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.

31/10/2019

The Case of the Missing Duvet

A macabre, unexplained and slightly true mystery.
The Case of the Missing Pillow would of course be a witty title, but for reasons that will become obvious, like the tablecloth trick, that didn’t happen.

I wake in the night. After a few moments mentally orienting myself, I realise I feel chilly; I don’t feel my duvet. I spread-eagle and swish my limbs to reach the extents of the mattress, but nothing. I lean over each side of the bed, expecting to glimpse a patch of lighter dark on the floor, but nothing. I haul myself up to sitting and peer over the foot of the bed: nothing.

Bewildered, with no further strategy, I get up and head for the toilet. The corridor zigzags from a skylight outside my bedroom past a loft cupboard, the shower room, along beside the stairwell and under another skylight, to my sister’s bedroom door, at the head of the stairs.

As I approach the sliding door of the shower room, and reach my hand to the light switch, my eyes are still looking ahead, to where the corridor makes its next zig, or zag, beyond the end of the wall. I see that longed for patch of lighter dark protruding around the corner.

My duvet lies in a dragged, crumpled heap at the midpoint of the corridor. What dramatic and cool irony had it been my map of the world duvet cover, but no. Floral number. Pink. With frills.

With no street lights, at night that corridor is lit only by the moon or suspicious cloud glow. Such wispy whiteness is enough to find your way with sleepy eyes and feeling fingers and stubbable toes. But who is the figure wandering abroad, carrying the weight of a duvet?

Perhaps the child frets in her sleep, wrestling with the emotional challenges of yesterday and tomorrow, as translated into virulently coloured and textured blobs which loom and recede uncomfortably in her imagination. The awful weight of unflattering parental authority becomes manifest and externalised. Gratifyingly, it can now be physically discarded.

Perhaps the other child fancies revenge for any of a multitude of mean tricks: “the teeny grapes are the sweetest” and suchlike. That sibling awakes, tormented by the relentless cruelties. She contemplates screwing a Fisher-Price figure into an eye-socket. Kneading Play-Doh into hair. Spooning green poster paint down a manipulative gullet. Fisting nettles up the bum.

Perhaps upon the first sleeping child’s forehead an eldritch circle lights up, like a very small gas hob. Aurora strands dance out through the translucent skin and over the duvet. The fabric quivers then slowly lifts and drifts across the room. At the door it is abruptly arrested by snagging on a doorframe splinter then petulantly yanked onward.

A long time I have waited to resolve this conundrum. I shall know. There must be a perpetrator. There must be retribution. I shall have my glorious rewengay.

One hundred and sixty patient years later I shall approach the bed of my irascible irasibling, stepping carefully around the snoring chicken, wheeling silently my well-greased, domestic-sized crane. I shall arrange the rigging, lock its feet, and attach each of the four grabs to a corner of her moth-eaten, dribble-sodden duvet. I shall resist the exquisite temptation to toss every heavy object in reach upon it, including my dainty self, and said mini crane. I shall not press and press all the guilty air out of her malign lungs.

No. In a trice I shall reel up and float that equivalent quilted smotherance out, out and away. But only so far. I shall carefully, carelessly position it halfway down the corridor, ideally swiping it through some unspeakable filth. I shall melt back into the night. I may shudder considerably with stifled cackling.

Then I shall nip back to retrieve my incriminating hoist. One of the wheels will jam between floorboards or paving stones, and while I skilfully, silently wrestle it back into motion, I shall realise I still haven’t elicited a confession. Drat.

But then, I shall say nothing for millennia.

29/10/2019

Rhett Riding-Hood and the Wolf

Filed under: Shorts — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — Teepwriter @ 11:00

Once upon a town, which was in Northern Ireland, and thus pronounced ‘tine’, Rhett set out to visit her grandmother, carrying the obligatory basket of poisoned apples. Her bright red cape billowed in the wind, whipping and snapping like a flag. Or a rag. And someone was watching. And snapping.

Rhett followed the footpaths, and, when these ran out, the winding tracks through the woods. She was completely unafraid, as she had walked these paths twice already. Several times she deviated, and even wandered right off the path, because she saw some pretty little flower and had an urge to crush it. Or heard a delightful chirruping bird and simply had to swat it with the brim of her enormous detachable hood. She would carefully lift whichever bruised, tattered remnants and stuff them into her basket.

