Digital Ischemia

03/11/2019

PalmKeys

I need a tactile, curved surface. I need to feel every character, even in awkward positions or the dark. I am of course referring to the perfect smart device input fandangle. Context-sensitive touch screens are all very well, but they demand far too much attention to the medium, and far too little to the message.

Of course such a culmination of superlative design and engineering does not exist. The very fact of me wanting an object of this specification means it will not exist. I must design and create my own. However I’m having a little trouble with electrical devices this week.

First the toothbrush declined to switch on/switch off/charge, except at random times to suit itself. Toothbrushing operations became unpredictable. At other idiosyncratic times of day or night the charging light would spontaneously and irregularly flash or the motor suddenly and unnervingly grind into action. The silver spindle oscillating like a high-speed lighthouse. Clonking it off the porcelain didn’t help. My presence was no longer required. I now see condensation within the light – probably not helpful for something that tries to maintain a safe demarcation between electricity and water.

Second a smoke alarm started emitting an annoyingly loud electric squawk once every minute. I found I couldn’t not count the seconds. I had to get between the kitchen and wherever without being in the hall at the deafening moment. I couldn’t eat my breakfast without counting in order to plug my ears every 60 seconds. This is disruptive to my perfectly engineered routine, not to mention higher thought. The alarm resisted being prised off the wall with my grabber, certainly in less than 60 seconds. Kind neighbour with greater stature easily executed the required ‘lift and twist’, then dug out battery compartment. The battery proved to be soldered to its anode and cathode, and the action proved to void the warranty, as helpfully blurted at me by the helpline. Presumably I was supposed to bury it in the garden until resolution could be arranged.

Third the heating timer had amnesiac episode. Late in the evening the boiler fired up. This proved to be because the timer had forgotten the actual* time as well as the program, and seemed to be sleeping, as I wished I was. Thankfully I managed to lean on the right combination of buttons while simultaneously thrusting a safety pin into the reset slot with my teeth. Bizarrely the actual* time was recalled, but the program has defaulted to factory settings. So be it.
[*Actual time was at that time defined as British Summer Time minus 10 minutes. As the seasons change, it is far easier to adjust the ‘actual’ time once than reprogram the start time seven times. Plus factoring in the vagaries of my circadian clonkwork.]

Three things. Constitutes synchronicity. Am I emitting pulses of disruptive electromagnetic radiation? Has Pluto gone retrograde again, causing cosmic havoc? I suppose it is that time of year – the darkening quarter when crackly mischief oozes out of musty corners. So, you can feel fully confident that this device has designed-in resistance to gremlins. Back to the drawing board. With electricity. And rubber gloves.

Sweetcorn cobs annotated with keyboard characters

Obviously, to the undiscerning eye, these will look like grenades. So I must get in a pre-emptive strike! With my explosive! branding: PalmKeys™️. How damp. Sounds like some plastic-fronded holiday resort in Florida.

These may also look like warped versions of those horror-inducing keyboards that split unpleasantly down the middle, giving that referred discomfort of ‘slackness’ in the underwear area and imperative concern that a seam somewhere has gone.

However, they are in fact based on the eminently fondleable appearance of one of my most formative ‘characters’: Wordy from the BBC children’s television learning program Look and Read.

Wordy from the BBC children's television learning program Look and Read

Please note the incorporated strap which passes across the back of your hand and keeps your PalmKey firmly positioned so you can type with confidence. This is made from the innovative plant-based fabric Maiztex which has strength and durability but also a comfortable silky fibrous layer against your skin.

And if all this wasn’t enough, they double as hand-roller-skates, allowing you to reach all sorts of unpleasant recesses.

03/10/2019

Pratchett’s Prescience

Terry Pratchett’s Discworld counterpart for Capability Brown, Bloody Stupid Johnson, offers mindwarping clues to understanding our present political predicament

Lancelot Brown (born c. 1715–16, baptised 30 August 1716 – 6 February 1783), more commonly known with the byname Capability Brown, was an English landscape architect. He designed over 170 parks, many of which still endure. He was nicknamed “Capability” because he would tell his clients that their property had “capability” for improvement.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capability_Brown

Ironically his poor mother was too early to receive this assessment of potential, hence the inordinately long labour to bring Lancelot into existence. 250 years later, modelling one of his incidental, recurring characters on Brown, Terry Pratchett went three better.

