I'm typing this with sore fingertips. It's the index and middle finger on my left hand, which I suppose is unusual given that I am right handed.
It's a bass injury, of course. Yesterday I rehearsed for the first time in few weeks, and as is so often the case, my fingers had recovered from previous bass playing activities enough for a fresh injury to occur.
When people discover that I play bass guitar in a couple of bands a common reaction is "Oh, so you're a musician then?". Well, no, not really. I don't think so. Whilst many bass players are indeed talented musicians I wouldn't put myself in the same category as them. I see what I do as the equivalent of keeping time whist moving my fingers around. Even so I find it quite tricky and have to concentrate. An unfortunate side effect of this concentration is that I tend to stick my tongue out of the side of my mouth or gurn horribly with the result that a lot of gig pictures of me are hideous.
So even though I've played loads of gigs and been on a handful of records and CDs I still feel like a fraud. I'm afraid that someone will find me out, take my bass away and replace me with someone who knows what they're doing. That this hasn't happened yet over twelve years is astonishing to me.
I still enjoy it though. For many many years the height of enjoyment for me was going to see a band play. Not a specific band, you understand, just (good) bands in general. It gave me a high that nothing else did. That is... until I discovered that playing a gig was even better.
It's cumulative as well - playing a few gigs in a row increases the enjoyment even further. I suppose the regularity helps defuse the nerves, leaving you with the enjoyment. It's a shame that I don't get to play gigs in a row these days. The last one was at the beginning of August; the next one scheduled is in November.
Still it will give us a chance to do some more recording, something we've neglected for a few years; there are quite a few songs now that we've yet to commit to MP3. Watch this space. Or rather, watch Myspace:
Hopefully regular rehearsal in the near future means we can get these new songs nailed - and my fingers will get hardened to the abuse again.
I'm typing this with sore fingertips. It's the index and middle finger on my left hand, which I suppose is unusual given that I am right handed.
I see from the entertainment pages of the popular web that Oasis have apparently split up.
My first reaction was "Oh I didn't realise they were still going". I don't think there's anything wrong with Oasis - I quite like the first album - but didn't think they were anything particularly special. No more or less a band than, say, Shed Seven.
My second reaction was "What, again?" Didn't they keep splitting up in the nineties and early 2000s? Reading the news from the time and comparing it to now it seems like they keep recycling the same old ideas when it comes to band altercations.
They definitely had a big barney in 1996. I remember it well, as it had a direct effect on my life.
Anyone who reads this blog regularly (anyone there?) will know I'm what you could call an aspiring writer and am currently working on a novel. What you may not know is that it's not my first novel. I wrote my first novel in the early nineties. In retrospect it's probably not that good and hasn't aged well, so it's not worth revamping or rewriting. However I was quite proud of it at the time - a simple science fiction tale about the first manned mission to Jupiter in 2022 (some hope now of course) during the course of which one of the crew goes insane. This insanity turns out to be the effect of being contacted by a stranded disembodied alien entity.
I never did work out a proper title for it, but I'm sure I would have come up with one when it was published. Because it did come closer to being published than anything I've written since.
At the time a friend of a friend was working at Creation Records who were planning on starting up a books division and were looking around for unpublished novels with which to launch their range. I passed on my novel which was liked by them enough for me to start on a rewrite. Things were looking up, but then on Friday 13 September 1996 the news came out: Oasis Abruptly Cancels Rest of Its U.S. Tour.
The following Tuesday I received an email from my contact at Creation:
It is my unfortunate duty to inform you that due to certain factors, i.e. the instability of Oasis, Creation Records is discontinuing its book division. Alan just doesn't feel like he can put any more money into anything right now. Which is a drag as it was meant to be my job for the next year or so.So that was that then - not only was my book deal out of the window but my contact at Creation had lost her job. I suppose I could have continued touting my book around agents and publishers, but to be honest my heart had gone out of it, and I hoped I'd soon have other stories to tell.
Of course a few days later Liam and Noel made up and would continue repeating this pattern over the next decade. So you will forgive me for taking this latest shock revelation with a pinch of salt. And a yawn.
However, I probably would sit up and take notice again were Noel to develop a heroin addiction before boarding an ill fated airliner which disappears somewhere over the Pacific. And then get blown up in an undersea base.
"Have you been involved in an accident that wasn't your fault?"
Back on Monday 23 May 2005 I was cycling home from work, minding my own business. I still remember what was going through my head at the time - I was imagining what The Matrix films would have been like if they'd starred Vic Reeves instead of Keanu Reeves. Anyway, I was heading south along Lewes Road towards the junction with Coombe Road. The traffic was at a standstill although the cycle-path was relatively clear; I was making my way through a corridor of space between a line of parked cars and a line of stationary vehicles. The sun was out and it was a pleasant evening.
It was some time between 5.30 and 6.00pm that I drew level with a 49 bus, which was in the main part of the road and still a short way before the bus stop outside The Lectern pub. Just as I was about to overtake it, the doors opened and a young man stepped off, straight into my path. I remember thinking quite clearly, shit - I'm not going to be able to avoid hitting him, before I actually did.
It was a glancing blow and he merely staggered between a couple of the parked cars. I wasn't so lucky. I'd been knocked off balance by the collision and came crashing down on my right side, straight in front of the bus's front wheels.
I really hope the traffic doesn't choose this moment to start moving again, I thought. I looked up and saw the bus driver, a woman with dark curly hair and dark sunglasses, staring down at me. So I'd been spotted at least. I attempted to stand up and as I did so, what had just happened began to hit home.
"Fuck! Fuck!" I remarked, "Fuck!"
"Shit, you alright mate?" asked the young man.
