Digital Ischemia

15/07/2020

Death and Taxings

Welcome to the Dickensian Circumlocution Office:

“What was your father’s mother’s maiden name?”
I’m ready for you there.
“What was her occupation?”
Er… homemaker and mother as far as I know. I never met the lady! The irony is you could have asked this two days ago and my father could have told you. Probably.
“Was she she married before this?”
Before 1928?? I can’t imagine my father would know that either. Are you testing me to see if I’m faking this? Is the hypothesis that the fewer questions I answer, the more likely it is that I’m recently bereaved rather than fraudulent?
“It’s because he was born in England.”
Are you saying that in 2020 your computer can’t talk to England?? Is this some spectacularly deviated intergovernmental petulance?
Actually, I was born in England too. Can I give you the information now, to save someone the trouble later? Or shall I just get my coat?

Eulogy prompts are fun for an irretrievable idiosyncrat:

“Details of activities e.g. music, theatre etc., club memberships, positions held, sporting achievements”
N/A. N/A. N/A. His activity was entirely in the brain. Even there it was intermittent. He sometimes ‘logged off’ in the middle of a conversation – while he was speaking. As a certified insomniac, I deeply envy this degree of narcolepsy.
“Details of any war or military service.”
That was just the way he spoke. Nobody knows why. No connection to 1930s Airmen.

After a bereavement, people customarily share memories – appreciative, irreverent, or just tactful, but good-humoured and supportive. Such as…

“We travelled for a week round the Highlands in his car. He proved quite ‘authoritarian’ and decided each day what our destination would be! This was offset by the very pleasant task we set ourselves of judging the porridge and scones in each place where we stayed. I think those in Skye were the winners.”
“Had he not taken up the medical profession, he could have tried racing driving! He loved his BMW sports car and drove with great enjoyment and on occasions with breath-taking speed.”
“Well, it was warm and windy so I was out in the garden singing ‘ding, dong, the wizard’s gone!'”
Pardon?

“He was one of those people that add to your life and they are few and far between. He led a full and rich life of service to the community.”
“He was always a thoughtful man, and amiable: and even if he did not agree with your point of view, he would always respond in a measured way.”
“Were you aware of his excessive spending? Did you ever discuss it? I find it hard to accept that he’s left nothing for you.”
Er…

“These were difficult but formative times, which do tend to cement personal relationships. He was a good friend and colleague.”
“We had many interesting and ‘deep’ philosophical discussions. We worked on the same wavelength.”
“If you like, you could say he and I were married for 23 years and had an amicable divorce.”
Apparently. And it was only 27 years ago.

“The Assets and Resources Committee soon became referred to by its initials, ARC. We had a series of day-long meetings of quite intense discussion and became known as ‘the four wise men of the arc.'”
“An exasperating but interesting cove.”
“You have probably already chosen the music for the funeral, just to say his favourites were particularly Mozart: his piano concerto no. 21, played by Alfred Brendel.”
Unfortunately Alfred Brendel isn’t available, but we do have the soundtrack from the Wizard of Oz.

I miss having my eccentricities dwarfed. And the other parent diluted.

05/07/2020

Father Episodes concluded

A final instalment of eccentric vignettes, following the original Father Episodes and Father Episodes cont’d

The last time I saw him was of course at his convenience.
“I am booked with the optician in Auchterarder, Monday week. I shall make a pitstop with you, ETA 1PM.”
Of course the whole thing collapses under any rational scrutiny: why travel from Dumbarton to Auchterarder for an optician? Tramlines. Why visit? Marginally more comfortable than sitting in the car to eat half a sandwich and a biscuit. But the notification was purely a courtesy; the arrangement was already fixed.
I had a go anyway.
“I will have someone else visiting me that day.”
“Not a problem.”
“I might not be able to give you my full attention.”
“Not a problem.”
“I may be tired.”
Ridiculous and irrelevant. My role was simply to unlock the door. In fact, I got off lightly: the previous time he had directed me to install a handrail at the front steps. I wriggled out of this by pointing out that there was one at the back door. Points deducted, however, for lack of red carpet.

