No one expects the comfy chair!

Rarasaur is kindly providing a series of prompts for the promptless and this week it’s on the 11th Possibility: the 11th Possibility is the idea that, regardless of data to the contrary, something unexpected and outside the realm of ordinary thought is always potentially around the corner.

This, my dears, speaks to my very soul. I love that kind of non sequitur, and all I could think of after reading the prompt were prime examples of humour that make me go <snort>.

For example, Monty Python’s hapless Spanish Inquisition, bursting in to cry “NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition!” and then failing miserably to torture or maim anyone, beyond making them sit in the Comfy Chair, ensuring that the victim will get “only a cup of coffee at 11” o’clock and making the torture “worse by shouting a lot”.

Ah, Messieurs Pythons, how I love you. I never wanted to run a pet shop anyway, I always wanted to be a lumberjack.

You know when you get an ear-worm – one of those tunes you can’t get out of your head, sometimes for days? It’s been a bit like that with this prompt. I keep thinking of something completely different.

Most clamorous have been Messrs Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams. Both writers convey the 11th Possibility with expertise and panache. In both cases I appreciate their sudden twists of logic which leave me wrong-footed but amused by the dissonance.

In Adams’ “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, apart from the invention of the Infinite Improbability Drive to power a spaceship, there are little moments when things just don’t quite go according to the usual script.

“What’s so unpleasant about being drunk?”
“Ask a glass of water!”

As for Terry Pratchett, almost any page you care to look at will have some kind of twist or turn that leaves the brain faintly disoriented.

The question seldom addressed is where Medusa had snakes. Underarm hair is an even more embarrassing problem when it keeps biting the top of the deodorant bottle.

So does an 11th Possibility matter? For me, it’s about opening up new ideas, creating space to try something different, or just experiencing uncertainty in a safe but stimulating way.

I am making it sound dull. Let’s try this.

Humour is what makes the world go round without us falling asleep or falling out; our creative brains are engaged and exercised and expanded by indulging it.

In my team at work I am the most right-brain of us all. What that says about our team I dread to think. Anyway, on one occasion we were on a workshop together and during the day various members of the team would leave the main room to go and take part in an individual exercise elsewhere. My colleague sitting next to me said, during the tea break, “You know, I keep seeing people going out but I never notice them coming back.”

“There’s a mad axe murderer out there,” I explained. “We’re actually being picked off one by one. By tonight there will just be one of us left. It’s management cutbacks.”

She looked at me strangely. “Trust you,” she said. “I just meant I was impressed by how quietly they all slipped back into the room.”

I sighed. How boring.

Namaste.

 

Monkey Magic

Do you have days when you just cannot rise above the grey skies and drizzle and cold to find the beauty that is out there? My head knows it exists but the rest of me just doesn’t see it today.

Yesterday many good things happened, and today too in fact, but I have been too tired and stressed to enjoy them or be thankful. When I feel tired like this, then even happiness becomes too much to process. I haven’t had a recurrence of my depression for a while now, but at the moment I can feel it scratching at the door.

So I have fallen back on an old remedy: an episode of Monkey. It doesn’t matter which episode in fact; they are all the same in one sense. They remind me to be glad. The nature of Monkey was irrepressible, according to the narrator, and I needed to find some of that today.

Arthur Waley provided a classic abridged translation of The Journey to the West, and his wife Alison Waley also produced a children’s version, Dear Monkey, which I read when I was young and which instantly hooked me. The TV show then cemented our relationship. I adored Tripitaka, thought Monkey was pretty cool, felt sorry for Sandy and frustrated by Pigsy (or vice versa). To be honest though, the Dragon-Horse I could do without, but that’s personal preference. Watching the series again brings back happy memories as well as providing some rather unsubtle lessons. Plus the theme tune is marvellous!

So now Tripitaka is whispering to me to be grateful for my blessings and to remember my inner light. I’ll have another go, even though I am still weary, and prehpas tomorrow will be a better day.

I’m sure it’s not just me. What gets you up and going when you have a down day?

Namaste.

The Reading Life

This week’s Mind the Gap: How do you prefer to read, with an eReader like a Kindle or Nook, or with an old school paperback in hand? drew my attention….stand by your screens.

My name is EBL and I am a Geek. I work in IT and have done for too many years to admit. OK, it’s more than 25. Actually it’s 26. Some of you weren’t born when I set up my first server in Novell Netware and learned Edlin to handle the batch files.

Read the strap line: this is a nostalgia blog!

