Off to See the Wizard

Right. I'm packed, GBP500 overdrawn and ready to leave.

I've got a train ticket, clothes, paperwork and a nagging conviction that I've forgotten something. Of course, I always have a nagging conviction that I've forgotten something, but then, I usually have forgotten something.

The soundtrack to my nights over the next month will be rips from Paxahau, a rather lovely station playing electronic ambient music.

It's the opposite of exciting. Not dull - calming. Often not really music at all, just sound that washes over you. Good for soothing me off to sleep when my brain would rather worry or obsess.

There will be limited net access, so I'll post in spare moments.

See you.

Quotidian Blog

It is a good thing for an uneducated man to read books of quotations."
- Winston Churchill

Today, some real book reviews, of some etextbooks (text-e-books?) that I'm leafing through.

Speak English Like an American. by Amy Gillett

Not a comparison of British English and the American variety. Actually, a guide to the kind of common idioms that ordinary grammar books don't cover. Things like:

...costs an arm and a leg me the creeps the day point in...
Back to the drawing board
Make up your mind
Stab in the back
Tell someone off
Make ends meet

Looks useful, if nothing else as a list of things not to say to beginner students.

Telephoning in English, by B Jean Naterop and Rod Revell

Could you teach someone how to make a business call? Are you entirely confident you could make such a call yourself?

I'm useless on the phone, but thanks to this book I can tell other people how not to be.

When Bad Grammar Happens to Good People, by Ann Batko

Did you know it's wrong to say "Neither he nor I were there" or "Each of us are mortal"? Apparently people who speak correct English say "Neither he nor I was there" and "Each of us is mortal".

I've been a native speaker of English for 33 years, but according to Mrs Batko I learned a language which doesn't exist. She also says it's also wrong to say "Everyone has their opinion" - you've got to say "Everyone has his or her opinion". Which might have been true 30 years ago, but not today.

Nevermind. Mrs Batko may be an idiot, but her book is a useful list of common variations in spoken English.

The Oxford Guide to English Usage

Which words end in "-able" and which in "-ible"? If I remember correctly, words which come from latinate languages take the "-ible" suffix and all others take "-able". Except when they don't, of course.

What's the difference between "centre" and "center"? I don't think there is one anymore, but the book might say different.

When can you omit articles before nouns in apposition? That is, when can you write "Kapitano, blogger and notorious homosexual, has better things to do", instead of "Kapitano, who is a blogger..."?

The answer the book gives, and I'm not joking, is "when you're a journalist".

How to Get Girls with Hypnosis, by Anonymous


we haven't got a bathroom anymore.

Okay, we've got a room with a bath, shower, toilet and sink, but the plumbing doesn't work - we can happily run a bath, but not drain it afterwards.

And that's why I've just washed my hair in the kitchen sink.

The Probert Encyclopedia of Slang

Bumble - Confusion (British)
(A bit of) How's your father - "sexual mischief"
Ace in the Hole - A final surprise which will guarantee success
Acid - LSD, MDMA, rum (West Indian), special police unit (Jamaican)
Adolph - vibrator
Belch - Bad beer (Australian)
Bogulate - to surf without skill (Australian)
Coconut - one dollar (American)
Dropsy - a bribe (American)
Geets - power or money (Black American)
Grub - food (British), to scrounge (American)
Hookie - a jew (British)
Joy Bang - occasional recreational drug use
Joy Pop - occasional recreational drug use, without addiction
Lumber - toothpick (American)
Mad Money - money put aside by a woman in case she is stood up or abandoned by her date (American)
Noodle - to improvise aimlessly on a musical instrument
Paul McKenna - ten pounds sterling (Rhyming)
Purple Rain - Phencyclidine
Skinny - information (American)
Star - mister or sir (Jamaican)
Throw a Wobbly - become angry
Turn Turk - convert to Islam
Wide - unscrupulous and astute (British)
Wiggy - erratic, pleasing (Black American)
Zak - money (South African)
Zizz - a short sleep

How to Sing and Speak Properly. by Alan Greene

Contains exercises on how to:
* Make the adam's apple descend in the throat without yawning
* Move the jaw up and down correctly
* Strengthen the base of the mylohyoid raphe (no, I don't know what it is)
* Strengthen the tongue vertically
...and much more.

One of those books which is either fascinating and immensely useful, or a complete waste of time. Sometime in November, I'll find out which.

Statistics for Dummies, by Deborah Rumsey

Same comment.

Tomorrow, I hurriedly put together a CD of recording from a new band. It doesn't have a name yet.

They've got five songs, based on African and Arab drum rhythms blended with flamenco-esque guitar, which should be interesting. But none have names yet.

The band formed out of the ashes of the Strict Machines, with a new singer. I can't remember her name.

The Art of Oral Sex, by Anonymous

There's a section on cunnilingus, one on deepthroating, and a discussion of the eternal question - spit or swallow? I wonder if there's any information in common with the book on singing?

Perhaps MJ would like a copy? Unless she's the author, of course.

The Oxford Dictionary of Modern Quotations

"Practical politics consists in ignoring facts" - Henry Brooks Adams

"Democracy means government by discussion, but it is only effective if you can stop people talking." - Clement Atlee

"In science the credit goes to the man who convinces the world, not to the man to whom the idea first occurs." - Francis Darwin

"You can tell the ideals of a nation by its advertisements." - Norman Douglas

"what we call "Progress" is the exchange of one Nuisance for another Nuisance." - Havelock Ellis

"Hell, I never vote for anybody. I always vote against." - WC Fields

"Her voice is full of money." - F Scott Fitzgerald

"I don't think I understand people very well. I only know whether I like or dislike them." - EM Forster

"As soon as an idea is accepted it is time to reject it." - Holbrook Jackson


This story is another review of a book which doesn't exist. Lem wrote in the preface to one of his collections of factitious reviews that writing the review saved him the trouble of writing the book. Certainly I have plenty of ideas for stories that would take much longer to write than an outline disguised as a review - and many that I wouldn't have sufficient inclination to write anyway.

This is one book that I wouldn't want to write, wouldn't want to read, and would probably never see reviews of. But unlike some works I "review", it is a possible book. Someone could have written it.

"Forgiveness" by Deborah Stott is published next week.
Here it is reviewed by Jordan Travers

This is Deborah Stott's third published novel. It has been called an amorality tale, a thought experiment, and a parable about scapegoating. It has also been called "a truly vile work by a clearly deranged mind", by church leaders who see it as an attack on religion.

Her now-familiar themes are all here - a constantly shifting cast around a mysterious central character, sparse dialogue and detached 3rd person description - but there is also something new, namely paring down of descriptive detail, leaving a sense that the places and the peripheral events are formless or ambiguous, as though seen in a dream.

The protagonist, such as there is, is Angelica, a girl who has led an unremarkable childhood until her fifteenth birthday, when she abruptly suffers a stroke which destroys her memory.

She can recall her life before the stroke, and form new memories, but after a hour or two they fade away. She is effectively trapped in the day of her fifteenth birthday, dimly aware that something is wrong, but unable to formulate an answer or even hold on to the question.

However, this is all we really learn about Angelica. The focus is on the actions of those around her - not on their emotions, because Stott rarely tells us what her characters are feeling directly, letting us piece together their conflicted reactions and motivations from their mercurial and contradictory behavior.

The father, a disappointed office-worker named Joshua, has been wrestling with worsening financial troubles for years, sinking cash he doesn't have into investments that turn bad, borrowing and defaulting, gambling and losing. The mother is Maria, a super-efficient housewife who realised a decade late that she threw away a promising career as an actress to marry the wrong man. There's no doubt they once loved each other, and in quiet moments still do, but it is clear both would rather be elsewhere.

