The man who took the lid off

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JTA swears at 2012, via Twitter.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



Rule One

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

We’ll come back to that one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A genuine question

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nick Clegg: Face like a doorknob

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s examine the first stanza for a moment:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Et in perpetuum, ave et vale…*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tonzura Koite!

So. Farewell

Home from
2003 and now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sunset over Castle Point May 29th, 2005.

Should’a voted for Zarek

So, yeah, the results are in, apparently.

Can’t say it went quite as well as I hoped, but it went as well as I expected (this, as I explained to my sister yesterday, is pretty much the way it goes as a Lib Dem), and at least Cameron didn’t slide in on the wave of smug and hairgrease that his sense of entitlement autogenerates.

From the Beeb results I suspect the Tories would struggle to get a meaningful majority from any of the ‘Other’ block, so it’s Lib Dems or bust.

On the other hand, Cameron’s predictably empty speech didn’t strike me as offering, well, anything. The slogan ‘First Past The Post but with Equal-Sized Constituencies’ isn’t really the sort of rallying cry that anyone would want, I think, and since almost two thirds of the voters didn’t want the Conservatives in power anyway, it seems a bit weird for them to say ‘Look, we won, let’s not fix anything’…

So, y’know, what happens now?

My proposal – which I bet nobody will take up, but I’ll be chuffed if they do – is that the Lib Dems band together with Labour. Which won’t give anyone a majority, mind, but how I see it is this:

A short-lived coalition of everyone but the Tories. One emergency budget, and an amazingly short Queen’s Speech which promises to push through electoral reform and then call a General Election under the new system. They don’t actually need to do anything else (and it’d be disasterous to try) but on those two points you could safely get enough support from the rest of the Others to carry things through (PR is in their interests too, of course, the only people to ever do consistently well out of it are – shocker – the Tories.

Under a Government based on that that, presumably, the Conservatives would have a massive sulk because they feel like they won, but they didn’t win, they just got more seats than anyone else which isn’t how winning works under First Past the Post. (Incidentally, Tories, you should stop trying to have it both ways. ‘s bloody undignified).

I think they’d be able to get Plaid and the SNP on board for that (and they could certainly get the SNP if they say they’ll hold an initial referrendum on devolution once PR is in – if’n they say that publicly the SNP can’t turn it down, after all) and everyone else should get a chance to return a new Parliament in the Spring.

The Tories, under those circumstances, wouldn’t be in a position to hold things up too much because they’d be keeping themselves out of power if they did so (and, if they’re seen to be staving off the chance to re-elect a comprehensive majority, damaging their own national standing).

…I think it could work.

At least, it’ll work a damn sight better than a formal Lib-Dem / Con coalition, which is just a death sentence – Cameron, in that position, can carefully give Clegg & Cable lovely poison chalice jobs (‘Industrial harmony? You know what that means? That means strikes!’) and make sure to drag the Lib Dems down along with, er, everyone else.

God’s teeth it’s come to something when the best you can hope for is a hung parliament, innit? Best spoilt ballot I’ve heard of this year goes to the daughter of Ruth’s boss, who took a pink pen into the polling booth in order to spoil her ballot with the line ‘My great-great grandmothers didn’t throw themselves under horses so I could be disenfranchised by your broken system’. Given that it was the first time she’d ever been eligible to vote, I think that’s pretty damn epic.

Anyway. That’s my Ideal Scenario at this point, I think: Lib-Lab-Oth pact to push through PR in some form (I’d preffer STV, myself, but Hell even AV plain would be a step up on this farce), then take us back to the polls in the Spring. It’s rare to see a party trade political power for the national interest, but it’s lovely when they do (The last time I’m aware of was Lloyd George’s 3 General Elections in 1911 which helped to curb the Lords’ veto and get us pensions, so there we go).

Anyway, Mark Williams is back in for Ceredigion, having garnered a whacking great 50% of the vote (almost an actual majority, who’d’ve thought we’d see that!?) and shot up from majority 219 to 8,000-odd, which is spectacular.

So, we’ll have to wait and see. (Note to Dave Cameron: this is a killer soundbite. Use it all the time, people love that sort of stuff. Trust me.)

(O, and blinding stuff to see the BNP getting roundly thrashed in Barking. Very cheerin’!)


Just got off the phone with a very nice lady from Orange, who was conducting a customer survey. (I’m not normally a fan of such things, but I quite want an N900 when my contract comes up for renewal, so I thought I’d try to get a gold star.)

The basic stuff for the survey was home security, and things – how worried are you about home security, do you check up on your home whilst you’re away, and so on. Standard 1-5 scale stuff, really.

Where I think I won’t have been useful is in the second half of the survey: of course I said I was fairly keen on keeping my home secure (although I wasn’t very fussed to check on it if I wasn’t there), but part 2 seemed to be about things I could do with a mobile to increase home security: would I like, for example, to turn off an alarm remotely, or be texted whenever someone entered or left my home, or be able to unlock the doors by text (I’m pretty sure there was also one about turning on the heating, so I guess thermostats are going out of fashion).

Sadly, this was the point in the survey where I jumped from looking like someone who is broadly in favour of home security, to being someone who wants nothing to do with it. No, I bloody don’t want any yahoo with access to my phone to unlock the doors to my house and turn off all the alarms: if I leave my phone unattended on a desk for five minutes today, and then I come back and it’s still there, I don’t have to phone the police. I’d pretty much like to keep it that way, but a 1-5 scale doesn’t really allow for that sort of clarification (and, to be honest, the ability to be texted if something moves in my home is just plain creepy. Have you people never watched Electric Dreams, or something?)

I’m just a little bit confused by the whole thing, to be honest. The woman running the survey was lovely – I think she was slightly confused by my answering all the questions that went “Would you like $suspicious_loophole_technology?” with a one or a two right after I’d answered all the “are you comfortable installing computer software/devices* on your home computer” with fives, but really… text me whenever someone enters or leaves my house? In what way does that increase security?

I figure that being the case, I either know who it is (say, Paul), or I can guess (possibly Ryan) or I have no idea (might be robbers, but what can I do, huh? Call the rozzers and tell ’em that my phone told me someone opened my door and I’m not sure who it was? Or do I have to opt for the frankly creepy-sounding CCTV-in-the-house which I (and probably Orange, or anyone who’s nicked my phone or got into the system some other way) can then view from my phone.

Now I feel bad for being unhelpful in a survey; I strongly suspect that I’ve just completely thrown the results. Eh, but what can you do? Would be vaguely interested to know if it’s just me that thinks this is A Bad Thing, though – am I missing the bit where some latter-day Mr. McKittrick comes up with a bunch of failsafes, or what?

*I’m not sure if by “Devices” she meant CPUs, extra RAM, new expansion cards et sim., but I assumed she did, because I couldn’t think of any other interpretation that wouldn’t just be embarrasing this side of plug & play.

Hullo William!*

Well, that was interesting. I appear to have recovered from a serious error.

On Wednesday afternoon, as I sat shivering in my office, bundled up in my jacket, and hunkered down in my seat, I decided what I needed was a mug of coffee, so I rose to wander through to the common room, wherein resides an urn.

Except I’d not got past the edge of my desk when Andrew, who sits behind me and does something even more complicated with databases than the local_threshold gubbins I footle about with, asked me in tones of incredulity if I could actually be cold.

Brief investigations revealed that everyone else in Aber thought it was sweltering hot, so I wandered home on’t sick and promptly slept for around 30 of the following 48 hours. Indeed, I still feel sleepy now, although that could just be because it’s a) Friday, and b) completely dead out here.

It interests me, though, because though I’ve seen it happen to other people, I’ve never experienced such a thing on my own. That said, with one commitment or another, it’s been a while since I stopped working before 22:00, and we’ve been going places at weekends, which has been knocking out the days when I normally get some actual rest in.

In all fairness to myself, that’s not as stupid an approach as it might sound: I seem to need to pull in 8-10 hours of sleep a night, which is a crazily large number, so I tend to run along on 5-7, and recharge when I get a chance. Turns out that three intensive weeks & no free time in the mornings is about my limit, though.

So, yeah. Apparently it’s possible for me to BSOD. Cool!

Rejected Alternative Title:
‘Quick! Thump “Esc”!’
Rejected because a BSOD doesn’t seem to let you do that anymore. When did they sneak that change in!?

* Cross-reference

/backing music by Jethro Tull, why not?/

Today being the 29th of April, my father would’ve turned 53 today. [In the unlikely event random people are stumbling up against this, I say ‘would’ve’ because he’s not turned anything since 41 – apparently the Highway Code’s suggestion that one should check for oncoming traffic before turning a lorryload of concrete across the carriageway isn’t quite such a pointless directive, after all.]. Twelve years is a long time, of course; even if I were inclined to try I doubt I’d be able to give you more than the roughest of character sketches of the man.

Still, it’s not untypical for me to get pensive at all of three points in the year, this one included and, this year more than usual, I’m finding myself feeling introspective. Five’ll get you twenty that this is down to finally having somewhere to head in life, or, at any rate, a plan that extends over a greater scale than my previous range of ‘Do x because everyone knows that’s the thing that happens next.’ Even so, I don’t much care for introspection. It’s so inclined to get in the way of not really thinking anything much.

The bulk of you, I suspect, will have seen that inspirational-sounding quote about how scar tissue is stronger than yer actual regular tissue &c., &c. Of course it isn’t; it doesn’t have the elasticity or something, so it’s less good under strain: less like a wooden oar patched up with steel braces and more like torn blotting paper that’s been prit-stiked back together along the edges. Still, as a quote it sounds good, which is the main thing.