"Fuck!" I answered. He helped me and my bike up onto the pavement and then ran off. I saw the reason for his urgency - standing at the bus stop was a number 10 bus he'd obviously been so eager to catch he'd persuaded the driver of the 49 to open the doors for him in the middle of the traffic.
I began to wheel my bike south along Lewes Road, intending to go home and recover. However, it soon became apparent that my right arm wasn't working properly - I could hardly move it without intense pain shooting through the elbow.
I phoned a friend who met me in London Road about ten minutes later. We locked the bike up and got a taxi to A and E in Sussex County Hospital.
I was initially seen quickly - it didn't seem to be that crowded for once - although there was the usual shuffling from pillar to post and changing the location of the waiting to give the illusion of progress. I eventually had a couple of X-rays and was diagnosed with a closed fracture of the right radial head. As the fracture was so near the elbow they were unable to set it in plaster. I would have to wear my right arm in a sling for the duration and was signed off work for four weeks.
I got a cab home and eventually worked out a way to sleep sitting up without moving my arm. It wasn't easy. I'm right handed as well, so going to the lavatory was fun...
The next day I was together enough to phone Brighton and Hove Buses to find out about compensation - and discovered even using the phone becomes a challenge when you've lost the use of your right arm. I spoke to a very sympathetic man in customer services, Patrick, who listened to my account and said he would put my report through to the Lewes Road Garage managers to identify the driver and would find out about what I should do next.
This was where the fun began. Patrick then emailed me to say that from then on I should deal with a Mr McInnes in their insurance department, and supplied me with his telephone number. I called the number several times over the next few days without an answer. Eventually, over a week after the incident someone answered the phone. It transpired Mr McInnes was on holiday until 6 June.
Were they stalling for time? Why?
I don't know for how much time the police store CCTV footage, but I'm sure it's not that long. I thought that it would be a shame if this delay meant that I'd be unable to use CCTV to corroborate my story.
Almost immediately I received a letter back advising me that it had been referred to their claims handlers, Van Ameyde & Wallis in "Edingburgh". I was eventually contacted in mid July by a "claims technician", D Tait who arranged for me to be interviewed by Alwyn Evans from Ravenstone UK on 18 July.
The interview went smoothly enough, Mr Evans was sympathetic and friendly.
I heard from D Tait again in August saying they were forwarding my statement to Brighton and Hove Buses apparently to "assist them in identifying whether the bus said to be involved was operated by them".
What? The wording of this sentence implies there wasn't even a bus involved any more... bizarre.
Eventually at the end of August Technician Tait wrote to me again, this time enclosing Brighton and Hove Buses's account of the incident:
"They have now identified the bus driver. He reports that he was stationary outside the Lecturn (sic) pub waiting for traffic to move off. As he was waiting he observed a young male and two or three of his friends crossing Lewes Road. He reports they walked between his bus and the car in front and the male at the front walked into the cycle lane without looking and at that point that male was hit by your cycle.Well, that wasn't how I recalled the incident at all. The young male (a human, by the way) was alone and I quite clearly recollect him stepping down from the bus interior before we collided. If the collision had occurred ahead of the bus as they claimed, I wouldn't have fallen to the ground directly in front of it - if anything I'd have collided with the car in front and probably wouldn't have been injured in the first place.
In the circumstances our Principal's (sic) do not accept that the injuries you have suffered arose as a result of negligence on the part of their driver and have instructed us to deny liability on their behalf."
In addition "two or three of his friends" is a rather woolly statement. Firstly, distinguishing between two and three is a fairly basic skill and secondly, how on earth can the driver have known that these people were his friends, even if they had existed?
And to cap it all, the driver appears to have had a sex change between the incident and being interviewed.
I actually saw the driver again a month later on Saturday 17 September 2005. By now she was a woman again and this time was driving a number 1 bus towards Mile Oak at 1.35pm. In this case the bus in question was vehicle 628 "Dennis Hobden" (Brighton buses being named after celebrities and historical figures with a local link). Driver number indicated on the ticket was 2684. Given this information, I'm sure some crosschecking of the duty records for this day and for Monday 23 May 2005 would confirm my story. It's a shame I don't have access to them.
I had access to everything else though - Van Ameyde & Wallis were very helpful and provided me with copies of all the relevant papers to do with the case including the full transcript of my interview with Mr Evans.
Given this disappointing outcome, I decided to engage the services of one of the many No Win No Fee companies plying their trade all over the media. The first one I tried seemed very enthusiastic at first, and referred me to one of their lawyers in Bolton. However, upon learning Brighton & Hove Buses's denial of the facts, this lawyer dropped the case like a hot potato claiming that there was no point if one of the parties was prepared to lie.
I beg your pardon? Was he saying that if someone threatens to take you to court the way to get out of it is simply to lie?
I contacted another company and was telephoned by an ebullient young man who seemed very excited about the fact that I would probably be compensated around £3,000. Until he heard about Brighton & Hove Buses's denial, after which I never heard from him again.
At this point I gave up. There's a three-year limit to injury compensation claims in the UK, and I didn't see any point in contacting any more companies. Their modus operandi actually seems to be "No win, no fee... as long as you're going to win."
I suppose the lesson to be learned from all this is to get the police involved as soon as possible so as to make best use of the CCTV available. My arm is now OK, although I don't think I'll ever be able to straighten it quite as much as the uninjured one. I'm a more cautious cyclist these days, especially when going past buses.
And when I'm not cycling I still use Brighton & Hove buses. How else am I supposed to get around?
"There was a point to this story, but it has temporarily escaped the chronicler's mind"It can't have escaped the attention of the more observant amongst you that I began both today's and yesterday's entries with a quote from Douglas Adams, specifically quotes from his magnum opus, the five-part Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy trilogy. Those of you who know me won't be surprised; Douglas Adams's work has been a big influence not only on my own style of writing, but on my mode of speech, my way of thinking, and not to put too fine a point on it, my life.
