As I mentioned on Friday, I’ve been rereading How To Travel With A Salmon, a book of comic essays, mostly, by Umberto Eco. I first read it when I was an impressionable, pretentious teenager,* and hadn’t looked at it for about ten years.
I hate to admit it, really, but reading it back now, the first thing that came to mind was: if it was written today, people would be saying how much like a blog it is. Lots of short essays, each only a couple of pages in length. And the style of writing is, in fact, exactly the style of writing that I’m often trying to aim for myself. Witty, dry, sarcastic, intelligent and good-humoured. Reading it now, I realise just how many jokes I didn’t get as a teenager. It’s been a secret influence on this place for a long time, without me realising it.
Of course, the book is far better than anything that’s been written here. But then again, he’s a much better writer than me, and this isn’t being sold in the shops. It’s always good to have something you can aspire to. It’s also not a blog, despite what I said above: the essays were written over the course of about fifteen years or so, mostly in the 1980s. It’s a book, though, that now I’ve remembered I have I’m going to read again, because there’s a lot for any writer to learn from.
* I can remember where I bought it, in fact – at Blackwells in Oxford, on a school trip to the university’s open day.
The great thing about a three-day weekend is that it means you can fit two days’ social events into the weekend, and still have a day over to relax and recover before getting back into the office. And, of course, to try and make sure you have plenty of blog posts in draft ready for the following week.
In the meantime, it’s been a while since we’ve had Search Request Round-Up. So, here are some of the better ones:
did nostradamus predict bird flu – no.
have you tried turning it off and on again – ohhh, yes. Many, many times.
takin over the asylum dvd – I have no idea if it’s been released or not, but it definitely should be, and I’d buy it if I found a copy.
not to be loose or hump shunted is a phrase you see painted on the sides of railway wagons. In essence, it means “careful – don’t bash it about”.
rachel whiteread cubes what will happen to the – I’d assume they’ll all be melted down, because they do look recyclable. Unless, of course, anyone has a spare derelict power station to re-erect it in.
has suzie dent got a boyfriend? – I really have no idea. Try asking Des Lynam.
how do you make chocolate cornflake cake? – I can’t remember the details, but essentially you just mix cornflakes and melted chocolate, and try to resist eating the mixture before it sets.
pasquale’s italian edinburgh – I don’t think we ever did work out if Pasquale’s chippy on Clerk St – the one all the students bought their deep-fried confectionary from in my day – is still there or not.
photograph of drunk people on glasgow underground – I know I, for one, have been drunk on the Glasgow Subway, so they can’t be in that short supply
local paper cleckheaton – I assume it’s covered by the Huddersfield Daily Examiner. Don’t believe everything you read in the papers, though.
And that’s enough of that for a bit.
If this week seems to have gone quickly, it’s because I haven’t been blogging very much. My social life is getting the better of me.
Talking of blogging, one of the branch managers at work has apparently started too. I’m intrigued, but not enough to want to read it. The next thing you know, the Managing Director will be getting a Livejournal.
Update on last month’s post about Christian science fiction: whilst searching for something else, I discovered the book I was thinking of when I wrote it. It’s Operation Titan by Dilwyn Horvat. I’ve tried searching for more information about Horvat, but not very much has turned up. I’m not even sure whether Dilwyn is a male or female name.**
The book I was searching for, incidentally, was How To Travel With A Salmon by Umberto Eco, because I wanted to reread his essay “How To Recognise A Porn Movie”. It’s a long, long story,* but it’s tangentially linked to this post from last August, one of the first things I wrote here. I’ll post more about it soon, I’m sure.
* which, to explain, would take several pages of context, description, links to discussions elsewhere, links to political campaigning sites, links to sites you probably shouldn’t read at the office, and lots more explanation, and probably, diagrams.
** Update, August 26th 2020: Internet searches have become rather more sophisticated in the last 14 years, so nowadays it will tell you that Dilwyn Horvat is a Welsh male Christian SF author whose only books are Operation Titan and its sequel Assault on Omega 4. I vaguely remember that the sequel is not set on the moon Titan like the first book; instead it’s in a grimdark post-apocalyptic Oxford.
Was over in the Republic of Hull at the weekend, and popped in a pub in the city centre, called Ye Olde White Harte.* It’s a very old pub indeed, full of tiny rooms, alleged ghosts and dark wood panelling, and it’s been on the site for around five hundred years or so. Back in the seventeeth century the Siege Of Hull, one of the opening skirmishes of the Civil War, kicked off in the upstairs room of the pub.**
I was in the pub to go to a meeting, in the aforesaid upstairs room, with swords on the wall and portraits of men in seventeeth-century styles. Just as you could imagine it being back in the civil war, in fact. We sat around having our meeting, just like the seventeenth-century city leaders plotting to change the government whilst downing jars of ale. But, of course, there was a little sign on the wall next to the swords: “found during the Victorian restoration”.
Like many buildings of its age, not much of the Olde White Harte is genuine. It might be a genuine sixteenth-century pub, but much of the interior will have been redone in the 19th century, if not since, to look like the modern ideal of a genuine sixteenth-century pub. For one thing, bars were only invented in the 19th century, in railway station refreshment rooms. I have no idea what it would have actually looked like when first built, but almost certainly not how it does today.
* I don’t see why they can’t call it the Old White Hart, but apparently it’s tradition or something.
