Archive for the ‘2017 minus’ Category

2017 plus 01: Happy New Year

Posted: 1 January 2017 in 2017 minus

Happy New Year.

That’s all I can wish you, really; oh, I can use other words. I could go on about how and what I wish you in detail. But at the end, all I can wish you, and and all of you reading this, is that you have a good, happy year.

Here, have some ‘2017 around the world’ fireworks. 

 

2017 minus 01: A green light

Posted: 31 December 2016 in 2017 minus, life, personal
Tags:

As I write this, it’s about eight hours until 1st January 2017. And, right about now, people are either making or reviewing lists of potential new year resolutions, and then removing items until they’re left with a couple they think they can keep.

I’ve never gone in for the whole ‘new year resolutions’ thing; I’m not sure why, especially since I spent a chunk of my life making To Do lists at work and taking inordinate joy in crossing off the items one by one. 

But new year resolutions? No. Not since I was a kid and maybe not even then; the memories blur with some things until I’m not sure what actually happened, and what I think might have happened.

(And no, it’s not the “it’s just an arbitrary noting of the calendar, and even the calendar is arbitrary” concept that stops me. Oddly, I’ve noticed that people who do say that seem to have no problem accepting birthday presents. And for my mind, you don’t get to celebrate your birthday, or someone else’s birthday, or even the annual commemoration of a death but then also moan about other people making a fuss about one specific day like New Year or Christmas. Not without being even more a hypocrite than we all are in our daily lives.)

I think with me it’s more that while I’m ok with self-imposed deadlines and time pressures, I am – these days – less eager to subject myself voluntarily to other people’s deadlines.

But people make all sorts of new year resolutions. Like saying they’re giving up drinking alcohol. Or that they’re going to lose weight.

Or that they’re going to stop smoking. 

As long as anyone I’m still in contact with has known me, I’ve been a smoker. I started around age 18 and notwithstanding a couple of half-hearted attempts, I’ve smoked pretty much ever since. And, given the above, it won’t surprise you in the least that I’m not about to give up smoking in about 8 hours.

To be honest, there’d not be much of point since I stopped smoking about a month ago, on 1st December 2016. Well, half an hour before 1st December 2016 to be precise. But the decision was made even longer ago, about six weeks before that.

In early October. While in Liverpool.

As I say, I’ve tried giving up smoking before; the last semi-serious attempt was about four years ago. I went ‘cold turkey’ with an e-cig… for a few weeks, and I hated every minute of it. I told everyone at the time that I was stopping, announced it on social media , made a big fuss of it; I thought that peer pressure would help me if I wavered, would keep me off the smokes and oh, I pretended I was ok with it, but close friends knew I loathed giving them up and it didn’t surprise anyone when I returned to the Silk Cut. For whatever reason*, it didn’t work. 

(*Qute possibly, it was that I didn’t actually want to stop smoking.)

OK, skip forward to early October 2016; I was travelling to Liverpool for the funeral of a close friend’s father. I picked up an e-Lites Curv, more out of curiosity than anything else (though I’m open to the argument that I’m post-event rationalising a desire to give up.)  I thought I’d try it out for 24 hours and see. Within 24 hours, I’d come up with a plan that I hoped would work. It was basically this: figure out what didn’t work last time and don’t do that.

So, for once, I was sensible, and set myself weekly targets: I’d continue to smoke, just cutting down the amount of time every day I smoked cigarettes and slowly, day by day, increase the amount of time I used the ecig. The aim was to cease smoking around the house – not in it but even around it – by November 11th, and to stop smoking, to smoke my last cigarette… the night of 30th November 2016.

And so it was.

And so it turned out to be.

Around 11:20pm on 30th November, I walked back to the house, lit my last cigarette, smoked it, stubbed it out as I got near rhe house… and haven’t smoked a cigarette since. A few people knew, and I told a few more over the past month, but I didn’t make A Thing of it for several reasons:

  • Who knew if I’d manage a few days, let alone longer?
  • I didn’t want to tell anyone until I’d gotten over the cravings for a cigarette
  • If I did ‘fall off the wagon’, I could easily self-excuse it if no-one knew, and I could restart the following day, if I wanted.

Well, now it’s been a month, pretty much, and not once during that time have I missed smoking. Not once.

Oh, I’ve missed some of the habits around smoking. Over the years, friends who’ve given up have told me they miss putting the cigarette out. With me, it’s been the opposite: I’ve missed lighting a cigarette. Well, I’ve missed lighting lots of them, but that’s starting to fade now, I’ll admit, as I’ve delevoped new habits, like changing the battery and swapping over a new ‘butt’. And checking the green glow to see if it’s blinking and if the battery needs changing…

Am I an ex-smoker? I honestly don’t know. I don’t feel like an ex-smoker, to be honest. I still feel like I’m taking a break, and merely waiting for the inevitable craving to hit me; there’s a part of me that is convinced I’ll succumb to the temptation. 

But I’ve been waiting for the craving to hit me and it hasn’t. At all.

But yeah, I’m not smoking at the moment, and haven’t been for a month… haven’t been for almost half the time I’ve been writing this series of ‘countdown to 2017’ entries.

So, that’s something.


Thanks for sticking with me throughout this countdown to 2017. I hope I’ve not bored you too much. Not sure if there’ll be an entry tomorrow but there’ll probably be something new on the 2nd.

Happy new year, people, however you celebrate it.

Originally, when starting this run of blog entries, I intended this entry – what’s turned out to today’s anyway – to be the last one in the series. 

For two reasons, that’s not the case. 

Firstly, and most importantly: as plans stand, I’m going to do what I did after the 2015 general election countdown: keep it going for a bit after the event has ended. I’m not sure for how long I’m going to continue daily blogging, although for various reasons, none of which I’m going to go into here, I think it’s been good for me to get back into the habit of writing something for public consumption on a more or less daily basis. (I say ‘more or less’ because of course, I’ve cheated throughout this run; there’ve been old fiction, and the Saturday Smile entries to give me a break every few days.)

Secondly, and less importantly when it comes to why I’m writing this entry today not tomorrow, on the last of the “2017 minus…” entries, tomorrow’s being saved for something special, something I’ve been hinting at on my Twitter feed occasionally…

and

…and which only a few people know about so far. So, that’ll give you something to look forward to, nu?

What else is there for today?

Well, some more about what’s planned for this place once the close turns midnight in about fifteen hours. 

For the first ten days or so, I’ll probably use the “2017 Day xx” format; seems sensible given the previous few dozen entries and it’ll keep me posting daily. Having that daily countdown, or at least a numerical reminder, was a definite aide to ensuring I posted something every day. I’ve no real plans on what to write about in 2017; if anything springs to mind, let me know? 

There’s nothing I can add regarding 2016 now that others haven’t written about with more skill and knowledge. Maybe later, maybe in 2017 when I can look back and say “that’s when it happened, that’s the important moment above all.” Thing is, at the moment, I don’t think that can be said. We can’t even say what was the point at which the Brexit vote was lost (or won, depending on your view). Nor is there any agreement regarding what was the crucial element was that lost former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton the White House. I mean, I don’t think any other democrat would have done better; come to that, I don’t think Bernie Sanders (only nominally a Demcorat at best) would have come close. But no, even there, there’s no broad agreement what single cost her the election.

Maybe that’s it. Maybe that’s the lesson of 2016: things aren’t simple, things aren’t one thing or the other. Everything, everything, is a confluence of multiple events. There’s no single reason why anything happens. Everything has to be placed in context, and nothing and no-one exists in a vacuum, shorn of other people and events.

Post hoc ergo propter hoc rarely applies in life, at least that’s not the only reason. But if we greet 2017 in any way, it should be that, Ockham’s Razor notwithstanding, simple answers are not inherently good because of their simplicity; they’re just simple. And complex problems require complex solutions. There’s no shame in admitting “I don’t know”; I’d be grateful if politcians and leaders admitted “I don’t know…” a bit more often… as long as it’s followed, of course, with “…but I’m going to learn.”

Thanks for sticking with me thus far.

See you tomorrow, for that announcement. 

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

2017 minus 03: erm…

Posted: 29 December 2016 in 2017 minus

Well, it had to happen, I guess. I’m just glad it didn’t happen until now. 

I expected it to happen weeks ago, a couple of months ago, to be honest, but no. It’s today.

I started this blog entry with something in mind, got 100 words through it, then realised that I had nothing really to say on the subject that I’d intended to write. OK, that’s happened before. Not a problem. I try something else. And, indeed, something else when that entry petered out as well.

Hmm.

Nope. It’s not there. Today… the words aren’t there. And that’s what I mean about having expected it to happen some time back. Because when I started this seventy-five day countdown to 2017, I wasn’t actually convinced I’d be able to do it. I figured something would occur a third of the way through it, or maybe half-way through and I’d find some excuse or another to take a few days off. It’s happened before, and it wouldn’t have surprised me at all for it to happen this year.

But it didn’t. There’ve been seventy-two entries thus far, one a day, every day. 

Until today.

When I have just three entries left.

Odd thing is that I have tomorrow’s and Saturday’s entries pretty much blocked out. Neither is completely written yet but I know what I’ve planned for them, and I know what I want to say in each. It’s kind of amusing in one way or another that the final ‘unplanned’ entry is the one that lets me down.

I’ve nothing to add on UK politics right now. That’s not quite true; there’s plenty I want to say, but nothing I want to write right now. I’m tired of British politics this year, and I’m happy not to write anything more on the subject until next week. Same applies to US politics. The idea of President Trump still makes me sick up a little every time I think of the orange poltroon being inaugurated, but there’s plenty of January, three weeks or so, in which I can express my upset and anger.

London? Well, I’ve written a bit about London over the past few weeks, and there’s plenty I wanted to write about – including some stuff on the London Underground… but I’m really not in the mood today.

Part of it is just that I’m tired. Not of the blog, which in and of itself surprises me, but I’ve had a few bad nights’ sleep and that’s probably got something to do with my head being a bit foggier than usual.

But I’m suddenly reminded of a question I was asked once upon a time when I did an #askbudgie hashtag on Twitter. Possibly knowing of my friendship with a Mr Gaiman, I was asked

If you were one of the Endless, which one would you be?

My answer at the time was truthful. 

I think like most people, I feel like different aspects of each of Endless at different times… As a general rule though, I don’t ever really feel like a character created by someone else. I’m more of a self-made person who has a healthy disrespect for my creator.

I think it still applies, in the main. But only in the main, self-deprecation and all. 

But, just for fun, why not, budgie…?

So, what do each of The Endless mean to me? What elements of them do I recognise in my own character? Or at least, do I have anything to say about the concepts?

(At this point it occurs to me that some reading may not have any clue what I’m talking about. OK, very quick explanation. Neil Gaiman wrote a book entitled Sandman, in which he created The Endless, seven characters that embody universal aspects. So, Destruction does not represent destruction; if you’ll forgive the Brexit is Brexit reference, Destruction is destruction.)

Destiny
I’ve never been a huge believer in ‘fate’ or ‘destiny’. To a large – though not unlimited – extent, I think it’s bunk. Note that I don’t say ‘people make their own fate’; I think that’s equally as nonsensical as to suggest that others determine your destiny. However, individuals have some say in their own decisions, as do others have influence upon individuals. Entirely free will isn’t even an illusion, as I’m unaware of anyone who thinks they have entirely free will; but habits and societal constructs restrain many from actions which other societies might encourage. And freedom of action does not mean freedom from the consequences of those actions, anyway. But no, I’ve never thought that my life, nor my eventual end was destined to be whatever it ends up.  

Death
I can’t remember the first person I heard of who’d died. I remember being very aware of the concept of death very early on in my life, though. Ashkenazi Jews are traditionally named after those who have died, so you grow up knowing that you were named for someone who’d died. My grandfather died when I was 17, my grandmother when I was 19, but I’d been to ‘the grounds’ (a colloquialism for the cemetery) from the age of about 15. As this blog annually commemorates the death of my brother in January, I’d be a fool to deny that death has played a part in my adult life.

Dream
I rarely remember dreams; nightmares, yes, but dreams of the less unpleasant type, no. Occasionally, yes, of course. But rarely. It’s nightmares I remember, clearly and in detail. I’d rather not, to be honest. 

Destruction
There’s not much. to say about that others don’t demonstrate on a weekly, if not daily basis. The destruction of intangibles, like hope, and wishes, and rights, and democracy around the world, does far more damage in every time frame (short-, medium- and long-term) than the destruction of tangible objects. It’s astonishing to me that people survive such destructions, and what’s more thrive in resistance to it. But what’s almost worse to me – as a concept – is when destruction stops short of complete, when something is permanently maimed, damaged for all time. Complete destruction allows for the cauterisation of a wound, perhaps. Stopping short, allowing a faint ember of hope that will forever be denied? That is when destruction becomes malicious, becomes cruel. And that can move me to tears. 

Desire
Desire is overwhelming. It’s not a want nor a wish, but a need. I’m genuinely in awe of people who are that open, that honest and that authentic to admit their desire for a person (or people), or a lifestyle. 

Despair
The flip side of desire, and I’m equally in awe of people who are that open about Despair as well.

Delight/Delirium
What was once delight is now delirium, at least in The Endless. The latter is more appropriate for the 21st century. A long time ago, at the height of The Troubles, it was said that if you weren’t confused by the situation in Northern Ir3eland, then you didn’t truly understand it. I think the same now applies globally. It’s impossible not to be delirious if you’re attempting to truly understand global politics nowadays. Politics was never simple, but now too many regard you as delirious if you try to acknowledge complexity, let alone highlight it.

Huh. That’s today’s entry.

