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Bruce has gone walkabout

Only yesterday I got in touch with the RSPCA lady who brought him to me and said “Let me keep him.”

I paid the charity some cash after some fiddling with my bank’s computers saying I hadn’t got the account name right and she said she’d come around Saturday to finish off the paperwork and re-register his microchip to my name and address.

And at about two thirty just after that I got a delivery from Amazon I wasn’t expecting until tomorrow and what with fiddling about with them wanting a security code (they’d never done that before) maybe that was when he slipped out. Or maybe it was later when I was sweating away at the computer working on last night’s game. I’d had the French windows open, you see, to let some air into the flat. I’d drawn the screen door across to keep him safe and indoors and it was still in place when I closed the French windows.

It wasn’t until several hours later that it registered I hadn’t seen or heard anything from him for a while.

I didn’t instantly start worrying because he had vanished once before, also when I had opened the French windows. I went into a panic then and went searching the nearby streets. And I got back posted his details on a missing pets site reported the loss to the RSPCA lady… And then he strolled out from behind some furniture where I’d swear I’d looked as cool as a cucumber and I had to make apologies all round.

A case of the Cat Who Cried Wolf, I fear.

But he didn’t come out from behind anywhere, not even though I left out food for him so I think this time he managed to slip through the screen door somehow or I failed to keep it secure the whole time. My forgetfulness has been getting worse. It looks as though I am going to have to say that if he doesn’t come back this is it for me living with a cat at least until the fabulous day I somehow find enough money to move to a house where I can have a cat who can move from indoors to out without a care. Doesn’t seem likely, I must say.

He had been growing more affectionate with me but I don’t think he was getting more reconciled to being kept confined. He would miaow for no clear reason and you should have heard the noise he made when he spotted another cat through the French windows, lurking near his territory! He wanted to be out there and showing them what’s what and who’s who.

Maybe he’ll be safe for a while. But he’s FIV+ and suddenly in a part of the world he knows nothing of.

So his name and photo is on websites and on a notice (see illustration) outside my flat. Let me know if you see a black cat in the vicinity of High Wycombe let me know.

I shall go now and try to follow the advice the RSPCA lady gave and try not to despise myself. Any more than I already do, I mean.

EDITED TO ADD

And he’s back.

Either that or he never left, it’s hard to tell.

I eventually went out to dump some stuff in the bins at the back and when I got back there he was having scoffed the food left out for him and looking obscenely pleased with himself. He dashed out the French windows and I went and got a sheet that I could throw over him (he’s faster than me) and went out to look for him around the block of flats. No sign, so I went back in… and there he was emerging from the bedroom. This time I managed to get the French windows shut. He prowled about demanded some attention, jumped up on my lap and peed on me.

What is hard to figure out is: was he out all night playing the Wild Rover (he doesn’t appear to have any injuries) or had he hidden in the flat all through last night and into today because he wanted to put me in my place or just to appeal to his evil feline sense of humour.

Yes, I know I’m anthropomorphising. You try living with a cat, see what it does to you.

I may have to take drink tonight…. I’m just going to pop out and take the ‘missing cat’ notice down. I’ll keep it on the computer. He may try to pull this again.

More affectation!

I’m currently reading H D F Kitto’s book THE GREEKS, a highly pleasing if old fashioned book (well, it dates from 1951: it’s older than I am) and I was delighted to come across this anecdote in the section on Sparta.

Diogenes the Cynic, being at Olympia, saw some young men from Rhodes, wearing very fine clothes and ejaculated “Affectation!” Then he saw some Spartans dressed very shabbily and said, “More affectation!”

I have a deal of affection for Diogenes though I’d never count myself a follower of his: living in a discarded ceramic jar strikes me as too like living in a cardboard box. You may call me a sybarite if you like and perhaps the climate of Greece is more conducive to such things. I can’t think of anything positive he supported that I like but I do like a lot of his popping of other people’s philosophical pretensions. And I wonder what the Greek word is that Kitto is translating as ‘affectation’. The devil’s always in the detail.

Which is a long winded way to not only show you how eclectic and far ranging my reading is but to advertise my latest artistic oeuvre a YouTube reading of THE HUNTING OF THE SNARK. All eight fits and most of the Preface too. It certainly counts as affectation on my part for which I humbly beg your pardon.