Just at the point when she was finding the whole thing tedious, she approached her grandmother’s cottage. However, having visited twice before, she noticed something had changed. On one side of the cottage, where her grandmother’s vegetable garden had rewilded itself into a dense tangle of strangulating bushes and vines, the ground was now completely bare.

Not completely bare. There were Power Tools. Also a lot of loud noise. Three Power Tool Operators were shouting abuse at each other over the din of their assorted water-jet, hedge trimmer, drill, hammer, paint sprayer, chainsaw, strimmer, of which they were each wielding at least two, to demonstrate their personal Power.

In mid gasp, Rhett became aware of a tremendous force bearing down on her from one side. A toy bulldozer crashed out of the woods, fountaining splintered twigs, and dunted into her ankle. A boy climbed out and launched a stream of age-appropriate unpleasantries, such as “you dirty pants, you bogey nose, you smelly brain.” Rhett frowned at him in puzzlement and eventually he got bored and started kicking his toy bulldozer.

Meanwhile the noise of the Power Tools had increased, due to them getting nearer. Rhett found the volume unbearable and so stuck her fingers in her ears as she squinted at the unpleasant encroachment. Accompanied by the muffled cacophony, she watched the three operators mouthing obscenities and gesticulating aggressively. She tried to insert her questions between their shouts, but it made no difference to their behaviour, and in her head her voice sounded ridiculous.

Still the three operators loomed closer and closer, and the wielding of the Power Tools became ever more threatening, and the stupid boy with the toy bulldozer kept ramming Rhett’s ankle. In sticking her fingers in her ears, she had dropped her basket, and notwithstanding some of the contents already being the worse for wear, the whole lot was unceremoniously bulldozed into a mess of twiglets. Rhett snapped likewise. She shrieked as loud and long as she could, birled about, and charged off in a direction roughly away from the cottage.

As the droning and whining in her ears faded, she unplugged her fingers. Around this time she also thought to open her eyes properly and see where she was going, according to the diverting lashings of brambles and buffetings of tree roots. This was just in time as the end of the world suddenly rushed up.

Rhett stopped running and teetered above a crevasse of rocks, shaped like an uneven stack of pencils, descending into the ocean. In her frazzled state she was quickly mesmerised by the hexagonal pattern, the way you can hypnotise a chicken with a straight line, and her brain activity mostly suspended.

All this drama was observed by a mini drone that looked like a Snitch from a Potter-esque game of Quidditch, i.e. a tiny but unfeasibly heavy brass ball, but with non-enchanted mechanical wings, wheeling and hovering overhead.

Back beside the cottage there was an executive sort of disturbance in the undergrowth. Russell? No, ’twas the Ginger Avenger with his sturdy helmet bobbing about, glinting in the—
“Unacceptable name! I require something considerably more—”
Do not deviate from the narrative. Do not address the narrator directly.
“To whom should I address my complaint?”
There will be ample opportunity to discuss any issues of casting, character authenticity, plot flaws et cetera once the draft is circulated.
“Corrections will be retrospective?”
Find and replace. Move along now.

The GA (pending) rippled with… brine, ebbing from his recent constitutional dunking. As a consequence of which, any fish thereby attached to his person were entirely coincidental and claimed as legal salvage. He swished decisively, removing any debris from his path ahead. For this purpose he had judiciously acquired a crooked cane, which was also expedient for the removal of unfunny entertainers, inept service providers, and unwanted companions.
“And inappropriate appellations. And truculent narrators.”
Never mind.

As the GA (TBC) strode into the throng, the noisy Operators cowered and grovelled. Assorted motors ground to halts.
One of the now quieter Operators bleated, “are you the police?”
The GA pointed out wearily, “observe helmet. Larger than polis ones, yes? Thus I smite them.”
The erstwhile noisy Operators glanced among themselves, wondering and fearing the exact definition of the word ‘smite’ and its possible application to themselves. And how much damage that helmet might do, especially around the edges.

