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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

Another notorious bit of vanity

An appropriate piece for the precise day and time.

Poetry, again. Not mine

But rather Will’s.

(I wonder if I’ll ever have the nerve to do 135: I am horribly aware I am not Ron Jeremy or LBJ.)

Feelingly speaking about lies and age.
One of the famouser ones.
A plea for listening to the subtext.
About age. Again.

Seasons’ Greetings and an unsolicited obscene recommendation.

My friend Lindy sent me a Christmas card (it is my sad duty as an old curmudgeon not to send her one in return so this will have to do) which said “Joy to the World” on the front with a nice picture of a dangling decorative ball. “Bit of a tough request, given the state of it,” she added inside.

And I think I have to disagree: joy can be had very easily if you accept it’s always going to be transient. Bill Bryson in NOTES FROM A SMALL ISLAND (1) observes that the British have a knack for finding the small pleasures and making the most of them. You may see them out on a Bank Holiday, having trudged along the desolate sands of some alleged resort, drenched in the freezing cold rain and trouping as a family, mother, father and much put upon children, into a cafe. They have tea or maybe cocoa and some poorly toasted teacakes, served with butter in individual catering wrapped-in-paper pats that has come fresh from the deep freeze and cannot be spread for at least half an hour.

“Well,” father will say “this is nice, isn’t it?” Joy is his, all for having the right attitude.

What is hard I think, is faith and hope and I sometimes wonder which is harder to manage.

My usage of faith and hope is perhaps eccentric and I should explain. (2)

By ‘faith’ I don’t mean trust in any particular dogma or message, nor in any particular person, divine or otherwise. I mean a trust that the universe, the big picture, the overall thing is benevolent and right. Being human, mortal and limited we don’t get to see or grasp the big picture but if faith is with us we believe that things are right whatever the local state of things may be.

By ‘hope’ I mean the ability to apply that to yourself and to yours and to the particular situation you and yours find yourself in. That things are working out, not for the universe, but for the tiny bit you can see and care about.

Both are clearly irrational and probably have more to do with the state of neurochemicals than anything metaphysical but nonetheless they feel real and my distinction between them feels about right.

I wonder if you can have hope without faith. Are there people who think on that sort of level that the universe may be screwed but they’re all right, Jack. I don’t think so, not really but that may be more about my desire for intellectual consistency than my compassion for the rest of the cosmos.

And since our mortal nature is not going to allow us perfect faith can we have perfect hope? Which is another question which may have more to do with my own personal neurochemical balance than metaphysics. Never mind.

My neurochemical balance was briefly tilted towards Joy today when I got the download of the Oglaf books which I have ordered in printed form and may yet receive before Christmas.

OGLAF is a weekly web comic of filth and humour on a fantasy theme that I’ve been reading since my friend Drak pointed it out to me some years back. Every week on a Sunday I get a little jolt of filthy fantasy fun and I wanted a permanent souvenier of the story so far. I especially wanted a copy of the Early Years because like all humour providers it seemed funnier and filthier then. There was a particular comic I wanted to find and for some reason I could see for looking on the web site. I found it in the pdf though and here I provide a link to the strip that again made me laugh like a drain.

Not in the least bit safe for work or for your heirs to find on your computer when you pass away.

Take a look. You’ll thank me.

(1) I think I may have quoted this sentiment before but what the heck.

(2) And this too is something I have the feeling I’ve written before.

Mystery wrapped inside an enigma: the Kampanaphobes

I think I have discovered a new religion.

I don’t mean I’ve received a visitation from an angel: I’ve always been spared that sort of thing for which I hope I’m duly grateful. If I ever am commanded by a divine messanger to write down a revelation I’ll post it here you may be sure.

I mean I found a phenomenon that can only be explained by some people having strange religious beliefs and practices that I am not familiar with.

I was just sitting down yesterday evening to play me Monday night game which is currently on-line as all my games are. I flicked through my e-mail queue to find the link to Zoom and noticed that the top message said that a parcel I had been expecting had been delivered ‘to a safe place’ because I hadn’t been in and a card had been posted.

No card by the door. No sign that anyone had tried to contact me in the hours they had said the parcel would be delivered. So I apologised to my players, got up and grabbed the keys, my walking stick and an umbrella and prepared to go out to search the environs of the block for where it had been left. It was pouring with rain outside and I was working myself up into a fine rant.