Slowly, imperceptibly, Joshua has been taking out his frustrations more and more on his wife. he starts by ignoring her wishes, then picking arguments about trivial matters, and blaming her for his situation. After Angelica's stroke he starts beating Maria - having to get thoroughly each time drunk first, and being wracked with guilt afterwards.

Then something strange happens. The father stops mistreating the wife, and starts beating the daughter. The transfer is not sudden and takes several pages, but by the end Joshua and Maria are back in love, in good jobs and getting healthier bank balances.

And Angelica is examining herself in the bathroom mirror, puzzled by bruises she can't explain. Does Maria know what's happening? It is difficult to believe she couldn't notice, but she gives no indication. Does she choose not to see, does she not care, or does she consider it a price worth paying? We are not told.

Eventually of course, someone does notice. A doctor calls in the social services and Angelica is taken away to a care home. The parents don't resist too much and a year later we learn they're on their second honeymoon.

Angelica is puzzled by the change of location, but accepts it in her usual docile manner. She is well cared for by professionals and volunteers, and forms friendships - literally renewed on each meeting - with other abused youngsters.

One of these is Ruth, a compulsive liar and manipulator who is shunned by her peers and ignored by her carers. Ruth's neverending stream of stories about her suffering, her abuse, her illness and ill fortune are treated with good natured contempt by all who have heard dozens before.

But of course, Angelica doesn't remember. Each story is new and unquestioned, and the two can talk and cry and commiserate for the first time each day.

It is possible that some of Ruth's stories are true - she is after all in a home for victims of the kind of abuse she describes - but once again Deborah Stott refuses to give us any clues. She carefully avoids any suggestion of the omniscient author, though equally avoids implying that she may be an unreliable narrator.

Angelica may be the ideal companion for Ruth, and certainly Ruth's fantasies (and self delusions?) become less extreme over time, suggesting that she is finding some measure of happiness, but it can't last.

Angelica is transferred to another home, which she accepts in the same confused by docile way. By now she is nineteen, an attractive but vulnerable young woman. Inevitably, some residents show her kindness, some take advantage of her weakness, and most find themselves vacillating between the two. Even those with the best intentions find it all too easy to take advantage, even pretending to themselves they're doing her a favour.

The story focuses on Poul, a 23 year old "writer" (the kind with permanent writer's block) who has been drifting between care homes for most of his life. The reader knows he will rape Angelica long before he does it. The signs are there from the moment we meet him, and it follows the pattern of Angelina's life.

Poul is not depicted as an evil man, just a lonely one. But the way he holds Angelica down and leaves her sobbing in fear and confusion, and the way he does it again the next two nights - each the first for her - is not pleasant to read.

Then, on the third night, hours after Poul and her memory have gone, Angelica gets up, somehow breaks out of the home, and walks into the path of a car. She is killed instantly, and the driver, who was planning to kill himself by driving over a cliff, reconsiders.

And that's it. The book ends abruptly, almost in mid-paragraph. Previous works included an epilogue, but here there is pointedly nothing.

It is easy to see why this book, more than any of Stott's previous output, has caused such controversy. The church sees is as crass sensationalism - an excuse to parade depravity and suffering without even the excuse of the evildoers coming to a bad end. Others view this same lack of moralising tone and the refusal to turn Angelica's story into a simpleminded morality play as brave and intelligent.

Most of the press has, as usual, decided to adopt a middle ground, unable to say anything definite at all, reviewers even refusing to say whether they enjoyed the book or not. Most focus on the obvious symbolism of names. Joshua is the biblical Jesus and Maria is Mary - ah, but which one? Ruth is the biblical author so many believers forget, and Poul is Paul, the one they can't forget. Angelica is obviously an angel, though presumably not a specific one among the choir.

Though Stott follows the short life of her "heroine", the title "Forgiveness" give us a clue that it isn't really about her at all. Angelica is indeed an angel. Not an avenging angel, nor a guardian angel. She simply radiates joy and redemption wherever she walks, infusing those who she meets with strength and purpose.

And what is the source of this life energy? Obviously it is Angelica herself - she suffers so that others may have joy, she is shackled so that others may find freedom, and ultimately she dies so that others may live.

She gives unstintingly until she has no more to give. She asks nothing in return, nor any recognition that she has given. She has no memory, and therefore gives perfect forgiveness. After she lets each of us take whatever we need from her, she lets us off the hook with her forgiveness, and where there is forgiveness, so the reasoning goes, there is no crime.

The message is simple: This is what it is to be a saint, an angel, a benefactor of mankind. We take from those among us who have to goodness to allow it, we go on taking until there's nothing left, and then we move on to the next one, dignifying what we've done pretending it wasn't really us taking at all - we merely received what was freely flowing.

Deborah Stott has refused to be drawn on the meaning of her novel, saying it is up to the reader to extract a moral message from it, and accept or reject it according to their own conscience. Not surprisingly, her detractors find this unsatisfactory.

Speaking personally, I can't tell you whether I'm persuaded by Stott's image of the angel as victim. A week after finishing it I'm still confused - as I suspect was the intention. But I can tell you: You should read it for yourself, and decided, or not, for yourself.

Grey Pride

Yes, I am definitely getting grey hairs. Though I read somewhere that grey hairs are an optical illusion caused by white hairs next to dark ones.

So, yes, I am definitely getting white hairs.

My expensive mp3 player has died. My cheap mp3 player, bought around the same time, still works perfectly. Huh.

Did you know Korean has more native speakers than French? Portuguese has more than Russian, and Japanese more than German. And Wu Chinese, spoken only in Shanghai, is thirteenth in the list of native speaker numbers?

It seems no one can agree on how many varieties of Arabic there are.

I've got 100 ebooks by Stephen King. I've never read anything by Stephen King, I've read exactly one horror novel in my life ("Fluke" by James Herbert), I don't especially want to read horror stories and I don't have time to do it.

Nevertheless, after stumbling upon a site where I could download a hundred of them, I was seized with the desire to do so. If it had cost me one penny to do it, I wouldn't have bothered. Is everyone else like this?

Where should I go in a month? Ric says I shouldn't go to Poland, perhaps because of the lunatics in government and unstable economy, though others say I'd like the people, food and culture. Eastern Europe is poor, catholic, and reputedly welcoming.

South America - Bolivia, Venezuela, Mexico, Argentina etc? Poor, catholic, and politically complex.

Western Europe - France, Portugal, Spain, Italy,, Belgium. I've a feeling I'd have a lot of competition there, though it has the benefit of being culturally familiar.

India or Pakistan? Lots of entrepreneurs and office drones who need to know Business English, which is like English but without any of the flavour.

Southern Asia - South Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Japan? Similar remark, but definite possibilities.

China! An enormous place about which I know absolutely nothing, with cities that make London look small and slow. Hyperactive and very, very foreign.

The former Soviet Union? The place that witnessed the failure of tsarism to against bolshevism 90 years ago, the failure of Bolshevism against effective capitalism 70 years ago, the failure of state capitalism against corporate capitalism 30 years ago...and the failure of capitalism now. Hence the famously melancholy Russian soul.

Some tell me the market for EFL teachers in the UK is overcrowded, but others have said the exact opposite. It would be ironic if I wound up in one of the five language schools of my home town. A possibility though.

The one thing everyone agrees on is...not Africa! Or most of the Middle East.

Basically, I don't know much about the outside world, and I'd like to see any bits of it that won't try to kill me. Sweden? Iceland, maybe?

