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For Your Eyes Only

My friend Lindy (hi, Lindy!) put me onto the fact that the Hay Literary Festival was free and online this year so I got in line to see if there were any spaces left to soak in their bandwidth and watch the presentations live.

It was worth it even though I only got there in time for a few of the things that interested me. Michael Wood on the history and literature of China. Paul Krugman on the rather depressing state of western democracy. I’ve got Sandi Toskvig to come this afternoon and this morning I sat at my computer in my underpants listening to A C Grayling talk about the reforms that are needed in our British way of government to prevent recurrence of the sickness Paul Krugman talked about.

To be honest I only agreed entirely with one of his points which was electoral reform. I’m only half heartedly in support of a written and embedded constitution because I can see it becoming a mill stone around the neck of later generations the way it has in America. And from then on his wish list becomes heavy on things I have doubts about. Separation of powers sounds fine but is contrary to practices that work pretty well: it will inevitably lead to the sort of deadlock you get in America when Presidency and Legislature aren’t in agreement. Giving the vote to 16 year olds not only reminds me what a plonker I was at that age but makes me wonder where you stop expanding the electorate. And term limits! He wants term limits! The man is supposed to be a philosopher! (When he said that I shouted abuse at the screen and my neighbours must have wondered what I was up to.)

But criticising Mr Grayling wasn’t what I wanted to talk about and I shall buy his book for my Kindle nonetheless.

What I wanted to say was to acknowledge a point he raised about the dangers of targeted political advertising. Nowadays, you can send people political communiques that are intended to punch their particular buttons. You can tell them the arguments your advisors think will appeal to them and not only will they not see the things that your opponents are saying but your opponents will have to dig hard to discover the things you are circulating.

And when he pointed that out I flashed on how I had reacted to seeing the Tories’ New Labour, New Danger poster of ill fame and repute. I came around the corner near the old Unemployment Office (where I had spent so many days of my youth) in High Wycombe that day in 1979 and saw a picture depicting Mr T.Blair (MA Oxon) with glowing red eyes.

And I burst out laughing.

I can’t have been alone. It was so over the top and ludicrous. On me, who was not part of its target audience, it not only didn’t encourage me to vote Tory, it made me (briefly) inclined to vote Labour out of sympathy for a party whose leader had been so obviously slandered.

And the laughter of their fellows may have made at least some people think twice before swallowing the propaganda.

But nowadays we get the little doses of vitriol spread privately. And there is a tendency to hug those arguments to oneself if your fellows mock them. We all get to live in little artificial tribes.

I don’t know how you fix this though. I can’t imagine a law being passed telling politicians that they had to use only print and broadcast media to argue their case. But it worries me.

This is probably a thought that other people have had before me and possibly more clearly than me. Maybe someone has come up with a clear and workable solution.

I sort of doubt it though.

Third time is enemy action

For the second time now I’ve come across Leave supporting material in some fiction I was reading.

Now, it has to be said that my preferred reading for relaxation isn’t most people’s. I’m a long time sf fan and I have a tendency to gobble up low grade pot-boilers as long as they’re SF or Fantasy. I’ll buy whole series of them in Kindle form and work through them in orgies of eye-strain. I accept that I’m going to end up with some clunkers that way but I get some good experiences (try Harry Connolly’s TWENTY PALACES sequence for gore-splattered modern fantasy-horror) and if I don’t like what I get I can stop reading.

But twice now I’ve found modern British writers of SF&F speaking as if departing the EU was the obvious, sensible and patriotic thing to do. And this is as bizarre to me as discovering a modern book of economics that praises feudalism or a contemporary book of medicine that holds the germ theory an unproven fad.

In the first, a time travel series with a humorous tone, there was a remark made in a scene set in our near future that someone who did an academic dissertation on the history of the EU wouldn’t have much material to master.

In the second, a modern fantasy police procedural (funny how many turn up in the wake of RIVERS OF LONDON) a Welsh police officer stoutly reminds Our Heroes that Wales voted Leave and that they, who come respectively from Geordie-land and rural Gloucestershire, must be on the side of the Angels too.

Now, a certain amount of satisfying of fantasies is baked into the two types of ‘speculative fiction’. I can’t remember who said it but it’s true that pornography and SF are two genres where the universe is an unreasonably hospitable place. However, both times my Disbelief Suspenders shattered against this evidence that there is a body  of opinion out there that plays in the same sandboxes as me but has a very different model of how people work.

Time machines, faster than light travel, human  immortality, ghouls and dragons… I can handle all the  stuff that non-sf readers find throw them  out of the story. But this is what does it for me and I find myself sitting there seeing all the creaky plotting and lazy writing that I was forgiving for the sake of the tale come rushing up into my consciousness.

