Borrowers

cheers

EBL enjoys her pretend champagne

Yesterday I told you about how things were going with the Great Project. Well, in summary it all went live on schedule and by 17.20 I was settled in front of the television with a glass of pretend champagne and a sense of doom and futility as England decided that the best team to win the Six Nations was clearly the Welsh. As the pain of supporting a team so hopelessly erratic washed over me, I reflected that I would rather my project was successful and England not than the opposite, with all due respect to Stuart Lancaster. I’m sure he would say the reverse about me.  Admittedly I won’t rest completely easy until we get through Monday with real humans trying to break the system for a day.

However, now that the Great Project is over (or is it really? Conspiracies abound!), I find myself turning to thoughts of reintegrating with the rest of humanity.

I have my own pet projects of course: learning Anglo Saxon, getting back to my guitar, becoming Mistress of the Universe, one planet at a time, crushing the human detritus beneath my tentacles, and knitting. Always knitting.

It was the Anglo Saxon I was contemplating the most though, when a thought came slicing out of the dull, grey March sky and slapped me round the left ear. Anglo Saxon is mostly just English with different spelling and a bit of an accent. The next observation that tends to follow this is that all the common words, especially around labour and production of food, are A-S while the posh words around cooking and eating are French. Comparisons usually resort to Cow (A-S = Cu) and Beef (Fr. = Boeuf).

The use of foreign words in English is what makes it so interesting, to me anyway. Rara’s recent PromptForThePromptless on Schadenfreude was another example of the gay abandon with which English adopts and integrates words from other languages rather than coming up with a new word itself. I think it’s fabulous, very cosmopolitan, pragmatic and efficient. There are loads of these words, admittedly reflecting our colonial past as much as our open dictionary policy. So we have words such as bungalow and pyjamas from the Indian sub-continent, Schadenfreude as mentioned above, haute cuisine and nouveau riche, alcohol and algebra from Arabic and so on. These words are often called “borrowed” words.

And I thought: “Borrowed? Really? Really?

I mean…

It’s not like we’re going to give them back. It’s not like they’re shoved at the back of the shed along with Jim’s hedge trimmer and Jane’s camping stove that we borrowed that time because we thought we were going to have that big summer party with all the kids from Brownies staying for a sleepover in tents on the back lawn.

Do we expect M. Hollande to come knocking at the door of Number 10 asking Dave if he’s finished with the boeuf yet, because he’s got a few friends coming for supper and not a thing in the house to offer them. Dave might suggest he’ll hand to over in exchange for the “five o’clock” or even “le camping”, if Francois is going to be like that.

What if Dr. Manmohan Singh decided to take back all the bungalows next week? We already have a housing crisis here, and a crisis in care for the elderly, who tend to be disproportionately engaged in bungalow habitation. It would mean grannies on the streets and grandpas sleeping on park benches in all weathers. Madness, my dears, utter madness.

Certainly as a nation we are indelibly wedded to the enjoyment of Schadenfreude. Take away our joy in others’ misfortune and you take away our joy. Let’s face it, without it there is only so much soap-opera tragedy we can take seriously before we hear the Archangels sounding the trumpets for Judgement Day and the pits of Hell open beneath us. We are not psychologically equipped to handle joy for its own sake. This isn’t The Waltons, people, this is real life.

Let’s not even think about alcohol. We are a nation of drinkers. Any town centre high street at midnight makes that clear. And while uisge works north of the English border, and win is a good A-S word, along with beor and alu, I fear they all need a basis upon which to ferment. The withdrawal symptoms alone could destroy the NHS.

So here I sit, listening to the rain on the conservatory roof and wondering if we will ever see Spring sunshine, and wondering what to do without a Great Project, and hoping against hope that common sense will prevail and we can stop talking about “borrowed” words, acknowledge that we have pilfered them for good, that possession is nine-tenths of the law, and that after all we live in a global society. Really we have taken them as our own. I might not steal a car / handbag / television, (although I think the summer riots of 2011 may suggest otherwise for a percentage of the population) but I’m more than happy to copy and re-use a word or two. No one gets hurt. It’s a copy after all. Information wants to be free.