I had planned to release it on April the First, the anniversary of the first publication but immense laziness and Easter overcame my plans. So instead let it count as a present to my old friend Dave Langford whose birthday I also just missed. Have an unbirthday present, old Fanglord! It’s appropriate because at the end I not only dedicate it to you but describe the enterprise as all your fault. Which it is and I shall explain why.

Back in the dear, long dead days of the early 1970s (which seemed all gosh wow, futuristic and new to us then) he and I were contemporaries at Oxford and members of the Oxford University Speculative Fiction Group, my first introduction to fandom. I got to be Secretary to his President a year or so later and was later described by him in a moment of reminisence as ‘the laziest Secretary OUSFG ever had’. This was true and he should count himself lucky he wasn’t one of my tutors all of whom had even more right to complain of my indolence.

In our first year there were a few social occasions I remember with particular reasons for pain (one of them was the OUDS/ETC cricket match in which I was unwise enough to referee and got a cricket ball to the testicles for my trouble) and one of others was when Langford, using what mesmeric powers I have never been sure, managed to persuade nearly the entireity of OUSFG to take punts up the Cherwell and find a suitable grassy bank on which to perform a mass reciting of THE HUNTING OF THE SNARK, a poem he had committed to memory and which he was fond of.

I found much to praise in the occasion. There was the chance to recite parts of the Agony (I was not given nearly as much of the text to perform as I deserved!), there was food, there was drink, there was the joy of the softly flowing river. I remember, with gaps due to the amounts of drink, the ceremony as a happy one.

But alas, Langford had not considered issues of security, let alone Health and Safety. For on the way north some barbarians had pelted our boats with condiments from their own picnic baskets: I cannot remember what long lost quarrel brought this about.

So when I rose at the end of the picnic and attempted (as one must at least once in one’s Oxford time) to punt back, not only was I slightly the worse for wear but the end of the punt I stood upon had been coated in the very best butter!

Naturally, my feet went one way and the boat went the other, demonstrating the equal and opposite reaction that I believe was first described by some Cambridge man or other. I found myself first going down in the water, once, twice, thrice (yes, that really happens: another thing I could have lived quite happily without discovering) and then somehow managing to swim to where I could pull myself soggily ashore through a patch of nettles and land gasping like a beached whale on the bank from where I could walk, squelching the whole way, back to college, a bath and clean clothes.

It may be that I have harboured some residual resentment over this incident over the years but I hope this tribute (which is also me giving in to vanity and long suppressed ambition: I get to do the whole thing and all the voices) will show at last that I have forgiven Langford at least of his part in my humiliation.

My wrath towards the Hooray Henries in the other punt remains as incandescent as ever.

American Writers! Let me solve the problems you don’t even know you have!

I started this with the intent of calling this diatribe “The pleasures of reading trash” and blaming myself for my tendency to find a cluster of not brilliant, but not demanding fantasy works on the Internet and dipping my toes into them. I always think I can give up after one if I think it’s too trashy but my standards reset a little lower every time and the next thing I know it’s several days later and I’ve not only completed all the works so far but I’m having dream sequences in which I point out to the major character how much their lives are screwed by their Author.

(“I’m afraid Doctor that now you are officially the Ruler of the Demon Realms, The Blue Eyed Lady, Wearer of the Iron Crown, you and your pet/lover the half-succubus can no longer moonlight as waitresses at the sleazy club owned by your best friend’s lover the ex-diabolist. Remember that it is immensely selfish of you to put your elite draconic bodyguard to all the trouble that you having a regular twice weekly spot in which you parade around in semi-fetishistic uniforms involves. Your regular as full moonlight howling and improvisational orgy with the werewolf pack in Battersea that the other part of your love triangle, your teenage boyfriend, belongs to is putting enough strain on their scaly souls already if you ask me.”)

I said it was trash didn’t I? I was embarrassed to awaken with that monologue still going through my head.

Anyway, after I finished that one I looked around for something else to keep me amused and I found something at the recommendation of my cohort Roger Bell_West in his series of occasional reviews on his blog site specifically his review on the 5th April for the latest in a series called Lady Sherlock.