I can also download the complete works of Ayn Rand. But I won't. I do have some standards.


This story is incomplete. I worked out the problems it deals with, worked out a solution, wrote the problem...and then realised the solution wouldn't work. And couldn't think of another solution.

This is called "writing yourself into a corner". You can think of this story as being like a murder mystery with the final page missing - except the mystery isn't the identity of the murderer, it's how to prevent the murder.

...I land gently on the wet grass. It is late afternoon in a public park. Whoever I am here for, they will be here soon.

There are trees and neat rosebeds with tarmac paths cuts between them. There are benches and bins, all covered in the light drizzle. An in-between place, at an in-between time. The kind of place people come to think, or to rest and avoid thought.

A man of about fifty walks slowly on the middle of the path. He stops at a bench, seems to ponder on whether to sit, and finally does so. He's the one.

I approach and sit next to him. Of course he doesn't notice me, and he won't remember me when I'm gone. Now, how to open up a conversation with someone who can't see or hear you?

"Tell me."

"I'm going to kill my mother."

Ah, okay.

"Tell me about her."

"She's an invalid. She has a degenerative spinal condition. I've been looking after her alone for ten years. She was meant to die after one year or two. She's stolen my life. I hate her."

"I see. Do you deliberately hurt her? Physically or emotionally?"

"No. I could never do that."

"Why not?"

"She's my mother. I love her."

"And the other reason?"

"Whenever I hurt her as a child, she hurt me much worse."

"You realise she can't hurt you back anymore?"

"Yes. But I'm afraid she will."

"How does she feel about you?"

He seems to ponder for a moment, then takes a deep breath. "She doesn't want to have to rely on me, but she likes that it keeps me with her. She knows that if it wasn't for her disease I'd have left long ago. I was always her favourite."

So far, it seems a pretty standard love-hate relationship between mother and son. Except that he really does intend to kill her. If he were just fantasising it wouldn't have drawn me here. I wonder how many years of care it took to get him to this stage.

"What will happen if you kill your mother?"

"The police will work out I did it and I'll go to jail for 14 years."

That stops me for a moment. I keep forgetting I need to phrase questions more precisely.

"What would you want to happen if you kill your mother?"

"I'll be free to marry my girlfriend and have a family."

"Tell me about your girlfriend."

"She's boring and stupid."

I shouldn't, but I can't help but smile. There's little evasion in this one's mind. I find myself starting to like him a little.

"And how do you feel about her?"

"I've never loved her and now I don't even like her."

"Then why do you stay with her?"

"I wouldn't be able to find anyone else."

"Would you want to find someone else?"


"Does she love you?"

"I don't know."

"Do you care?"

"I don't know."


"So, you want to leave one life with a woman you don't want to be with, to set up a new life with another woman you don't want to be with. Is that accurate?"

There's no answer. The question reached him - it would have reached him in hurricane - but he just doesn't want to understand it. There's a block. I could break it down, given time, but there's no need. I try a different tack.

"Why do you want to start a family?"

He continues to stare at the wet ground in silence. Either there's another block, or there was something wrong with the question - some false assumption.

"Do you want to start a family?"



"Then why do you intend to start one?"

"It's what mother says she wants."

"Then why doesn't she let you start one?"

"She also wants me to stay with her and not have anyone else."

Of course. So obvious, I should have seen that one coming. But where do I go now?

"How do you intend to kill your mother?"

"With rat poison. I know where I can get pellets that look just like the painkillers she takes when her back hurts too much. She takes five or six at a time. She thinks I don't know she does it. I can make it looks like she accidentally took the wrong pills."

"Are you sure that would work?"

"Yes. No."

Again I can't help but smile. My friend here is as confused as everyone else, full of diametrically opposed opinions about the things which matter to him most. But there's no self deception, no misdirection or waffle, no meaningless qualifications - and only one question so far he dare not ask himself.

But I can't help thinking there's something wrong with what he's telling me. He can't be lying - he has to tell me the truth as he knows it, however mixed up that might be. He is as exactly as honest with me as he is with himself in his own most private thoughts. No, there's some question I'm not asking.

"Are there other family members or friends who could look after her?"

"She has no friends who care about her enough to help. My sister and father are capable, but they'd pretend to care for her and just let her rot. I couldn't let them do that, so I do it. They call me a hero because I let them off the hook."

Of course they do. But this isn't the answer.

"Do you think your mother will die soon anyway?"

"No. She's 75 but still strong. She's determined."

Well, I'm not sure determination has anything to do with it, though obviously he does. Damn, what am I missing?

"How long have you been planning to kill your mother?"

"Eight years."

Eight years. That's it. Each day he wakes up, genuinely intending to kill his mother, and each day he doesn't do it. Perhaps one day he will, but I doubt it.

He's not just trapped in a stale and empty life, he's trapped at the brink of escaping it...only to recreate it in another form, whether or not he gets caught. It's quite elegant, in its way.

Is there a way out I could give him? I can't put new ideas into his head - that's forbidden - but I can sometimes change the balance between those already there. I can...encourage him.

I could make him get rid of his girlfriend by making his boredom with her outweigh his sense of obligation to her, but I couldn't make him love her - I can't even amplify his liking for her because he doesn't have any liking for her. But I don't think she's the problem anyway.

I can push him towards actually killing his mother, or away from it. I can bring the tensions to the surface, maybe forcing him to find a solution of his own, or bury them, which might give him a kind of peace. Or drive him quietly insane.

There's no solution. I can see this man's problem better than he can, but I can't see a way out. I can't leave - and neither can he - until we find some solution, but I can't.

We're locked together, for as long as it takes. Even if that's forever.


Today's short story is a fragment of a novel that I tried to start, on and off, for nine years. It seems some books aren't destined to be written, but the fragments can be interesting. I hope you think so.

Inside the room was a table separating two chairs. Seated at the table, head bowed over a book, was a an white haired man who could have been anywhere between forty and seventy. Next to him, a large jug of steaming coffee, and a china cup with a saucer. The man looked up, and he smiled.

"Ah, good evening Mr Flint. Punctual as always. Please come in and sit down - you are quite safe, but we don't have much time."

After an uncertain pause, Flint sat. The man smiled warmly and leaned forward, as though to confide some secret to an old friend.

"It is so good to finally meet you, Mr Flint. Our mutual friend has told me so much about you. I am Mr Stone, but you guessed that already, naturally."

"How could I resist the trail of breadcrumbs you left for me to follow? Now. why?"

Mr Stone looked thoughtful for a few seconds, staring off into space, collecting his thoughts.

"Here we are, myself and my fellow travellers, a group of a hundred or so, scattered across nations and guilds, loosely tied together by an idea. An idea, a hope and a struggle. An idea that seems too vague to put briefly into words, a hope that seems futile, and a struggle that it seems we can only lose.

"Have you ever wondered what it is we actually do? Aside from sit and hope. We can't mount campaigns, we'd stand no chance in elections, and there's no way we could seize power militarily. And yet you know we make plans. Plans for what?

"The powerful know we exist, and though they could crush us they permit us to exist, because to them we're a safety value. A way for misfits to gain a sense of belonging, and work off their frustration harmlessly. But we're not so harmless they don't keep us under constant observation."

Mr Stone paused and took a sip of coffee. He swilled it thoughtfully around in his mouth, and swallowed.

"I take it you're familiar with the notions of Signal and Noise? The signal is anything you want to measure, and the noise is all the other signals you get that interfere with your measurement. When they point their hidden cameras at us, or send spies to infiltrate us, the signal they're trying to measure is our intentions. They want to know what we're trying to achieve, and how. The noise is everything we do and say that sounds relevant, but isn't.