Perhaps the Discworld’s most notable inventor is Bergholt Stuttley “Bloody Stupid” Johnson, an architect whose ability to get things wrong bordered on mythical. Although evidently able in certain fields, Johnson is notorious for his complete inability to produce anything according to specification or common sense, or (sometimes) even the laws of physics. This fact never stopped him from trying, however.

Johnson was not incompetent, far from it; indeed in many ways he was a kind of genius. Pratchett suggests on numerous occasions that he possessed a kind of “inverse genius;” as far from incompetence as genius but in the opposite direction. … While π ≈ 3.142 is a fundamental constant, in the backstory to Going Postal Johnson manages to produce a wheel for which π = 3 as part of his Automatic Mail Sorter. As with a significant number of his creations, the Sorter did work, but the implied distortion of space-time created some side effects, including the Sorter’s ability to sort mail (i.e. output sorted letters) that had not been written yet or might never be written.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technology_of_the_Discworld#Bloody_Stupid_Johnson

This has dazzling ramifications for the Westminster Plan to Make Britain Best Blighter Again, a slippery beast that no one person knows in its entirety and does not exist in the conventional sense. So, if we can distort the fundamental rules of space-time, the Plan may actually work, for certain values of ‘work’, and of course with some interesting side-effects.

The fact that [Johnson] continued to receive commissions after the defects in his abilities became apparent is considered to be the ultimate expression of the apparent thinking behind the Victorian follies, i.e. an indication that the person commissioning the work can afford to waste money like this.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technology_of_the_Discworld#Bloody_Stupid_Johnson

This is the first rational explanation for Brexit. Commissioning irrational, inept, inarticulate people to deliver this historic act of self-harm is the ultimate expression of British power. “We are so {insert current promotional superlative} we can afford to squander and destroy vast swathes of our resources and opportunities.”

No drawbacks really, just excepting that tiny wee issue: THIS ISN’T A FANTASY WORLD. It’s enough to make you wish for a transparent tyrant in the style of Lord Vetinari, but that’s just my personal fantasy.

17/09/2019

Highbrow Raising

I was recently accused of ‘highbrow’. This concerns me. Firstly, I feel my content is far too eclectic and mongrel to be highbrow. Highbrow implies refinement. Not smut. Secondly, why is highbrow pejorative? Why must it imply elitist exclusivity (an intellectually snobbish way of saying intellectual snobbery)? Should we not maintain the dynamic range of subject matter? Or, conceited to say so, but even raise the level of debate? Rather than, say, BBC-style, dilute to the lowest common denominator.

There is surely demand for miscellaneous, middle-aged, middle-class, morally philosophic pedantry? I will not be smart-shamed! No, as always happens when I’m challenged, I will be defensive, obtuse and perverse.

What is it about Benjamin Britten’s writing for strings that makes them sound as if they have been recorded in mono? There is some characteristic compression in space, pitch and amplitude that seems perfectly suited to the recording technology at the time. After all, his name is an anagram of tin bert. Bert being a technical term in the sound engineering world, for which I have not yet found satisfactory definition, but surely subtly modifies the derogatory ‘tinny’.

Where Mr Britten and I can share common ground, I believe, is in a penchant for the night male. Sadly that only works as a homophone, a fact that Mr Britten might appreciate, as one whose aural orientation was for his own generation.

This is the night male crossing the border,
Breaching the fence and restraining order.
Obsession, fixation, denying he bored her:
These are the terms of his psychiatric disorder.

Past new cut grass and mower-scarred boulder;
Trailing his phlegm over his shoulder.
Snorting noisily as he passes,
Silent smiles from his punch-bent glasses.

Left hand on down-pipe, right hand on ledge,
Anything for pleasure, scars give him edge.
Hauling up buttocks, embedded with grime:
The gradient’s against him, he’s in decline.

