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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.


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.


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.

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!’