Much like ‘That which does not kill us makes us strong,’ it’s been kitted out to give comfort rather than point out to a chap who’s lost of all your limbs, but not died, will nevertheless find it hard to summon the strength to heft a sack of potatoes; there must be a whole industry out there devoted to thinking these things up. (What, you thought Einstein came up with that whole ‘1% inspiration, 99% perspiration’ without spending five nights tearing out his hair and moaning “Come on Albie! The miniature diary industry is counting on you!!” Yeah, right.)

Anyway, I’ve got a whole welter of the scar tissue knocking about, and I find it mainly leads to character traits that come under the heading of ‘OK in moderation’.

A prime example of this is the manner in which I can be stubborn. To a point, being stubborn is the same as being persistent – you get to go home and say you tried your best & if things didn’t pan out OK, then it’s no fault of yours. Except I default to the kind of stubborn where I try my best and if things don’t pan out then it’s because I didn’t try hard enough; I take failure in the face of impossible odds as a weakness on my part, and I’ll beat myself up about it along the way, which is somehow made worse by the fact I know what a stupid approach it is.

Summer of 2005 was pretty much a case in point, there: there was a time during that particular fight where, in retrospect, I think we were all sunk and we all knew it, except for the pig-headed bastard who kept saying ‘This is not going to happen’ under the impression that if you said it quietly enough the world would just stop holding out on you.

[Tip for Film-makers: If you want to win me over run one of those scenes where the bad guy gets the living crap pounded out of him by someone who’s got so angry about the whole thing that they’ve suddenly got dead quiet, and started breaking people’s elbows over their own knees while nevertheless asking really politely. And humming a cheery tune. I promise you at least five “Awesomes!” in the foyer afterwards.]

In fairness, it worked; I think I got some good work done, under the circumstances, but I screwed myself up in the process. When I stopped doing that job in Spring 2006 I spent about three weeks getting hammered on a nightly basis because it turned out I’d wound myself up so much I couldn’t deal with the sudden disconnection from all the responsibility I’d taken to assuming.

Yeah, that’s another one. I take responsibility for way too many things, although it sometimes feels like I can hardly wait to offload it onto some other chump once I’ve got it. Except, not always: I can’t access it on a conscious level, but I’ve decent reason to suspect that I’ve got a complicated ranking system somewhere in the back of my head that sorts out the people to whom I feel a greater level of responsibility than others. Mostly it doesn’t have an effect on anything, least of all how I deal with people on a daily basis, but you should (really, really not) see me when you cross someone on that list: not only will I take it incredibly personally on their behalf, but I can hold a grudge for long enough to make Basalt feel worn down.

Even now, there are people out there that I have never met, and if they introduced themselves and said ‘Hi, I’m Mike,’ I’d say ‘Hey, Mike, nice to meet you’ and we’d probably get along fine and have all sorts of interesting conversations, because nobody ought to be judged by who they used to be (certainly I shouldn’t; I was a complete arsehole for years.) And yet, if Dave were there and said ‘This is Mike. Yeah, Mike,’ I’d lay even money that I’d punch the man in the face while he was waiting to shake hands simply because five, seven, ten years ago he did something that fucked over a person I’d only meet a decade later and if I feel an obligation to someone, I’ll gladly backdate it just far enough to cover past injuries. Or, rather, I’ll automatically backdate it. Doesn’t seem to come with an off switch.

The reason for that, I believe, comes down to a simple fact: there have been times where, through no fault of my own, I’ve failed to stop Bad Things happening, and that doesn’t sit well with my stubbornness. In that sense, pretty much anyone I like is quids in: either I’ll try and pull a shielding-from-the-badness maneuver, or I’ll make life miserable for anyone pissing you about. It is, of course, hard on anyone unlucky enough to get caught in the crossfire (thought it’s ideally worse for anyone in the crosshairs, of course) but it’s been a while since anyone played silly buggers anyway, I’m happy to say.

(Lord knows how many times I’ve polluted this blog with memes, but I’m still looking for one that decides that Which Character I Am is an abominable cross between Ikari Gendo and Malcolm Reynolds. That would be a meme built out of raw Awesome. And dodgy html, of course.)

Happily, therefore, I’m not actively stoking anything right now – and given long enough, I can let things slide. I usually do, in fact, because it’s quite tiring otherwise, and once I’ve burned through the actual anger, I tend to have trouble keeping up enough of a head of steam, though God knows I’ve seen the anger last a few years a head. (Interestingly, it doesn’t seem to be linked to whether the person who actually got done over has done with the forgiving thing. It’d be a lot simpler if it did, really, but instead it seems to run on whether I can still remember how much it affected them. Introduces auto-balancing, I guess.)

But I like to think, on balance, that it all works out OK, and that I’m not, in fact a sociopath. (I am antisocial, mind, but that’s just because I continue to use computer games as a Way Out Of Responsibility, where fixing bad things is just a quickload – or, indeed, a console command – away, and I’m not giving that up in a hurry). I periodically worry that I’ve got a predisposition to be horrible to people I decide I don’t like, but it rarely seems to be much of an issue, thank goodness.

Mostly, the worst extremes of being stubborn, and overzealous and inclined to fret like crazy, I keep in check, and the impression I get is that by balancing them out I actually wind up as a reasonably easy-going (& ideally half-way considerate) sort of person. Or, at least, I look like I’m trying, which is better’n nothing.

Mostly, I hope, I get by OK without being too horrible to people.

Mostly, I think, I avoid writing people off entirely because I fail to make allowances for why they might be acting like that.

Mostly, in fact, I wonder how well I match up to the tracing of a character sketch I last saw done in charcoal more than a decade ago, and which would probably be out of date even if I could remember what the shape of it was.

I’m not certain, but I think I’m slowly getting there. Perhaps if I work on it long enough I’ll fetch up with something that wouldn’t completely disappoint the original artist, hey? It’s always good to have something to try and do tomorrow, after all.

No comments today, folks. I ain’t here to fish.

A highly articulate outburst

I was having an e-mail conversation yesterday, and the subject of people driving everywhere rather than using public transport came up. As the only car driver present on the mailing list, I got asked for my opinion – specifically in relation to my having taken the Park & Ride into Oxford, rather than having tried to park in the city centre, & having started to write a short reply, I found several hundred words had passed.

Most of them, I decided, on re-reading what I’d written, relatively sensible ones.

At this point, I’ll point out I’ve made barely any revisions to this theory – bar my square-bracketed clarification of fare changes, and the re-setting of the line-breaks my gmail account put in this is just what I churned out last night, but I think there might be something there. Lord knows we’ve all got enough money to fritter it away trying to prop up a brassic banking industry, I don’t see why we didn’t ought to get some decent use out of it.

There’s probably a few hundredweight of flaws in the idea; you’re welcome to point them out in a friendly way, but at least it’s not as stupid as some of the ideas out there. (Seriously, I am curious as to where the bad ideas are, here; I admit I’ve kinda planned everything out in Sandbox Mode, with unlimited funds and no fixed deadlines, but still…)

I’m in favour of P&R. Although I’ve driven through Oxford (through a complicated coming-off-the-motorway-wrong scenario that had me trying to plot a route through the centre of the city based on
where I thought the tour buses went after Broad Street. Was dead chuffed when I managed it). However, I still drove to Oxford. From Wallingford. And the X39 is actually pretty damn good – I really like Thames Travel.

Even London – Edinburgh is the sort of thing I might drive, depending on circumstances! If it was at a busy time, I think I’d take the car, because I’d at least get a seat! Other times, maybe not – it’d depend what I was doing after Edinburgh, I guess.

But, yeah. The thing to do is spend a hundred fuckloads of money on the transport network: re-nationalise *everything*, buy back all the land sold under the Beeching Axe, put the tracks back, buy the station houses back and re-introduce full service to all of them (automatic ticket machines will save you a few salaries there, at least) and get into the habit of offering free rail passes to, er, everyone. (Or everyone paying less than the 50% income tax band, say).

Upgrade everything. Electrify the entire network while you’re at it to a) save time in the future and b) free yourself up to put any rolling stock down a line, increase the number of passing places, terminals
and sidings and give tax breaks to businesses that transport anything by rail, including produce (I reckon the distribution networks could cope with running services from local rail terminals instead of local warehouse depots, I don’t really see the difference). Accept that the national debt is going to look like swiss bloody cheese anyway, and bootstrap the domestic rail manufacturing industry to get some trains that’re less than 20 years old running through the provinces.

Bring back First, Second & Third class, [but do away with the multitude of saver fares; either it’s off peak or it’s a fixed rush hour surcharge of £3, say] and change the conditions of carriage to promise everyone a seat on their service, or they get a £5 voucher for the shop on the train for each 100 miles or part thereof for their journey as specified *on the ticket* – we could print that easy enough.

Then – gradually, over a few years – increase tax on petrol to fund the public transport network, and offer free bus routes to railway stations. No less than every 10 minutes per stop in towns, and aim for
every 30-40 minutes for rural areas. Since the Government run everything anyway, they can sync all the timetables up without (too much) difficulty.

Engineering works no longer mean such severe stoppages, as there’s now *network redundancy* and you can route around them with care. Long-term you get improved maintainance. Schedule for an x-day period, specifying exactly what needs to be done, and at the end of the works, have them surveyed by two independent teams from seperate bodies (one from and one from the Dept. of Engineering Works, say). If the works are approved by both bodies as being OK – and *signed
off* by *every member* of the inspection teams, good. If they’re signed off ahead of schedule, give the workers a bonus of £x/day over schedule.

The thing is I *want* trains to be good. But as long as people think they’re supposed to make money, they ain’t gonna. And even people like me will stay in our cars until we can get a fascist party set up, with me in charge…

As Statto said: a highly articulate outburst. So where’s it fall down? Money, obviously, and political intransigence. But where else?

