03.20.06

Commentators

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:15 pm by Jon

An artefact of running a blog that is never apparent to most readers is the phenomenon of visitors commenting on old posts. It doesn’t happen all the time, but it is a common occurrence, and it always brings me up short.

To me, looking at my old posts are an indulgent excavation, too frequently a surprise for me to feel entirely comfortable about the state of my memory, but at least quite commonly a pleasant surprise. For the most part, any sentimental journeys I make into the archives are prompted by someone wandering past and dropping in a comment on some (to me) long-forgotten post. It’s always nice to be reminded that, once written, the words are not dead, even if they seem irretrievably distant from me-now. To whoever reads something you’ve written for the first time, the dialogue is taking place now, this very alive moment.

And so we get the curious encounter of some passing web traveller now with the ghost of me two years ago. Sometimes, as in this exchange on stone-sucking, it’s a Note & Query that can happily take place over the span of years. Sometimes, as in this shared journey back to beginnings, returning to the past feels very appropriate.

On other occasions, as with this ongoing and increasingly Byzantine thread on academic conferences spam, I feel as though it would be rude of me to step back in with my casual opinion when so many people feel so much more strongly about than me.

Best of the lot, the comment that asks or offers no explanation, but quickly sketches a picture of a place where, frankly, I’m very happy not to be.

03.13.06

Beat spam

Posted in Flotsam, Bloggery at 4:30 pm by Jon

No, not how to beat spam, Beat spam.

I’ve been noticing, after a large clearout of the old spam comments folder, a marked increase in the quality of the junk coming in. A large amount at the moment seems to be created by throwing together short phrases of random dictionary words, obviously in an attempt to circumvent analysis. What’s nice is that, while there’s an infinitessimal chance of creating real meaning this way, the word patterns produced often take on the cadences of real English, producing a pleasant illusion of literal meaning in the obvious gibberish.

To be honest, it makes me think of a lot of the incandescently incomprehensible poetry I encountered around university arts departments when I was in the USA. Like listening to beat poets ranting from behind a closed door: it sounds as though it probably makes sense, though you’d be hard pushed to say what it is.

I call this one ‘Increase your performance’:

Mint fiat bakery as oaks
Hopefully list interconnecting tremor potting
Scribbled saucepan crutch Catholicism
Weight opened, humiliated wariness.
[goes on for another 12 stanzas]

03.01.06

Turris Babel

Posted in Forteana, Books at 10:05 am by Jon

Athanasius Kircher's illustration of the Tower of Babel

Athanasius Kircher’s illustration of the Tower of Babel, as posted on the just-found blog of the Proceedings of the Athanasius Kircher Society. You may wish to follow up with Kircher’s sketch demonstrating exactly why the tower couldn’t have reached the moon (it would have been so large that it would have tipped the Earth out of balance.

The Kircherblog, in the spirit of the man, covers everything from Kircher’s own notorious cat piano to feral children (a topic of interest to Kircher because of the chance they might spontaneously speak the original Adamic language) to buildings made out of trees and shaped as elephants.

Sometimes I still love the internet as a child loves its favourite bear. This is why.

02.28.06

Five wonderful things

Posted in Forteana, Dreaming of England, Film, Flotsam at 1:17 pm by Jon

I’m horribly aware that I’m not posting much here again, as the parcels of time I have to hand tend to be small right now. So, the last resort of the harrassed blogger, I resort to lists. Here are five things that have been giving me great joy over the last few weeks:

  1. The North York Moors
  2. Life on Mars, starring the equally excellent John Simm and Philip Glenister (who, in a moment of brilliance, seems to have partly based his rough & ready copper on Brian Clough)
  3. Battrick, the cricket management game
  4. Kate Bush
  5. Babies who sleep through the night

02.23.06

Good and bad signs

Posted in Signs of London at 1:03 pm by Jon

In a moment of quality I wish he would extend more frequently to his floral selections themselves, our local florist has on his van the very smart:

ALL STEMS FROM COVENT GARDEN

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STYLE £8

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02.13.06

It’s like déjà vu all over again

Posted in Forteana at 4:05 pm by Jon

Cheers all round as we realise that Strange Attractor, a fortean publication unusually redolant of deep bookshelves and leather-topped reading desks, has a blog.

Further cheers as the first story we find there is a thigh-slapper about déjà vu:

One man had it so badly that he stopped watching TV because everything seemed to be a repeat, even the news, recalls psychologist Chris Moulin of the University of Leeds, U.K.

