Whenever this new world of ours gets me down, whenever the violence of the economy or the scandal on the box makes me feel that it’s all running out of control, I close my eyes and listen to a bit of folk music.
There’s nothing in this world more reassuring, more likely to soothe the anxiety from my brow.
Because, let’s face it, the murder rate in folk music puts New York and Cape Town to shame. I estimate it at one every four songs, with the rest consisting mostly of adultery, betrayal, kidnapping by the little people, shipwreck and, above all, early death. The life expectancy of a character in a traditional folk song can’t be much more than 16 years.
After half an hour of this, I’m infinitely cheered, and ready to face anything.
The experiment with requiring approval on comments is over. Fine idea in principle; in execution, rubbish.
In sum, the idea was:
1) Comments would require approval by me before appearing on the site
2) This would discourage spam but not real commenters
3) That’s it
The reality was:
1) I got just as much spam as usual (though now, huzzah!, I can delete it much more easily)
2) I got complaints that people couldn’t comment on the site
3) Some comments seemed to go missing
The control was simply not worth the pain, so comment away secure in the knowledge that you won’t have to wait days* for me to approve your bon mots.
Sometimes you have to refresh to see the commment, but it is there, I promise.
* Now that my home PC has died, this would be quite true over, for instance, this weekend.
Fine article on Monday by Andrew Marr on reading between the lines when addressing an newspaper. Applied field semiotics of the highest order, covering important elements such as identifying the key paragraph (the second, not the first), applying proper scepticism to quotation marks and ‘research’, and remembering to read the small stories.
It’s notable how much emphasis Marr puts on paratextual information: the byline, the page the story is on, the headline itself (if it is a question, you can probably answer that question ‘no’). Marr could write a useful appendix to Genette’s seminal Paratexts — one of my favourite books of literary theory, because it resolutely addresses the information you think doesn’t matter when addressing a book.
How often have you bought a book you’d never heard of, just because it caught your eye in the bookshop? You probably bought it solely on the basis of your paratextual reading: the title, the dust jacket, the author biography, maybe even the dedication. I’ve bought books solely on the basis of the index, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this.
One of those occasions where the idea is so much better than the reality could possibly be:
The Nine network [in Australia] will roll all episodes [of American daily soaps Days of Our Lives and The Young and the Restless] made in the past four years into two one-hour specials, to bring Australia’s programming up to date with the United States.
(source: Nine News)
This should be like Tom Stoppard’s joyful The (15 Minute) Dogg’s Troup Hamlet, in which everything pretty much everything gets crammed in, actors haring ever faster about the stage as they realise they’re running out of time, and which includes, as an encore, a one-minute Hamlet.
You can be sure it won’t be anything like that, of course. The only way of getting four years of plot into one hour is through lots of tedious exposition. It’s a shame, because there’s the germ of a winning idea here. For those of us who don’t care to watch soap operas, but have to communicate with people who do (i.e. half the population), it would be a public service to have, instead of a weekly omnibus edition, a weekly microbus: a five-minute precis where no conversation involves more than twenty words and all the entrances and exits are done running.
Sometimes the web turns around and not so much bites your ankle as nuzzles your knee with an unexpected affection. An unbriefed visit to OEDILF certainly feels like a large animal of otherwise uncertain behaviour placing its paws on your leg and purring. For at OEDILF a tremendous amount of time, energy and passion is being harnessed into rewriting the dictionary in limerick form.
That last phrase demands to be rewritten. In italics. Instead, I suggest going to look at the site itself, because otherwise the overweening nuttiness of the project can’t be sensed. A college of limericists (ahem) are working their way through the alphabet, offering definitions for every word in limerick form.
They are, naturally, still on the letter A. If you ever want to see them hit the middle of the alphabet, you’d better go and offer them some help. They’ll need it.
Little things, emails. Simple. Not formalised like letters, nor as brilliantly odd as a postcard*.
A survey of email behaviour across Europe shows, though, that simple objects can cause complex behaviours.
The survey unearths some fairly predictable behaviour: irritation at sloppy presentation, unnecessary communication, gossip, the failure to translate humour into written forms.
My eye was caught not by these but by the difference between UK respondents, where only 13% felt they had to reply to emails, and Italians, where the figure was 60%.
Did this mean that the Italians answered questions more than four times as frequently as the British? Somehow I think not. I suspect there’s a lovely demonstration here of cultural difference.
The British are far more likely to avoid responding by feigning ignorance (I didn’t see your email) or busyness (I haven’t even opened it yet), both because a form response merely acknowledging receipt is culturally quite alien, and because responding is allowing your eyes to meet. Once the eyes have met, it is impossibly rude to not respond properly.
I think Italian etiquette is less troubled by this anxiety. It is culturally far more acceptable to say ‘no’ or ‘you will have to wait until it is convenient for me to respond’. Such a response is just the start of the dance, the courtship if you like, of the overall communication.
Little things, emails. But they are after all just steps in the dance.
* Postcards are odd, don’t try to deny it. Sending a postcard with no message is perfectly valid behaviour. A blank letter would simply be sinister. Also, postcards are, under British law at least, a form of publication. The postman is assumed to read the postcard and pass on any gossip; hence a ‘poison-pen postcard’ is actionable for libel. In addition, unlike letters, postcards assume no reply. As Jane said this week, a blog is “a cross between a postcard and a message in a bottle“.
