Category Archives: Abridged blog

What’s in a name

I changed my name about a dozen years ago. I didn’t change it to anything as spiffy as, say, Mark Twain, or offbeat as Kate Winslet’s husband Mr Rocknroll, but it met the main criteria of being different from that which I’d spent 20 years vaguely dissatisfied with. (If the math doesn’t add up to my age, that’s because I wasn’t always bothered.) I did it because I could, and it was easy. Except for the explaining part.

How do you tell your father you’re discarding the family name, apparently dissing him and the line of fathers which begat ungrateful you? If you’re a girl (sorry) getting hitched, it’s not an issue even in these days of fewer nées; patriarchy has its silver lining. Boys are expected to display the marque. That’s one reason for the extra enthusiasm with which cigars are handed out, at least in the movies.


“Eeny, meeny, miny, Moe. OK, you’re Moe. Don’t cry, your brother got stuck with Sue.”

I didn’t tell him at first, even going so far as to carefully remove all luggage tags when my parents would meet me at the airport for my annual visit to the homestead. But eventually it seemed prudent to gingerly let the cat out of the bag and hope for the realistic best, i.e., a shrug and a sad smile of acceptance. I honestly still don’t know how he took it; I don’t remember if his body language was mute with shock or I averted my eyes at the crucial moment. Other than a steady stream of perhaps-not-always offhand remarks which suggests it remains a sore spot, we’ve never discussed it in any depth. It helps to have cultivated a reputation for being [pick an adjective] odd/‘creative’/difficult.

It’s hard to gauge the importance of the name that’s been stuck on the birth certificate. On one hand it’s—sorry, papas everywhere—meaningless. On the other, it’s your bloody name, innit. Tends to crop up on a daily basis. Gets called over the loudspeaker, machine-printed in junk mail, chiselled onto your gravestone. In my case, constantly misspelled or at least mispronounced.

If I’d been born Native American and followed traditional conventions, my parents would’ve called me boy-who-cries-a-lot, thanks to colic. In my teens this might’ve then become hogs-mirror-with-comb, perhaps finally culminating in adulthood with naps-on-couch.


Not exactly a role model, but we all have our redeeming qualities

As it was, I went from something howmanyofme.com informs me only 28 other Americans shared, to a meeting hall of closer to 300.

The transition wasn’t too great of a lurch in the small family unit of me and my wife. She’d known me as my now official first name since the 80s, the initials my parents had bestowed having formed a perfectly serviceable moniker that happened to appeal.

I retained my middle name as a kind of keepsake. My new surname came more or less out of a hat, like my father’s, at least from the point of view of a zygote swimming in a universe of possibilities. (I know, a zygote doesn’t do much paddling. It’s more a wallflower waiting to blossom.)

My wife didn’t follow suit. There’s no reason she should have. She chose it; I didn’t. Who could have guessed she’d be landing on what was to be my maiden name.

Not long ago I started visiting my hometown on a regular basis via the local newspaper, which has been giving me space to write about life as an expat. Call it boy-who-crossed-pond. As a byline I chose my old name. It made sense; my parents and their friends would be reading. I wanted them to be able to say “Yeah, he’s ours” should they be pleased with the result, without resorting to tedious explanations. (On the flip side, should they feel the need to cringe, well, tough luck. Heh.) Though pen names are common enough, it’s an unnecessary obstacle in a conversation.

I’ve also reverted to my given name on Facebook. Not only is it easier for relatives who haven’t been kept apprised of my idiosyncrasies to process, it’s pleasing to feed data-hungry Zuckerbeasts white lies.

Ironically, as I have a bit of a lisp, my self-chosen name appears to be difficult to convey to anyone needing to take it down. “Fam?” I’m frequently asked over the phone. <Sigh>


Original art spotted in a gallery. Afford it I couldn’t.

PS. Walker, Sam Walker. 007½, licence to drive on the left.

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The Zero Club

zerovenn
This is a club for content creators who work in the pristine vacuum of public indifference. It’s for those of us who do our bit to fill the web with stuff that someday someone special may stumble across and think: “cool”. Or words to that effect.