Douglas Adams, So Long And Thanks For All The Fish
I suppose it can partly be put down to the age at which I became acquainted with it; when Hitch-Hiker's was first broadcast I was an impressionable thirteen year old and, thanks to almost constant self exposure to science fiction in general and Doctor Who in particular, a fledgling nerd. I was therefore gripped initially by the SF element of The Guide, but what has stayed with me ever since is the cynicism, satire and clever use of language. By the end of The Secondary Phase's first run on Radio Four I was hooked and even went so far as to write my own Tertiary Phase, some twenty plus years before the real thing was broadcast. Episode one of this was actually passed on to Douglas by my aunt at a party, but unfortunately he passed out drunk before being able to read it.
Given all this back story, this blog entry is by necessity going to be a very personal view, and I reserve the right to be incorrect about any number of issues - it's all subjective. However, in cases of major discrepancy it's always reality that's got it wrong.
I am by no means alone; many, many people love Douglas Adams's work in general and The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy in particular. I am sure some of them are far more obsessive than me. However, despite this I can't help thinking that some of them just don't "get it". Especially when they start banging on about towels all the time (Towel Day aside).
Case in point. Screenwriter Karey Kirkpatrick wrote the screenplay to the (relatively) recent Hitch-Hiker's movie, one of the less satisfactory entries in the franchise. Whilst making the movie Kirkpatrick interviewed himself, for reasons which are not going to become readily apparent again at this point, and in it made some interesting points about Adams's work and about his admiration for it. He interviews himself so aggressively that it seems almost churlish to take issue with any of it, but here goes anyway. At one point he says:
"Mostly what I love are Douglas’s subtle word choices. He’s a wordsmith. There’s a line (I think this one is actually in RESTAURANT AT THE END OF THE UNIVERSE) that talks about someone being 'nibbled to death by an okapi'. I crack up every time I hear it. The word 'nibbled' is the first thing that gets me, and the fact that it is an okapi doing the nibbling is just icing on the cake."Now I could be wrong about some of this but I'm fairly sure that the only place in which okapi nibbling is discussed is in the intro to Fit The Sixth - the final episode of The Primary Phase:
Karey Kirkpatrick, www.movieweb.com/news/NEipApiqpdqalj
"Meanwhile, the Earthman Arthur Dent, to whom all this can be of only academic interest, as his only brother was long ago nibbled to death by an okapi, is about to be plunged into a real intergalactic war"This is at the start of the Haggunenon sequence which didn't make it into any of the other incarnations of The Guide. One of the reasons for this is that Adams co-wrote Fit the Fifth and Fit the Sixth with John Lloyd, partly because he (Adams) was also writing The Pirate Planet for Doctor Who at the time. To my mind the okapi line, despite being funny and absurd, doesn't quite sound Adamsesque and I'd put money on it being a John Lloyd one. As Adams himself says in the Original Radio Scripts book:
Original Radio Scripts, p.109
"Since John Lloyd nearly always beat me at Scrabble I reckoned he must know lots more words than me and asked him if he would collaborate with me on the last couple of scripts. 'Prehensile, 'anaconda' and 'ningi' are just three of the thousands of words I would never have thought of myself."I maintain that 'okapi' is another of those words. Incidentally, the line "nibbled to death by an okapi" was subsequently sampled by The Damned and appeared in the lead out groove of their 1979 LP Machine Gun Etiquette - I wonder if they paid royalties to Douglas Adams, John Lloyd or the BBC - or perhaps no-one, hoping they'd just get away with it?
Original Radio Scripts, p.106
If John Lloyd subsequently reveals that in fact he didn't write that line, then I apologise unreservedly and withdraw the implication.
I was delighted when I heard the news in 2004 that a third, fourth and fifth radio series was finally going to be made and on the whole I really enjoyed all three, and think that some of the plotting by Dirk Maggs to tie together some of the more disparate and contradictory elements of the canon was masterly. Zarniwoop = Van Harl? Genius. Secondary Phase being revealed to have taken place in the universe in Zarniwoop's office which doubles as the virtual environment from Mostly Harmless? Likewise. The more upbeat ending? Magnificent.
However, I think that in a couple of places the adaptation just didn't "get it" either. One of the many wonderful things about the original show was The Book's narration. These passages were witty, intelligent and had a quiet authority that had you suspending all disbelief no matter how absurd the content. In all three new radio series the writers seemed afraid that we wouldn't be able to take it and insisted on dramatising little sequences in the middle of narrations - for example, the sequences involving the Silastic Armorfiends and Lallafa's Songs of the Long Land. That wasn't necessary. We can take it as narration, honestly!
Or maybe that's just me.
Finally, I would like to express my utter horror at something that is about to happen. On 12 October 2009. On that day the alleged sixth book in the Hitch-Hiker's sequence, And Another Thing... will be published, written by an author named Eoin Colfer. Now I've never read anything by him, and for all I know he's a genius - some people certainly speak very highly of his Artemis Fowl series of books. That is not the point. This is. Hitch-Hikers = Douglas Adams. Sure the books were popular, but the author is dead. I really wish he wasn't, but he is. Picasso's paintings are still very popular, but it doesn't mean that they can commission another artist to produce more Picassos. What next, are they going to commission someone to write Hamlet 2?
Don't be silly, of course I'm going to read it.
Seriously, where do dreams of flying come from? As I've discussed before, many aspects of dreams can be explained as a side effect of the brain processing memories or performing self diagnostic tests during downtime, but I'm not sure about flight. We've never flown in real life, so how can we dream about it and why is it (a) such a common dream and (b) for me at least, such a consistent experience from dream to dream?