Birds turn their heads as he encroaches,
The full moon blushes at photos he poaches.
An un-neutered cat howls at her mate,
Then squirms away, hissing with hate.

In the dorm he passes no-one awakes,
But a jug in a bedroom gently shakes…

Hm, my mental stylus seems to have skipped to AC/DC… Yes, it’s Night Prowler. But ghastlier yet, the tune is something else: Night Fever. Yes, the Bee Gees. No one can possibly need YouTube karaoke support for that, so I offer it merely for citative rigour. One song to the tune of another, but not at all what Humph intended. And Benjamin must be rotisserating in his monochrome satin shroud. WH Auden has surely evaporated in a plume of disgust. Still dismissing me as highbrow?

As it turns out, the only nocturnal emission in my vicinity is something that quips in the night. Promising but thus far I am haunted only by a bird. Of the female gender. If it actually is Ms Tawny Owl. But this is more my desperate grasping, ahem, than the confident result of research.

Quizzing the internet for “identify nocturnal bird call site:uk” returns primarily, reassuringly, the enquiring mind of the RSPB: where did you see it? Um, garden. How big? Approx. 40dB. What colour of feathers? Black. Type of beak? Open. Doing what? Calling! What colour legs? Black. Unfortunately only my answer to the first question is acceptable to the RSPB, reducing the ‘field’ of potential results to a mere 157. ‘Call’ themselves bird experts.

The rest of the search results are lifestyle magazine-style articles discussing, silently, an arbitrary selection of nocturnal animals. Or—shudder—amateur bird nerds querying forums about their own personal encounter which sounded like (a) a dementor, (b) boiler pipes freezing, (c) a cow being unwell, or (d) a maniacal laugh. No help.

History is written by the victors.
Self-help guides are written by the lucky.

We all want to be helpful, to share our good fortune, but I think lifestyle gurus over-estimate their level of control in the process. Their personal random sequence of experiences and behaviours become the magical formula to fix everyone. Their perspective on the world becomes the universal panacea. Then the marketing kicks in. Marketing, ironically, alienates me. Marketing ironically, ironically, might get my attention.

Book introductions are a good gauge of the author’s effort and commitment. I enjoy openers along the lines “I just can’t put into words the rollercoaster experience of the past few years”. Oh please try. Oh, you have. Oh dear, I can’t seem to stop the book snapping closed.

While we’re in the realm of people volunteering unsolicited advice, I particularly love the half-baked ones.
“You can easily calculate how much protein you should eat with this formula: Your body weight X 0.5 = grams of protein to eat.”

I should eat half my body weight in protein? Daily? Seems unlikely.
Do you mean my body weight in kgs? Then about 25g protein? Seems inadequate.
Surely you can’t mean my body weight in imperial measures if you’re talking about grams of protein?! Less than 4g protein? Ridiculous.
Pounds then? American style? Sigh. Then I should eat 54g protein per day. That’s the first one that sounds believable.

Or, of course, perhaps you mean per week or per year. But I have now spent so much cognitive energy on this ‘easy’ calculation I will need to protein binge for the rest of the year. Last pernickety thought: multiply by a half rather than divide by two? Maybe your arithmetic needs a little more protein.

That’s your sneak preview of my 2020 Edinburgh Festival Fringe show: Fussy ain’t Funny. That should lower the highbrows.

15/09/2019

No Question

I have switched off my answerphone. The thing we used to have before voicemail. Not a separate device, not quite that antiquated, but a landline connection ‘service’. This reactionary decision is the culmination of a concatenation of rabid hyper-marketing blunders. The answerphone ‘service’ would spring into action after two and a half rings. For me to issue cognitive demand and observe the statutory latency before my pitiful physical husk will spring into action and reach the phone in person takes at least seven rings. Therefore I was receiving a lot of frustrating messages:
—advantage of this FREE offer please dial 2 now.
Or
Sorry we have been unable to reach you. Please could you contact us at a time that is convenient to yourself on buzz clonk between the hours of distorted exhaling.
Or
Please can you call the health centre.

Has the practice computer spat me out as the winner of the monthly minor ailment lottery? Has my women’s invasive procedures number come up again already? More pressingly (shudder), why should I pay twice to get that information? It’s four pence per minute to make that call! On top of £1.80 per month! Plus VAT! And that’s without reducing to a monetary value my inestimable time and energy.