It’s for those who have no choice in the matter. We write or otherwise concoct whatever comes tumbling unbidden out of our brains, work it till it’s just right or as right as we can make it, then let it go. Then it goes nowhere. Which can be discouraging despite the awesome freedom that comes with always flying under the radar. We can say whatever we want! It will have absolutely no effect on the observable universe.

How do you know you belong in this club? It’s easy. All you have to do is post something somewhere and wait for nothing to happen. What do you expect is going to happen anyway? Are you waiting for applause? Kudos? Validation of the wonder that is you? I would say “grow up” but chances are you’re already grown up enough to know the world has placed a value on your efforts, and that value is nil.

Zero Club costs nothing to join. You don’t have to officially register or anything. We have no bylaws, other than this: Keep on keepin’ on.

jack

I was prompted to revisit this somewhat bleak topic after posting a bit of satire over in  Kosland, where for better or worse I’d been lapping up coverage of the US primaries. Let’s just say it flew spectacularly under the radar. 

stealthbomber

Fortunately there are peeps of taste and discernment in the Twittersphere.

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Bookshelved

What home library would complete without the Bible? I’ve even read it, if speed reading counts. This is what I remember.

tree

OLD TESTAMENT
God clapped his hands and there was light. A few more claps took care of everything else under the sun. Man was given dominion over all the animals except cats. A snake got into the garden and tricksied Eve, the first scapegoat. Everybody moved away because you can’t go home again.

The birds and the bees begat. There were giants in those days, and X-men. Also prophets like Nostradamus, who predicted Hitler before spellcheck.

The world quickly became overpopulated with ne’er-do-wells so there was a flood. Only Noah had bought flood insurance.

Joseph got a nice coat for Christmas; too nice. This angered his brothers, as did the fact that he never had dreams about falling like normal people.

Baby Moses was set adrift in a model boat then grew up to part the waters. Unfortunately he later missed the boat to the Promised Land. First he passed along the X Commandments as chiseled by God, who was pretty high on himself even though things never seemed to go according to plan.

Abraham nearly killed his prodigal son because of voices in his head, but relented and turned him into a pillar of salt instead.

God made Job suffer terribly. The devil made him do it. Job’s response was to say “Thank you Sir may I have another,” so God gave him 14000 sheep and more asses than one man can covet in a lifetime as a kind of apology for being a good sport.

David killed Goliath to show he wasn’t going to be anybody’s bitch.

Moby Dick swallowed Jonah but spat him out again because he preferred plankton.

Angels dance on pins. Because they can. They also leave messages.

womb

NEW TESTAMENT
Joseph believed Mary, bless.
All you need is love, loaves and fishes.
Matthew Mark Luke and John weren’t always on the same page.
The committee of three is making a list and checking it twice.
Hell is other people going around in circles. If you’re going there you probably haven’t been bad enough to meet Hister, but you might be bumping into a few peeps from work.

APOCRYPHA
There are no original sins because they’ve all been done before.

amen2

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Rabitting on

I had what educators call a teachable moment yesterday whilst interviewing a gardener (which makes me sound posher than I am, but if the Hunters fit…). “I see you around on your bike,” he said after we’d discussed how much Monsanto Roundup should be sprayed to stun but not kill bunnies. After we’d established that yes I am the village cyclist, he launched into a mini diatribe against cyclists who wear “those ear things” and weave all over the road. Needless to say I cleared my throat.

Had a bit of fun watching his eyes slightly bulge at the thought he may have just insulted a potential client, but I’m not cruel enough to enjoy the squirming of even tradesmen, so I let him off the hook by agreeing that yes, it looks like a crazy thing to do, before explaining why it isn’t any madder than spraying glyphosate around and hoping the local hoppers regard it as nectar.

Anyway, it turns out his anecdotal ire was based on an apparently misbehaving pedestrian, who in the interests of comity I agreed should also be sprayed with Roundup much like unruly weeds.

bunnyrolling

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Deceptively Haunted

socknersh3

You must understand, it was only the horror of renting which convinced us we must buy the stately house and garden. The price tag, £5 million, was somewhat aspirational given that we had neither part exchange, substantial deposit, large income, annuities, nor inheritance due save a rather nice reproduction Hogarth Chair from my wife’s side of the family that was only missing one leg, but we figured to use the government’s help-to-buy scheme and aspirational accounting to leverage ourselves onto the top rung of the property ladder.

