Friday 28 January 2011

The Cars Your Grandparents Eagerly Awaited

I really want that second car. It'll be available by 1964!

This is from the thoroughly excellent and highly entertaining Paleofuture Blog. Go there to find out more of the tomorrows of yesterday.
I want the future, dammit.
Because the cost of coal for my steam-dirigible, frankly, is bankrupting me. The sooner the practical oil-fuelled automobile is developed, the better.

Sunday 16 January 2011

Tales of Gotham City

The office called me.
"We just had a call from *****-******, and they've got a bat in their office. Can you get there pretty quick and catch it?"

My immediate response was to say "Don't be silly".
I told them to look up bats, and the handling thereof, on the interwebs,  and then call the correct, properly trained and equipped people.
I've caught and ejected all manner of unwanted visitors before... rat, mice, pigeons, a sparrowhawk, various stray dogs and cats, but never, to date, a bat. What I do know about bats is that they're more than a little likely to bite, if cornered, they bite easily through leather gloves, and a bite from a bat is to be treated as potentially rabid. The treatment for anybody even suspected to have been exposed to rabies is no joke.

The notes we found said "If the bat has come into physical contact with a human, or is found in a room where a person has been asleep, the bat should be captured and handed over to the government veterinary officer for investigation."
Full face shield, cut resistant sleeves, stout leather gloves...
So, this time,  I turned down the opportunity for adventure, left the batmobile in the batcave, and let the RSPCA sent a bat-trained guy out to catch it.
I was still sent out to find out how it got in... that was easy. The office muppets had left a window open overnight.

Adventures in Steam-Hop

Deep in **it!

It's been a **itty week, I'm still struggling, health-wise, from after-effects of flu, and other troubles. I've had an over-active immune system all my life, asthma and eczema. Something or other, possibly the flu, has triggered the eczema, which means I itch all over at the moment. And for the last month or so too. I see my consultant dermatologist in two weeks time, and my general practitioner is being a bit cautious. I should invoke my free pass to see the consultant earlier, but I'm trying not to cry wolf too often. I'm eating antibiotics that I think are probably designed for horses, judging by the size of the capsule, and applying scarily strong steroid creams. It's not really working, kinda holding it back a bit. I think a seven-day dosage of oral prednisolone would get it under control, but my doc's not receptive to that idea. I'll call the specialist tomorrow and see if i can get a blood test before my appointment, which will increase my chances of getting some sort of solution on the second of february.
All this means not much sleep, not much sleep means weakened response to imfection, it goes in circles.
So. a shitty week? Yes.   My mother's diagnosis with Alzheimers has led to her getting a better alarm monitoring system. But she keeps fiddling with the wristband emergency call button. Twice last week she's knocked it off her bedside table, and the monitoring centre sees that as her having fallen, so they call me and I crawl out of bed at two in the morning, drive the couple of miles there, and find her fast asleep, no emergency at all. Last week there was an emergency, she did fall, and had 24 hours in hospital.
Yesterday, I got the call in the early afternoon. She'd pushed the alarm button, and the monitoring nurses couldn't understand what she was saying, so I raced up there to find her.... asleep.
When i asked her about the alarm call, she had no recollection  of it. Nor of the phone by her bed ringing as I tried to get through to her.
So I called her surgery's out of hours service, got a nurse who took me through a many-questioned checklist, and the conclusion was that she was confused, but showing no obvious symptoms of stroke or heart trouble, no obvious fall injuries.
So they sent a doctor out, and six  hours after the original incident she was on her way to hospital.
Luckily, my brother went along with her, so I managed to get a bit of sleep. Today? well, I've been told to ring back, early afternoon.
And my phone's dead. Luckily, I have a spare. But, whilst talking to the doctor last night, the display went blank, and the phone quit. But it wouldn't charge, and when I eventually had it connected via usb to the computer, it would appear to start up, but had no display. I connected to the manufacturer's site, downloaded the diagnostics package and the software repair/re-install package. But it's still dead.
So tomorrow I have to get a replacement organised, I have it insured via the service company, so that should not be a problem.
Maybe I've bashed it just too many times.
Earlier in the week, the shit was deep. Tuesday. A tenant called to say smelly water was coming up out of a manhole on the car-park.
And it was. Very smelly. I had to lift eight other manholes, mostly heavy  cast-iron ones, to figure out where that comes from and runs to. We have a drainage plan, not to scale, and fifty years or more old, showing all sorts of buildings and settling tanks all over the yard, which are no longer there. I instigated, about ten years ago, an underground survey, cameras and radio-tracing of the active drains. Unfortunately, our directors have filed that very expensive document under "lost", so the only way to do it is to lift covers and try sticking drain rods into anything that seems to go in the right direction.
Having done that, the rods go so far, and are getting stopped by something solid, like bricks, or a collapsed pipe. We call up the big vacuum tanker, but they send a little pressure-jetting tanker, which, surprise surprise, huffs and puffs and fails to blow the house down. The driver for the big blue tanker is on another job, and the only other guy licenced to drive it is on a ski slope in austria.
 So we book the big blue one for the following morning, eight thirty. We're used to it not arriving on time, but at ten, when we ask where it is, we're told it's stuck. In the middle of the road junction outside the fire-station. Run out of diesel.
And restarting a truck when it's run dry is not quite as simple as chucking a gallon in and turning the key until it fires. Eventually, just as I was leaving for my eagerly awaited chicken in black bean sauce lunch at the chinese cafe, my phone rings... The tanker's just arriving at gate 3. Wonderful.  First job is the  suction side. I won't post the pictures of what was in the six-foot deep chamber under that manhole lid. It wasn't pretty. Or sweet-smelling.
Then there's the big jetter, to pull debris out of the pipe, both up and downsteam. A couple of bricks, a few bits of concrete. Where they've come from is anybody's guess until we can get the crawler camera into the pipes.
Wash down the yard, jet both legs of pipe until running clear, job done.
Have a wash, go to cafe.