Yet when Moulin offered to help him, he adds, it was futile at first. The man “said there was no point visiting the clinic because he’d already been there.”

02.08.06

Leaning

Posted in General at 6:53 pm by Jon

Why is it that when you’re struggling to retain balance, say, almost pitching off the log you’re using to cross a small brook that’s tumbling off the moors, you lean the wrong way? Imagine slipping to the left: you push your body weight out to the right. But this is your hips and your trunk. Your head and shoulders almost inevitably end up canted to the left, that is, the way you’re falling. More logically, you would make a simple pivot at the hips, angling your whole upper body away from the direction of fall.

I supposed that it must be more to do with the need for the head to feel as though it’s vertical, but this is completely wrong: the head ends up at a more severe angle than otherwise. I think it must be two things.

First, it’s about keeping your weight above your feet, reducing the likelihood of trying to maintain an impossible angle and slipping off entirely.

Second, once you lean your whole trunk over, you can’t correct: you’re committed, and you might just as likely overcompensate and fall over the other way. With hips out one side and head the other, you can perform that recognisable finessing wobble until you’ve recovered fully.

Me, I cheated. The dog, on a retractable lead, had already crossed, and was ahead and to my right. Fixing the lead and giving a sharp tug pulled me back upright and on over the bridge. Good dog, as I effused afterwards, to her bewilderment.

02.07.06

North Riding

Posted in Dreaming of England at 12:13 pm by Jon

We have escaped for a week to the North Yorks moors.

I had thought that this would mean that updates will be non-existent. Now I think that, perhaps, updates were virtually non-existent anyway from London, so you might get something resembling normal service for a few days.

The various evils of the smoke (greyness, too much coffee, too much dirt, lack of horizons, illness) seem to be slowly dropping away. More than anything else, here there seems to be more time: time to unwind, think, eat, sleep.

London, I fear, eats time: not just hours, but whole months and years.

01.31.06

George Eliot wrote…

Posted in Bloggery at 2:13 pm by site admin

Comment spam is getting interesting again. I’ve been receiving some lovely comments from, among others, Bob Dylan, Stewart Granger, Harry Houdini and Erich Weiss (hm…), Charles Dodgson and Eric Clapton, all of whom seem to have developed a late interest in MP3 files. My favourite must be this from a novelist who knew all about publishing under assumed names, George Eliot:

I used to use a program called Cool Edit to do this kind of work as well as other audio editing things. I’m not even sure if it’s around anymore. This was a long time ago.

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All work and no play

Posted in General at 9:54 am by Jon

Andy thinks the good news about his play has been trumped.

It’s a great anecdote, but it’s a false premise. The poster looks fabulous and I just know the play will live up to it. I’m looking forward both to the reviews and to its UK premiere.

01.30.06

Two wonderful stories

Posted in General at 11:29 am by site admin

Falling for it

Posted in Dreaming of England at 9:48 am by Jon

More than superficially busy partially on account of heading off next week to the North York moors for eight days on top of the world.

In passing, however, you should know that I got the “Emile Heskey award for balance in front of goal”. In other words, lack of. Far more pleased with runner-up in the goal of the season category, probably earning votes on scarcity value.

This Sunday’s game was marred by a complex territorial dispute where a horde of gaelic footballers claimed our usual space on the common. It transpired that the council had convinced them that they need to pay £100 to use the part of the common marked out as a rugby pitch. We ceded to them, but disputed with the busybody who suggested that what we really wanted to do was apply to the council for the right to pay them £1000 for a year-long licence and the ability to play against stroppy strangers.

I felt particularly sorry for the gaelic footballers having to shell out for the use of public ground. Historically inclined readers can draw their own sad conclusions about which trends this continues.

Big white bears

Posted in General at 9:20 am by site admin

01.24.06

Having some fun

Posted in General at 1:36 pm by site admin

Curiosity

Posted in General at 9:11 am by site admin

01.23.06

The sound of rubber on plastic

Posted in Dreaming of England at 9:38 am by site admin

Father and son time in the park yesterday was enlivened by the overwhelming amount of play going on everywhere. Every twenty yards a little kickabout was going on, underneath a sky bright with frisbees and tennis balls. A raucous scratch game of rounders (Peckham rules, which is to say very few that I could make out) descended into fits of laughter every couple of minutes as someone slipped, dropped or ran in circles.

Most notably, from where we were sitting, I could see half a dozen small groups playing cricket, an obvious carryover from last year’s Ashes. A group of under tens played the unpredictable bounce with steely concentration. A dad bowled endless long hops to his straight-driving son. If we had been looking to fill out all the stereotypes, there would have been an asian father slowly unveiling the mysteries of spin to his sons. They were, in fact, off to my right, under a chestnut tree.

