Blog : Posts from November 2007 : Page 1

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Career options

In which we wonder why FP never thought of that


The Mother is always fond of saying: “you know, with your brain and your skills, you could have done so much better for a career! You could have done anything you wanted!”

So, when we heard on the news this morning about the teenager who allegedly made millions from internet crime, I was slightly surprised she didn’t say anything. I was almost expecting: “Why didn’t you do that? You’re just as bright as he is! You could have made millions from botnets and fraud by now if you’d only put your mind to it!”

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In the street

In which we wonder about medicine


Overheard in the street:* a parent (or guardian) and child:

Child: I’ve got a headache.

Parent: You don’t have a headache. You’re seven. You can only get headaches when you’re older.

Local news time: a teenager was murdered last week, just by the doorstep of Great Great Aunt Mabel’s house. Great Great Aunt Mabel didn’t have anything to do with it, though, as she died in 1983. Nevertheless, I’ve never been allowed to forget, by The Mother, every time we pass, who lived there. “That was your Nanna’s Auntie Mabel’s house, next to the bookmakers'”. My own memory of the house is at once faint and vivid: sneaking into the scullery to play with the coal in the coal-scuttle. Auntie Mabel was the last householder in the family still to use coal for heating, back in the heyday of post-punk and Scargill. She moved into a sheltered home a couple of years before she died; in my memory, the glass in the front doors of the home was always being smashed by vandals. She died cleaning; found on her hands and knees by her bed, still holding her dustpan and brush.

* Post House Wynd, Darlington, in case you were wondering

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Going Up In The World

In which we note someone’s spreading fame


The band Camera Obscura are clearly going up in the world. I noted, a few months ago, that one of their songs had popped up on a Tesco advert. Never mind about that, though: today, they were on the front page of The Guardian, up above the masthead. Admittedly, only because a Guardian reader had written in with: why weren’t Camera Obscura listed in your recent “1000 albums to hear before you die”* list? It’s better than not being there at all, though.

True Camera Obscura fans, of course, will be spending next weeked at the Midland Railway Centre, in Derbyshire. Their bass player, Mr Gav “King of Partick” Dunbar, is doing a DJ set there, in a heated marquee at Butterley railway station. Now, to my mind, that’s how you judge you’re doing well. Never mind the Guardian front page; once you’ve got your marquee heated, you know you’re on the up and up.

* not to be confused with the entirely unrelated book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, of course.

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Goose chase

In which we get pessimistic about self-expression


Have spent today on a wild goose chase around the county. In one sense: a bad thing, because nothing productive at all got done. In another: a good thing, noone could bother me,* so I had some time to think to myself, and plot things. I started writing a film treatment in my head; the challenge will be to get it on paper in some way that resembles my mind’s-eye view. Which is hard. It reminds me of a passage on writing by Tibor Fischer:

The ideas, the visions that turned his ignition were exciting but it was like taking a pebble out of a river where it gleamed and watching it became matt and boring. Pataki tried to splash with ink the invisible men that only he could see, so that others could detect their outlines, but he always missed and was merely left with a mess

(from Under The Frog, p32 in the Penguin edition)

Someone recently searched for: “how to build a souterrain”. Which is an interesting idea. As far as I know, noone’s tried to build a souterrain for a millennium or two, but that’s no reason why you shouldn’t give it a go, if you have enough land. You can go for cut-and-cover fairly easily: dig a banana-shaped trench, maybe about twenty or thirty feet long, down to about eight feet or so in depth,** and pop a roof of some kind, probably turf or thatch, over the top. In soil it’s probably a lot safer than a shallow tunnel, unless you really know what you’re up to. In rock, it’s a lot of work.

Another thing that’s been searched for recently: “feeling absolutely drained of all energy”. I couldn’t agree more. And so to bed.

* “Sorry, the battery on my hands-free headset has run out”

** I hope you realise I’m pulling these measurements off the top of my head, rather than looking up archaeological reports and so on.