We contacted the estate agent then drove out to view what we very much hoped would become our new home and hearth. Actually, 47 hearths, according to the birdlike Ms Heathcliff, “No relation!” as she chirped merrily from behind her clipboard upon meeting us at the end of a long and meandering driveway which we got lost on twice.

Our tour began in what appeared to be the Entrance Hall, which was large enough to echo but hung with ancient tapestries to muffle any yodeling. “They come with,” said Ms Heathcliff after consulting her clipboard. “Isn’t that nice?” Given that our last set of tapestries got caught in the hoovering and unravelled to the tune of a new beater bar for Henry, I rather thought not, but held my tongue in the interests of comity.

What we had taken to be the Entrance Hall was, in fact, the boot room; the cavernous space we were next led to was the Hall. “You could play a game of cricket in here,” I thought and indeed said. “Your house, your rules!” trilled the agent.

“What council tax band is this?” asked my wife, ever the Committee of Ways and Means. Ms Heathcliff consulted her notes. “It doesn’t say. However, a title is conferred with the property, along with the right to press gang locals to build follies, subject to planning permission of course.”

“Title?” my wife asked archly, entirely content with the honorific ‘Mrs’. As they chatted about correct forms of address, the agent quick to soothe any ruffled feathers in service to her commission, I wandered off to the games room. It took several minutes to walk around the aircraft carrier-sized snooker table, also apparently surplus to the owner’s requirements, to arrive at the windows and take in the garden. The topiary was splendid, though oddly, it consisted entirely of rabbits. Musing on the fecundity of the species, I headed back to find the ladies, though not before catching sight of a strange-looking fellow peering at me from between the ears of one of the gently rustling giants.bunnytopiary“Oh, that’s the gardener,” explained the agent. A look of displeasure momentarily flickered across her face then was gone. “He comes with, too. Lives in the coach house.”

Our tour continued. At one point we crossed paths with a rambler. “There is a right-of-way down this corridor,” explained Ms Heathcliff airily, quickly ushering us past the mezzanine level to the map room, spare ballroom, “George III Room” (where the monarch was rumoured to have stayed during that anxious period when he still thought he was a badger), servant’s quarters long since converted to media rooms categorised by genre, an entire suite leased by covenant to the BBC for period adaptations of Jane Austin novels, bedrooms and boudoirs and more WCs than one could flush in a lifetime, and finally, a locked door.

“What’s behind that?” I asked, thinking it to be a British Library-sized library, or perhaps a branch line closed by Beeching.

“That’s just a closet,” said the agent, looking anxiously at her watch. “I’m terribly sorry, but I’ve got another appointment just now. You two are of course welcome to see yourselves out.” Then she was off with a smile and a wave and a darting glance at the locked door.

We had a bit more of a mosey then used the GPS on my wife’s phone to find our way out. As we were approaching the car I heard an urgent Psssssst! coming from the ha-ha. It was the gardener.

“Did she take you to the haunted wing?” he asked without preamble. “You mustn’t buy this house. Terrible things have happened in that wing. That’s why it’s kept locked.”

“What terrible things?” I asked, always game for a bit of intrigue. “And what wing?”

“The one she probably told you was a closet,” he said. “You don’t notice it until you’re outside and start counting wings.”

We counted. He was right! How odd. “What terrible things?” I asked again.

“Unspeakable Feng shui,” he said with a shudder. “Spirits wailing to be let out of the box room. Rocking horses rocking themselves to a frenzy in the nursery. Unearthly groans from the loft, moaning for better insulation. Broadband like treacle. Total eclipses in the solarium. Entire busloads of tourists lost in the maze, never to be seen again, umbrellas spit out like pips. Oranges mysteriously squeezed dry of their juice in the orangery. Easter egg hunts with shocking breakage…

“Ramblers and retired lollipop ladies are regularly devoured by these beasts,” he shivered, shrinking away from the topiary. “Bunnies too are creatures of the night.”

He then quickly jumped back into the ha-ha and flattened himself as if in the trenches of the Somme, refusing to speak further.

Much amused by the encounter, and little believing the fantastical tales from a man who had obviously been sampling too much product from the vineyard, we repaired home and made our bid: the full asking price.