Now, Roger has his own low tastes and he does have an ability to pick up things in the Romance section with covers that tend towards the floofy and deeply furbellowed. (I have a similarly robust immunity to feeling embarassed if the cover of my current enthusiasm bends towards the demi-pornographic.) If he finds one (as here) which combines romantic but independent heroines longing after Men They Can Never Have with classical detective tropes he’s happy.

And so too was I by and large. I read the series through over a couple of days and enjoyed its revisionist version of the Holmes and Watson stories in which Sherlock Holmes, like Remington Steele, was the cover for a female detective protagonist who is not only generally perceived as A Mere Woman but who has (in order to never be married to anyone) deliberately chosen to make herself A Fallen Woman too. I’m sort of impressed by the high degree of seriousness with which (it would seem) romantic fiction takes High Victorian Moral Bollocks.

But that’s not the point I wanted to make either, though it’s true that both Roger and I are not typical readers of anything and what we like is going to missfire for many readers. We’re not as neuro-atypical as the protagonist Charlotte Holmes but we both find what most people seem to like a bit incomprehensible.

What I’m going to say is how little it takes to precipitate a reader out of their imersion in the fictional world and the flow of the narrative, especially when the setting is Britain, doubly when the setting is historical Britain and even more so when you are suddenly struck by the realisation that the author is an American and living in the 21st century. Not only are you abruptly reminded that they have never visited the 19th Century but you are willing to entertain the possibility that they have never visited the British Isles at all, at all.

Which is not to say that only Americans offend in this manner. The author of the trashy Blue-Eyed Sorceress novels I mentioned above had a tendency to wildly guess what a word he had only heard looked like when written down and go for it, self-publishing without a wisp of a proofreading. I can’t recall how exactly he mangled the Latin for ‘Sweet mother’ but I know his version of alma mater caused me to wince and would have caused my old Latin master, Mister Greenhaulgh to burst into improvisational violence with the nearest lacrosse stick.

Among the problems with the Lady Sherlock series was the moment when Charlotte Holmes’ sister apologised for hugging her saying that she knew that it made the Great Detective ‘antsy’.

‘Antsy’, I ask you. There were two or three of equal wrongness in each of the five volumes and I ask each and every American working in this field whether they have any actual idea that there is any culture in the world other than their own and whether the idea of asking an Actual British Person their opinion of their pretend historical narrative had ever occurred to them.

(Roger says he’s found references to ‘antsy’ back as far as 1838 and I must accept that even though I get pointless internet citations that take it only as far back as ‘early 20th century’ or even ‘1950’. My Compact OED (text 1933) (See illustration) doesn’t even seem to notice the word.)

So, let me throw this offer open to the world, which will probably ignore it and spare me much labour. Bring me your sub-Jane Austen or sub-Bram Stoker or sub-Conan Doyle stories yearning to be British and I will give them the once over. You may not care that British people are reading the Stuff What You Wrote and going “Oh dear god….” at them but in case you do you had best let a Genuine Oxford English Graduate have a gander first. A shufti. Lay my mince pies on it. No charge. For now.

I, Guinea Pig

And now I’ve had part two of The Jab just a day short of seven weeks after the first. I note that I was being cynical at the time of the first jab about my chances of seeing a second but I was wrong. I also note that other people are being kept for the full 12 weeks between jabs. Was I particularly blessed? Time alone will tell but I went for a jab in the other arm in the hope that a balanced immune system will lead to super-powers this time. That or suddenly discovering late in life that I missed my rightful invitation to Hogwarts would be acceptable.

VOICES FROM THE CHEAP SEATS: Hogwarts? You’d be lucky if you ended up at Dom Daniel rather than the Scholomance, you evil old fart! ME: The catering’s better at the Scholomance. Not so many pupils in a class and a lot less reliance on fish. There is the damnation to be considered it’s true.

Anyway, the reason I received my second blessing so soon is a bit of a tale. I didn’t get my booking via the online booking system which was in its early days then but via my doctors’ surgery. I didn’t get a second date when they jabbed me either but only the assurance I’d get called a second time. So I put a note in my diary twelve weeks ahead (April 28th): ‘You should have been jabbed by now’ and let it be.