"And as I'm sure you know, the noise is often louder than the signal. In fact, sometimes the signal is so quiet and the noise so loud, it almost disappears. And so we generate noise of our own, just for them to hear. We make plans that we have no intention of carrying out, just to let them overhear us doing it. We talk in elaborate codes that mean nothing, and they waste hours every day having their computers go over it.

Oh, they know we're doing it. They know that we know that they're watching. And they know we're jamming the signal with noise, which they have to analyse and decode, because hidden somewhere in that noise is the signal that frightens them."

Mr Stone took another mouthful of coffee, and spent another few seconds staring off into space. Then he continued.

"But what if there is no signal? What if all we're doing is making noise to make them think there's a signal hidden in there somewhere? What if everything we say and do is a distraction, not from some grand masterplan, but to hide the fact that there is no masterplan?

"Have you ever thought of that, Mr Flint? I'm sure you have, with a mind like yours. Always watching, always doubting, always trying to understand what's really going on. If you did think of it, you must have realised there'd be no point in carrying out such an elaborate and dangerous deception.

Unless there is a plan after all, and almost none of us know what it is. We know we're hiding something, we know it's important, but we don't know what we're hiding.

What if we hundred are a hoax, hiding the ten who really have a plan. Slowly moving into position, using the noise of the hundred to cover our footsteps. It is ten? Is it five? Or is it just one lone operator, planning ahead, waiting his turn? Who would that one be, Mr Flint?

Me? No! Too obvious. As their leader I could hardly be their secret weapon now, could I?"

Mr Stone grinned self-deprecatingly at the thought. He downed the last of the coffee, and with barely a pause poured another cup.

"But maybe the best agent is one who doesn't even know he's an agent. It's something to consider anyway. Goodnight, Mr Flint."

Introduction to Chronomatics

One of my all-time favourite writers is Stanislaw Lem. He is one of those authors who, like JG Ballard, gets categorised as Science Fiction because he won't fit anywhere else. That, plus the space ships and aliens. He started out writing the kind of Sci-Fi that's really political satire, and moved more and more towards philosophical musings thinly disguised with plot. One series of stories was a set of lectures on epistemology, presented as the output of a giant computer.

Halfway between the two were his reviews of nonexistant books, and "exerpts" from fantasy scientific papers from the future. Here, then, is my glimpse of the future, part of a study book which fell back through time.

From 'Introduction to Chronomatics'
by Jorgen Lemski
Published 2248

The science of chronomatics is based on three key insights, the first two reasonably obvious, the third just the opposite.

The first insight is that knowing the future changes the future. Everyone knows this - indeed, the only possible reason for wanting to know the future is wanting to change it. There's no point in knowing the day of your death if you can't do something to avoid it.

The second insight has been phrased various ways - "the map is not the territory", "you can't tell the whole truth", "the description is not the reality" and so on. This is sometimes taken to mean that any description or representation is necessarily incomplete, and indeed this is the case, but is not the main point being made.

It also means that any description of any part of reality cannot include a description of the description itself. Why? Because then it would have to include a description of that self-description, and so on, to infinity.

In fact, a description can't describe itself - or it's role in a larger reality that it describes - for precisely the same reason that any description of reality cannot contain every detail of that reality. Because reality is by definition infinitely detailed, and the description by definition is not. And an infinitely regressing self description, to exist at all, nevermind being complete, would need to be infinitely detailed.

Some students give up in confusion at this point, and in doing so deny themselves the grandeur of the third insight - the one that makes Chronomatics concievable, and thus time travel possible.

The key third insight is highly counterintuitive and consistently misunderstood. It is that, just as the decisions we make in the present affect the future, they also affect the past. The past is not fixed - the waves of cause and effect rippling out from an act in the present flow into the past as well as the future.

The difficult thing to understand is that the events of the past reconfigured by actions in the present have effects of their own, which ripple out to affect both their past and their future, which includes our present. And occasionally the events of the present that are affected in this way cause secondary backward ripples, changing or even erasing the past events which caused them, thus erasing themselves and replacing themselves with a new present.

This process of oscillation continues until a stable timeline is reached - one with effects that do no erase their own causes.

However, these stable events (and decisions) of the present soon become events of the past, which can be affected by events of the new present. Thus time is in constant flux, and in principle an event today could change one that happened millions of years ago, which might in some way radically change all history. This may already have happened - there is, by definition, no way of knowing.

Once the student has grasped (and been a little scared by) these concepts, they tend to ask two questions: Is human existence really that precarious, and how does this knowledge help us travel through time?

To answer the first question, it is necessary to emphasise that when we talk about "events" and "decisions" echoing backwards and forwards, only a tiny number of these are the kind of events recorded in diaries and newspapers. Events like "The president declares war" and decisions like "Mary chooses blue shoes today" are in a sense tiny blips against the constant background of "One grain of sand falls from a stone", "One electron is displaced when a cesium atom decays" and "A small part of one string shifts in one dimension".

Essentially, from a chronomatics point of view. human affairs are a minor sideshow in one small part of the universe. This might make us feel small, but it should also make us feel safe.

The chronomatist Wilhelm Strondberg once famously addressed the assembly on this in his distinctive prose style:

"The universe is in chaos, eternally destroying and recreating itself, only to do so countless times again, and we poor creatures are flotsam in this storm. But fear not, for we are safe, not because we are too large to escape the waves, but because we are too small. The gods of time battle above us, on scales too immense and strange for us to imagine, as we are too simple for their weapons to hurt."

And so to the second question: How does chronomatic science enable us to travel in time? And more importantly, how does it enable us to do this without damaging it?

The answer lies in two facts. First, that ripples in history take time to travel, but this time is outside of history. Second, just as isolated bubbles can survive turbulence in a lake and insects can survive within them, so we can create bubbles of calm in the sea of history, and move them against the tide.

The notion that causality takes time - indeed, that it takes time for the timeline to be affected by events within itself - can at first be a little difficult to grasp. The difficulty is that the word "time" is being used in two very different ways...


“Isn't it interesting that the same people who laugh at science fiction listen to weather forecasts and economists?”
- Unknown

When I was fifteen, I read a science fantasy novel by Orson Scott Card, called "Songmaster". At the time the novel meant a lot to me, because it had dense plotting, devious political powerplay, and a detailed backdrop of galactic empire. But mostly because one of the main characters was a gay man who wasn't a pervert, monster, freak or simpering pseudowoman.

Though he did fall in love with a woman, have sex with an underage boy, and kill himself. But compared to most images of gay men around at the time, it was positively...positive. So, I clung to it.

Rereading the book this afternoon - well, it's been a long time since I've wanted to throw a book out of the window. The central character (the underage boy) is a textbook sociopath, the conspiracies don't make any sense, and the galactic emperor killed billions to create a peaceful empire...because he's a nice guy who wanted to save humanity from itself, and that was the only way.

Perhaps it's no surprise the author is a Mormon. One who has published an essay explaining that, though he doesn't hate gay people, they ought to stay closeted, because knowledge of their existence causes trauma to children.

Oh, and it destroys society by making folk question their rulers. Which is bad, apparently. Only being a cornerstone of democracy.

I know, I know. Shallow trash looks like deep gold when you're young. The moment you stop regarding your younger self as a fool is the moment you stop growing up. But it's still a little galling - maybe because I was such a serious and thoughtful fifteen year old.