And that, my dears, in a nutshell, is why fighting media piracy is such a challenge. It all started when William invaded and murdered the rightful king.

Namaste.

Strength in weakness – or why we need Schadenfreude

Rarasaur’s wondrous “Prompts for the promptless” feature Schadenfreude in this week’s episode.

Definition: Schadenfreude is pleasure derived from the misfortune of others.

Naturally the Germans made it into a single word while we poor English have to use a whole sentences to describe it. This leaves us less time to indulge our guilty pleasure in the act itself., and so we pragmatically have annexed their word as our own

Don’t give me that look. I know you do it. Every time you cheer a goal or laugh at someone’s stupid mistake, you are guilty. But be reassured, we all do it and it’s part of human nature. It’s tribal, it’s belonging, it makes us feel safe because it identifies The Other, the one who can’t or won’t or didn’t.

There is a passage in Seven Days in New Crete by Robert Graves describing a time traveller’s encounter with the future, where values are different:

…they lacked humour – the pinch of snuff that routs the charging bull, the well-aimed custard pie that routs the charging police constable. For this they had no need, and during the whole of my stay there I heard no joke that was in the least funny. People laughed, of course, but only at unexpectedly happy events, not at other people’s misfortunes. The atmosphere, if it could be acclimatized in an evil epoch like ours, would be described as goody-goody, a word that conveys a reproach of complacency and indifference to the sufferings of the rest of the world.  But this happened to be a good epoch with no scope for humour, satire or parody. I remember an occasion when See-a-Bird absent-mindedly hung up a mirror on what he thought was a nail, but was really a fly that had settled on the wall. Everyone laughed loudly, but not because of his mistake: it it was a laugh of pure pleasure that he caught the mirror on his toe as it fell, and saved it from a crash.

The time traveller is not very impressed. It’s why Paradise sounds dull and Milton had the best line for Lucifer with “Better to reign in hell than to serve in Heaven.” We like it a bit rough. It gives us stretch and challenge, and if we cope we can enjoy the failure of others as an added boost to our self-esteem.

EBL is in a rather sombre mood today, na? Walk with me on the Dark Side a little longer, I beg you.

My definition of civilisation is whom we choose to mock and whom we cherish and support. Do we enjoy a child crying because of failure? Or an elderly pensioner unable to understand the changes to the bus timetable? Or a disabled person trying to get into the library and having to use the goods entrance? What about foreigners who don’t understand how to queue properly? Somewhere in there you may enjoy their misfortune, but we all differ where and when.

My personal moments of unrestrained gloating are focused on seeing the mighty fallen. In other words, people that I believe deserve it because they have been insufferable in the past and are now getting a taste of their own medicine. You know the creatures I mean: politicians.

EBL, why are these innocent lambs fair game in your harsh, unflinching, judgmental eyes?

Well, I’m glad you asked me that. (I suspect some of you just nodded, and said “Right on, sister!” or words to that effect.)

It’s because politicians try to tell me how to live my life. They try to tell me what is right and wrong. They try to define Us and Them according to their personal belief system and not the consensual system of the people who elected them. They lie and cheat and abuse their positions. I am generalising: some of them are as yet still trying to do right, whether it’s effective or not.

All those squirmy moments in the Leveson Inquiry, those were great. Nothing changes, but at least now there are memories to cherish and my prejudices confirmed. That is why in this evil epoch we need humour, satire and parody – because the mighty are men, and women, of clay, of human weakness and frailty but pretending to be more. We need to remind them of their basic humanity, and if we do not use  sharp, pointy, steel weapons we must use sharp, pointy, steely words.

If I were a conspiracy theorist (and I watched The X Files avidly, so it is possible) I would assume that politicians would try to hide what they do to avoid such embarrassment. They try, poor dears, of course, but they always forget they are still only human. In the end they slip up, or are out-ed by the little people who serve them, and the ensuing hilarity over their pathetic machinations makes the enjoyment all the greater.

