the song to realise that the narrator is not the wronged woman she claims, but is a manipulative and vicious sociopath. It’s very well done, I’ve got to say. The hints are there, but you have to separate them from the backdrop of imagined injuries the narrator thrusts to the fore of her narrative.

At this point it’s also worth noting the delivery of the song, which remains static throughout the tale: short, broken sentences, delivered in an almost always level, consistent voice. This is a narrator working hard to control the story they’re telling, carefully regulating the words they offer us, even at the expense of their fluidity of expression. In itself, this is disturbing; it’s not the watchfulness of someone struggling to frame their words through their emotions, but of someone carefully taking notes of how she covers each event. More alarming, though, is the subtext to that coverage, which is what I’d like to focus on, because the surface deceit speaks well enough for itself.

Let’s examine the first stanza for a moment:

Thursday night, everything’s fine, except you’ve got that look in your eye /
when I’m tellin’ a story and you find it boring /
you’re thinking of something to say. /
You’ll go along with it then drop it and humiliate me /
in front of our friends. /
Then I’ll use that voice that you find annoyin’ and say something like /
“yeah, intelligent input, darlin’, why don’t you just have another beer then?” /
Then you’ll call me a bitch and everyone we’re with will be embarrassed, /
and I wont give a shit.

Not quite an average night out. Our narrator and her nameless partner are somewhere – most likely in a pub, although the reconstructed vision in the music video confines us to a significantly domestic setting – with some friends, and she is telling an anecdote. He listens along, thinking of ways he can add to the conversation. When she has finished speaking (after he has “gone along with it”) he “drops in” his contribution. Note that we do not know what this contribution is, only that the narrator feels “humiliated”.

I suggest that, in the absence of any indicators to the contrary, the narrator is humiliated because the focus of conversation has moved away from her. She told this story, the focus should be on her! Not on her partner, but on her, always her. (The video, you’ll note, continues this theme, barely showing us the partner at all: the focus is always on the narrator, or on inanimate objects stop-motioned into puppetry to support her narrative). Self-centred as our narrator is, the only way she can retrieve the focus in this specific instance is to belittle her partner, and so she mocks him, not only his immediate conversational input, but also his aspirations to further participation in her social activities.

He retaliates, attempting to put her down in a reflexive response to the genuine humiliation and hurt she has dealt him: he calls her a bitch. Like any normal people, the friends are embarrassed. We can take it as read that the narrator’s partner is embarrassed – humiliated again – as an immediate consequence of his misguided attempt to assert himself but “she won’t give a shit”. It isn’t that she is oblivious to the awkwardness, but that she does not care about the welfare and comfort of her friends.

The syntax is significant, here: we move from a narrative account of what will happen (“You are thinking”, “You will go along,” I will use that voice”) to a sudden negation (“I will not give a shit”). The change is unexpected and jarring, just as her (lack of) reaction is unexpected and jarring. Subtly, the narrator has placed herself outside of both the cultural and narrative norms. Beyond that, the assertion “won’t” has its own significance, since it implies not a lack of ability (can/cannot) but a lack of capacity (will/will not): the payoff isn’t there, and so her friend’s comfort is not worth her time or effort.

I want to skip over the chorus at this point, because I think it deserves separate examination of its own. Instead, let’s take a look at the second stanza:

You said I must eat so many lemons ’cause I am so bitter. /
I said “I’d rather be with your friends mate ’cause they are much fitter.” /
Yes, it was childish and you got aggressive, and I must admit that I was a bit scared
but it gives me thrills to wind you up.

This is a significant break from the rhythm of the main narrative: the accusation of bitterness has genuinely got to the narrator, and she unconsciously emphasises her riposte “fitter” and also lets slip a key clue to her motives: “it gives [her] thrills” to treat her partner in this way.

Again, there’s a tension between the surface presentation of events and what’s actually happening – a constant theme of the song, continually re-enforced in the accompanying video, with it’s ongoing undertones of physical violence; acts of hand-slapping, arm-wrestling, shadow-boxing and foot-kicking that are never referenced through the narrator’s voice,  but which we see her initiate from the corner of her mind’s eye as she reconstructs reality around our listening ear.

Notice that whilst the lyrics claim the partner got aggressive, “scaring” our narrator, actual detail on the aggression is scant. In such a litany of woe, is this not surprising? The narrator is more than happy to list every other fault her partner has, so why shy away so quickly from details of his aggression? More than that, why is she “a bit scared” by this aggression? One would expect mid-argument aggression to be genuinely scary, not merely “a bit” scary, otherwise it would not be particularly memorable (especially in such a dysfunctional, hostility-prone relationship as the narrator happily admits this to be).

I suggest the only reason is not that the aggression did not happen, but that it was not ‘aggression’ in the way the word is normally used. Rather it is assertion: ‘Why don’t you, then?’ he may have said, or ‘I don’t care – if you don’t love me, I should leave you anyway.’ Once we have realised her barbs have caused him to become assertive, her fear makes sense: she does not become ‘a bit scared’ because of aggression, but because she can see her control of her partner momentarily – and only temporarily – slip. Again, our narrator cannot abide the loss of control, and so her ongoing need for control is at one and the same time the reason for her fear, and also for the minimal nature of it. She is scared, but only a bit: the loss of control frightens her ego, but she remains confident that her control of her partner is stronger than the little will to fight she has left him, and that confidence mutes not only her fear,  but  also her partner, whom she carefully deprives of speech from hereon.

Indeed, as her partner’s voice is carefully edited out of the narrative, so does the narrator become more aggressive; the slight glimpses of her violent nature we have seen so far begin to give way to actual neglect, as in the third and final verse:

Your face is pasty ’cause you’ve gone and got so wasted, what a surprise. /
Don’t want to look at your face ’cause it’s makin’ me sick. /
You’ve gone and got sick on my trainers, I only got these yesterday. /

Oh, my gosh, I cannot be bothered with this. /

Well, I’ll leave you there ’till the mornin’, and I purposely wont turn the heating on /
and dear God, I hope I’m not stuck with this one.

Here we see the narrator shift responsibility away from herself. I do not object to accepting that he “has gone” and got drunk (the nature of the narrator’s sociopathic tendancy seems to be towards the embellishment of facts in her favour, rather than towards their complete fabrication), but notice how his desire to drink excessively is presented in a vacuum, divorced from their relationship. Indeed, it only becomesrelevant to the narrator when he is sick on her trainers (although whether as a genuine accident or as his last subconscious act of defiance we will never know).

Her reaction (predictably) is both disproportionate and chilling. Since her partner has been sick she cannot pretend that his drunkenness is not serious, but rather than seeking to make him as comfortable as she can (whether by helping him to the bathroom, or by offering him a glass of water) she instead seeks to make him uncomfortable, leaving him where he is and “purposely” not turning on the heating – implying both the deliberation put into the weighing-up of her actions, and the purpose (of punishing him) with which she neglects his wellbeing.

Far, far, darker is the closing line of the verse, “Dear God, I hope I’m not stuck with this one”. On the surface, perhaps we could yet be persuaded that this is a cry for help, from a woman who wants out of her relationship, but somehow can’t effect an exit. But that doesn’t fit with the rest of her attitude, which even on the surface level paints her as an assertive person (for example, the deliberate antagonism of “that voice” and the childish taunting about his “fitter” friends, which fail to support the theory she is the cowed member of the relationship).

That leaves us with three basic options: that she hopes to drive him away (again, shunning responsibility for her actions), that she’s hoping to snare another man behind his back, and then throw him out (but in the meantime, she is willing to risk getting “stuck” for the security and control of an ongoing relationship, in contrast to the uncertain, uncontrolled chaos of being ‘single and looking’) or – in an interpretation far more fantastic, but still not particularly out of character – that he will quietly die in the night, choking to death unheeded, in a freezing mire of his own sick.

Disturbing indeed. About the only thing remaining is the chorus, and that’s where things get really interesting, and the narrator allows a faint chink of humanity to glimmer through her workaday sadism:

My fingertips are holding onto /
The cracks in our foundation /
And I know that I should let go, but I can’t /
And every time we fight, I know it’s not right /
Every time that you’re upset and I smile /
I know I should forget, but I can’t.

The first two lines of the chorus are what clued me into the real meaning of this song, because nobodywould hold onto a crack in a foundation. A foundation, as any fule kno, is the underlying structure which exists to hold up something much bigger than itself. A well-built foundation will spread the load of the building above, ensuring that all of the weight is distributed downwards, and helpfully provide stability to the whole structure, even if part of the foundations cover a patch of bad or unstable ground. Foundations might crack, and this is a cause for concern, but the solution to cracking foundations is to patch them up again, not break out your finest Dutchboy impression.