Something else tomorrow, in the penultimate entry of this run.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

The more I think about the Voter ID laws proposed for the UK, the angrier I get.

I use the word “angrier” quite deliberately. This isn’t something that ‘upsets’ me, nor that ‘disappoints’ me. No, it angers me. It angers for me for several reasons that I’ll get to in a moment after a nauseatingly sweet story from more than a decade ago, from April 2004 to be precise, that I related once upon a time in another blog when it happened, but it’s too good not to repeat now.

So, April 2004, I’m reading The Times, and Philip – not even 9 years of age – is reading the headlines, getting me to help him with any hard words. Back then, I was determined that he’d have a decent vocabulary growing up, so we’d regularly read the front page of The Times together. On this particular occasion, he picks up on the story that the then Home Secretary was trying to get ID cards introduced, at first on a voluntary basis, but to be made compulsory in the next ten years or so.

He’s mildly interested in this story even at 8 years old because he’s just got his first formal ID card: a library ticket with his name and his signature on it (!) He’s very proud of that, and I am as well.

So Philip asks a couple of intelligent questions about why ID is needed at all, and then we play a game about what ID he knows I already have. And then, after having examined my driving licence, he asks why it has a photograph on it. The following conversation takes place:

Philip: But even if you have a photograph, someone can still pretend to be you.
Me: Yes, but a photograph makes it more difficult.
Philip: But if someone really really wanted to, they could still pretend to be you, even with a photograph.
Me: You mean, someone would choose to be as ugly as me?

There’s a slight pause before:

Philip: Yes, you’re right Dad. No one would choose to look like you.

At which point I’m coming to the conclusion that they made a mistake when they stopped us parents sending them up chimneys.

But back to the government’s proposal, which have garnered some publicity the past couple of days since they announced them. Basically, what they’re planning is to trial the Voter ID system for the 2018 council elections (at the 18 councils identified as most open to electoral fraud), and then – if all goes well – introduce it nationwide for the 2020 general election. The piece in that link makes it clear that it’s already been introduced in Northern Ireland and it would be remiss of me not to say that a) I was entirely unaware of that and b) I had no idea how it’s working in practice.

That said, Stephen Bush of The New Statesman has written a piece on Facebook giving his views, and I’m struggling to find anything to object to in it; I’d go further: I don’t disagree with a word of it. If it was on the NS‘s site, I’d just link but since it’s Facebook, here’s the entire piece. It’s short, but worth reading.

The government’s plan to pilot the use of photo ID to cut down on electoral fraud has many on the left worried that the proposal is actually a ruse to decrease the number of Labour voters who are eligible to vote. Are they right?
The first thing to note is that while there is a very small number of electoral malpractice cases – fewer than 100 – some of which count as an electoral fraud, they involve matters unrelated to the wrong people voting at polling stations. The most frequent crime is putting false signatures on nomination papers, after that breaking expenses rules, and lastly making false claims about other candidates.

The most recent high-profile cases of electoral fraud involved false claims about a candidate (Labour’s Phil Woolas against his Liberal Democrat opponent in 2010), postal vote fraud (Birmingham, 2004) and bribery and spiritual influence (Lutfur Rahman, 2014).

In none of the cases would a stronger ID requirement have detected or prevented the crime.
Of course, some people will say “but what about the criminals we don’t catch?” The difficulty there is it is hard to see where this fraud is taking place. In all those cases, the result itself was a sign something was up. If someone is rigging results, they are doing so in a way that produces outcomes entirely in keeping with national swing and demographic behaviour. Other than the thrill of the chase, it’s not clear why someone would do this.

What we do know from the one part of the United Kingdom that has voter registration – Northern Ireland – is that it makes it harder for poorer people to vote as they are less likely to have the required ID. That’s why after their pilot (back in 2002) they introduced a free ID card.

There is, however, a strong argument that elections need to command a high level of public legitimacy, making the case for ID stronger. But there is a wide suite of measures the government could bring in alongside this change that would achieve that while lessening the impact of having an ID. They could, for instance, make it so you are automatically enrolled when you pay council tax, a water bill, a heating bill or any other charge that comes with a fixed abode. They could roll out a free photo ID for elections.

But as they are doing neither, it feels fair to say that at best the government is relaxed about making it harder for supporters of its opponents to vote and at worst is actively seeking to do so.

As I say, I can’t find anything to disagree with in there. The main point – that this is a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist – is made. But the final bit is what makes me angry though, takes me from upset to anger: it feels fair to say that at best the government is relaxed about making it harder for supporters of its opponents to vote and at worst is actively seeking to do so.

It does feel fair to say that; in fact, it feels unfair to look at it any other way. The government has seen how Voter ID laws have been used in the US, to restrict poorer voters from going to the polls and have thought “ooh, that’s a good idea, let’s try that here…”

Two things jump out at me regarding the proposal; well, one thing jumps out and then a consequence that I think is inevitable. But first let me say that I, as an individual, don’t have any huge problem with carrying identification. I already carry around several pieces of ID from choice, from my bank cards, to various forms of ID, including my driving license. And on occasion, when it’s been required, I’ve been more than ok with showing my passport as identification. That’s me. And if it was a purely voluntary identification scheme, with a guarantee that it wouldn’t be made compulsory, I’d sign up for a Voter ID in a heartbeat, as I would with any identification scheme.

But that’s the problem: it wouldn’t remain voluntary. For a start, any compulsory identification scheme should be free of charge to the user at the time of issue and usage. If the government wants voters to have identification, it should, amend must, supply that identification, free of charge. (Yes, I know it’s not ‘free of charge’; taxpayers pay for it, but I’m quite ok with that. That’s why I said “free of charge to the user at the time of issue and usage”.)

Not only would it not remain free to the user – no government is going to pass up the opportunity to charge cardholders for it, and even the cost of a tenner would raise several hundred million pounds – but the UK government – every UK government – has wanted to introduce ID cards for decades. This would be the first step into making identification cards compulsory for everything; it’s a very short walk from requiring ID in order to vote, to requiring ID to pick up your prescriptions, and then to claiming benefits, and then to… what? You’d have to show your ID formal, government-issued, identification when applying for jobs? For exchanging properties? For renting? For leaving the house?

I’m often disappointed in the UK’s government actions; more often I’m upset by them. This proposal angers and disgusts me.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

I meant to tell this story before Christmas, on the eve of Chanukah, but just plain forgot. But since it came up a couple of times over the festive break, I figured I might as well tell it now.

Oh, just before I get to that, Chanukah/Hanukah/Hannuka… which is it? Short answer: any and all. Thing is, however it’s spelled in English, it’s a Hebrew word, and transliteration from Hebrew is always difficult, in part because English doesn’t really have a single letter, or even pair or letters, to always denote the hard “ch” sound. I tend to use “Chanukah” because that’s how I first learned the transliteration. Americans tend to use Hannukah, or drop the middle ‘n’. Mark Parisi nailed it in the cartoon over to the side…

So… if you’re Jewish, and it’s Christmas time, sooner or later, you’ll be told that you should celebrate Christmas. Not only because it’s so far removed from Christianity, but because people – often from the best of motives – genuinely believe that Christmas is solely about peace and goodwill to everyone and who wouldn’t want to a) share in that and b) promote that to everyone else?

The problem is – well, one problem is – that Christmas is, well, Christmas. It’s functionally and mostly inseparable from the birth of Jesus, and while I share Mitch Benn’s view on the modern True Meaning Of Christmas (below) I’m Jewish; growing up in what is still at least nominally a Christian country has led to some… interesting experiences at Christmas.

For a start, there were my schooldays. Unlike my lad, I didn’t go to a faith school, or at least not one that was specifically and solely aimed at one faith. I went to local junior and senior schools which while – again nominally – weren’t specific to any faith, we had C of E assemblies and the whole paraphernalia that accompanies that. And, of course, come December, we had the ritual of endsuring Christmas Cards. And yes, I sent them, and received them. There was, of course, a little postbox in class and everyone got the same number of cards. Everyone got 29 cards… and was delighted to get those 29 cards and you never really realised you only got those 29 cards because you were a child and there were 30 in the class.

Well, I say ‘delighted’. Even as a relatively small child, as a Jewish kid in a Christian country, whose classmates knew you were Jewish, you quickly discovered who were the dicks in the class. You might not know yet who’d be your ‘friends for life’ but you discovered who the dicks were. They were the kids who sent you Christmas cards with Jesus on them.

There were plenty of cards you could have been sent. Some had Santa on them, some had a robin redbreast, some had holly, some landscapes of snow covered valleys and hills. And some had the baby Jesus. And there was a pretty much 100% correlation between those kids who didn’t like you and those kids who sent you ‘baby Jesus’ Christmas cards.

But, I digress.

For some time, when I was on CompuServe, I helped run their Jewish Forum. For the main part, it was an enjoyable experience. Occasionally you’d get someone coming into the place merely seeking to cause trouble, often by attempting to proselytise but that was only to be expected. On the whole, Jews not only don’t proselytise, but take a rather dim view of those who do. We tend to work on the principle of “look, we don’t tell non-Jews they should be Jewish, so we don’t take it when non-Jews tell Jews they shouldn’t be, especially when in the past, the telling Jews they shouldn’t be has been accompanied by punishments, torture, screaming and, you know, killing us.”

The lady I ran the Forum with was a teacher in the United States, but whose children attended a different school from the one at which she taught. (I’m embarrassed to say that I just typed “at which she teached” before my mind went NOOOOOO! and I caught it…) Anyway, moving swiftly on.

Anyway… comes parents’ evening and C (her initial) went along with her husband to her children’s school where she was informed, rather disappointingly, by her child’s teacher that her kid “didn’t partake in the Christmas celebrations and didn’t want to take part in the nativity or anything!”

C, assuming the teacher had just missed the point, said “well, no. She’s Jewish, and we don’t celebrate Christmas at home.”

The following exchange then ensued:

Teacher: Well, maybe you should.
C: I don’t think so. As I say, we’re Jewish.
Teacher: Well, if you celebrated Christmas at home, she would fit in more at school.
C (now getting exasperated if not actually annoyed): As Jews, we celebrate Hannukah but…
Teacher: But Hannukah is just the Jewish Christmas, isn’t it?
C: Not really, no.
Teacher: Isn’t it?
C: No. Christmas is about peace and goodwill to all men.
Teacher: Yes, and…?
C: Hannukah is about picking up a sword and defending yourself against people trying to impose their religion on you.

C smiles sweetly.

Teacher: Ah. Oh. [pause] Right, so, let’s talk about her math homework.

And that’s how I want to respond every time someone tells me Chanukah is the “Jewish Christmas”. Yes, there are presents exchanged, although Chanukah tends to be more about giving presents to children over the eight nights of the festival. It’s not exclusively about children, but the focus is more on that. So yes, it involves exchanges of presents, and it’s an opportunity – as many religions have, suggest and mandate – for people to kick back and chill out at the end of the year.

What Chanukah is not, most decisively though, is “the Jewish Christmas”.

See you tomorrow… as we near the end of this seventy-five day countdown…

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

The last bit of fiction for you in this run…

As I’ve mentioned previously:

Elephant Words was a fiction site to which I contributed stories, on and off, for several years. The idea behind the site was simple, based on the old tale of several blind people describing an elephant based only on touch; one described the animal as a long snake, another that it was hard and bony, still another that it was like a tree trunk. Every week, one of the participants would put up an image, and over the following week, people would write a story inspired upon the image alone.

Occasionally, a story didn’t need the image to contextualise the tale, but I always tried to use it to the point that if the image wasn’t there, I’d have had to change something about the story.

Here’s another one of them; an image, and the story it inspired me to write.


EMPTY CHAIRS AT EMPTY PLACES

“Epsilon Theta Radiation.”

The words hung in the air for a long moment before the short, squat man sat at the desk swore, eloquently but softly. The captain rubbed his hand over his face. He was tired, too tired, but he lifted his eyes from the image on his desk to the man wearing the lieutenant’s uniform.

“How bad?” he asked the slim man, standing to attention before his desk.

“Bad enough to affect the best camera we had on board,” the lieutenant replied. “We tried scanning with different filters but there’s so many different strains in the air that… Well, that’s the best we could do.”

The captain glanced at the ship’s chronometer. The dial was orange. The poison even reached out into space, edging its way through the ships protection. An hour and the colour would be pink, and they’d have to leave. Three hours after that and it’d turn red. And they’d all be dead, whether they knew it or not.

“No survivors?” he asked, disappointed at himself for asking the question. If there had been, his crew would have told him.

“None,” the lieutenant confirmed. The captain listened for any contempt in the younger man’s voice and was mildly surprised to find none.

“What did you do with the bodies?”

“There weren’t any,” came the reply from the third man in the room, a lean saturnine faced man, sitting on a chair to the side, and suddenly the captain was wide awake. He stood and came around from behind the desk, staring down at his subordinate.

“Say that again, Commander,” he demanded, then repeated it before the other man could say a word.

“There weren’t any bodies, captain,” the man said, allowing just a trace of excitement into his voice. “Not just there, but anywhere. Not a single body on the planet.”

The captain turned and gripped his lieutenant’s arm. “Are you sure, man? Are you absolutely sure?”

The lieutenant struggled to keep his face impassive, somehow won the battle, and with a voice of stone, reported that his team had scanned, scoured and searched for eighty-six hours and they had detected not a single sentient life form on the planet.

The captain returned to his seat, and fell into it, his brow suddenly covered in sweat.

“They did it”, he whispered. “They finally did it. Those bastards in the science department finally came up with the perfect weapon – to eliminate all life forms, all traces of life forms and yet leave infrastructure untouched.”

He wiped his brow.