As if this weren’t enough, another lesser and less prepossessing character emerged surreptitiously from the undergrowth, having first ascertained that his predecessor has established superiority. The GA gestured an introduction for this newcomer.
“Flat-head Peter is my sidekick; he—”
“I do feel I have been mis-cast. I should have a more prominent role.”
I refer the unprepossessing gentleman to my earlier response. Carry on.
The GA continued, “Peter assists me in the poaching of fish.”
Peter jolted. “Just to clarify: ‘poaching’ relates to cooking.”
The GA was supremely nonchalant. “Secure these pests. I shall retrieve the heroine.”
“Of course. You help yourself to the fun bits.”
The GA raised an eyebrow. Peter unhitched shears from his pack and grudgingly set to work.
“Apply the polyethylene fibres and record everything they say.”
The suddenly silent Operators squirmed incontinently, as they were suddenly filled with hellish visions of fibreglass and asbestos type tortures.

They were quite wrong, of course. The GA was merely suggesting to Peter a convenient use for the non-biodegradable twine that he was supposed to have been weaving. This was the most expedient way to get rid of the billions of plastic microfibres his flat-cap had attracted by static electricity during the recent fishing, ahem, swimming expedition.

The GA fished in a pocket and dextrously thumbed knob and rolled ball. He extracted a remote control device and pointed it skyward. The mini drone whined obediently into view, screeched a U-turn and appeared to beckon with a wing. The GA accordingly switched his way seaward, along the path indicated by the heroine’s spoor of bloody brambles and twigs waving tiny flags of torn fabric. He was of course well practised in bushcraft.

Shortly thereafter the swaying Rhett was deftly yanked from the jaws of danger and squish by a crooked stick. Her brain resumed something approaching normal function and her eyes took in this Ginger Avenger.
“My mother told me to beware of a wolf in striped clothing.”
“Wolf? No, I’m Wilf!”
“Rhett.”
“No, just Wilf. And I’m sure it was about sheep…”
“Perhaps; she wouldn’t wear less than cashmere.”

Rhett’s writhing hood flapped unhelpfully across her face. Once again the crooked stick was employed to efficient effect.
“Thank you. Who were those horrid creatures?”
“Those mendacious mercenaries have planning permission to raze the area. They plan to build a, ugh, tourist facility to exploit the Dwarf’s Causeway, or Causewee as they’ll probably nauseatingly label it.”
“What about Grandmother’s cottage?!”
“Technically your grandmother is squatting.”
“She suffers from nodules.”
“Has she tried fish?”
“Oh, yes, that’s why she lives by the sea; she loves watching their acrobatics.”
The GA glanced at the dry-curing danglements from his fishbelt. “Ah. Leeks?”
“Only if she squats too quickly. But I’m fond of seafood.”
“Can I interest you in a Three-fish Mess Marinara?”
“Only three?” Rhett eyed his scaly accoutrements.

On returning to the cottage and its desertified grounds, Rhett and the GA found a collection of neatly bound annoyances. The appearance was of a giant spider’s lair, but that would be a whole other story. Peter the sidekick was, however, absent.
The GA demanded, “where’s Peter?” Silence. Stillness. “I’ve always wanted to do this.” He flexed his fingers then snatched some gaffer tape off one intruder’s mouth. Wails ensued.
The intruder admitted only that Peter was “gaun.” No mention of his obsessive muttering about being destined to vanquish a wolf.

Rhett twinkled with an rash idea. “I shall be your sidekick. I have… skills in… macabre things.”
The GA widened his eyes in alarm. “He’ll be back. Thinks he can set up a rival avenging business. Fool.”
“He doesn’t even have a proper helmet.”
“You don’t have a proper cloak!”
“What’s wrong with it? It billows! It hides all sorts.”
“It’s irretrievably fankled! My cloak is far more… cloaky. Properly cloaky. Like a cloaking device.”
Insofar as the intruders’ eyeballs were able to move below their encasing mesh of twine and tape, there was rolling.

Grandmother emerged from the bottom drawer where she had been lately hiding and was thoroughly enthralled by Rhett’s withered, trampled, pulverised offering. The intruders were roasted on an open fire, made of the suddenly abundant kindling, then released by skilful prodding with the crooked cane when they became insufficiently entertaining, as the GA was not in the mood for sausages. Rhett found their dripping marinated the fish marvellously. The GA commented, “I always find fire works.”