Tony, the homeless alcoholic I'm been bumping into every few months for years - I saw him again yesterday, wedged into one of his familiar places, the frontage of an abandoned shop.

He looked healthier than the last time I saw him (eight months ago!) - he'd gained some healthy pounds, had shaved his head, and had lost the oily skin of the permanently ill. He wasn't drunk, wasn't shaking with alcohol detox symptoms, and for the first time ever there were no bottles or cigarette packets around him. That's the good news.

But he was muttering to himself and oblivious to all around him, staring fixedly into the middle distance. Maybe he's found a new drug - one that doesn't come in bottles. If so, that might mean he's got some slight financial support. I don't know.

No one's found me yet by googling items of female reproductive biology, but I have been found by:

gay ballshaving videos
restart jobcentre anti
the people can have anything they want
even smiling my face ache
backwards music

Ah, money. Cash payments into bank accounts are supposed to be instant, but can take three working days - which means five days if they straddle a weekend. Cheques are supposed to take three days but routinely take seven, and sometimes ten. Cheques from government departments take three days to be sent, then three to appear in your account. And as for getting funds into a PayPal account, huh!

Oh, and printed out statements from cashpoints (teller machines) are generally a week out of date. Mine registers credits but hasn't added them to the total. And it lies to me about my overdraft.

Sorry. I'm just a little nervous about money right now. Or rather, nervous about not having much and not being sure exactly how much I have.

Hurricanes have a typical diameter of 300km, the average tornado is 75m, and other types of cyclone range from 1 to 10km.

Yesterday, the southern half of England was hit by a series of rotating air columns ten metres across. Wikipedia tells me England has more tornadoes per unit area than any other country, so...a clutch of baby tornadoes? Is there a name for this kind of thing?

Very strange. File under "WTF" or "Warning", according to taste.

Right, next up, a short story. Sort of.

I'm just a Poor Boy

"Hold the newsreader's nose squarely, waiter, or friendly milk will countermand my trousers."
- Stephen Fry

"Colourless green ideas sleep furiously"
- Noam Chomsky

"Quadruplicity drinks procrastination"
- Bertrand Russell

"The exquisite corpse will drink the new wine."
- French Surrealists c1925

"The vertebral silence indisposes the licit sail"
- Lucien Tesnière

Accommodation in London: Sorted. A lovably eccentric duo I've met before have a spare room.

Tuition fees: Paid, no trouble from school or bank.

Civil Service and Jobcentre dealt with: Um, well.

In order to spend more than two weeks away from my home town, I need to register a permanent change of address - and I'm permitted to do this twice within any eighteen month period. So, I am officially going to live in London for the foreseeable future. This is actually true, because the foreseeable future extends to October the 28th, after which I could in principle be anywhere in the world - including London.

Unfortunately...I can't currently register a change of address, or take a holiday, or indeed get paid the jobseeker's allowance. Because the jobcentre computer system is down. Again. And I don't just mean locally, I mean the whole UK. The central computer in Sheffield is down, and thousands of civil servants are unable to do anything except write themselves post-it notes reminding them to do things when the system starts working.

And people wonder why I want to see elsewhere. Though somehow I doubt the welfare infrastructure of Lwow or San Fernando are models of efficiency.

If I used words referring to female reproductive anatomy, I reckon I'd get lots of search engine hits. As it is, over the last week I've been found by these terms:

Kapitano Portsmouth
Kapitano Blog

(Hmm, you don't think someone could be looking to see if I had a blog, do you?)

pugh, pugh, barney
how do you say gum is spanish
laurie anderson avengers

Intriguing, but a small list. However, if I post some lady sex words like so...

vagina vulva clit clitoris cunt clitorides labia hins glans vestibular ovaries uterus womb cervix g-spot oviduct ovum mons pubis commissure meatus hymen caruncle raphe fallopian majora minora mammary bush breasts boobs knockers norks tits

...we'll see how many people view this post over the weekend. And come off disappointed. Without, er, coming off.

My thanks to this fascinating site for providing a load of words and an eye-opening biology lesson.

No Escape from Reality

“Conservatives divide the world in terms of good and evil while liberals do it in terms of the rich and poor.”
- Dennis Prager

Maybe I'm a filophile. Someone who loves cataloging - certainly I do enough of it. Today I emptied two hard disks of stuff and catalogued the results as:

* 3 DVDs worth of miscellaneous mp3s
* 4 DVDs on how to mix and master music like the professionals
* 2 DVDs on how to sing like a heavy metal god without making your throat bleed
* 1 DVD on music theory
* A few dozen DVDs concerning, um, acts of healthy physical intimacy among consenting adults
* Some more of the same, but with women in them for my straight friends.
* Ebooks on how to write stories
* Lots and lots of software, some of it with documentation telling me what it does
* Snippets of 15 or 20 infomercials for fitness and kitchen products, edited into a video for one of my songs. Someday I might get around to finishing it.

My favourite fitness product was nothing more than a vibrating plastic square, retailing for GBP150. To exercise any muscle group, you had to balance on the plate in such a way that you would flex the muscles to avoid falling off when it shook. Genius.

There was a load of stuff I'd forgotten, including some short stories and abandoned essays, some which I'll post over the next week.

And in the evening, a forum on Palestine. Hosted by the Portsmouth Network for a Fair Settlement to the Arab-Israel conflict, or some such convoluted name.

As is traditional, the talk was illustrated with the help of a laptop/projector combination - which went traditionally wrong. Guess who fixed it.

The speaker was an 18 year old christian kid who'd gone on a tour of the territories under the auspices of some church organisation. He was "assisted" by a middle-aged woman who seemed to be under the delusions that (a) she needed to spend fifteen minutes introducing him, (b) she was talking to the Women's Institute instead of 25 politically experienced types, and (c) that every point he made needed to be amplified by her telling a long anecdote. Intensely annoying women.

Once he was a allowed to speak, he spoke eloquently of the realities of living in Palestine under Israel. The way the army constantly harass and often torture Palestinians - and only Palestinians, the absurd complexities of passes and visas, the incredible poverty gap between occupiers and occupied, the way some Israeli citizens casually use Palestinians as target practice for stones or bullets, and of course The Wall. An enormous winding barrier that provides zero security and chops up the area in ways that make no sense except as intimidation.

He even touched on the way acknowledgement of these facts is commonly called "anti-semitism". Being a fluffy liberal of course, he had no notion of what might be a solution, beyond the undefined term "peaceful resistance". Arms were not helpful apparently, because if you start by shooting your enemy, you'll end by shooting your friends. He even admitted that he had absolutely no idea whether a one or two state solution would be preferable, or even feasible.

It's always disappointing when people get angry about injustice and barbarity, determine that the situation is intolerable and something needs urgently to be done...and then ask god to do it for them. Presumably because it absolves them of any responsibility to do anything themselves, or think too deeply about a real solution.

Not that I've got a real solution to offer. I just know praying isn't part of it.

Is This just Fantasy?

“I can believe anything provided it is incredible.”
- Oscar Wilde

This week's culinary invention: Digestive biscuits with a dollop of creme fraiche on top. Served with a cup of tea, Much healthier than chocolate buscits topped with crunchy peanut butter.

Last week it was carrots dipped in humous, served with a 50/50 mixture of red wine and apple juice.

Mother is dosed with painkillers and writing an essay on how to turn a concertina into a midi controller. Earlier I showed her how to make musique concrete by pitch shifting and cutting up samples.

There's a second mouse in my room. This one's larger, lives in the opposite wall, and eats my clothes. I was wondering why my teeshirt had new holes in it each morning.