It’s why we enjoy the satirist’s rant, and I commend you all to A Different Daylight’s recent article on this very topic.  Because a well-constructed rant lifts Schadenfreude to the next level, to “Schadenfreude-EX-treme!”, as it were. It exposes and propagates and multiplies the effect for all to share, enlarging the tribe.

I cackle, my dears, I snort, and I turn to my friends and neighbours and indulge in tribal bonding with the well-worn incantation: “I told you so! Bloody politicians, they’re all the same. What can you do?” And we all guffaw and someone buys another round, and we are united in warm, joyous, fuzzy contempt, and the world turns.

We are devastatingly, shamefully, beautifully human.

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.

Live Adventurously

Today has been a thoughtful, peaceful kind of day; the kind of day we all need once a week or so to recharge batteries and gird loins to face the tumult of the working week.

Today someone reminded me, standing there in her bandage from where she hurt herself through misadventure:

Live adventurously.

Today I tried something new, adventurously in my old lady, careful way. I finished knitting the baby cardigan for the imminent-new-team-member-by-proxy, and started knitting myself a cable pattern jacket. I have never knitted cable, largely because my mother taught me to knit and she didn’t know how.

“It’s really difficult,” she said to mini-EBL, and so for more than 40 years I have thought it too difficult for the likes of me.

Today I decided the likes of me would give it a whirl. So far, it’s looking pretty good. It’s fiddly and my fingers haven’t yet worked out the acrobatics of balancing three needles at once without spilling all the stitches while my brain still remembers to keep counting. Instead of my usual rushing, untidy, flailing knitting style, a kind of free-form fingered version of Norman Wisdom, I am having to learn to be thoughtful and quiet and peaceful as I work. I think it’s good for me.

Until I get lost and swear and have to unpick it and snap at poor Sigoth. So much for trying to speak more thoughtfully. It seems I can’t be thoughtful in two places at once.

That phrase, “live adventurously,” has a little more to add. It’s from the Advices & Queries of Britain Yearly Meeting (that’s how the body of Quakers in Britain are known, because they meet together once a year). It goes on like this:

Live adventurously. When choices arise, do you take the way that offers the fullest opportunity for the use of your gifts in the service of God and the community? Let your life speak. When decisions have to be made, are you ready to join with others in seeking clearness, asking for God’s guidance and offering counsel to one another?

Today I thought quite hard about that. The first bit, the bit that sticks in the brain and can be easily remembered as some kind of mantra to help us try new things, that bit on its own can be a sorry excuse for recklessness and thoughtlessness. We can throw ourselves into wild new adventures without thought for how it will affect other people, or how we put ourselves or them at risk. On its own it’s not enough.

I have mentioned before I’m currently incarnate as a Project Manager. What I do is manage risk. It means I plan, plan some more and finish off by planning. It doesn’t mean not taking risks, it means talking them consciously, knowingly, considerately and in such a way that when everything goes wrong, and the Hellmouth opens, then you know what to do. It sounds dull, and often it is, although it plays to my strength of catastrophising everything around me.

Today I noticed the follow on bit for the first time, really noticed I mean. I’ve heard it many times before, but like a truculent teenager or defiant toddler, I have chosen not to hear it in my heart. I thought I could live adventurously and not worry about consequences. I thought it was a bit foolish, because EBL is by nature a cautious old bird.

The Advice, though, doesn’t suggest that at all. It says “Hey, EBL, when you have a bright idea, check it out with people whose judgement is sound, who know what’s what, who can tell you where their towels are.”

It’s taken me over 30 years to notice, but better late than never.

It’s funny how you think you know something, but then, when you finally look at it properly instead of brushing it aside with a “pfft, I know all about that!”, it turns out to be new and different and better than ever.