Reader, our dreams were dashed, or so we thought at first. In the end we were gazumped by a developer who turned the property into affordable housing for Russian oligarchs made homeless by Hackney oligarchs. Later we read they were devoured by a herd of meerkats last spotted leaping into the ha-ha and headed for the coach house. It seems we made a lucky escape after all.

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The early bird catches the lark

I’ve been giving Twitter a workout lately.

Although I’ve had an account since early 2013, the microblogging bug never really bit. The nomenclature alone kind of makes my skin crawl. I could appreciate its utility, and even consider the character limit to be a worthwhile challenge, but ‘following’ always gave me pause. I already follow people in the sense that if I like a blog, I’ll bookmark and revisit when the mood strikes. The Twitter way is to eyeball the ever-scrolling feed of tweets of your chosen ones. Surely when you amass a certain number of followees, this becomes not much more convenient as a filter (if a filter you seek) than googling randomly. It only really seemed to make sense for mass movements of people; following trends. I’m not so interested in that.

Anyway, about a month ago I tweeted thus:

1st450

The implementation was clumsy as I hadn’t yet figured out how to slide text onto a curve using Sketch, which is my chosen canvas in preference to Photoshop. (Can’t say you’re Sketching, people would just get confused. And the clumsiness would remain. When it comes to image manipulation, I’m what you call an enthusiastic amateur.) But it was an enjoyable exercise, so the next day I dipped into the past again, simply doing a search of July 10 and throwing a few events in this time.

The first history tweet I actually felt æsthetically pleased with came on the 12th when I got to do a group portrait of the Stones with Caesar. Next Nixon made his debut – he’s very photogenic. The 14th was another multi-event, which was becoming the new standard even if the illustration was quite basic. On the 16th I got more ambitious; at this point I was hooked.

I don’t think anybody actually follows my Days except Twitterbots, but that’s not why I post them (else I’d widen my library of pop culture references). They wake up my brain. The only downside is that ambition is an insomniac’s dream; they take too long, eating into time when my brain should really be asleep. Today’s, for example

aug10

was accomplished in the peak REM hours early the morning of August 10th.

According to Wikipedia, which is good enough for me (as are some of the ‘Today in history’ sites, though I’m aware they’re not always strong on fact-checking), on this day word of the Declaration of Independence reached London. Also, “In 1793 The Musée du Louvre officially opened… In 1990 the Magellan space probe reached Venus… In 1519 Ferdinand Magellan’s five ships set sail from Seville to circumnavigate the globe… And in 2003 came the highest temperature ever recorded in the United Kingdom – 101.3 °F in Kent. It is the first time the United Kingdom has recorded a temperature over 100 °F.”

The temperature thing was a surprising fact, but I didn’t have room for it, so never mind that. Everything else got slotted in like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, which is surely one of the handier metaphors.

This one was particularly irksome as my grey matter kept getting impacted with ideas [mental note: Breaking Bad. Ignore.] The character limit had forced me into ‘Dec’ of Independence, so in came Dec, Ant’s buddy. The lightning bolt was a flashbulb moment which naturally needed to be incorporated. As for the louvres, homophones stopped by the other day, and I grab continuity where I can find it, so… you get the idea. Tick-tock, tick-tock.
tiltingclock30I had to find a useable globe stand, as cleaning stuff up is a chore I can do without; my kingdom for a .png or .gif with a transparent background!

Almost all of the history images are scooped up without apology in image searches, though I try not to use other people’s personal photography [see apologia]. Been to the Louvre, so that one’s mine.

Images are only half the fun. The rest comes with snapping the various elements together, where possible, and writing captions. Words and pictures, pictures and words: that’s my life.

Perhaps I should thank Twitter for limiting me to 140 characters. Make that 117 – or 99 with intro. I am constantly reminded of the importance of 23, which is the number of characters a picture(s) is worth in this brave new world.

important23

I’m not sure how long I’ll keep this up.* There’s the only-so-many-hours-in-the-night thing, which can be addressed by lowering the benchmark or redefining the mission. Over time it will become progressively more difficult for me anyway as history runs out. Ideally I will pass this sacred duty to the next generation, whose job it has always been to make new history.

* 3 months as it turns out. Now I just do them whenever the mood strikes.

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