And I open my front door and it’s there in the corridor right in front of me. Plain as a pikestaff or rather as a cardboard box, which is probably even plainer than a pikestaff.

Now it hadn’t been there when I returned from my shopping at three-thirty. And (this is the mysterious bit) I hadn’t heard any sign of a bell ringing or a door being knocked on.

Why not? It wouldn’t have taken any longer to put the thing down and ring the bell. That’s what happened today when I got another parcel.

The only logical explanation I can come up with is: religion. There must be a religion in the world which regards knocking on doors or ringing doorbells as unclean.

I would love to know their doctrines that have led them to such a conclusion. I don’t recall any divine ordinance that applies, not even in Leviticus and they forbid everything under the sun in Leviticus. Does the prohibition apply only to certain times of the day? Or only certain days of the week?

And why do so many members of this cult end up in the delivery trade.

There’s a PhD in Anthropology or maybe Theology for the person who finds out.

According to the Phobia Wiki (and you thought I had too much time on my hands) Kampanaphobia is the unreasoning fear of bells. Do the cult members all have it? Or do they think all their customers do?

Of limited general interest

I was writing my monthly ‘zine for ALARUMS & EXCURSIONS a venerable apa about roleplaying games in theory and practice and the topic of which game systems we all like best came up, as it does every few years.

And towards the end of my piece on the subject I found myself saying ‘Oh if only there were a place on the web where I could store my list of games I have played at one point or another. Oh wait…’

Which is why I’m putting this here and those of you who don’t care about this can ignore it. I don’t pay any attention when some of my acquaintance go on about PERL programming or collecting antique motorcycles: I just nod and smile.

I’ve got a sneaky feeling that this isn’t all the games I’ve played because I’ve been doing this for a while and was not entirely sober at every game convention I’ve attended and I’m also getting old. But this is the vast majority of them.

This is in rough chronological order of first playing it: starting New Year’s Day 1976 with a DnD game at Dave Langford’s place.

& means I only ever played it the once.

@ means I’ve run or played extended campaigns of the game. I’m still in the early phases of my involvement with MASKS and WtA so who knows if they will run.

Dungeons & Dragons@. (But never, as far as I recall, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. I did buy a copy of the Players and GM’s Guides but by then I was into RQ.)

Empire of the Petal Throne @

Traveller @

Tunnels and Trolls

En Garde (Mostly postally obviously though there was one disastrous face-to-face game in Coventry during the period chronicled in part of THE ELFISH GENE. I should probably mention the postal RPGs of the 1980s which gave me a fair bit of pleasure especially WHERE LIES THE POWER a game of far future politics, commerce and war that deserved its own tabletop game.)

Superhero 2044

Chivalry and Sorcery (Oh, the pain of remembering trying to create a drug-trance magician. Did you know medieval Europe had swarms of magicians who needed specially enchanted hallucinogens to work magic? It’s not in the OXFORD BOOK OF THE MIDDLE AGES but perhaps their lives were too tedious to be chronicled. The game experience certainly was.)

RuneQuest @ (2 and 3 and RQGlorantha but I skipped the ones in between though I own copies).

Lords of Creation

Dragonquest

Bushido @ (This was in the days when I couldn’t figure out a system didn’t work without playing it.)

Call of Cthulhu @

Man, Myth, and Magic &

Paranoia

Other Suns (We at least got as far as creating characters for this one but if we ever actually played it is gone from my memory)

Pendragon @ (Yes, yes. I tried to run THE GREAT PENDRAGON CAMPAIGN. We got as far as Arthur being on the throne and one of the players had become Duke of Kent. Then we had to go and lie down.)

Champions &

Rolemaster (I wish I had only played this the once…)

The Fantasy Trip

Lands of Adventure

Middle Earth Role Playing

Sandman  &

Skyrealms of Jorune

Ringworld

Maelstrom: The Turbulent Role-playing Game of Thieves, Rogues, Magick, and Mayhem &

Daredevils

GURPS @

Toon

Dream Park

TORG&

Elric! (or maybe I’m thinking of Stormbringer )

Talislanta &

Forgotten Futures

Vampire: The Masquerade @

Mage: The Ascension @

Over the Edge @

Everway @

Unknown Armies

Shadowrun

The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen

Feng Shui @

Castle Falkenstein

HeroQuest @

In Nomine @

Savage Worlds @

Shadowrun

Buffy the Vampire Slayer @

The Deryni Adventure Game & (But in this case this doesn’t mean I don’t like the game just lack of opportunity to run it.)