 

Inspired by Supporting a good Cause, along with a diverse list of bizarre narrative milestones, most of which the above manages to clonk into.

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.

24/08/2019

A Manifesto, by the Omphaloskeptic Party

As we were waiting on the stair,
For a chance that wasn’t there,
We saw a wolf and then a bear,
And third a pregnant mountain hare.

These things have disappeared from our biotically denuded, cartridge case-littered isle. Also apparently under threat is the pregnant human. The honourable member for Waitrose Helensburgh raised the concern that Britain is shrivelling – that is, the human population thereof. Not himself personally, of course, for he is deliberately concentrating all his energy into the head end, ahem, and what becomes of the rest is unimportant. But if the falling reproductive rate of females – currently around 1.8 children per female – continues, ultimately the British will cease to exist as a race. This is not a personal exhortation, of course; all tacitly accept that my eggs are quite addled.

The Party’s broad sweep over social issues includes views on abortion. Although there are strong arguments pro, the venerable patron of Paisley Podiatrix would not like to ‘undertake’ the procedure himself. This is just as well, since his current inventory of surgical implements comprises a dazzling array of sugar-encrusted kitchen utensils and a pair of pliers for stubborn fastenings.

Next the Marks & Spencer-moccasined member asserted that single parents are on the rise. This is simple statistics: as a nation we are losing interest in breeding. Completely missing the point, I countered that people will not stop having sex; life is hard enough. Opinions have changed little since the 60s, when any of Hrabal’s young beauties would tell you you might as well be buried alive if the man in your life has a faulty fandangle, which sounds even more, er, galvanising in Czech.

We swivelled our bradawl-like intellects to the ethics of childminders. Mothers are under pressure from the backwash of the suffragette movement to exercise every single one of their hard-won rights. They must return to work full-time as soon as possible. No matter that gender parity is a hormonal beast. Women are entitled to work as long as men, just not for the same pay.

However, women are currently entitled to longer maternity leave. And to wrangle to their heart’s delight with the Dostoyevskian dilemma of flexible working patterns. Anything less than full-time remains an admission of inferiority. A lack of professional commitment. So they grasp ‘compressed hours’ – full-time hours over fewer days. Leaving them a longer ‘weekend’ to engage in ‘compressed hours’ full-time parenting. Because if you’re working in order to pay somebody to look after your children, like every stage in any process of value conversion, something gets lost.

Consequently, with unanimous support, we propose to introduce both parity of paternity leave, and parity of pressure on fathers to reduce their working hours commensurate with their partners to at most seventy-five percent. Thus, by equally sharing the professional shame of being a parent, we can accelerate the depopulation of Britain, and allow its recolonisation by more intelligent mammals.

Quoth Beethaven “Leonore!”, lightning to strike thrice, and that concludes this manifesto on behalf of the Omphaloskeptic Party, brought to you in dysfunction with powdered fresh ginkgo biloba leaves.

18/08/2019

To Mount

I received a USB flash drive through the post. That was a fraught first sentence. I received a flash through my letterbox. An unexpected portable insertable. Trying to avoid proprietary labelling as well as euphemism. Thankfully I handle far fewer floppies these days. Lately I have been too close to the nerds again. Nerds are riddled with smut. And fantasy fiction. You have only to glance at the names of open source file types. Anyway, USB flash drive is the most universal, generic, non-proprietary, inoffensive name for those portable mini memories.

No return address, no post mark, no message, no branding. Immediately perturbed by the threat of unsolicited files carrying viruses, I left it in porch quarantine. After a few days curiosity got the better of me – Fool! – so I tentatively began researching how to virus check a flash drive before accessing any of its files. Surely you do this as a matter of course, using your up-to-date anti-virus software? I hear you cry. Ah, no, recall my first revelation about the open source fantasy netherworld. Things behave differently here.

I suppose open source software isn’t worth hacking because its users are few and usually more deviant than the hackers. She said, rustling a greedy paper bag of fate-candy. Paradoxically, open source users are also more paranoid. Accordingly I have set this post to auto-publish, lest the Fossoway area should be electronically sterilised by rogue agents or one temerarious idiot. This also serves as an inbuilt excuse for substandard writing.