Thus the only reason to stick your fingernails into the cracks would be to agitate the bears pry the cracks open wider. That, and the hidden-in-plain-sight viciousness of smiling at her partner’s misery, is what helped me to realise what a horrible bitch the narrator is. Once you revisit the song on that understanding, it’s pretty obvious that the narrator is lying through her teeth the whole time.

Brilliantly, Nash casts us, the unknown listener, in the role of the narrator’s boyfriend, forcing the casual listener to dole out sympathy when the actions she ascribes to us trigger unease: we are so busy thinking how awful it would be if we treated our partners as her boyfriend ‘does’ that we do not stop to make a closer investigation of the facts.

And yet, Nash wants us to find the narrator out, and invests her with just the faintest glimmer of self-awareness: “I know that I should let go, but I can’t“. She knows this is wrong, that normal people do not treat their partners in this way, but she literally can’t help herself. Even though she knows herself to be at fault, she still inflicts misery on her boyfriend, because she is incapable of anything else. Abusers do not change, even when they express awareness and contrition.

(Usually. What I mean is ‘abusers rarely change,’ but that reduces the impact of the preceding line. Since this is actually important, however, I’m sacrificing narrative pace for the dissemination of more accurate information).

The whole song is brilliant, because it works on so many levels, with a different message to each level.

  • On the surface, it appears to tell of a woman trapped in a loveless partnership, which may even be abusive. (See all the little ways in which abuse grinds her down)
  • On closer viewing, we realise that she is the abuser (If you suspect someone is in an abusive relationship, do not let their partner speak for them).
  • Which means her boyfriend is the victim (Men can also be victims of domestic violence at the hands of male or female partners. When this happens, it is harder for them to be heard – qv the assumption we made in the first bullet point)

The video is even cleverer: the narrator packs her suitcase, takes a last look around the flat, and leaves. As the door closes, the camera remains static and we see the poster on the back of the door: “Don’t Fall For This” – suggesting, on the first level, that the poster is what the narrator thinks (ie, do not fall into the trap of a loveless or abusive relationship), but actually possessing three other meanings: firstly, do not fall for the lies this abuser has told you, secondly, do not fall for someone like this, and thirdly, do not fall for the perception that domestic abuse only affects women.

Originally a health & safety poster, the message "Don't fall for this" becomes brilliantly dual-edged in the closing frames of the music video

As a guerrilla awareness campaign, I’ve got to say Foundations is genius. From showcasing the subtle digs that together form a pattern of emotional abuse, to the pattern of escalation and the parallel silencing of the abused boyfriend and the sudden jolt you get when you realise that all you’ve heard so far is a lie designed to protect the narrator from her lack of control (and the subsequent questions that might raise about other couples you know) the whole song forms a brilliantly subtle protest against domestic abuse.

Even sweeter, is the way it is disguised as a mirror of itself: it sounds like a song about an abusive relationship – and it is - but you were looking in the wrong place. That, above all, elevates Foundations to the level of genuine Art, with the screamingly hidden message we should all be aware of, and willing to speak out against, domestic abuse, in all of its forms.

So, there you go, the true meaning of Foundations. You’d have thought people would have clocked it already, except I expect most people have better things to do than sit around stubbornly over-interpreting a fleeting scrap of quasi-popular culture until it breaks. Which is a shame, because it’s actually quite fun. (Plus, if the profiling doesn’t pan out, I won’t need more than another couple of posts like this to get myself a snazzy book deal with Cambridge Scholars some publisher of unconsidered trifles…)

Hm. A post that ended up feeling heavier than it should have been, probably. But, genuinely, I think it’s a good song for the above reasons (because even thought it’s probably not what Nash thought it was saying, it’s what it could be saying, and that works pretty well. ‘s the magic of –Criticism and Interpretation, that is).

Still, by way of some light relief, here is a funny comic about domestic abuse, which Dan shared a week or so back…

An excellent pun, based on Boromir's line in the film version of LoTR

Oh, and on a barely related note, can I just say how very impressed I was by the Boss Button over at both the Scottish Women’s Aid and the ManKindwebsites? Someone’s put genuine thought into the possibility a viewer might seriously need to GTFO of those in a hurry, and I really like the way they took the trouble to make it as easy and obvious as they could, rather than relying on their having a high enough agility stat to Alt-Tab before the door’s fully open. Nice work.

Generic Racism

An interesting argument appears to have sprung up over the lack of black people in Midsommer Murders, which as far as I can tell is an excellent object lesson in not waving complicated concepts around without the technical skill to get the words right.

Producer Brian True-May told Radio Times ‘We just don’t have ethnic minorities involved, because it wouldn’t be the English village with them,’ trusted everyone to take careful note of the wording, and described his show as the ‘last bastion of Englishness’ on television. Evidently, people didn’t look at the words as much as they might have, because his comments are now generating all manner of entertaining huffiness, particularly from Omar Khan, and this guy who slightly undermines his comments by getting the name of the series’ lead character wrong. (In the interests of fairness, however, here is a much better reasoned examination of the interview from Hannah Pool).

Indeed, there was a rather stupid man on Today this morning – who disappointingly turned out to be Ash Atalla, the man who produced IT Crowd and Man Stroke Woman, and of whom I previously had a relatively high opinion – who was under the impression that 1) True-May was being horribly offensive to everyone, but that 2) it didn’t matter, because only old people like that show anyway, and that doesn’t matter because 3) they hate change, but soon they’ll all die.

Which misses the point so spectacularly that I suspected he must have been trolling, before I realised he was just being a patronising buffoon: “It’s aimed at a much older audience than me” was one of the gems in there. (Since this is coming from a man in his late thirties, I choose to retaliate by invoking the right of the twenty-something and describe him as a silly old fart who doesn’t understand what young people like.)

The point isn’t that ‘old people like Midsommer, and of course they don’t like to see black people, because they’re all racists who will die soon,’ but that the people in Midsommer don’t live (or die horribly) in a world with minorities in it. Personally, I would have thought that Midsommer’s unerring talent to rack up three dead bodies in the first half hour was a pretty good clue that it’s all made up, but apparently it isn’t quite good enough.

This bugs me because it implies there are a large number of people who seem happier to complain about the racism in a TV show than to understand the context in which the TV show is working. This is not a helpful way to argue anything; go down that road and you end up calling Saint Augustine an evil mysoginistic bastard because he claimed that a female foetus got its soul later than a male one, and also he never said that all women should have unfettered access to family planning provision. (Certainly he did claim the former, and it’s true he never said the latter, but we’re talking about a man from more than 1,600 years ago, and we’re determined to use that against him rather than taking the time to judge him in his own context).

I do think it should be noted then, that as far as I know True-May is not a loathesome racist scumbag, but a simple harmless chump who fails to treat words like the loaded weapons they are. He doesn’t mean – and did not say – an English village, but the English Village.

An English village = A village in England.

The English Village = The Rough Outline of a Village You Can See In Your Head When Told Someone You’ve Never Met Lives in An English Village.

And, more importantly,

The English VillageAn English village.

In a similar way, the term ‘Chinese Medicine’ is not used to conjure up the image of An Zhen Hospital. Instead it is used to conjures up the image of a friendly man sticking needles into your back so that your headache will go away. You could refer to one of the world’s leading lung transplant centres when you talk about wanting some ‘Chinese Medicine’, and you could use the phrase ‘the English Village’ to discuss the price of beer in the pub in Biddenden, but it’s not the first thing to which the signifier directs you. (Note that it is not a racist act to hear the term “Chinese Medicine” and think of the meaning ‘Old man with needles,’ although if you deliberately thought him into a Limehouse Opium Den, wearing a nehru silk jacket, and grinning wickedly as he stroked his Fu Manchu mustache, then it would probably become a racist act.)

We’re not talking of a given village, but of the idea of a village, the hazy concept that started to form a little after someone built one hut opposite another hut, but before Tesco arrived to buldoze all the cows and open a new store to compliment their out-of-town hypermarket.

That being the case, it’s not surprising that The English Village is exclusively white. For one thing, many actual villages are exclusively white, (because metropolitan areas naturally change their makeup faster than the sticks, and have more housing and more opportunities that encourage migrants to gravitate towards them), and for another The English Village is already a solidly established mental image.

It’ll vary from person to person, based on what villages they’ve spent their time near, but imagine an English Village. I need you to imagine it, because I want you to play a minor role in my upcoming stage adaptation of A Murder Is Announced, and I want you to get a feel for the role of the shocked householder discussing the advertisment with your neighbour as you stand in the garden.

(Not a big role, sure, but you come on right after the curtain rises, and it’s how we learn that an anonymous person rang the local paper and placed a classified ad to announce that a murder will happen later today, so it’s important we set the tone for the audience).

I believe that the majority of people, will find themselves imagining The English Village at this point. It might be very close to their village, if they live in one, but there’ll be elements drafted in from elsewhere to fill the gaps.