“How long before we can scrub the radiation and the planet can support life?”

“With the new anti-rad treatments?” the commander spoke aloud, leaning forward, his face crumpled in thought. “About fifty years.”

“Acceptable,” rapped out the captain, now all business. “Convey my compliments to the science department, Commander. Let Fleet Command know of the success and start transmitting the paperwork around the other ships.”

He smiled for the first time in months, and took another look at the static image on his desk.

Blue water, eh? He wondered briefly whether that was an effect of the radiation bombardment and whether the indigenous population had also been blue; he’d not bothered to check them out before ordering the attack.

He dismissed the other two officers and leaned back in his chair, his eyes straying again to the out of focus image.

Fifty years? Hell, maybe he’d retire here; it looked like such a nice place, after all.

© Lee Barnett


See you tomorrow… 

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

2017 minus 07: Christmas Day

Posted: 25 December 2016 in 2017 minus
Tags:

Well, yes, it’s Christmas Day, and while I’ve deliberately not kept an eye on the stats for this seventy-five day countdown thing I’ve been running, I’m pretty sure that this entry will be among the lowest read. Quite understandable, of course; anyone likely to be reading this is almost certainly doing other things for most of the day: they’ll be with family, or out, or at friends, or on their own… point is that whatever they’re doing, catching up with this blog isn’t likely to be foremost on their minds.

Which means I can do anything. I can write anything, knowing that it’s not likely to be read.

Hmm.

Thing is, I have that freedom anyway. Not – I hope – for the same reasons as just stated, but because it’s my blog. I can write fiction, or express ideas, or just fill an day’s entry with repetitions of ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES JACK A DULL BOY, if I didn’t mind stealing from a Mr Torrance of the Overlook Hotel. 

But since you’ve been so nice and stuck with me so far…






                 _.--"""""-.._
     __        .'_ _          '.
    /  \      / ` ` `'-.        `\
    |   \/|   \_ ___ _  `\        \
    \  _..;    )` _ `_"--.\       |
    ;"     \   |  a/ a    (`\     |
    |    _.;   /_.<_..___, )\\    |
    \_.-'  |  ;-.__,__..-'  '.'.  /
      |    ;  /            (  ) \_|
      |     \(   (      (     )/   \
       \     (       (       .'\   /
        \ ,   \           _.'   '-'`.
         `|    '-(.___.--' ,;,-\_,   \
          |         o:  .-'(())_/     ;
          ;          :  |.-'  / `'.   |
           \        o:  \   .-\    \ _/
            ;--._   _:_  \ /   \    |\
            )    `'|.-.|"'\\__.-`'-'\|
           /``'-.._||_||_..\      _.'
          /        '-;-'    \__.-'  \
        /``'--..__   :       __..--'``\
        \_        ```````````        _/
          `'--,...__       __...,--'`
              |     ```;```     |
              \        |        /
               \_ _  _ | _ _ _ /
               /` ` ` `|` ` ` `\
               \_._._./ \._._._/
                |=    | |    =|
             .--'-.   | |   .-'--.
            /         | |         \
            \______,__/ \__,______/


Merry Christmas, everyone…

And here we are. One day before Christmas, eight days before the end of the year…

So something special today, as it’s Christmas Eve.

How The Grinch Stole Christmas – in six parts. The original, never bettered.





Jean Luc Picard gets into the holiday spirit

Most people have a classic as their first single ever bought. Mine? It was RentaSanta by Chris Hill.

And, finally, Tom Lehrer’s A Christmas Carol
https://

Tomorrow is Christmas; enjoy it as much as you can. There’ll be something here if you’re interested, but no worries if you’re not. 

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

2017 minus 09: Things yet to come

Posted: 23 December 2016 in 2017 minus

The past two day’s entries have briefly looked at things past (things I used to do that no longer do) and things present (things I do now that I didn’t used to do). And as an homage to the time of the year, here’s something on things yet to come. 

One of the things that has most struck me as my lad has gotten older, and I’ve watched him take to new technology, new social norms and new societal structures is the realisation that all of the foregoing not only change from generation to generation, but Douglas Adams’ Rules apply far wider than to just technology.

Things that seemed new and amazing to me – both in society and technology – are just… ‘normal’ for him and his contemporaries. Things that were normal for me and mine – but were new to my parents’ generation – are not only ‘the way things have always been’ for him and his, but are old hat, so much the norm that it’s odd to think they were ever otherwise. That makes me wonder what things that to his generation are – or will be – ‘new’ will be regarded by future generations as ‘the norm. 

As previously, three or four examples.

Social structures In the past couple of years, equal marriage – such a nice and more accurate term than the previously derogatory ‘gay marriage’ by which it was previously known – has become accepted in law by so many more states and countries that it’s truly astonished me. The sheer speed at which its happened has blown me away. That’s not to say, nor to pretend, that the entire process from start to finish has been speedy; it hasn’t. But the decisions to make it legal, they’veseemed  the past couple of years, to come one after another after another… at a breathtaking pace. And, mostly, in one direction: making something that was illegal… legal. I’ve no sympathy for the arguments that if “this is the thin end of the wedge”, you’ll  end up with incestuous relationships made legal, or bestiality or any of the dozen or more ridiculous and ludicrous suggestions made. I have, though, some sympathy with the suggestion that once marriage was moved away from the description of “one man + one woman” to “one person + one person” that there’s an argument for extending it to “x person(s) + x person(s)”. I struggle to find a logical reason why polyamorous relationships and marriages shouldn’t be allowed, and I’d be surprised if, in the next few decades, that doesn’t come up for discussion.

Political structures (I’ll freely admit that I’m writing this before Donald Trump has taken office so who knows what the fuck the future holds?) The political systems – the makeup of executive and legislative branches of government as well as the judiciary –  we have were, for the main part, designed at least a couple of centuries ago, and maybe it’s a measure of how seriously regard them as fixed that they have hardly changed in that time. In the US, a system designed in a time when it took several days to travel, is expected to operate the same way when it now takes mere hours, when visual communication is to all intents and purposes instantaneous. The demands of elected representatives )not delegates, or nt yet anyway) have grown beyond all measure and beyond anything that could have been foreseen when the systems were designed. I have no idea what the evolution is likely to be, but I would be astonished if the political structures we see today can bear the weight of history, and of changing demands, for another two decades, let alone longer. 

Technology It was Arthur C Clarke who said that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” He himself was not immune from this rule, as he once explained: while he would have believed anyone who told him back in 1962 that there would one day exist a book-sized object capable of holding the content of an entire library, he would never have accepted that the same device could find a page or word in a second and then convert it into any typeface and size from Albertus Extra Bold to Zurich Calligraphic”, referring to his memory of “seeing and hearing Lynotype machines which slowly converted ‘molten lead into front pages that required two men to lift them’”. So what technology in the future would/will seem like magic to me? The problem is that I’ve read – and seen – so much science fiction, I’m not entirely sure much would be ‘magic’ to me; I’d trust it to be science and be relatively ok with me not understanding the science behind it. I don’t completely understand the science that runs my iPad and yet I use it every day. I don’t understand the true difference between .mkv files and .mp4 files, but I’ll happily watch either. I’m not even sure I nowadays remember the science behind analogue radio, let alone digital broadcasts.

But, those caveats fully aired, what technology do I see coming our way? I’m not convinced by the idea of wearable tech other than that I’m pretty sure they’ll master Google Glass or something like it. A mixture of augmented reality and Heads Up Displays will allow us to overlay digital information on whatever we see. I’d be astonished if when meeting someone we know, there’d not be information presented for us: name, whether it’s their birthday, wife’s name, children’s names, job title etc. And similarly, when meeting someone for the first time, whatever information we already have plus an invitation to ‘connect’ digitally. I don’t see matter transportation – well, human teleportation anyway – coming for quite some time; I’d be surprised if it came during my lad’s lifetime let alone mine. And for that reason, I’d be astonished if we as a species ever ventured beyond Mars during my lifetime. The distances are simply too far for ‘normal’ travel. Will we get warp speed? Well, if the history of humanity tells us anything, it’s that if it does occur, odds are it’ll be developed by, or with the money of, the military. 

In ten years, we’ll look back at the current iPad, iPhone (other makes and models are available) and wince at the primitive tech that was inflicted upon us. (Don’t believe me? Think of how happy you’d be right now to be given an iPhone 4 or an iPad 1 as a Christmas present this year. And both were unleashed only six years ago. Ten years ago today, neither the iPhone nor the iPad existed.) 

About the only thing I can confidently predict about the tech that will be offered to us, say, in 2026 will be that it won’t live up to the concept videos that fans of the product will release in their “what do we want in the next version of [insert phone of choice]’ video holograms on YouTube, or whatever the video-hologram venue of choice is in 2026.

One more thing that’s worth throwing out there… the iPhone wasn’t he first ‘smartphone’ available for purchase by the public. It’s arguable that it’s the best smartphone, but only arguable, not conclusive. However, I think it’s fair to say that it was a game changer. Similarly, the iPad, while not being the first tablet out there, was definitely a game changer; it took the idea of a tablet from a niche item to a general item, something that wouldn’t be unusual to own. 

And that’s what I think will happen in the future; the secret to new technologies isn’t the technology itself; it’s the moment when an item (whether it’s a car, a telephone, a washing machine, a microwave) goes from being a concept, to something novel, to something everyone regards as unsurprising when someone else, someone you know, owns one. And the next big thing that’ll happen to I don’t know. I doubt many people know. But it’s a coming, and it’ll be surprising; what has changed, is he speed by which his process of innovation occurs. The concept to market prices has been sped up and whatever the Big Thing is in 2026, ten years from now, can’t be guessed at now, because it’s probably not even in the concept stage. But odds are, by 2027, you’ll want one if you don’t already own it.

People Take a good look at the people you like, the people you love, the people you admire. In years to come, some of them won’t be there. Some of them, it’s true, will still be around, or at least alive, but you’ll no longer like, love nor admire them; they won’t be part of your life any more, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But some of them? Some of them will have died. Some will have died from old age (unless you’re very uncommon, some of the people you like, love and admire are getting on in years…); some will have from accidents, some from illness, some from choice. (And when I say ‘choice’, I’m a firm believer that voluntary euthanasia will be made legal in many countries in the next decade or so; whether you support it or not, what illnesses it includes or not; I think it’s coming.) 

One of the effects of social media recording and distributing public eulogies and thoughts on the departed is the much more often stated common phrases “I hope they knew how much they were loved” and “I wish I could have told them how much they mattered to me”. Of course, some of this is self-deluding; I don’t believe for a moment that big stars, very famous people, are unaware for a moment how much their work has mattered to people, nor that they haven’t been told so by many. Also, telling someone how much they – or their achievements – have mattered to you is as much for you as it is for them. But tell them anyway; In the same way as the old line about “no one ever dies regretting they didn’t spend more time at work” is in part true, no one should ever die in ignorance that they mattered to people: family, friends, people who liked them, people who lived them, admirers alike.

Something else tomorrow, for Christmas Eve.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

2017 minus 10: Things present

Posted: 22 December 2016 in 2017 minus

Yesterday, I wondered what had happened to some things that used to play a daily or weekly part in my life that, for various reasons, no longer do.

In some cases, they play no part in anyone’s life any more; in others, they were more personal. The choice of Livejournal as my then blogging platform led me into experiences and avenues I’d not have gone along had I chosen blogger, say. That’s not to say Livejournal was better or worse than blogger, or blogspot… just different.

But today, some things I do, or things I experience, that only ten years ago would have just… not happened. None of them are inconceivable; it’s just for reasons of time, technology and personal preference, I’d never have foreseen them happening to me.

Christmas Christmas was never A Thing for me growing up. I’m Jewish, and so it just never played any part in my life; the closest we had to a Christmas Tradition was the whole family going around to my maternal grandparents on Boxing Day. And then, a few years ago, now – 2010 – I got friendly with someone for whom Christmas is a genuinely good time. The comedian Mitch Benn is probably the single person I know who most loves Christmas. Not the religious stuff and nonsense; he’s got no time for that. But the doing up the tree, and the jollity and Christmas lights and all of that…? Yeah, Mitch loves that and somehow, over the past few years, I’ve started to enjoy it as well. He loves doing the ‘Elf on a Shelf’ for his kids; he loves the excitement his girls get at Christmas. And, he’s written more than a few comedy Christmas songs for The Now Show over the years. So, from around October every year, I’ve started to if not exactly look forward to Christmas, then at least not be entirely uninterested in the season.

Tech Yes, I know Douglas Adams’ rules still apply – or do they? But the tech I use, compared to even ten years ago, is so utterly different that I’d have looked at 2016 from 2006 and genuinely wondered how it could have happened in such a short space of time. Back then, I had a slim, slide-phone, a Samsung as I recall, and smartphones were… well, let’s just say they were some time in the future, a long, long time. My laptop was by no means that heavy, but the weight of laptops is measured in kilograms… Who knew that within a few years, I’d be using an iPhone, and have an iPad, the combined weight of which is maybe a quarter of the weight of the laptop alone, let alone the charger I had to carry around with me. And yes, the iPad doesn’t do everything the laptop did… but for what I need(ed) the iPad does fine. (I’m reminded of the line by P J P’Rourke about the 2015 Conservative victory: it wasn’t an overwhelming victory by any means, but a whelming victory would do very well thank you…) 

Messaging A corollary to the above; I speak on the phone a lot less than I used to. Part of that is due to me no longer being financial director of a company and therefore not speaking on the phone there. But its’ not uncommon now for me to go a day or two without speaking on the phone at all; instead, it’s texting, and WhatsApp-ing, and Skype-ing (occasionally) and… and… and… I type more than I speak, I write messages rather than communicate by voice. And, I gather, that’s happening more and more to more and more people. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not. Messaging gives you the opportunity to ‘craft’ your message more carefully, typos notwithstanding. But so much of communication is not merely the words used, nor the formal and specific order of them, but the tone, and tone is noticeabley absent – or at least lessened – in typing.