Namaste

Smells like film

At the weekend I did a thing I have never done before. You’ll think this is madness, but I had never been into the loft until this Sunday. Not just this loft either, but any loft. I have stuck my head through hatches over the years, so I had an inkling of what the terrain looked like. I had just never actually finished the climb. There were always other people around to do that kind of thing.

It started, as so many things do, when I was a kid. Kids were not allowed in the loft, for lots of very good reasons, such as stepping on the wrong bits which would result in not being on the loft any more. The loft in my parents’ house was not boarded, and Dad would wobble from beam to beam as he negotiated the piles of junk he hoarded up there. There were teetering towers of old 78 rpm records, broken televisions and radios, old furniture, Christmas decorations, and probably Shergar hiding out with Lord Lucan.

Our own loft was not very different. So, as previously advertised, we have been decluttering. In order to be efficient, Sigoth suggested I go up into the loft and we could decide what needed to go and what could stay without him having to shout down the hatch at me all day. I was sceptical. The loft entrance is a bit tricky and I don’t like ladders. Besides which, lofts are a man thing, Lay-dees don’t do lofts.

Sigoth persuaded me that Michael McIntyre was not presenting a documentary, and that the loft whores were actually very welcoming.

I climbed the ladder and the damage was done. I discovered a magical new world and today I even went back up on my own while Sigoth was at work. His last refuge is utterly destroyed.

We went through endless boxes and crates, and found all kinds of exciting things from our childhoods. In particular we found my Dad’s old projection screen for watching cine films. I remember that screen. It had a smell to it. I’m not sure what it was, but it was not unpleasant. It wafted about the living room while we sat huddled together remembering holidays or even watching cartoons (you could borrow them by post, a kind of precursor to video or DVD rentals). Dad used to splice the films together and add captions, and even experimented with music. He had worked in cinemas in his earlier days as an engineer, where he looked after the Nevelin’s rectifiers.

Back to the smell though. Isn’t it amazing how smells evoke memories? For a few happy moments I was back in our room, squashed between my mother and grandmother, reliving whatever antics Dad had filmed. The curtains are drawn, the projector is buzzing away from its precarious perch on the ironing board, and the screen is leaning drunkenly in front of the sideboard while the grainy footage shudders past.

Similarly if you waft a ham sandwich in front of me, once I have explained that I am vegetarian, I will soon be listening to the football results on Saturday evening while I wait for Basil Brush to come on. We had fresh ham cut from the bone on Saturday evenings as a treat. Mr Knight in the corner shop cut it with a scary-looking machine, while his Dalmatian dog, Dotty, sat on my foot and panted in my face. She was at least as tall as me, and terribly friendly, but a bit heavy on my toes. I preferred her to their corgis though. They could be a bit snappy.

Those football results were great fun too – does anyone remember? I had no idea what the man was going on about; it could have been an incantation to the hordes of Satan for all I was aware. We were not a footballing family. But the announcer made such enormous efforts to make the results interesting. His voice would rise and fall with excitement as he read the scores out breathlessly into the microphone and the viewer watched the ticker tape coming through with more scores as matches finished for the day. They never finished fast enough for me. I wanted Basil and Uncle Derek.

I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person who has these flashbacks when I detect a certain smell. What are yours? Are they as vivid as mine still seem to be?

Namaste.

To boldly brew

My dears, I have been thinking about tea and Star Trek.

To be fair, as a proud daughter of Albion, tea is my default position. It is, as we like to say, a truth universally acknowledged that a person in possession of English identity must be in want of a cup of tea.

This latest iteration of tea-related cogitation was occasioned by Victoria Coren’s rant regarding the inexplicable re-branding of Assam to “English Breakfast” (she was also ranting about American colonialism, so apologies to US readers if that feels a bit uncuddly. We love you really, and traditionally are only ever rude to people we like). It was a long time before I realised that this had happened. Assam was my preferred brew, and when I couldn’t find it I did start drinking the new blend instead. It was, and still is, quite inconceivable to me that anyone would change the name of Assam for marketing purposes (as I suppose they have done – I’m still not sure why).

