Skip to content

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.

If they put me in charge…

I got into thinking about the problems a government might face if a contagious disease spread out of a nation on the other side of the globe.

I think I was triggered by a newsflash from the INDEPENDENT that the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, was being excluded from the COBRA meeting on the coronavirus emergency.

“Hullo,” thinks I, “is that reflex Tory pettiness or is there stuff in the briefing they really don’t want him to hear?” He was only  a junior minister so perhaps he’s not a Right Honourable and they can’t swear him to secrecy on Privy Council terms. If it were me deciding I’d make the Mayor of London a Privy Councillor ex officio but it’s not.

Or is that Hizzoner trying to make a mountain out of a molehill? Could be: the story bears all the hallmarks of coming out of his public relations people.

Being unable to resolve that issue I got to thinking about the way you’d make a decision about what to do in a situation like this. You know, as if I were Sir Humphrey. (But not dead.)

And it strikes me that what you’d need to know (and  what the government probably don’t know  with any accuracy)  is the following things:

The rate at which the population is being exposed to the virus.

The percentage of the population who  don’t get sick when exposed. (There are bound to be some.)

The incubation period during which people don’t display symptoms and whether they are capable of passing the infection along while feeling fine.

How many people are going to get sick enough to need to take time off work.

How long, on the average, people take to recover from being that sick.

What proportion of the sick people need to go into hospital  for a while. 

How long  that while is.

What proportion of the sick are going to die. (Not all will die in hospital it should  be noted.)

It seems obvious to me that the important  figures are the ones I’ve highlighted. Because unless the portion of fatal cases is a lot higher than is being reported that  is only important as the whip that drives people’s choices, for  the emotional impact not  the practical one.

It will be the figures for sickness severe enough to cause absence from work that will have  the most effect on how our lives are lived. Because all organisations have a number of absences that they can tolerate before they stop being able to function.

When they stop functioning they will have knock on effects on other organisations which may also have been reduced in effectiveness by the sickness. The importance of this will vary. If my learned friend Debbie finds the civil courts are no longer staying open… well, it will have bad effects but nothing that can’t be resolved later. If the criminal courts stop functioning that’s slightly  worse. If the police are overwhelmed that’s really hurting.

If the NHS starts to fall apart then we get a secondary source of death in the diseases they can no longer treat: one that may be much worse than the disease itself. This was not, it turns out, a good time to piss off foreign  born medical staff or even foreign born hospital cleaners. Query: is there ever a good  time for that?

If the lorries delivering to the supermarkets and the  shelf stackers emptying start to fail then…

Harumph. Worried looking old gentleman shuffles his feet.

I don’t have enough mathematics to assign any  likelihood to these worries: if you look  at the cartoon illustrating this my mathematical education finished at a level just below the tiger’s. I don’t have the training in Project Management (I think that’s the right discipline) to describe how the public and private sectors interrelate in one great dependency diagram. I’m not sure anyone does.

But if it were me I’d be looking to recall military reservists, especially those in the Medical and Logistics Corps. There are probably not enough of them.

The  other question that I don’t have the mathematical talent to describe or analyse is ‘How rapidly is this likely to happen and in what stages?’ Perhaps I should ask my mathematically capable relatives. David? Mads? Erika? Or have you been drafted into the Civil Service and sworn to secrecy?

Outraged of Mumbai

I just got off the phone with a young lady with a Chinese (I think) accent who said she was from BT Openreach. We had a conversation that was made difficult by her accent and my increasing deafness. I try to be polite to young ladies (and elderly ones too) so  I didn’t say what I usually do to such callers but having established that she knew my name asked what exactly the call was about and why couldn’t they just send me a letter.

She hung up at that.

Which wasn’t what I meant to talk about,  just what drove me to the computer to write.

I’m at home at the moment, not going out because I have a cold.  I do NOT believe I have the current world-threatening infection! My temperature isn’t elevated and I have no more alarming symptoms than a cough, copious amounts of snot and generally feeling rough. I’ve been here more than once already this winter and apart from an alarming couple of days with an actual fever about a month ago, it’s all been the Great British Stinking Cold.