Exalted (Half a & as I ran the same sample adventure with different groups and then gave up.)

Primetime Adventures

Tekumel: The Empire of the Petal Throne & (Only once and at a convention: but that’s the sort of odds I have against running anything Tekumelani…)

Ars Magica @

Reign @

In a Wicked Age

Donjon

Fiasco

A Taste For Murder  

Dogs In The Vineyard &

Trail of Cthulu

Microscope

Apocalypse World

Doctor Who: Adventures in Time And Space         

Dungeon World @

Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game&

Forsooth&

The Quiet Year & (though I’m not sure that should count: it’s not quite an RPG)

The Laundry Files @

Last Best Hope&

Monster of the Week @

Night’s Black Agents @

The One Ring

FATE

The Fall of Magic&

Follow

Bethorm

Bluebeard’s Bride&

Genesys @

Blades in the Dark @

MASKS: A New Generation

Werewolf the Apocalypse

AGON&

And this doesn’t count the stuff I’ve adapted to other systems (most frequently GURPS and RQ): Like METAMORPHOSIS ALPHA, Tekumel, LACE & STEEL, Nexus: The Infinite City, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, Harn and lots of other stuff I’ve forgotten.

Forever blowing bubbles

The good news is: it’s not me that’s going gaga, it’s the rest of you.

Anybody of my age or more has some reason to fear losing their faculties. The machinery and the wiring aren’t meant to last forever and sure enough they don’t. I’ve noticed over the past several years that I can find that I’ve already completed routine tasks around the house and when I look back I have no recollection of doing them at all. My mind… awa’ wi’ the fairies or more likely on some deeply important topic in stuff I’ve been reading lately.

(A chorus arises from my acquaintances who say I’ve been like that for years. I ignore them.)

Yesterday morning I got up to discover that rather than doing something and then forgetting, I’d not got around to putting the washing I did on Tuesday into the drier but I went and found a dry towel that hadn’t been in the wash and got myself showered, dressed and wrapped myself around a basic breakfast before going out.

I had risen early because I needed to go up to Amersham Hospital for an appointment with, well not Destiny but routine medical support.

Those of you of a sensitive disposition may care to look away as I reveal one of my Hidden Disabilities.

For the past twenty years, ever since I scraped my right calf across the mudguards of a bicycle that I was storing in my tiny bedsit (1) and the calf swelled up and had to be operated on for varicose veins I have worn elasticated support hose. Provided by a German company to the NHS they have kept my calves and their swelling, their creaky veins and all, under some control and I fear that I can no longer do without them: I feel horribly uncomfortable without them on.

But the fact that the NHS will only supply me with two pairs to last six months tries my patience every time. They don’t last that long and have runs and holes long before the six months is up. (2) And this time, the delays in getting new ones were made worse by the fact that the section that orders and dispenses them is down to one part-time worker who is a little overwhelmed.

Still, on Tuesday she rang me and said: Good news! Your stockings are in. Can you come and pick them up? No, we can’t deliver them to Wycombe General the way we normally do because COVID. (She didn’t put it that way, not being a Flash Young Person but a lady of respectable age.)

Well, I don’t have a car but there’s a bus from near Wycombe Station to right outside the hospital in Amersham Old Town so I said yes, anticipating the pleasure of my new stockings and not wanting them to go astray in the post.

I got on the bus, popped my bus pass on the scanner and then went and sat down. I got out my iPad and started to read my latest acquisition, a digital copy of Ken Hite’s SUPRESSED TRANSMISSION Volume 1. I was deep into his weird and sarcastic footnotes (about the tendency of the Earth’s poles to wander about, about whether some parts of the Egyptian dynasties were purely imaginary, about any connection between Dr John Dee and the disappearances at Roanoke) but I kept a weather eye out for my stop, knowing that there was a big roundabout the bus had to do a 180 turn at just before the road to the hospital.

When I found myself on the far side of Amersham, a mile from the hospital I decided that it must be me going gaga at last. I didn’t panic too much outwardly but I was very upset inside and worrying about what this absentmindedness might mean about my future use of public transport. I crossed to the other side of the road and stood there in the sunshine for twenty minutes waiting for a bus to come heading the other way. I rang the lady at the appliances department (3) to let her know I’d be late.