I should’ve gone to bed (but the whisky isn’t gone)*

‘s been a good Easter, so I’ll start with that. Food & company and a surfeit of neither which gave me some space for a bit of Quiet, which is always a worthwhile use of time, especially around now.

Also, we went out to Cwm Rheidol and hunted Easter eggs. (Our own, of course; we didn’t just show up expecting them to be there already). Slight issue with swathes of the countryside having been inexplicably closed, but we found a space in the end, and it was really quite fun.

Birthdays & Purchases
I’ve turned 24. Which isn’t an especially exciting sentence, let’s be honest. I don’t think I’m due another birthday that feels like it might be important for at least six years, and possibly not for another eighteen; my 43rd will feel creepy, I’m pretty sure, but other than that each year kinda feels the same as every other. I’ve probably said that before; it’s a perennial complaint. (Pause for laugh)

Still, people have been very nice and given me everything from beer to periodicals subscriptions, and Ruth has very kindly chucked me a small pile of cash, with which I’ve bought a microcomputer. Well… yeah, OK, so I’ve technically owned very-very-late-era Microcomputers for years, but I can’t keep track, these days, of what’s a Laptop, what’s a Netbook and what’s a Small One Of The Above, so I’m going with Microcomputer because I know what one of those is.

Anyway, I had been going to get an S101 on the grounds that it’s called an S101, which is Teh Awesome. (Because – as if anyone needs telling – S101 was the directory name for Spellcasting 101: Sorcerors Get All the Girls, the precursor to the fab S201 & S301 by Steve Meretzky. All, quite literally, Legend-ary.)

So, yeah, the S101: it’s woefully underspecced for modern games (but would play old DOS stuff fine; see what I did there?) and I liked the fact it got essentially decentdecent reviews (for something built for battery life rather than speed) and I knew what I’d call it even before it turns up, which saves all that tedious umm-ing and ahh-ing.

Anyway, I’m not getting one of those. I’m getting an NC10 which has better battery life, costs less money, exists in a spiffy blue colour and gets even better reviews.

I’m still going to call it Ernie, mind.

The point to this, however, is pretty much that it can’t do very much, but is small and handy for carting about. Also, the NC10 comes with a closer-to-normal-size keyboard & a small hard-drive which puts it ahead of the rest of the minilapbook genre which seem reluctant to give you space to install anything very much. So it’s portable, won’t do [as much in the way of ] games to distract me [compared to a proper tower] and is easy to type on. If you didn’t know me better you might think I intended to get some actual proper work done next year, no?

If the machine has a downside I’ve not already factored in, it’s that it doesn’t come with 3G, which means if I need Internets on the go, I’ll have to create an unwieldy lash-up from my phone, Nokia PC Suite and a short length of USB cable, but I think I’ll be able to cope. Ruth proposes to teach me SVN-ing, so that’s promising.

I’m looking forward to the Masters, but I’m a little worried about the state of the profession – we had a meeting on Spy Weds. wherein it was revealed that we’ve not got a bean. This was pretty much the case at my previous place of work (although, in fact, their defecit appeared to be even larger), so I’m a little concerned that there may be employers out there who won’t be able to pay me.

But I figure I’m awesome, so they’ll find the money somewhere.

Tech Generally
Went back to Newport on Saturday, and miserably failed to fix the computer there – something very strange seems to have happened to it; it’s in need of a full-re-install, I think. In a bid to save myself an extra trip, I’m going to attempt to guide people there through a re-install. Worst case, I have to go back (which I would anyway, if I didn’t attempt this first), so I figure it’s worth a shot.

I move to SSEL on Monday. Fewer Readers to deal with, more Spreadsheets. At present I’m not really sure how that balances out, but we’ll see how it goes. I have to say I rather enjoyed quite a lot of being in Lending; the Thin Red Line stunt got a bit dull the fifth time it was myself & one other person (normally Annette) holding the fort, but only a little.

Had to work Maundy Thursday, which was shoddy since it was my Birthday, which is shoddy, but I ended up glad I did, as we had a vagueish academic come in and start asking me questions, who turned out to be a Bodley reader, so that was nice. I do miss the old place, strangely. (That is, strangely if you only recall my experience of the place before they got my eyes tested, when I appeared to be of the Fail for no reason I could work out. After I could actually read what I was typing I really enjoyed it.)

Wow, I’ve rambled all over the place again. And Storm Front just looped round, Tell you what: I’ll throw in a few semi-themed headers and push off to bed, how’s that sound?

*Sounds like a song title, dunnit? Well, it would if it started with ‘you’ rather than ‘I’. Something melancholic and slow, I think. Or something very bouncy and fast and miserable as sin. Both good.

Four One More Years!

Now with semi-random emboldening, to clarify what’s important in amongst all these words…

Well, since I’ve not yet had any frantic e-mails or letters or ‘phone calls of retraction, I guess now is as reasonable a time as any to leak some breaking news out into the public domain: UWA Aberystwyth would like to offer me a place on the Library and Information Studies course as a Masters student, starting on the 28th of September, 2009. Plus, on the basis of my having started as an undergraduate around the 28th of September 2003, and having graduated from UWA three years later, they’d like to give me 10% off my tuition fees, which is very nice of them!

All things considered, this is a Good Thing, since it means I’ll get not only a professional qualification that (as I understand it) will allow me to get membership of CILIP – dead handy, that is – but also a spiffy new degree, which will not only make me look like a well-rounded, clever sort of person, but which should also net me a little more cash, long-term.

Not only that, but in the event that I actually finish and get the thing, I’ll be one of a comparatively small number of people who hold not only a degree from UWA, but also a degree from AU. Yes, I think that is a really interesting fact. I’ll wheel it out at parties in the event people look like they’re getting bored of hearing about the development of MARC formatting*.

Jen is currently in town, which is awesome. Brief trip to pub yesterday, which included entertaining reminiscences about Apocalypse Wow! and other ghosts. Since I’m about to be returning to studenthood [terrifying thought, except I’ll be able to stop paying tax and that], I find this heartening – I think Jen is the first person I met during my Fresher’s Week that I’m still in any kind of contact with outside of Facecoke, and that dun’t really count as contact. It was good, because the thought of going back to University as a student type was making me feel properly old, and while talking about t’Old Days didn’t exactly stop me feeling old, it at least made me more cheerful about the whole thing.

Plus, y’know, Jen’s awesome, so it’s nice to have her back in town :-)

Good news all round, pretty much!

Have fun!

You really don’t have to read this bit if you don’t want to. I can’t think why you’d not want to, but if you really don’t, you can shove off now.

*this is, in fact, really interesting. See, back in the 1960s electronic data storage was really expensive and any computerised library records had to be stored in fixed-length fields, which not only limited search capabilities, but also caused costly wastage when you had an author with a four-character surname being stored in a fixed-length ten-character field. So, on the one hand, you had some fields that, for certain items, weren’t long enough, but couldn’t be extended, and on the other hand, you had some that were too long, but couldn’t be shortened.

Sometimes this would happen within one record, and it really crippled the potential value of the emerging computer as an alternative method of record management (the standard at the time, of course, being the traditional 3×5 inch catalogue card, which also had limited capacity and couldn’t be relied upon to get regular updates unless someone remembered to check all the cross-references from one card to another – which was time consuming even for small collections.

The problem they had was that there wasn’t any way to vary the length of a data field, because you had to tell the computer that the Author Surname field started at character #20, and ended at character #30 – it was the only way the machine knew what order the data lived in, and nobody could think of a way round that (of course, the majority of librarians had little understanding of computers, and the computer engineers rarely thought of libraries as being a market for computers, since the established members of each profession looked on the other as the very anathema of what they stood for – a view which remains surprisingly common to this day, in spite of all the advances made in the past twenty-odd years).

Now about this time the Library of Congress had appointed a new committee which was supposed to be looking at their surplus of 3×5 cards. (Especially in the US, these cards were still pretty cutting edge – as late as 1900 most American libraries still had their catalogues printed in book form only, which made them amazingly hard to update – by comparison, the index cards were a dream come true, except that they took up too much room.

The committee, therefore, was looking at two solutions to the card storage problem: 1) Rent a big warehouse to store some of the cards, or 2) Rent a floor in a big warehouse to store some of the cards**. The LC was feeling pretty good about itself, around this time, because of course it wasn’t long since the 1956 Committee on Catalogue Code Revision had presented its findings (themselves a revision of the fairly shoddy 1946 rules), so they weren’t in the market to change the way cataloguing was done. However, it was at about this time that — Oi! You little bugger, I saw you open that new tab! Hey! O, now you come back here! Honestly, I was right in the middle of my story!***

*sigh* Bye, then…

**Some things change very, very slowly, it appears…

***Cite me!

[All humour aside, that is honestly a really interesting story. I’d be happy to finish it sometime. And kudos to Keith Trickey for clueing me in on it.

(Because I’m a human, and there’s nothing humans like better than to spread their downers through the medium of technology)

OK, here’s the deal: I don’t ask you to agree with me, and all I ask in exchange is that you offer me the same courtesy.

I’m happy to go to the wall to defend your right to not agree with me, and all I ask in exchange for that is that you don’t put the boot in on the assumption I’m retarded.

I’m happy to talk things through with people in a rational, open discussion (although I’ve yet to have such a discussion that changes anything for anyone involved), but I’m not happy to sit there and be made to feel got at.

This has come up before, although I’ve not mentioned it on the blog, because I really don’t like to be showy about this stuff, it does nobody any good, but come on people. You’re a mix of avowed atheists and agnostics, and I believe in God. The rest of the time I can believe that you like me, so I don’t see why this has to be such a big deal.

[Religion, they say, causes wars, but we all know that’s not true: what causes wars is having two or more groups who refuse to show respect to beliefs contrary to their own.]