I think I came by  the cold when I went up in the pouring rain to Amersham on Monday to see a woman about a cat. (Which is not the same as seeing a man about a dog.) She is a volunteer for one of the local cat rescue charitird and I wanted to take a look at a cat she was trying to find a home for. The cat involved is a big, handsome fellow (see picture) and the charity wants to visit me to ensure my little  flat is large enough to be suitable. By the time they come around I may have spent enough  time stuck indoors that I will have done serious tidying up!

It’s not too bad: I have the heaters  on, I’m wearing my comfortable shorts and I have enough food to last me today and through breakfast tomorrow. I’ve run out of bananas and have only one orange left but I suppose I shall have to rough it.

But being alone is lonely (which  is  why I’m looking to get a cat) and I’ve greeted interruptions with glee rather than resentment even when they come from fraudulent persons in call centres. Which is why I  was positively jovial when  I got a call yesterday from a gentleman with a light  Indian accent who claimed he worked for Microsoft.

Now to him I  did say what I usually say which is “I don’t believe  you.”

And he reacted in just the same way as all the other fraudulent callers when I did that:  outrage! Instead of hanging  up  as the Chinese lady did when things went off the rails he tried to defend his honour by assuring me that he was and could I tell him if I was the principle user of the computer.

To which I replied “Firestone. Wombat. Integrate.”

I don’t know why I decided to try absurdism but it got a delightful result in that he asked me to repeat what I had said and then when I did he said that the line was breaking up and he couldn’t make out what I was saying.

At which point I lost heart in teasing him further and just told him outright that I didn’t believe he was from Microsoft and hung up  on him. I regard it as a failure on my part that I had to hang up and couldn’t persuade him to break off the call. One has to keep score on these things somehow and I didn’t feel like going for ‘How long can you keep them dangling futilely on the line’ which most of my friends claim they go for.

What I want to know is: why the outrage? Why do people who are calling you to do you mischief so upset when called on it? Is there a cultural difference? The Chinese lady recognised what I was doing and wasted no more time on me but the Indian gentleman (and a few earlier examples I’ve done the same thing to) felt I had struck  him in the amour propre and doubled down on his script.

As I hung up I did say to him: “Please go away and get yourself an honest job.” I’m not sure how  I feel about saying that because it makes me sound smug and morally superior which I’m not being  old and full of sin. But  it is the best advice I can give  someone in his situation.

Well, that and ‘get a cat: they’re good for you!’

End of an era. Again. Dammit.

I’ve been going to the Wednesday night meetings of the Wycombe Games Club since 1976 when I was first exploring the peculiar hobby (role playing games) that I had just stumbled into. In those days it met in the upstairs hall at the British Legion and we role-gamers were only sort of tolerated by the figures wargamers who were the majority of the membership.

A fair proportion of my life has been tangled up in those Wednesday night meetings and a fair number of my friendships over the years. What events stick in my memory? The great ‘cardboard crack’ wars when MAGIC THE GATHERING was the subject of rage and dispute. The time the local paper popped round to ask if we were Satanists. The time the then President had to be asked to leave because his habit of beating people up had come to our attention. The time I got stuck in the lift and because it was my luck with a bald man with a pram and not a beautiful woman.

And many, many games, so many. All the adventures through time and space run by me (mostly) and others. All the memories.

We trailed all over town seeking affordable rooms we could hire to hold our meetings and they kept getting fewer. We ended up in the Guildhall in the High Street, rolling our dice and laughing our heads off under the stern gaze of St Paul preaching to the ancient Britons. (Illustrated)

And now, all of a sudden, when it looked as though I would die in harness as the Secretary and the Oldest Member, the number of tables of gamers who wanted to come and pay us £3 a head for somewhere to play on a midweek evening went from four or five, which meant we kept our heads above water and even built up a small reserve for lean times to two which means we’ll be wrapping the club up forever and giving our remaining funds to charity at the end of January.