Dare I suggest that most of these messages are a waste of time even to listen to? My number has been registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) as ‘Do Not’ for many, many years. It used to be worthwhile – I mean, a maliciously satisfying experience – to keep a notepad of entrapment by the phone. When my blood was fizzing I would answer one of these irrelevant calls and persistently grill the hapless ‘agent’. I would note all their pertinent details and punch them into the TPS web form.

Initially the response would be helpful:
“TPS has notified the company you reported that a complaint has been received relating to a breach of the above regulation. They have been instructed to investigate your complaint and respond to us within 14 days of receipt of our letter of complaint. We have also asked that they do not make any more unsolicited direct marketing calls to your telephone number and that it is suppressed.”

I could hear stygian moans as the marketing monster was run through with my rusty skewer. I could hear sweat trickling as the ‘agent’ was spotlighted for sacrifice as an example the rest of the battery of oppressed operators.

But more recently responses have become jaded:
“Despite our best efforts, TPS has not been able to ascertain valid contact and/or address details to raise this particular complaint. … during the course of our investigation the company name and/or telephone number supplied is found to be fictitious.”

Fictitious?? Have they the temerity to suggest that I have nothing better to do than invent spurious marketing callers? As if I spend my time creating characters and scenarios! Tempting as this may be… in a reverse sort of way. But I’ll return to that idea. Backwards.

No longer satisfied by this expenditure of my precious time and energy, I resorted to simply not answering phone numbers I didn’t recognise. This is in addition to not answering calls when I’m in the toilet. Which happens often. The coincidence, I mean. I’m basically not answering the phone. Which brings me back to the thing that does. Did.

But let’s not overreact. Surely these things can be adjusted? No. This is where it all became hostile and polarised. Referring to my communication provider’s website, it seems I’m not the first person to seek to delay the answerphone’s doggy over-helpfulness. But, horrors! My communication provider admits to being merely a sheepish middleman in this unsatisfactory transaction. The actual service is provided by that paragon of customer-oriented quality and technical excellence: BT. Reference to BT’s website derives only the latest in a long series of customer disappointments: BT’s hair-trigger answerphone is not adjustable. In any way. Just no.

Slowly I succumbed to a surge of bile. For I have been inadvertently giving my small pile of groats indirectly to BT. Yet I firmly severed BT 10 years ago when I learned that (a) they were overcharging me in order to (i) bombard me with irrelevant marketing opportunities for which they would then erroneously charge me, and (ii) pour eye-watering sponsorship into irrelevant sporting occasions, and (b) their connectivity was no better than that of the gory strands that fall out of my womb every month. To BT or not to BT; there’s no question. I had been telephonically violated.

Victimhood doesn’t last long, however. Very soon it transmogrifies into evil plans. How to have my intricate and deliciously disproportionate rewengay… Introducing: the Questaphone(TM). Shortly.

Once hoisted into my loft, Providence will smile upon me: the first box I plunge my non-dominant hand into will give up not a dead mouse but the tape data recorder that accompanied my 1985 BBC 64K personal computer. I loved those 64Ks. I used every one of them. I would wake in the night and switch on the monitor to check it was still flickering with a coruscating cascade of coloured pixels. Progress advanced at a rate of one pixel every 10 minutes, pictorially representing carefully selected and previously uncharted territories of the Mandelbrot Set.

Rendering the full map of my specified coordinates in abstract space might not be finished until after breakfast. Which was just as well, because if I was too hasty or groggily malcoordinated in commanding it to print this magnificently, infinitely detailed design, the overheating processor would quiver, the monitor would collapse to anguishing black, and the night’s toil would be lost. Computer science lesson number one: they bust.

I also typed up my chemistry project on it – using a SodaStream to carbonate salt water. Not potable. This groundbreaking series of experiments would establish oceanic acidification versus the absorption of atmospheric gases depending on several unrealistic parameters. Not that anyone was paying attention to fringe treehuggery in 1989.