It’s probably got one bank, in solid yellow stone. Similar stone, albeit more roughly-hewn, makes up the drystone walls that hold back the blooming lilac trees in the perfectly tended gardens of the thatch cottages down Old Mill Road. A postman has leant his bicycle against a tree, down that way, and in the opposite direction are the two pubs, one of which fronts directly onto the Village Green, and lies directly opposite the stout square walls of the churchyard. The small local school will have been built around 1870, but it’s once garish red-tile roof has aged well, and almost compliments the new row of houses thrown up when the village expanded in the late 80s. There’s a 50% chance there will be a small river, with a narrow stone bridge over it, opposite the phone box, and there’s probably one greengrocer, a small independent newsagents, and a post office. These days there is unlikely to be a railway station, but before it was converted to a private dwelling under the Beeching Axe (which the older inhabitants still resent) it was the one you’ll recognise from Christmas cards, with a big green steam engine puffing away behind the red-faced carol singers on platform 2. And you don’t imagine more than three cars as your brain walks around it, because there isn’t a place for them in the picture, except perhaps outside the pub, and a small delivery van by the grocer’s.

That’s The English Village. It isn’t any one English village (although when I fill in all the pictures in description I can identify sources from at least five different villages I’ve known.) It’s a hybrid, pieced together to fit the genre of an Agatha Christie country-house murder, and for that reason, it’s bound by the limitations of its genre. In that sense, True-May’s right: about the only place for an ethnic face in the conceptual makeup of The English Village is during the 1920s and 30s, and she is the plump cook who works for the Ffinches up at the Big House.

Fiction just works like that. People write stories and we morph the framework to fit the words before us, until the picture looks right in our head. Brian True-May has a harder job than that, because he’s trying to put the picture into everyone’s head. And, because our brains automatically hide the joins from us, nobody really noticed everyone was white until he said so (although it probably helps that Midsommer is quite South Oxfordshire-y, which by 2001 data is 98% White British).

The English Village doesn’t have a monopoly here: I think Philip Marlowe encountered the occasional black man (never in a major role, of course) but 1920s California was a different setting (and even then, I don’t think he ever saw any Latinos or Orientals, though strictly speaking the mean streets should have been bursting with ‘em). In the same way, Midsommer is not a fictional county where you will see Asians running shops, because all of the shops are built out of the same fabric as they used in the backdrop for St. Mary Mead, and that means Master Green the Grocer’s Son is getting ready to be the seventh generation of his family to keep his thumb on the scales.

The flip side of this is that whilst Midsommer Murders could just about be transported to Newport, it could never be transported to Hadley, or anywhere based on it. But, then, it couldn’t be transported to Miami, either, or to the ruins of Berlin in 1945. Stories are set somewhere, and you can’t just pull them out of their context and hope they’ll make sense. So Hard Times is never going to work if you decided to set it in Machynlleth, because it requires a grinding industrial hell, not an airy hippy town. Life on Mars wouldn’t work in a Midsommer setting, either, because whilst they’re both detective shows, they’re different kinds of detective shows. Swap Morse and Rebus’ beats, and they’d be left picking their teeth out of the gutter on the Royal Mile. Or copping off with the woman who did it before going home to listen to classic 70s rock albums over a takeaway from the Cowley Road. It wouldn’t work, and it’s not meant to.

It’s not wrong to present a story in it’s own setting, nor to be honest about what that setting is in the event that people haven’t noticed. What that means is that whilst there’s no reason that a character in Midsommer shouldn’t be from an ethinic minority, it isn’t necessary for the story to sit right. It can be done, and people wouldn’t notice if there were a black or asian character in their contemporary village murder-fest, but their presence or absence doesn’t affect the nature of the story or the setting (unless someone decides to do an episode centred on a racist killing, which would be far too gritty for the general ethos of the show), and in fiction it’s the story and the setting that are important. In that situation, it’s entirely reasonable that there hasn’t been such a character, because one doesn’t expect to see people from the ethnic minorities in The English Village. In an actual English village, sure, but not in the ethereal concept of one. One doesn’t expect to see jobless and impoverished Algerian nationals scraping by on the streets of Paris The City of Light, either, but there are plenty of them living in the suburbs of the real Paris, the one they keep in France, out of sight of the Hollywood cameramen.

The thing about genre concepts is we all carry them with us. It bugs me when people forget that, because it seems to be such an essential part of storytelling that it isn’t fair to ignore it when it suits you. And people are ignoring it when it suits them: if they’d really been bothered that the fictional death-raddled villages of Midsommer were unrepresentative of Britain as a whole, they’d have pointed out that there weren’t any black characters at some point in the past fourteen years, instead of waiting for the producer to tell them so, and then loudly condemning him for being out of touch with what Britain really looks like.

It’s OK that we didn’t notice, guys. We’re people, and we pattern match, and we see what we expect to see. ‘s the magic of fiction (and, as it happens, the magic of magic, too). It doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, and it doesn’t mean he’s a bad person. And it certainly doesn’t mean you should take your guilt out on him so that we can all see how very not racist you are.

Anyway, he’s the closest we’ve got to a celebrity round here, and he’s offered to give a speech to open the Jumble Sale in the Village Hall this Thursday, so leave him alone and help me put up this bunting, will you?

Counting for Something

Hooray, the Census is here! This is dead exciting, I love the Census. Mainly for its secondary purpose of “getting released to the public in a hundred years” rather than for the mass co-ordination of data the Government needs in order to best plan which public services are next on the tumbril, I’ll admit, but it’s still dead exciting.

Speaking as only the third or fourth generation of my family that’s actually been able to write their own answers to the census, as opposed to getting the recorder to stand in the doorway marking things down on their behalf, I love this stuff. I get to say that I’ve got a job, and a car, and a seven-room house, and everything. This is a massive step up on the 2001 census, when I was a waster student providing naff all in the way of exciting data for future generations to work things out from. I always find it very reassuring to be leaving a trail of handy pebbles for future generations to work from. No need to go making their lives difficult, at least.

On which note, speaking as future generation of my family, now seems like a reasonable time to point to the 1911 census. In 1911, my great-grandmother appears as Jessie Elizabeth Talbot, a resident of Aqualate Hall:

Aqualate Hall, taken some time in the 1900s

At 31 rooms, I’ve got to say it’s a bit of a step up on Earth, but odds are pretty good they didn’t have a car, so I guess it might balance out.  It’s actually only a little way out of Newport, where the bulk of my family ended up, but I’ve never been there, so I’ve no idea what it was actually like a hundred years back.

Actually, that’s not true, I know a little about what it was like in 1911. I suspect it wasn’t truly a 31-room house for a start; the above photo was taken some time prior to 1910, at which point the place burned down, and ended up looking quite… tired.

The ruined shell of the main building

I believe the stables and a few outbuildings survived, but the rest of it was left to decay for a while, before getting knocked down and eventually rebuilt in around 1927.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about that is that even with the building in the state it was in 1911, my great-grandmother was still living there, along with a handful of other staff, including a butler and gardener. This begs the question of where the Bougheys, who actually owned the place were staying. All very well shoving my great-granny in the stable block, but I can’t imagine actual rich people living like that.

That said, I imagine Jessie will have been relatively made up about whatever accommodation she was in, because it can’t possibly have been as cramped as her parents’ house, which apparently housed eight people in six rooms, which is not anything like enough rooms per person. (But then I’m entirely capable of feeling crowded when I’m one of two people in a warehouse, so I might be projecting a bit there.)

Meanwhile, over in Bedwellty, my maternal great-grandfather had thirteen people in six rooms, which is even worse. Although to be fair one of those was the three-month old Ida Margaret, so it wasn’t always that bad.

Even so, I have increased gratitude for the forthcoming size of New Earth, which gives us three floors to spread ourselves over, and thus greatly increases the chances that we’ll all make it to the 2021 Census in a fit state to declare that we have no serious disabilities, eg, having our legs chopped off.

(On a side note, I find myself mildly amused by the gentle schism that seems to have opened up between those Atheists that want to say they’re Atheist on the Census, because It’s Important To Be Accurate, and those who want to put themselves down as Jedi because It’s A Silly Game Anyway. I didn’t like the latter bunch ten years ago – not least because they showed a screaming misunderstanding of how the Census works – and it turns out I still don’t like them now. Apart from anything else, they seem to have swapped a screaming misunderstanding in favour of a slightly pointless public bickering contest, but then I say that as someone who doesn’t see the value in protesting a question anyway, let alone one that offers up all the ususal options and a box for “Other” in case you don’t have one of the major [a]religious outlooks. But, at any rate, it’s more amusing than the quasi-gentle schism that has Anglicans scurrying away to the Roman Catholics because they don’t like female clerics, which would be a far more dignified move if they didn’t keep stopping to shout “Look! See! I’m leaving! And I’m never coming back! Don’t try to stop me! I mean it! Look! You forced me into this! Look! I’m going! Over here!” every couple of months. ‘s a schism, dude. Damn things happen all the time. You ain’t special, you’re just trying to find a theology that fits for you. Like, y’know, everyone.)