One has always known that there are modern SF writers of a weirdly conservative bent but up to now most of them have been Americans. I remember feeling quite smug that we didn’t do this sort of thing when I read a story which involved Texas breaking away from the US because the newly elected first female President (a thinly veiled caricature of Hilary Clinton) made her lesbian lover the Chief of the General Staff, created an SS equivalent out of the Department of Health and went around forcing women to have abortions.

But now the plague of idiocy has reached Britain and I can’t even withdraw to my armchair to avoid it.

Dammit, I can’t change my reading habits this late in life. I wouldn’t be able to convert to literary fiction: reading about middle class persons having angst… It doesn’t bear thinking about! Do you think I could get people to put content warning on their books if they’re going to do this?

LATER EDITED TO ADD:

I read in my mail queue but seem to have lost a comment from my  friend Roger about how  I could maybe review before purchasing… But this would make me into the sort of sensitive snowflake that I am not in point of fact. It’s not that I can’t bear to read things that disagree with me. It’s that I see a trend and I want to mock it to death before it spreads.

If I allow myself to be depressed by the idiocy in modern public and intellectual life I shall shudder flabbily  down into a slough of perpetual despond and become even more of a disappointment to myself than I already am.

It would be nice if I could think of a way to use  the tropes of the genre to produce a little counter propaganda but I can’t just now. I can only hope that in a few decades time if anybody notices what I seem to see right now they will pay it the same sort of attention we now do to  the peculiar portrayal of the Jews in Christie, Sayers and Dennis Wheatley and the even more direct bigotry and antisemetism in John Buchan.

“Well,” our successors will say, “you have to understand the times it was written in…”

And the stern young people of those days will look at their middle-aged parents with disapproval and quite right too.

A problem in modern etiquette

How do you tell a business they don’t understand their customers?

Or rather how do you tell them that they could make money out of you… if they weren’t dedicated to making more money out of people who aren’t you?

Thing I’m worrying about at the moment is how long Google Hangouts is going to last. It’s already not supported as Google tries to shift everyone towards Google Meet, which is like Hangouts but with more features and focused on the business user. Oh and charging money.

Now just about everything charges except Discord (query: how does Discord make any money then?) but Google Meet’s pricing structure seems particularly useless. The Free version would be fine for my needs except that it’s limited to sixty minutes and I want to use  it to  run Role-Playing Games on line.

The ‘G Suite Essentials’ level looks like it gives me all that I want and is free until September… But it won’t recognise a ‘non-business e-mail’ as a valid basis for setting up an account and assuming I get used to it the charge is going to be $10.00 a month per user, 

Now, Zoom may have its faults (and the Internet rumour machine is pouring them in my ear every time I mention it) but it only charges a fixed fee of £11.99 a month for up to nine hosts and a hundred users. It’s branded as for ”small teams’ which should cover any hobby use.

Are Google not interested in the hobby user?

Who do I write to when I want to say: “Look here, you’re being prats and I want you to remember I told you so when the day comes you realise I was right all along.” Lots of means of contact if you want to complain they’ve done something wrong. None to tell them they’re doing something stupid.

Perhaps I should ask my niece in San Francisco.

Or perhaps I’m precisely the sort of boring old man with too much time on his hands that this non-contact system was set up to discourage.

Pleasures of the solitary life

I spent today at home wearing no trousers.

It was very pleasant just pottering around in my t-shirt and underpants. If society doesn’t return to normal soon, I may make this my regular attire.

I’m aware that this is only one step from the state of mind of the chap in my mum’s retirement home who decided (if anything so advanced can be said to be happening in his state of pleasant confusion) that even underpants were not necessary.

(That’s not him above: it’s Donald Swann, author of the musical number I link to below.)

At the moment though I’m putting off nudism until I can afford to live somewhere which isn’t so overlooked and to have some household staff who will protect me from sudden visitations by disapproving persons.

 

My  medieval society has cancelled its May Revel which is sad. We were going to take over a house in Suffolk  for a weekend of medieval arts, sciences and martial exercise. I now have to organise the election of a new monarch (or the re-election of the old one: we get a choice) without the ritual of hustings with the two candidates.

And one of the things that got cancelled with the Revel was the University Debate in which we sit around and pontificate about topics that appeal to me: because I’m the Rector of the University and that’s one of my major pleasures. I say I’m the Rector but actually my persona in the Society is and he’s a Cardinal Archbishop. So take what is written below as written by him.

Just yesterday I came up with what I think would have been an excellent topic for debate:

Is love always wise?

In common parlance, we would say no. We have sayings about the folly of lovers, about loving ‘not wisely but too well’.