"There is an art, it says, or rather, a knack to flying. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss."
Douglas Adams, Life The Universe and Everything
Freud of course says that flying in dreams represents sex. I'm not sure about that as I've dreamed about flying since before puberty and anyway, if dreams of flying represent sex what do dreams of sex represent?
One of the things I find most fascinating about my flying dreams is that within them I always "remember" that yes, of course I can fly, how could I possibly have forgotten? I tend not to even classify it as flying to be honest; all that happens is that I lift both my feet off the ground at the same time and skim along with my head at normal height. Trying to get any higher is difficult; I can do it after a fashion but if I over-reach myself I come bouncing down and sometimes lose it all together and have to start all over again.
Another aspect of these dreams is that no-one else can do what I do; I usually wonder with amusement how people are going to react when they see me floating along without touching the ground.
But it's the remembering that stays with me after I wake up. It always seems so real that sometimes I am almost convinced that if I could only get it just right, I'd be able to fly in real life. This is quite clearly absurd. But the art, or knack, to flying seems so close sometimes, almost as if it's on the tip of my mind.
What are we remembering when we dream this? It can't be anything in our own lives, and it's unlikely to be a race memory of some kind because none of our ancestors as far as I am aware were capable of flight. Those monkeys that attempted it only managed fairly short and vertical journeys after which they were in no condition to pass on their genes.
Sometimes it seems as if I almost remember being able to fly as a baby, before I knew that it wasn't possible, but that too is absurd.
The only thing that feels remotely right is that it's some kind of reverse memory. In the future we'll live in space stations and low gravity worlds; places that absolutely allow the kind of flying I dream about.
I do hope it's a reverse personal memory rather than a reverse race memory. I want to fly.
As if to punish me for mocking her creation yesterday, last night Neuralgia the Goddess of Headaches caused me to wake after only three hours sleep with a splitting headache. It was so bad I had to get up and take a couple of painkillers rather than just lie there and hope it would go away again.
Well I'm sorry, but that actually proves my point. In pre-painkiller days all one could have done about such pain would be to have gone back to bed and hope to sleep it off. Well, duh. Nocturnal headaches, especially ones that wake you up, are even more pointless that the regular variety. Where is the evolutionary advantage in them?
Still at least being awake at such an unusual hour - that is awake after approximately two to three hours sleep rather than at around two am - did give me the opportunity to observe the dream engine running at capacity whilst awake. In particular I was impressed by what was going on in my visual cortex. Every time I closed my eyes I was assaulted by a intricate brightly coloured symmetrical moving pattern of ever increasing complexity.
I am curious as to what this actually was. The visual cortex going through a self-diagnostic test? Or was it just that I'd interrupted a dream by waking up when the dream software was still running at full capacity, necessitating a few minutes for it to shut down?
And it was only a few minutes. By the time I'd got back into bed again after pill-popping, it had gone, replaced by the standard murky slow moving shapes I always see when closing my eyes at night. With the occasional fluorescent pineapple ring floating past.
I am inclined to think of it as some kind of diagnostic mode for the visual cortex as these a patterns are similar to those seen when under the influence of a psychedelic. Apparently. Perhaps hallucinations are caused by this mechanism being accidentally tripped?
Whatever the mechanism of dreams though, I still wonder where some of the memories in them come from. What a memory actually consists of is still poorly understood even now, but one would hope that it's something reasonably permanent. What puzzles me therefore is when, in a dream, one "remembers" something which quite patently isn't true in the real world and which one has never dreamed before. For example, the kind of thing I'm talking about is when one "remembers" that "...of course there's always been an underground tunnel linking Brighton and London which only takes ten minutes to traverse".
I wonder if these false memories are actually constructed on the spot by the dreaming brain or whether all that is happening is the experience of remembering being faked? Whichever one it is, imagine the implications for the entertainment industry when this can be harnessed for total immersive interactive movies...
One memory that's always popping up in dreams is how to fly. Now I wonder where that comes from?
The perceptual hole in my cheek has gone away, replaced by a sore patch on the inside of my mouth with a knot of string at the centre. The string - stitches apparently - is supposed to dissolve in time. I suppose it's no worse than when you bite the inside of your cheek, and at least it's an excuse to eat ice cream.
As an alarm system, pain is second to none. I have nothing but the utmost respect for it. I still remember a cautionary tale I read as a child concerning a blacksmith who, upon flattening his thumb with a hammer or something, wished out loud that he could feel no pain. This wish was duly granted by a passing sprite and the next day when the blacksmith was going about his business he looked down and "...there was his arm, burning merrily away..."
So, pain is a good idea on the whole. But I can't help feeling that sometimes it's got it wrong. Pain after injury is fine; I can see the point of this - it prevents the sufferer moving around too vigorously and exacerbating the wound. It might seem a trifle unfair, given that the sufferer has been though so much already, but it's logical.
Headaches on the other hand, make no sense. We've all seen the diagrams in the adverts - "...tension here..." (red circle flashes over back of neck) "...leads to pressure here..." (arrow carries the circle to the top of the head) "...resulting in pain here..." (arrow moves into forehead which then explodes accompained by a graphic of a woman frowning).
Fair enough - that's how it works. But why? There's very little Thugg the Caveman could have done about it back in 100,000 BC - and tension in the back of the neck isn't exactly life threatening. If anything, coming down with a migraine whilst in the middle of a sabre-toothed tiger hunt could be downright dangerous.
Faced with the kind of headaches I get sometimes, chewing on a bit of willow bark just isn't going to cut the mustard. And I draw the line at trepanning - I need that like I need a hole in the head...