All this time I was of course wondering what might be on the unsolicited infernal device apart from diabolical code: text document? Images? Audio? Video? Cutting edge writer’s software? Legal or not? Was I actually the intended recipient – yes, my name and address are on the box – but had this been put in the wrong box?

Could it actually be something positive? Pleasant surprise from someone I know? But they would know better than to send something so suspicious. Or would they? They might be being amusing. Or clandestine. Perhaps there was to be a clue sent via another route – yet to arrive or already missed. Maybe it’s not storage but a USB travel toothbrush, or something similarly insertable but more entertaining.

Perhaps I have a stalker. Somebody trying to be overly-intimate. Unlikely. Cryptic and creepy don’t usually go together. Really, if it’s something I would want, the sender would have made it more apparent. First rule of resisting marketing. Better to leave it as an enigma. More fun. Perhaps something will turn up that will explain it. And destroy all my hopes and dreams.

Eventually, the opportunity of a failing PC became irresistible. I backed up everything and disconnected all my hard drives. I mean I pulled out all the cables, wrapped them in lead, or cardboard, which was lighter, removed them to the other end of the house, and closed the door. Not taking any chances. Full force neurosis.

There was little of any importance on the PC. Apart from the archaeological history of my snacks over eight years. Not connected to anything, if it got infected or corrupted or liquidated it was getting wiped anyway. Or surrendered to the great acme magnet in the sky.

But there is a problem with old PCs: not always compatible with newer technology. After all, that is how the manufacturers keep you rabidly gobbling at that endless consumer conveyor belt. What an exquisite irony that a new machine could connect but could also be vulnerable to it.

Unable to mount USB flash drive error dialog box listing unintelligible error codes

So often my problem: unable to mount.

01/08/2019

Neohaguich 11/11

Neohaguich series starts at part 1/11

Cautiously, but, as it turns out, unnecessarily, they negotiate the room and emerge alongside a subterranean rivulet, a sub-springs creek, a path beneath.  The Stranger pauses.  His face contorts around an ancient conundrum.

“Why are you—?”

Calluna needs no thinking time.  She doesn’t even need the end of the question.  She has been rehearsing this for just as long.

“You promised you’d always be there but you weren’t; you vanished; never came back.”

“I did.  I just took longer than I expected.  You didn’t wait.”

“I waited for eons!  Patiently!”

“You didn’t recognise me.”

“Your features are carved into the inside of my forehead…  Like that rock actually!”

“My features changed.  I got old.”

Calluna shrugs, suddenly fully aware of her own ancient, sagging, changed features.  The Stranger still worries at something.

“Why the elaborate obfuscation to ensorcel an old man when he finally returns?”

“Hard work keeping up an image.  Way beyond the promised time.”

“Finding my way home took millennia.”

“Meaning you mucked something up.”

“And this isn’t home, is it?  It’s not quite right.”

“I had to set out to find you, and I’m not quite omnipotent.  It’s a compromise: somewhere you could get to; somewhere I could make look a bit like…”

The Stranger suddenly groans.  “I’ve been walking for so long.  Look at my feet.”

Calluna drags her reluctant eyes to his feet.  She is petrified of seeing mutilation, gore and putrefaction.  The anticipation is worse than the reality: his feet look as if he’s been treading red grapes, but nothing significant is missing, not even that phalanx, although it is attached only by habit and chance and not the proper complement of gristles.  Red, sticky, like cherry treacle.  Thea-treacle.  Not real.  She lurches into brisk war effort.

“How very theatrical.  Easily mended: the hechlers will make you a paper cast.  Sturdy and breathable, but don’t get it wet.”

The stranger petulantly slaps the injured foot into a menacing puddle.

The slap reaches Calluna.  “How long have you been squelching about down here?”

“Long.”

“And yet your foot…”

“The water hasn’t miracle-cured it, but maybe that’s a big ask.”

“I think the miracle is that your foot hasn’t turned green and dribbly.  I think nature has found a way to extract the pure water from Udderfiddle’s ordure for everyone to benefit.”

As the words fade, the walking resumes.  Calluna, having again forgotten entirely about Jardine, finds herself unable to resist sharing a useless relic.  “I have decided to call you Magnus Opium.”

The Stranger splutters a laugh, thereby acknowledging how much work he inherently is, and that he is hers.  Comforting.