But in Christianity (and not only there) love is recommended absolutely. Without it we cannot know God.

But then it says that God’s wisdom is folly in the eyes of the world. (1 Corinthians 3:19 EDITED TO ADD: No, drat it! Lindy is right (again) and I should have said 1 Corinthinans 1:25 ” For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” Something like that anyway…. I may have another quotation floating in my brain.).

But on the gripping hand if we conceive as divine love as too different from human love we move into the temptations of the mystics who seek internal ecstasies without manifesting love towards the actual people who surround them. The love the Apostle John speaks of in his letter is the actual practical, mundane, earthly and earthy love that we feel for our brothers and sisters, not an abstract or purely spiritual thing.

At least that’s what I would have led with if I had been allowed to get my theological ya-yahs out this year.

As for myself in my proper persona: I have always accentuated wisdom and now look at me: a man on his own wearing no trousers.

“I was a wise man: and now I am sorry. The wisdom of winter is madness in May.” 

I won’t be there…

I have always meant, one year, to get up and go and be on Magdalen Bridge one May Day morning to listen to see if I could hear the choristers above the noise of the revellers below.

Never managed it the three years I was living in the city centre but I’ve had it on my To Do Before I Die list ever since.

I’m only twenty five miles away and you’d think I’d be able to get up early or stay up late one year….

This year I won’t be there and neither will the Choristers though there’s a schemeto do it ‘remotely’ or maybe ‘virtually’.

I wonder if it will be enough.

Because obviously this is one of those British Rituals that are done to placate the terrible elder things that dwell just beyond our reality. In fact given it’s May Day, I’d say it’s an attempt to keep the Fair Folk over in their territory by dedicating the dawn to the White Christ and prevent their resurgence.

I see the ‘virtual’ celebration includes a local folk group singing ‘Over The Rainbow’. Asking for trouble I calls it.

If the barriers between the worlds fall at dawn, I will be in my bed if anybody needs me.

Spoilers, spoilers

I finally got around to seeing the last episode of the last DR WHO series.

Umph.

Can I say I just don’t get it?

I don’t get why this was supposed to make the series better. I don’t get why the show runner thought: Oh, yeah that would be cool!

I can see that he wanted to get rid of the Time Lords even more than they have been gotten rid of in the past. Though that wouldn’t have been my choice.

But all this ‘everything will change now’ stuff… Saying something like that is very hard to pull off. When Buffy suddenly acquired a sister… yeah, that was cool. They used it explore stuff about teenaged anxiety and literally ‘discovering yourself’ and ‘not being who you thought you were’. But this…

I don’t think they are trying to pull a ‘THOSE WHO WALK AWAY FROM OLMELAS’ moment as one of my friends said: the timeless child would have been tortured continuously if that had been the case. (And why is the title of the episode THE TIMELESS CHILDREN anyway? Why the plural?)  I think they are trying to pull a ‘TOTAL RECALL’.

Yes, yes, I’ll watch the next series. Even though I expect to be disappointed.

AND ANOTHER THING:

I came across a post about Marxism being invalidated because Marx’s ‘labour theory of value’ was bollocks and that Marx had known it was bollocks before he died because of the publication of better theories in his lifetime.

It would be nice if I could be arsed to actually learn enough Hegelian and Marxist philosophy to be able to tell if this was actually a thing or just something the American right wing came up with to bolster their predetermined decision that left wing philosophies must be bollocks.

The fact that Heinlein bungs a similar statement into STARSHIP  TROOPERS makes me suspect it’s a long standing statement.

But I think my theory of value says my remaining lifespan is too short to waste any significant portion of it digging in contending dogmatisms. Ah, for a regeneration or two, especially given the pain my left hip is giving me.

Angry old man time

Went off to Sainsbury’s to restock on food. In pursuit of my more intense self-isolating this was my first venture out since last Saturday. My foot is currently telling me I need to go out for exercise more often.

Last Saturday was me going to Morrisons and bewailing their lack of preparation to keep people apart and their narrow aisles and what have you. So in a burst of middle class snobbery I went to Sainsbury’s this Saturday. (Lower middle class snobbery obviously: I didn’t troll up the hill to Waitrose.)

I found myself muttering more than once ‘Have you people no concept of what two metres distance means?’) People zipping right by my ear on skateboards as I walk along the payement. People walking right past my elbow because they are in such a damned hurry… People sitting on the bus and taking the seat right by me.

I think I am approaching the point at which I will keep my walking stick ready at all times to poke people and cry “Keep your distance!”

Expect reports of my arrest to follow any time soon. R vs Cule could be a landmark case on what counts as ‘reasonable force’ in the Coronavirus era.