I'm writing this with a perceptual hole in my left cheek. A couple of hours ago I had a biopsy which involved a local anaesthetic to allow the maxillofacial surgeon to take a tissue sample from the inside of my mouth. As a result I'm drinking a glass of water and half expecting it to dribble out the left hand side of my mouth which I could swear was wide open to the elements. It's just like the feeling you get after a dental anaesthetic only more so.
I don't exactly know how much flesh they took or what they're sending it away to be tested for, but apparently it will take a few weeks. Still that's not too bad. They had to send my DNA away to Wales once and that took a month and a half.
I'm continually disappointed with what medicine can and can't do. This isn't an attack on the health service of any one country as I'm sure things are the same anywhere. It's simply that 21st century medicine just isn't good enough. Perhaps I feel this because I've been born before my time; however it's more likely to be just because I've watched too much Star Trek over the years. It seems absurd to me that they have to physically cut bits out of me and (probably) dissolve them in test tubes when all McCoy, Crusher or Bashir would have to do would be wave a tricorder at me and then stick me on the dermal regenerator for thirty seconds.
Maybe I'm being ungrateful; after all I'm not living in the eighteenth century when I would have stood a good chance of having my leg hacked off by a fop with a rusty saw or being dead by now anyway. It's just that physical intervention in the meat machine still seems so primitive. Can't I just snort a a swarm of pre-programed nanobots?
It's not exactly unusual for someone to be freaked out by surgery, even if all I'm talking about today is the removal a few scraps of tissue and a couple of dissolving stitches. The problem for me is that it always makes me start questioning my identity; who and even what I actually AM. If all I am is my physical body, then haven't I just lost part of myself? I do hope it was nothing important.
Once the body horror takes hold then I start noticing my machinehood more and more. I lie there at night listening to my organic pump and ventilator and worry about what would happen if one of them just stopped. I start analysing my own thought processes, wondering if I'll catch my brain out making a processing error or whether I can force a soft reboot.
I wonder if there's a different OS I could run? I'd even settle for a service patch.
This is something I haven't seen that many people complaining about yet, although I'm sure there are any number of curmudgeons1 banging on about this in dark corners of the internet. Never mind, I'll join their ranks anyway.
There's a lot wrong with McDonald's, most of which you can find elsewhere on the internet, so I'm not going to waste your time or mine discussing it here. I'm not on about exploitation of workers or damage to the environment. You won't hear a thing in this post about about the promotion of unhealthy food or "supersize me" culture.
I'm worried about McDonald's English.
The only definition of this term I could find online was in the Urban Dictionary and that wasn't what I meant at all. I'm talking about something far more insidious. By the use of one sustained ad campaign over a number of years McDonald's Corporation have managed to infect the brains of a large proportion of the English speaking world. They've even got to intelligent articulate people whom you wouldn't even imagine going into a McDonald's to take a dump. You just need to search through Twitter to see how widespread it has become. Can you tell what it is yet?
I'm lovin' it.
This is incorrect English and as such doesn't make sense. Those of you who know me will be aware of my tireless, some would even say anal, campaign against apostrophe abuse. Despite the appearance of two apostrophes in such a short sentence, this isn't that.
The verb "to love" is what is known as a state verb, that is one that describes a state and not an action. When you love something you are continuously doing so, it's not a one off action. The correct phrase in the advert should be:
I love it.
Quite why the advertising executives passed over this simpler and far more direct slogan is a bit of a mystery. Perhaps they were uncomfortable with the emotive word "love" in its purest form. What I find odd is how they got away with it. Try it with any other state verb and it sounds totally ridiculous, for example: "I'm knowing it".
I think it's Minnie Riperton's fault. She started her 1975 hit "Loving You" with the phrase "Loving you is easy cause you're beautiful..." I think this gave some legitimacy to the word "loving" and by extension "lovin'" despite the fact that halfway through one of the verses she quite clearly runs out of inspiration for the lyrics and lamely concludes:
"Do-d'n do-do do / Waaaaaaa!"
However, her use of the word "Loving" is correct - she's using it as part of the noun phrase "Loving you" which is the subject of the sentence. She then informs us that this thing "is easy" and goes on to explain why.
So the McDonalds ad is incorrect English unless the actually mean "I am not actually a person but am the abstract state of loving it". Which I severely doubt. So the message for today is simple.
Loving it - don't do it.
1 Curmudgeon always sounds to me like something you'd use to hit people
I'm not sure what the rules are for doing this thing at weekends. During the week I have to get it done shortly after getting up as I need to get going to work. Today I don't have to go to work so didn't get up for a while and even when I did I didn't have any deadlines so there was no urgency getting this done.
As I'm imposing this regime on myself, I suppose there are no rules, or if there are then I have to write them.
The first rule of daily blog is that you do not blog about daily blog.
That means I have to force myself to stop being so self referential when I do this. This is a good thing; there are only so many ways I can write about what I'm actually doing at that very moment before I disappear up my own rectum in a recursive paradox. Even though I am still doing it now. I must stop.
This weekend isn't going to be as relaxed as I was hoping as I did have to bring some work home with me. This is partly because there's a lot to get done, but also because I work in an open plan office. We've all been in this office for about three years, and it's true to say that my productivity has gone down in that time. It could be because I'm getting older and my brain is seizing up. However, it could also because people feel it's absolutely fine to wander up to me at any time and ask if they can "pick my brains" (rather worrying expression, that) even if I'm deep in the middle of something else.
I like to think I'm good at multitasking, but there are limits. Whether writing or coding I do find that I do best when I'm in the zone which usually means at last half an hour without interruption.
In an amusing aside I was actually interrupted in the middle of writing that last sentence so even working at home is not perfect.