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Whilst the brick debris in the 9" drain was probably the locus of the blockage it wasn't the cause. The cause is the person or persons who are flushing disposable cloth wipes. They're what snagged on the brick and caused a plug of fibre cloths to form in the pipe, thus blocking it totally, causing a six foot deep chamber to overflow, causing a couple of hundred yards of pipe to fill, causing drains elsewhere to overflow and stink.
Next week I'll be tracking back to find the culprit.
Ignore the label that says "flushable". If it's stronger than wet toilet paper, it shouldn't enter the drains. ever.
As a test, take a couple of sheets of toilet paper, put them in water, stir. See? They break up into pulp almost immediately. Now try that with a "flushable" wipe.
Most people think that pretty much anything that flushes out of sight is gone forever. Now look at that tanker. Imagine how much that tanker, a backup van, and three men, charged at a minimum of one half day will cost.
Plus the best part of a day of my time, plus I'll need to set a new manhole lid and frame, as we broke it trying to get it out.

We also had raw sewage pouring down the yard and out of the gate onto the road for 24 hours, some of that sewage entered a little stream that runs through peoples gardens.
And all that's only a little bit of my week.

Update: visited the old lady in hospital, she's in a better state today, knows what day it is, where she is, and what's happening. She was happily chatting to the similarly aged lady in the next bed, the nurses tell me they're bullying her a bit to get her to drink more, as dehydration is partly suspected.
A CT scan is booked tomorrow to check out the lymphoma, hopefully that will say it's defeated. They'll also be looking for any evidence of a mini-stroke.

Also got my phone replacement sorted, a new one will be delivered to my work address between 9 a.m. and 1p.m.

Good thing I've got a spare though.

Wednesday 12 January 2011

I'm Dog-Tired.

Not recovered from my christmas/new-year flu.
I'm normally a nocturnal creature, go to bed in the small hours, but so far this week, three days back at work, and a lot of work to be done, I'm exhausted when I get home. Early to bed, and out like a light.
10:20 now, and I'm away to my sleep. (I fell asleep a bit whilst writing the previous post). I'll get back into the real world soon, honest.

In Which I Pay My Debt to Society.

Monday morning was bright and cold, as I set off for work, the roads were white with frost crystals, slippery but manageable. Maybe ten degrees below freezing. However, in the sky above, different temperatures  were arriving, and by the time I arrived at work, rain was falling. As it hit the road, it froze. So the roads were coated with ice, with light rain falling on top. They looked pretty harmless.
We spent the first hour spreading salt and grit, but still several tenants pirouetted their cars down the yard. Damage was minor.... Then I was asked to go sort out the chaos at the other mill, a few miles away. Cars had been sliding there too.
So,  I gathered up a volunteer, and we set off, aiming to stick to the gritted main roads. Well, even on them, there was mayhem, so the ten minute journey took half an hour, and on almost arriving, we found a police car  blocking access to the road. A detour took us in through a more  level route, and this is what the road looked like, and why it had been barriered off.