I’m not really trying to get into a “Why You Should Prove Everything Scientifically” debate, because that’s the same problem from a different side, it’s not about what you can prove, but about what you believe (and, again, I’m quite happy for you to believe you shouldn’t think anything unless you can prove it and peer review it, as long as you’ll just let me think something different).

I just wanted to explain that I don’t like it when people have a go at who I am, and it really feels like that’s what you’re doing, not by targetting me specifically, but by dismissing anyone you can pattern-match to be like me as being idiots, alongside us all.

[I think this was particuarly starkly illustrated this evening, when everyone was more than willing to lay into Film #1 as being stupidly and deliberately couched in one-sidedness, but shut up as soon as Film #3 arrived and said things they agreed with. That’s kinda scary.]

Some of them really are idiots, I’ll agree with you on that. But mostly I don’t agree with them, and I keep my thoughts to myself and while they affect how I treat people and how I act, I don’t try and shove them down your throat.

It works for me. I don’t believe I hurt anybody by my beliefs (in fact, they pretty much proscribe it), so this kind of blind attack puts the boot in; I’m not up for an evening of careful edits designed to show what a thickwitted twat everyone like me is, thanks.

…And really, I don’t post this in a bid to make you feel guilty, or wrong, or like I don’t respect what you believe. But I do post it because, just sometimes, it feels like I’m the only person in the room who is OK with the idea that we can think different things without being spiteful to one another, and when I feel like that, it hurts. Because it’s becomes apparant that the consensus is anyone who thinks what I think is stupid. And that hurts, and I’d much rather I had friends who liked me, and it feels like you really never could. (I’m an antisocial bastard but I honestly like you all, and I just got burned, so I figure it (hopefully) won’t hurt if I ask you to at least tell me when you’re switching on the hob)

[Yeah, I’m fishing for some recognition that you don’t mean me. Assuming you don’t, I figure that’s allowed.]

I don’t ask you to agree with me, and all I ask in exchange is that you offer me the same courtesy.

But this is who I am, and so far neither insolvency, nor death nor lawyers has changed that. I’m pretty dug in here; don’t imagine I’m about to change just to satisfy your unwillingness to make the effort to understand.

I’m probably not being coherent, but I’m tired, and my shoulder and my elbow and my hip have been hurting me since I woke in pain at four am, and I really am feeling upset, so that’s why.

Final thing, because it made me laugh this morning, and I could really do with a pick-me-up right now:

Link, to today’s Abstruse Goose (I want that final scene on a T-Shirt)

I really thought about disabling comments on this, because amongst the things I want least is a pointless circular theological debate (closely followed by flaming trolls), but I haven’t. So play nice, alright?

‘Come to join us for the last waltz?’*

As Statto has said, the mass closing of Woolworths is something that really doesn’t come across in words, so if you still have the rapdily-dwindling chance wherever you are (Newport and Aber, I know, are now out of the running, since my watch says 17:38 [in analogue, obviously]), go have a look.

I’ve been to two branches of Woolies today; Telford and Newport, and the experience had two very different effects on me.

In Telford, I was mostly going “meh,” at both the produce and the experience in general. But I never spent much time at Woolies in Telford (I would be surprised, in fact, if even today’s mooch about brought the time I’ve ever spent there to more than forty minutes). Woolies in Newport, on the other hand, is used to be right opposite the bus station, so in the days when I was catching that Godforsaken No. 83 back to Hadley on a daily basis it was a good place to go and shelter against the wind.

In point of fact, it was just such an excursion that prompted me to buy the first ever Little Red Book, because it felt wrong to mooch about for half an hour and come away without buying anything…

I wandred into Newport branch at about 17:00, half an hour before they were due to finally close to the public. There was pretty much nothing left by then, and most of the shelves were empty, but the whole place was crammed regardless.

Disjointed impressions:

    • People literally scooping things off the shelves into bags
  • Two middle-aged women having a tug-of-war with the last standard-size A4 binder in the shop
  • An old lady getting shoved to one side by an old man trying to grab at four remaining 100 w lightbulbs
  • Shop assistant giving me a carrier bag and saying ‘Anything you can fit into this, it’s £3 a bag’
  • A grey-haired but youngish looking woman getting tearful as ‘Take on Me’ came onto the radio
  • Girl manning the till to passing manager-type: ‘You’ve seen “Shaun of the Dead,” yeah…?’
  • Man to woman who didn’t know him, as they both wrenched 5-packs of blue ballpoint pens from the shelves: ‘It does make you feel a bit bad, doesn’t it?’
  • Woman hustling children towards exit: ‘I don’t care what else you want! We’re leaving now!
  • Managers smiling at everybody. I have absolutely no idea how they can do that; I rarely bothered to smile at anyone in T— Stores, unless they’d previously been nice to me.
  • Girl at till telling me it’s been really creepy all day, but trying to smile anyway.
  • Man grabbing piles of 40-pack ‘Worth It’ value file dividers, and then dropping all of them because there were some on offer two shelves along.
  • …It actually left me feeling kinda mournful. Probably some passing psychologist could give me a reason for this, but I’d advice ’em to shove off rather than trying.

    I have a roll of Woolies Clearance Sale stickers. This pleases me, and probably nobody else.

    That’s it, I guess. Lame.

    * This one is so obvious you get no points at all. Anyway, it’d just be ghoulish.

    Quick notes

    1. Am leaving today. Miriam is filled up and has had her tyres re-pressured; they were all 4-5 PSI below where they wanted to be, but that was because I assumed the ‘220’ they wanted them to be was the equivilant of ’22’ on the scale Morrisons was using, and it turns out that the Morrisons pump was working in PSI and the sticker I was looking at was working in BAR.

    There’s apparently some manner of significant difference between the two; I’d dismissed it as being a decimal point or, failing that, an Imperial Vs. Metric thing, but it seems to be more like the difference between feet and stone. Whoops. Fixed now, though.

    2. I was described today as ‘an antisocial, dissolute, borderline-sociopathic Bob Cratchit for our times,’ which is the most Awesome since ever.

    3. Played some Left 4 Dead online yesterday, with some really fairly decent players. Connection was pretty chuggy at times, though, which counted against me, and we did get repeatedly slaughtered all the time (to the extent that the Director started leaving enormous piles of explosives about in the hope we might get out of the subway and move the plot on at all).

    That was kinda fun; the ability to be on Almost No Health and still use my medkit to patch up the only guy in the squad who could shoot straight and didn’t go shout “SUPRISE!” in the Witch’s ear appeals to me. (For added Win he then shouted ‘Use yer pills mate, an’ I can chuck yer mine,’ in a slightly Scouse accent, which was nice and sensible on his part). A mate of his turned up shortly after and we got considerably further on before we all died again, opening the stupid horde-summoning garage door, and shortly after that my connection fell over again, so I left ’em to it.

    4. Been finishing things off at work, these last few days, to make sure I don’t get split over two sections for the sake of tidying up loose ends. Not entirely sure that it’s working, so far, but never mind, I expect it will in the end. I skipped lunch and will owe an hour and so am going to vanish away at something more like 15:00, which is much better because I’m damn tired already.

    5. Got paid today, which is a) good, because it means I’ve been able to clear my credit card already, and b) bad, because it means I’m going to be in a right bind by mid January. If you’ve yet to buy me a Christmas present, a large suitcase full of used £50 Bank of England notes will do me fine.

    Hokay. Final push…

    *After year 10 I just stopped doing games because it made my knees hurt. And was pointless.

    Good timing that bottle!

    So it’s been an up-and-downy sort of fortnight, full of peaks, troughs and, apparently, feathers brought on by the failure of my keyboard to hyphenate on cue.

    I’ve been ill, which was horrible, since I was actually asleep for the whole time (I’m really bad at being ill; after the first couple of hours I get fed up of lying down and want to get up and do things, which tends to leave me being more ill than I was to begin with, but never mind). Still not sure I’m entirely fixed, to be honest, but never mind.

    Drove to Shrewsbury for a dentists appointment, which was much better than taking the train. It used up half a tank of petrol, which means I spent about £5 more by driving than I would have spent on a train ticket, but on the other hand, I was able to arrive at the actual dentists, ten minutes before my appointment, have the appointment, and then leave again immediately, so I spent an entire three hours less time hanging about waiting for the trains to get their collective DEMU arses in gear.

    Well worth a fiver. Encountered ice on Plynlymon, by the effective, though inadvisable, method of discovering my left wheels had gone crazy while skirting a hairpin a mile or two past the George Borrow hotel, and again in the valley of the Elvis Rock.

    Came home via Mach. A pigawful road, but with less chance of finding a ton or two of expensive metal slip[ping] below me… and then drop[ping] with an almighty smash fifty feet to the bed of the stream…*

    Shared whisky with Matt at the weekend, over House of Cards. Rather enjoyable, and there was splendidly good timing on the part of the bottles of alcohol various, because they contrived to get opened about twenty minutes after I found out that Peter, an old family friend, had died.

    Currently awaiting information on the date of the funeral, so I can book time off to get back for it.

    As I say, a pair of weeks with ups and downs. And now, apparently, I have to go show a work experience girl the cataloguing program. She wants to know about LC Classification, apparently, which I’ve never been called on to do, and it seems odd for me to be the one explaining actual cataloguing procedures, too (especially since I’m only upgrading very basic old records that got stranded by a system change in the late ’80s) but there you go.

    I just wish I wasn’t obliged to miss out on my tea break for the sake of it…

    *A tricky one. A full pint (or bottle) of beer in it this time.

    ‘If Tyler Durden knew how to change a tap, he wouldn’t have to punch people in the face.’

    Today’s blog post title comes from a nice little essay by Ferrett, whose LiveJournal I read.