It is undoubtedly better, although there is an irritating side effect. When I'm at work time passes slowly so in theory there's enough of it. The weekends seem to have a different clock speed altogether. Often I've still got the taste of breakfast in my mouth when I look up at the clock and to my horror discover it's after 2pm. That's the watershed - on a weekend once you've seen the back of two or three o' clock then you might as well give up - it's all over bar the shrieking.
To be fair Saturdays aren't as bad as Sundays. I still suffer from an irrational depression on Sunday evenings; this is a hang over from years ago when I was still at school. It was always worst in the autumn. The sun had set, there was only That's Life to look forward to on the TV, and in the morning Hell in Highgate awaited me. However much I may complain now, at least I'm no longer at school.
Right, it's nearly 2pm. I'd better get this done and dusted while there's life in the old day yet.
The problem - well, one problem because there are quite a few - with writing this first thing in the morning is that I'm still not quite clear in the head as I think quite a bit of my brain is in dream mode. I don't know about other people but I'm not remotely compos mentis immediately after getting up - the body may be upright and the eyes nominally open, but to all intents and purposes, the brain is still running iDream. If I'm really unlucky my eyes will still be in REM as well and I'll keep tripping over and spilling my coffee everywhere.
Insert joke about Happy Shiny People here.
Anyway, this means that some of what I've been writing this week comes as a surprise to me later in the day due to, as I mentioned on Tuesday, the brain's tendency to forget night time narratives. This can be a good thing as I can read it twenty four hours later with a fresh eye as I would someone else's work and judge whether it's shit or not. However the downside is that there's a danger I'll end up repeating myself as I won't really remember previous days' efforts. So apologies if some of this blog ends up as a recurring nightmare. That's my excuse for self-plagiarism, anyway.
It's either that, or I'll end up writing the blogging equivalent of John Cage's 4′33″. And whilst I'm on the subject I would genuinely like to know whether the aforementioned four minutes and thirty three seconds of silence actually has any artistic merit or is merely Cage taking the piss out of the avant-garde? Am I a terrible philistine for even entertaining the notion that it was him being lazy? And is it me or is it insane that you can actually buy the track from iTunes?
You can. I just checked. To add insult to injury they have divided it into its three movements so buying the full work would set you back £2.37.
Actually, I tell a lie - the whole thing is available as an album for £1.29. And I'm now starting to really enjoy the fact that you can buy on iTunes something that you could reproduce by simply turning off your iPod for four and a bit minutes. Never mind avant-garde composer; John Cage was a master comedian.
Even funnier are some of the good reviews:
"Each time you play this album your own personal performance begins. This is the only album on iTunes [...] that guarantees you a different performance each time."As John Cage's work is still in copyright, does this mean you can't be quiet without making a payment to his estate? Do the spaces between tracks on albums by other artists mean that this is the most covered piece of music ever?
When a song fades out is it segueing into this track?
And have I embedded an MP3 of the track into this web page... or not?
Today I have to be a member of an interview panel. It's one of those grown up things that I never feel one hundred percent ready for. You might think that sounds ridiculous at my age, but being a grown-up is something that only seems to happen to other people.
Or is it? I am beginning to suspect that the reason that other people seem to be quite capable of being grown-ups is that it's a perceptual thing. Something only visible from the outside and, like being confident, a lie.
Inside I feel like the same person I always was; there's an unbroken stream of me-ness going all the way back to my earliest memories. At no point was the child I was switched off and the adult I supposedly am switched on. I think this is true of everyone. How much like an adult you appear depends merely on how good you are at acting. When I spent a couple of years attending a weekly drama class (just a bit of fun really) I was told that I was good at it - I suppose I just need to learn how to apply these skills to real life and then I can be an adult too.
But whether I'm actually an adult yet or not, I still don't find those lists that people email around funny. You know the ones, things like "25 ways to tell you've grown up". None of the points are funny and most of them are spurious anyway. For example:
- You don't know what time Taco Bell closes anymore.
- Your car insurance goes down and your payments go up.
- You feed your dog Science Diet instead of McDonalds leftovers.
- Eating a basket of chicken wings at 3 AM would severely upset, rather than settle your stomach.
- You hear your favorite song on an elevator.
- You watch the Weather Channel.
- I never knew what time Taco Bell closes. When I was younger I doubt I even knew what it was. At least now from constant exposure to popular culture I've got a fairly shrewd idea that it's some kind of fast food outlet. In any case I don't think I've ever known when any fast food outlets close.
- I don't have, and never have had, a car, so that's point two out of the window.
- I don't have, and never have had, a dog. I've been a vegetarian since I was allegedly young so I don't go to McDonalds either, so don't have any leftovers with which to feed said non-existent dog. Besides, I always finish take-away food. I have absolutely no idea what Science Diet is and wouldn't even know when to start. It sounds like a chemistry set. Even though I'm not a dog person, I wouldn't want to poison the beast.
- see three.
- What the hell are you talking about?
- No I don't. Fuck off.
But perhaps there aren't - it's just that living in the information age means that people can spread their irritating behaviour far more widely than they used to be able.
- You haven't found a single item on this list funny, but you decide to forward it on to everyone you know anyway, just in case.
Yesterday I had to work at home for an hour or so in the morning so that the handymen employed by the letting agency could get in and have a look at the loo which wasn't flushing.
As is so often the case when you're waiting for someone to arrive, I couldn't relax. I kept going to look out the window to see if they were on their way. And as I did so, I observed yet another instance of a phenomenon I've noticed before.
It's that men in the manual trades - be they car mechanics, plumbers, handymen, road workers, dustbin men et al - seem to share some unspoken bond and can instantly strike up a conversation with each other based merely on the experience of staring at a hole in the ground or unspecified engine part together.
