All entries for November 2008

November 24, 2008


As a brief note I'd like to apologise for last week's abomination; I really should stick to writing non-fiction. In my defence, I had little else to give, and now I've started updating I feel a certain sense of -- as Yahtzee put it -- 'blogligation' to make sure I have something at the same time every week.

A long while ago now, when I was nary more than a nipper at the teat of education, my A Level English teacher introduced me to the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. It is hard to explain the effect this had on me really, especially since I had been incredibly interested in poetry before, but I will attempt to do so anyway. All good poetry has an effect on you, as a person. D.H. Lawrence's verse embeds itself within you, it stamps out words like engraved ink on bronze across your brain; Siegfried Sassoon's visceral poetry is almost tactile, thudding itself with great guttural blows to your head and assaulting your senses; Hopkins -- though -- Hopkins' work burns its way through you like a white-hot trail on your soul. Every carefully constructed line flies out like shards of napalm screeching their way across your core, and you are left -- bare, naked and burning.

Douglas Adams once said something similar of the music of Bach, but Hopkins' work truly speaks to the personal element. When you read Homer you know what it is to be a hero, when you read Browning you know what it is to be Browning, but when you read Hopkins you know what it is to be human.

It's difficult to understand what it is that makes me connect so much with Hopkins, especially because we are -- on the face of it -- so dissimilar. Hopkins, for those of you who don't know, was a man of massive faith who rejected his family to become a Jesuit priest, and then was sent away from his friends and colleagues at Oxford University to become a teacher in Dublin. He wrote poetry for most of his life, though he burnt much of it in his massive fits of self-doubt, but it is the poetry written at this stage, at the very ends of his life, that interest me the most. The so called 'Sonnets of Desolation'

Hopkins wrote that in moving to Ireland he was at a "Third Remove" from his old life, but not "in all the removes [he] could get". The final sonnets of Hopkins' life detail his desperate and faltering belief in God.

At first, all Hopkins expresses is his anger at God for his situation, but the tone of the sonnets become slowly more questioning -- and eventually pleading. I cannot nearly communicate how incredibly fantastical these poems are, your only recourse is to read them; and thank me later. Hopkins captures impeccably the feeling of howling loneliness, of utter and total abandonment as one by one of all the things that keep his life tethered disappear. All his connections to reality slowly fall away, and to read the final sonnets before his death is to see the look of desperation in a dying man's eyes as he fruitlessly scrabbles at the cliff edge.

This is, of course, somewhat depressing as you might imagine; and not something I would recommend for light reading. If ever you want to know what poetry should be, however, Hopkins really is the place to start. It almost details the fall of a man, as you read each poem detail the gloriousness and true awesomeness of God (I'd recommend 'God's Grandeur' or 'The Windhover' for this stage) and see the true hopelessness as the poems decline in mood, and then decline further; and finally: stop.

Why do I choose to write about this now I hear you cry? Well, I am in Canada now, I am at a first remove. I'm not one for large groups of friends, I typically find a few select people I really care about and latch on to them like an irritating -- but loving -- barnacle. This is why I really don't like loss of connections. It is happening, now, not in great numbers nor in any way definitively but it is happening. I'm drifting apart from people that used to be major parts of my lives, people that at other times I genuinely could not imagine living apart from. It is true, certainly, that I am forming new connections constantly, and there are plenty of people here in Canada I find myself honestly attached to. You never really, truly, forget the people that formed stages of your life: how many of you can still remember some of your kindergarten friends? We grow into life, around the mould that other people imprint upon us. I don't like losing these connections, but I suppose I am. I don't like losing people, but I suppose I will.

There's not really any cause for me to moan about this. I'm worlds away, and it's a decision that I made. As well as this, making new connections all the time does blunt any accusations of loneliness I might field. Me losing people was always inevitable, and I was always aware of it as a consequence. I left Jersey, then I left England, and soon I'll leave Canada (too soon) and I don't suppose I thought that I was going to stay close to everyone I knew. That doesn't mean I have to like it though, and that it doesn't mean I'm not going to take advantage of your time, reader, to bitch about it. It just leaves me in a state of nostalgic depression, as if I were indoors by myself with a mug of hot chocolate, wistfully staring at the beating rain outside. Unfortunately it tends to snow here, so that option is out.

Things will be better, I assume, when I get back to Warwick and get to talk to my old friends back there. I'll bet you, however, that around this time next year I'll be bemoaning all of my friends in Canada that I'm fading away from. That will be until I come back the year after, of course. Watch this space.

Christmas time, Chil'rens! I think a new theme will develop in these latest album recommendations. I suggest 'We Three Kings' by Reverend Horton Heat. Check out some of their other stuff too. Also: feel free to suggest bands for me, I don't want this to become a one sided relationship.