We did our gritting at the mill, and on exiting, met a policeman trying to stay upright by holding on to the wall, He was coming to see whether we had such a thing as a wheelbarrow, because there were injured people awaiting an ambulance, and the ambulance couldn't get to them until the road was gritted. and the city council said "oh, we're far too busy, we might get to you... tomorrow.
My volunteer and I, seeing how hopeless coppers are, when it comes to the art of hurling salt over a wide area, took pity on them, and loaded the van up with salt, which we then used to make safe half a mile of road. There was some laughter, as we all slid and slithered about. The woman police officer wins the initiative badge of the week. Whilst waiting for her colleague to return, she'd seen several people fall whilst trying to walk around the corner right at the top of the road. So she raided the cafe, and requisitioned all their salt....
There was't much, but it made a start.
When we finished, we got a round of applause from the idlers who'd watched without lifting a finger to help. And the two ambulances, and the paramedic's car, made it safely to their patients.
The lady copper said "you've done your community services, what now?"
 We replied.... "Well now we'll need to do a crime to go with it."

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Saturday 8 January 2011


Remember the 1340's? We were doing a dance called the Catapult.
You always wore brown, the color craze of the decade,
and I was draped in one of those capes that were popular,
the ones with unicorns and pomegranates in needlework.
Everyone would pause for beer and onions in the afternoon,
and at night we would play a game called "Find the Cow."
Everything was hand-lettered then, not like today.

Where has the summer of 1572 gone? Brocade and sonnet
marathons were the rage. We used to dress up in the flags
of rival baronies and conquer one another in cold rooms of stone.
Out on the dance floor we were all doing the Struggle
while your sister practiced the Daphne all alone in her room.
We borrowed the jargon of farriers for our slang.
These days language seems transparent a badly broken code.

The 1790's will never come again. Childhood was big.
People would take walks to the very tops of hills
and write down what they saw in their journals without speaking.
Our collars were high and our hats were extremely soft.
We would surprise each other with alphabets made of twigs.
It was a wonderful time to be alive, or even dead.

I am very fond of the period between 1815 and 1821.
Europe trembled while we sat still for our portraits.
And I would love to return to 1901 if only for a moment,
time enough to wind up a music box and do a few dance steps,
or shoot me back to 1922 or 1941, or at least let me
recapture the serenity of last month when we picked
berries and glided through afternoons in a canoe.

Even this morning would be an improvement over the present.
I was in the garden then, surrounded by the hum of bees
and the Latin names of flowers, watching the early light
flash off the slanted windows of the greenhouse
and silver the limbs on the rows of dark hemlocks.

As usual, I was thinking about the moments of the past,
letting my memory rush over them like water
rushing over the stones on the bottom of a stream.
I was even thinking a little about the future, that place
where people are doing a dance we cannot imagine,
a dance whose name we can only guess.


oh. that guy the Red Dirt Girl doesn't like.
Why, I wonder?
Maybe the first poem she read by him gave a bad first impression. 
But how can you shrug this one off? listen to it,
Drop into a stanza, live there a while.
I like it. Sun-dappled rooms, brocade, the distant cries of the hunt, listen, a lute, a virginal, singing from somewhere.
Try a dance.
Chance a glance.
It's not profound, no great revelation, I don't suppose it will be taught, 200 years hence. But I like it. 

poem by Billy Collins

Friday 7 January 2011

Marginalia, or "The Universal Right of Literary Dissent"

I love poetry.
But, there's poetry, and there's poetry.

As I think I may have mentioned once or a hundred times,  way back, far back in my distant memory, I set out on a path as a student of english literature, which seemed a good idea at the time. English was my favourite subject at school, i was fascinated by language, words, the ways in which humans have communicated their thoughts and feelings.
Whilst the other kids in our row of caves were learning to shout "Ug!" whilst throwing a rock at pretty much anything that bounded, soared, wriggled or scuttled, I was sitting with the old guys, who were certain some scratches on a bit of rock weren't random.