In other news, I am looking forward to the next Murder Mystery. I have spent today distressing a pair of once vibrantly-blue jeans, which cost me £7 in Primark. They’ve actually come out quite well, given that I didn’t have any sandpaper, and had to make do with a knife and some bleach. (I don’t own any blue jeans, was the problem here, and I don’t especially like blue jeans, since there’s no way you can pretend they’re perfectly respectable trousers which happen to have a weird cut and tiny pockets, so I didn’t want to spend good money for someone else to bleach them). Was actually quite fun, and I’m fairly happy with my costume for this one, so ‘s something to look forward to…

And tomorrow I am going back to work, but the aforementioned work to level out the floor in my office has actually gone really well, so with a bit of luck I’ll be off the surprisingly noisy warehouse floor before Friday, even if it does take the IT people most of the week to come and move the computers for us*. So that’s nice.

*Yeah, for us. I am not sure why we can’t move them ourselves. Possibly there was a disaster where someone managed to move their computer and plug things in so as to connect the mains cable to their PS2 mouse and they exploded themselves and the company had to shell out three pounds sixty for a new mouse, or something. Something’s made the IT guys protective of the computers, anyway. Although I guess it could just be one of those quirks of attachment people develop after they spend ten years working with the exact same tools…

Out of kilter

So, the floor in my office is being flattened. Or it will be; I rather thought work was due to start on Friday, but apparently it hasn’t. But it does need to be flattened, because it’s got a very pronounced slope, dropping about two inches over the course of ten feet. That’s because it used to be the bit of the warehouse where the most dangerous chemicals were stored, and so it was built to ensure any spillages got themselves into the public drainage system fast enough to maintain plausible deniability. At least, I assume that’s why; as far as I can tell, the people who rented the warehouse before we did never actually stayed to tell anyone about the slope until we’d moved in and got the desks set up.

The actual leveling of the floor is probably a Good Thing, since it’ll hopefully make me feel less lopsided, but in the meantime, we’ve all been moved out to the main warehouse floor, which is proving to be really quite disconcerting. For one thing, it’s actually much brighter (thanks to the magic of grime-encrusted perspex panels in the ceiling) and I’m no longer used to seeing sunlight during working hours; I kept thinking it was home-time most of Friday morning. And, of course, it’s an awful lot bigger, and there’s much more background noise.

I’m not very used to background noise in a working environment, since Libraries are generally pretty quiet (students permitting, leastways), but at work there’s actually quite a lot going on in the way of packing and unpacking shipments, and wrapping things in squeaky clingfilm, and whatnot, which I’m not sure I’ll get used to. At least, I sort of hope I won’t get used to it; the floor adjustment is only supposed to last ten days, so in theory I won’t get a chance.

I’m blotting the noise out, however, with the help of a small radio, some headphones and Jack FM. I tried Radio 4, of course, but that was too interesting, and I kept getting distracted by what people were saying, so I had to pick something more musical, and less talkative.

I actually quite like Jack. I realise that’s a bit weird, what with it being commercial radio an’ everything, but I’ve discovered that whilst it markets like bad commercial radio, it actually sounds like good commercial radio. And whilst I generally stick to the talkier bits of the Beeb, I know whereof I speak. I never once worked a shift at the Union without Dido continuing to bemoan her tragic failure to buy in effective laundry detergent ahead of running up a bedsheet every hour on the hour, and when I was on night shifts at Tywyn James Bloody Blunt used to tell everyone how Beautiful they were once every twenty bastard minutes.

These people, in contrast, avoid repeats, and play things that genuinely good rather more than half the time. Actually quite good to work to. And as a bonus they mock Heart FM for having a six and a half song playlist, which I can definitely appreciate, since Heart is what the people on the other side of the warehouse play, and even a good song gets tedious when you hear it for the tenth time as you return from lunch.

The weirdest thing about it, actually, is still the adverts. Currently the MoD are running a chain of adverts which they have evidently decided are very catchy. I can’t find a version online, but it basically goes after this fashion:

We hear a general hubbub, and background noises suggest something heavy and metallic is moving about behind the microphone. Voices chatter. One voice rises out:

Gruff Man / Stern Woman: ‘Right, Charlie section, you’re guiding the convoy. Bravo, I need you guys to scout ahead and check the route’s clear. And you’re driving the lead carrier.

Dramatic pause

GM/SW: Yes, you. You listening to the radio. I need you here, now, guiding my boys.

Voiceover: Want a challenge? Find out more at mod.co.uk

The first time I heard it, it confused the bejesus out of me, because the AS400 is not a very exciting computer screen, and doesn’t have a mini map, or an objective compass or anything*.

The second time I heard it, it made me wish they’d got the chap who voices Captain Price to do it (‘on your feet, Soldier! We. Are. Leaving!’), and the third time I concluded that my previous reactions, and the fact I like crisps, and have flat feet, and wouldn’t like killing people or being shot at, probably meant I’m not in the target audience.

Also, of course, being at the front of a convoy sounds like a bloody dangerous place to be. Closest I want to be to that sort of mess is the closing down of the access roads to the JR, thanks all the same. And that’s bleedin’ miserable enough, so I don’t quite see how the adverts are meant to divorce you from the memory of what passes by at the end of your streets every few weeks…

Still, it makes a change from the traditional “Look at all the things you can learn in the Military, it is exciting and you are unlikely to have to go and get blown up” line taken by adverts of yesteryear, so I suppose it might give people a nudge they wouldn’t otherwise encounter. Not sure that’s a good thing, y’ken, but it’s interesting from a marketing perspective.

* And on the computer work supply me with, switching to a second window is never faster than reloading.

February! You here already? Uh. Bye…

Yeah, everything’s kinda got into a rush. I’m technically working on a write-up of the Wedding for that blog, but I got stalled by Christmas. Betimes, everything around here is looking very snazzy and new! (Unless you’re reading this by RSS, in which case it probably looks about the same as normal).

I’m trying to work out what’s been keeping me so busy since the wedding, but I’m actually not sure.

I’m trying to work out what’s been keeping me so busy since the wedding, but I’m actually not sure. I’ve given over a bundle of evenings lately to training with the Red Cross, who run a Fire and Emergency Support Service – basically the old Secret Society coupled to Ghostbusters; we get summonsed by Firemen in the middle of the night, and turn out in an awesome little mobile home van to make tea and provide clothing and such to people whose houses have caught on fire. I’m finally through the basic paperwork and things, so I get to start shadowing people now (assuming there’s a shout on a day when I’m on the rota, leastways). More information on them here, if you’re interested.

As a side effect, I’ve been poking about on the Internet in a bid to find a ringtone which is liable to wake me in the event I do get summonsed by a Fireman at 3am, and have given myself no end of heebie-jeebies by learning about the HANDEL system.

For example, I have discovered that there were three kinds of Alert that might be given out in or during a nuclear attack: Attack Warning Red (a wavering alarm on the system) All Clear Attack Warning White (a 30 second steady blast on the alarm) and Fall Out Warning Attack Warning Black (Three blasts on a whistle, or gong, or similar, presumably because by the time you need to warn about actual fall out, there’s damn all else left). Creepy. Not Vault 106 creepy, I guess, but still pretty creepy.

Work is pretty frantic at the moment because one of my colleagues is about to vanish away to South Africa for an extended holiday, and various system migrations have been giving us periodic bursts of forced downtime, which has nominally reduced the amount of work we can do (I say nominally, because what I actually mean is it’s reduced the time we can throw at the main profiling side of things; we’ve still been able to run reports and go on weeding expeditions to dig out books that have hidden themselves away. It’s often more frustrating, but I like it when you finally run something to earth: last week I found a 60 page playscript that had gleefully snuck itself underneath a 250-page cased hardback atlas on one of the rearmost shelves in the warehouse. If someone could train sniffer dogs to distinguish by ISBN, they’d make a fortune…).

I’ve also begun learning German – right now I can only really say things like ‘Das is keine kartoffel! Das is ein Fernseher,’ and ‘Der Apfel ist dort,’ but it’s a marked improvement on my previous vocabulary, which was pretty much ‘Anschluss’, ‘Waffenstillstand’, and ‘I.G. Farben’, with a side helping of ‘Ich bin ein Berliner‘ once we got that far through the syllabus (although, now I come to think of it, I.G. Farben was an A-level thing), which leaves me wondering what German kids pick up in the way of course-related vocab.