I ignored the letter inviting me to book my jab via the internet which arrived a short while after the jab: I reckoned I was covered. And then all my mates started posting about how they had used it and had a comitment to both dates. (They got the job done and people were still being cynical about the Tories often in the same post which warmed the cockles of my heart but I’m aware my friends may not be a representative sample.)

And then I started worrying because I’m a terrible worrier (see Joyce Grenfell). So I rang my doctors’ surgery to check and they had ‘Please don’t call us about vaccination appointments: we’ll call you’ in their opening answer phone message so I did that.

And then the very next day (Honestly! Sometimes I feel like I’m being guided by a Higher Destiny.) the government was making a statement via the BBC that old and vulnerable persons (which sacred band I joined a few months back) should ensure that they have their second jab booked ‘before they ran out of appointments’. I swear that’s what it said. Well, actually I swear that’s what I thought it said. My brain is not displaying any super-intelligence just now.

So I rang up and spoke to the Nice Receptionist who recognises my dulcet tones and she said she was sure she didn’t know. So I hung up… And within twenty minutes I’d not only been called by their Person In Charge Of Covid Jabs who had got the wrong end of the stick and thought I hadn’t had my first one yet but also got a text message which allowed me to book today’s appointment.

Only imitate my actions if you think you can stand the weight of guilt of suspecting yourself of queue jumping for the rest of your life that I’ve just acquired.

A-Z vaccine again and I wore my Ken & Robin Phoenix t-shirt this time. Not a sign that they had noticed it. Not a titter to be had. Ars Longa, Vita Brevis as the actress said to the bishop.

The weather is warm and spring like. If it lasts and it may not I think I may go for a walk in the park later. I may also post more about the Second Saga of the Rats of High Wycombe dependent on how much comic effect I can drag out of the visits tomorrow of a) the chap from the anti-rodent people come to pick up his poison and b) the chap from the new landlord’s maintenance contractors to see if I am for some mysterious reason lying about the holes in the kitchen skirting board. He said he was coming in the morning but wasn’t afraid to face the apparition of me in my night shirt if he rouses me out of bed at Some Ungodly Hour.

All part of life’s rich pattern

Life always seems to be looking at me and thinking: “What J.Michael could do with right now is a new learning experience.”

It’s probably my own fault. I’ve always admired Merlin’s advice to Wart when he was feeling down. (“The thing for you to do is to learn something…”) I quoted it at my mother’s funeral: I’d like it spoken at mine.

But there’s learning and there’s learning and there are a lot of things that over the years I’ve learned and rather wish I hadn’t had to.

There’s learning the unpleasant sensation of having a sample sucked from your marrow: it’s rather disturbing. That was when they were trying to find out why the platelet count in my blood is low, I think. And I am just going to have to accept that in most such cases they say, as they said to me ‘It’s ideopathic’, which is doctor for ‘search me, guv’. I understand that there are a number of really alarming things they eliminated by that test so I should be grateful. The same could be said of a number of alarming tests and even more alarming symptoms I’ve had over the years. I should have learned this when the first Big Alarm sounded back when I was still a fair bit shy of forty and one Christmas Eve I got an intense pain right in the middle of my chest at the back and being the bright, sunny individual I was came to the conclusion that this was it. My heart was going to give out on me before I’d even properly got out of life’s starting blocks. (Query: did I ever manage to do that?)

I should have learned my lesson then when the doctor I finally got to see said: “That’s just a back pain. Yes, they are unpleasant. Here have some pills to help with the pain.” (If I had known about the bunging up effects of opiods I might have thought twice about taking them just before a Christmas feast.)

The lesson I probably should have learned was not to be such a gloomy type but I maintain to this day an assumption that the worst will happen. That’s probably what this week’s drama was about: Life trying to teach me to hope, again.

Briefly, on Tuesday night about 10:40 I leaned back in my chair, heard a slight sound to my right and looked over to see a rat in the door from the kitchen. He’s chased a bit of dryer fluff out of there and was just chewing it to see if it tasted good when he became aware of me. No expression on the ‘face’ of a rodent at all but his body language conveyed alarm and his movement was then retrograde back the way he came. When I got up and went and searched the kitchen he was nowhere to be found.