Shortly before that underrated thesis was complete, I literally bumped into the End of Space. Error. I had to split the document into two halves – title page to page 8 and pages 9-17 – and store both on the aforementioned tape data recorder. I could edit one half at a time. If page 8 spilled over, I had to write down those words and manually retype them on page 9. These days we grumble about the slowness of a device the size of a notepad as it hurls tyrannosaurabytes of data around the planet.

Aside from the nostalgia, what I’m after is the sound that tape data recorder made, to let me know it was faithfully reading data from the tape and passing it along to the computer, bit by careful bit. Except when the tape fankled. Computer science lesson number two: crunching and snapping means bust. That soundtrack is ingrained in my memory. Soon it will haunt every call centre that dares to disregard my Telephone Preference.

“Thank you for contacting me in 1986. Unfortunately I am not or was not or will not be answering the phone. Please find embedded in the electronic substrata of this call, undoubtedly recorded for training and quality purposes, the details of the hiding places of all my mountainous piles of groats.”

I have reverted to my grandfather’s assertion: “telephones are not for chatting; they are for making appointments.” Don’t call me. There’s no answer.

20/05/2019

Grey Eyes

Filed under: Essays — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — Teepwriter @ 10:50

There seem to be a lot of fictional characters out there with grey eyes. Are there any real people with this attribute? I have seen blue, turquoise, green, amber, brown, and intermediate shades and flecky or ringed combinations. I see these with my own mongrel eyes which appear to be teal flecked with shitey broun. But never grey.

“Her hair was dark red, but her eyes grey, and light at whiles and yet at whiles deep” William Morris, The Well at the World’s End
“The serious grey eye possessed for me a strong charm” Charlotte Brontë, The Professor
“His eyes were steely grey and very solemn” John Buchan, Mr Standfast
“A thick red beard, piercing grey eyes, a nose without nostrils, and marks of the hot iron on his forehead and on his cheeks” Aleksandr Pushkin, The Daughter of the Commandant

Does this fall into the ‘poetic licence’ category along with ‘cerulean’, ‘limpid’ and ‘rheumy’? I’m all for keeping the rich variety of language alive, but not words that never get used other than in this exclusive linguistic cul-de-sac. Is ‘grey’ an exaggeration like ‘chiseled features’? Does ‘grey’ mean something else in this context? Is there some literary quality to alluding to a genre while departing from the literal?

“Glorious was his face, and his grey eyes gleamed with wrath and mastery as he spake in a clear voice” William Morris, The Well at the World’s End
“Very low forehead, very diminutive and vindictive grey eyes, somewhat Tartar features, rather flat nose, rather high cheekbones” Charlotte Brontë, The Professor
“She is delicately fair, with fine grey eyes and dark eyelashes” Jane Austen, Lady Susan
“Unfortunately, in his dark-grey eyes there was an absence of any definite idea” Ivan Goncharev, Oblomov
“Aksynia had naïve grey eyes which rarely blinked” Anton Chekhov, In the Ravine

If I read another character description with grey eyes I may sink my teeth into the e-paper.

As I ponder this important question, I notice that the examples I have are from novels at least a hundred years old. Why am I so soaked in medium-ancient literature? Because it’s in the public domain, of course, and I’m a Gutenberg glutton, or skinflint. But there may be another key feature of the hundred year old literary world: after all, they existed in monochrome, didn’t they?

03/05/2019

Skye Bette

Filed under: Essays — Tags: , , , — Teepwriter @ 15:05

Apparently March was criminal charity month. One night, while I was not sleeping but perambulating back and forth through the upper gallery—hullo moon, hullo sunrise, hullo birds, etc.—I was also placing bets of £200 on skybetdotcom.

I wonder how, when I have to enter a string of numbers, password, pass number and especially memorable word or character combination in order to access my small pile of groats, some other person (or device) is able to request great wads of money from my account without any of these. And exceeding the balance by four times. Had I not spotted this spurious outgoing while it was still a pending transaction, my bank would have happily allowed my money and a lot more to go, well into the sub-zero realm.