November 16, 2008

Busy Busy Busy

Writing about web page

Adventures to pursue, essays to write and mysteries to solve, dear children, I have absolutely no time to blag. In the meanwhile, here is a short story I wrote many an aeon ago, tell me what you think!

November 10, 2008

The AnswerPhone

There's a constant and relentless flash from the corner of my room, that's been there since week one; a little irritating red light taunting me on, and off, and on, and off. This is a psychological form of torture for me, as the phone knows my weakness. The phone knows of my lack of perseverance and anger at unfriendly interfaces, the phone knows how hard it is to operate and it laughs in this idyllic niche.

On first discovering I had a phone message, in week two, I eagerly pressed the little button next to the flashing light that read 'messages' in the hope that this would direct me to the messages. Apparently, in Canada the word 'Messages' means 'Scream Static into my ear'. That option was a no go, so I asked a friend how you accessed the message inbox. He then set off on an explanation so ridiculously lengthy and specific I began to wonder if he was still talking English. The sheer amount of numbers he detailed made me consider whether he'd just switched into binary and was directly ordering my phone to give me the messages.

Sadly, this was not the case.

I need to know something like three separate extension numbers along with my phone number and student number and student pin and the value of pi up to 74 decimal places and the exact score of the word "Salubrious" in Scrabble, provided the 'b' is on a triple letter score. I don't know these numbers. I don't like these numbers. I don't know anyone that would be able to memorise these numbers.

Assuming you can remember all the numbers, which you won't, and get them all in the right order, which is impossible, there are still thousands of hurdles to be cleared. The talking speed of the robot lady at the other end, for example, makes geological drift look playful. This coupled with her awful habit of leaving gaps at the most inopportune places (If you would like to access your message folder, please input your student number............ preceded by a hash) forces me to believe that she is the spirit of the phone, and laughs at how much misery her petty existence is enforcing upon my life.

The flares of red are irritating, the numbers you need to remember are inhuman, the controls are unintuitive, the woman is unhelpful, for some utterly arbitrary reason the '5' key is smaller than all the other numbers which makes me feel sorry for it every time I use it and thus reluctant to use it too much; the phone itself is positioned so that you need to lift the base of the phone to you to use if and for those of you who realise that the other hand needs to be fixed on the receiver you'll see the clear and apparent problem this poses for the pressing of buttons, I still haven't worked out how to use the volume control which means that slow-voiced-robot-lady is constantly yelling at me -- albeit it in a bland and preprogrammed voice, and it is connected to the wall by three separate cables. Power: yes I can get behind that, Phone Cable: of course necessary for your existence as a phone. Where does the third cable go? It just happily trails off directly into the wall with no apparent purpose.

I have not yet ruled out the possibility that this phone was placed here from the future.

This damned phone will be the death of me. I know as soon as I finish writing this piece the phone will flash and flash until eventually I cannot withstand its taunting and break down; and I know that my breaking down will at first be calm and organised, and I will slowly write down all the numbers I require. Bit by hellish bit I will realise that I've written down one number wrong, or one in the wrong order and I have to listen to the dull monotonous robotic daemon-woman trail off on an epically slow rant. My patience will wear thin. I realise I will finish the night at 4am wearing only my underwear, phone in one hand and a half-empty bottle of Jack-Daniels in the other, screaming "MESSAGES!" into the receiver whilst weeping to myself.

The world has, however, gotten a little bit better recently. I'm fairly certain one of the inaccessible messages in my answerphone is one of many well meaning Canadians screaming 'YES WE CAN' at the top of their voices. Despite sharing the same slogan as Bob the Builder, the Democrats are in. The good guys won. The teaming of Miss "So ridiculously stupid and incapable it's a wonder she's trusted with a can-opener" and The Emperor from Star Wars proved not as attractive as hoped to the American Public. It has to be said though, Palpatine's concession speech was remarkably graceful, well formed and timely. He seems to be the first Republican candidate I don't actively hate, rather I just disagree with him. I suppose I have to buckle and admit I don't really hate Palin either, she's so vapid there's not really enough there to form any opinion about. I admit it would be funny to see her running a country, provided it was one of the smaller ones with no nuclear capacity; and if the only residents were Hitler and Barry Scott from the Cilit Bang adverts.

I don't really have anything particularly interesting to say on the topic, other than this: doesn't Obama have something of the messiah about him? There's something so innately noble of the man that I feel as though he was in some way destined to lead. If he found a soapbox and started claiming he was leading us to the new Babylon I can't honestly promise I wouldn't follow. Fortunately he seems responsible with the power he wields, and his values are so incredibly well formed that not obeying the man seems almost literal sacrilege. The number of people I've seen with 'Obama' t-shirts could easily form a fair sized cult. I'm just glad he's a good leader, as well as being a good leader.