I saw Charlie tonight. 
I saw Charlie tonight. 
I saw Charlie tonight. 
I saw Charlie tonight.  

All of the above mean different things, and the stressing and emphasis by emboldening the word doesn’t begin to conver the full meaning. I genuinely never thought there’d be a time when talking to someone on the phone would not only be uncommon but an extreme rarity in my life.

An adult child Yes, I know, I saw this one coming, but not really. I knew this would occur, but not really. I’ve said before that I never realised what a daft question “What’s it like, being a father?” was… until I became a father. Now, don’t worry, this isn’t meant to make me special or suggest I have greater wisdom because I’m a dad. That’s an equally stupid suggestion. Neither are my experiences as a father necessarily even similar to other parents’ experiences. And yes, I know my lad has been getting older, year by year; that’s called ‘life’. But in the same way as when Phil was born, I didn’t really anticipate that one moment there’s four people in a room, and the next moment there’s five people in the room, what I didn’t expect, not really, was having an adult as a child. My lad, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, is now 21. He’s grown into a fine young man, and I’m very proud of him. But Phil’s a young man. He’s my child, but he’s no longer a child. And that takes some getting used to. Knowing that he drinks alcohol, and can handle it. Understanding that he has his own views about politics and the world, and that they’re not formed from naïveté, nor from ignorance, but because he’s thought about events and occurrences and come to a conclusion about them… That’s a weird thing to process. I mean, obviously he’s wrong whenever he disagrees with me, but then you – and he – would expect me to say that.

Tomorrow: Things future.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

2017 minus 11: Things past

Posted: 21 December 2016 in 2017 minus, life, politics
Tags:

While jumpstarting my brain writing today’s going cheep, a few things jumped into what I’m pleased to call my mind: things that were so obviously part of my if-not-daily-then-definitely-weekly life that no longer even peripherally impact me.This isn’t going to be a ‘things were better in the old days’; most often, they weren’t, and besides that’s the second most boring of these type of posts. (The most boring, of course, is that things are always better now‘.)

So, here are three…

Screen Savers Whenever happened to screen savers? Yes, I know they’re no longer ‘necessary’, but they persisted for quite some time after they ceased to be necessary. Then, in a quite astonishingly short space of time, they just stopped being a thing. Screen savers, for those younger readers, were A Thing. Not only A Thing, but A Thing about which you had to think quite seriously about. When someone saw your computer (never as many people as you thought might see it, by the way, sorry to demolish your ego), it was important for some reason or other that you had the right screen saver. Whether it was the flying toasters, or the never ending pipe work, or just a star field, you’d spend minutes – when it should have been seconds – choosing which of the screen savers you’d have on your screen. And – and this is true, I swear – if you were limited in the number of choices, I knew people who’d spend time figuring out how to get around the limitations… just so you’d have something on your screen that a) marked the computer as yours, and b) made you smile or at least didn’t piss you off.

One might suggest that it was solely the advent, and ubiquity, of flatscreen technology, and particularly the end of the cathode ray tube screens that ended the screen saver thing. I don’t agree. I instead wonder if what killed screen savers in the end was two things: firstly the rise of the laptop computer, and especially the immediate nature of the sleep/awake functionality. Suddenly, it didn’t take a minute or so to shut down your laptop, and another minute or so to start up, to resume, again. It was pretty much instant. So no need to leave the screen live; you could just shut the laptop and open it when you needed it. Secondly, and more importantly, the use of smartphones, and especially tablets. When batter power suddenly became the most important thing and genuinely instant access to a working screen/CPU meant that screens were never left on for more than a couple of minutes. 

Online psych tests Back in the days of Livejournal, it was a rare week when one of the memes doing the rounds wasn’t a psych test. You’d click on a link, answer anywhere between 30 and 100 questions and you’d receive an instant diagnosis of your mental state. No one took it particularly seriously, and as a consequence, people openly showed their results… because they were treated as a trivial thing, nothing more nor less important, nor more nor less accurate, than the “which Lord of the Rings character are you?” type things. Even if a result showed that someone was seriously ill and in need of medical attention, therapy and/or medications, readers of the results would usually assume that the result was flawed, or that the person doing the test had fucked around with the answers. 

Maybe it’s the lessening of stigma that has allowed people to be genuine about this kind of thing, and as a consequence, online tests seem to be ‘cheapening’ the work of therapists and psychologists and psychiatrists? I don’t know; I do know that I’m pleased it’s happened; the reaction in their presence, I mean, not the work of therapists and psychologists and psychiatrists. (For my my own personal issues with them, they do an important job, and I know many who’ve been=gutted from them.)

The Big Beasts of UK Politics At some point during my adult lifetime, UK politics ceased to have ‘current’ big beasts. Back in the days of Wilson, and Callaghan and even Thatcher, those who sat around the Cabinet table, and those who faced them across the House of Commons chamber, were acknowledged at the time they were doing it as ‘big beasts’, the powerbrokers in the parties, and in the country; people who through either force of personality or of accomplishment deserved to be regarded as such. At some point during Tony Blair’s premiership, that changed. Blair and Brown remained the big beasts but everyone else was a lesser species of politician. The Torres didn’t help matters in that respect by again seeming to reduce anyone who wasn’t leader – and in IDS’s case even then – to some lesser respected and lesser able category of politician. (I almost typed ‘some lesser kind of politician’ but that’s a bit too on the nose where Tory politicians are concerned.)

While this demotion almost certainly helps the leaders of the party, it does nothing beneficial for the country and indeed arguably damages it. While no one wants a cabinet or shadow cabinet riven with disagreement, torn apart by plots for the succession, by allowing the leadership to be seen as the only grown up around the table, it pretty much buggers the succession for years to come. And in the case of Labour now, the only big beast worthy of the name is probably the Shadow Chancellor. Certainly the leader doesn’t deserve the appellation, though he might do in a year’s time. But not yet.

Three things that it always used to be an article of faith that they’d be there. 

Today was “Things past”. Tomorrow “Things present”. You can try and guess what Friday’s will be…

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

2017 minus 12: Proud? Not really…

Posted: 20 December 2016 in 2017 minus
Tags:

Earlier today, I uploaded this year’s update for A Life In Pictures. It’s a by now annual tradition and I’d like to keep it going as long as I can. However, it’s not part of this countdown blog, and I wouldn’t want it to be, if only because if/when I refer anyone to it at a later point, I’d like it to stand on its own, apart from anything else. I genuinely hadn’t thought of it like that until I started the update but that does of course mean that I have a blog post today that I didn’t anticipate having to write.

Oops.

So, a quick blog post now on something that I’ve been thinking about a lot this year, something which got back into the news this week with the announcement that the government is considering making public servants – people who work for or are paid by, the state swear an oath of allegiance to “British values”.

As many have pointed out, swearing an oath is kind of self-contradictory to British values; we don’t make people carry identity papers, and our constitution such as it is is built around the principle of ‘we leave you alone and you leave us alone, ok?” (Obviously this doresn’t apply to the government itself nor the armed services, but then they already swear an oath of allegiance; we’re talking about non-government.)

I kind of like the idea that British values aren’t easily codified, and indeed, if you asked ten different people you’d get fifteen different answers. (Not because we like arguing; we’re just useless at maths.)

But the American election revealed once again that the biggest insult you can throw at an opponent isn’t that they’re a criminal, but that they’re not patriotic, that they’re unAmerican.

I’ve written before that I don’t really get patriotism? I mean, sure I understand it in principle, but then I undersatand in principle how hair is cut, and how. to faulty a plane; I wouldn’t recommend you asking me to do either. And while I kind of understand the theory of patriotism, I utterly fail to see why anyone would be patriotic per se. Now, unquestionably, I prefer the British society to say, that in Russia, or Saudi Arabia. I prefer it to how Israel runs their society but that’s not being patriotic; that’s just liking – on the whole, not wholly though – how things are run here rather how other societies run stuff. I don’t think “my country right or wrong, but my country” and I’m kind of puzzled by people who do think that way. 

I don’t feel any special connection to the UK, nor am I particularly proud of being British; given some of the stuff the UK has done over the centuries, I’m not entirely sure anyone should be. But plenty of people are. Just as others are proud of being Australian, or American, who maintain that their country is the greatest country on earth… Really?

I’m proud of my son. And I’m proud of the things my friends have achieved, and I’m proud of the strength people I know have shown under incredible pressure and in horrible circumstances. 

But that’s in part because he is my son, and they are my friends and they are people I know, like and personally care about. 

But the country? The country’s sportsmen and women… the country’s representatives in any number of fields? Not particularly. Not at all, in fact. Not really.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

Time once again for the annual mocking and silliness to occur, with the 2016 update to A Life In Pictures.

Now… about the pics you’re going to see below: I’ve already been about as embarrassed at the shots as I’m ever likely to be, but yes, if you feel the need to go “awwww” at the cute pics of me as a youngster, or mock the pictures of me during the decade(s) that fashion forgot, feel free to do so.

Look, the whole thing started in 2004 when there was a meme going around about putting up photos of yourself when you were younger. I did it… and then continued to update it every year or so for more recent pics…

So, here they are, bringing the photos up to date, as of December 2016. Not a lot of additions this year.But since this has now become a tradition as we approach the end of the year, and I’ve a few more people following me on Twitter and this blog, why not?

Why not indeed…

So, in rough order of age…


Probably the earliest photo I’ve got of me…


3 years old


Aged 4


I’m five, I think, here.


It was 1972, ok? And I was at my brother’s bar mitzvah. I was eight.


Another – newly discovered – shot from Mike’s bar mitzvah. 


My son takes great delight in this shot – I think I was 10 at the time.


Me at age 11


Just after my 15th birthday


August 1980, I’m 16 – yes, that is a curly perm. Shut up.


November 1982 – Freshers’ Fair at Manchester Poly


1983 – me at the PULP office, 2nd year at Manchester Poly.


Age 21, at a work leaving do, having left Manchester Poly a month or so earlier..


1985, at my brother’s wedding… at which I was best man. Yeah, 21 again.


At my dad’s 60th birthday in 1989, aged 25. Blimey, was that really almost thirty years ago?


1994 –  A nice one, from Laura’s and my wedding day – aged 30


A low res shot from the wedding that I discovered in the archives…


1996


September 1997, at UKCAC


Me in New York, January 1998, just after we lost Mike


Part of a formal family shot, mid-1999


June 1999 – my spiritual home


August 2000; taken by Phil – he was five years old at the time


October 2001; New York, six weeks after 9/11; visiting Ian


May 2002, Hypotheticals – not a happy Budgie


mid-2002, taken for a WEF World Wide Wednesday


Bristol, 2003. You can see the greying hair now…


July 2004 – working at the office


December 2004 – at my nephew’s bar mitzvah. See? I scrub up nicely occasionally.


Not exactly sure when this was taken but would have been around now…


August 2005 – at Brighton. First picture for ages that I’m genuinely happy with.


September 2005, last picture of the Nissan before I crashed it…


October 2005. Again, a photo taken by Phil…


April 2006, at the flat.


May 2007, Bristol, Saturday night, at around 2 in the morning.


December 2007 – at the office party, with my ‘secret santa’ gift. No, the book.


May 2008 – Phil and me at Comic Expo


May 2008 – Me interviewing Dave Gibbons at Comic Expo


October 2008 – Me and Phil, studio shot for the bar mitzvah


May 2009 – Me and Matt Jones, (pic by Jamais Cascio)


July 2009 – At the BERG 40th Anniversary Apollo 11 drinkup (pic by Matt Jones)


October 2009 – In New York, with my cousin Nikki.


November 2009 – Me and Phil at Ian’s son’s bar mitzvah.


April 2010, in Luton


July 2010, on Mastermind


August 2010, at Laura’s


October 2010, from Phil Tanner’s Photos – Mitch Benn ‘Proud of the BBC’ video shoot) The actual video’s here.


October 2010, again: at MCM


December 2010, after the office party


January 2011, at Tony and Tracy Lee’s wedding.


October 2011.


Yeah, I grew a beard in October, then shaved it off…


Laura took this one in April 2012 – not a bad shot of me, all things considered.

And then I had my hair cut…


No idea why I took this one, but it has me without a beard, anyway… August 2012

Lesson 1 about falling asleep in a friend’s house where children live. Don’t
(November 2012)


Me, at The Leveson Inquiry. The reading of the summary, not giving evidence…



Met up with an old friend, and wandered around Camden with him. A nice afternoon…


Yeah, I broke my foot…

Lost my father in October 2012 – here’s the progress of the shiva beard before trimming it down

And so to 2013…

Well, in March, I did a charity event where I wrote twenty-four stories in twenty-four hours for Comic Relief.


That’s Mitch Benn in the background, writing his comedy album, which he did also within twenty-four hours.

Phil turned up to support us…

And I got progressively more tired, and more silly, as the hours passed…

A small accident with the beard trimmer led me to shave off the beard I’d had for roughly a year…

Most people were glad I grew it back almost immediately

Later in the year, finally managed to get a photo with two of my closest friends. There’s been any number of pictures of two of the three of us, but rarely any shots of all three… until now.

Not the best pic, I have to admit, but rather pleased we managed it at all!

However, another photo was taken that night which continues to amuse me no end.