    Since it’s less than a fortnight since I was spectacularly failing at changing the washer in a tap (although, to be fair, a plumber had previously said the whole thing was seized; I was mainly there as a checking-he-isn’t-a-lying-git capacity), that one struck a chord.

    I’m feeling fairly cheerful, at the moment. I expect it’ll wear off presently, when I finally come to my senses, but I’m doing OK. I was a bit worried when I went to bed yesterday, because I’d developed a splitting headache behind my eye, and I thought it could be caused by the mixing of wine and whisky last night, but I’m fine this morning, so I was probably just tired. Still am, actually.

    (I think work ought to give me an incentive to get out of bed in the morning*; we only have a single storage heater, so getting out from under the covers means making my knees start to hurt unless I immediately get some trousers on, except that [because we only have one storage heater] any trousers I can find are also really cold, and turn out to speed the chill into my bones. Plus, y’know, it’s a bed. Nobody likes getting out of one of those, even to make their phone stop playing ‘They’re taking the hobbits to Isengard, when it’s nice and warm and cosy.’)

    I have spent most of the last few days having meetings. The first one was with Hugh Preston, who is the Admissions Dude** out at what I think of as DILS, but which now seems to be simply DIS; the Department of Information Studies. It is looking increasingly like doing a Masters is a sensible thing to do; not only do I get the M out of it, but (because of the way the course is carefully set up) it’ll qualify me for membership of CILIP, too. Both of these things seem to have a fairly immediate impact on the kind of jobs one can get, so it’s looking like a good plan.

    The second meeting I had was with Mike Smith, whom I may have mentioned before, way back when I was being a Student. Essentially, he is awesome (which I’ve thought for ages, but he gets bonus Awesome because it turns out he seems to really like me, as well, which is shiny) and will give me an academic reference, which I’d need to actually get onto the aforementioned course.

    I’m still a little torn between doing the course Part Time and doing the course Full Time. The main difference is that if I do it Part Time it will take 2 – 5 years, and I have to be in a Relevant Job, but I can start this April and the University will pay my tuition for me while I’m working here (until the end of June), and after that I can run off to The South, or something. With the sole exception of that last point, all of those are both Pros and Cons pretty much equally.

    If I do it Full Time it will take about 12 months, I don’t need to worry about finding a Relevant Job or else in the meantime, and I have to stay in Aber for at least 9 months (although once I’m down to the actual Writing A Diss stage, I can go and do so from ‘pretty much anywhere.’ These are all relatively positive, and the only major problem is that I will magically Not Have Anything Paid For, although since the University would only be paying the first two or three months of my tuition if I went Part Time, that’s not so huge a thing as it might otherwise sound.

    So… we’ll see.

    And that’s all you people are getting from me, for now.

    O, except I finished the Allied campaign on Red Alert 3, and I really need to write to EA at some point, to find out why they’d preffer me not to buy any of the games they’re releasing.

    (Yeah, I know I keep banging on about this. It just bugs me that these people are sufficiently retarded to think that making a game with invasive anti-piracy measures which you don’t get on the inevitable pirate copies will encourage people to pay hard currency for the inferior copy-protected version, rather than pirate it for free. I just can’t help but feel that anyone incapable of spotting the FAIL inherent in that philosophy is probably someone who shouldn’t be allowed metal cutlery, never mind influence over the gaming industry…)

    Anyway, I don’t mean to keep you from your surfing with an argument you all know and agree with; I just figured all of the EA executives might swing by on a Googlewhim***, realise they’re all cretins and commit seppuku in pennance…


    * Money doesn’t count. Or, at least, not this ammount of money.
    ** Actual title may vary.
    *** You can use this word. I don’t mind.

    Must be winter…

    Every day this past fortnight that I have woken up I have done so with my left knee killing me and my back playing hob so as not to feel left out. After a remarkably mild year for that kind of thing, I’m out of practice at the whole “constant background pain” thing, which is a right bugger.

    I had toothache the other week, and that hurt like crazy, as well. (Although, to be fair, I find that re-assuring, since it means I now have a dentist such that I’ve not got toothache all the time and cease to notice it.)

    Next month I have a dentist’s appointment, in (of course) Shrewsbury. Very kindly they’ve given me the time off work gratis (rather than my having to book it from annual leave). Only for this one occasion, of course, but all being well I won’t need another check for at least six months, so I hope I can dodge that bullet and hang onto my leave for when I need it.

    Wedding venue scouting was good. It actually did me a Hell of a lot of good to sit and re-read all the brochures everyone sent me, just so I could remember how angry they made me. I mean, seriously, who in the name of God sends out brochures that say (when you boil off the insincere congratulations) “You will give us large sums of money in used Treasury notes, and in return you will get to do exactly as we tell you, eat what we tell you to, throw yourselves out building you’ve paid to use when we tell you to, and then you can give us more money.”

    …I think what baffles me more than anything about that is that it must work, or it wouldn’t be profitable to keep doing it. I just find it annoying. One of the things I like about Prospective Venue A is that it gives a firm impression of being flexible. It gives a fairly strong impression of Turquoise as well, of course, but mainly it’s an impression of flexible. And I think the turquoise will be quieter with the shutters open and the lights on.

    And, finally: if you’ve not seen it already, zoom your browser* now to this beauty of a story over at El Reg, which has got me literally laughing ’till my eyes watered, and everyone looked at me funny.

    *’chug’ in IE

    Multiple Things.

    Well, first up I’ve just had a haircut. Was surprisingly quick, and fairly painless. I don’t get on with haircuts, as a rule. Unless I know the barber I never have anything to say, and I just sit there gawping at my own reflection and wondering if I’m moving my head too much.

    The barber in Hadley was a decent guy, once I got to know him, and Gino in Newport is the only chap I’ve met who knows what I mean when I say “Er, well, a general trim, I guess. Sort of a short-back-and-sides, but short on top as well, and I don’t want a fringe*”.

    Also, of course, the hanging about while the queue depletes before your very eyes can be pretty lame, especially if you’ve not got a book. This haircut only took twenty minutes, though, thus getting me to the “really uncomfy feeling of hairs stuck down the back of my collar” even faster than I expected. Whee.

    My face has mysteriously become oval**, and my eyes seem to have got bigger. Like I say, I don’t get hair.

    On the plus side, I shouldn’t need it cutting again before the Spring, which means it should be able to grow to a nice warmish sort of length before the frosts come, thus providing me with further insulation. Win.

    Supreme Court meme:
    Sarah Palin has famously (in America, that is, over here we didn’t notice; I got this from zoethe) been asked to list some Supreme Court rulings, and came up with a grand total of One (Roe V. Wade, natch) before descending into silence. This pleases me, because that means I know more about American law than a prospective Vice President of the United States of America***. I can name two Supreme Court rulings, only one of which is Roe V. Wade.

    Anyway, there’s now a meme. It goes like this:

    Post info about ONE Supreme Court decision, modern or historical to your blog. Any decision, as long as it’s not Roe v. Wade.

    …then there’s some stuff about spreading the fun, but you all know I’m just showing off my dubiously-aquired knowledge.

    Anyway, I pick the Only Other Supreme Court Ruling I’ve ever heard of (not bad going, really; I didn’t even hear about the Supreme Court until I was 19 or so).

    I pick Hustler Magazine, Inc. V. Falwell.

    Background to the ruling is as follows:
    – Jerry Falwell is one of those famous TV Fundies.
    – Campari is an alcoholic beverage, which in the 1980s ran an ad campaign where famous people “talked about their first time” (drinking Campari. See what they did there?)
    – Hustler Magazine is a porno mag, the kind men read “strictly for the photos of the naked women.”

    …y’can all see where this is going already, right?

    Back in the early 1980s Hustler printed a mock Campari Ad wherein Falwell “talked about his first time.” The clever twist was that it was his first time having sex. With his mother, while they were both drunk on Campari. In an outhouse.****

    Falwell wasn’t too pleased about this, and sued for libel, and hurt feelings, and what have you. Very long story short: it went to the Supreme Court in 1988. The Supreme Court had a think and then, by 8 votes to 0, came up with the following ruling:

    The creators of parodies of public figures are protected against civil liability by the First Amendment, unless the parody includes false statements of fact made in knowing or reckless disregard of the truth.

    Since the Ad in Hustler was listed in that edition’s contents as “Fiction; Ad and Personality Parody,” and since the fake Campari ad said it was a parody, and they didn’t actually think Falwell lost it to his mother whilst drunk on Campari [I’m paraphrasing], the ad wasn’t made in knowing or reckless disregard of the truth, but more in a spirit of fun.

    Basically, “It’s OK to say such things about famous people, just as long as you don’t try and pass them off as being actually true.”

    Given that Sarah Palin is a prospective Vice President of the United States of America, I’m growing really fond of that ruling… I mean, dinosaurs. Ffs.

    Well lunch is nearly over, and I’ve got hairs all down the back of my neck. Guess I’ll leave the post about the N95, and the Answers to the bits of the meme nobody got yet for another time, huh?


    *I’ve never worked out what a fringe is for. It spends three months growing into my eyes, gets chopped off, and then starts all over again. Why?

    ** Still, pudgy, but oval. Less moon-like, anyway, which is a start.

    ***For a given, and mainly wrong, value of “know,” anyway.

    **** I honestly don’t know which bit of that paragraph I find more disturbing.

    “I’ve got to start listening to those quiet, nagging doubts…”*

    It is currently Thursday. And I am still amazingly tired from last week. Mainly, I’m tired from last week thanks to all the driving I did, which I’m actually finding fairly tiring.

    [Out of curiosity, I just ran all my destinations through Google’s patent Evil Maps Of Global Domination (beta), and it turns out I actually drove for something like 720 miles. I’ve got a map, and everything, but since putting an image of the map onto the Internet would require Technical Skill, I can’t. No, really. Hardware I can footle about with, and DOS I’m still pretty hot on, but all this Internet stuff really isn’t my line of geekage. Sorry.]