Tea marketing, if you will bear with me, inevitably reminds me of Jean Luc Picard and the Earl Grey phenomenon. When Star Trek: The Next Generation was a regular feature of the TV schedules, his fondness for “Earl Grey, hot” saw a consumer boom in purchase of the tea. Each to their own, I say; Earl Grey has its place, although I tend more to the view of Sam Vimes that if you can see the bottom of the cup, it isn’t proper tea.

However, Jean Luc, for all his other perfections, always irritated me with the “Tea. Earl Grey, hot.”

Firstly, what is a Frenchman (even one from Yorkshire) doing drinking Earl Grey at any temperature? It’s the embodiment of the nobility and it’s tea, albeit of a particular kind. Have you been to France? Fantastic coffee; if I was looking for coffee, after Italy, I might try France. Tea, on the other hand, is less successful on the Gallic side of La Manche. It tends to be Lipton’s Yellow Label, which the UK exports to the Continent as the French export their least popular wine to the UK.  Liptons, in my personal experiences, produces a drink that is almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea. In mainland Europe it tends to be served with hot milk or UHT milk.

Secondly, why does he have to specify the temperature? It is possible that a couple of hundred years from now everyone will be drinking cold tea in some kind of perverted corruption of best tea drinking practice. To which I say, don’t. Earl grey is to be drunk hot, unless otherwise specified. It would make sense, for example, for Jean Luc to say “Tea. Earl Grey, iced” to differentiate from the norm. The “hot” is completely redundant.

Thirdly, why does he have to specify his preference for Earl Grey anyway? Voice recognition, anyone?  The computer systems on the Enterprise regularly identify him, and indeed other crew members, for all kinds of reasons: initiating self-destruct, finding lost people, firing on his mark, bringing up medical records, playing his favourite music. If they can pick music they can certainly remember what kind of tea he likes at what temperature and advise the replicators accordingly. He commands the whole ship by voice; if it knows who he is, it can certainly know how he likes his tea. Unless the French accent is a problem for the catering circuits.

Which brings me to: fourthly, why is it not “Earl Grey, chaud”? For once I am on the side the L’Académie française with regard to the use of the French language.

I suspect some of you will be shaking your heads in sorrow, and saying, “EBL, old thing, you’re just over-thinking it. Go and have a lie down.”

To which I replay: tea is too important to be brushed aside like that. Respect the leaf, people, respect the leaf!

Namaste.

 

Lofty Ambition

I had a plan, as I have mentioned before, about how to spend my time rather than old-fogeying in front of the television. On the whole it has gone well this week, and I have been able to dig out my calligraphy books and write the alphabet badly with terrible pens.

I don’t rush things, you know. I was first introduced to the wonders of lettering very many years ago, back in the dawn of time when dinosaurs ruled the earth. They were terrible at calligraphy though; they just couldn’t hold the pen or brush in their stubby little fingers or beaks, and that was why mammals were invented. Opposable thumbs are apparently a Good Idea if you want to do nice writing (although I completely acknowledge that there will be artists out there who can do better with some of their toes than I can with all my fingers).

The great revelation about the writing-pretty happened at a creative workshop event back in 1991. That year I bought paper and pens and inks and did indeed practise the art and craft of writing very slowly, but carefully and mindfully, in wonky celtic script. The concentration required to produce even a wobbly line of text, to make it fit and to invest the care and attention it deserved, was completely absorbing and peaceful. Then I had 4th Offspring and started a Masters.

I always meant to go back to it and do some more. I meant if seriously and faithfully and nobly. It just never happened. Until this week.

The Plan, though, marches on apace and declares that this weekend I am going to work on Da Novel, get out and take some pictures, practise my classical guitar and revise my Anglo-Saxon. The Plan is full throttle, all-out mayhem, if followed slavishly, allowing no time for living, getting groceries, doing laundry or tidying up, and I think I meant only to do two of the four, depending on circumstances. So far, it is almost time to make dinner and I have achieved none of them.