You don’t think I’m in it? Really? Look to the right. Yes, just there… that blurred shock of grey/white hair? Yeah, afraid so…

Towards the end of the year, there was something new… a mini-me. Or to be precise, I was scanned for a 3D printing of myself. Very strange to see myself post-scanning on a screen…

But that was nothing to seeing the actual result…

Here’s another shot of the 3D model, this one with Mitch (who was similarly scanned.)

In July, managed to catch up with an old friend, at his reading of The Truth Is A Cave In The Black Mountains at the Barbican. I like this photo, entitled Two beards (old friends attached), a lot.

Here’s the difference a haircut, a beard trim and sticking my contact lenses in makes… from September 2014.

Around the same time, I wrote a post on the rising tide of overt anti-semitism in the UK, and that I’d personally faced. I used the following shot to illustrate it. I was very happy with how it turned out.

Now, this blog post, indeed this blog, is pretty much all ages, and I’ve hesitated before sticking this shot up. Not sure I’ll keep it here, but since this is supposed to be a record of me through the years… I shattered the end of my collarbone in a fall in September. A week or so later, the bruising was well and truly showing, so here it is.

And onto this year.


This was March 2015. I have no idea where or why.


In September, was fortunate enough to catch up with Amanda Palmer after her gig. It had been much, much too long since we’d seen each other. Much and many things were said, but never enough.


From late 2015. I think it was me trying out the new phone’s camera. It’s an odd pose, but as the foregoing shots more than amply demonstrate, that’s not a reason to exclude it. 

Some time ago, the delightful Clara Benn took a shot which proved I was substantially smaller than Mitch, tiny in fact in comparison. November 2015, she proved it again…


isn’t perspective wonderful?

And so to 2016, and I’m not sure what this pic was for, in July, but it’s an odd one…


Something a bit novel for this year’s blog post; I’ve never been much of a fan of ‘filters’ on pics, whether it’s the ‘pup yourself’ Snapchat type thing, or the Prizma neon type things. But I may be changing my mind. Here’s a selfie I took for submitting with something.


The shot’s fine, as it is. Nothing great about it, nothing horrendous. But in black and white, it’s quite a nice shot, I’d say…


But when it’s thrown through the pencil/shading filter, I really like it. Weird…

<

Anyway… Moving on…

Towards the end of the year, close friends had a baby, and I got to say hello both in October and November. I’ve never hidden how soppy I am about babies. I suspect these photos prove it.


And this is the shot, last week, that convinced me that if I ever do get a hat, it’ll be a Homburg, not a Fedora…

And, to round off this year’s lot, and to officially mark the moment at which mocking may commence, this is me, as of yesterday, post-haircut:

2017 minus 13: The Library

Posted: 19 December 2016 in 2017 minus

Some more fiction for you… As I’ve mentioned previously:

Elephant Words was a fiction site to which I contributed stories, on and off, for several years. The idea behind the site was simple, based on the old tale of several blind people describing an elephant based only on touch; one described the animal as a long snake, another that it was hard and bony, still another that it was like a tree trunk. Every week, one of the participants would put up an image, and over the following week, people would write a story inspired upon the image alone.

Occasionally, a story didn’t need the image to contextualise the tale, but I always tried to use it to the point that if the image wasn’t there, I’d have had to change something about the story.

Here’s another one of them; an image, and the story it inspired me to write.


THE LIBRARY

The old man took one last look around the room before he leaned on his cane and turned his aged body towards the door.

His leg ached. It was nothing new to him; his arms ached, his shoulders ached and his hip ached as well. But they were less recent pains compared to the one that had brought him to the school near his house.

He remembered when they had built the library, after the fire that had consumed the books and the shelves; that the conflagration had occurred at night, when no-one would have been inside, barely lessened the hurt.

The investigation was peremptory – it had hardly needed to be more detailed, as the culprit had been identified quickly: a student, upset at a series of failing grades.

And so there was a new library, with multi-media facilities, where students could borrow digital technologies as well as old fashioned books, where they could recharge their phones as well as educate their minds.

He thought back on the past hour: pre-college students slumped on couches, reading, browsing, playing, and in two cases, sleeping. Everything a school library was for in what some called these enlightened days.

But they were using it.

The old man reached the door, and politely held it open for the two students entering the library.

They stared at him with mild contempt, as if the idea of a non student in the room offended them. Then they giggled as he raised his hat to them and moved past him, gossiping about a mutual acquaintance.

As he passed through the door, he turned once again and looked at the librarian, who smiled fondly at him. She thought he was a fairly harmless old cove, and he only popped in every six months or so, so she was willing to bend the rules for a smile. And a box of chocolates.

He paused and put his hand on the small plaque by the door and a flash of memory, of a life spent together in love, and if not cut short, then cut shorter than was fair.

In her name he’d paid for the library; she’d so loved reading books.

He hailed a cab and gave the address of the old age home he still lived in with her. He’d tell her of the visit. Maybe this time she might remember what a book was.

Maybe.

© Lee Barnett


See you tomorrow, with something else… 

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

Every so often, I’ll mention on this blog something entitled MRD Syndrome. You can click on the link to learn more about it, and examples of it, but to save you the time, it’s named after Mandy Rice-Davies and her infamous comment when a public figure/politician denied having had sex with her: “Well, he would [say that], wouldn’t he?”

2016 seems to have been both, and self-contradictorily, the year of people saying and doing things you’d not expect, while also and simultaneously, being the most fertile of grounds for MRD Syndrome to flourish.

While Donald Trump made a speciality of saying things that no other person running for President could have said, or more accurately could have said and survived as a candidate, pretty soon, it became not only unsurprising that he’d said something offensive or ridiculously or untruthful or just plain stupid… but it became surprising, nay astonishing, if he said anything other than something offensive or ridiculously or untruthful or just plain stupid.

Bernie Sanders – by the end of his campaign – reminded me of nothing so much as one of Maggie Thatcher’s calculated put downs of Geoffrey Howe: “And then Geoffrey made that speech that he always makes so well…” While Sanders was original and promoting policies that no other candidate had promoted, by the end of the campaign his rhetoric had long since ceased to be original and exciting and had become stale and ‘as expected’. It didn’t surprise me at all that he lost, nor that he conceded – eventually – with good grace. Nor that he hit the trail for Clinton. Of all the candidates running for the Presidency, he was the only candidate by whom I was more impressed at the end of the primary season than I was at the beginning. Not nearly impressed enough to want him to have been the nominee, but far, far more impressed by him than I had been.

Hillary Clinton was possibly the epitome of MRD Syndrome over the pond this year; no matter what was thrown at her, you knew in advance what her response was going to be. Whether it was a good response or a bad one, the answers she gave to questions, the statements she made, none of them were anything but “Well, she would say that, wouldn’t she?”

That’s not quite true, of course. She did vary off script occasionally, and it was notable that the moment that she did, she was hauled by her campaign back into the middle ground; the primary example of this was her ‘basket of deplorables’ line. In almost any other candiate’s hands, that could have been something to run with, but Clinton’s campaign pulled her back from it because, and they were probably right about this, she wasn’t a candidate who could convincingly back up the charge, even though the charge itself was pretty accurate.

The Repubican party reacted to trump pretty much as you’d have expected them to: mocking his run, then being scared by it, then acquiescing to his nomination, then celebrating it and finally “I always liked him, you know…” after he won. At no point did the party machinery surprise any observer (other than by the supreme level of its cowardice and craven submission). It’s a mark of how far away from any sense of honour the party is that one of the people held up as honourable is Senator Lindsay Graham.

Over this side of the Atlantic, David Cameron resigned from Prime Minister after losing the Brexit vote, finally giving some weight to the view from some that he’d achieved everything he wanted to the day he walked into Downing Street as Prime  Minister having won an election. Nothing he did during the Eu Referendum campaign, or indeed afterwards, surprised anyone. Despite his comments, everyone expected him to resign if he lost the vote. His statements to the contrary were the very exemplar of “well, he would say that, wouldn’t he?” As were his statements that he would carry on as a backbench MP after he resigned from the job of Prime Minister. A reminder for those who are unfamiliar with the UK system: it is – or at least was – traditional for ex-Prime Ministers to stay in the House of Commons until at least the next General Election. Several reasons for this, one of which being the polite fiction that a politician’s main job is the one they were elected to by their constituents, the “member of parliament for upper nowhere upon tweed”. And indeed, in the past, former Prime Ministers have served in cabinets of their successors. But both  Both Blair and Cameron pissed off as soon as they left Number Ten, despite the latter’s assurance he’d do nothing of the sort. I don’t think many would have been surprised had he stayed; few were surprised that he left.

And the rest of the Tory party similarly did what’s they were expected to do, and said what they were expected to say (with the notable exception of Boris Johnson who somehow fucked up running for the leadership and hasn’t – as Foriegn Secretary – caused Britain to go to war with everybody.)

With Labour, it’s the same story: no one really surprised anyone this year. Corbyn won re-election as leader after a series of shadow cabinet resignations that everybody saw coming a mile off. Labour’s antisemitism scandal continue, exactly as everyone expected; the defences were made by the usual people, mouthing the usual platitudes, and achieving the usual nothing.

Moving north of the border, The EU Referendum vote gave First Minister Nicolas Sturgeon the chance to take centre stage again – if only briefly – and she did so, but said and did nothing that couldn’t be said to be covered by “she would say that, wouldn’t she?’

I’d be remiss at this stage if I didn’t mention Nigel Farage. 

There. I’ve mentioned him.

Across the world, then 2016 has been a year full of events that seemed obvious and almost inevitable in hindsight but which no one saw coming. And yet all the statements made about those events were trite and obvious and… well, yes, I would say that, wouldn’t i?

Occurred to me as I opened the WordPress app that this is – in this run of seventy-five blog posts counting down to 2017 – the penultimate Saturday Smile post. And in some ways, this is the last of the ‘real’ Saturday Smiles as well. In a week’s time, next Saturday, it’ll be Christmas Eve, and I’ve already chosen my videos for that post; all silly, or daft, or sweet, and all of them Christmas based. 

And exactly one week after that, we’ll be on New Year’s Eve, and if the fact that we’re less than 24 hours from the end of this hateful, horrible year doesn’t lighten your load, then I’m not sure any comedy videos will do the job. So, in two weeks, I’ll write something just for the end of a shitty year.

Time for some classics, I think…

One of the all time classic examples of what can be done with a standard cartoon format- Duck Amuck

So, Who’s On First…? (Abbott and Costello)

Four Candles

Super-Chess, so, so clever

And, finally, as we approach the penultimate week of the year, one might expect Sir Humphrey Appleby to have something to say… and he does

See you tomorrow, with something else. 

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

Several (for which I mean lots, no seriously… lots) of my friends have had a ‘bad’ 2016; let’s be honest here: it’s been a long while since I can remember such a large percentage of my friends who’ve had a shitty year. It’s been quite some time indeed since so many of my friends have been so looking forward to a year ending. 

Not just personally, of course; the world is going to shittiest shit in shitty ways that haven’t been seen in decades. But yeah, personally, many people I know have had the shittiest of shitty years. Whether it’s breakups, betrayals, family bereavements, job chaos, or geographical locations that haven’t gone well… Yep, most of us can’t bloody wait for 2016 to be done, dusted, gone, departed…

Now that’s not to say that everyone I know had a lousy 2016; some friends had a fantastic year, an incredibly good one, and I’m genuinely thrilled for them; several friends had children; one couple after several years of trying; I’m hardly going to pretend that 2016 hasn’t been a good one for them. And I hope that 2017 is an even better one for them and it’s at least an ok one for the rest of us. 

But yes, most people I know can’t wait for 2016 to piss off. Thats’ not quite the same thing sas saying they’re looking forward to 2017, though, is it? After all; three weeks into 2017, we get President Trump…

So, if you’re reading this, odds are you’ve had a lousy 2016 and you’re looking hopefully towards 2017 as something to hopefully give you some, well, hope. Thing is, though I might know you’ve not had a good year, indeed, might even know some of your individual circumstances, I’m not sure… no, strike that, I’m quote sure that I don’t have a clue how you feel about it, precisely how bad, personally, you’ve felt in 2017. 

No-one knows what goes on inside other people’s heads and hearts, no mater how much they protest they do. Those who’ve had a lousy 2016, for personal reasons, all have their own reasons for having done, and you don’t get to say that your reasons for loathing 2016 are any better nor more moral, nor more justified, than theirs. 

But everyone does do that, don’t they? Or at least they say they ‘feel the pain’, or share the distress. When they don’t. When friends or even strangers have a rough time, most people conflate sympathy with empathy. They’re not the same. And they shouldn’t be.

I’ve mentioned before that after we lost my late brother, some people said to us that they didn’t know what to say. That was ok, though; the family didn’t know what the hell to say to each other. And while I had no real difficulty hand;ting nor processing the sympathy, what utterly threw me were the people who claimed to empathise. Sorry, unless you’d lost a member of your immediate family, then you couldn’t. You simply couldn’t.

I’ll go even further. You lost a parent? Then sorry, you didn’t have a clue what I was going through, having lost a sibling. Much as I didn’t at that time have a clue what it was like to lose a parent.

And even when I did lose a parent, its highly unlikely that my relationship with my father bore any similarity to that of you and yours. (One of my closest friends lost his father this year, a couple of months back. While he and I are similar in some ways, one of the big differences between us is his relationship with his immediate family and mine with my lot. His are… closer, and let’s leave that there, as I have no wish to publicly discuss mine, really.)

But when we lost Mike, one particular woman said to my mother – they weren’t particularly close, it has to be admitted – “I know what you’re going through…”; but she did know, having lost one of her sons about four years earlier.Penty of others said it; only she was telling the truth. 