    Anyway, 720 miles. Although there weren’t floods this time. There were BNP rallies, and dual carriageways with inexplicable 40 mph speed limits in the Staffordshire moorlands, and there was an Audi doing 35 mph down a hill (why even buy an Audi then, guys? Why not just get a Ford Mondeo?), but there weren’t floods, so it was a step up on my first driving experience. But it was still really quite shockingly tiring.

    That got compounded by Freshers Fair on Monday (back in the Sports cage, again, I see), where I was mostly standing up and waving bowls of sweets at Freshers. And, of course, 2nd and 3rd years. And, inexplicably, students wearing Penglais School sweaters. Uh, no. Kids, if you’re going to blag your way into places you shouldn’t be, and people are going to see you doing that, at least try and dress the part. I worked this out when I was 16. What’s wrong with you people? Also not looking like a beaten rabbit might help.

    I got loads of free stuff. It was great.

    However, it was also pretty tiring, and every night since, um, Sunday I’ve said to myself “I must get an early night and become Rested.” And every night it hasn’t happened.

    This is partly because I wake at 07:30. I suspect, although I’m always too tired to remember to check, that the very first thing I do in the morning is realise the alarm is going off, and promptly swear. I’m fairly sure my eyes keep opening in the middle of some word or other, but I never seem to catch it.

    From 07:30 until 08:45ish I’m mostly running on autopilot, I think, and then, as the day goes on, I run on Autopilot but with less and less energy, and more in the way of yawning, and frightening myself when I look in the mirror.

    This peaks (or troughs, I guess) in a period of utter exhaustion around half past four, when my limbs get all sluggish and don’t fancy moving much. Then, for no reason at all, it gets to about 19:00 and I wake up. At that point I become fresh as a daisy until at least 23:00, and even if I start to get tired then, it’s more of a “Huh, I should sleep at some point, because I’ll probably be a bit worn out in the morning” than the proper “Seriously, I’m turning off now. Don’t bump into anything while I’m out. Love, brain.” that normally tries to nobble me around mid afternoon.

    I’m not sure why this should be the case. I think there must come a point in my sleep cycle where my body decides that since I’m obviously never going to take its advice, it may as well just go with the flow until I finally come round to the idea of bed myself.

    …Why it doesn’t act like that in the mornings, when I actually need to be up and doing, I honestly don’t know. But I wish it would.

    On the plus side; ’tis nearly Saturday. I’m hoping I can manage to get a lie-in, on Saturday. Probably this will mean I wake up at 8, full of beans, and go and play some Call of Duty until noon. At which point I’ll find myself not only exhausted, but also unnable to have a nap for no obvious reason.

    O well. Thursday afternoon. I think that means they’ve got me searching for the finis africae counting shelves up on F. Should be fun. :-)

    * This one’s a bit harder than usual. Not just beer but a rare ‘JTA is impressed’ face if you cite it properly.

    No Clever Title for me!

    Well it’s been a busy couple of weeks. (I offer this mainly as a reason for why I’ve not managed to update anything, rather than as a warning that a massive post is on its way; you’re safe to continue reading!)

    I’ve contrived to buy a car, and to drive it through some truly appalling weather, which was interesting, especially the bit in the middle of Stafford where I had a choice of drowning the exhaust or aquaplaning, whilst driving through a good foot and a half of water.

    Still, the machine is still running, which is good. The sunroof has developed a leak, which is less good, although I can see how huddling in the carpark of Morrisons, Stone, with the rain so loud on the roof you can’t hear yourself speak might be a factor in that.

    It feels very odd to get into the car and just go somewhere. Admittedly, so far I’ve only gone out to Morrisons, but even that felt peculiar, what with there only being me in the car.

    On the plus side, there only being me in the car helps, because I’m still getting the hang of the difference in ‘feel between this new one and Mike’s, uhm. Corsa?

    Anyway, I’m being incredibly boring, so I’ll shut up about that.

    The reason I was out in the dreadful storm was because I went up and dug Annie out of Cheadle (which appeared to have some sort of a bookshop), and we (viz, Annie + my mother and sister) went to Gladstone. Any AGS people have a recollection of visiting it? I’m sure I went once before, back in the mists of time.

    It was really fun. There were tasty savoury oatcakes (as opposed to the breakfast-with-syrup variety I’m used to in South Shropshire), and a light up model, and some toilets. And a gorgeous Sunburst-style deco washbasin. With the same taps as we have at home. And a set of bath taps, the same as we have at home. And a recipie for pobs [hard to find a good link for that].

    This happens every time we go to a museum. Just once it would be nice to walk round all the exhibits without having to think “That’s not an antique, that’s our cake tin / jam pan / thing in the back shed. That’s what it does, is it?” But, then, I’d probably miss it, if it didn’t happen.

    I made a pot. (Kinda. The Woman Who Pottered did quite a lot the work, with helpful explanations of why I had to do something different, to make sure I didn’t foul it up utterly.) I am quite pleased with it. They can’t afford to run the kilns, even with their pile of Free Coal which is sitting in the courtyard getting damp, but I have got hold of a really nice guy who works in the Arts Centre, and was completely unfazed by my phoning him up to ask if I can borrow his oven. He reckons I should go back after term starts, and put a glaze on it. Annie seems to think it will not explode in the kiln, so I shall try and take it up to the man on Monday, and I shall have a nice pot. Hooray!

    Then, at some point many years from now, it will get dropped, or toppled or otherwise accidentally broke, and I can feel miserable about losing it. Sigh.*

    Survived, as I said, the storm. Came back to Aber, by dint of giving Dan a lift, and seem to have had a very long week, mainly comprised of resolving to go to bed Early, and then doing nothing of the sort. Badminton was fun, however, and Statto and I got some topical news satire done, which is good.

    I know there’s a whole other pile of things which have been going on, but I’m not sure I can remember what else I intended to blog about. I am not now going to York, so I am spared a completely stupidly long journey, and can do a mere stupidly long journey, instead.

    EQ is now on a new server, but this should work anyway.

    That seems like a broadly opportune point to hit the “publish”-y button. Although I notice, in saying that, that I have stopped using phrases like “marginally sensible” in favour of “broadly.” I am not sure if that is an improvement.

    I am hungry. Poxy Llanbadarn and it’s poxy total lack of shops. I shall sulk at it.

    * I include this observation because I think it provides a valuable insight into my psychological makeup, and the nature of the bulk of my fretting about everything. (Yes, I do normally trim these things out.)

    Another weekend gone

    But I have to say I’m enjoying the weekends a lot more now that they’re an interlude of time off, rather than just another part of the vast expanse of nothing that forms the bulk of my existence.

    Of the five people I’ve spoken to on the phone this week, three have said how much more cheerful I’m sounding (and the other two aren’t people I speak to often enough for them to know how I normally sound anyway).

    I discovered yesterday that my little tinny electonic alarm clock, which gets me out of bed by cunningly playing a very tinny, monotone, rendition of one bar of Lone Ranger-y finale bit of the William Tell overture until I stumble out of the duvet and thump it, doesn’t actually require re-setting. I’ve been dilligently making sure it’s primed to go off at 07:30 in the morning every time I’ve gone to bed this week, but it turns out that it automatically re-sets as soon as you hit the ‘off’ button.

    That spoilt my plan to lie-in yesterday, but it did put me into a nice shallow sleep full of cool dreams about the Crimea, narrowboats and assorted awesomeness, so I forgive it for waking me on a Saturday.

    So far this weekend I’ve had Yet Another Driving Lesson, in preparation for Another Driving Test on Wednesday (*sigh*). I’d really much preffer it if they’d just hurry up and give me a pink liscence now; I’ve been learning since 2004, and I know for a cast-iron fact I’m a damn sight better than some of the bloody clowns on the roads these days. Frankly, by this point, the question of whether or not I pass the test seems to be pretty much coming down to luck.

    (F’rinstance, the reason I failed last time, on paper, was “Bad observation on a parallel park.” But the reason I displayed bad observation was that I was parallel parking after starting to move out from where I was pulled up to be told to parallel park, and paused while moving out, to let a cyclist go by in the opposite direction. Which meant I was very slightly on a wonk when level with the parallelising car. Ordinarily that’d not bother me, but since this was The Test I fretted over it1, and was thus gawping out of the back window like mad, trying to make it work out OK. That was Bad Observation, which was a definite fail. Although it would’ve also been just as Faily a Fail if I’d gone out and caused a nuisance to the bloody cyclist. I’m not trying to say I didn’t deserve to fail for the badness, I just think the fact there was badness was due more to chance events than a lack of technical comptence on my part. Actual competence, yes, but I knew what I was doing. It’s not my fault the hypothetical Boy Racer had to potentially slow down a bit.)

    Well, ‘s give it another shot when we get to that, shall we? Although “Shot,” in the context of Penparcau might be an unfortunate choice of words.

    This afternoon I’ve been doing further ironing whilst watching Firefly, which took me a mere two episodes, instead of last week’s four, so I seem to be speeding up as my arms remember what they have to do.

    That doesn’t include the extra 30 minutes I spent trying to force the new ironing board cover to attach itself to the ironing board, though (Paul: we have a new ironing board cover, the old one was manky and wearing thin). Thank-you Woolworths, for your generously providing a one-size-fits-all that doesn’t until you take a Swiss Champ to the bugger (Paul: we have a new ironing board cover. Do not attempt to unpick the string binding it to the underside of the iron-rest. It’s a right pain to sew on with a Victorinox).