Now I’d had rats in the place once before and then my late cat Monty caught one, slaughtered it and laid it at the side of my bed as tribute, looking me with an glance that said: “And what are you going to do about this, eh?” So I knew what to do and contacted the Council’s extermination contractors via their website and booked an appointment, the earliest available, for today. (My landlords are handing over the property to new owners on Monday which is bound to complicate matters but when I called them with my tail of… I’m sorry my tale of woe they agreed to send someone round next week to see if maybe, perhaps, they could justify the expense of bunging the hole the rat got in by.)

The day after the rodent apparition I gave the kitchen a good clean up, both to get any food out of the way of possible returning visitors and to make it decent enough to show a visitor and when I had finished doing so I became aware of a very disturbing stench arising from beneath the sink, the area where the rats got in last time.

It only got worse over Thursday and Friday morning. You may imagine what my nights were like, if you know me. I lay awake for hours imagining what the problem might be. I settled on ‘There has been a breach in the sewers’ pretty early on and from then it was all downhill in the Imagined World of Michael. I had extrapolated from my kitchen fittings having to be ripped out to my walls having to be rebuilt to the whole block of flats being condemned as unacceptable for human habitation. I kept going through the very short list of ‘Family and Friends Who Can Be Imposed On’ and bewailing the necessity.

Yes, there’s a lot going on under the placid surface of Lake Cule. You don’t normally see half of it.

So when I say that I am now actually grateful that I now know what the smell of a dead and decaying rat is like you must understand that I’m being very philosophical about the whole sensory experience. The young man from the extermination company who came along and left some rat-poison (New and Improved, he assured me and something they had only just been allowed to put down) said it must have died there because it couldn’t figure out how to get back into the sewer system from this side. It had probably eaten poison somewhere else and then dropped dead soon after I saw it. He also was unimpressed about the job the landlord’s contractor had done bunging up the hole last time.

I said a brief word of thanks to the guardian spirit of the late Monty for continuing to keep an eye on me and reflected that the next time I panic over something I won’t have learned any lessons from this time either.

Yes, I really do need to get a new cat. No, I’ve not had any luck there either.

Guinea-Pigs All!

Today I got jabbed!

Astra-Zenica (since you were going to ask) and no, so far I’ve not had any side-effects but it’s only been an hour and a half.

I got called at an ungodly hour yesterday (08:36) by my GPs’ surgery. They could offer me a vaccine shot the next day and after I intimated that five past nine in the morning was a little early for me they shifted it to two fifteen in the afternoon.

And it was only a totter down the road in the freezing bloody cold to the town hall and wait outdoors for a few minutes before the line moved forwards at a rate of knots. Inside, got told to take my gloves off and use the hand sanitizer provided. Check the temperature of my forehead and then in to give my name and get given a card with that and my date of birth which I give to the young lady I’m guided to. Off with my jacket and jumper (I wore the t-shirt in the illustration but no-one noticed. Sigh. The life of an entertainer is hard. You can order your own via Redbubble.) Then they gave me a card with the details of the treatment and a piece of paper describing the vaccine and I was off.

The nurse asked if I was happy to have the vaccine and when I said something like: “Well, I’m here, aren’t I?” she explained that some people change their minds at the last moment.

She said I’d be called again in twelve weeks. Probably. If the government doesn’t decide something else.

And then it was out and back into the cold pulling my gloves on again, over my nrewly sanitized hands. A little light shopping and then staggering back to my flat.

Oddly enough, the night before at the Monday GURPS game we’d chatted about getting innoculated. At that moment only our oldest member, Hartley Patterson, (he admitted to being seventy-harumph) had been innoculated. Astra-Zenica too and only slight throbbing in his arm. And having noted that all of us were getting on and therefore vulnerable we wondered when we would get our jabs.

The very next morning… It’s the sort of thing you really hope is just a co-incidence and not a sign of us being under constant if benevolent monitoring.

And one thing Chris Southern said Monday night sticks with me. He said we can’t know, no-body can know how all this will work out. Which vaccine, how long between the doses, whether you can combine the different vaccines (that”s bound to happen): all of that is being subjected to experimental use on everybody. Results and certainty comes later. People need reassuring, especially the people suspicious enough of the state to balk at the last minute with their arms already bared for the needle.