In order to get to German more effectively, I’ve started cycling again, and am quite enjoying it. Actually I even managed to enjoy it on Friday, when Isis went in for a service, and to get new tyres. I did a bit of calculation and worked out that all things being equal, I could cycle to work in less time that it would take on the bus (Doy. Buses are an appaling way to get around Oxford. Having dropped the car off for a service on Thursday I had to catch a bus home from German, and had just about bought a ticket and sat down in the ammount of time it would have taken me to cycle home. Surprisingly I didn’t miss the delay so much as the actual ride; apparently I didn’t so much stop enjoying biking as cease to have the time to manage it).

I figured that even over a distance of six miles, biking to work would be fairly simple, because Oxford is made entirely out of Flat Bits, but it turns out there’s actually a fairly drawn-out slope between Marston & the Headington Roundabout, which really wore me out. It was better on the way back, though, because I went past a lorry stuck in the queue for the Roundabout traffic lights, and then went past him again when I’d both finally crossed the roundabout, and my cycle path had rejoined the side of the ring-road. I am not sure he liked that very much, because after I’d gone past him the second time, he seemed to drop down a gear and floor it, but there we go. I’d actually forgotten how much fun it is to cycle downhill very fast, but I recommend it. Um.

Oh, yes, and this blog got hammered with spam recently. Started out as a couple of comments a day which I had to come and mark as spam manually, and then it peaked at around 60 comments in three minutes, at which point I got hopping mad with it, and managed to lure Dan into doing some general update work, as a result of which, everything’s looking rather snazzy. A few stray bits of wobbly formatting on old posts, but I don’t mind that much. And I rather like the top photo, which is a view from the Wrekin over towards Wales, which is always nice.

So, yeah. There’s a very brief overview of everything I could think of. More coherent updates ideally arriving in the not-too-distant future…

Assorted Things

Opticians
I had an eye test the other week; back at Batemans, who are awesome people and who’d actually managed to keep my details on file from my last test with them in 2007.

During this particular eye test, I discovered two things:

1) I cannot now read the second line of the chart without glasses. (And if the top line had been something less blatantly an A- a C or a G or an O for example – I don’t think I could have managed that).

2) I’ve jumped prescription again since my last go and need something stronger. Which explains the afternoon headaches I’ve been getting (which is good, because it proves I was right to make the ‘Cataloguing + Headaches = Bad Eyes’ association).

Interestingly, since I was told that my glasses are too weak for me, and that the headaches are almost certainly caused by the same, they’ve got worse. Sigh.

Stupidest Book So Far
One of the things I like about this sort of job is the massive boost you gain to general knowledge. Today, for example, I discovered that there is a provision in the LCSH for a classmark that translates to “Motion pictures, specific aspects, lesbian vampire films”. A product of the 1970s, apparently. And there was me thinking Bill Watterson just made those titles up…

The other thing I discovered today is that it’s possible to get published with even a completely retar- uh, rhetorical- premise. I discovered a book which plugged it’s contents by asking something like “Are some of Shakespeare’s heroine’s actually saying sexually obscene but funny lines?”.

For the one person on the Internet who has never seen or read Shakespeare, that’s rather like saying “Did Shakespeare write plays?” Or, more accurately, like saying “I haven’t really read Shakespeare before now, but I want to write a book and seem a bit risque”. Impressed I wasn’t.

Still, it could be worse. It could be an Amazon marketing ploy.

Customer Relationship Management FAIL
Amazon, as all the world knows, periodically send you emails to nudge you in the direction of offers. This normally involves getting an email that says something like “As somebody who has previously bought Flashman and the Dragon we thought you might be interested in Master & Commander,” or “People who have previously bought Black Books on DVD may be interested in our DVD Television Show Sale! Up to 80% off!!”

They’re enough of a nuisance that I’ve got them filtered to Mark As Read when they appear in my inbox, but they’re not sufficiently stupid that I Skip the inbox altogether, and sometimes I take a look at the contents, just in case there’s a genuinely good deal. It does happen.

So this was painfully shoddy, even for them:

Seriously, what the Hell? How does \'Buying Tintin\' equate to \'Wants Barbie\'!?

Seriously, what the Hell? How does 'Buying Tintin' equate to 'Wants Barbie'!?

New Job

I realise it’s been ages since I threw up a blog post, and since I’ve now been working for a month, this post is running late enough to satisfy even First Great Western, but there you go.

So, yes. JTA now works from 8-4, Monday to Friday, and now earns [%Maths_Result] an hour!

It’s quite fun. I work in a warehouse, which is strangely reminiscent of the temp job I had working the night shift over at Halo Foods in Tywyn, except that there are rather fewer vats of lo-fat chocolate, and rather more books. But I see about the same amount of natural light, so it’s not as different as perhaps it might be.

The work itself is pretty good, and I’ve got into a nice workflow pattern in which I catalogue* a book, stick it into a pile, and get it given back to me to fix because I left out the author affiliation note and forgot to correct the publishing date to 2011. It’s demoralising to have that sort of mistake pointed out (especially after the way Gail used to bully me into the ground for missing out semicolons back in 2006), but it does help to know which bits I need to be double-checking, and the more consistent errors do seem to be changing, so I think I’m getting back into the swing of things well enough.

The people that I’m working with are nice; last week I started one day with a discussion about Brief Encounter (General consensus: it’s a good film but hard to overlook the fact that Alec is an unprincipled shit trying to knacker everything for Laura) had a mid-morning chat about typefaces (I am still in a minority in liking serifed fonts; I blame my lousy eyes), and a last-thing-on-Friday lecture about How To Be Topp In Rome (Answer: it helps to be Augustus, it really does not help to be someone who is a rival to Augustus). So that is all quite fun.

The other thing worth mentioning is that I work on an AS-400 system. It is awesome. Green-on-black interface with no curves. It reminds me a bit of Heritage III, only clunkier. Mostly this is awesome, because I like that kind of interface [Ibid.] but it does present a reccuring problem where I only have space for one subject heading, which always bugs me, because I actually like hunting down oddly specific subject headings (my favourite was the time in Aber when I catalogued a thesis on the development of wet plate collodion photography between 1850 and 1900, and was able to mine Authorities for “Collodion process–History–19th century” which was tremendous fun…

…Yeah, takes a special brain, this stuff. Anyway, it’s going nicely, far as I can tell. Which is good, because everything else is going mental…

*Sort of. It is like cataloguing, and yet unlike cataloguing. “Sloppy Cataloguing” would be a good way to describe it; I keep wanting to put in extra notes and perfectly describe the book in hand but I am 1) Not supposed to, and 2) Not able to because of the crummy computer system we use.

Arbitrary Day: How I Got A Present After All!

This year I joined Reddit. I’m quite enjoying it, and it makes up for the fact I accidentally let my account on Legend of the Green Dragon finally lapse. It’s a nice friendly place (mostly, although some of the subreddits creep me out), and there’s a nice sense of community; apart from the odd crazy subreddit, and the occasional passing troll, there’s a real sense that we’re all nice people who look out for each other.

Not long after I’d set up, I started seeing links to Arbitrary Day, which is a sort of secret Santa thing, but run in the summer (I guess they picked the summer so Australians wouldn’t feel so left out when they opened their Christmas presents). Reddit had run an actual Secret Santa last Christmas, and apparently that worked really well.

It sounded like it might be quite fun to give a present to a completely random stranger, so I signed myself up, and said I didn’t mind shipping out to anywhere, and after everyone got matched up with a giftee, I wound up shipping to a lovely guy somewhere in Illinois. I got pretty lucky, I think: his short description made him sound like the sort of person you could get presents for quite easily, even in Aberystwyth: he was a teacher (so he got a nice mug from the Arts Centre) and he liked reading (so he got a copy of Aberystwyth Mon Amour) and he was in a band and played guitar and bass (so I figured he might like Richard Thompson, and Andy’s Records not only came up with the goods, but then decided it had been ages since Andy had heard any Richard Thompson, and started playing it over the loudspeakers.

I was quite pleased with it, really. It ended up costing more than the suggested cost of a gift, but that was alright by me, because I was taking a bit of a scattergun approach to the thing anyway to try and make sure the guy liked at least part of the gift. I wasn’t sure how long postage to America would take, so I sent it off early, figuring that he wouldn’t mind.

As it was I struck pretty lucky: he liked all of the gift – especially the CD, which he’d been meaning to buy himself – and as a Calvinesque bonus, my giftee’s son apparently spent most of the day playing with the bubblewrap I’d added to the box to keep things from getting broken. I got awesome warm fuzzies from that, and was quite looking forward to finding out what I’d get.

It turns out that what I got was, uh, nothing. Whoever got assigned to me checked my details and address the day before the official shipping date, but never confirmed shipping anything. I waited a few weeks, and nothing turned up. Then I got distracted by moving house, and once I was here on Earth I did a reformat and re-install of my system and so it was a while before I was back on Reddit.