My left knee and hip began to complain. My right heel grumbled. They’re the reason I didn’t just set off on foot back to the hospital. I have limits on the amount of time I can stand or walk on them: I was to push those before the end of the day.

I got on the bus when it came and it strikes me now that the disadvantage of my bus pass is that I don’t have to tell the driver where I want to get to. So he doesn’t get to hear about my unreasonable expectation of him following the route that this bus always has followed in the past.

So I watch carefully for my stop and the next thing I know is I’m on the other side of Amersham at the stop by the crematorium and the driver’s telling me that no, they don’t stop at the Hospital. They haven’t stopped at the hospital for six months or more due to the works for the High Speed 2 link.

I need to go back to the far side of the road and get back to the Amersham Tesco roundabout and get the ‘feeder bus’ to Old Amersham and the hospital.

The worst thing about the whole day was, I think, the fact that his tone was saying “Why you pathetic old git, how can you possibly be ignorant of something that I know so well?”

People live in bubbles. I’ve been hearing it for a long time and it was never clearer to me than that moment. We live in our comfortable little bubbles and never think that the walls are mere shimmering illusions that will burst at the least pressure.

But God (in His Infinite Mercy) and Saints Turing and Flowers and Berners-Lee have given us a tool to burst the bubbles and spread our Good News to all nations, even we heathens who live in High Wycombe. We get the Internet in the jewel of South Buckinghamshire, you know, and I had in fact looked up the time table of the bus service before departing and bugger all word there was of any change in stopping places to be found there.

(I mentioned my reasonable expectation of up to date information to the members of my Wednesday night gaming group and they made mock of me, pointing out that I was lucky I didn’t find timetables from companies who no longer ran the service since it’s no-one’s job to make sure that things on the Internet are clear, informative and accurate.)

Now when he dropped me off at the Crematorium, I didn’t instantly believe him when he told me the best way to get to the hospital was to retrace my route. I could see where the hospital was geographically with relation to my current location on my phone and I set out to find a path. Doing this only caused me more delay and greater pain. The only direct route was now covered with workmen from HS2 and I quailed at trying to persuade me to go through their terribly important facilities.

I could get to the road bridge over the road where the hospital was and look down on the hospital and the bus stop I’d be at if the service was running normally. But any foot path was either blocked or would take ages to walk, most of it on unpaved verges.

So back to the bus stop by the crematorium where I couldn’t even sit down because the bus shelter was set back from the road and any bus would hurtle by before I was even aware it was approaching. Another twenty minutes to wait with not only growing pain in my foot, knee and hip but also the awareness that I would need a loo before journeying home.

I had a whole blogpost composed about my day while I was standing there. It took the shape of a letter from me to Almighty God complaining about the shoddy workmanship displayed by his product Homo Sapiens Sapiens and recommending better support if not an entire product recall.

But then there was a kind driver on the bus to the Tescos who ensured that I met with the kind driver of the ‘feeder bus’ who not returned during his break to pick me up after I’d got hold of my packages containing new stockings and had a chance to use the loos at the hospital. As I returned home I wasn’t exactly content but I wasn’t in the blazing fury that I had been while standing at the bus-stop by the crematorium.

This morning I got up late, I had a shower, I got ready to put on my nice new tight stockings. It’s one of the small sensuous pleasures left in my life and I try to make the most of them.

They were the wrong damn stockings.

They were black rather than the nasty beige colour I was expecting. They were the wrong model, lacking the rubberised grip at the top to keep them up. And most important of all they were three sizes too small.

The Teutonic efficiency of the manufacturers had failed for the first damn time in 20 years.

Speak not to me in apologetic tones of the effects of a worldwide pandemic. Your assurances that I will have the right stockings by the end of next week ring hollow as I fish the worn out ones from the waste bin.

I just want you to know that whatever the evidence may seem to show, I am one of the few people left with all their marbles and any problems you may be having are Somebody Else’s Fault. Clear?

(1) I blame my mother for this, God rest her. She worried that if I left the bike out in the hallway or locked up outside the building it would be stolen. Dutiful son that I was I listened to her fears. But the flat wasn’t big enough for me and the bike at least when I was stumbling from my bed to the loo and my right calf paid the price.

(2) For simplicity’s sake I leave out the saga of my attempts to buy extra stocking outside the NHS proviion.

(3) Well, alright to give it’s proper name the Orthotics department. How many of you knew that word before today. Hmm, quite a few is my guess given the age group my readership seems to tilt towards.