A few months ago, he presented me with a curiosity.
“I had a new experience this morning. In the kitchen I found three mugs lined up on the worktop, each containing exactly one inch of tomato soup.”
Off-guard, I tried to unravel the nonsense. “Were you up in the night?”
“I have absolutely no recollection of how they got there!”
I grasped for something sensible. “Does any of your medication have that sort of side-effect?”
“I think someone’s been in.”
I braced myself for supernatural allusions.
He continued, “one of my neighbours.”
“How would they get in?”
“I leave the door open.”

One of our last conversations interrupted him in an extended session of wallowing in the BBC News. He summarised ominously:
“It’s not far off now.”
I probed facetiously for some context. “What? The apocalypse?!”
“Yes. But I think I’ll nip out just in time.”

There was always a very fine line between idiosyncrasy and mischief. I can hear him chuckling as he trundles off across the cosmos.

16/06/2020

Water Twerp

Filed under: Essays — Tags: , , , , , , , — Teepwriter @ 17:21

On Friday the water stopped. Not the power. Different. From the safety of my dry-dock I interrogated Scottish Water. They announced that someone had dug a hole in a field, got a bit carried away and disconnected three postcode areas. They specified the perpetrator as A Third Party, meaning ‘it wasnae us’.

Scottish Water webpage: Burst Water Main in Kinross

What happens when lockdown fever strikes someone who has access to not just power tools but a mini-digger? Momentarily distracted by a peacock. Crunch. Engine cuts to idle, overlaid by cursing. Overlaid by tremendous rushing of water.

I virtually invited my neighbour to comment. He has his finger on the neighbourhood pulse. He didn’t have to extend it very far: it turned out that all this drama was taking place in the field behind our opposite neighbour. I have long suspected that I am oblivious to anything beyond a thirty metre radius. Especially when that thirty metre radius is circumscribed by an amply-filled moat.

Here in the Castle at the Centre of the Universe I was pondering how to water my houseplants. They were thirsty. I should have put a bucket under the leaking gutter. More bothersome was the tragic irony in these times of heightened hygiene. I considered broaching my bottle of propyl alcohol, but decided to keep my fingerprints.

I wonder who pays: the cost in money but also in lost, treated water, in repairs and in delivering drinking water vanually. And the extra worry and hassle across three postcode areas, on top of too much already.

The day ended with water coming at us threefold: the piped supply was gradually re-introduced with a special agricultural flavouring, a van hurtled up the street and its driver threw water bottles at every doorstep, and rain fell in plentiful quantities. I have gaffer-taped an old beaker to the windowsill just in case.

19/05/2020

Civil Ludicrosities

The octogenarian who has so generously imbued my life with so many… wrinkles… recently paused mid-biscuit to issue a demand: he requires a new mobile telephone. Why? Pyjama pocket. 60° with extra rinse cycle.

I probed for a specification: it must be able to telephone. Not create daguerreotypes, not record wax cylinder memos, not browse the encyclopediaweb, just telephone. It must have buttons one can see and press with positive tactile feedback. No answerphone that answers before you can, then charges you to retrieve the sound of someone hanging up. Missed call numbers, if recognised, might be useful but no matter.

I further probed for motivation: emergency use only. Pay as you go. Not pay £75 as you enjoy your short break at Her Majesty’s Infirmary, Paisley. Oh, and text postcards. Why? Because the bank wants that now.

Civil liberties? Was that last century? I feel an erosion. I have to commit to the cost of a mobile phone and contract in order to access my own money? Most people have them anyway. Good for them. Not the point. As criminals become increasingly ingenious, and bankers suffer increasing dents in their bonuses, they’re pushing back the effort of security to customers. Because the additional effort is ‘for our protection’ and not for the banks’ at all.

Like insurance companies pushing back to customers the cost of weak development legislation leading to houses being built on floodplains leading to increasing damage costs. Even if my house is not built on a floodplain. We customers must share the pain so that the insurance companies can continue to enjoy their well earned profits. Eventually we may try to complete the vicious circle by pushing back to politicians. Do not pass go; do not password go; do not collect £200.

Someone is nicking the cream off these delicious octo-ginger biscuits and leaving us the pre-digested stale crumbs.