** Well, they didn’t exactly start a bar-room fight with the King, but it was where the city leaders decided to bar the gates to the royal army.
Update on Wednesday’s post: the piano atop Ben Nevis may have been identified. Or maybe not. Maybe large keyboard instruments have been carried to the top of Ben Nevis several times; nobody has any idea, to be honest. Which is probably as it should be.
Meanwhile, in the news – and in just about every news outlet you care to name – a BDSM-related “sex cult” has been uncovered in Darlington.* To be honest, after reading round it all I feel slightly sorry for the chap who runs the place. He seems to have been quite open about what he was doing, leading his girlfriend around on a leash in public and all, and seems to have been a bit surprised that the press have got a bit excited over it all. Personally, I don’t think he’s doing anything wrong. Gor isn’t my kink, but if that’s what people want to do, then let them.
* As I said, this story is everywhere at the moment, but I’m linking to The Guardian‘s version because it has the best headline.
…is a phrase I never really understood.
It’s a sudden flashback I had today, to old sitcoms, particularly Croft-Perry sitcoms like Allo Allo and Hi-de-Hi. They didn’t end with your standard telly credits. They ended with “You have been watching…”, and everybody would suddenly come out of character, break the fourth wall and wave at the camera.
Presumably it’s a stage thing adapted for the telly. Even when young, though, I found it rather disruptive. I didn’t want to be shown these people were actors. I wanted to suspend my disbelief all week until the next episode. Moreover, I wasn’t always sure what the names of all the characters were. I wanted to read the credits and find out!
In the news today: a piano has been found on top of Ben Nevis. Whether this is really news, and whether noone knew about it before now, is rather debatable,* but at least the mountain’s owners will be pleased with all the publicity.
Maybe the Ben Nevis litter-pickers should turn their attention to Snowdonia instead. There’s a rumour that some evil prankster dumped an ugly café near the summit of Snowdon in the distant past, but noone has ever managed to find it since.
* This originally linked to a couple of items on the internet indicating that the piano had probably been known about by walkers and climbers well before it made it into the papers, but both seem to have now disappeared.
I said on Friday that the homophobic branch manager at the Another Part Of The Forest branch had quit his job. He said at the time that he had another job lined up, but was being rather taciturn and evasive about what it might be.
Well, the latest gossip is that he doesn’t have a job lined up at all as such – he’s going to go out and set up his own business, doing exactly what he’s been doing for us all along; the day before he left, he printed out a full dump of all his office’s sales contacts from the database. His division are all going into a panic, worried all their business in Another Part Of The Forest is going to float away and follow him, just like that. I’m just wondering how long he’s going to last. I know how bad he is at keeping track of paperwork, and I know, from reading his memos, that he has trouble writing an understandable coherent sentence. I’m tempted to open a book, around the office, on how long before his business disappears again.
Do you like it when random people from your past bump into you in the street?
In my case, I generally don’t think I do want to get in touch with many more people from my past. All the friends I wouldn’t want to lose, I’m still in touch with; I still see them at least every year or so. The rest of my schoolfriends, to be honest, I don’t particularly care about. It might sound harsh, but it’s true. If I’d wanted to stay in touch with them, I could have done.
I’m thinking about this now, because yesterday afternoon I was sitting in a pub, having a bit of a munch with a few friends, when some random people start pushing their car into the car park. They come into the pub, and idle time away by the bar waiting for the AA to arrive. I glance at them and don’t think anything of it; but then, listening in, I suddenly recognise one of their voices. I sneak another look: it’s someone I knew fairly well at school.
I hesitated for a moment. But I didn’t particularly want to talk to him. I last saw him ten years ago, and have barely thought about him since. I didn’t want to tell him how my life is going now, what I’ve been up to, who these friends I’m with are, how I know them.
I looked up for a moment, and caught him looking at me, as if he was trying to place where he’d seen me before. I turned back to my friends, and back to the conversation.
It’s the end of the week again. It’s hot, and sunny, and I’ve just been zooming up and down the motorway to Another Part Of The Forest and back. Windows wound down, music on, it really does leave me feeling cheerful.*
Things seem to be changing all around me. I’ve always taken a vicarious interest in seeing other people become magically happy. There are a handful of people I know, and several people I don’t know whose blogs I read, whose lives and relationships are changing in wonderful ways. Some of them are completely positive they’re doing the right thing, some of them less so, but in general they do seem to be brimming with happiness.**
I arrived back at the office just now, planning this post, to sit down and write it during my lunch break. As soon as I sat back at my desk, the homophobic branch manager from Another Part Of The Forest came through to say hello. “I’m leaving,” he said.
“Back off to your branch?” I knew he’d been over at head office this morning.
“No, completely. I handed my notice in last night, and I’m leaving now.”
Which, really, fitted in with everything I’ve been thinking about. People all around me are all having their lives changed.
Another beautiful thing I’ve seen: driving home from York at about midnight Wednesday night, past the steelworks. Something was going on there, because the whole place was lit up in an orange flaming glow. Industrial beauty, almost as inspiring as seeing a happy person.
* but I try not to think about all those carbon emissions.
** I know blogs aren’t real life, of course. People withhold things. And if you’re worried I’m talking about you: I might be, but I’m not trying to make a comment about your own specific situation. This is about everyone in general.