Two tables didn’t even say goodbye but went and got themselves space at the new local games shop. Which is mostly big minatures in a semi-Games-Workhop way. I’m not sure it will be there for them in six months but the club can’t keep going long enough for it to fail.

One table left, slightly shamefaced, explaining that their GM had actually built an extension on their house to act as a gaming room and it was getting a little awkward dragging their infant daughter along to games… We said we quite understood.

So there it is. I’ll write a letter to the Council tomorrow and once we get the final bills that will be that.

My group’s games will go on, sometimes at my flat and sometimes at Martin’s place across the Rye, but dammit though it may be more comfortable (the heating in the Guildhall isn’t always reliable) it won’t be the same and we won’t pick up casual gamers or help keep the hobby going on into another generation.

Double dammit! I’m going to have to find someone else to leave my games collection to!

On found art.

One of the things I meant to say after my visit to Bermuda.

You know those people who say that they can’t get SF and superhero genre ficiton? Youknow the ones who say that superhero movies are tedious and full of pointless violence and posturing and unconvincing melodrama? (And those of us who say, no! No! There’s a lot of good stuff here, from BUFFY to AVENGERS ENDGAME?)

Well, I’ve finally seen the movie they are talking about (thanks to my Cabin Class priviliges on my recent flight to Bermuda) and it’s called AQUAMAN. And I cannot but agree. Because the stuff in there though it takes extreme  care to include the ‘soap opera’ elements of the legend of Arthur Curry, Bastard King of Atlantis, still sounds like unconvincing crap. Melodrama in the true 19th Century sense and without a touch of the psychogical realism that BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (to take a random example)  chose to build into its structure.

On the other hand I took advantage of the fact that Netflix membership is not the same the world over to take the chance to watch the first series of THE FLASH. And though the actors there sometimes fail to live up to the full potenial of the characters. nonetheless they do their best to live up to the ambigouus possibilities of the tension between the Flash and the Reverse-Flash.

This what I hope for from the people who are taking the stories generated from decades upond decades of serial storytelling and trying to make sense of them. I have always argued for the script editors of DOCTOR WHO (to choose an example not entirely at random) to take the inherited mass of stories and not disavow them but take as much as they can and run with them.

This is why it is always better to say: OK the Doctor is half human and not to say This is something we are going to pretend never happened.

Excuse me. It is the small hours of January 1st and I am fairly drunk.

A Happy New Year to all our listeners.

Among the one (or perhaps two) percenters.

I spent Christmas at a very nice resort in Bermuda, gazing out at the ocean, eating four star meals and occasionally going and doing the less vigorous bits of the tourist thing.

I bought three nice shirts (that’s a lot for me and caused purely by the hotel’s dress code for the posh restaurant) and finally found some light weight knee length socks I liked: that shouldn’t be too surprising given this is the home of Bermuda Shorts.

The island seems to survive just about entirely on tourism though I’m told that off-shore banking helps too. I did wonder what was going on away from the main roads and in the places actual residents live but didn’t get the chance to find out. Perhaps it’s rude and intrusive to want that.

The rich people were mostly very nice, especially the two sets of Canadians who invited me to join their Christmas Day and Boxing Day meals. (Mind you what I was thinking before that was that the place needed an infestation by an unexpected SF convention.) There was one Loud American who kept turning down the menu at the restaurant and playing ‘Just Bring Me A Burger’ games with the wait staff who did their best to endure his showing off.  And charge him extra for the privilege.

It really was ungracious of him because on of the hardest things to do was to make up my mind which fabulous meal to choose. I still regret giving up the chance to try osso buco because there was lobster on the menu. And if only they had offered the goose on Christmas Day with something other than Brussels Sprout and some other member of the brassicae. Ah, well. Regrets of an aging gourmand.

Still, eating meals prepared by a master chef did great things for my digestion though discouraging things to my waistline. I could tell that by the increased difficulty I had squeezing into my seat on the flight back. My thanks to my brother for the Christmas gift of a seat in Club Class.