And toilet paper. Surely you saw my reasoning heading inexorably sewer-ward. The raison d’être of privatised water companies is to amply fill hot tub dividends for investors. In consequence they have omitted to maintain their pipework, let alone upgrade it from antediluvian pottery. In order to bail out (shudder) we consumers— No, I must absolutely expunge (shudder) that term, especially as it pertains to waste water, and in its place instate ‘Citizens’— In order to bail out we citizens, we must once again pick up the can— argh! Pick up the cost, not only in pounds but in wear and tear on the delicates.

Seriously. Have you noticed changes in arse wipe? The ‘paper’ has been down-qualitatised to the loosest congregation of dust that disintegrates immediately upon contact with any moisture. This is a design triumph to relieve the ‘blockage’ load on sewers, whatever the collateral cost of dispersing coarse paper fibres on irritated delicate epithelia (wince).

My colonic pontification is interrupted by a church bell tolling for the unfriended flock. That loose congregation emerges from its dispersed confinements to hoot and toot and clap six times with limp enthusiasm. The NHS: another erosion. The local peacock concludes the brief ceremony with his characteristic yelp.

When I emerge from my water closet, walking carefully, I will have carefully liberated a riceberg that was blocking the shitting lanes. The rice will dry out the carelessly laundered octo-phone and free his pyjama pocket for the containment of sand, ready for the next celestial inundation. Reduce retail, Reuse device, Recycle lucre into ethical venture. The church bell tolleth no more. That is the howl of bankers.

And on to whatever we will next face as the result of orienting our society to serve and protect corporations rather than citizens. To paraphrase Mark Twain: coronavirus had travelled half way around the world while governments were still putting on their shoes. When we are finally unlocked, can we please not return to business as usual but to community as rediscovered? Bottom-up, if my scatological message has resonated, so to speak.

The octogenarian has retreated to his crumb pit to digest. To paraphrase the peacock, nature will have the last word.

01/01/2020

Father Episodes cont’d

A further instalment of eccentric vignettes, following the original Father Episodes

Shortly after Father arrived, he presented me with half a dozen nail files and a magnifying hand mirror.
“I thought you might like these for… female titivation.”
I gratefully frowned at the rust spots on the mirror and the assorted specifications of filery: a wide array of shape, coarseness, colour and a common theme of unfit for purpose.
He saw he was losing ground in this attempt to ‘shed’ benevolently.
“I purchased the series in trying to find the right one. I haven’t used them.”

——

One evening there was a crescendo of televised warfare, culminating in the vociferous cry, “get ‘im! Get ‘im!” This was followed by a rapid series of clunks and curses, “you blighter!” as Father’s reclining chair misinterpreted his vigorous limb-flinging and unfolded on him. His cries of chagrin continued as he flailed in vain to regain sight of the television and reach of the remote control, with the escalating frustration of the battle continuing without him.

——

Father wears Marks & Spencer’s navy blue moccasins with the special sheep fluff lining. This is a permanent association like birds and feathers, dating back to at least 60 years before any such product was available with the St Michael label. Once there was even a delighted but nebulous epiphany around a previous life as a Native American. Michael of course having received his sainthood for services to ‘cowbags and indibugs’, as the inchoate Father coined his favourite game c.1884.

These slippers are replaced every year in December. Never washed, just replaced. They are purely for nighttime trundles and restricted to the journey between bedroom and bathroom. Not too controversial. However, in my house, I prefer to wear slippers throughout, a probably pointless commitment coincidentally following a substantial outlay for new carpets.

As a spectacularly deviated protest, shortly after moving in, Father explained to me that he was now alternating between two pairs of Marks & Spencer’s navy blue moccasins. The original pair size 7 for original restricted use. Plus a new pair size 7 1/2 for daytime and entire house expeditions. Size 7 1/2, he elaborated, because of the addition of a layer of sock, which would not fit in size 7. Notwithstanding this duplicate provision, he would still sneak about in his shoes like a first class rotter, just to demonstrate that he did not recognise my authority.

After he had moved out, I discovered his final revenge. In one of his now empty rooms, the neutral coloured carpet that had required that substantial outlay was now adorned with two large, well worn, blue patches. These locations correspond exactly with his two chairs: the recliner for leisure purposes, and the executive computer operator chair for hyper-consumerism diversions.