We're in something of a depression right now, everyone knows, and I suppose it's fair to say that it'll get worse before it gets better. Maybe it will get better, though. Maybe Obama's slogan is right, maybe we can. Have hope.

Today I would like you to buy 'Wreckage' by Overseer. This may be slightly well known, and as such ruin my indie street cred, but fuck it, it's a fantastic album.

November 03, 2008


What are Spoons exactly? And who invented them? When did humanity suddenly become too good for the use of its own hands? It's not like it's difficult to drink soup or stew without them, any child knows this, you simply tilt the bowl towards your face and let Gravity work its magic, or should I say: Physic.

Were Spoons invented before Spades or the other way around? I suppose I can see some bronze-age man with a shovel imagining "Digging ground all well and good, but what if want to dig food?" and such a scaled down Spade was made, and we all use them today.

Speaking of Spades, why are the Houses in decks of cards called what they are? Why are they even called Houses? It's different the world over, of course, an Italian girl was just revealing to me how she called clubs 'flowers', and her word for 'Spades' had no translation. They don't even look like spades, if they were made to scale then the handle would be like an inch long. Are they catering for gardening midgets?

Gardening Midgets would be awesome.

Who would need ten shoddily made midget shovels though? Don't even get me started on clubs, however. I am sorry, but look at any club card and tell me the first thing that it reminds you of. Does it remind you of something you could beat someone over the head with? If it does, you're clearly mentally unstable and should report yourself in to some form of institution immediately.

What would happen if an escape artist went insane? The straightjackets would be useless, for a start, you might as well imprison an obese patient in a cube of marzipan. Or a nymphomaniac in a room constructed entirely from sex. That would be an interesting room to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there.

Speaking of places I wouldn't want to live, I was talking to some Germans the other day...

Welcome, dear reader, to my mind.

This is not, of course, an austere recollection of my thoughts, as they are far too well formed. These are my thoughts as they are transcribed and left to be dwelled on. In reality, my mind far more resembles an argument between several thousand immensely passionate but easily distracted Gardening Midgets. Sorry, I mean people. Not that Gardening Midgets aren't people, you understand, but I don't imagine them running my mind. That is, I didn't, until now

I think you see what I'm getting at

People who know me often wonder at my perceived eloquence in these blogs, be not deceived, I am the self-same Alex I always was. In conversation I frequently -- regularly in fact -- draw blanks, fire of on tangents, get lost for words, dreamily air off into other dimensions and many other things that make me seem as though I'm not paying attention. I readily admit that I often seem like I'm not paying attention due to the fact that I'm not paying attention, but this is not always the case. My mind doesn't often like to work as a unity, more frequently parts of it will explore other paths and concepts whilst the conscious me is attempting to concentrate on a single one. This is all well and good, but occasionally one of the errant explorers will hit upon something interesting enough to warrant serious thinking time, and thus my mind is diverted. Think of my conscious mind as the Prime Minister of Alex, most of the time making the decisions, most of the time deciding our policies and actions; but occasionally a minor minister or assistant will run in with Papers that they necessitate that I read. In such times, decision making is put on a hold.

Unfortunately, once one informant distracts the Prime Minister's attention, all the others want their say too. Once I accede to one thought all the others come flooding in, and there's no hope whatsoever of me staying on anything like a topic. This can, in practise, become trying.

I like writing these blogs, and other features too, as they allow me to -- as Napoleon said -- "take an idea for a walk" and see where it leads me. This is often confusing, as to labour an already strained metaphor, this is equivalent to the Prime Minister himself going to the constituency of one of his Ministers and sorting out all the problems personally. Pitching in with a trowel and mortar if he needs to.

That's what we should call Spades! Trowels! Also, I've never had to pluralise 'Trowel' anymore, and the word looks wrong. I hope I never have to pluralise it again...

These little paths of thought are, as you may have noticed, entirely useless and often completely surreal in their scope; but nonetheless important for me. With so many little voices ringing off in my head, I often wondered if any of them had anything poignant to say. As of yet, they do not; but if you bring up this page one day and I've solved global warming, tell me to listen to that part of my brain some more. I'm currently wondering if it has anything to do with the most socially unacceptable situation to go barefoot. A formal ball perhaps? Or maybe a funeral? Let's follow a string.

'Agents of Fortune' by Blue Oyster Cult is what you are to buy if you haven't already. The demo version of 'Don't Fear the Reaper' is uncomprehendably better than the album one.

November 2008

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