The first mouse is called I'm calling the second one Ernie, though I have no idea of their respective genders.

I have a booklet of preparatory work for the course in October. It contains such such incredibly easy questions as "Why is reading easier than listening?", and such incredibly difficult questions as "How can the teacher maintain authority?"

In between questions, I'm looking at webpages on lucid dreaming. I wonder if it's possible to rehearse lessons in your sleep?

Actually I've always been puzzled about why people sleep at all, and from reading blogs on science and psychology it seems the professionals are just as puzzled.

There's no shortage of unconvincing theories. Some say sleep is a way of "recharging your batteries" after exertion, by which reasoning lazy people would need less sleep than the active. Others suggest the mind needs to shut down frequently to perform self-maintence, which might fall to a similar objection.

I rather like the theory that it isn't periods of sleep that serve an evolutionary purpose at all - it's periods of wakefulness. In most creatures that sleep, the difference between their sleeping and waking activities are not that great. Their waking lives resemble our semiconscious states - or even sleepwalking.

It's an interesting idea, because it makes sleep the default state of conscious beings.

But still no one knows why we yawn.

So many things that need to be done, so many more interesting things that don't.

Is This the Real Life?

“The people can have anything they want, the only problem is they do not want anything.”
- Eugene Debbs

Monday was good, Tuesday less so.

Monday was a bright, warm day, perfect for taking a stroll to the city centre, paying a loan from a friend into the bank, buying an advanced grammar textbook...and bumping into some friends who're running a stall about climate change.

If you set up a stall in a shopping precinct, two things are guaranteed to happen. The first is that the manager of a nearby shop will be an arsehole about it. The exchange generally goes something like this:

Manager: You'll have to move.
Stall holder: [Ignores manager]
Manager: You can't stay here, you'll have to move.
Stall holder: Why?
Manager: You're blocking our window display. You'll have to move.
Stall holder: The display's over there, we're over here.
Manager: [Sigh]. Do you have permission to run a stall?
Stall holder: [Ignores manager and hands out more leaflets.]
Manager: You need to get permission from the council.
Stall holder: No, we don't.
Manager: Look, if you don't move, I'll be forced to call the police.
Stall holder: Go on then. They'll take 20 minutes to arrive, we'll move two metres five minutes before that, the police'll be annoyed that you called them out pointlessly and you'll look like a tit. And we'll be back here tomorrow.
[Manager walks back inside. Stall moves two metres]

The second thing is that every slightly mad shopper will try to have a conversation (or start an argument) with you. On occasions when I've done stalls, passers by have told me things like:

* The British Empire never existed.
* A total of fifteen Afghans died when we last invaded.
* Communism is the same thing as fascism, and can't work because human nature is fascist.
* Lenin was gay.
* I'm an anarchist. Because I worship satan.
* Global warming is caused by sunspots, and in any case is good because it gives us nice hot weather.
* Immigrants are deep cover Al-Qaeda suspects sent by Saddam Hussein.

In this case, there was an old man who argued persistently that there'd be no crime if everyone carried a loaded gun for shooting anyone who annoyed them. There was also a rather sweet natured fellow who obviously had a mental age of about 12 - he just wanted to listen to my mp3 player. I had some Indian chillout stuff that he happily boogied to for a few minutes.

After packing up the leaflets and paste table, Donna S invited me to an impromptu picnic in the park. Birds singing, dogs being walked, five-a-side football, bread, olives and lots of really cheap red wine. What could be nicer?

I pushed the pushchair carrying her daughter Daisy, and got smiling looks of mutual brotherhood from parents with young children. Yes, they thought we were like them. A single mother (currently homeless) and a gay man, both socialists, accidentally posing as married couple with child.

You remember how, in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the heroes learned to walk among the creepy aliens, pretending to be assimilated? A bit like that.

We were joined by Roxanne C (single mum, artist) and brother Craig (teenage dad, musician), who, with the latter's baby carriage containing the tiny adorable Ruby, were probably not met with smiling looks of familial brotherhood. On account of looking too young for parenthood to be "respectable".

Actually I think they're both bloody good parents - Craig in particular has grown up really really fast. And I'm not just saying that because I fancy the pants off him, or because they both read my blog.

Tuesday - cold, cloudy, cheerless.

Mother has been ill. I don't mean with a virus or stomach upset - I mean with the kind of stabbing abdominal pains that strong prescription painkillers don't dull. The symptoms which, some years ago, turned out to be a near-fatal tumour.

So, we're worried, but of course we're not saying anything. Nothing to say.

She's working on her degree in music theory (forth? fifth? I don't remember), while I'm helping out with some of the technical bits, reading about adjective complementation, and arranging amateur psychological counselling disguised as late night sex with MK against a wall.

Needs Must

“If people did not sometimes do silly things,
nothing intelligent would ever get done”
- Ludwig Wittgenstein

The man in overalls did indeed have a moustache, and I did show him and his cute trainee into the basement.

And out again. Oh well.

It's Cunning Linguist time again. How would you explain the meaning of this sentence?

"Today must be Sunday."

I'd gloss it something like: "Given the available evidence, the only reasonable conclusion is that this day is a Sunday".

The evidence might be that yesterday I went out for a drink with a certain friend who I usually see on Saturdays, that the newsagent at the end of the street is closed (and I've only seen that happen on Sundays), and there's a trailer on TV for a show in an hour that I know broadcasts on Sundays. You might think this evidence is absolutely conclusive, but if there weren't some tiny room for doubt, I wouldn't say "Today must be Sunday" - I'd say "Today is Sunday".

There's lots of sentences like this - "You must be soaked (because you've been out in heavy rain)", "I must be dreaming (because unless the last decade has been an illusion, my grandfather is dead so isn't lecturing me about turnips)", and "He must be mad (because sane people don't vote Conservative)."

But hang on a moment. Doesn't the auxilary verb "must" indicate strong obligation? As in sentences like "I must go now (because I have a promise to keep" and "You must believe me (because if you don't believe my story about alien abduction, they're going to take over the world"?

well yes, but it's also sometimes used in some hyperbolic speech to indicate stong desire, as in "I simply must have that new fur coat" or "There must be something good on one of the cable channels" - even though there's no one forcing you to buy the coat, and you wouldn't be that surprised if you found nothing good on TV after all.

And sometimes there's a conditional colouration, as in "We must eat to live" (meaning we might eat and still die, but we'll definitely die if we don't eat) and "You must dress nicely if you want that man you fancy to notice you" (similarly hinting that he might not notice you anyway).

So, the word "must" does quite a lot of work. But what about the opposite of the original sentence - "Today can't be Sunday"?

Here, "can't" means that the available evidence suggests that it is impossible for today to be Sunday, though there is the tiniest possibility of the evidence being wrong.

Right, so "can't" sometimes has the opposite meaning to "must", but "can" never has the opposite meaning to "musn't". Which is all a bit wierd, really.

Anyway, I didn't have to go into that much detail for yesterday's exam and interview.

And then answer two much more difficult questions: "Why do you want to be a teacher?" and "Why do you think you'd be a good teacher?".

Short answers: (1) I want to see the world before someone destroys it, and (2) I've had two decades practice.

International House have a nice little moneymaking scheme - I pay them to spend a solid month (including weekeneds) practicing my teaching on students. And students pay them to be taught by me.

I passed the interview, by the way. I start on October 1st.

So, Tell Me about Yourself

"People that are really weird can get into sensitive positions and have a tremendous impact on history."
- Dan Quale

It's 0730 and I'm spending the morning house-sitting - waiting for a man in overalls to come and read the meter. I've seen a few videos with this as the basic plot, so if he has a moustache and a swaggering walk, I'll know what to expect.