I am also a Book Nerd. I had read all the Junior Library books before I was ten and progressed to the Adult section under the watchful eye of the Lady at the Library, who was like a surrogate mother to me. I have no idea of her name, which now strikes me as odd, although it didn’t at the time.

I love books and I love gadgets. So e-readers should be a no-brainer.

And yet, and yet…

I only bought my device in April last year. I had not been impressed by the demos I saw in shops and was a little addicted to the smell of ink. You know the smell I mean; the smell when you open a new book, fresh from the publisher, and riffle those virgin pages. That inky scent wafts out and you are carried away in a haze of antici……

…pation (as Tim Curry would say), the first eyes to scan those pages, the first hands to turn them, smoothing them lovingly until they settle like anxious birds. Or is it just me?

The promise of being able to carry a reasonable library about in my bag seemed pretty appealing; I travel for work frequently so I could see where it would be helpful. I wouldn’t have to carry multiple books or face running out of something to read on those long, dark nights in the hotel room.

The ability to download instantly was a threat to the bank balance; but the option to trial a sample chapter addressed the risk of hasty and regrettable purchases. An e-reader would have saved me from some serious pain by letting me realise that just because some books are popular does not mean I am going to enjoy them (Dan Brown, I am looking at you).

The green credentials were appealing. Save those trees! OK, producing the actual thingummybob would have environmental impacts, but paper is a toxic process too, and we need forests to breathe for our sorry planet.

The final decider was the fact I could resize the text which was important because of my eye problems last year; I had built up three shelves of books which I couldn’t read during that time. It was physically painful to see them piling up and gathering dust, forlorn, unread, despondent and pitiful. One day, I promised them, one day….

So the e-reader was purchased and Project Gutenberg was raided for beloved classics at no cost. I discovered that I could get a newspaper delivered every day for less than the cost of a Sunday paper in the pulp. That was fantastic because where I live there is no newsagent accessible on my way to work, and who wants to read the paper at night?

I have been using the thing for about nine months, and I am using it less and less every day. As soon as I was able to read normal books I started doing so and rediscovered a love of dead tree. I love the feel and smell and heft of a book. What I have learned is that I integrate it all into the reading experience. By which I mean, I want to know how far through I am, really, not by looking at a progress bar. I want to be able to flick back and forth between chapters and stick my finger on a page two chapters ago because I remember a description or an event which is relevant to the story: what was he carrying; where was the car parked; what time did the clock on the mantelpiece say; what colour was the doctor’s coat, or hair, or front door? Sometimes it’s because the writer has made a mistake and jarred my reading, like a continuity error in a film; more often it’s a clue or a link that is important.

My e-reader presents the words, but not the sensory experience of a book. It has no personality. Whether I am reading Lord of the Rings (about 1700 pages) or The Snow Goose (about 50 pages) or a newspaper, the look and feel is the same. I left the thing lying around for over a week because I forgot about it and read a paper novel instead. I don’t forget paper novels, even when I want to (Dan Brown!).

I re-read one of my favourite books on the e-reader. I was completely unengaged. It was a shock. That is a book I read at least every couple of years because I love it so much, and every time it produces something new and interesting and beautiful I hadn’t noticed before. This time – nothing. I only knew how far through I was because I know the book so well. I had no real sense of progress while reading, no early heightened tension that I was nearing the end because the pages were running out, no feeling of achievement (not quite the word I want – perhaps commitment or solidarity with the writer?) as I looked back at pages read and a shared journey.

Immersing myself in a book is a complete and utter abandonment of the daily routine. I let go of the world around me and enter another, with all my heart and mind and even soul. It’s a risky business, opening a book. If you choose the wrong author they can scar you. It’s a drug, and you want to get the good stuff, not the stuff cut with something cheap and nasty and damaging, like the time we gave a friend a crumbled Oxo cube and told him it was top quality grass. He smoked it and told us it was really good shit, and couldn’t understand why we fell about laughing. Bless teenagers for their pranks. You don’t want an Oxo cube novel.

I’m sorry, dear little e-reader, I know you tried really hard. I do have some use for you, but it’s more restricted than either of us hoped. I still admire your sample chapters. I still like your text resizing when I am having an off-day. I appreciate being able to buy trashy novels really cheaply to fill my time, or download classic texts for nothing to enjoy. Let’s stay friends. Sadly you will never be able to replace my many shelves of dusty, crumbling books, some with pages yellowed and crumbling after only 40 years. You can’t replace my reference books yet, although one day one of your descendants will try.