We are all Guinea-Pigs now, the whole nation. Hopefully, we will learn a lot. And it’s not as risky as getting up in the sky in a Spitfire or a Hurricane and getting near burned to death, the way the original Guinea Pig Club did. So be glad about that as you serve Science and the Nation. Even the refuseniks will have their place in the great statistical analysis.

EDITED TO ADD: It’s odd after my writing that but during Wednesday night’s game (BLADES IN THE DARK) my friend Graham Arnold (a legend in his own lunchtime!) said that he’d managed to get innoculated already despite being notably younger than me by being a) in his fifties and b) willing to have two different vaccines in the two different doses so they could see what happens. So he is doubly a member of the Guinea Pig Club. If he (or indeed I) develop super-powers as the result of experimental treatment I’ll let you know. Happened to Deadpool: there’s no reason but science why it shouldn’t happen to us!

Masks

One of my father’s favourite books was THE HAPPY HYPOCRITE, a short moral fable and fantasy by Max Beerbohm. It’s all about a Regency Rake who falls in love with a good woman who will only marry a man with the face of a saint which his isn’t.

So he finds a mask of the face of a saint and wearing it goes and proposes marriage to the good woman. He turns his life around and starts living the life of the man she expects him to be. His old lover comes to challenge this fraud, rips off the mask and that reveals the face underneath has become as angelic as the mask and the loving couple get on with happily ever aftering.

Sort of the inverse of THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY. Beware what you pretend to be because that’s what you’ll become sort of thing. I think Dad saw himself somewhere in there. I may still have his copy somewhere in the disorganised mess that is my flat.

Anyway, I find myself recalling the moral of the story as I get older and as I find myself more and more adopting the persona that the world finds acceptable to a gentleman of my age. I find myself doing the ‘slightly-batty-but-ever-so-polite’ aged gentleman a lot on those occasions when the world requires me to go out and do things: shop once a week, go to the pharmacy for prescriptions, visit the dentist, the doctor and what have you.

I’m a terrible old ham and I go too far sometimes: I fear I will turn myself into that parody of an English gentleman (retired and living off a pension) and not be a human being at all, just a series of mannerisms. I hear my father’s verbal habits in the mix as well. His manner was paternalistic while mine is (perforce) avuncular. I wonder if my brother David with his numerous brood finds himself doing Dad as well.

It’s better that, I reflect, than the moments when the pain and discomfort of being old gets to me and I snap. The mask of virtue and beneficence comes off and I’m rude, quite distincly and crabbily rude to people. I was downright harsh to a young woman calling from the dentists about three weeks back. I apologised before the end of the call which was to nag me into filling in an on-line form of immense pointlessness before my appointment the next day. But I felt it best to beg off the next morning by pleading my nose being a little bunged up and got the appointment delayed two weeks. I think that was wise: they might have decided that having me on the books wasn’t worth the wear and tear on their receptionists. Two weeks later all was smiles, which it might not have been if I’d turned up the next morning.

In a way though I’m quite glad that I can still lose my rag unreasonably. I have for years worn the mask of that good, wise and virtuous (in many ways, not in temperance or lack of gluttony obviously) man Cardinal Archbishop Theophilus of the Far Isles. If the idea behind THE HAPPY HYPOCRITE were true then he would long ago have wiped out the Old Adam, the Lord George Hell, the base and vile sinner beneath and that would create a real monster. It is somewhat comforting to know that Original Sin still applies its stain, creating an interesting patina on my soul that I hope will appeal to that great collector of knick-knacks God Almighty.

(Nothing in this essay should be taken as proof or even assertion of the real existence of a divine omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent being. Consult your professional theologian before believing. Terms and Conditions apply.)

Speaking of the pains of age and illness, I have two grounds to be happy. The first is that I’ve discovered that bunging the hot water bottle underneath my left thigh and my wonky left knee at night not only keeps the pain from bothering me in bed but also seems to reduce the discomfort I feel from it during the day. The other is that I finally gave in and went and found a chiropodist to take a look at my right big toe. I won’t give you details (because I do try to be kindly) but (touch wood) the things she did and the things she recommended have abated the problems I was having if not finally solved them. Let us hope. Maybe I will be able to wear fewer masks in the future.