After a while I raised the subject of what I ought to do about having not recieved anything (I wasn’t expecting anything huge, y’ken, but it would’ve been nice to have a mystery box to open, and evidently the bit of the plan where that happened had gone wrong). It turns out that with all the business of moving to Earth, I’d managed to miss a re-matching service, where people who hadn’t got gifts could arrange to get gifts.

This, however, is the point at which I get to boast about what an awesome community feeling you get on Reddit, because a guy I’d never heard from before sent me a message and offered to send me out a fresh gift, if I wanted. Awesome! (There followed also a bit of dancing around whether that would be fair on people, and the fact that I was probably not in the same country) but, nevertheless, I eventually got another message to say my replacement gift was in the post.

So, for your viewing whatzit, here, in Glorious If Fuzzy Cameraphone-o-Vision are photos of me on my own Fake Arbitrary Day:

Just taken the box away from the postman

Just taken the box away from the postman

Very well taped shut!

Very well taped shut!

Opening the box

Opening the box

Awesome, a guide to Safeway\'s current offers!

Awesome, a guide to Safeway's current offers!

A surprisingly detailed book on the basics of balloon sculpture.

A surprisingly detailed book on the basics of balloon sculpture.

Books by Dan Savage!

Books by Dan Savage!

(I love how happy Vault Boy looks in that photo)

Interesting cookery books. There was one of me reading the CIP data but I thought that might look too stereotypical

Interesting cookery books. There was one of me reading the CIP data but I thought that might look too stereotypical

Yes, yes I am reading the shipping information. What?

Yes, yes I am reading the shipping information. What?

Also not pictured was a DVD with a PDF of every single column of Savage Love since 1999, and an MP3 of all but the most recent episode of the Podcast. Awesome stuff!

(Seriously, I should get people to not send me presents more often, this kindness of strangers stuff is awesome!)

So that put a nice bounce in my week! Exclamation marks all round!

Et in perpetuum, ave et vale…*

(*Trans: ‘Perhaps, if we are very lucky, we might actually make it to Rome by the end of Book Three…’)

Miriam, as all the world knows, has seen me safe from two insane floods (the first of which descended the first day I ever drove her, and created a definite bonding moment when I forded my way through Stafford attempting to balance enough exhaust gas to keep the pipe from submerging against the fact that too many revs made her aquaplane alarmingly, and why they don’t put that on the Theory Test I have no damn idea). Even more memorably, she got me out of the way good and sharpish when we encountered the headlamps of an oncoming train thundering towards us at a broken level crossing (it’s damn sensible to build ‘em to fail dangerous, I suppose, but it’s unnerving as sin to actually see a Heart of Wales express hammering into Marshbrook with the barriers still full up).

To date, she’s also cost me a couple of thousand pounds in running repairs, which has been a bit of a sod – to her credit, mind, she’s never had the same thing go wrong after it’s been fixed: I exclude the repeatedly-coking sparkplugs because the root cause of that was broken piston rings and after she’d finally been given new ones, she’s been fine (and is drinking far less oil, which is excellent).

Reluctantly, however, I have to admit that she’s getting older: she was first registered in 1999, and although she’s mechanically sound and will hammer down a motorway with the best of them, and whilst I find the idea that just because a car doesn’t have a plate from the last decade it must be knackered physically painful (because, Hell, as long as the bloody thing goes who cares how old it is?) she’s starting to show it, as minor components give the occasional lurch.

Miriam in orbit around Earth (click for big to see my awesome NERV parking permit)

Miriam in orbit around Earth (click for big to see my awesome NERV parking permit)

So Miriam works well, although like any mechanical beast she works better when she’s suitably maintained. And there’s the problem, because she is getting older, and after eleven years – of which the last two have been by far the hardest on her – lately she’s started to warn of things that might go wrong in the next upkeep phase. The odd gear change has been a bit clunkily (and even though I say so myself I’ve got to the point where I can change gears in Miriam with barely a dropped rev) and given the patchiness of her service history before I got hold of her I worry that she’s going to require yet more expense to get her through another winter.

…It’s not going to require any expense on my part, however. We’ve got rid of her. Technically, we’ve part exchanged her and Sam from Jewsons is going to pilot her into the, wait, what? Sorry, Sam at Jewsons is going to sell her onto someone else (presumably after their mechanics have done her up a bit and set a reserve price at triple what they gave us for her, but at least she’ll be another bloody good first car for someone else).

The part ex, at least, means Miriam managed to contribute towards our new car, a Fabia Greenline, which eats (very little) diesel rather than petrol, and has fancy new attributes like electric front windows, a 3.5mm aux port, and air conditioning. (The air con is a blessing, and the aux port a necessity since there’s a CD player instead of a tape deck)

The Fabia line are the more modernised cousins of Felicias like Miriam. It made sense therefore to find a name for the Greenline by tracing sideways through Miriam’s descendants (which is a damn sight easier than tracing down, in fact, since the Old Testament is shockingly bad at providing genealogies for women you might want to name a car after). Happily, Miriam’s brother was Moses and Moses was an absolute stickler for getting things in writing, even to the point of ensuring he was fished from the river by the kind of people who get written about. By adoption, therefore, Miriam can be tied to Ramesses, and we can contrive to name the Greenline after one of his daughters: Isis.

Isis. (This is as big as the picture gets)

Isis. (This is as big as the picture gets)

Isis is also, helpfully, an extraneous name for the River Thames, which seems to exist only in Oxford (I assume the locals named it before bothering to check if it was the same river as the one they have in London), and Earth is helpfully in Oxford, so it works out rather neatly.

The solid naming aside, it’s hard for me to like the thing: it’s never saved me from being run into by a train, or stopped me from spending an afternoon on an island in Newtown, or got me safely home over the iciest road the Godforsaken fens could dig out. I don’t understand it’s quirks, and it sulks like buggery if you try and pull away in second gear when doing less than seven miles an hour, which just strikes me as poor engineering. I’ve not passed the time sitting in it, or lovingly caulked it up with bathroom sealant to make sure she keeps dry in the rain, and she’s never had the chance to prove her worth by getting me from Queen’s Road to Hugh Owen in less than three minutes flat so I can open the damn doors for students who’ve just decided that maybe now their finals are here they should try and work out where the library is.

It’ll be a matter of time, I suspect: I’m not sure I’d even want a baptism of water the way there was with Miriam, but without that visceral lurch of having to place total reliance on the damn thing all I can see right now are the things that are wrong with it: it corners wrong, it accelerates wrong, the gearstick is about three inches down and to the back of where anyone who wasn’t a complete moron would put it, the dashboard isn’t grey enough, the windscreen feels smaller, and it’s completely the wrong shade of blue. The gear ratio is a strange (that’s not just me, by the way, all the reviews say that). It’s got a shorter bonnet which means it doesn’t look like it can go as fast as Miriam, in the same way that a bumblebee looks slower than a hornet. And it doesn’t have a leaking sunroof which makes it a damn sight harder to get a feel for the character of the beast.

Give me time, and I’ll get to like it, I think. But just at the minute I stuggle to look at it with anything but guilt for selling Miriam, and that’s fuel for little but nitpicking and a poor relationship. ‘s probably a severely clumsy metaphor in there somewhere, but I honestly can’t be bothered to look for it, because the whole thing is just too damn depressing.

And yet… I now also own a new Olfa Touchknife to go with my new car key – the old one I commandeered when I got Miriam broke the day after we moved into Earth, the plastic finally giving out after twenty odd years. I patched it up with Superglue, but I know it’ll only fall apart again and if I’m unlucky, the plastic will get lost and I won’t be able to save it, and all I’ll remember of it is the time it broke and bounced into a storm drain…

Top: Touchknife Mk. I; Below Touchknife Mk. II

Top: Touchknife Mk. I; Below Touchknife Mk. II

You can see in that photo they’ve changed the entire thing since they made my old one: the new touchknife has a much shorter blade, and the yellow isn’t the right yellow, and it curves too much. The name is on the front in fat silver letters and not in thin ones on the back. But the old knife wasn’t so sharp as it could be, and whilst it could cut things the blade was pitted and chipped from years of jumping around in someone’s pocket (the focus on that photo isn’t great, but on the bigger version you can clearly see how the point has snapped off).

And the thing is, I’ve never seen Miriam and Isis in the same place, so all I see in Isis are the things that are different about her, and if I’d never seen both knives together the new one would be all wrong. But seen together you can spot the similarities more clearly: the new one is recognisably an update of the original design. The shape is all curvy, but that makes it more ergonomic to hold. The blade doesn’t lock into position, but the old lock was never reliable and now the push grip is deeper, and less resistant to slippage.The things that are wrong are only wrong because they’re different, and they’re only different because they’re improvements on the original design. And knowing that makes it quite a lot easier. I’m still going to miss Miriam, because driving her was such an organic process, and Isis leaves you just a little more distant from the business under the bonnet, but I’ll get used to it.