One of the things I noticed there and at the hotel was that in the high flying world the waitstaff don’t just say ‘The mushroom soup and the New York Strip Steak: very good sir.” They say instead: “Excellent choice!” Are people with money in need of that much reassurance that they have good taste? And perhaps my lower middle class manners are too polite for these circles: saying ‘thank you’ when they cleared my plate or brought me a new dish bought an overly sincere “No, not at all, sir!”

Would have been better if they had taught the waitstaff the way the British like their tea presented to them: in a pot, already made with boiling water not in the shape of a pot of cooling water and some teabags. I felt a bit of a heel making a fuss every breakfast time after the first. I didn’t regret taking my own supply of Marks & Spencers’ Extra Strong though.

The people of Bermuda are really very friendly. It seems to be a reflex.  Even more in your face about liking you on sight than Americans.

On the whole I’m unlikely to go back unless I come into some more mad money soon but I can see why people move there.

The illustration above is of the most Bermudan sign I came across. Apart from the chickens the local bird life is both slightly more colourful than you’ll find in England and a lot more unafraid of humans. At the pub where I dined on the last day the local sparrow equivalents (though I think they may have been finches of some sort) nipped in and hopped around the feet of the diners without any of the nervousness being near a human brings in the UK.

Some other tropical or semi-tropical paradise the next time though.

A rant about Christmas Muzak

In the wake of Brexit I have left the country in a fit of liberal pique.

Only for a week though and for a long planned Christmas Holiday at a posh resort on Bermuda.

Now, I am paying a fair bit for this pleasure. The food is mostly excellent (they do not know how to make tea and I really regret not putting my travel kettle into the suitcase) if a bit nouvelle cuisine when it comes to portions. (A cry of ‘no bad thing that!’ comes from the peanut gallery and my doctors.)

Conversation isn’t the strong point of my stay so far: I keep thinking that what this place needs is an unexpected science fiction convention.

Howver the thing I didn’t expect to experience in such exalted circumstances is Christmas Muzak throughout my meals.

I could have stayed at home and dined at Morrison’s cafe if that was what I was after. I still have the complementary earplugs that British Airways gives you in Club Class but sticking them in would be a little eccentric and cause the waitstaff to have to perform interpretive dance to attract my attention rather than cough politely.

Still, I’m a bit peeved. I shall definitely comment on leaving…

The Muzak isn’t quite as bad as Morrisons but still had pop singer voices trying for transcendence and just achieving bathos. There was one who had Christmas lyrics set to the Ode to Joy. I can’t really complain: it’s out of copyright. But the voice… I can hear Beethoven under the pop whine and it just isn’t good enough.

The same may be said of the recording of ‘Have yourself a merry little Christmas’. I would as lief the town crier performed it as the people who feel they have to ‘cover’ it for their Christmas compilations.  The song should not be sung unless a) it is your intention to break the hearts of your listeners and b) you have the technical means to do so. The second clause means you shouldn’t do it unless you are at least as good as Andy Williams and preferably as Judy Garland. Since you won’t be, don’t do it.

I often think that were I the proprietor of one of our major supermarket chains I would put large signs up outside my stores on the day after Remembrance Sunday (for that is when the Christmas season starts these days) saying “No Yuletide Muzak inside”. It would answer a need in the souls of the nation.

I post a picture of the view from my quarters in Bermuda just to make you jealous. And a Merry Christmas to all our readers.



On this day in history…

I’m in need of something to cheer me up.

I’m not planning to get a new cat until the New Year and I’m not leaving on my Christmas break for another week.

I’m seeing the country turn towards folly and to quote Kipling (as the Prime Minister is wont to do):

…the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire —

How  do people cope with this shit?

I’d accept meaningless and frivolous sex but the trend in my life recently has been away from that sort of thing.

The thought  of getting drunk just makes my stomach twinge.

Maybe I’ll go for a walk.