Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Aargh! They're back!

The dreaded harlequins!

But this time I'm ready for them...

Monday, 28 September 2015

Switch it off and on again

Or ‘switch it on and off again’, as my colleague Neil used to say – but he was Australian, so fair dinkum.*

As befits people who, over time, have communicated more by computer than by those old-fashioned vocal cords, Z and I spent a bit of time (not much, I hasten to add) discussing computers.  In particular, how scared some folks, especially neophytes, can be of the things, perhaps naturally assuming that if they do something wrong, they’ll break it.  She came up with a good analogy – if you stall your car, all you need to do is restart the engine, the car’s not broken.  I followed through by comparing, say, reformatting the hard disk with crashing the car into a brick wall; which, on reflection, I don’t think was exact – the computer is still doing exactly what it’s told, isn’t it?  Taking a box cutter to the motherboard would be a closer equivalent to the brick wall.

 Anyway, Z’s visit here naturally gave rise to a veritable tsunami of Facebook feedback, as such momentous occurrences always do.  (Well, at least a dozen comments, which is high-end by my usual standards.)  I got some email notifications, so I logged on to see them.  Or rather, tried to – because of course, as you know Facebook had chosen this moment to crash, properly.  (Z and I take no credit or blame for this, incidentally.)

Now the analogies, erm, break down at this point.  I can restart my computer, but I can’t restart Facebook.  To stretch it to snapping point, even the best car in the world will fail to function if it runs out of petrol, or someone else puts diesel in by mistake.

In other words, we are actually at the mercy of powers beyond our control.  Still, I expect they’ll apologise eventually.  Whether they’ll offer the advertisers a refund is an entirely different matter.

*I think I’ve mentioned this in a post before, but the old ones are the best ones, aren’t they?

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Five Things

Which should probably be tweets, except that I’ve taken against twitter.

  1. If VW have invented a device which reduces emissions from the exhaust pipe, why don’t they just leave it switched on all the time?
  2. Why can’t I ever get past page 100 of War and Peace?  It’s not for lack of time or good intentions.
  3. After a court ruling in the US, you no longer need to pay composer royalties when you sing Happy Birthday to someone.  I’m assuming this is back-dated.
  4. Apparently, fidgeting whilst sitting around can prolong your life.  I am immortal!
  5. Am I alone in commiserating with the [alleged] pig?  Though it was probably grateful to be dead.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Time for a joke?

I haven’t done one of these for yonks, so here’s a golden oldie you’ve almost certainly heard:

A man is stranded on a desert island.  After a few days, when he’s starting to feel a bit lonely, one morning he sees a beautiful girl emerging from the sea in a skin-tight wetsuit.

The girl says:
“Fancy a drink?”

Speechless, he nods, and she unzips her suit a bit and produces a bottle of malt whisky.  They each take a swig, then she unzips a bit more and says:
“How about a nice cigar?”

Out comes a superb Cuban Corona.  He lights it from his campfire and takes a delicious puff.
Finally the girl unzips the wetsuit yet further, smiles and asks:
“You want to play around?”

The man can’t believe his luck.
“You mean – you’ve got a set of golf clubs in there?”

Boom Boom

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Sufficiency of Suffices

Think what you like about Mr Corbyn (and you should, that’s the whole point), his magnetism in attracting the suffix has to be respected.  In a few short weeks he’s acquired a -mania, an -ism, -ites and -istas, and even some -omics.  Not even Mrs Thatcher managed that.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Mason & Dixon, and other stories

This lot needs sorting out.

There’s more:

And that’s not counting the three or four boxes of discards already waiting to be shipped to the charity book bank.  Clearly, I need to set aside an afternoon or three, if I can find them.   Critical mass will be reached some time soon, the tipping point being when I can no longer get through the front bedroom to the ironing board.  That becomes pressing (aargh!) when I need a fresh shirt – not quite at either of those points yet, but the nights are drawing in…

So, pro tem, I’ve disciplined myself to rereading.  I started with ‘Howard’s End’ a couple of weeks ago, and reflected on how Graham Greene found it necessary to divide his output between ‘novels’ and ‘entertainments’, whereas Forster could effortlessly blend the two into a single seamless whole.  So I read a couple of Greenes, one of each sort, and was left unsure as to which approach was the better… 

Getting a bit unstimulated, a week or so ago my eye was caught by Thomas Pynchon’s Masterpiece.  It tells the story of the two Surveyors, or Astronomers (they constantly bicker over this amongst many other sundry Controversies), who in the mid-eighteenth century ran what was ever-after called ‘the Mason-Dixon Line’ ‘twixt Pennsylvania and Maryland, a Line to become in History the Fount of countless Politickal and Bellicose wranglings…