I wonder which of the two purchasing transactions I had made in the previous month, which involved me revealing selected subsets of my financial encodements, lead to this event. Did either of those businesses store my information unsecurely? Were their webpages interfered with? Was somebody listening to which keys I tapped?

Having barely set banking wheels in braking motion, the telephone rang, displaying an impossible number, i.e. one that starts with ‘1’. I answered, imagining this might be a clandestine follow-up to my recent crime prevention effort. Had MI5 already picked up my case?

No. The caller was an automaton claiming to be BT soullessly informing me that it was terminating my internet connection, but—BUT—I could press ‘2’ if I wanted to avert this disaster. There are several reasons why this is feeble nonsense. So, not a follow-up; a further crime attempt. And all the more curious, since my phone number is not publicly available.

Suddenly I seemed to be a beacon of interest for unethical, financially extractive activities. Or are there people (or devices) out there, punching in random numbers until either they find they’ve successfully purchased something or a distant phone rings.

I returned to contemplating Skye Bette, whom I imagine sitting in a fag-singe-perforated onesie, on a skin-grease-shined sofa, attempting half-witted larceny on a half-cracked smartphone. Or—trying to trace tenuous clues from my possibly risky recent transactions—a disillusioned pharmacy warehouse worker who considers my blowing several pounds on branded painkillers a sign of entitled opulence begging for direct action. Who has nocturnal betting habits?

Ah, but, what a silly thing to spend my money on. Surely the person (or device) placing the bet can not have received any winnings, because their outlay or placed bet was not yet authorised. (I’m sure there are proper words for this in betting parlance, but of course I wouldn’t know.) Betting businesses have surely learned not to pay out before the down-payment is honoured. They’re well known for not losing money. Except when they’re casinos inherited by certain execrable heads of state. And supposing there were winnings, where would they be electronically spat? Would it not be suspicious to request your winnings be paid elsewhere?

If the person (or device) clutching sufficient of my financial codes to get past Go had immediately rushed out and bought bread or pants or, in the case of a non-human device, some USB trinket, they would’ve had the thing in their paw or socket. The argument would then have been between the retailer and the bank as to who had been a little hasty in grabbing for profit and failed the security procedures and who should get to keep the money. Now all the person (or device) has is a cancelled bet. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

If the stealage was for food or shelter I might have managed a sliver of sympathy. But perhaps it was me after all. It has the ring of the unhinged. Perhaps I have a multiple personality disorder. Perhaps I have reverse narcolepsy. Why would I throw £200 away? Dare I cackle in the face of fate? I really don’t have the mental acuity at 3AM.

02/05/2019

Easter Peace Stir

Filed under: Essays — Tags: , , , , — Teepwriter @ 16:05

Blue sky through shrubs with sun-flare

Easter weekend. Mid April. Scotland. Four days of blue sky and 20°C. Unusual.

I emerged into the garden to inspect the confused combination of grey sticks and greens sprouts. I listened to try to distinguish the great-tit from the blue-tit. To try to figure out why starling calls sounds like a geiger counter. Or something falling from a great height.

Instead I heard the pulsing grind of a car being water-jetted, the rattling whine of a hedge trimmer, the drone and clack of a lawnmower, the lazy buzz of a light aircraft, and the steady thundering whoosh of passing traffic. Seventeen million people changing places for the weekend.

A second water-jet fired up: not another mere electric effort, but a full diesel-powered industrial version that sounded like a generator used to power drilling tarmac.

I wonder about this unusual weather, and I wonder about our urge to create work for ourselves.

When the apocalypse comes, I shall surreptitiously tap into the personal crude oil well that my neighbour seems to be drilling for, in order to ensure a continuing supply.

13/10/2018

Crevice Brush

Filed under: Essays — Tags: , , , , , , , — Teepwriter @ 15:30

electric toothbrush head bouquet

say it with toothbrush heads


At the risk of sounding* like a dental hygiene necrophiliac, I am collecting toothbrush heads like a mass grave following a gum disease epidemic. Not intentionally. And that’s after placing a random selection in the plastic recycling, just to refocus the council’s attention on environmental services.

[*if no-one with eardrums is within earshot, then this philosophical conundrum will be adapted to reflect the fact that no-one with reading ability is looking at this.]