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Sense of scale

In which we learn that a stable in the back garden could save one’s marriage


As usual, the radio was on this morning, on my way to work in the car. Which means: Thought For The Day, with its standard five minutes of anodyne and non-shocking religious platitudes. Today’s thought: isn’t it great that the Queen’s marriage has lasted so long? What can modern society learn from her? I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea.

One phrase, though, made me do a double-take. The speaker* said that in the face of the Duty which they were bound to carry out,** their marriage had been helped by: “the small things, like corgis and stables”

I’m sorry? Small things? A corgi might be able to get on your lap,*** but a stable? Not what your average couple would consider a little thing that would help a marriage along. I could just about fit a stable in my back garden, if I have to be honest, but there’s no way a horse would fit down the garden passage anyway. I’ve never really been sure who Thought For The Day is aimed at, but it clearly isn’t me, nor 90% of the people in this country. Coming soon, presumably: how contemplating the words of the 92nd psalm will help when disciplining your servants.

* the Right Reverend Dr Tom Butler, famous for breaking into a car and making a nuisance of himself whilst apparently drunk, shouting “I’m the Bishop of Southwark” and leaving behind paperwork proving he was indeed the said bishop, then later denying all knowledge and claiming he’d been mugged.

** You could almost hear the capital D

*** if it managed to jump up that high

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Interim

In which the house gets rebuilt


A while back, I mentioned that the house was going to be hell: we were rebuilding the kitchen. And I was going to post photos.

Well, it still isn’t done, properly, so the photos haven’t appeared yet. But as it’s been so long, and isn’t going to be completely finished for a while yet, here’s two. Our kitchen: before and after.

Kitchen, before Kitchen, after

Apologies for the slight asymmetry in the thumbnails there. If you’re wondering about the lighting: those photos were both taken with roughly similar exposure settings on the camera,* which just shows how much better the lighting is now. The cat, as you can see, was keen to make his dominance of the area felt.

* Not quite the same, but comparable. The exact details should be still in the EXIF tags, if you care.

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Something for nothing

In which our eyebrows are raised when we learn that Americans all have free healthcare just like us


The scene: the office conversation, a quick conversation with a new member of staff whilst the kettle boiled. He was telling me all about his past, his former history of self-employment.

“… but you can’t do anything in this country nowadays, it’s terrible for small businesses, this government, it really is, they want to get control of every little thing…”

I thought: I know exactly what’s coming here.

“…it makes it impossible to run your own life…”

… any second now …

“it’s this Nanny State…”

BINGO! As soon as someone, especially a certain type of person, starts along that line of argument, they’re going to mention the Nanny State, which rules every aspect of our lives and tells us exactly what we can and can’t do. These are the people who believe that Christmas is being banned, or that the government has banned blackboards for being racist, and that it’s Political Correctness Gone Mad. And I don’t understand them. Do they never look at the world around them? Do they believe anything they hear or read?

He rambled on about how much better everything was in America – how life is far better, the taxes are lower, everyone is better off and lives a wonderful life without government interference.

“Yes, until they fall ill and can’t afford to pay for treatment,” I said.

“No, no, medicine is free in the USA too,” he replied.

“Really?” I said, because that really doesn’t square with everything else I’ve been told about the USA over the years.

“Yes, it’s all free, just as it is here,” he said. I was tempted to ask if the land is also flowing with milk and honey, with dollar bills and chocolate coins growing on the trees, but I’m not sure if he’d have realised where the joke was.

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Things I Have Been Meaning To Blog About

In which we list things that FP is too sleepy to write proper posts on


There are a lot, but after a long and stressful day at work, I don’t really want to sit down and write any of them up.

For example: Dimitra‘s carrot cake recipe.* Photos. Photos of everything. Photographs of trains. Sitting on stiles. The Leeds Film Festival. Shopping. My really annoying pair of trousers. Other banal aspects of life. Facebook. Trees. Friendly horses. Flooding. Some books I have actually read. The ridiculous idea I heard on the radio, that all computers should by law be sold with “child protection” software on them. Cooking. They’re all in my head, in a blur together, and I can’t tease them apart far enough to build anything legible.