It’s time to regroup. The reason for achieving none of those things is that, as well as the Plan, I also have a Project. Sigoth and I are now embarked on decorating the guest bedroom. We only got a guest bedroom last year when Youngest Offspring went to university. He and his brother still share it when they are home, for example at Christmas. We can only work on it during term times. So last weekend Sigoth and I sat down and devised a Project Plan.

Obviously I am the Project Manager; it’s my real job too, so I brook no argument. With great certification comes great responsibility. I have done a resource calculation, and estimated the time required for tasks. I am even going Agile on this baby and have time-boxed everything. This is because our last project evaluation revealed that the slippage was due to spending longer than planned (or needed, in truth) on some tasks. So we have learned and I have scheduled accordingly, as well as giving the team a pep talk.

As Project Officer, Sigoth is currently clearing out the loft.

Wait a moment, EBL! The loft? Didn’t you say you were decorating the bedroom?

Thanks for paying attention! Allow me to elucidate.

Have you heard that rhyme about the battle and the horse and the nail? You know, “for want of a nail, the shoe was lost” and so on. Go on, you know the one I mean.

Anything we try to do in EBL Towers turns out like that. In order to decorate the room we have to clear it, or at least have space to shift furniture about a bit. In order to make space we have to take out the boxes we put there while we decorated our bedroom before Christmas. That means we have to sort them out and decide what is going into the loft or to the dump. So we need to clear space in the loft for the things we want to store up there. Honestly, the painting bit is the really quick bit at the end.

I have to confess: Sigoth and I are hoarders. We have so much junk which we kept because it might come in handy. Or it used to belong to someone, like my dad, or Sigoth’s grandpa, and we don’t want to part with it. Or the Offspringses might conceivably want it one day. Or the putative grandchildren. Or it ought to be worth something on eBay. Or I’ll need it if I throw it out (this last is occasionally even true). Need I go on?

We kept our textbooks from university in case we had children who would find them useful. We graduated in 1983. One Offspring did indeed study one of my subjects. Unfortunately my textbooks were so out of date they were completely useless. They are still in the loft though. Just in case.

So last year we committed to the creed of William Morris and agreed to keep things only if they were useful or beautiful. It was a mighty change of heart, and we stumble often. But lofty ambition is what makes us human, and so we keep on trying. The text books will soon be gone. I might photograph them before taking them to the dump; it helps ease the pain. Declutter we must and we have set ourselves to learn the rules and by working hard we hope to pass the test.

What we have learned is the new-found delight of letting go. The all-new bedroom we now sleep in has space and light and only beautiful or useful things. The bed is useful, the blanket I knitted is both useful and beautiful. The pictures are pretty. The floor is clear. It takes no more than 10 minutes to clean, instead of over an hour. Every morning I wake up and fall in love with it again.

Letting go. It’s such an important lesson, but as said before, EBL is not fast. She is the tortoise, but the tortoise moves. Each day she moves closer to her goal, even if the route is circuitous and the goal also moves. Her ambition remains unwavering.

Each little success, each item taken to the charity shop or recycled at the dump or given to one who finds it useful and/or beautiful; each of these instances brings us both a little injection of peace. It is easy to learn a lesson that fits what we already think and do; learning to change is the hard part. Sigoth and I continue to learn, every day.

Namaste

Carefree

My Grandma had a wealth of sayings, and one of them was “Don’t Care was made to care, and locked in a box ‘til he did.”

She would say it to me whenever I scuffed my shoes mutinously and declared that I didn’t in fact, care about whatever it was we were arguing about. In truth I heard her say it quite often.

Mind you, she also used to say “Cheer up for Chatham, Dover’s in sight!”, whatever that meant!

However, as time went by, I discovered that not caring was quite a healthy attitude to take, if the alternative was to care deeply but powerlessly. I soon developed my own remedy: the I-Don’t-Care Song and Dance™ which was put into practice whenever things at work became too irritating for any other words. My colleagues soon joined in and we started the IDC Club.