One of the problems with trying to be virtuous. It teaches you patience and that means it can take months for me to think: ‘I’d probably best do something about that’. You think I’d know better by now but I overcompensate for my known and acknowledged hypochondria. Virtue is often its own punishment.

New/old traditions

Just because I listen to the excellent podcast THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY WITHOUT ANY GAPS which provides an introduction to the full breadth of the topic in bursts of twenty to forty minutes at a time, I know about a thing the nice chap who does it calls ‘the commentary tradition’. That is to say books produced in the medieval period which were commentaries on the Greek and Latin texts inherited from the past. Explaining the little difficulties or the huge great controversies. Sometimes the commentaries were in the forms of seperate books but sometimes they were annotations in the corner of the manuscripts, in the wide and generous margins that had been left, often for just this purpose.

And then, because books were expensive and people are people you got people write more commentary further out. Commentary on the commentary. There were some iterations that got beyond even that level of recursion but margins are limited and you have to stop somewhere. Perhaps the commentaries on Biblical texts had the most time to get complex and deepen.

Not that there was just one ‘commentary tradition’: there were lots and lots, in different countries, in different languages, on different texts. And then there was a wave of technological change and you got printing and eventually you got philosophical journals in which people could scribble instead and have it count to advance their career.

Also you got librarians who imposed things like the oath which I swore in my youth to discourage people from scrawling things in margins.

Which is interesting if you have specialised interests but it occurred to me yesterday that we are living in a new age of commentary traditions. It may be that this should have occurred to me before because I’ve been seeing the way first newsgroup and then web forums produce reams and reams of chat and people quoting the things further up the thread have said as the basis of their comments. And getting them wrongly attributed and monsterously misinterpretting them too.

Most of this is as epheral as the wind and won’t last. Occsionally you get something kept for posterity by a friend or admirer such as my friend Phil Masters preserving the widely famed (in my tiny circle of acquaintance anyway) argument by the late Alison Brooks about why Hitler could never have invaded Britain. And so fame can last a little longer on the Internet. But I suspect never forever and almost certainly not for centuries.

The parallels should have been obvious to me, as I say but it never really struck me until yesterday I came across a YouTube posting which was a commentary on another YouTube posting! I don’t know why I’m so astonished but I came across an American who was reposting someone else’s material and pausing it every so often commenting. He did just about nothing to improve the content other than to overlay the original with his own inane babble (“Wow, I didn’t know that…”) and then restarting the orginal which while not wonderful had not been improved by more or less random pauses to break up the flow.

The commentator had the nerve to ask people to ‘like’ what he had done. I think he also mentioned a Patreon…

We do have a tip jar over at me and Roger’s wonderful podcast but we are not, as far as I can tell, pure parasites on other people’s creativity. We may often serve as critics but we’re trying to be helpful. Mostly. (New episode every first of the month!)

I could get very depressed about the incestuous nature of the vast majority of all this ‘commentary’ except that I remember that ought of all those impoverished bachelors and masters of arts, in their cold rooms lit by candlelight, desperately trying to make some sense of what Plato or Aristotle or Augustine were saying eventually we got the Renaissance.

Maybe this time it will come faster. Certainly I sometimes think the early 21st Century is a Dark Age. We’ve got a long way to go before we get the moonbases and expeditions to Mars Gerry Anderson promised us. Though as Dr Bob pointed out to me today at our monthly game of the WEREWOLF rpg, at least we avoid the Fireflash atomic powered airliner which absolutely had to land on time or its reactor would devastate everything in sight. In the first epipisode of THUNDERBIRDS they were trying to get it to land at Heathrow. Health and Safety and environmental concerns were not a thing in Gerry Anderson’s bright future.


EDITED TO ADD:

I’ve been binging on YouTube videos in the last week. Mostly cookery and especially historical cookery shows (TASTING HISTORY with Max Miller has given me several ideas for Far Isles events: I wonder if anyone has yet shown him the famous Max Miller?) but Binging/Basics with Babish is fun too.