* I believe it’s actually her mothers, if you want to be pedantic.

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Cemetary Gates

In which we find Bouch’s grave


From the recent search hits: “sir thomas bouch blog”. Somehow, I doubt Sir Thomas Bouch is likely to have a blog. For one thing, he’s dead.* Secondly, he was always more interested in building railways than writing about them, or about anything.

If you’ve never heard of him: Thomas Bouch was an English railway engineer, and some of the time he was a rather good engineer. Some of the time. He built the highest railway in England, the South Durham & Lancashire Union,** and with it the highest railway viaducts in England. He also invented the first modern train ferry, on the Edinburgh, Perth and Dundee railway, which would otherwise have been in two separate parts.*** Unfortunately, he was also rather fond of cost-cutting, building routes on the cheap, and that led to his downfall and infamy. Because he’s now best known for building the Tay Bridge – the one that fell down. There’s even an urban myth that the word “botch” is derived from his name. It isn’t, of course, but the rumour is hardly good for his reputation.

One day, a few years ago, I was ambling around the west end of Edinburgh. Away from all the expensive tenements,**** there’s a picturesque gorge, with a river running through the bottom, wooded sides, and grand buildings poking out from behind the trees: the back of Donaldson’s College, and the National Gallery of Modern Art. If you go up through the art gallery grounds, as I did, and through past the Dean Gallery, you can wander through the Dean Cemetary. Doing so, I randomly found: Bouch’s grave.

It’s a very bare, imposing grave. A bust of the man; the name “BOUCH”, nothing more, and the dates. It’s a very nice spot to be buried in.

* although this isn’t necessarily a bar – both Sam Pepys and Geoffrey Chaucer manage it.

** It closed in the early 1960s. The A66 road roughly follows its route, and runs closely parallel to it at Stainmore.

*** It was originally two separate railways, one in Edinburgh, one in Fife, which merged.

**** think Shallow Grave

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Voodoo terminology

In which we speculate on understanding, and on pretending to understand


There are three types of people that I’ve always had to deal with at work. By extension, there are probably three types of people in the world, because I’m sure that none of the places I’ve worked at have been particularly unusual. There are three types of people in the world, and they can be divided like so: those who know what they are talking about; those who don’t know what they’re talking about, and admit it; and those who don’t know what they’re talking about, but are desperate to hide it.

There are two ways I could look at this. One, being uncharitable: they know they don’t know what they’re talking about, and are just trying to hide that.

The charitable view, though: I don’t think some people realise that words do have meanings, precise meanings. They’ve heard people who do know what they’re doing talking, and they want to fit in, so they string together words they’ve heard other people use, in ways that make grammatical sense, without noticing that they are making completely meaningless sentences. Maybe they think that this is the way normal humans talk. Maybe they think that if they use a word that they’re not sure of the meaning of, its meaning will change to suit them. Essentially, though, they’re behaving like small children: imitating without understanding.

These are the people who brought you the phrase “log on to our website”. They call the main case of a PC “the hard disk”. They will refer to “the system”, and expect you to know exactly what you mean. One colleague today, scrolling through her inbox looking for an email, said: “I know it’s in the system somewhere.” “That is not,” I wanted to say, “what that word means.”* These are the people who call me and say “the system isn’t working! We can’t do anything at all!” when what’s actually wrong is: they have pressed Num Lock and don’t understand why numbers are no longer appearing.** These are the people I have to work with, and the chances are, this is what the people who run the country are like too. These people, who not only don’t understand words, but don’t understand the importance of the right words, nevertheless get into important positions. And that scares me.

* She was looking for an email, because she wanted to print it out. She had called me over because her printer “was not working”. She didn’t have a printer selected in the print dialog box, and did not understand the error message she received, that said: “You have not selected a printer.” When I pointed this out, she said: “That’s never happened before. I don’t understand all these technical terms.”

** Yes, this has genuinely happened.

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