Another one bites the dust

Oh, damnit!

Now André Ptaszynski’s dead.

Don’t say ‘who’. He was a big deal André was. One of the three people I knew at Oxford who went on to be big cheeses in the theatre business. Only one of the three ever employed me and it wasn’t André but none the less I’m feeling sad and sentimental. A man does that at my age when he sees someone he’d known in his youth die.

Good sense of humour, Mr Ptaszynski had, which you need if you’re going to be a big cheese in theatre and a sense of history too. When the Savoy theatre (was it the Savoy?) burned to the ground while he had a lease on it he took a bottle and a glass outside it so he could quote what Sheridan said on a similar occasion: “A man may surely be allowed to take a glass of wine by his own fireside.”

And here am I feeling sorry for myself because my foot hurts and though comfortable I have no prospect of doing anything significant with my life. Sad, self-pitying old git.

I didn’t mark the anniversary of my father’s death last weekend because I had nothing new to say. The isolation of the current emergency isn’t helping me create wonderful new things but rather is making me celebrate the tiniest victories of life, like making it to the shops and back or finding a new book I enjoy. The victories are getting tinier by the week, I tell you.

And what is more I’m getting more forgetful and crankier. I need to be politer to people, even bus drivers who go past my stop. Perhaps especially those.

You think I’m being miserable now? You wait until the winter comes! I won’t be able to take a trip to some sunny tropical island this year!

Ah, well. Back to the next project which is finding a good viewpoint and plot for a writing project and getting the research done for my next on-line RPG. We had a good session today as the Vampires of Oldcastle and it really should have cheered me up more than it did.

But then I had to go and flick through the obituaries in ANSIBLE and discover that another old comrade had gone. I should know better at my age.

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2020/aug/04/andre-ptaszynski-obituary

EDITED TO ADD:

Not having posted anything here for a while I went back and read a lot of my earlier postings…

Which puffed up my vanity a bit and helped me feel a little less depressed.

Unfortunately, it also brought me to read up on Dunbar’s Number from a comment of my friend Roger’s on one of my posts.

And it strikes me that my number of relationships seems to have dropped a lot over the past year and I’m not sure I was ever near the 150 that Dunbar thought was our top limit. My memory for faces and people is bad at the best of times.

But what really got me back into my grumpy mood is the mention of our social networks being evolved from primates grooming each other. Fat chance of me doing any grooming of anybody just now! Not even a cat to brush! I’m even forgetting to comb my hair before going out most days.

I wonder what counts against Dunbar’s Number anyway? People where I can remember who they are and most of the times I’ve spoken to them are at the core. I suppose there are a few dozen of them.

Then there are the people who I know and I can even remember their names and faces and the contexts I’ve met them in… But I’ve never had a serious conversation with them and I couldn’t tell you their opinion on anything.

And then there’s the people where all I have is a context and maybe a name (“Mr what’s his name at the chemists”, “The nice lady at the library”).

But then there are the people who I don’t get frequent reminders of their existence but who I’ve woven into stories about myself that I keep telling myself. Is Mr Greenhaulgh my old Latin master (dead these many a long year) part of my relationship map? Is the boy who bullied me in primary school? Is Chris Davies (Hi Chris if you ever read this!) my old school friend who ended up a LibDem MEP part of it? Haven’t seen him for about a decade but he’s still alive. What about all the people I acted with: dozens more of them.

It’s no wonder I’m running out of space in which to note that I’ve just hung up my coat and put away my walking stick. No wonder I find myself suddenly further along in my routine than I thought I was with no memory of having done the intervening stages.

My brain needs a good uncluttering: been saying that for decades.

Geeky and tacky

Here’s something that just occurred to me. For all I know others have thought of it already.

According to the writers of the episodes she was in, River Song was not a Time Lord.

She was ‘just’ a normal human female born in the TARDIS and suffused with the energies of the ship. (The TARDIS apparantly liked her: they’re both cheerfully amoral.)

But…

If you believe the load of nonsense Chibnall wrote into the last series that doesn’t work. Because only the Gallifreyans who had been genetically altered to include the regenerative ability of the Timeless Child could regenerate.

And that’s not possible unless River was the child of the Doctor and not of Rory.

And that would mean the Doctor marrying his own daughter.

Geeky and tacky at once.

You see what trouble you get into when you don’t care about continuity?