The point I’m cackhandedly trying to make here? Unless you’ve actually been through it, you don’t know what it’s like. Oh, sure you can pretend you do. After all, that’s what most writers do. There’s a line about “I’m a writer – I lie for a living.” Dunno who said it originally, but it’s true enough.

But in what we are pleased to call ‘real life’, there are things that you’re never going to truly empathise with someone else about. Sympathise, yes, but empathise, no.

If you’ve suffered from a mental illness, you’re never going to truly understand what it is like never to have done so. And vice versa; if you’ve been fortunate enough never to have suffered from, say, depression, you’re never going to genuinely understand or appreciated what it is to go through it.

I’m not sure how far you can take this, because everyone’s experiences in life are different; even children in the same family have different relationships with the same parents. 

But, say, if you’ve always had money in your life, never had to worry about money ,, you’re never going to truly empathise with someone who has never ‘had money’. And vice versa. If you’ve always  known (or been told) that you’re attractive, you’re never going to understand what it is to have always known (or be told) that you’re not attractive, and to believe it. And if you’ve always known the reverse, you’ll never understand what it’s like to know (or be told) that you’re attractive, and to believe it.

There are limitations to empathy. And while sometimes I think that’s a good thing, especially when acknowledged, more often I think that it’s dangerous, because some people don’t think those limitations apply to them.

Something very silly, inspired by writer and friend Tony Lee.

TEN LITTLE ACCOUNTANTS

Ten Little Accountants
Trying to file on time.
One missed the tax man’s filing date
And then there were nine.

Nine Little Accountants
Their client, a cheapskate.
One raised the Work In Progress
And then there were eight.

Eight Little Accountants
A tax bill trying to lessen.
One made a claim for school fees
And then there were seven.

Seven Little Accountants
And office politics.
One offended the MD’s wife
And then there were six.

Six Little Accountants
Off work and trying to skive.
One caught on camera at Wimbeldon
And then there were five.

Five Little Accountants
Presenting to the board.
One told only truth to them
And then there were four.

Four Little Accountants
Presenting the audit fee.
One pushed his luck a bit too far
And then there were three.

Three Little Accountants
Telling the partner what they knew.
One suggested covering up fraud
And then there were two.

Two Little Accountants
Think the accounts are done.
One missed a Trial Balance error
And then there was one.

One Little Accountant
Writing silly rhymes for fun
He timesheeted it to the client.
And then there were none.

© Lee Barnett


Something more serious tomorrow…

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

2017 minus 18: Small anniversaries

Posted: 14 December 2016 in 2017 minus

A small anniversary passed last week, one I don’t expect many people to have noticed. It’s not a multi-year anniversary, not even a single year one. It’s a 50 day anniversary.

That’s all. 50 days.

Last week, we hit 50 days since the Home Affairs Select Committee delivered its report on antisemitism.

And we just passed a slightly larger anniversary, but only slightly: 150 days since Therese May became Prime Minister, Boris Johnson became Foreign Secretary and the rest of this awful government took office.

I’m genuinely not sure where to start; both of these anniversaries make me so very angry for entirely separate and different reasons.

The Home Affairs Select Committee report was well-researched, well-written, and – unless you are wilfully blind – a well-deserved attack upon the antisemitism that has been allowed, if not positively encouraged, to take root in public life. (It does irritate me hugely when anyone says “there’s no place for antisemitism in our society”, as it seems to be ignorant in the extreme. That there should be no place for it, is – I hope – beyond question, but that there is currently a place for it? Ugh, sadly, yes, there is. And the examples of it, online and in ‘real life’, are plentiful.

But, after mroe than fifty days since the report was published , it’s difficult to suggest that it’s actually achieved anything. OK, sure, in the initial days after publication it was discussed and quoted from and great predictions were made that it would change things… but it hasn’t. 

In any way. 

At all.

We still have a Labour party led by a man who – at the very least – doesn’t give a shit about others’ antisemitism, and that’s giving him the benefit of a doubt that I’m no longer entirely convinced he deserves. Corbyn lied to the very Select Committee that produced the report, pals around with overt antisemites, maintains a breathtaking hypocrisy about antisemitism and yet still people I know defend him and say it’s all made up, ignoring evidence in a way they decry when it’s anyone else. (I used to say that of course he wasn’t antisemitic himself, merely supremely indifferent to others’ antisemitism; I’m no longer convinced of the first part of that. He certainly has no problem with agreeing with others’ antisemitic tropes.)

We have a Liberal Democrat party that still – as I write – has David Ward as an elected councillor. David Ward, a man who doesn’t so much tiptoe over the edge of antisemitism as trample the edge in his eagerness to play with antisemitic tropes. Just as Jenny Tonge did for years before the Lib Dems finally – and in the most craven way – suspended her for stuff that was actually far less offensive and antisemitic than she’d previously said. And then, when she left, the Lib Dems hoped like FUCK that everyone would forget they’d let her get away with it for decades. And all Tim Farron could do in evidence to the Select Committee was kind of go ‘oops, I hope you hadn’t noticed’. Still, at least the Lib Dems sent their party leader.

The Tories? No. Once May took over, they couldn’t have treated the Home Affairs inquiry into antisemitism with less respect and seriousness had they shat on the main committee desk. David Cameron at least – for all his many, many faults – seemed to treat the inquiry with respect, and yes, I’m quite sure that this was in part because he thought it was aimed solely at Labour, and wanted to capitalise on that. I can understand May not wanting to set the precedent of a Prime Minister appearing before a select committee, turning down the invitation to ‘the Tory Party Leader’m but the least she should have done was to send the chair of the party. But no. It was left to Eric Pickles, someone who holds no party role.

Bah.

But, to be fair to May, she’s had a bit on her own plate the past 150 days since she became Prime Minister. You wouldn’t know that though; she’s kept herself hidden away and let her ministers get the attention. I’d have some sympathy with this attitude if I thought she was bringing back cabinet government as it’s supposed to be done: ministers run their departments and report to Number 10 and the rest of government at cabinet, while briefing the House at the appropriate juncture. And if they breach cabinet collective responsibility, or speak in a way that’s not ion behalf of the government, they’re out. 

But that’s not what’s happening; on Brexit alone, the foreign secretary, the Sectreaty of State for exiting the EU and the Sec of State for International Trade have all made statements that have been slapped down by Number Ten, but none of them have actually lost their jobs over it, none of have suffered them any penalty. And the response of the Prime Minister’s Office to a  former minister’s criticism of the Prime Minister was petty at best, but at worst brings nothing to mind as much as the bunker mentality of Gordon Brown when he held the job. The government, five months into May’s administration, is bumbling through, day by day, consumed by Brexit, and achieving nothing much at all, grabbing at the faintest praise and sulking at the slightest criticism.

Many have blamed the Labour opposition, and the Labour leadership for this woeful state of affairs. I don’t. Oh, sure, the useless state of our main opposition party irritates and upsets me in equal measure, but they’re not the sole reason by any measure. Would a better opposition make for better government? Possibly but right now, I’m unconvinced. Replacing the leader would be a good idea – as far as I can see – because a) I can’t stand Corbyn, and b) it’s unlikely  anyone could do worse in the job. But re-electing Corbyn as leader set the path for Labour for the next five, maybe ten years.

Even if Labour replaced Corbyn, it’s unlikely – in my opinion – they stand a chance of winning at the next election. It’s possible, just, that a replacement could stop May achieving a working majority after the next election, but I can’t see any way that Labour could form the next government. Possibly, possibly, a new leader would make the election after next a winnable one. If Corbyn remains leader, though, even that’s off the table.

I say ‘the election after next’ rather than 2025, because I’m not convinced the election after heat will be in 2025. While The Fixed-term Parliaments Act makes it difficult to call an early election, it’s not impossible; I don’t think Theresa May would call an election at the moment, but if the boundary changes go through, and the reduction in MPs seats from 650 to 600 occurs, I’d expect her to call an election within 3 months of the change. And she’d likely win with an increased majority.

Whereas the first days from the publication of the  Homes Affairs Select Committee on antisemitism hasn’t changed much, at least on the surface, the 150 days since Theresa May became Prime Minister changed a lot on the surface and changed fuck all underneath. We still have a Tory government less concerned with actually fixing things and more worried about surviving. We still have a Labour opposition leadership less concerned with government or even holding government to account but more concerned with preaching to the already converted acolytes of the Dear Leader.  

I remain convinced that as 2015 came to a close, UK Politics and US politics got pissed together and bet each other sho could fuck up more in 2016. And the bet’s still going on.


Bah, something less maudlin tomorrow. 

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

2017 minus 19: Nathaniel Spong

Posted: 13 December 2016 in 2017 minus, fiction
Tags:

Couple of housekeeping announcements, mainly to get them out of the way.

For the past few years, either ‘yesterday’ or ‘today’, I’ve used this blog to announce the start of Twelve Days Of Fast Fiction. Not this year. For various reasons, including that oflack of interest from others, I’m not running them. this year. They may return in a future format – Comic Relief 2017 is in a few months, after all – but I’m taking a break from doing them. Besides, I wrote over 50 of them, over a five year period, and they’re here on the blog any time anyone wants to read them.

Secondly, it hit me earlier that we’re in new territory here; while I’ve done several countdowns to major events: my birthday, a general election, end of the year etc., they’ve always been 50 day countdowns. This is a 75 day countdown and we’re already past 50 entries.

Still, that means you only have another 19 entries to read. Unless i keep it going into January for a few days… which I might do. I’m not sure but I may do it.

One last thing. I hope you’re enjoying the entries. I mean to say, I’m not writing them so you won’t enjoy them, but I’m deliberately not looking at the ‘stats’ page, so I’ve genuinely no idea how many people are reading this. It could be a dozen people, it could be 100. Or more. I’ll just say ‘thank you for stopping by’ if you are reading them, and hope you’re having a good close to the year.

OK, right, moving on…


Something I wrote a long time ago, but I want it part of this run, and most people haven’t read it… so

The Tale Of Nathaniel Spong

This is the tale of Nathaniel Spong
Whose resolution was to do no wrong.
For one whole year, decided Nat.
Now, what could possibly go wrong with that?

So come the new year, our Mr Spong
Commenced the plan he’d decided upon
And made a list of things to do
Which took him up until January 2.

And all at once, he realised an error
And felt himself fill with terror –
How could he handle the year to come
When he’d forgotten to call his Dad and his Mum?

A phone call was made and later on
He realised at once what he’d done wrong;
He hadn’t listed enough parameters!
What else could happen? Something calamitous?

He lengthened his list, writing more and more
And before he knew it, it was January 4.
The list kept growing, day and night
Until there was no more left to write.

And then Nathaniel thought to relax,
He’d protected himself against attacks:
Of guilt, or worry, of doing wrong.
Oh, pity the fate of Nathaniel Spong.

For little did he know that bright winter’s day
What was about to happen would lead him astray
To the extent that his plan would fall to dust
And all because of the sin of lust.

For there was a lady, a lovely gel
Whose very presence made hearts swell
With love and sweetness and kindness and how
(A pity then that she was a right cow!)

Young Susan Smythe was by nature a user;
Who’d ensure that each beau was really a loser.
But hopefully wealthy, indeed even rich.
A 100% total right b…

At a party they met, set up by a mate
Of Nathaniel’s who’d wanted to do a blind date
For his pal, who he knew had no social life
But discovered she wanted to be his wife.

She courted Nathaniel, did our young Sue
And suddenly Nat found the number grew
Of things that earlier had seemed so wrong
When that list had been so big, so long.

With Susan, all was right for Spong,
Or so he thought, but ere very long
Nat had reason to check his banking arrangements
To see whether he could afford this sudden engagement.

To his horror he found when he looked at his balance
That Susan had made the most of her talents
And milked the account for all she was worth
So that Mr Spong had not a penny on earth.

She vanished the next day when her crimes had appeared.
And look though he could, she had disappeared
Along with his spondooliks, his money, his cash
And though his friends cautioned him, he did something rash.

And restarted the list, by the light of the moon
After all, it was only the seventh of June.
Plenty of time to put his new plan into play
To take over the world by New Year’s Day.

The list of what wouldn’t now be allowed
Extended beyond Nat, to the increasing crowd
Of people who supported Spong’s Plan for the planet
And affected those who ostensibly ran it.

Governments around the world
Heard of this plan and began to yield
To the ever increasing clamour for change
For something new, no matter how strange.

A week before New Year’s and Nathaniel Spong
Had overthrown all that was wrong
Countries now answered to his every whim.
Who decided everything? Well, he did – yes, him.

The drawback of this imaginative plan
Struck him as he was deciding who can
Run the bus route between one street and another
And which of two women was really the mother.

Solomon’s idea was to split the child
A barbaric plan, Nat declared in a lilt.
He granted custody to both women forever
And insisted that they bring up the child together.

The list of what he decided increased
Until he was deciding the very least
Decision: whether the walls should be blue or pink.
“Can’t any of you people for yourselves think?”

Bored by this in 48 hours
Nathaniel returned the levers of powers
To those who’d been democratically elected
And he dissolved the power structures erected.

This took a couple of frustrating days, during
Which the world returned to its pre-Spong days
Leaving Nathaniel Spong at the New Year’s chimes
Living, as they say, in “Interesting Times”…

© Lee Barnett


See you tomorrow, with something else. 

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

Some more fiction for you… As I’ve mentioned previously:

Elephant Words was a fiction site to which I contributed stories, on and off, for several years. The idea behind the site was simple, based on the old tale of several blind people describing an elephant based only on touch; one described the animal as a long snake, another that it was hard and bony, still another that it was like a tree trunk. Every week, one of the participants would put up an image, and over the following week, people would write a story inspired upon the image alone.

