Sing the Changes

The forth of July. Not exactly Independence Day - if anything, the opposite - but certainly a day of things planned to change.

First, it's the day the jobcentre want me to start their fake 'training course'.

Second, by a staggering coincidence, it's also the day I'm starting work as a self-employed teacher. Premisesless and peripatetic, walking/bicycling/busing to wherever the students are, teaching in homes, parks, libraries or for that matter pavements.

I will still have to fill out the 'training course' paperwork, followed immediately by the 'leaving so you can shove your training course up your bureaucracy in triplicate' paperwork. This is normal.

Nearly everyone who, a week ago, definitely and absolutely wanted my reasonably priced services, has now developed unspecified other commitments. Or toxic levels of vagueness. Or an inability to answer the telephone. This is also normal.

But there's two students lined up to start right away - one of who is very sweet and I'm pretty sure is, um, 'family' - and two more want to start later.

And the third's the start of the 50/90 challenge. Write and record fifty songs in ninety days.

Not that I've got a hope in hell of doing anything like that much, but I've got a set of drum sounds, a set of simple virtual synths, a small lake of samples...and one or two nebulous ideas for songs.


I was trying to write a post about how a lot of good ideas we try to live by are, when you look at the details, nonsensical.

Copyright. It looks sensible and just in the abstract, that an artist should benefit from their original work and be protected against anyone who wants to copy it. Until you try to define "original", "work", "benefit", "protect" and "copy".

The idea of patenting genes or scientific discoveries is, um, "patently" ridiculous, but even straightforward patents of algorithms, chemical processes and mechanical devices rely on legal terms which, if taken literally, could result in the patent holder owning half the universe. Or nothing at all.

The idea of "Justice" - as in "retribution" - relies on the rather strange notion of a misdeed being somehow counterbalanced and erased by inflicting a punishment which is supposed to be equal in some way.

If I steal a thousand dollars from a millionaire, how do you calculate the damage done - or even define it - and how do you calculate an "equivalent" incarceration period. And should I get less if I'm claustrophobic?

However, fortunately for us all, I got bogged down in detail, so I'll just post part of the introduction, below. It might be interesting in its own right.

Someone once defined theology as trying to be rational about absurd ideas[1]. As a former theology student, I think he was right. Here's an example.

Early christian theology recognised one god, who had one son - the notion of a holy ghost was a later addition. Nice and simple.

But the son was human, or half-human and half-divine, or his body and emotions were human but his intellect and soul were divine, or...something. So what happened when the imperfect human part disagreed with the perfect divine part? Surely Jesus wasn't just a mindless automation controlled from upstairs?

Did baby-Jesus' poo smell bad? Did he ever get involuntary erections? Did he sweat? All vitally important questions.

Maybe the human part was so perfect that it was always in accordance with the divine part? No, that wouldn't work because humans are fallen so are incapable of that level of perfection - fallenness is built into the flesh. That's the whole point of original sin.

Besides, the whole purpose of him being on earth was to live and suffer and die as a human. The resurrection and bodily ascension could only be meaningful if he were human - a reanimated mannequin wouldn't do.

So the compromise reached was: Jesus was both fully human and fully divine. Two incompatible beings squeezed into one because...well, god could make his own rules. Problem solved, right?

Well no, because that means god was both up there and down here at the same time, both the passive watcher and the active preacher. So were there then two gods, maybe with different knowledge and agendas?

This dispute was so bitter it nearly splintered the fledgling church before it could become established. It was patched up in the Nicene Creed, stating that Father and Son were two separate entities...but they were made of the same stuff, whatever that means.

Which only left the question of whether the son had always existed as a separate entity, or was called into existence by the father splitting himself like an amoeba. The answer was that Jesus had always existed, but only as a bodiless force before it became a person.

Which only left the other question of this obscure single line in the approved books, which seemed to be talking about a third mysterious thing in the sky.

Cue more schizming.

Okay, so theologins endlessly worry about cloudy abstractions which have no bearing on real-world questions. It's nice they have a job for life, but it never affects real people, right?

There's an idea in islamic law that people fall into two distinct groups in relation to an individual - those who are family, and those who are not.

There's your immediate biological family - parents, siblings, cousins, offspring, nephews and nieces, aunts and uncles, grandparents and grandchildren etc - plus your in-laws. You're not allowed to marry these, and sex with them is forbidden as incest. Probably fairly sensible, yes?