Thing is I consider myself a nice chap. Old age and provoking Young People are proving me wrong.

If I saw this presented on a stage…

I’d be going ‘Ah ha!’

The Foreign Secretary is telling all Brits abroad to come home ‘While they still can’.

The Prime Minister is telling us all to stay home and not come out.

If I were writing this as a scenario for one of my role-playing games I’d be seeing immense significance in the timing of that. Something sinister would be going on!

As it is this is just another outburst of random government activity.

I think.

Things are moving fairly fast at the moment. Only a couple of days back I was torturing myself (no one else is allowed to) about whether to go to the Eastercon or not. And now the Eastercon is cancelled along with 90%+ of other public events and we are only allowed to have necessary and vital shops.

Sheesh. I’m glad I bought a new set of speakers for my computer today. I wonder if the chemists will be regarded as important enough to stay open. Why do I have this feeling that the government hasn’t thought through the implications of all this?

Ah, right. Experience.

 

A sign of the times

I went out to shop today and as I was standing by the bus waiting for the driver to finish logging on to his computer/ticket machine another potential passenger came right up to me and asked if it was leaving soon.

He wasn’t quite in my face but definitely  in my space.

I leaned back and looked at him disapprovingly. “Do you mind keeping your distance,” I said.

And the shocking thing is that it not only felt absolutely natural to say it but he accepted the rebuke. We talked quite neighbourly after that.

It strikes me that we are entering a new age of the Hermit. So many of us are going to have to develop hermit skills (or perhaps I mean ‘anchorite’ skills). The ability to be alone. To find one’s own company sufficient. Not to go absolutely berserk with food, booze and on-line shopping.

Honestly, I found myself seriously considering buying two hundred quids worth of new socks yesterday just to add a little extra joy to my  life. Don’t let yourself be swayed by material things, Michael!

Life would be easier with a cat. Mutter.

I have a nice little hermitage (one bedroom, one living room, kitchen and bathroom) and unlike the monk I play in my medieval society I don’t have to get up in the middle of the night to pray. Only to empty my bladder and that less frequently than monks celebrate mass.

As long as the food lasts and the power and water stay on, I should be fine. And with the coming of spring I can put laundry  out on the line again.

Did you see the news that some food economists are calling for food rationiing to be introduced? Mostly on the grounds that fresh fruit and veg are coming from Spain and Italy where things are much more restricted than here. I can’t see the current lot getting anything that complicated up and running.

Sainsbury’s were still out of the soup I like and I forgot to check for toilet paper. Still, I found a couple of packets of paracetemol today for which my aching left hip thanks me.

Old actors never dry…

Today being International Woman’s Day I took myself up to the British Library to celebrate the forty-second anniversary of the HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY.

(That’s a complete non-sequitor. I knew that when I said it. But I did see Daisy Campbell (daughter of Ken) direct our  little extract of Douglas Adam’s work very well and not nearly as gonzo as her father would have been for which I was grateful.)

I did this (as is traditional) by telling as many of the stories about my involvement in the cultural phenomenon as I could get past the egos of the other old lags who had turned up. And then we did a version of the first draft of episode two which included just enough material that hadn’t got through to the broadcast stage to keep the audience (who all knew the words better than we did) on their toes. There was a lot more (and a lot ruder) material for the doors on the HEART OF GOLD to display their lewd and intrusive Genuine People Personalities.

There was an extract from Terry Johnson’s short play about being involved in the Rainbow production in which Daisy Cambell channelled her father to a frightening degree and which either reminded me of things I had forgotten about the Great Disaster of 1980 or things I had never known. (I’ve only a vague memory of Arthur and Ford risking life and limb by throwing themselves into the orchestra pit and even that may not be a real memory.)

There was a short play  about a conversation between Douglas Adams and his rubber duck  as he struggled to find a way out of being locked in a hotel room to finish the fourth book of the trilogy. And one of the producers came up to me afterwards and said that he had been a pupil of my father’s and felt he had a real relationship with him and had been helped and encouraged. And it’s a small world isn’t it?

Small enough that my niece Erika managed to spot a Twitter thread about the event and send it to the family. My word, does she keep an eye  on all of us? Or is she scanning the net constantly for mentions of the family.

And if so does she hear anything about my namesake who’s the Canadian Firefighter? Or was he a garbageman? I can never remember. Canadian though, definitely.

Anyway, I met some talented people and I got some laughs. Didn’t disgrace myself. I  should even get paid. All in all, a good day.

This one will get a picture  when I can figure out how to find and download the Twitter post with me pontificating at the event. EDITED TO ADD: After some time spent not finding the source of the picture I figured out that I could download it from my phone. Aged brains… Still makes me wonder how my clever niece does it.