    Meanwhile I’ve played through the whole of S101 [Link to S101 at Abandonia, a site where a large number of the screenshots seem to be from the Island of Horny Women. Hmm. A better link might be this one…], and am now started on S201, which, though I’ve been playing it for, hmm… *does maths* sixteen years I’ve only finished once, and now I can’t remember much of what to do.

    O, and I’ve done all the washing up, although I’m about to create some more, unless I decide to just go hungry. That would be less effort in the long run, I suppose…

    Still, given that I did pretty much zilch yesterday, and only really got round to Being Domestic today, I’m fairly pleased. I like having a structure to me life. Even if it does involve getting up at 07-30 and coming back home at 18-00 (and, actually, that’s a big step up on when I was commuting to Oxford, where I’d generally spend at least twelve hours from every day outside the house).

    Going to go shower the bathroom in little bits of beard trimmings, now; trying to keep the thing to a respectable, summer-y length, rather than the usual “Neglected Russian Bear” I’ve been touting since October.

    Apologies for the minor Meme spate yesterday; I was trying to write this, but it didn’t seem to be getting anywhere, at the time!

    1. I do a splendid line in fretting. It is a measure of how concerned I was that I fretted over How The Park Would Go, rather than my more typical background frets of “What If a Plane Loses Its Engine Over Jordan Hill?”2

    2. Yeah, an actual HTML-ed footnote for a change. Pretty snappy, eh reader? Doesn’t work in the LJ version, though. Lack of external linkage, presumably.


    Well I appreciate that the first day in a new job is kinda like the First Day Of A New Year At Junior School, and you spend the whole time learning things like ‘Where the pencils are kept,’ and ‘Avoid Aaron Todd, or he’ll kick you and repeatedly bang your head against the wall,’ but, unrepresentative of a typical day though it was, that was pretty fun.

    Met a whole host of people, whose names I don’t even being to recall, and discovered the Hugh Owen is even more labyrinthine than you might have thought it was; even my sense of direction was getting confused enough that I have to really think about where the lines on the map would go, but it’s all good. And I imagine most people won’t mind my going “Er…” at them until they’re good enough to tell me their name for the umpteenth time.

    I think I’m mostly going to be hotdesking my way around the department, in a Jack-of-all-trades sort of way (I wanted to throw in a hyperlink to an article about the Stars! race style, Jack of All trades, there, but it turns out there isn’t one.) I’ve not done that before, so I’m a little worried that I’ll get myself mixed up, and lose track of where I’m supposed to be when, but I think that’s just early-day paranoia that’ll wear off once I actually get going.

    I have a shiny new staff card, which is a good thing, and I’ve even photographed quite well, which tends to be a hit-and-miss thing, with me.

    So, yeah, it’s all good. I am pleased. And, what’s more, in actual gainful employment, in an actual, proper library. There are books, and places the readers aren’t allowed to go, but I am, and everything. And everyone seems to be nice and friendly. Win!

    Yeah, ‘s been a good day.

    In other news, I just ran the CoD4 Cargo Ship CQD training mission in 16.7 seconds. That, for those of you out there who are Just Plain Weird, and don’t have much to do with computer games, is pretty damn fast.

    And now I get a weekend. Rock!

    Four train stations and a funeral

    Well, I’m back.*

    Specifically, I’m back in Wallingford. It turns out I’ve been missing the place.

    Slipped out of Aber Station on Wednesday afternoon, to go back to Shropshire ahead of Joan’s funeral (she was 88, it turns out), and did the usual round of Domestic Tasks whilst I was there, in this instance re-tightening the washing machine’s intake pipe so it doesn’t leak water (because, yes, my mother has actually spent the past month or so calling me to say that her washing machine is broken) and also fixed the printer, by cunningly connecting the USB cable into the back of it (to be fair, it took me about ten minutes to work out that was wrong; I checked the connection at the back of the tower, and the plug/extension and things, and then jumped direct to re-installing drivers. Only realised something more basic was amiss when the machine started insisting that there wasn’t a printer on the end of the USB cable after all).

    Also I was able to find the only remaining copy of an interview I did with Joan, way, way, back in October 2000, as part of some nebulous tri-schools project on local history. (I don’t really remember much of what happened; I think I had to stop going when we started moving house in earnest, but I seem to recall helping to come up with a ‘Ten Little $CorrectName‘ style plot involving evacuees, and someone pretending to have been fatally drowned in the canal at Longford (but actually having been able to breathe by means of a stolen rubber hose, or something).

    Hm. Anyway, having lost all the electronic copies I re-typed that for Pam and Caroline, who are by way of being Joan’s daughters, and found, in the process, all manner of intersting things (like Uncle Alf having had the first electricity in Newport, by means of a parafin generator, sometime in the probably-1920s [well, the man died in 1930]). Was pretty cool!

    Funeral was yesterday (Thursday) morning up at Lilleshall. Nice church, actually, and a good service. Vicar appeared to be a nice chap, although I found myself bracketing him in the ‘Damp handshake’ category that one seems to find amongst the CoE sometimes. Actually he was from Wombridge, rather than Lilleshall, there having been Complicated Re-Jiggering as to Where To Do The Burying, which I think I’ve mentioned before.

    Not many people there; Uncle George couldn’t make it, because he was having a bad day for the shakes, poor bugger, but Jim was wheeled in, looking really rather frail. Perfectly compos, mind you, because he knew who I was without asking, and I’ve not seen the man since I gave up on doing Moonface impressions and went in for beards instead. On the other hand it turns out I’ve got a second cousin called Martin, a very friendly chap who lives somewhere in Stoke-On-Trent (I assume, unless he meant that he actually does live in Stoke, which I suppose is also possible). Nice guy, I liked him. O, and we got ‘Dear Lord and Father,’ which was pleasing, because it’s always fun to get the merry little shivers of what Ruth would describe as Smug Puritanism when people trot out the Quaker ones.

    Incidentally, it’s just struck me that if I ever run a pub I shall have to call it the Smug Puritan. I can see the sign now…

    Anyway, after the wake, or what-have-you, which involved some rather interesting reminisences, and the digging out of my great-grandfather’s War Record (the man drove drays to the Western Front; it turns out), I cadged a lift up to Telford with Cousin Celia.

    Trains were, predicably, abominable, although the BCN was very busy yesterday, which at least gave me something to look at from my perch on the luggage rack.

    Managed a backwards-facing seat from Birmingham New Street to Oxford, with a very nice announcer repeatedly apologising to everyone stuck standing up, and expressing the hope that things might thin out a little after Leamington. They didn’t, however, and she was reduced to offering another train due to go through Banbury some twenty minutes behind us, an offer which she concluded, rather sadly, with the words “Somehow this service seems to hit all the big places bang on peak travelling hours. It’s always like this…” which made me feel rather sorry for her.

    Met Ruth at Oxford station, huzzah! and got another train down to Cholsey, which, from the little I saw of it, is a funny little place.

    Catching a bus into Oxford this afternoon, and I’m due to hook up with Statto, then.

    Meanwhile, it’s high time I went and re-filled my coffee mug.

    *Cite the (stupidly obvious) source to win a virtual pat on the back, and a vague offer of me buying you a drink, at some point.

    Self sufficiency : it’s laziness, but OK-ed by society

    Seriously, I think I’m devolving into a slob. Well, no; I’ve never really had the drive to do anything but live slobilly, but I’ve always, at least, made an effort. However, it’s been a week and a half since Ruth vanished off to Oxford (that little? Scary) and I’ve spent most of that week and a half putting off the tidying up that needs doing until Wednesday. I even managed to keep that up when last Wednesday happened, so today it has got Beyond The Pale. Something Must Be Done, possibly including the laundry.

    On the other hand, Rome wasn’t built in a day, so I might play a little Colonization first. (Yes, I know it would be funnier if I said Ceasar, but the balance of that game is all wrong. You cannot seriously tell me that an actual Roman city in the province of Fictionalia would really be full of citizens demanding a third hippodrome. Bah.)

    I have come to the conclusion that I need a valet. On the money I’m making, however (and given the total lack of spare bedrooms and handy places to retire to of an evening) I do not think that’s very likely, so I am contenting myself with reading P.G. Wodehouse and sighing wistfully into the port. (By way of an associated train of thought, I have just realised that, back in September ’97, my family found a fantastically large log in the former grounds of Apley Castle, and were unable to take it home for firewood because we’d walked out there. I think we hid it behind the wall of the layby. Damn thing is presumably still there, circumstances having intervened to make us forget all about gathering firewood. Bother.)

    The neat little “circumstances having intervened” euphemism there happens to act as a segway to my mentioning the death of my Aunt Joan (great aunt, technically). I think she was 87, but the copy of the Shropshire Star with the obituary in it is somewhere amongst all the other discarded pages of the Shropshire Star, and I’m not sure how to go about digging up the relevant thing.

    In spite of the best efforts of time and clumsy fat shits, I do actually have rather a large family, scattered about the place, and I tend to contrive not to see them, which is a shame. Of my Grandfather’s generation we’re now down to two; my uncles Jim and George, of whom the former had a severe stroke a couple of years back and is now stuck in a home in Oakengates (which I can’t help but feel must come as a nasty shock after living your entire adult life in Edgmond) and my uncle George, who has Parkinsons, poor sod. I think it must be a very odd thing, to watch the numbers get whittled down from the top end. (I’ve seen it from the bottom, of course, and it’s pretty damn lousy then, but I think being at the elderly end of the scale and seeing everyone dwindle away must be a deeply unenviable experience).

    Ah well. I am going back for the funeral, which is happening at Lileshall, which is where her husband was buried. The fact that she divorced him, and went off with some other chap who is buried at Wombridge (and, from the very little I know of the arrangements) probably expected Joan to be buried with him, seems to be getting ignored because she changed her mind once they were both dead. One can’t help but feel that’s going to lead to some very pointed silences and awkward questions come the last trump, but I suppose that’s not really my concern.