There's another idea that receiving milk from a wet nurse makes her part of your family - so sex with her or her family is off-limits. Well, it makes a kind of sense, I suppose. Oh, and the man who made her pregnant so she could make the milk, he's family too.

But how much nursing does she have to do to become family? One suckling session? One drop of milk? The law has settled on five suckling sessions being the threshold, because the Qu'ran says ten. Um, okay.

But what if you're suckling and you're not an infant? Maybe you're five years old, or fifteen, or fifty - if you're a man sucking on the breasts of a recent mother, does full sex with her become forbidden the fifth time you do it, or is there an upper limit to your age beyond which she can't become family, no matter how much of her milk you swallow?

Yes, this is a real controversy, and the answer seems to be that there's no age limit.

But what if she's dead?

What if you've sucked her milk four times, then she dies and you suddenly develop necrophiliac tendencies...and so you suck really really hard to get the last of her milk. Is it then illegal to fuck the corpse because she's now a relative, or can she only become a relative when alive?

This vital point of jurisprudence has been extensively debated, and I'm delighted to say I have no idea whether a conclusion has even been reached.

[1] I've found the actual quote. It's from the anthropologist James Frazer, writing in The Golden Bough. It runs:

"myth changes while custom remains constant; men continue to do what their fathers did before them, though the reasons on which their fathers acted have been long forgotten. The history of religion is a long attempt to reconcile old custom with new reason, to find a sound theory for an absurd practice."

The Book of Job (Chapter 3)

I have to get a job. Partly because I could use the money, and partly because the jobcentre want to send me on another thirty-six week fake "training scheme".

That's "training" as in "be forced to sit in a room for seven hours a day with nothing to do until you throw yourself at any employment at all to avoid going mad".

Actually I did go mad on the last one - spent three months listed as mentally incapable as a result. After which they tried to make me restart the scheme. I moved to London instead, without telling them.

The thing is, when I'm abused for any length of time I either mentally collapse or become violent. I expect to become violent this time. Which is why I've been looking harder than usual for a job instead.

There was a local school who "urgently need"-ed a teacher to start immediately. I telephoned and got an interview set up.

Two hours later I phoned to check they'd got my CV. And got told they didn't need any teachers, and any inferences I'd made from their "We need teachers urgently" advert were inexplicable and incorrect.

But if I could stick around for the next six months, they just might have something for me.

They can go screw themselves.

Voluntary Service Overseas is an organisation which provides food, accommodation and a small allowance to volunteers with sought-after skills, in exchange for their working for a year or two in underdeveloped countries, in exchange for the chance to see the world cheaply and do some good.

I applied. They say I'm not good enough.

Three years experience teaching, thirty years experience with all manner of computer technology, a reasonable knowledge of science, a masters degree and more other qualifications than I can remember. But I haven't worked for a major charity before, so I'm "not qualified".

Okay I don't actually have three years continuous teaching experience, but you're not going to tell me your CV is scrupulously honest?

Okay. They can go screw themselves.

I previously asked the Red Cross if they had a use for a teacher slash technician. The local branch told me they "already have a teacher" and their computers never need maintenance because they're magic.

Well, they can go screw themselves too. If I'd had a degree in management they'd have snapped me up - management is all they seem to do these days.

The jobcentre called me in to do, I kid you not, a basic literacy and numeracy test.

Which I couldn't do because my brain decided to have an epileptic seizure at the time. The second in a month, which is highly unusual, and more than anything else just plain embarrassing.

They postponed the test for two days.

I came back two days later and did the test - which they couldn't record because their computers had crashed.

So in another two weeks they want me back again to get signed up to the same scheme which gave me a small nervous breakdown.

Except for the small detail that I'm going self employed in two weeks, so very sadly have to decline to join their wonderful scheme. They know this, but the forms have to be filled out, just so they can be rendered obsolete the next day. Process is everything, achievement nothing, in bureaucracy.

What? Oh yes, I'm going to be a proper teacher, as opposed to the improper one I've been so far. I've got some students lined up, a rough contract for them to sign, and a small pile of brain-meltingly dull tax forms to fill out.

An old teacher recently told me the only way to work for a decent language school is to set one up. We'll soon see.

Oh, but I haven't decided on a name for my academy yet. What do you think? Any suggestions?

Dirt Nap

A song I wrote for this week's SongFight, nominally entitled "Dirt Nap", but didn't have time to record before the deadline.