The first van to arrive was a drain and toilet unblocking specialist, whom at first I thought might be my man. However, once he'd parked he just ambled over to one of the car mechanics that work in this street and spent a minute or so chewing the fat before ascending a ladder and retrieving a dead seagull chick from someone's gutter.
Another van pulled up. This one wasn't labeled and my hopes rose as the driver opened the back doors and began extracting tools. However when he took out a hammer I realised he probably wasn't the bloke I was waiting for. He wandered up the street, stopping for a minute's manly barking with both the car mechanic and the man up the ladder before disappearing into one of the lockups and commencing to bang.
I was in luck with van three, though. This contained the handymen I'd been anticipating. I was in a hurry so I went downstairs to open the door before they had the chance to get caught up in any Male Bonding Cabal business.
After twenty minutes or so poring over the interior of the toilet tank and muttering to each other they eventually emerged blinking in the light of the living room and announced that they couldn't fix it and that I'd need a "proper plumber". I didn't supervise their exit, so no doubt they spent a happy few minutes thereafter exchanging companionable guttural syllables with hammer man, ladder man and the car mechanic before driving off.
Always having been something of an awkward fish out of water when it comes to, well, anything really, I can't help but be both mystified and almost secretly impressed by this marvellous ability. It must almost be like having a superpower. They can walk up to absolutely anyone engaged in a sufficiently brawny task and instantly be accepted.
I've never been sure what they talk about as I'm never close enough to eavesdrop. Conventional wisdom would suggest it's all about The Match Last Night, but I'm not so sure. Perhaps there's a secret password and handshake allowing access to this world and their first exchanges are just that. After that they don't necessarily have to speak.
I recall one occasion when some men arrived after dark to dig up the road to make emergency repairs to someone's electrical cable by spotlight. After a few minutes they began to appear out of the darkness in ones and twos, sauntering over to the edge of the hole, hands in pockets. Aside from the odd curt nod and mutter of "Awright?" there was little being said. Instead they stood in almost a reverent manner at the edge of the hole and watched as their brothers in testosterone moved the soil from within the earth to the side of the road.
I don't get it and I probably never will. It's difficult to imagine such behaviour amongst geeks like me. I never look up from my computer whilst at work to discover a group of programmers standing around my desk, staring at my PHP and nodding sagely.
It's just as well, I don't think I'd get any work done.
It would be really embarrassing after having made all that song and dance yesterday about how I was going to do this every morning before coffee to have given up on day two. So if nothing else I'm not going to do that. Or is that a double negative? Should it be "if something else I am going to do that"? No, that doesn't sound right either.
One good thing about writing first thing is that the dreams are still fresh in my mind, even if they are nonsensical as ever and prove absolutely impossible to transcribe. Of course it makes perfect sense for us to forget dreams shortly after waking. Some modern theories of dreaming say they're a way for the mind to sort through and process the memories of the day and defrag the brain. If this is true then imagine the confusion if amongst those memories to be processed were the memories of the previous night's dreams. If you weren't careful after a few days you'd end up with dream feedback, and every night you'd experience some kind of combination of a high pitched whine and the Doctor Who title sequence from the 1960s. In a state of high anxiety in the middle of a school assembly with no clothes on and your teeth falling out.
Hardly the recipe for a peaceful night; you'd wake up exhausted.
Not that there was anything like that in my dreams last night - and not that I'm going to bore you with them either. The only thing of any note was the URL www.cioom.com - and I've checked, it doesn't exist.
Doing this first thing also means that I am perturbed to find myself looking forward to having coffee. In the old days I was always a tea fiend and would look down my nose at the coffee addicts. Well, that's not strictly true. There was an element of nose-looking, but I think that's just part of the way I deal with feeling inadequate.
I first remember thinking about this in detail when I was at university. First lectures were always at 9.15am, so at 10.00am we'd pour into the common room and queue up at the counter. I still clearly remember the litany recited by the queue to the woman who worked there: "Coffee please", "Coffee please", "Coffee please", "Coffee please", "Coffee please". The subtext of this of course being:
"I'm such a wild and wacky party animal that first thing in the morning I'm unable to cope without my coffee because I was up until about 5.00am, but I'm enough of a diligent student to turn up to the 9.15am lecture..."Or maybe I was reading too much into it and projecting my own fears of not being a wild and wacky party animal onto their simple pronouncement. Whatever the case I would take a perverse pride in punctuating this series of demands for coffee with a polite "Tea please".
It's not as if it was even proper coffee, anyway. Back then people made do with a brown powder that was visually indistinguishable from gravy granules. It's only in recent years that we imagine that we've all become connoisseurs of the coffee bean. However this hasn't changed the supplicants' behaviour. You still see them queuing up, now not in the undergraduate common room but at the Puccinos in Brighton station: "Latte please", "Mocha please", "Caramel Macciato please", "Cappucino please", "Espresso please".
Sometimes I am one of them. I'm still not sure whether I'm a wild party animal though.
This isn't the first time I've tried something along these lines, but it is the first time I've tried doing it in precisely this way. The idea is that before I do anything else in the morning I spend approximately half a hour writing in this blog, thus free up my creative juices for writing some of my novel later in the day. I suppose you could look at it as letting the taps run for a few minutes before running a bath - so don't expect anything spectacular here; it will probably be the wrong temperature and will have bits of grit in it.
Of course this is by no means a new idea. Julia Cameron's book The Artist's Way recommends doing just this; spending x amount of time first thing writing your Morning Pages. I did try and follow this method for a while but the main problem I had with it was that Ms Cameron describes the Morning Pages as "three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing" and I have a problem with writing longhand - it takes me so long that my brain is usually several sentences ahead so I end up missing out letters, syllables, sometimes whole words and occasionally clauses. If I speed up it quickly becomes illegible too. I had a lot of trouble at school and university taking notes in class. I still can't work out what I was on about half the time. Just as well I got glandular fever in my final year and didn't have to take the exams.