I’m sorry, I seem to have slipped into the author’s bizarre cod-Georgian idiom (and even found myself, the other day, writing a blog comment in a version of Jeremiah Dixon’s bluff Geordie-an idiolect, eeh!): it’s not a straightforward read, as anyone who’s ever tried Pynchon will confirm.  But I know few books that draw you so deeply into their mad world.  If you imagine a linear yarn – well, you’ll get that, but be prepared for diversions into sea-battles between an under-manned frigate and a fearsome French man’o’war (complete with a deckhand who alone can unravel some fine points of frigate-rigging, called Pat O’Brian); the flesh- and booze-pots of Philadelphia; contemporary American and trans-Atlantick (there I go again!) politicks and Theology; and a wholly novel slant on How The West Was Won (or Lost), and similar Systematickally Irrelevant digressions into areas I don’t even want to think too much about, because my dreams are already over-packed with that kind of stuff…

There are also: a petulant, erudite Talking Dog, called the Learnèd English Dog, whose main role, in Chapter 1, is to enable the phrase ‘The L.E.D. blinks’; a partially invisible Mechanical Duck; the invention or discovery of Surf Music; the art of witch-flying, without benefit of Broomstick, to prove that the Territory is not the Map; and much much more such absurd digressions into worlds, planets and Galaxies of Phantasie, lit by a flickering, unreliable Lanthorne…

And I haven’t even reached the end yet!  150 pages (out of 773) to go.  But I know how it finishes – they reach the end of the Line, in ev’ry sense.

Friday, 11 September 2015

The Devil’s Interval

I’ve been scratching around for something to blog about, anything really, just to keep my hand and brain and vocabulary and syntax in – but there’s so much  stuff going on that precludes anything other than an emotional response, which is something I’m possibly too good at experiencing but not at all good at expressing.  So instead I switched on the telly, and found the Penultimate Night of the Proms, dedicated to the musicals of Leonard Bernstein.

To be honest, I’m not that familiar with most of his stuff, and nothing I heard over the two-plus hours did much to persuade me to explore further – with, of course, one shining exception.  Which, of course, I don’t need to explore further, because every last note of it has been etched into my being ever since 1956.

It is the greatest musical there will ever be.  And for me, somehow, it bridges the two dominant aspects of my psyche: the emotion and the logic.  (The child and the parent, in psychoanalytical terms.)  I know exactly how it moves me, and I know exactly why.  Let me peek into the second of these.

It’s very simple, actually.  The whole thing is built around a musical trope called the Tritone.  Technically, it’s a flattened fifth.  If the fifth note of the C major scale is G (which it is), flatten it and you get G flat (or an augmented fourth, F sharp, depending on the way your instrument is tempered… sorry, maybe a bit too technical there).  To hear this, you only need to listen to the first three notes of ‘West Side Story’ – “Da-daaah DA!”  That third note is the tritone.  Then listen to any of the ballet sequences – there it is again, all over the place.  And ‘Maria’: what’s the second note of that tune, exactly?

It was called The Devil’s Interval in medieval times, largely because – well, it is, isn’t it?  You can learn much more about the psychology and physiology of this here, if you really want to.

So there you have it.  ‘West Side Story’ bit me, chewed me up and spat me out when I first heard it, and still does.  But more importantly, it taught me that music, as all art, doesn’t drop from heaven or rise from hell – it’s made by human beings, who can use their feelings and their rationality to mould heaven and hell’s best efforts into forms of beauty neither of those imposters can imagine.



Monday, 7 September 2015

Buzzy Caravan Visit

As I’ve said so often, always something different!  This time, insects.  Two earwigs had managed to find their way into the earwig-wide space between the glass splashback behind the bob, and the wall.  This splashback is secured by two pozidriv screws, which I had to loosen in order to insert a knife and entice them out.  I wish I could say I rescued them, rehabilitated them, and released them into the wild, but actually I squashed them with a bit of kitchen towel.
Be thankful that I’d forgotten to take the camera.
Then a bumblebee with a body as big as a Luques olive (I know this, I had a bowl of said olives on the table at the time) came in through the window right next to my head, just as I was settling down to a G&T and the early evening news.  I thought: do nothing.  Sure enough, it buzzed around the room for a bit, decided the news was too distressing (as had I), and exited the same way it had entered. Mutual relief there, I reckon.
And just before going to bed (this was all on Saturday evening) I killed three mosquitoes with three swipes of the swatter!  Fly-swatting is probably the closest I’ll get now to a racquet sport, since I gave up table tennis at the age of seventeen.
That’s about it.  Oh, except for the latest ‘THINK!’ sign on the Reading traffic information boards on my way back today:  “THINK!  TAKE MORE TIME TO LOOK FOR BIKES!”  Try as I may, I can’t make this mean anything.