One of the non-catering based bits of the Internet that is the content provided by a chap called Tom Scott. He is big on doing silly amateur game and quiz shows. I think he perhaps hopes to produces the next MASTERMIND or WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE? Good luck Tom. I think your LATERAL is the nearest thing you’ve got to something people might want to buy: you need slightly more time elastic rounds and slightly better curating of the questions. CITATION NEEDED relies on having contributors who are on the fine edge of being well educated and being excellently educated. And they need also to be very funny people and young. I think it’s too much in the space of QI to succeed on it’s own. Some of the stuff in GAME GARAGE is interesting but none of it quite jumps out at me. (Criticism, which is fair use…)

But he also does a thing called THINGS YOU MAY NOT KNOW, some lectures on ‘the Basics’ in computing and a lot of rants. Here’s one of them in which told me more about the topic of my main post. I hope he’s all right with me putting this link in place…

I don’t agree with his conclusions though. But then I still get the occasional bit of money from copyright fees on my ancient acting career which wouldn’t be there if his proposals went through. (I think, Tom, if you ever read this, that you should have asked Equity and the Performing Rights Society how many of their members are still making money at the end of their lives from work done at the start of their careers.)

Pontificate no more

I’ve decided to give up on Quora. Those of you who’ve been watching me for a while (you vast seething horde you) will be aware that I had fun re-posting some of the better responses I’d given there. I was immensely flattered at first by people ‘upvoting’ me and ‘following’ me. I liked the practice I got to keep my research skills excercised. I liked telling Americans they were wrong.

But enough is enough. I was falling into the pit of Quora early in the day and not crawling out until the evening. There were endless lists of questions that people thought I was (for some reason) immensely qualified to answer. There was a daily digest of questions of a sort some computer somewhere thought I might be interested in and it was depressing how often I found they were right. And then there was just troling through my ‘feed’ to see what people were going on about. A lot of my time and the majority of my limited remaining creativity was going up in smoke trying to clear out the Augean Stables of the world’s ignorance.

And some of the questions were very dumb. Leaving aside the ones about ‘which comic book character would win’, (I didn’t mind answering questions about comics that weren’t dumb) there were a mass of questions whose primary purpose was to bang the writer’s favourite drum.

There were ‘aren’t people who disagree with me dumb’ questions. There were ‘aren’t the people who don’t support my political cause evil’ questions. There were ‘how do people who support [INSERT CAUSE HERE] live with themselves’ questions. There were ‘doesn’t the Bible clearly teach’ questions. There were ‘wouldn’t the British have been more sensible to side with the Germans’ questions. (I have the horrid feeling that a fair number of those were from UK authors.) There were the ever present anonymous trolls.

There were also a lot of named trolls mostly with Chinese or Russian names who were busy pushing the party lines of their governments.

There were a lot of questions so incoherent that they were incapable of being answered. A lot of them were clearly written by people who hadn’t English as their native language. Sometimes it was clear that they had something clear in their minds but no way could you make out what it was.

Some of the questions were worse than that and caused me to form the opinion Quora was being used by secret agents to pass messages in plain sight.

There were a lot of questions which were clearly students or pupils trying to find inspiration for their homework tasks. I tried to avoid these but sometimes the sheer pleasure of being asked to ‘say what you know about’ overwhelmed me. It was being asked to ‘say what you believe’ that got me down.

So, enough. I’ll go back to rpg.net and keep my on line whittering on short and to the point and just accept as part of the price of enlightening people the fact that I’ll occasionally be banned for a day or two either because I have been actually curt and offensive (and by gum I have to be aware of my tendency to grump nowaday!) or because the people monitoring the postings have failed to understand what I’m saying again. Ah young people today!

And I’ll keep posting here of course. The management hasn’t chosen to kick me out yet.

Seasonal Self Indulgence

Tonight is time for a bit of reminisence plus a bit of over emotional poetry reading. Do forgive the indulgence.

As a technical question does anyone know why the iMovie App on my iPad chose to take the full length still photograph of John Betjeman’s statue I had found to act as a title, zoomed in on it and then tracked up the body. I honestly didn’t ask it to do that.

And it decided to name the posting with the last of the labels at the front of it which isn’t how I labelled it…

Cha! Computers are getting more intrusive than technicians and casting directors. My genius is not being well served here….

Here’s THE BELLS OF WAITING ADVENT