The whole handwriting thing could just have been me making excuses though. Someone else also had the same idea as Julia Cameron and doesn't mind using a computer; comedian Richard Herring has written his Warming Up blog every day since 2002, and started it for the very purpose of combating writer's block. I am sure my life isn't as eventful as his, but surely there's at least one thing from the previous day that I can focus on for half an hour? It doesn't have to be from the previous day; my mind is always rambling away in the background throwing up odd non sequiturs and nonsense phrases.
For example; take the title of this entry. It reminded me of Joseph Wright's painting "An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump", which set me thinking. What did he mean by "THE air pump"? Was there only one air pump in existence in 1768? Was it the prototype? If so, what on earth were they doing using it to asphyxiate pigeons and upset the delicate ladies of the gentry? Surely it would have been better put to use experimenting with the concept of the vacuum cleaner; An Experiment on Some Dirt in the Air Pump.
Also, what is that guy thinking? You know the guy. The one with his arm around the visibly perturbed young woman. Surely he can see she's distressed, so why is he continuing to try and get her to look at the dead bird. You can almost hear his voice.
"No, look, this is really good, see, there's no air in there now and the pigeon's dead! Amazing! Why are you crying?"
We've been living in the future now for almost twenty years, and I have to say it's been a big disappointment.
Some people might say that the rise of the internet is something that we didn't predict and which has gone very well thank you and which has led to all those people walking around with iPhones - a mobile, portable entertainment and communications centre in their pocket. Isn't that futuristic enough for me?
Frankly, no. Whilst I did make myself what I now realise was a toy laptop out of an old box file in 1973, drew a picture of a mobile phone (see above) in 1974 and always had a hankering for a wrist TV, to me the future was defined by one thing and one thing alone.
It's not surprising - one of my early coherent memories is being woken up in the middle of the night to watch Apollo 11 landing on the Moon, and I'm sure I got through more than one Airfix kit of the Saturn V and Eagle etc. Back then it was not unreasonable to assume that things would continue to develop at the same pace and that we'd now be taking package holidays on the Moon. I still have an old Observer colour supplement somewhere from 1969 which for a bit of fun is set "thirty years in the future" and describes just that, including advice about buying a second hand space suit.
On 8 September 1971 my dad asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. Have a listen:
BBC Moon by catmachine
Not an unreasonable ambition. So what went wrong?
I don't really know; I'm no economist or historian, but surely NASA's plans for a manned flight to Mars in the eighties weren't all pie in the sky? They seemed to have it all worked out, right down to the dates. This is what it said in the Brooke Bond Picture Card album "The Race into Space" (a slim volume I never let out of my sight):
I believed in it. According to "The Language of Space" (by Reginald Turnill, another book which I kept by my side in those days despite the fact that it had no pictures) by the close of the eighties we'd not only have been to Mars and back but have large space stations in orbit around both the earth and the moon and a permanent moonbase.
I don't know whether it was a failure of imagination or economy, but I've been left with the distinct impression that I'm living in the wrong universe, and that somewhere sideways in time there's another version of me who's been to Mars once, the Moon two or three times and the various space stations more often than I can remember.
Every so often I dream about it. The spacecraft always have clean white interiors and large windows through which sometimes I can see my destination looming - quite often Mars but once or twice it's been Jupiter.
After all in that world I've been an astronaut for fifteen years:
BBC Moon 2 by catmachine
He's the kind of "nice bloke" everyone seems to know and love, which alone is reason enough for loathing. Then there's his appearance.
For a start he's usually far too tall. You know the kind of tall. Not lanky and ungainly but just tall, the kind of tall that women seem to like. You're almost too scared to ask in case it's something ridiculous like six foot ten.
He doesn't have much hair, but that's no comfort because he's usually shaved his head and so as a consequence just looks cool rather than bald. Most of the time he wears square rimless glasses which make him appear far more intelligent than you suspect he is. He's got a wide grin that matches the glasses and makes his head look like the front of an expensive car.
He's always casually dressed. There's a baggy t-shirt with some hip-hop graffiti design on it that you'd love to say was too young for him but which actually rather suits him. He's often seen in baggy khaki shorts that end at the knee showing off calves like tree-trunks. If you're really unlucky he's wearing hiking sandals revealing toenails the size of mobile phone screens.
None of this would matter if he was an asshole, but he isn't. You may well have come across him socializing with a bunch of his male friends talking loudly about football and guffawing, but unfortunately that isn't all there is to him. He fits in. He's capable of being quiet, sensitive, intellectual and of holding his own in a serious discussion about philosophy or politics. And of course of frowning disapprovingly should you make a slightly off-colour joke.
He's got a girlfriend, of course. She's usually delicate and unnervingly attractive. She's got a wonderful sense of humour too; in fact the only negative thing you can say about her is that you don't think much of her taste in men, because she seems to adore the guy. If only he'd cheat on her or something, but of course he won't. They have a child.
The child is a daughter. It's always a daughter. She's probably called Holly or Poppy or Daisy or something and is about five years old. The guy dotes on her. So much so in fact that you think it's almost suspicious. You don't know whether he harbours incestuous paedophilic feelings for her but by god you hope so.
But in the end it's the job that does it. Sometimes he's got an exciting job like graphic designer, and when you see his work it's always brilliant and far better than you could ever manage. The man has talent. But most often you'll ask and he'll tell you he's a social worker. Or a nurse. Something worthy.
And this of course is the worst thing. Not only does everyone know and love him, but they're right to because he's a genuinely good person. And in comparison you cannot but help come to the conclusion that it is in fact you who are Deplorable Man.