(And perhaps, if I have very good luck, I may in time meet with another flood in Newtown…)

In which JTA is Entirely Surrounded By Boxes

So we have moved to Earth. Not only have we moved, but it’s starting to look like home. Quite how I own So Much Stuff(TM) I don’t know (especially since it turns out the sum total of the books in my posession doesn’t cover more than 38 foot of shelving, and barely takes up any room at all.

Getting out of the Uberflat was a sad business, and our arrival on Earth was… interesting. Ruth, of course, was the driving force behind moving here, starting out fresh, etcetera, so it was a bit of a letdown to discover the place was in ruins (OK, not actual ruins, but the fridge-freezer didn’t the front door didn’t close, the boiler didn’t work, the matress was worse than the one I had in Penbryn, the bathroom ceiling leaked, the bedroom door didn’t close, the garage door key was lost years ago, the snug smelt of damp, the sofa was torn to buggery, the kitchen tap dripped, the smoke alarms didn’t, the cooker hadn’t been cleaned, the grill pan was in the garden and the builders who lived here before had left stacks of low-quality pornography and rubble dotted around the place).

I will say for Premier Letting Agency that whilst they’re more than happy to let you move into a place that’s not really habitable, they did at least put in the effort to make it habitable once we’d arrived (I suspect the chap who was handling our account was New, and not really sure what he was supposed to be doing, because the girl who I’ve been speaking to lately has been Very Organising and has got things fixed). In fact, the Landlords have given us a much better matress, and a really nice new fridge freezer, and a front door that works properly and doesn’t have to be door-whisperered into closing is due next week. Almost everything else is fixed up too, apart from the Forgotten Garage and the fact there doesn’t appear to be a stopcock anywhere in the building.

Dissapointingly, the washing machine did work, so I couldn’t call Premier and tell them it was broke.

Still, since most of the things got either fixed or slated-to-be-fixed, the place has been coming along nicely, and I rather think it feels like home, although the unpacking bit is still kind of a pain. We delayed unpacking initially by more or less living out of bags the first week because we left most of our stuff back in Aber rather than try to transport everything in Miriam (which would have been a Bad Thing). Consequently we hired a Transit Van Raptor with which to shuttle our belongings about the shop, and we duly nipped back to Aber for a final Aber-based Troma Night last Friday and to load things into the van and get everything to Earth on Saturday.

Mostly, Dan loaded things into the van, whilst I tried to pack without moving anything (seriously, I wasn’t kidding when I said the matress on Earth was bad, it really did do a number on me). We also swung by CRAFT to pick up the various bits of furniture which we’d bought there the previous week (a very nice wall cabinet for £7.50, and a fantastic umbrella stand / hall seat which looks to be at least pre-war, if not better.

It became fairly apparent, around Saturday afternoon, that it was not going to be possible to get everything into the Raptor. Dan did amazing work packing things into corners, and stuffing up the furniture full of other things that needed to be transported, but even full to the ceiling, it wasn’t going to be enough – every time I declared a room to be “almost done” it turned out there were another five boxes of oddments still needing to be packed up.

So Ruth and I headed out of town on Saturday evening, with a revised plan: drive to Earth, jettison everything, sleep a bit, and then come back the next day (via Newport, where I’d arranged to collect my grandparent’s sofa bed, which would do for the Snug [It would do better for the snug if it wasn’t getting saggy in the middle, but I think stuffing a couple of pine boards in there will help with that]). We decided in advance that, since neither of us had actually driven a van before then, we’d work in strict shifts: one hour on, one hour off. I heartily recommend this to anyone undertaking a long journey after a tiring day in an unfamilar vehicle – knowing that you have to swap over is a damn good defence against thinking you’ll just go another forty miles to the next services, and is actually more restful because you can take a quick nap when it’s your break.

We’d planned to go via the Motorways, but that was sunk somewhat by a big oil spill outside Llandinam, so we backtracked to Llangurig and cut down the A44 to Worcester before we hit the M5. We returned to Earth about 02:00, and managed to unload everything – mostly into the garage, which does at least open from the inside – by around 03:30, at which point we went to sleep on out awesome new matress, which Premier had left in the hall. (We didn’t sleep in the hall, obviously, we took it upstairs first, but it was worth it all the same).

Sunday we were up at 08:00 (ugh) and hit the road about half past. We were considerably slowed down by IKEA, where we were purchasing book shelves in exchange for the aforementioned sofa, because we’d forgotten how bloody hard it is to get through IKEA without being slowed down by the chicanes and the hidden everything that makes it such a challenge to find what you’re after. But we made it to Newport anyway, and I was proved right that a transit van will go up our drive (I knew, because I’d seen ‘em do it, but it was still nice to work out the mechanics), and then we got back to Aber about 16:00 and continued to load the van until we left, at 22:30. It would have been much, much, later but Paul was awesome and volunteered to do the actual cleaning.

So we brought the Raptor back in shifts, and arrived about 03:00 Monday, and unloaded and got four hours sleep, and then I went and took the Raptor back to Thifty, had bacon-egg-and-chips with a mug of sweet tea at Mick’s Cafe (which Statto introduced me to, and which is awesome) and, duly fortified, started getting shelves in place and emptying boxes onto them.

Emptying boxes is, in fact, just about all I’ve done this week, although I did get the Internet set up yesterday (which was pleasingly easy) and moved my computer up to my room today (which I didn’t before because of Watching Things, but next time I’m here there will be a television). O, and I’ve been trying to install the dishwasher, but I can’t because of the lack of a stopcock – to fit a dishwasher I have to put an adaptor on the pipe, and to do that I have to remove the supply to the washing machine, and to do that I really need a stopcock because there isn’t a tap on the feeder pipe, so if I remove the supply there’ll be water everywhere. Not even the Landlords know where the stopcock is, apparently, so that will be interesting (and possibly involve a lot of towels and turning on all the other taps, which I guess could work…

Anyway, the supply of yet-un-unpacked boxes is considerably reduced, and the few that remain un-unpacked can be shifted into the Snug for safekeeping, just in time for the living room to be once again re-filled with Boxes. But these will belong to Dan and Paul and will therefore Not Be My Responsibility, which is much nicer, and will leave me time to work out where all my clothes are going to go.

Anyway, I should go ensure that said boxes are duly hoiked over a couple of rooms, otherwise we shalln’t be able to leave for Wales on time.

Man, having the Internet again is nice. Now if I can only catch up on my 4,972 (+, because one indivudual feed is giving me nowt more specific than 1,000) Unread Items in my RSS feeds I might feel settled in…

Tonzura Koite!

So. Farewell
Then
Aberystwyth

Home from
2003 and now
Not.

Distressingly young depiction of JTA, in Penbryn 9-31. Note the hair bobble...

(Distressingly young depiction of JTA, in Penbryn 9-31, circa 2003. Click to enlarge, whereupon you can note the hairbobble(s), the keys, and nascent beard.)

Yeah. I’m offski. And I can’t tell if I’m sad to be going or not.

Technically, of course, I left once before, and I couldn’t bring myself to blog about that either – the best the Internet got was a post about how I’d made it back to Newport – but at that point I was still hoping I’d be coming back again once Ruth finished her Industry Year, and I wanted to keep quiet so as not to jinx things.

This time, though, I’m not returning. Yeah, I might come back for a few days here and there, but I’ve come to realise that I can’t live here anymore: it’s simply time to be going. There are no jobs here, and Ruth is away in Oxford, and by the time you account for the people leaving in the next four months or so just about every friend I have in town will be gone anyway.

Most of them, in fact, have already gone: of the people I was in Penbryn with, nothing beside remains. I feel like George, in the final episode of Blackadder Goes Forth, and in itself I think that’s a good reason for me to be getting out.

<em>(Three of the people in this picture are off in search of Earth, two have already left Aber, and the other is a Frisbee)</em>

(Three of the people in this picture are off in search of Earth, and another two have already left Aber. I think the frisbee got lost...)

I feel like I’ve gone off Aber lately, and I blame having too much to do. This is an absolutely fantastic town to live in, but if your definition of ‘living’ has been reduced to ‘fit in as much work as you can and see if you can free up an hour or two for sleeping’ then wherever you live will have the magic knocked out of it. This town used to feel like home, and lately all I’ve been doing is counting down the days until I can get out of it, and won’t have to do so bloody much all at once anymore.