Well, it seemed there was a wise man in the next valley who had views on this, and one day he came over, and showed us how you could use scratches to keep count of stuff. Like how many rocks you had, even if you couldn't see them.
That was cool. We graduated onto scratching outlines, that, if you squinted a bit, looked like animals seen at a distance. Eventually, we got scratches that we all agreed each had a noise. And every time you saw that scratch.. you made the matching noise! And that was pretty much it. No more cries of UG! ug! ug?, you could have a hunter send a message back saying... "I'm following a mammoth along the side of the stream which smells funny, near the black-burned tree, toward the hill of good rocks for bashing with. Send six hunters with sharp pointy sticks, forthwith. Signed "Og".
Oh yes, writing was a good invention. Pretty soon we had lectures in the big cave, where visiting professors would draw antelope, bison, koala bears, and other stuff we didn't know about. The talks were popular. People used to scratch brief versions onto bark and send them down-river to the marsh-dwellers. We called it texting.
Anyway, a few millenia passed, and i found myself studying Shakespeare, Donne, Marvell, Dickens, Ted Hughes, T.S.Eliot, Robert Browning, Jane Austen, Virginia Woolfe...
It started out with the pretext that it was all very good stuff, to be revered, because it was written by famous, mostly dead,  people.
But then my teachers set about turning all those certainties upside-down, by telling me to challenge, to break down and reconstruct, to try writing it in my own words.
What I wrote, oh how embarassing it would be now if I still had all that stuff.
And to criticise myself, harshly, and my peers. I'll tell you, getting an essay sent back with negative comments from a tutor doesn't hurt a fraction as much as being savaged by your peers. It's a way we learn not to be too precious though. Write it,  read it back, try to see it through fresh eyes.
I was a bit thin-skinned then, but I learned that "critics" are not gods. That just because the critics love it, doesn't mean it's good. And vice-versa. History shows us that the critics are often proved wrong, long afterwards.
Charles Dickens, in his day, was immensely popular, a superstar, but the critics pursed their lips and muttered nasty words about penny-dreadfuls, here today and gone tomorrow. Seems old Charlie's had the last laugh.
Shakepeare, oh yes, I had to learn plot, subplot, learn about Elizabethan history, learn how he was dangerous and subversive, satirizing current affairs, I'd learn of Elizabethan views on classics, greek and roman mythology, navigation. Everything Will wrote, i was told, was masterly multilayered subterfuge.
Yet I couldn't help sometimes thinking of Shaksper getting a brief "We  want two hours for seven men, two women and a donkey... We can borrow a chariot, and two of the boys look vaguely alike, and the thin guy can sing. Can you have it ready for thursday?"
Sometimes, I think, it's just a story. Stop trying to read hidden messages into it.

This is rambling, isn't it? Blame the medication and lack of sleep. I did go back to work, on the 4th January,  but the following day i saw my doctor, who gave me a bucketful of pills and told me to go back to bed for a few days.
Where was I?
Oh yes. What I learned was that my opinion is valid. That I don't need to assume that if it's in print it must be good.
Cue link.
You see, I've been challenging this poem at "Through the Garden Gate", I first read it as a nice but unspecial love-poem, but then, in every line, almost, I found something that annoyed me. Maybe I'm a ratty tempered curmudgeon, but I really think this is one the poet should have screwed up and tossed in the bin.
Now the blogger who posted it is herself a poet, (this one isn't one of hers) her poems are better than this, by far. I'm always a little afraid to criticise anything on the web, and I don't want her to think this is a criticism of her.
It's a challenge, a challenge to the idea that a published poem is unassailable.
Get in there! Challenge what you read.
Scratch under the mammoth drawing on the cave wall "Og's crap at drawing trunks!"

 Here's a poem, from a man who, it seems, is not afraid to disagree with the printed word.


Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.
If I could just get my hands on you,
Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O'Brien,
they seem to say,
I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.

Other comments are more offhand, dismissive -
"Nonsense." "Please!" "HA!!" -
that kind of thing.
I remember once looking up from my reading,
my thumb as a bookmark,
trying to imagine what the person must look like
why wrote "Don't be a ninny"
alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.

Students are more modest
needing to leave only their splayed footprints
along the shore of the page.
One scrawls "Metaphor" next to a stanza of Eliot's.
Another notes the presence of "Irony"
fifty times outside the paragraphs of A Modest Proposal.

Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers,
Hands cupped around their mouths.
"Absolutely," they shout
to Duns Scotus and James Baldwin.
"Yes." "Bull's-eye." "My man!"
Check marks, asterisks, and exclamation points
rain down along the sidelines.

And if you have managed to graduate from college
without ever having written "Man vs. Nature"
in a margin, perhaps now
is the time to take one step forward.

We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
and reached for a pen if only to show
we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
we pressed a thought into the wayside,
planted an impression along the verge.

Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoria
jotted along the borders of the Gospels
brief asides about the pains of copying,
a bird signing near their window,
or the sunlight that illuminated their page-
anonymous men catching a ride into the future
on a vessel more lasting than themselves.

And you have not read Joshua Reynolds,
they say, until you have read him
enwreathed with Blake's furious scribbling.

Yet the one I think of most often,
the one that dangles from me like a locket,
was written in the copy of Catcher in the Rye
I borrowed from the local library
one slow, hot summer.
I was just beginning high school then,
reading books on a davenport in my parents' living room,
and I cannot tell you
how vastly my loneliness was deepened,
how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed,
when I found on one page

A few greasy looking smears
and next to them, written in soft pencil-
by a beautiful girl, I could tell,
whom I would never meet-
"Pardon the egg salad stains, but I'm in love."

Billy Collins

Thursday 6 January 2011

Atom Heart Mother


On march 3rd, 2003, a collection of very talented French students performed Pink Floyd's Atom Heart Mother in its entirety at the Conservatoire de Paris (CNSMDP).

That's all I know  about this video.
Pink Floyd themselves never had a full performance filmed. Some of this sounds uncannily like the original.

Atom Heart Mother isn't the most approachable Floyd opus, it marked the transition from the  very chaotic Pink Floyd of Syd Barrett's day to the later band dominated by Roger Waters. It's hard to imagine bands of today venturing into such ambitious, and risky,  territory, yet this album, in 1971 went to number one in the u.k. charts. In America, well, no surprise, it only made number 55, took it until '95 to go gold in the u.s.

All the band, at various times have disowned it or labelled it as a low point in their creative career.
I disagree. The low point to me is their probably best selling album ever, best known... The Wall. Now that's a heap of worthless, badly thought out dross if ever I saw one.
I've never yet figured out to what extent they stand behind the stuff they spout in The Wall, and to what extent it's parody.
A marching cohort of schoolchildren chanting "We don't need no education" rather undermines its own premise.

Saturday 1 January 2011

And Another, and Yet One More.

A great start to a new year. Not.
Still sick.
Still can't stand up without wobbling.
Been in bed most of the day, trying not to cough, because that's ouchy.

Just got a call to say there's an alarm going at work... Could I get there at warp speed because it may be another sprinkler's thawed and gone bang.
But I had to reply that I can't drive in this condition, so it's somebody else's problem... or at least, until they phone me again to ask how to shut it off. I'll do my best. But concentrating is difficult.

Pardon me whilst I drink some more cough medicine.

Last night I composed a witty blog post in my head, all about me greeting all my readers west of the atlantic, from the future, Because I was in 2011, whilst you were stuck in last year. I was going to tell you all about the future, flying cars, house robots.
I was going to tell you how facebook, twitter, skype... all are now old hat, we use telepathy these days. But the system still overloads. See, an individual like me, or you, has limited range. so, to reach greater distances, we use nodes to retransmit. It seems that there is a point to emo and goth kids after all. All that monochrome seems to do something. Or maybe it's the gloom, or the vampirism . Or the bits of metal they have randomly inserted in body parts. Well, whatever the reason, they seem to work as natural telepathic amplifiers, for the most part without harm or awareness. They can't read the messages passed through them, nor feel them, unless perhaps their piercings buzz a little.
Certain piercings, the nature of which both makes me wince, and blush to contemplate, have rocketed in popularity amongst the black-clad hordes.
The problem is the overloads. See, when a node overloads umm. you might want to skip this bit... When a node overloads. the host's cranium starts to shake, quiver, oscillate, blur... and then K-BOOOM!!!, they explode. Very messy.
Last night, midnight, I attempted to make a cellphone call to America. The cell network was overloaded, no chance.
Outside, the flashes, whizzes, bangs, all started up as rockets shot toward the sky, marking the new year. Except there were a lot of hollow, echoey kabooms too many. And as I looked out of my window, I saw exploding goths. They're done for, can't even come back as zombies, because the brains are gone.
I'd have gone out with emergency tinfoil beanies to save them, but too dangerous, far too dangerous, because of the zombies, roaming the neighbourhood, licking brain-spatter off the roadway, the lamp-posts, and walls.  I suppose we should have predicted this tragedy, knowing how other systems overload at new  year. Still, look on the bright side, some zombies get caught in the explosions.

That blogpost had a short shelf-life, and I missed it.

Happy New Year!