It could have been worse: it could have been neutral-coloured dog shit from Outside.

——

Shortly after Father had departed to his new residence, one of his old friends, Don (the name has been changed to protect the undead) wrote to me seeking Father’s new address. Since Don supplied an email address, I promptly contacted him with the sought contact details.

Don responded with no less than 23 emails, in progressive stages of drafting, conveying his appreciation as well as some family updates. It seemed his webmail account had some synchronisation glitch that shared every saved stage with the recipient. I let him know and thought the contact was concluded.

Some weeks later, I received an unexpected email from a suspicious account with Don’s name as alias, plus a suspicious lack of text and presence of attachment. Clearly spam, and not surprising following the previous IT dodginess.

In my next conversation with father, I was prompted to enquire whether Don and he had got successfully in touch following their communication fankle.
“No. I received a nonsense attachment.”
“Ah, you got that too. I think it was spam.”
“Did you get the subliminal message?”
“No?”
“Don is dead.”

I was so utterly bewildered by the sheer non-sequitur of this reasoning, that he chuntered on about some trivia for a couple of minutes before I stopped him to protest that (A) it was consistent with the pattern of spurious emailing I had experienced as well as having all the hallmarks of spam, pointing toward a compromised mailbox, and (B) if you suspect one of your oldest friends is dead, however unconventionally you have received the notification, it is usual to contact their family and express condolences.

Needless to say, Don was not and is not dead. Long live Don, and death to personal correspondence gremlins.

——

Phone calls are either epic waffles and whinges about the weather and Waitrose, or abbreviated bulletins concerning his health status. The latter comprise two minutes maximum, concluding with “end of message,” then a click as the connection is terminated. Either way a monologue.

I called Father one afternoon. As often happens, there was a twenty second delay between him lifting the handset and responding verbally into the phone.
“[mumble]”
“Have I woken you up?”
Further pause before further muffled response. “I’m eating a peppermint.”
“So, you’re safely back home?” Stating the bleeding obvious as invitation to journal the banal.

In the background, a chime resounded.
“Ah: doorbell. Hang on.”
I have learnt over the years to swiftly pull the phone away from my ear before the statutory series of amplified sound effects as he abandons the handset and shuffles off.

Following a couple of minutes of distant conversation, sound effects resumed, then conversation.
“My helper. Just a quick visit. Been here already. Earlier. [mumble, mumble, breathing]”
“Shall I call another time then?” Pause for peppermint-filtered mumbling. I continue. “Allow you to have one conversation at a time?” Even one can be a challenge.
“[Mumble] call back later on.”
With cheery relief I hung up. Total call time three minutes seventeen seconds. Total conversation time substantially less.

——

My sister visited him on one occasion and inevitably found herself detailed with a list of specially selected noisome chores. In the depths of some wardrobe manoeuvres, she identified a stack of brand new, polythene-sealed shirts.
Father pronounced, “bin.”
Her expression clearly expressed bewilderment so he expanded.
“Wrong fabric. Should be poly-cotton mix.”

My sister’s attempts to tackle this monstrous illogicality from the angles of (A) return to retailer for financial recompense and (B) donate to charity met with the characteristic Wall of Disinterest. This is a fascinating feature of the Pilgrim’s Progress that was under-written and sadly lost in an early draft.

The material continues to accumulate…

26/12/2019

Missing Hen Harriers: time for zero tolerance

This updates my post on grouse shooting from July 2016 on my Lifelogy blog, particularly in the light of the publication of the Grouse Moor Management Group (Werritty) report for the Scottish government. Also, as climate change receives welcome focus, we should not overlook the extinction crisis. Climatic upheaval is not to blame for the biodiversity crisis, but ‘the enemies of old’ – agriculture and killing.