Occasionally, a story didn’t need the image to contextualise the tale, but I always tried to use it to the point that if the image wasn’t there, I’d have had to change something about the story.

Here’s another one of them; an image, and the story it inspired me to write.


PERMANENT MARKER

The restraints were the first thing he noticed when consciousness returned; thick leather pressed into his forehead and he wondered whether it would leave a mark. The thought seemed puzzlingly amusing, but his body was lethargic and he couldn’t have laughed even had he wanted to.

A groan started somewhere deep in his chest but barely made it out of his throat as a long sigh as his eyelids flickered and his vision, blurry at first, focused upon the lilac glove in front of his face.

“I wouldn’t bother,” a strong confident voice said, not unkindly. “Really,” the voice continued, “you’ve got enough drugs in you to stop any strong attempt, and any weaker effort will just make it worse. Trust me, I know.” And that was when the view in front of him snapped into focus, and for the first time he was genuinely scared.

“Ah, you’re waking up properly,” the voice said, seemingly pleased. The man in the chair looked at the tattooist. He knew what was about to happen and he tried to make his limbs work, but they resisted every entreaty from his brain; the signals just wouldn’t get through. The tattooist moved his facial muscles and with sudden insight, the man realised the figure holding the tattoo needle was smiling; it was an odd smile, as if the person making it had once been told how to smile and was attempting to exactly follow the instructions.

There was no further noise for a moment, and then the needle buzzed twice. The tattooist looked away, and there was a sharp short nod of the head and an equally short sharp exhalation, as if confirmation had been sought and obtained. “Just a bit of business to get out of the way first,” the man with the needle said, then pressed a button and the needle buzzed again, louder now as it approached the restrained man.

“You have been found guilty of…” another look away, then back, “well, no need for the full list; suffice to say that you have been a naughty boy, haven’t you?” He didn’t wait for an answer; he knew none would be forthcoming. “And your sentence? Harsh, but that’s the law for you, I’m afraid,” he sighed, as if reluctant to continue.

There was a quick movement of the hand and the needle buzzed; the man felt the briefest pressure on his cheek and then the tattooist leaned back.

Was that it, the man in the chair wondered. Was that what all the fuss was about? His eyes widened and the tattooist laughed. “Oh, no…” he continued, “that was just me signing my work. Always nice to get it out of the way, at the start; it’s messier afterwards. The drugs you’ve been given will stop you protesting, but will, of course, intensify the pain. All part of the sentence, I’m afraid.”

The man tried to struggle, but his limbs remained as still as if he was consciously remaining as still as possible.

“Now, you’re to be tattooed inside your eyes and your mouth, your Adam’s apple and soles of your feet, as per your sentence. Solid areas of ink, as coarse as possible.”

There was a sharp exclamation as the tattooist put down the needle, and then shook his head. “I’m terribly sorry,” he said, “I always forget this part.” Then he lifted a bottle of single malt scotch and drank it down in nine large swallows. Then he placed the bottle down, lifted another full bottle, and the man saw the amber liquid swallowed. “I’m supposed to be dead drunk,” the tattooist said, then he burped twice, and shakily lifted the needle. “That’s better.” Another belch.

“Open wide,” he said. And smiled again.

And then lilac glove and needle both grew large in the restrained man’s vision as the tattooist leaned forward and commenced work, humming quietly to himself as he administered the latest sentence passed under The Restorative Justice Act 2037.

© Lee Barnett


See you tomorrow, with something else. 

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

Three weeks to go.

Three weeks.

And then 2016 will be over.

Except it won’t be. Not really. The consequences of decisions taken in 2016, and of events that have occurred in 2016, will linger not only into 2017 but far beyond. The two most obvious, of course, being Brexit and President Donald Trump. The former may or may not happen in the end, though the odds heavily fancy of some kind of Brexit. The latter? Well, I’ll get on to that in a moment.

On a personal level, the start of any new year is always overshadowed by an anniversary that takes place a week and a bit into that new year: the anniversary of the death of my brother in 1998. As I’ve written before, and no dount will again, the advent of 1998 was the last time, the final time, I greeted 1st January with “well, whatever happens this year, it can’t be worse than this last year.” Who knew?

But even leaving aside that intensely personal reason for not treating each new year with unalloyed joy, three weeks into 2017, we get to witness the inauguration of President Trump. And though there’s a part of me that wants to ignore the inauraration, to stay away from all news that day, take the day off twitter and social media… I’m not sure I’m strong enough, or together enough, to be able to do that.

Just as it’s irresistible to look at the results of a horrible car crash while you’re driving past it, there’ll be an overwhelming desire to watch, to witness history in the making. Because, like it or not, it will be history in the making. It’ll be one of those events that will make a single momen in the history of the planet pundits and punlic alike will look back at and.. and what? Shudder at? Cry at? Wince at? Who knows.

But history in the making? Certainly.

But then there’s always history in the making. 

I was born in mid-August 1964, a few months before America decisively rejected Barry Goldwater’s offer to the American people, and almost exactly nine months after JFK was assassinated and after the first episode of Doctor Who was broadcast. 

In the now over 52 years I’ve been in this planet, I missed some history being made, sure; I wasn’t even aware of anything outside what directly affected me and mine for the first, what half a dozen or so years of my life, and for the next half a dozen, didn’t care about them. So, President Nixon resigned in 1974, week or so before my 10th birthday. At ten years of age, I’m not entirely sure I even knew it at the time. It’s possible my father might have mentioned it, and I heard it, but no, I have n memory of it. (I do remember the Beatles breaking up, six years earlier, but only because my big brother was terribly upset.) I honestly don’t know how much I’d have been aware of though had social media and ubiquitous connection to the internet had been around in the 1970s… 

But even if you say from the age of 13 – in mid-1977 – in my life, I’ve witnessed history being made dozens of times. Just off the top of my head, without thinking about it, in my teenage years, Elvis died, as did John Lennon. We had the first woman British Prime Minister, and shortly thereafter the miner’s strike. Soon thereafter, Labour showed how you catastrophically lose a general election, a lesson that took thirty years to be forgotten, and one they’re relearning now. In my mid-20s, the Berlin Wall came down and the USSR started to collapse, and Nelson Mandela walked to freedom… and and and…

History is made all the time, but rarely does it happen in such a way that instantly you know what the consequences will be.

You can guess whether they’ll be ‘good’ or ‘bad’ but not much more than that. 

Trump’s inauguration will be one of the exceptions. OK, we won’t know all the consequences for some time to come, but that they’ll be ‘bad’ is beyond question; it’s just a mater of how bad. 

And 2017 will bring more deaths; that’s inevitable. There’ll be much loved celebrities who die at the end of a ‘natural’ life span*, and some that go too soon, some that go far, far too soon. 

(*Though there’ll be some that die and my reaction will be that I’m surprised they were still alive, either because of advancing age or, let’s say if Keith Richards dies, that they managed to last as long as they did.)

My mother used to say that things came in threes… and if once three things had happened, another one happened, it wasn’t that things happened in fours, but that it was the start of a whole new series of three. 2016 ends in theory in three weeks. There’ll be plenty of people saying in the opening weeks of 2017 “I was hoping 2016 ended…” 

It did. 

This will just be a long, lingering smell of shit, like someone dumped a huge turd across the world. 

Which, I suppose, in every important way… they did.

Once again – as it has been for a few weeks – it’s been a shitty week in a shitty year. 

So, once again, here’s some odds and ends to hopefully lighten your load… 

I’ve always enjoyed those Top/”Best Movie [insert thing of choice]’ things… a mixture of nostalgia, fond memories and disagreements… So here are some for you to enjoy as well.

One Hundred Iconic Movie Quotes 

One Hundred Movie Insults

Top 10 Movie swordfights

50 Great movie themes

And to end, something entirely different I came across; the evolution of warp speed depiction in Star Trek

See you tomorrow, with something else. 

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

Watching the shitstorm covering the United States at the moment, it occurs to me that for anyone under 30, who’s only experienced Dick Cheney and Joe Biden as their Vice Presidents, is in for a hell of a culture shock when Donald Trump is inaugurated. And the only prediction that has any weight to it, as to what kind of VP Pence will be, is – as is so often the case with this President-elect, no one has a fucking clue.

Cheney was probably the most influential VP in my adult lifetime. He gave the lie to all the views of the VP expressed by pundits, politicians and former Vice-Presidents in that he genuinely was involved in many high level decisions and wasn’t merely sent out to do the President’s bidding by promoting his policies, and representing the US at funerals. Cheney never looked like he enjoyed being VP though; he always came over – to me anyway – as someone for whom the VP position was just a job in which he could do stuff. For sheer enjoyment of the role of VP, you have to put Joe Biden at the top of the pile. Never have I seen a person more obviously enjoy not only being VP but everything that a VP does. Damn, I’m going to miss him, almost as much as I’m going to miss President Obama.

The VP has precisely two constitutional duties: to break the tie of the Senate is deadlocked, and to step in if the President is incapable of performing his duties. (Yeah, yeah,  you can make your own jokes up about the fella who’s about to be sworn in.) But that’s it. Some VPs have been more of use to their President than others. Some have regarded it as just a PR role, some have bitterly grown to regret accepting the job. 

Not for nothing did John Nance Gardner (FDR’s VP) describe the job as “not worth a pitcher of warm piss”. (Mind you, I also like his other quote of “You have to do a little bragging on yourself even to your relatives; man doesn’t get anywhere without advertising.”)

Other quotes about this oh so powerful office?

“[The Vice Presidency] is the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived.”
–John Adams, 1st Vice President

“”Look at all the Vice Presidents in history. Where are they? They were about as useful as a cow’s fifth teat.”
– Harry S. Truman

“I do not propose to be buried until I am really dead.”
– Daniel Webster, on not accepting the Vice Presidency

That said, there’ve been a number of VPs who’ve died in office, and I’m glad as hell that VP Biden is making it out alive, and well.

All the foregoing being acknowledged, I still think one of the best lines about the Vice Presidency was spoken by the sage of Baltimore, one H L Mencken with his observation that “A vice-president is one who sits in the outer office of the president hoping to hear him sneeze”.

That, as well as other comments about the Vice Presidency comes from Alistair Cooke’s masterful Letter From America on Vice-presidential responsibilites from October 1996… Read and enjoy.

And so, in a few short weeks, we’ll find out what Vice President Mike Pence will be like. Whether he acts as a restraining influence on Trump, or encourages him, or – as Keith Olbermann wants – desposes him via section 4 of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment… either way, looks like we’re cursed to live in interesting times. As, it turns out, is Pence.


This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

2017 minus 24: Short memories

Posted: 8 December 2016 in 2017 minus, politics
Tags:

Maybe it’s a combination of both the ever-present news cycle and because so much has happened this year, but I’m starting to wonder whether we’re reaching the end of that time when certain events in a country’s history seem to linger, and take a place in the “group memory” of the population of that country.

Maybe it’s been happening for a long time, that reduction in ‘group memory’; maybe there’s just fewer ‘I’ll always remember what I was doing when I heard about [insert event of choice]”. While Donald Trump’s winning the election is, without doubt, one of the biggest events to happen in the past few decades of American politics – as huge I’d argue as Barack Obama’s first election, but for very different reasons – both pale compared to 9/11 and that day’s attacks on American. Maybe it’s because Obama’s election, while breaking rules of American politics to that point, was still part of the electoral process Americans had been having every four years. Same as Trump; while the shock of his election is still there and raw, it was part of an election, not an armed coup. But 9/11 was different. And it’s still raw, still visceral for some.

For some reason, the 1960s, in the UK at least, is usually held up as the time in history that, well, ‘lingers’ I guess is the word. Whether it’s The Great Train Robbery, or The Moors Murders, or The Profumo Affair, I wonder what events that have taken place within the United Kingdom, say, since 1st January 2000, will still be remembered as landmark events, in fifty years or so.

The obvious pre-2016 examples are, I’d suggest, the London bombings of 7th July 2005 and the London Olympics & Paralympics of 2012. Will they still be remembered and talked about in fifty years? Horrible to say, but no, I don’t think so. In the first, because there were no more and worse ones (in which case they’d have been remembered as ‘the first’) they’ll be a footnote, remembered by those who were in London at the time, something to bore the grandchildren about, but no more.

And as for the Olympics, like any sporting event, they’ll be remembered by some, but for most, they’ll fade to the point hat in thirty years, most will struggle to remember even in what year they took place.

So what will be remembered?

The EU Referendum campaign. Brexit. For good or ill, whatever happens in 2017-2019, the Brexit vote will be remembered. Whether anyone will remember the campaigns is a whole otehr issue; I kind of doubt that they will. I suspect that in a couple fo decades, the lies, the batting, the dog whistles, will have been relegated to faint “oh yesssss” recollections when folks are reminded of them but not until then. But the vite itslef will remain, the scars to the public discourse will linger, the damage will be long lasting.

The date of the vote – June 23rd –  won’t be remembered any more than the date of its predecessor is clearly remembered. No, not the vote on the EC in 1975, but the immediate predecessor: only the second UK-wide  referendum. The one on replacing the electoral system. You remember, the one on Thursday 4th May 2011. The one you’ve thought about so little since then that you missed just now that it didn’t take place on 4th May but in fact on 5th May. 

So, what will be remembered, and in how much detail?


This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

Previously on “It’s ‘what I’m watching’ Wednesday: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3. 

Let us continue. 

As I’ve said, while I occasionally mention “tv shows I don’t like that everyone else does” I rarely tell you what I do like watching. So, continuing in no particular order, what tv am I enjoying right now?