This afternoon, the interview I've spent the last week worrying about.

I didn't manage to sleep ovewrnight, got up 0600, had a calm, leasurely breakfast, and then spent a frantic half hour searching for phone, train ticket and a clean shirt. Which got pooped on by a passing bird as soon as I stepped outside. Good thing I don't believe in jinxes.

Anyway, wish me luck everyone. By the time I'm next in front of a computer, I'll know what I'm doing - or not doing - with the rest of my life.


“I speak two languages, Body and English.”
- Mae West

I have an interview on Friday. For the TEFL course in London. I am rather happy.

I'm also rather nervous.

I've never had much trouble getting up and singing to a room of musicians. I'm fine if I have to give an impromptu tutorial or say something at a debate. But I'm always terrified of interviews. And this one's important.

So, until then my head will be full of all the TEFLy things I can read in preparation.

Oh, and I'm going to see what I can do about the finances, so I don't have to live on tea and biscuits the whole month.

I've decided the mouse in my bedroom is called Bert - because it's the first name that came to mind. He's about five inches long, though half of that is tail, a brownish grey colour, and getting progressively less scared of me.

He patrols the skirting boards, looking for bits of crisps and sweets that I must have dropped, dragging them back to whatever secret place he comes from.

Do you think I'm soft because I left out some bits of bread for him last night? They were all gone in the morning.

I've just realised - it's September the eleventh again. A date that somehow seems to come around more often than christmas.

Six years to the day that I turned on the TV and thought "Oh look, a disaster movie". Before looking again and thinking "Oh shit, there's going to be a war".

Two as it turned out - three if you include the Lebanon. And all catastrophic defeats for the most powerful empire that's ever existed - which I think is many times more incredible than the initial attacks themselves.

So, to take stock, we have:

* An American and world public that overwhelmingly favours withdrawal. Plus British, Turkish, Indian etc forces that have effectively withdrawn already.

* An American economy that's teetering on the edge of major recession, with some business interests served by an eventual victory, and some by just continuing to fight.

* No chance of victory, no exit strategy, and no government in Afghanistan or Iraq to negotiate with afterwards.

* Plans to bomb Iran, which is quite capable of responding with bombs of it's own - via terrorist groups.

I Blame the Government

“Ask not what the government can do for you. Ask why it doesn't.”
- Gerhard Kocher

Today was the first day back on the scheme. Well, it would have been if there hadn't been some rule saying I have to sit through the week-long induction course for the third time before resuming. well, I would have done if my name hadn't been missing from the list.

Still, it's easy to add my name - you just have to phone up the jobcentre, wait half an hour for them to answer, and get them to add it. Well, it would be easy if their computer system hadn't gone down yet again. Still, at least I can walk to the jobcentre (in less than half an hour) and fill out the appropriate forms there. Well, I could, but with their computer system down, they couldn't make a record that I'd done it, so it wouldn't be "real".

Still, at least I can make an appointment to go back some other time to fill in the forms to get my name added to the list to do the induction course to restart the scheme I don't want to be on.


I would be able to, if the appointment making system wasn't part of the computer system which has gone down.

One small detail. I'm a computer engineer. They can't find me a job. Their computers don't work. Hmmm.

Walking through the guildhall square on the way home, I saw a man carrying a placard saying "Welcome to Our Corrupt City Council" climb atop a miniature stepladder and address the passers by.

The details got complex and the speaker meandered, but the gist was: The company which plans to knock down our shopping precinct and build another one on the site got the contact by wining and dining councillors in expensive hotels. This led to allegations of corruption, investigated by the police and a "full internal inquiry", both of which inevitably found "no evidence of wrongdoing". Even though the councillors told a lot of easily exposed and contradictory lies to cover it up.

I looked at those who stopped to listen. There were the teenagers who don't know how to do anything but sneer, the married couples who nodded sagely but shrugged sadly, the middle mangers on three hour lunch breaks who complacently guffawed about "libel", and those who cringed in embarrassment that someone was being loud fifty metres away.

But there was no one who seemed to doubt the truth of what the man said. No one challenged him, no one heckled, and no one voiced disbelief.

Even among the most optimistic and apolitical, it's just obvious and common sense that politicians are corrupt, venal liars.

When did the public get so bleakly realistic and yet so apathetic?

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has announced his brilliant, innovative new scheme to reduce unemployment: Apprenticeships.

The idea is that companies take on jobseekers, give them lots of training, and then employ the ones who do well. Amazing no one's thought of it before.

If you were cynical, you might view it slightly differently: Jobless people are blackmailed into doing unpaid menial labour under the guise of "training". But let's not be cynical.

There was a scheme like it just after the second world war. In fact, it's how my father got trained as a printer after being demobbed from the army. It worked okay for a while but didn't produce the absurdly high results promised, and was eventually scrapped to save money.

There was another scheme a little like it in the 1980s - the country was in recession, workers were losing their jobs everywhere, and a load of government funded companies sprang up which gave them training to help them set up their own small businesses.

This was Margaret Thatcher's grand plan to revive Britain by filling it with tiny one-man industries serving each other. It wasn't a complete failure, but was eventually scrapped to save money.

Don't Shout in Church

“If you wish to be a success in the world, promise everything, deliver nothing.”
- Napoleon Bonaparte

Well, I did it. I got thoroughly drunk on cheap red wine, in church. The kind of drunk where you get into animated conversations about philosophy with adults and play unabashedly with their kids.

One five year old got me to swing her round and round on the grass until I fell over. And then used me as a bouncy castle. And I got into a raspberry blowing competition with another. And won. Ha! This particular six year old boy told me I was immature. Hmm.

The philosophy went like this:

Artist: Don't corporations realise they're destroying the planet?

Kapitano: Yes, but they're locked into competition. If any of them went green they'd lose out to those that didn't.

Artist: But couldn't they all co-operate to install green technology? That way, the planet would be habitable in fifty years time, and they'd still be there to make profit.

Kapitano: First, you're asking hundreds of corporations that want to kill each other to stop fighting long enough to preserve the battlefield - you're asking for capitalism to temporarily suspend itself. Second, even if they all do agree to co-operate, it's in each one's interests to cheat on all the others.

Artist: So we need governments to legislate to stop corporations cheating.

Kapitano: Corporations control governments.

Artist: Ah, so we need to take over the corporations ourselves - buy all their shares.

Kapitano: Not if the government owns 51% of the shares. And even if you somehow progressively buy up all the shares, when the corporations work out what you're trying to do, they'll stop you.

Artist: But if a million people all buy one share each, they'd get a lot of leverage to pressure the corporations.

Kapitano: We don't have a million people.

Artist: So how can we get a million people?

Kapitano: I have no idea.

[Pause to reflect]

Artist: So what you're saying is, the only way to save the world is for every country to get rid of capitalism, and for that we need a revolution, and for that we need lots and lots of people, which we don't know how to get.

Kapitano: Um, yes...

Artist: But surely when climate change gets really bad, everyone will realise what needs to be done, and make a revolution. So all we've got to do is wait.

Kapitano: ... [Tries to marshall thoughts of Kautskyism and Lenin's thoughts on the role of a revolutionary party]

Artist: We don't have to do anything at all!

Kapitano: Er, excuse me, I need to get more wine.

Artist: Yes I've got to go too. Nice meeting you. Bye!

Ex Cathedra

“The love that lasts the longest is the love that is never returned.”
- William Somerset Maugham

Rather than post a new quote every few days at the top, I thought it'd be easier to start each post with a quote. One that may or may not illuminate what follows.