I work my way down the sustainability hierarchy: reduce? A one-bristle brush would probably take so long to clean my teeth that the electricity required would be environmentally counter-productive. Reuse? After three weeks’ conventional use the bristles are already arranging themselves in every unhelpful direction, thus I’m merely polishing my enamel against the plastic. After the recommended three months’ dental application I find alternative uses for them. They are perfect for dislodging mildew around taps and plugholes. Reuse again? Er, no thanks.

I have enough of these small monuments to the plasticene (the anthropogenic geological epoch, not the modelling clay) to construct my own skeletal model (the artist’s variant, for arranging in rude poses, not the fashion catwalk ones). However, since I would insist on fashioning every individual phalange, the sorry creature would be a ghastly sensorimotor homunculus.

If only toothbrush manufacturers could make longer lasting toothbrushes. And yet… I have an industrial nailbrush dating from c.1987 which remains in pristine condition. It seems designed to tackle serious digital grime and sub-keratinous filth, which, let me assure you, I have never laid eyes on, let alone dug my exquisite claws into. I’m ‘clawing’ for ideas now: replacement piano keys? Quirky jewellery? Boundary fencing for small people?

But of course the goal of the toothbrush manufacturing business is to sell you as many items as often as possible. Moreover, they score points for selling you points, calling it loyalty, and forcing you to redeem those points within a limited period of time by spending more money on items they sell that you don’t really want. And certainly don’t need. Why buy one toothbrush head when you can buy three, each of which is a triumph of style over practicality, none of which quite do the job?

The only thing I ‘need’ is a small, flimsy, plastic tool to gouge away the capitalist scales from my eyes – one which will snap on its first outing and require immediate retirement to the toothbrush head graveyard, followed by another trip to the bottom of my bullion (the gold bricks, not the soup juice) deposit, then on to the retailer to invest in more undisposable disposables and addictively unredeemable points.

I need to stop, to step out of this mass delusion, to leap off the consumer conveyor belt and take my chances in the flume of rejected materialism! I need to drill through this capitalist façade – I would use the revolutionary power of my electric toothbrush, but after four months of daily use the battery capacity has understandably dwindled.

It may yet have some application as a safety dildo, guaranteed not to vibrate for more than thirty seconds. This is a great marketing opportunity at those with a fear of losing objects in embarrassing orifices and having to explain the dodgy buzzing to their fellow passengers by cruelly gesticulating the blame on to the older lady beside you. Caution: may addle your eggs. Do not insert in intimate areas if you have any hankerings to breed humans. The manufacturer will not accept any liability should you remove yourself from the gene pool. Brush head optional.

22/07/2018

Eradicating It

“It was a dark and stormy night.”
There’s a reason this phrase is often parodied. Best by Snoopy. But that’s not exactly my issue.

What is ‘it’? A non-gender-specific pronoun. We should use ‘it’ when there is preceding context identifying a subject. Otherwise the reader or listener will be stranded on a sandbank, caught up in wondering to what we refer. The subsequent narrative won’t make sense.

Ah, but, you say, ‘it’ has become a grammatical placeholder for the subject, so we can reorder the words, or simply form a sentence. It’s raining. What is ‘it’? A cloud? The sky? The weather? A grammatically correct construction for an intransitive verb. ‘It’ doesn’t do rain to anything, ‘it’ just rains. ‘It’ is semantically redundant. ‘It’ is not even context. ‘It’ is a waste of characters. Since we’re evolving language anyway, particularly in speech, let’s just say ‘raining’. Or ‘rain’.

The night was dark and stormy. Is that any less poetic? Less gripping? Is the word order critical? Sequence of images? But now I take issue with ‘dark’: dark night is a pleonasm, like small dwarf or toxic poison. Like beginning a letter “I am writing to you…” I may be overthinking ‘it’. Did the writer mean moonless? That would be atmospheric.

The night was stormy. Admittedly that has less impact. But we could add any of a plethora of other adjectives instead of dark to set the scene. Not even fancy ones, just a simple, menacing term. But I’ve wandered away from my trivial tirade.