The walking and the thinking and the sloshing of water seem to achieve some intermediate level of mutual forgiveness, or at least relaxation of hostilities.  Finally, no longer required, the water disappears into a rock crevice, destination unknown.  The tunnel shrinks to a crawl space with encouraging dappled light at the end.

Calluna and the Stranger, Magnus, emerge from the rock with very necessary caution through a bramble thicket, an effective deterrent to any pilgrims seeking an easy way in.  Calluna geo-locates herself.

“Is this–?”

Mr Opium smiles by way of completing her question and answering it.  The very site of the fateful picnic.  One bramble lucky to be abandoned.

They survey the landscape with different eyes.  Magnus points out how the arse-shaped indentation in the rock by the cave entrance is actually caused by the tenacious sapling splitting the linn so it hits the rock in two curling streams.  Calluna recognises the similarity to a certain farmer’s seat, and pronounces this Udderfiddle’s Cleft.  Once formally notified, Farmer Udderfiddle senses this is not a great accolade.

Finally, to acknowledge the equality of all geographical features, Calluna rebrands the village ‘Bubbling Bridge over Lochsplit Linn under Springs Creek’.  If you tilt your head and squint this is not far off an amusing acronym.  Something about it attracts visitors anyway.

END

31/07/2019

Neohaguich 10/11

Neohaguich series starts at part 1/11

Jardine flaps and slaps until gravity and lack of friction further disgorge him into the gorge, a welcome salvation—and ablution—but a worrying connection to the oblong loch.  However, always better that such things are out in the open.  Spat out in the open.  Calluna wonders if this connection is the cause of some of the spring’s bubbling, and thereby a cause of Alf’s peculiarities.

Perhaps Alf himself, the embodied warning flag of unsafe levels, on so many levels, may be persuaded to team up with Jardine in the environmental sampling business, as he has no reluctance to dunk himself, while Jardine is understandably less and less inclined to approach sucking sediments.  Encouragingly the rock face seems to concur.  Mirrors are helpful that way.

As Jardine bobs to the cauldron surface, spreadeagled and beaming beatifically, Calluna hollers an apology for further delay in coming to his aid.

“I’ll come down the long way.”  There must be one.  A safe one.  How else could whatshisname flit back and forth?  Where is he now?!

An exquisitely gentle press on her upper arm answers her second question.  To answer the first, the Stranger points up to a faintly lit, tortuously twisted chimney through the rock ceiling.  Calluna demurs.

“Not in this lifetime.  Not in this body.”

The Stranger smiles at the expected response.

Calluna urges matters onward.  “You have a key.”

“You do.”

She stubbornly and futilely resists this asserted superiority, while her mind scuttles about all its dusty corners seeking evidence.

The Stranger continues: “your bottleneck.”

And so the pebble with the hole resurfaces.  Calluna prises the stone from her bladder and offers it to the Stranger.  Irritatingly, despite her eyes having adjusted to cave darkness, she still barely sees him move, let alone where he puts the pebble.  Yet there is movement.  On the wrong side.  The rockface ahead of them remains; that at ninety degrees to their left has vanished.

“Well done.  How about this one?”

“Decoy.”

Calluna is reminded of joinery and ingenuity.  “Did Alf—?”

“Oh yes.  Very willing, but the attention span of a fruit fly.”

“He won’t be making this sort of—?”  Calluna has lost the ability to finish her sentences.  She raises the neckless gourd.

The Stranger smiles patronisingly.  Alf is about as close to enchantment as he is to the moon.

The pair step tentatively into the new space.  The Stranger sidles along a wall.  Calluna stops a couple of paces in, to survey: the murk resolves into dark floorboards and curiously paler stone walls.  Within this small room, faint streaks of light suggest wires.  Booby-trap.  Tedious.

Calluna feels a sharp pressure in her right thigh.  The tip of a very slow-moving spear is persistently digging in.  She steps out of its path and watches it lurch and judder across the room to persistently but futilely press into a stone wall.  Another vertical spear wobbles diagonally towards the roof and dislodges a few grains of sand.  She smirks.

“Is this an incredibly rusty ambush?”

The Stranger retorts in similar feigned masterfulness, “or are we thinking faster than time?”

concludes at part 11

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