Remember that idiotic government scheme I was on? I'm still on it.

Eight weeks ago I had a kind of miniature nervous breakdown. I suddenly started crying for no apparent reason, and couldn't stop for the next six hours. My doctor certified that I was unfit to work for a month, and renewed the prescription a month later.

I talked to some trusted friends about it, and they tell me it's not unusual to fall apart for hours or days at a time.

The doctor tried to get me to try the antidepressants and therapy she was on, saying they helped her cope with the stresses of being a GP. But I declined - I don't need drugs or psychobabble, I need a worthwhile life.

The time away gave me the chance to sort out in my head what I actually want from the rest of my time on this godforsaken planet. Seeing the world, doing something useful for others and talking with intelligent people seemed like good ideas - and being an EFL teacher seemed a jolly good way to get these things, plus a secure career.

There's also music, writing, and being happily single among non-professional aims.

The idiotic scheme recommences on Monday, from where it left off. I tolerated a lot of bullshit from those running it, and I'm not going to slip into doing that again. Sometimes intolerance is a virtue, and sometimes it's a necessity.

With luck, I'll be accepted on the next cycle of the TEFL course and only have to put up with the scheme for a fortnight. Assuming of course I don't lose patience.

With less luck, I'll be deferred till the next cycle, and if I'm really unlucky I'll be doing it over Christmas. Whichever.

The weekend is all booked up. Saturday I'm getting drunk in church - the exhibition I spent this morning helping to set up is officially opening, with free wine and pretentious artists in abundance.

There's also a model of my ancestral home, Drax power station, made out of papier mache and cotton wool.

And on Sunday...I'm meeting up with C, who is also going on a course for a change of life and career. Holiday tour guide! So while I teach English to the modern Chinese middle classes, he'll be showing the English middle classes around ancient China.

How, by Gum

The Radical Artists Group, using the proceeds from the slightly disastrous gig a few weeks ago, are putting on an exhibition. In a cathedral.

So I get a call on Monday asking if I could spend a few hours on Tuesday helping to plan out the practicalities of the exhibition. Seeing as the bloke who was going to do it, can't. Okay, fine.

How do you hang paintings in a cathedral? Banging nails into stonework may not be such a good idea, and blutack is expressly forbidden because it stains the stone in a way that's remarkably difficult to remove. Sticky pads are likewise a bad idea, so we're reduced to hanging hooks from lintels and windows. Okay, fine.

Thing is, the paintings won't hang vertical - they all tip forward on the hooks. And that's when I get my two brilliant ideas.

(1) What they need is two inch blocks of wood attached to the back of the frames to make them hang level with the wall.

We've got loads of blocks of wood, but nothing to stick them to the frames. Not even blutack - 'cos we thought we wouldn't need it.

(2) Chewing gum!

So Kapitano goes over the road to buy the gum, and spends the next half hour frantically chewing and carefully sticking. It worked, by the way - the paintings did indeed hang straight.

So now I get a call on Wednesday asking if I can spare some time for more of the same on Thursday. Say...six hours? Okay, fine.

I can confirm that Wrigley's Spearmint is stickier than Juicy Fruit. Though it does leave the art smelling a bit minty.

Brain-stretching time. Take a look at these four sentences:

I went to the bank today.
I went to the bank yesterday.
I have been to the bank today.
*I have been to the bank yesterday.

What's wrong with the last sentence? Why is it wrong when the others are right?

After an hour of head scratching, I did the decent thing and asked Wikipedia. The gist of the answer is that Present Perfect tense entails the possibility that the event continued until the moment of utterance, but the adverb "yesterday" contradicts that entailment, requiring a shift to the Past Simple tense, which doesn't have that entailment.

And if you understood that on first reading, you're smarter than me.

Actually, I didn't go to the bank. I was going to, to ask informally whether it was worthwhile to ask later for a small personal loan to finance my return to university. I didn't hold out much hope, but as someone ought to have said, "Nothing ventured, nothing sprained".

But instead the university called to tell me they have reluctantly had to decline me a place on the TEFL course...because I don't have enough teaching experience to merit them teaching me how to teach.

Yes, that's what I thought.

Well, it wasn't absolutely unexpected, so now I shift to Plan B - a four week full time intensive course in London. To get on it, I have to (1) demonstrate on paper that I know some basics of linguistics, (2) demonstrate the same thing in interview and (3) somehow beat the rush of others doing the same thing.

Oh, and find some ultra-cheap accommodation for a month in one of the most expensive cities in the world.

The question about tenses is part of (1), and there's five more deceptively simple (by which we mean "deceptively complex") questions. Here's another to mull over.

*I'd like some informations.

Why is this sentence wrong?


Things I discovered this weekend:

* 81GB of mp3s. At a rough calculation, that's eight weeks of continuous listening that's been sitting on a hard disk for months.

* REAPER - a shareware MIDI/audio sequencer that's easier to use, more configurable, faster, better thought out and more stable than it's competitors with three figure price tags.

It also takes up 2GB instead of 500 and is being updated every week instead of every year, the work of one man with an open mind and lots of expertise doing it for love, as opposed to an agglomeration owned by a corporation doing it for cash.

And in case you think that's a fluke, there's another shareware sequencer just as good.

* The fact that it takes ninety minutes to edit together a simple hour long slide show in Adobe Premiere, followed by two days to find a way to make it produce a DVD without crashing.

Short version: make a DivX in Premiere, then use a freeware utility to convert that to DVD format. This is a little like finding that your dream kitchen lets you prepare food exquisitely in every way you can imagine...except for cooking it. Which leaves you heating up your dinner with a candle.

* A library book three months overdue. Oops.

* It's actually quite easy to create a fake credit card, and remarkably difficult to create a fake debit card. Presumably because a debit card is connected to a specific bank account, but a credit card involves borrowing from the bank itself.

Guides and software aren't hard to find - I stumbled on a page of both when looking for info on voice training! There are of course several small catches - the difficulty of purchasing items that can't be downloaded, the fact that you're often limited to "borrowing" from American or German banks...and the distinct possibility of getting caught.

* It is impossible to smile and pucker the lips simultaneously. Actually, i think I sort-of knew that one already, but I'd never thought about it until an ebook on how to sing spent several paragraphs explaining it.

* Ted Chiang is a brilliant (but not prolific) science fiction author of short stories and novellas. His works include "Understand" (exploring human super-intelligence), "Division by Zero" (on the problem of purely abstract mathematics) and "Hell is the Absence of God" (about the social effects of angels routinely appearing).

* The French word "Musette" literally means "Haversack", but also refers to a filter on an accordion which gives it the distinctive reedy sound associated with French accordion music.

"Bal-Musette" is a style of slow dance music popular in the sophisticated nightspots of Paris from the 1880s to around the outbreak of WW1. It was increasingly influenced by waltz, tango and latin music, leading to a division between the purists and the modernisers.

In the last decade, Bal-Musette has come somewhat back into fashion as ambiance in the restraints catering mainly to tourists in Montmartre.

* There have been a total of twelve part-time vacancies posted in my area over the last fourteen days - half of which I've applied for on the grounds that, although I don't know how to do them, I reckon I can look like I do.

* Portsmouth University Language School has, in the words of someone who works there, "a stick up it's arse about paperwork". They seem to have difficulty with the notion that most applicants (like me) are every-so-slightly ovoid pegs who don't quite fit into the round holes.

I'm just gambling their need to have actual students on their courses outweighs their need for neat piles of pointless forms.