Several years ago I read a book by Nicholas Negroponte about his vision of the future for technology and he talked about electronic newspapers. The e-readers we have don’t come close to what he recognised as essential – the feel and convenience of something you can roll up, fit into a pocket, that weighs almost nothing. My newspaper subscription is now cancelled. The thing doesn’t even update through the day. I was still reading the news websites to find out the latest on stories I was interested in. I now consume news on the go, and even an electronic newspaper fails to meet my learned expectation of instant gratification to know the latest regarding Richard III’s skeleton or the results of a by-election or the progress of snow from west to east. To be fair, that’s what “news” means.

I tried, my friends, I tried so hard to commit utterly and faithfully to my dear little e-reader. It was not its fault, it can only do what it can do, as can we all. Its limitations were built in and it performed mightily within them. We aren’t compatible for a full-time relationship, but I think we’ll keep in touch and spend the odd evening in each other’s company.

And in the end, is this the wisdom I have found? To work within the boundaries of what is, to work creatively and joyfully to find my way in reading to the fullest extent that I am able, and not to bemoan or begrudge what is not possible. I have choices I never used to have, and if the world does not meet my exacting expectations, then I can still obtain pleasure from what is around me. Those three or so shelves (maybe four, who’s counting?) are still waiting patiently for my time and attention, and it shall be theirs.

Namaste.

Yellow stockings, cross-gartered

My dears, a very happy Twelfth Night to you!

I hope you have taken down the Christmas decorations, otherwise the dreadful wrath of the elves will be visited upon you in 2013. I tremble for you, I really do.

Obviously for a woman with traditional and somewhat classical education, my first association with this date is the Bard’s comedy. We “did” Twelfth Night at school fairly early on. I think it’s supposed to be an easy introduction to the joys of Elizabethan English. I loved poor old Malvolio, thinking that wearing some outrageous garment would make him attractive to the ladies. Bless him, so human.

The season is all about dressing ourselves up to make us attractive but failing in a spectacular misjudgement of taste and significant dissociation from Reality. According to my extensive research, using my own eyeballs, an awful lot of people are afflicted with the Malvolio Syndrome. It proves to me every year that things on your planet are not as they were on mine when I was a young alien.

It’s not just people either. Oh no, nowadays even houses get all dressed up. Sigoth and I are genuine curmudgeons. Ours remained almost nude except for a tasteful wreath adorning the front door to protect its modesty. A Christmas Figgy Leaf, if you will. Personally I think it’s a tempest in a teacup, really just much ado about nothing. Some people (and I can assure you that I am muttering darkly at this point) even have flashing lights and music, and not even for charity, but apparently for pleasure. I shudder, my dears, I simply shudder. It’s just not cricket.

Christmas fashion, be it for party outfits or house couture, is an infinite wormhole of unending horror, fueled by alcohol and commercial connivance, spinning violently and irresistibly out of control. I have stared into the very abyss, like a young Gallifreyan encountering the Time Vortex at my initiation rite. It may have driven me insane.

And so to happier things.

As Twelfth Nights go, today has been a mild and mostly sunny one. We deposited Youngest Offspring at the railway station to return to the Home Counties University where he is studying. We visited Offspring Who Lives Locally to hand over a poster frame for a poster – sadly not the right size, but never mind – and did those kind of necessary things that Saturday mornings so often involve.

Then we took down the gay garlands and shiny baubles. We put the tree outside and phoned a neighbour who collects them for the aviary at the zoo. The parrots will be enjoying our Nordmann Fir soon, and I wish them well of it.

I’ll confess, it is a pleasant thing to be back in old routines. Remember the Bard? He knew that feeling:

If music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.

That’s Christmas in a nutshell, my dears. Surfeiting, the appetite sickens and dies. By now we are ready to return to our daily round. When the decorations go up I am a giddy girl, and when they come down I feel I can breathe again as the space opens up and light pours in unrestricted by cards and dangling stars and a tree in the window. Honestly, a tree indoors! Whose bright idea was that? Clearly no one who had to sweep their own floors, I can tell you.

This winter’s tale ends happily. It is a comedy after all. Everyone lives happily ever after and gets married and all’s well that ends well. It’s practically a Disney film right there.

So for me, I’m away to watch the new series of Borgen and then to bed. Tomorrow we take flight across the moors to pick up a new netbook for Sigoth, so he can start blogging every day, like a real boy.

And so good night, my dears, may flight of angels sing ye to your rest.

If this blog has offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
if you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And EBL shall restore amends.

Namaste (as the Bard would say).