It's on the pile of songs to record...sometime. Under some different title.

Verse 1:
Forward to the future, where
Everything's clean, and
Work's a word for anything
Done by machine, got to
Get away.

Backward to a childhood, where
Everything's new, with
So much time to do it all and
Nothing to do, got to
Get away.

Running from, running to
Sleep in the gutter with
Me tonight
Freedom from, freedom to
Wish upon a satellite

Verse 2:
Some old show on TV, a
Simpler world, the
Hero kills the bad guy, and
Kisses the girl, got to
Find a way.

Try a foreign country, ex-
-otic and strange
Evening flaming sunset, and
Life on the range, got to
Find a way.

Dream kitchen
Dream home
Dream lover
Yours alone

Glamorous job
Perfect wedding
Has to be a way

It's not often I misquote Billy Bragg :-).

Freezeframe Friday - Tea Break Edition

Dried leaves, boiled.

Ticking Over, Clocking Off

I am still here. There's just been no time to write anything.

However, here's the short version of the last 48 hours:

  • Day spent repairing computer A, 12 hours before it developed a different fault, and needed urgently replacing.
  • Night spent repairing computer B to replace A, before it developed a video card fault.
  • Morning spent repairing computer C to replace B (or A), before it developed a hard drive fault.
  • Afternoon spent getting computer D working to replece C (or B, or A). Astonishingly, it hasn't broken down yet.
  • Now...ZZZZzzzzz.

Freezeframe Friday - Annoyed Edition

Today's freezeframes are...irritating.

Freezeframe Friday - Beauty Edition

We all want to be beautiful, and we all think we're ugly. And what's the cause of this psychological clusterfuck? Random bits of TV!


If I had the choice between a life only with one big problem, and a life with twenty annoyances, I might chose the big problem.

When you've got a cluster of small problems, they form a cloud, the smaller ones loom much larger than they should, and you get smothered. Here's a list of my current problems, in approximately descending order of cosmic significance.

I was at a rally yesterday, to protest Isreali commandos attacking an aid convoy and killing several people.

Getting sixty five people to a rally at six hours notice in a small town...isn't a bad result. Getting filmed for the local TV news is good. Having no passers by heckle you with ignorant and stupid cliches is a plus - and it's always welcome when strangers who happen to be passing join the gathering.

But the BBC are still describing aid workers as "activists", before cutting to full length speeches by Benjamin Netanyahu telling us it's all really their fault for being there, before some journalist interviews a charity worker accusing them of supplying terrorists, bags of concrete and sheets of corrugated steel. To build shelters because someone dropped a load of bombs on their cities a while back. Anyone remember who did that?

Apparently writing that makes me anti-semitic. In exactly the same way as mentioning Tibetan human rights abuses makes me anti-buddhist and a vegetarian-hater.

If anyone else had attacked a partly-British convoy in international waters, we'd be at war now. As it is we're getting tepid expressions of "concern" from politicians and no prospect of change.

None of this is my problem as such. My problem is the sense of hopelessness it creates.

For two months the civil service have been "forgetting" to pay me unemployment allowance. I've kept all the appointments, applied for posts and signed all the forms, but somehow there was a blockage.

After six phone calls, three departments, and rather a lot of Handel's Water Music on hold, it's now sorted out. I'm getting quite practiced at being excruciatingly polite to spectacularly unhelpful women on the phone.

Although the one woman who was helpful admitted she had no idea what the problem was in the first place.

Rosie is nearly blind. She was born with the right eye missing, though we weren't sure of that for the first month. The left eye is cloudy, and seems to be slowly clearing, but we're not sure. She can see shapes and colours, but bumps into things.

She's a lovely, fat, fluffy, happy and active puppy, constantly snacking and exploring, sniffing, licking and gnawing on anything new. Here she is:

Cloudiness isn't unusual in puppies, but tends to clear up quicker than here. We won't know whether she needs a cataract operation for another two weeks.

I won something on ebay recently, and although it was dispatched eight days ago (by registered post) it hasn't arrived yet.

I won something else because I managed to forget to cancel the scheduled bid. It's okay, and now the money situation's sorted out I can afford it.

My sensible eating and exercise plan has had zero effect - I'm still a fat bastard.

It was Douglas Adams who said something like, "The one thing we can't afford to have in a universe like this is a sense of proportion".