Conviction
I wish I could tell you why I liked this show. I’m not sure I can. At its heart, it means well, but there’s something missing, while there’s enough there to keep me watching… but when it’s off for a week, I kind of don’t really care? Yeah, it’s that kind of show. Clever concept for the show: party girl and former First Daughter gets tapped (kind of blackmailed) into running a Conviction Integrity Unity by an ex-boyfriend, now District Attorney. The idea is they don’t care if the convict did it or not; they’re just as happy at knowing the right guy is locked up as they are setting the wrongly convicted free. I’m half a dozen episodes through the first season and so far they’re hitting all the marks I’d expect: set an innocent person free; three were convicted together… turns out one was guilty, the other two not; evil person wrongly convicted, how to get the right person convicted but not let the evil one out?

I’m guessing a future episode will deal with someone who did it but was absolutely wrongly convicted or someone who was innocent but should have been found guilty with the evidence alone; they’ve come close so far but not quite there. The sub-plot of family drama is very sub-plottish and isn’t anywhere as clever as the show seems to think it is. Hmm. 

And yet I keep watching. I wonder why.

The Librarians
Remember what I said last week, that I enjoyed NCIS because it’s enjoyable, reliable and fun? Yeah, same applies in spades to The Librarians. Originally a three tv-movie thing about, basically, an Indiana Jones type thing but with a genuine nerd, not an action hero as the lead. It was cute, funny, had clever writing and great – though occaisonally deliberately hammy – acting. Then someone had the bright idea of turning it into a tb series; it could have gone very wrong, but instead it turned out great. Again, clever writing, wonderful acting, great chemistry among the cast… and silly as hell while maintaining just the right amount of tension. And a guaranteed deus ex mechina every episode. I mean, yeah, usually I hate that kind of thing, but it’s built into the show so you swallow it and suddenly you’re waiting to see what this week’s is. It’s ludicrously inconsistent, normally has plot holes you can drive a truck through… and you know what? I don’t care. This is a fun show to watch and everyone’s having a blast making it.

Agents of SHIELD
Once upon a time, this was a clever show about what it’s like to be a secret agent for a secret team in a world of super-heroes and villains. At some point during the last season that changed and ever since then, this show seems like it’s going through the motions. I’m still watching because the individual performances by the actors are still great. And watching some of them, you can see genuinely good acting, great performances. And the effects are incredibly good; entirely naturalistic, by which I mean that of course theu’re special effects, but they’re done so bloody well, they don’t look like special effects.  

A Special Note about The Arrowverse crossover
Yeah, I know I covered the four shows in the first of these reviews (link above) but now they’ve done a four part crossover (well, three part really, involving one character from the fourth show) a few extra words. I’m not sure what it is about crossovers in the Arrowverse, but by god they’re good. This one was particularly good; each part totally true to the different style of each of Arrow, The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow while telling one story, dealing with sub-plots throughout and with each ofthe main characters learning and moving and growing. The final scene, with Oliver and Barry having a drink in a bar and just talking about their lives, was the first time, the first time in three years, that you saw the former treat the latter as a genuine equal. Not for effect, not as a pep talk but as a genuine equal. The interaction etween the casts was excellent and every bit of friction you’d expect was there, as well as some genuinely surprising meetings of minds. The crossover didn’t put a foot wrong, not one.

OK, so that’s another few shows I like. To end with again, here’s a new show this season that I tried, but gave up on.

Pure Genius
Once again, a clever concept (young tech billionaire sets up a high-tech top of the range medical facility using start of the art tech to solve medical problems, but what else is going on?) And once again, what would have been a clever TV movie, or even series of movies… is… what? I have no idea. I watched the trailer and then the extended trailer (otherwise known as the pilot) and was intrigued enough to watch episode 2. Or rather to watch about the first half of episode 2, after which I gave up on the show. The acting is wooden, not one of the characters are believeable, the tech is pretty cool, I’ll accept but I have no idea what on the show is a genuine extrapolation of tech that already exists and what is pure fantasy. After an episode and a half, I could not remember most of the main chacarers names, had no idea why any of them outside two main leads were there (money or desire to do good?) and kept thinking “why am I watching this?” SO I stopped asking, and stopped watching. 


See you tomorrow, with something else. 

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

2017 minus 26: Numbers

Posted: 6 December 2016 in 2017 minus
Tags: ,

One of the questions I used to ask, when I was interviewing people for the finance department I used to run, was… “why finance? Why accountancy?”

There were plenty of ‘good’ answers – this wasn’t one of those ‘impossible to answer’ questions, nor a ‘there’s only one right answer’ question. Genuinely, there were loads of good answers and I got some of them when I asked it. Some were the kind of answers you’d expect, some… not so much.

I think my favourite was the young lady who said she entered the profession to spite an ex-boyfriend who’d constantly belittled her and – when they split up – had mocked her for an opportunity she’d had at her company: to cover for someone in her company’s finance department on maternity leave. She took the proffered opportunity, and found she loved the work.

Then there was the interviewee who told me he’d chosen accountancy because he’d fancied the woman who’d come to his careers day at school, had temped during the summer at an accountancy firm, and again, found he enjoyed the work.

The best answer, though, the one that pleased me most, was when someone said they’d always felt comfortable with numbers. I could teach them the methodologies of accountancy and the rules and regs, but yeah, they had to feel supremely comfortable with numbers. (Much as my younger brother used to say, he could teach anyone to cut a head of hair, but only someone who felt very comfortable with the idea of changing someone’s appearance stood a chance of success as a hairdresser.)

I said above there’s no ‘right answer’ to the question. You might have inferred from that that ‘there’s no or wriog answer to the question’. But you’d have been wrong. Oh boy were there some wrong answers and I heard all of them. But The Wrong Answer was, and remained throughout my career, “I was always good at maths”.

It was a bad answer for so, so many reasons. For a start, they never meant they were good at maths; they meant they were good at arithmetic. To say they’re the same is like claiming that speaking is the same as making a speech. Or being able to write is the same as being a writer. Sure, the latter involve the former, but it’s a small part.

Besides which, I had a calculator and a spreadsheet to be good at arithmetic. (Never forget that a computer is just a pocket calculator with a jumped up attitude.)

But, I hear you cry, when they said they were good at maths, they meant they felt comfortable with numbers. Really? Then why didn’t they say that? No, what they usually – almost invariably – meant by “I’m good at maths” is that they got good exam results on their maths exams.

Every person I took on to work for me either in an accountancy practice or in a finance department who’d said they ‘were comfortable with numbers’, or who’d said ‘numbers always made sense to me’ turned out to be a good hire.

Me? I’ve been out of accountancy now for some time. I still like numbers. I still like playing games with numbers, solving number problems often, though not always, logic problems involving numbers, sometimes just solving those “Are you smarter than an [insert age] year old?” online puzzles.

Long time ago, I posted here about arithmetic, specifically How to tell if a number is divisible by any number between 2 and 12.

But here’s some odd things involving numbers you might not have known:

  • A pizza that has radius “z” and height “a” has volume Pi × z × z × a.
  • In a room of just 23 people there’s a 50% chance that two people have the same birthday. It’s called The Birthday Problem, presumably because you now have to buy birthday presents you didn’t previously realise you had to.
  • a) Choose a four digit number (the only condition is that it has at least two different digits)  b) Arrange the digits of the four digit number in descending then ascending order  c) Subtract the smaller number from the bigger one d) Repeat. Do it enough times you always end up with 6174, Kaprekar’s Constant.
  • Forty is the only number whose letters are in alphabetical order.

Look, numbers are just weird. Well, some of them are, anyway.

And finally, random numbers aren’t that random. For various reasons, they tend to follow the distribution as below. It’s the first thing auditors look for when they think expenses have been faked. The tax man, and the SEC are also very aware of it… In a given list of numbers representing anything from stock prices to city populations to the heights of buildings to the lengths of rivers, about 30 percent of the numbers will begin with the digit 1. Fewer of them will begin with 2, even fewer with 3, and so on, until only one number in twenty will begin with a 9. The bigger the data set, and the more orders of magnitude it spans, the more strongly this pattern emerges.


This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

James Burke makes the point, fairly regularly, that the biggest crises happen when something that people are so used to relying upon that they don’t even think about it… stops working. Also, that when things do stop working, the assumption is that it will, soon enough, start working again. There’s irritation, not worry, nor panic. It’s irritation rather than panic because there’s a temporary inconvenience, not a permanent end to it.

Similarly, I think that the biggest non-recognised events come when people begin to not think how amazing something is, and start to accept something as part of everyday life. 

I used my contactless card to pay for coffee today. OK, yes, I’m still old fashioned enough that I prefer to pay for small items in cash, but that’s slowly changing. But, as I was queuing up, I saw people pay by four different methods:  one person paid by cash, another used NFC via Apple Pay on their iPhone, someone else used their ‘contactless’ bank card, and yet another used Chip and PIN. And as new methods come into play, older ones vanish. While cash remains a useful method of payment*, use of personal cheques in retail shops has plummeted. 

(*worth pointing out that intent out that in London at least, you can no longer use cash to pay for busses; it’s contactless or tfl’s Oyster card.)

But whereas even I thought it was ‘wow’ to use contactless when it started, now it’s just ‘how I sometimes pay for stuff’. It’s not even fair to describe my attitude as blasé, because if I did think about it, I’d probably still be a bit ‘wow’ over it. But I don’t. I don’t think about it, any more than I think about the genuinely modern miracle of constant access to… well, to everything, via the wonder of constant internet access. As Chris Addison puts it: it takes roughly thirty seconds for the modern miracle of the Internet to become, if it’s ‘down’, a basic human right. 

There’s so much I use and experience every day, from my iPhone and my iPad to my bluetooth keyboard, from text messaging to the large digital displays by the bus stop, to the fact that the London Underground keeps running, somehow. 

That’s something else I’m used to and don’t think about that often, if at all: the systems that keep working. Whether it’s the National Health Service (no matter how bad, I know I can turn up at Acciednt and Emergency and I will, eventually, be seen) or the street lights or – as I say above – the London Underground.

Those trains, hundreds of them, running roughly to timetable, thousands of drivers and staff just keeping them moving. And, when there is a problem, (the Piccadilly Line has severe problems at the moment… and will do so for some weeks to come) somehow, the system copes, manages. Except it’s not just the system itself; it’s the people who work there, working harder than anyone realises, but that’s the truth of most jobs: no one realises how hard any job is unless they’ve done it.

It’d blow my mind if I actually thought deeply on what it takes to keep the major infrastructure systems running.

But I don’t think about it.

I probably should.


This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

Some more fiction for you… As I’ve mentioned previously:

Elephant Words was a fiction site to which I contributed stories, on and off, for several years. The idea behind the site was simple, based on the old tale of several blind people describing an elephant based only on touch; one described the animal as a long snake, another that it was hard and bony, still another that it was like a tree trunk. Every week, one of the participants would put up an image, and over the following week, people would write a story inspired upon the image alone.

Occasionally, a story didn’t need the image to contextualise the tale, but I always tried to use it to the point that if the image wasn’t there, I’d have had to change something about the story.

Here’s another one of them; an image, and the story it inspired me to write.


 

THAT MORNING

The fat old man sat at the table, idly watching the patrons of the small coffee shop as they entered, ordered, consumed their fare, and exited.
He was a regular patron, always arriving around ten in the morning; always staying about ninety minutes. The waitresses – for it was a coffee shop that held to the old traditions, despite only having been in business for twenty years – liked the old man. He tipped well, for one thing. And given their location, and the type of clientele that frequented that area of the city, he was polite. Never obsequious nor affected; merely… polite.

He washed as well.

This set him apart from many of the other customers, some of whom seemed to view personal hygiene as an optional extra during this portion of their lives. Not the old man, though. Every morning, he’d… arrive. None of the waitresses, had they thought about it, ever remembered him walking into the coffee shop. Nor, had they been asked, and correctly recalled, had any of them seen him leave. Oh, they could remember him pushing his chair back, recall him patting his right trouser pocket and the brief smile every day as he discovered enough change to pay for the toasted rye bread and the cups of tea he’d ordered and duly consumed. They would enjoy the moment as he found he had just enough change to leave a generous, though not overgenerous, gratuity. He always had just enough change. And as they moved towards the counter to pick up one of the pink and grey towels to clean the table, they would ask themselves why every customer wasn’t like the fat old man.

That morning, the fat old man had been sat at his table (he always thought of it as his table) for a little over an hour, enjoying the flow of people. Business had been slow in the coffee shop, but in the primary reason for his being there, the red painted wooden fronted store with the garish yellow sign across the road, trade was brisk. And with every purchase made, the old man shuddered almost invisibly. As every patron entered, he smiled. As every customer left, he smiled. Not quite as widely. But he smiled nonetheless.

The door to the coffee shop opened and a shadow fell over the old man and his table. He knew who had entered without looking up. And he frowned. No one could have detected the frown, but then he had perfected the art of invisible expression when he had been young, when none of those present (apart from the newcomer) had known him. And even had they known him, it was unlikely that they would have recognised him in the dowdy suit that had seen better days, and the faded brown overcoat.

Then the shadows moved, and the newcomer followed them. A large man, in that way that mountains have of being large, walked to the old man’s table and without waiting to be asked, sat.

They smiled, genuinely pleased to see each other again, though equally concerned at what point the other might lift a weapon or in some other way indicate unhappiness.

It could be argued that gods rarely spend time in coffee shops; it is an argument one would lose. And whether that is because of the nature of gods or the nature of coffee shops is a hypothesis best not considered.

But as the patrons filed in and out of both the coffee shop and the sex shop, the Greek god of pleasure and the Roman god of war discussed demarcation.

© Lee Barnett


See you tomorrow, with something else. 

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.