The only thing I couldn’t spot was a Flintoff Flame. The bats and balls were all cheap and cheerful, and I’m very glad.

01.22.06

Those toyboxes

Posted in General at 4:08 pm by site admin

The railway arches at Peckham Rye, overlooked by the waiting trains, are like huge spilled toyboxes. The trick of perspective is currently reinforced by the massive spotlights waiting outside an exhibition space: they look identical to the plug-in spots used in recessed domestic lighting, only magnified ten times.

Once your eyes adjust to this, you can see that the yard handling steel girders is no more than an unpacked box of Meccano. Looking down, everything else is stacks of building bricks, string, more and more toyboxes.

Suddenly I can’t remember which way round it works: are our toyboxes enthusiastic microcosms of the grown-up world, or are our factories and shops in the end wistful recreations of those idealised ones of our childhood?

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01.19.06

Sometimes you just know

Posted in Flotsam at 3:18 pm by site admin

Sometimes you read or hear or see of something, and you just know.

A month or so ago I caught, halfway through, some peculiar-looking girl doing a live performance on a late night music show. Something wide-eyed about her delivery made me realise I’d be listening to her a lot in the near future.

I heard the song on the radio a couple of weeks later while fetching cat food. I waited in the car until the end so that I could learn who it was.

Of course, when I learnt that Lily Allen was daughter of TV hack Keith, I was put off mightily. But underneath, I knew I’d be buying the album.

That’s another tenner splashed on the basis of an easy way with a tune and a glottal stop the size of a bus.

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Awards season

Posted in General, Dreaming of England at 1:18 pm by Jon

It’s not just the Weiszs, Johanssons and Lauries of the world that are getting excited about the prospect of reaping a few awards this week. This weekend is the third annual awards for my football (it isn’t a club, not really a team either, so it’s just “the football”).

This means my first evening out since the household increased in size about five months ago, to a local pub and then a meal. Weekly subs of one pound sterling mean that, after the costs of buying a new ball and pump every six months, bibs and corner flags (a bridge too far, some thought), we have enough in the kitty to stand everyone an annual slap up meal.

It would be unfair to suggest that a free meal is anyone’s prime incentive for playing, but it is noticeable that a couple of almost-forgotten players have crept out of the woodwork since Christmas, just in time for inclusion. Generously, we feign to believe that this is their New Year’s health kick in action, and not the siren call of a hot and heavily subsidised biryani.

One charming tradition of the awards themselves is that, in the tradition of kindly schools everywhere, there is a prize for everyone. The entertainment comes in constructing categories for achieving this. In the past, we’ve had the honest appraisal (”Most Improved Player”), the corporate vagueness special (”Best All-round contribution”), the award for Effort (”Most Appearances” and “Most likely to be on time”). The year I (jointly) won “Most likely to pick balanced teams” was a personal high-point.

More fruitful, in general, are the slightly (or significantly) sarcastic categories (”Most likely to be late”, “Most entertaining goalkeeper”), sliding towards the downright pointed (”Most likely to cause an injury”, “Most likely to cry on the pitch”, “Most likely to cause an argument”, “Biggest risk to own defence”).

I’ve written most of this year’s awards, and it seemed like a good idea to use the shining examples of our modern day professional footballers to give the categories an extra incentive. Some examples:

The Rio Ferdinand award for forgetfulness
The Emile Heskey award for balance in front of goal
The Little Mickey Owen award for goalhanging
The Alan Smith award for leg-nibbling
The Craig Bellamy award for on-pitch gobbiness
The Teddy Sheringham veteran’s award (although none of the current players are quite of Mr Sheringham’s vintage)

Normally I’d be aiming for the “Best Winger” award, on the basis that I can occasionally cross the ball left-footed, which my colleagues regard as some kind of voodoo, but I understand is due to my actually being left-footed. Unfortunately, I forgot to put in a winger category, so my hopes this year rest mainly in the Emile Heskey and the Steven Gerrard (for defence-splitting passes, of which I helpfully unveiled a couple for the benefit of the voting constituency last week). I’m only grateful that there’s no Lawrence Dallaglio award for “best use of rugby-style handoffs”, for which I retain an unfortunate and confused aptitude. Wish me luck!

01.17.06

More spam news

Posted in Meeja at 8:48 am by site admin

This week’s spam news is entertainingly recursive:

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