Today those of us within ear-‘shot’ of a game estate will be subjected to the usual ‘cracking’ soundtrack…

The campaign to ban driven grouse shooting began because the pastime is incompatible with the salvation of hen harriers in particular and the protection of raptors in general. Golden Eagles, whilst recovering well at the national scale, are under-represented in those parts of their range containing grouse moors. Driven grouse shooting requires intensive land use to maximise the grouse available for shooting. The grouse are ‘driven’ at the guns – beaters flush them toward the shooters, a form of ‘canned hunting’. Despite legal protection, these birds of prey keep disappearing from our skies and often turn up poisoned or shot. There is sufficient suitable habitat for over 300 pairs of hen harriers in England and Wales; the actual number of nesting attempts is in single figures – “a tiny handful“; the number of successful breeding attempts is usually zero.

hen harrier

Hen harrier, via Scottish Natural Heritage media library – copyright-free images of English hen harriers are as rare as…the birds themselves

The justification for seeking this ban has widened to include grouse shooting’s other serious negative consequences – the collateral damage:

– Environmental damage: burning and draining moorland to produce optimum heather for the grouse damages its carbon- and water-retaining ability, thereby contributing to climate change and increasing flood risk downstream, i.e. where more people are. Yet we pay these estates to ‘manage’ the land this way through our taxes which subsidise them.
– Animal cruelty: particularly for those unfortunate wild mammals and birds caught in snares or pole traps and left to suffer a slow, painful death.
– Food safety: the lead shot disperses throughout the grouse meat so its consumption is well above recommended levels. When used correctly, the medication flubendazole is effective in reducing endemic strongyle worm levels in grouse guts with residues in food for human consumption presenting a very low risk. Hiwever, there is some evidence that prescription levels are too high, that gritting holidays are not always observed, and that grit may not always be withdrawn from grouse at least 28 days before Red Grouse enter the food chain.

Why the absolutism? Surely conservationists and animal rights activists should be having dialogue with the proponents of grouse shooting?
They have been, for decades – “decade after decade, initiative after initiative has stumbled and fallen.” Land owners and managers have had opportunity after opportunity to change their ways through negotiation. They seem to be unmotivated while they can have their cake and shoot it. What is considered as environmentally sustainable can depend on the values attached to ‘nature’ and biological science. But it’s deeper than that: they dispute scientific premises and conclusions at the most fundamental level. They maintain a tension between the ‘expert’ knowledge of scientists reported in peer-reviewed sources and ‘local’ knowledge held by practitioners based in the field. Meanwhile raptors continue to be poisoned, shot, or just disappear in the vicinity of grouse moors.

“The [Hawk & Owl] Trust has watched with dismay as an increasingly adversarial and acrimonious argument has raged for almost twenty years between environmental campaigners and grouse moor interests.”

And yet this dismay has fostered a rather tolerant approach.

“The knowledge that [hen harriers] were tagged (and the fear that other HHs might be) would prevent any gamekeepers from shooting them in the sky.”

Unfortunately not. Satellite-tagging hen harriers only confirms that they ‘drop off the radar‘ in the vicinity of grouse moors.

“Should any Moorland Association, Game & Wildlife Trust, or National Gamekeepers Organisation member be proved to have illegally interfered with a Hen Harrier nest or to have persecuted a Hen Harrier on their grouse moors, the Hawk & Owl Trust would pull out its expertise from the brood management scheme trial.”

Ah, proof: therein lies the problem; the protection of this species has been a legal imperative since 1954. Since then the number of hen harriers has decreased and the ratio of convictions to persecution incidents is miniscule. Obtaining the necessary evidence to support a prosecution is very difficult.

“It would be rank stupidity, if not political suicide, for any moorland manager to continue to persecute problem birds when a way out is being provided.”

No, it wouldn’t be, because they are already practically impervious to the law. The risk from continuing the status quo is very small. I appreciate the forgiving, pluralist attitude – “behavioural change is seldom achieved by outright adversarial opposition” – but there is currently no incentive for moorland managers to change their behaviour at all; neither carrot nor stick. There is nothing more that they want. There is no real threat of their lifestyle being at all curtailed. They simply don’t acknowledge that their actions are in any way related to the problem. They wring their hands about the loss of these lives and continue business as usual. They produce superficial marketing exercises that seem to presume an inalienable right to continue their activities. We need to raise the stakes.

grouse moor empty sky

Empty sky above grouse moor, via Wikipedia

In sufficient numbers, hen harriers can reduce the densities of grouse to such low levels that driven grouse shooting is impracticable. There are clearly two ways to view this statement: a viable business ‘producing’ grouse must eradicate hen harriers; or driven grouse shooting demands ecocide.