English is brilliant, eh? Six words at least that mean the same in any instance – oh, aye: synonyms. Six ways to say anything.
It was a dark and stormy night.
The night was a dark and stormy one.
The night was dark and stormy.
The night was moonless and stormy.
That night was moonless and stormy.
The moonless night was stormy.

There must be a label for these different sentence forms. But why start learning grammar now?

More motivating is what to call my crusade; what motto for my revolution. Rule one of attitudinal change is be for something, not against. Be pro-peace, not anti-war. Give your energy to that which you wish to see, not to the state you oppose, otherwise you perpetuate ‘it’.

I do not discuss any current political leaders who are anathema to me; I do not protest their visits. I suspect they enjoy any sort of attention, in the worst tradition of narcissistic PR. I say give the airtime to events we want to encourage. I use my small fizzle of power to support that which I endorse. I buy products from countries with progressive politics.

So I’m not anti-it, I’m pro-specific-subjects. Aye, that’s gonna look great on my banner.

05/10/2013

Robert McNeil, Sir

Robert McNeil caricature

Robert McNeil

The turn of the century found me in Edinburgh, desperate furra change of joab. This in turn found me slapping through The Scotsman newspapyrus on Fridays with sputtering hope of my dream professional opportunity and my ready ability to rip any vaguely promising advertisement to tatters in extracting it fae the page. My slapping was arrested by a phizog: I’ve a weakness for an unclupped barnet and here was one fine flowing specimen, be-bearded too, and furthermore cartoonified. This caricatural eye-candy was the byline for Robert McNeil and his Week. I should sample this boy’s wares.

Simultaneously, but coincidentally, Scotville gave birth to its ane wee baby parliament. The wean was initially incubated in a contorted gothic tardis, accessed aff the High Street on foot only, via a close, a tunnel, a giddying left-hander and a ramped glass decontamination chamber. Allegedly a religional edifice, the public viewing balconette with spittle-proof perspex was reminiscent of the bingo hall-cum-cinema of the parochial toun where I wiz schooled. However, the entertainment was somewhat elevated.

In those formative days – of the parly, no masel’ – the big twae and a hoaf: Donald Dewar, Alex Salmond and David McLetchie wid debate. Thursday afternoon was First Minister’s question time and simultaneously, but coincidentally, my day aff. Stratospheric needle-nosed Donald, wee caterpillar-eyebrowed Alex, and the bristly one, scythed such witty repartee about, such banter, ye almost forgot they were meant to be governing.

That wiz the thing, see: this McNeil fella seemingly had been there too. He wrote about our shared experience but, oh my goodness, with such hallucinogenic elaboration upon reality, and ascension into the hysterical surreal, that I quickly jettisoned my neonatal interest in politics and transferred allegiance to the Sketch.

Uncle Robert – my initial adolescent-style infatuation had to evolve to relate my affections to someone so clearly out of my league – wrote about other things too: he stoatered aboot Embra-toun, he reported in the Embra vernacular, inventing wurds where common language failed and shovelling in a good few literary lexicals too. He deprecated hissel’ jist as much as anything else. He inhabited a meta-Embra. I fancied I could waft about there too. It was the imaginary Elysium I sought through drink and always missed the turn for. And of course he made my lungs spasm rather pleasantly. He became legend.

Shamefully, after 68 applications, I got a new joab. I moved out of toun chasing a mortgage, a manageable commute and other unoriginal life tedia, and disappeared up my own arsehole. Recently asking myself why, why, why, brought back misty-eyed memories of rudely suspended influences. I summoned the wab to my idiot lantern and dialed up the Hootsmon. Pages of finger-tingling results. Mr McNeil’s consistently chortlesome observations preserved just in case I should come to ma senses. For example: I love the park though of course it makes me miserable. I am in raptures.

Sadly the 21st Century-style date-stamps abruptly fizzle at August 2009. You want to know how it ends? Naw, ye dinnae. Did he get soocked into yin ae his transvortectional pipeways to ooterspace? Gie up the writing? Naw, efter a brief stint in the ether in 2010, he went tae Glesga. Ach.

Away noo an’ gie us peace wi’ ma back issues.

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