“Well, EBL!” I hear you cry, “That’s very disappointing of you! I thought you cared about Stuff.”

Get used to disappointment, my dears, for EBL has feet of clay, and if not clay, possibly Play-Doh.

Do I care about you, my gorgeous readers? Of course I do. I do in fact care passionately after all, about things that matter to me. I care about all manner of people and animals and plants, and causes and ideas and art and science and beauty. I care about literature and history and adventure and even peace.

I don’t care about having my time wasted or being ignored or under-estimated, or being queue jumped or patronised or taken for granted. I don’t care because caring would waste my time even more.

The alternatives can be explored through the medium of song, much as the IDC Club expresses its philosophy in performance art. Let us compare the fortunes of other exponents of this paradigm.

Afroman might have cared, but he got high.

Will Smith might have cared but he got jiggy.(or possibly fresh, maybe both at the same time)

Paul and Art did care and they got walked over. In a bridging sense.

So, EBL, what are the words/music/moves to your amazing and uplifting song of defiance?

I could tell you, but I don’t care. Nor do I care about the music, nor the steps.

Sing your own song, that’s the secret, and always has been.

Namaste. (I really do!)

Hob-nobbing for peace

Well, my dears, I have had chocolate on the mind. It is a not unpleasant experience. Having actual chocolate would be better, but as luck would have it we have some of that too, sitting in the Salon de Paix in EBL Towers. I shall indulge as soon as I have typed and published; it’s a motivator.

I lay the blame for this quite understandable preoccupation with Kozo at Everydaygurus.com.

Kozo says:

January 4, 2013 at 2:15 pm

I read that chocolate stimulates the same endorphins as love, so I’m with you, chocolate for peace.

“Chocolate for peace”…well, who wouldn’t subscribe to that life-style choice? Never mind stuffing roses down gun barrels; give ‘em Smarties, to make ‘em smart about peace; or Bounty to take ‘em to a Peaceful Paradise; or even a Wispa, to speak in peace instead of shouting.

I hesitate to rattle on about Quakers again, but they were there from the start. Rowntree’s, Cadbury’s, Fry’s were all Quaker firms. Indeed, George Orwell, who was not a fond supporter of pacifism, tried to blacken the name of George Bernard Shaw by saying that

he ought to have been a Quaker (cocoa and commercial dishonesty)

Poor old George, I bet what he really needed to soothe his ruffles was a bit of chocolate. And possibly a nice cup of tea, because one interesting thing about Orwell (one of many interesting things, as it turns out) was that as well as taking a pop at Quakers, GBS and peaceniks, and producing the occasional book, he also wrote an excellent and important essay on how to make a cup of tea. The man was a genius.

I suspect his previous snarkiness regarding pacifism would have been significantly tempered had he been chums with the chocolate hob-nob. No one could possibly be snarky about anything if they had a chocolate hob-nob to dunk in their cuppa. While George was opposed to sugar in tea – and for jolly good reasons! – he was silent on the virtues of a well-dunked biscuit. Chocolate hob-nobs had yet to be invented when he wrote his essay, so he will have been in ignorance of the full range of possibilities.

For those unfamiliar with this aforementioned divine partnership, allow me to direct you to the last word on the topic and one of favourite websites: A Nice Cup of Tea and a Sit Down. This excellent on-line resource contains all you need to know about dunking and tea drinking, with additional cake factoids and a handy graphic for biscuit taxonomy.

What does a cup of tea with a biscuit to dunk not solve? And if it is enrobed in chocolate, what could be better? Can you imagine anyone fighting after a decent brew? As Asterix the Gaul discovered on his trip to Britain, everything stops for tea, or at least hot water, including the battles.

Anything else would be anarchy!

History does not lead us astray, my dears. This kind of evidence cannot be ignored. I beg you, fill your pots, brew your leaves and dunk your biscuits in the cause of peace!

Other bloggers to invite to participate in a Peace Tea Ceremony might include:

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).