This is not about all shooting, it’s not even about all grouse shooting; this is about a specific activity undertaken by a minority who are entrenched in their worldview. Our ethical sense has evolved into the 21st century and we recognise animal cruelty, environmental damage and food safety as issues.

Why are we paying via our taxes to subsidise this activity? Why are we paying again to our water companies for the additional treatment required by water running off those moors? Why are we paying again for increased insurance premiums due to increased flooding risk? Why are we paying again for police investigations of wildlife crimes which are very difficult to resolve? Why are we paying again for government supported study after research study after collaboration after working group after action plan which do nothing to change any of the stakeholders’ perspectives and leave the problem entirely unaffected?

Grouse shooting contributes to the economy? How much? And how much would be contributed by a more sympathetic activity, such as rewilding or ecotourism? Or just by the absence of all the aforementioned costly impacts? Beside the financial cost, what about the moral cost? How quickly trade-offs between economics and criminality arise: “the task of balancing the issue of tackling wildlife crime with the contribution that grouse moor management makes to the rural economy has proved very difficult.” Why do we allow this minority to indulge mercenary militaristic superiority fantasies through inflicting tremendous cruelty on other creatures? What about nature’s intrinsic value? Driven grouse shooting is not sport and it’s not acceptable.

Ban driven grouse shooting. If that’s not attractive enough a prospect, it’s an anagram of ‘overburdening hooting ass’.

Plenty more detail from Mark Avery.
Plenty of facts and figures from Raptor Persecution UK.
More ammunition from Chris Packham.

The original version of this article is also published at Wildlife Articles.

08/12/2019

Just Gasking

Filed under: Essays, Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Teepwriter @ 15:00

On Thursday I missed a call. I was elongated on my chaise and not for moving. And I had someone with me. Not on the sofa. For once I was not in the toilet. And for once curiosity overcame lassitude and propelled me to investigate the number, since it was not mostly comprised of zeros.

Curiouser still, the internet gave me an interesting answer: “When WE ring YOU, it shows as 01738 476693.YOU ring US on 01577 867250.” Compelled by capital letters and red text, I was agog to learn the name of this communicative establishment: “Arngask Primary School, Main Street, Glenfarg.” A mere stone’s throw from here!

Such curiosity! I wonder what Arngask Primary School could want from me. My legendary ‘adult’ ‘humour’ combined with my antipathy toward the festive season? Could they have over-interpreted my recent prehensile clawing at my rightful title of ‘Queen Nerd’*? They are after all seeking a solution for their mysteriously vague ‘mind craft technical issues’. If their neurology needs ratcheting, I’m ready to wield the instrument. Further reviewing their exciting (amended) programme for the week commencing 18th November, I find myself entirely enticed and exhorted.
[*more anon]

I shall bring my PE kit. As a self-confessed Maths Bag, I shall go out. I shall harken to Mr Bulley’s Bolero. I shall taste a rugby tot. Not to mention the irresistible blank bullets. Most of all, I would love to learn more about mandarins. And the very next entry resolves my tiny transport misgivings: I need only secrete myself aboard the trusty mobile library with a few provisions, and after several days touring the beautiful scenery of Perth and Kinross, I shall be issued, raring to go, at Arngask, and stamped due for return by 15 January 2020. Farewell!

Monday 18th Nov
No Mindcraft Club 3.15 – 4.15pm technical issues
Bring your P.E. kit
Maths Bags P1-4 go out
P6/7 Show Racism the Red Card

Tuesday 19th Nov
Bring your P.E. kit
Mr Bulley Music lessons on Guitar Class – places available, find out more at http://www.pkcmusic.com
 
Wednesday 20th Nov
Bring your P.E. kit
Chanter Class music lessons 3.15pm – 4.00pm (enquiries to Mr Kennedy 07736 383755)
Return Maths Bags please
Nursery – P2 Rugbytots Rugby Tasters
 
Thursday 21st Nov
Bring your P.E. Kit
Parent Council Meeting 6.00pm. All welcome
 
Friday 22nd Nov
P6/7 Mandarin Lesson
Mobile Library Visit
Bring your P.E. Kit 

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.

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