    The blame for my having done another meme is something I place squarely in front of Annie’s blog, but never mind. Apparently (and I am rather surprised by this) I’m good at social and spatial things. The spatial doesn’t give me much surprise, of course, but the notion that I’m good at reading people came as something of a shock. I suppose it must be a skill I’ve subconciously developed whilst sitting in the corner and wishing there were fewer people about so I could have a really decent conversation with any of the other people remaining, but it could just be that I’m a curmudgeon in spite of everything.

    Weirdly, it thinks I’m better at Maths than I am with words, which is patently nonsense. I suspect the actual case is something more like “After working in a shop for months, you are now better at working out what combinations of purchases round up to a hundred pennies than you are at doing word-searches against time,” which wouldn’t surprise me in the least. I liked the “Fill in the gaps” quiz, though, in spite of the fact that it returns results like “Dank is a really rare word to have picked.” Less common than “Dark,” probably, yes. But rare? Doesn’t seem very likely. Not compared to proper words nobody uses anymore. Sirly, for example, that’s a good one.

    Anyway, I probably ought to get on, rather than vanishing off into Tangent City. That second run through of Eternal Darkness isn’t going to play itself, either. Although, since it would be astonishingly creepy if it did, I think I’m fairly glad of that.

    In point of fact, it’s taken me so long to remember I had this tab open, it’s not the evening, and I’ve done all the laundry and everything. I can tie things back into the general context of the post, however, by saying how I think I’ve played too much Eternal Darkness in the last week or so…

    I’ve just finished cooking. I’ve still not quite got the hang of stirring things properly, and I ended up, whilst turning to get the pepper, knocking the stirry-thing in such a way as it catapulted some sauce up the wall, which I forgot about until I looked up from my pepper-grinding and saw the sauce dribbling back down over the paintwork.

    At that point I tried to work out where I’d put the D-pad so I could cast a quick Restore spell and fix my sanity level. I feel like that reflects poorly on my abilities not to be a recluse, but I don’t really think so; I’m only waiting inside at the moment because my sister wants me to take a look at her draft Personal Statement and see what I think of it.

    Anyway: Food.

    On the subject of Memes (still) I’m really quite impressed with how well I did on this actually quite good one one (good in the sense that it’s all literally textual questions, not interpretative ones); there’s actually a lot of really tricky ones in there; I was reduced to extrapolating from “which option most fits with the double commandment, rather than sundry dogma” so I throw my result up here by way of being a Smug Puritan. As per.

    Your Score: Weekly Churchgoer

    78% Bible Knowledge, 71% Bible Understanding. NOTE: it is pretty hard to get a high Understanding score because the easier questions were mostly knowledge questions. Write [to] me to discuss anything!

    You have a good knowledge of the Bible, and it looks like you think about things for yourself some.

    O, and if anyone knows an easy way to remove Black from the bottom of a rice pan, that would be handy…


    “And so, as the mousedroppings of fate sink into the muesli of eternity, I notice it’s the end of the show…”

    ‘s been going through my head since I turned on the radio this morning. Figured it was worth sharing with people.

    I’m off to dig out the anniversary special.

    Well that came out sounding rather more fed up than I’d expected it to…

    There’s been a “thing” recently, much akin to the cyclical trends of flared trousers, yo-yos and pogs, which seems to be growing in Aber. I honestly can’t tell if it’s been about for ages and I’ve only just started tuning into other people’s conversations rather than sitting there in a Happy Dream World (TM), but I find myself not exactly bothered by it, but sufficiently confused by my own status of ‘at odds with this argument’ that I’ve actually been wanting to blog about it for a couple of weeks.

    From where I’m sitting there’s basically a linguistic gulf between me and, um, most of my social circle here, in that they seem (at least in terms of what they say, rather than what they do) to think that being middle class is a bad thing. This baffles me completely, as I shall now relate:

    In terms of class I see the bulk of the UK population as having access to two states: Working class and Middle class. Upper class is one of those things that you can’t achieve unless you have it, although you can, if you want, work at getting it over four to ten generations (barring massive social upheavals), so I discount it here since I can only count, uh, threeish people of my vague accquaintance who might fall into that bracket.

    I’m fairly sure the problem here is with definition, rather than an actual world view, but I’m not sure, so let me explain.

    I interpret the three classes as being, in very general terms somewhere in the following brackets by, say, 40ish:

    Working class: Education level somewhere between Key Stage 3 and A-level, or Vocational Qualification equivilant. Probably employed in unskilled service industry or as skilled manual labour in manufacturing, etc. Financially badly off; limited savings, poor credit ratings, etc. The kind of people to whom DFS offer ‘Nothing to pay for a whole year!’ credit deals at 19%.

    Middle class: Probably educated to graduate level and above. Typically management careers, lawyers, doctors, or owners of businesses. Reasonably well off; decent enough credit rating, probably enough savings that they can re-furbish the entire lounge, carpets and all without needing to take out a loan.

    Upper class: Probably went to university, although with the luxury of not having to pay much attention. Bulk of money likely to come either from land, or owned industry, or else the whole goldpile went up the swannee somewhere in the last eighty years or so, and they live in a corner of the family estate having donated the rest to the National Trust, or something. Haven’t refurbished any of the rooms since mother insisted on getting an oil-powered Aga back in the fifties.

    Now given that, I don’t see what the problem is with being Middle class. Christ, I want to be Middle class. I spent the winter of 1999 with the hole in my £20 BHS shoes patched up with guttering tape. Bugger that for a game of soldiers, I want to be able to go “these shoes are wearing thin, I shall buy some new ones,” not “I am going to have to make these last through until the January sales,” for Christ’s sake.

    (Actually, in terms of shoes, I’m rather hoping to go with “These shoes are wearing thin, I shall have to send them back to Italy to have them re-soled,” but I’ll come to that in a minute.)

    I assume the only logical reason people don’t like the idea of being ‘Middle class’ is that they mean something else. Claire, for example, said something like “I’d hate to be middle class!” with quite some force, and when I asked why, she said “Because I hate the idea that I have to eat steak, or something, when I just want a pie and chips!”

    What I can’t grasp about that is that it’s the exact opposite of why I want to be middle class; viz: I want to be middle class so that if I want a steak, I’m not forced to eat pie and chips because I can’t afford anything else.

    What I think must be happening is that when other people say “middle class,” what they mean is what I would call the “petty bourgeois” – the sort of people who didn’t like Keeping up appearances because they didn’t understand why Hyacinth allowed that fat slob Onslow into her house.

    I can understand not wanting to be like that (although I’ve always felt that you’d have to work quite hard to manage it) because that kind of attitude makes you sound like a complete prig. When Harriet was at the Borough we dropped a friend of hers off at her house in Newport, following some music thing or other. The house turned out to be on one of the new housing estates up the Forton Road, and, hillariously, as my mother turned into said estate the girl said “it’s OK, we live on this private drive, but you can go up.”

    It wasn’t a private drive, of course; what she meant was “1980s cul-de-sac” but that presumably wouldn’t have sounded quite so posh. Now I confess I ought to cut the girl some slack, because just about everyone is an insufferable git when they’re thirteen (or at least I certainly was) but it was especially funny to us because we do live up a private drive. We don’t, of course, own the bloody thing (although the deeds to the house to specify that we are allowed vehicular access at all times) but we had great fun imagining our neighbour Charlie’s response to that statement, because he’s Hellish keen on keeping out anyone without access rights, which I think comes of being a mechanic and wanting lots of room for vehicles to turn.

    Presumably, if that girl doesn’t get sufficiently battered by everyone else in society, then she will grow up to be the kind of person who says things like “Don’t put tomato sauce on your french fries, Tarquin; look, dab a spot of mayonnaise on with this lovely little spoon, there’s a good boy,” although for her sake, I hope she doesn’t.

    And, yes, people like that are a sub-set of the middle class, but I don’t think they’re by any means the majority (and, in fact, I tend to assume they’re the people on the borderline, the people who can buy a new sofa no problem, but who have to take the payment plan if they want the full suite).

    I think people tend to be more concerened with how they look when they’re on the edges. The upper middle class have a tendancy to embarass themselves by trying to jump up more than can be done in a single generation (and consequently go about buying up perfectly nice houses in the Lake District, flying a Union Flag on a dirty great pole in the middle of the drive, and stocking up all the bookcases with complete sets of Sherlock Holmes from the Reader’s Digest which, when put all in a row, make a silhouette of a man with a pipe and a deerstalker which made the whole thing look like an outsized Mister Men Collection. [True story!]

    But, aye. I’ve no interest whatsoever in telling people that they’re not allowed to eat chips, and I’ve no aspiration to be one of those people who refuses to have a slobby evening slumped in front of the TV in case someone looks in through the window.

    But I also have no desire to be one of those people who, when they quite fancy a bit of fish, is obliged to drive down to the chippy because they can’t afford to get some salmon and new potatoes in. I won’t ever make it to upper class, but I don’t see why I shouldn’t aspire to being a man with a profession, a steady income, and savings enough that I can take whatever holidays I fancy when I can escape the rat-race for a couple of days.

    And I really don’t see why wanting that, or taking in the Saturday Guardian, would put me in the petty bourgeois category. And this is why I am confused, because I cannot tell if people object to the notion that I’ll start caring that they only every buy cars which are less than three license plates old (and have never been owned by one of those immigrants) or if they just mean somehing different by “middle class” than I do.

    So, I dunno. Am I right in guessing that, or is there actually a problem here? (Because if there is, I bet I can out Yorkshireman Sketch you buggers without resorting to exaggeration) Frankly, I’d be far more worried if I were reading the Daily Mail. That’s what poor people read…