The past year has burned me out like never before and I’ve just not had time to appreciate the place – it’s the same feeling as when you get to the end of the day, and no matter how interesting the radio show, all you want to do is get some sleep. Indeed, I’ve had that feeling quite a lot lately, mainly around 04:00 when I’ve tended to realise I’ve not been to bed for yet another night on the trot. If this is the end of the day, then, it’s been a damn long and busy one.

It’s been productive, though. In my time I’ve seen what lies beyond the secret door in the balcony of the Old College Library, explored the attics of the Queen’s Hotel and been inside the excuse for a Civil Defence bunker beneath it.

I’ve eaten in Branwens and survived it, and in Ta Med Da and seen no difference. I’ve seen Alexandra Hall rebuilt, the derelict platform reconstructed, and found all three of the University computer rooms in town. I remember when there was a Dixons, and there were Pink Floyd covers painted on the wall of the Fountain, and the shop run by Cyril the World’s Most Disreputable Locksmith was still doing a brisk trade in, er, keys. I’ve watched as Galloways went down, and Harry’s turned from an expensive swanky restaurant to an expensive manky themebar and I’ve ridden the mythical Disco Cab with all the interior lights flashing.

I can remember the awesomeness of Stu, a man who used run Aberystwyth’s only 24 hour taxi service on his own, and I barely have the digits to count the number of times he came through for me at four in the morning. He got burnout too, small wonder, and yet once last year we were sat in the back of a taxi out to Morrisons and reminiscing about the days of Stu, and how we’d missed him after he went, only for the driver to turn round and say ‘It’s nice there’s still people who remember me,’ in a final glorious swansong.

<em>(I\'ve seen a type 40 TARDIS on fire <s>off the shoulder of Orion</s> out the front of Alex Hall))</em>

(I've even seen a type 40 TARDIS on fire off the shoulder of Orion out the front of Alex Hall)

Even though I’ve had seven years, I’ve managed to do an awful lot in my time. Back in the first year I even had time to do some acting with the Nomads, and delighted old James Ellington by singing Bravely Bold Sir Robin whilst being sick into a bucket (his fault for giving me whisky on top of wine. And wine on top of cider…) And then when I was too busy for AmDram, I taught myself to stay awake all night, to live on coffee, and to map my network drive from a Citrix box so I could sit in the dark and play Uplink in the quiet hours.

I’ve spent far more hours than is healthy cramped up in tiny rooms with a stream of nervous Freshers with their faces blurred into a succession of panicking expressions without a name, and I’ve spent a summer alternately commuting to pack chocolate in Tywyn and shouting down the Guild until they crawled away spattered with the gore of their own failed machinations and embarrassment.

I genuinely believe I managed to do some good, somewhere along the way, and by my standards that ain’t a small concession. I’ve certainly known good people, and I can’t help but hope that some of their attitude to life has rubbed off on me. I suspect that’s why I’ve finally managed to loosen up a bit, and to have more time for people (or at least those people willing to toe the line), and I no longer lock myself away behind austerity the way I used to: I’ve gone through more’n half this year wearing jeans, for goodness’ sake.

(<em>Probably the first photo of me in a University context. Genuinely, I am the only member of the cast wearing my own clothes and not a costume)</em>

(Probably the first photo of me in a University context. I was the only member of the cast who turned up on the first day wearing what turned out to be my costume. And I still can't stand to hear 'I touch myself' on the radio...)

You didn’t ought to come out of University anything like the same person you went in as, or you can’t claim to have been properly drawn out at all, but it seems a shame that I’ve been changed into someone for whom a lot of the magic of Aber has gone. All that stuff I’ve done, and yet it feels like I did it somewhere else, somewhere less cold and less grey and somewhere… somewhere easier. I think that’s the real problem, it feels like the Aber I was in love with ain’t the one that’s here now, and in a lot of ways that makes sense. Aberystwyth is a beautiful place to be a student because it’s friendly and safe and secluded, and it gives you time to come out of school, and work out who you are, and who you want to be, and it lets you find the path between the two in your own time.

Once you’ve done that, I don’t think it’s such an easy place to stay. Sure, you can hang on, but it’s like being in the wrong gear, somehow, and you can tell you’ve overstayed and you’re cluttering up the place, and you’re left watching as all the old ways die out, and new ways get invented and you can’t help but wonder what the old guard would’ve made of ‘em, and that just makes you feel lonely.

Once you’ve become a dinosaur in your own time, it gets harder and harder to stay, you have to fight all the time not to point to the next incoming asteroid even when you know it’s none of your business and might well be no such thing anyway. That’s a bloody tiring way to carry on, and every day is a bit more of a disappointment as you realise that you’re still here and everything’s moved beyond you. It’s possible that a lot of what’s given me that feeling is down to the pressures of this last year – seriously I cannot stress enough how hard it is to do a full-time postgraduate course and multiple paid and unpaid jobs – but I feel like there’s something more, too. I dunno what, but knowing doesn’t matter as much as the discontent anyway, and in some ways I feel like I already lost the place, and the sadness at leaving is just caused by admitting that defeat…

I’m not quite out of love with Aber, but it feels like this is the end of my time: the golden age is past and the sun’s setting, and I need to give Aberystwyth time to rest, and move myself on. Above all, I need to make space so that all these new people can get the room they need to work out what they’re going to make of themselves. I’m not much of a one for signs, and I’m glad I stuck the course long enough to meet Finbar, but if ever there was a sign that my work here is done it’s the arrival of a Fresher who dresses better than I did…

What I’ve got out of Aber is as much as anyone can hope to get out of a University: experiences. Some of ‘em bad, most of ‘em good, and all of ‘em a chance to learn a bit more about myself and other people. If I’ve got some actual booklearning accidentally tucked away in there, so much the better, but it’s an incidental bonus to the value I already extracted.

I’ve still got a stack of packing to do, and I’m looking forward to reaching Earth, and I will be glad to be gone, because if nothing else I need to give my brain a rest from all the constant juggling of roles it has to keep up in Aber.

But I’ll come to miss the place all the same. I can’t be sorry yet that I’m going, because I really have been here too long, and it’s well past the time I can appreciate the place. I think I’ve done good work here, though I’m too exhausted to carry on with it and it’s time I let both of us get a decent night’s sleep. But, in the same way as I know it’s time to be going, I also know that by the morning I’ll be missing it again. And that’s all the more reason to start making a move.

<em> The War Memorial against the sunset, May 29<sup>th</sup>, 2005.</em>

The Sunset over Castle Point May 29th, 2005.

Made it!

Well, there goes Masters Part One. Everything handed in and sorted out (assuming they don’t throw out my Diss proposal and make me do another one, anyway, which seems at least a bit unlikely).

It took No End of all nighters (Normally, I shut my tower down at night to save on electric. Before the electric meter ran back out yesteraday it had an uptime of 4 days, 19 hours, 26 minutes, which was only 8 hours longer than I’d spent awake in the same few days.

Now that everything is in, I’ve acquired a massive headache, which has presumably been lurking about to pounce on me, so I’ll guess I’ll stop gawking at the monitor for once.

Coming soon, a post about leaving town at last. In the meantime, have a limerick. I wanted to put it into that last assignment on Paul Otlet and Hypertext, but I suspect it was just one of those 05:30 ideas that isn’t actually suitable for academic work (although I like it, because it is suitably pathetic). Still, you ain’t marking me, so you get to have a copy:

There once was a fellow named Otlet,
Who thought that all wars should be stoptet.
He wanted a book,
To which we could all look,
But then he was dead and forgot-tet.

Semifinalist in Bruce Schneier’s Fifth Annual Movie-Plot Threat Contest

Hey-hey! So Bruce Schneier runs a Movie Plot Terrorism Threat contest, in which people submit short stories that depict Terrorist events of the kind that don’t really happen (ie, the sort that scare people a lot, and which Governments therefore like lots.)

Here is found the blog post which announced this year’s contest, in which entries have to be styled after a short story for children, max. 400 words.

Five semifinalists have now been announced:

  1. Untitled story about polar bears, by Mike Ferguson.
  2. “The Gashlycrumb Terrors,” by Laura.
  3. Untitled Little Red Riding Hood parody, by Isti.
  4. “The Boy who Didn’t Cry Wolf,” by yt.
  5. Untitled story about exploding imps, by Mister JTA.

Yeah, that Mister JTA.

You can vote for the winners – by leaving a comment to state which number you preffer – at this page. So, y’know, please do.

Note that I’m not demanding that you vote for my entry specifically*, but I won’t say no if you do. I could win a book out of this…

Cheers!

*It could’ve been a lot better: apart from anything else, it really suffered from the word limit (have you any idea how often a story designed to be told to children repeats itself as part of the natural form? I cut about five instances of “down the long years” so “back up the long years” loses a lot of it’s impact). I might return a full version of it once the voting is over, because I much preffered the 868-word version before I had to cut it down!