It’s spider season. All around the garden webs are strung across ivies, roses, everything, including the resolutely still-green tomato plant. In the centre of each is one of those fat mottled garden variety spiders. It’s like a convention.
A couple of the more adventurous and acrobatic have even made the leap from one side of the garden to the other, spinning long tightropes way above head height.
When I was young, spiders were the one creature I couldn’t bear. In the end, I decided that it was because they have altogether too many legs. It’s difficult enough keeping two of the things under control. The spider’s facility with eight limbs produced the childish conclusion that they must be a great deal smarter than anyone was giving credit for. And once you start seeing an intelligence behind those very non-mammalian faces…urgh.
Still, the spiders and I came to an accommodation a long time ago. Web placement is a negotiation based on usage: the common routes around the garden are quickly cleared by humans blundering into low-level webs. The spiders build them the next time slightly tucked away to one side. They still get their flies and I still get green tomatoes.
I have a suspicion that they look at me and think that, for a creature with only two legs, some of my behaviour betrays signs of something approaching intelligent life. Let them wonder.
The ever-perverse New Scientist this week carries an article on how people who keep a diary are more unhappy than those who don’t.
If only we knew if this was because they keep a diary, or rather, they keep a diary because they are unhappy.
I, who never kept a diary in my life, seem to have acquired this ersatz diarissimo. Ardent readers will have noticed that I’m not inclined to use it to discuss my personal life (as in what I’m up to and where I’m going), although I do talk about my inner life (as in what I’m thinking about). This, aside from being a hilariously male behaviour, is largely to do with exposure of the soul to the shadow world that is the online community. It’s not that I don’t trust you, dear reader, it’s that I don’t trust the reader over your metaphorical shoulder.
Now, this behaviour in itself might be seen as unhealthy, but I wonder if it isn’t qualitatively different from the sort of late night diary-scrawling which the NS regards as damaging.
I never thought blogs were diaries. That’s probably what makes this one not a diary.
So the upgrade to Movable Type 3.1 only took 6 days to complete (including an unexpected upgrade to MT 3.11 in the middle of that). Things have been working (slowly, without templates) for a couple of days, but this afternoon, a couple of hours after I’d last toyed with the thing, it all clicked into place.
You won’t have noticed the pain going on in the background except by the absence of things happening in the foreground. I can only offer that I was spending so much time mucking out the stables every day (thanks spammers! I love you too!) that I was having an ever-decreasing amount of my time left to do anything creative.
I came very close to closing Rogue Semiotics for these - entirely wrong - reasons. Instead we persist and, with luck, I can now turn back to using this thing for the purposes it was created (which I have, I admit, yet to discover).
One administrative point to note: I am currently insisting on comment approval. This means that your comment, should you choose to leave one, will not appear until I approve it. I will approve all non-spam comments. This will continue until I implement further anti-spam measures or I get bored. Sadly I doubt the spammers will get bored before me.
Suggestion for improving London tube trains:
A three-foot sheet of glass suspended from the roof of the train, running exactly down its centre.
This glass sheet would enable passengers to make better use of the fact that maps of the tube line are mirrored on each side to follow the direction of travel. Passengers seated on one side of the tube would be able to see precisely to which station stop a passenger seated on the opposite side of the tube is pointing whilst engaged in animated conversation with his/her friend/lover in an unidentified language.
Please note that this facility could also be used by a passenger for surreptitiously watching passengers seated next to them. Whilst such behaviour is legal, it is probably undesirable, and would discouraged by large decals on the glass such as:
Do not ogle in the glass
We thought it would be fun to upgrade to the shiny new version of Movable Type.
So much fun that we haven’t been able to tear ourselves completely away from it just yet.
I reckon a very few more hours tweaking the installation and configuration should get things almost back to something approaching normal. Or, at least, stable.
This amusement is also inevitably affecting The Deep North, for which my apologies all round.
The car windscreens this morning were heavy with water. The sun shone wanly. The trains seemed to sense in their steel skeletons that the world had tipped into autumn and that it was time to hunker down for a long cold snap.
They were wrong; it’s turned into a lovely day. For the London rail system this morning, though, it was like winter. I had to change my route to the emergency go-round-the-whole-city-the-other-way version that involves a variety of crowded and eccentrically arranged stations.
As I stood, crammed onto a thin tube platform, waiting for a train that would arrive at some unspecified future time, the woman standing jammed up against my back started to rail against the whole system. She started with the fact that the information boards were not working, coursed rapidly through to the fact that they’d chosen to apologise for this rather than the cranky network itself and crescendoed with a calling down of many bad things on the purveyors of public transport, their families and friends. Even their enemies may have been caught up in the crossfire, I’m not sure.
I was firstly irritated by the way that I was getting the full benefit of this woman’s own irritation. A trouble aired is a trouble shared, so thank you very much, lady, for adding to whatever irritation I was feeling on my own account. I also didn’t much care for the way she was giving me an unrequested sample of what it feels like to have a devil on your shoulder.
Finally, by virtue of its relentless unhappiness, her irritation managed to erase mine. How could I compete with her magnificent unhappiness? More to the point, why would I? Much as being stuck on a crowded tube is undesirable, it’s far more undesirable to spend my time being miserable about it. Either I do something about it (not right now), or I get on with it.
When I emerged, some time later, at the little used station that seems to exist only as an alternative for people who really want to be somewhere further down the road, the sun had warmed up the bricks and dried up the morning dew. That brilliantly slanting September sun followed me all the way to my destination.