Quote of the week

He read a lot, and thought a lot, and felt miserable.

The Queen’s Christmas Message 2013

 

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Bedroom done

Ceiling and walls painted, carpet laid, curtains hung, furniture moved back in. The first ‘real’ room accomplished.

Vonnegut: “How the hell did I ever do that?”

To be quite honest, the colours don’t make it look so much like a ‘blue chamber’ in some castle or manor house as like a room in a brothel for gays, if there is such a thing.

But it feels perfectly cosy and, well, mine. Am I looking forward to lying in my bed with a good book…

 

Windows 13

Last Tuesday they were finally replacing the windows in my flat. Never too early, the kitchen had recently become practically unheatable.

Returning from Braehead (IKEA) I walked through the Clyde Tunnel, something I had meant to accomplish for quite some time. An interesting experience, what with the remotely operated gates, the path’s curve and the knowledge that one walks under a motorway, which is itself under a river.

Feeling fairly exhausted (lack of sleep and long walks), I decided to have a pint in Partick, so I sat down in The Thornwood on Dumbarton Road. The first visit to a pub on my own since my arrival two years ago. Serene and pleasant. Just two other customers, music from a tape but not bad (at one moment they even played, as if on a cue, Superstar Tradesman).

Maybe I was lucky to have a date for soon after and nothing to read. Otherwise I might sit there for hours.

 

4 fillings, and curtains down

Four fillings within a single session at the dentist must be my record. Funny thing though, with these local anaesthetics, even the drill which makes one’s whole skull reverberate isn’t so unpleasant as the unanaesthetised scaling . . .

In other news I took the curtains down as I’m having my windows replaced tomorrow and the flat looks so bare now . . . almost like when I’d moved in. As I’m about to be redecorating it throughout the whole next month, I’d better be getting used to it though . . .

 

Late November Sunday

It seemed to confirm Kurt Vonnegut’s notion that there are six seasons rather than four, and November falls into the one he called Locking. There was mist lying low to the west of Glasgow all day, although one could still see Ben Lomond to the north. The Canal has already frozen. The sky was full of white clouds with only a few wee patches of blue, and with no wind either, it was as quiet a Sunday as any Presbyterian might wish for. A locking season indeed.

Maybe I have been pushing some things too hard recently. But the result is than now I have some leeway, and can go on placidly. Tomorrow the dentist, on Tuesday the windows, on Wednesday new glasses, on Thursday what will presumably be my last shift this year . . . and then the flat’s renovation. Knowing I’ll surely manage more than I’d expected even a month ago, so it’ll still be all right if I manage less than I’m planning the now.

Even when you are locking some things up, you can be starting other ones.

 

Quotes: June – August 2013

‘Unfortunately, like a good many other intellectual men, he’s a fool.’
(Father Brown in Gilbert Keith Chesterton: The Scandal of Father Brown)

 

Father Brown was delighted to hear the voice of his old friend, even on the telephone.
(The Scandal of Father Brown)

 

It was that smile which suddenly revealed to Father Brown that the young man was really miserable. So long as he frowned, it might well have been only sulks; but when he smiled it was somehow a more real revelation of sorrow.
(The Scandal of Father Brown)

 

I closed the manual.
‘I wonder if I’ve got any of the 374 mental disorders?’ I thought.
I opened the manual again.
And I instantly diagnosed myself with twelve different ones.
(Jon Ronson: The Psychopath Test)

 

‘But surely stock-market psychopaths can’t be as bad as serial-killer psychopaths,’ I said.
‘Serial killers ruin families,’ shrugged Bob. ‘Corporate and political and religious psychopaths ruin economies. They ruin societies.’
(Jon Ronson & Robert D. Hare in The Psychopath Test)

 

It is founded on a sort of modern fashionable fallacy, compounded of sentimentalism and optimism, to the effect that a man who is rather bitter about this world cannot have any ideals; whereas the bitterness does sometimes come from the intensity of his ideals.
(Gilbert Keith Chesterton: Robert Louis Stevenson)

 

I [….] felt a cold, sick feeling coiling in my belly. I was running out of excuses for doing nothing.
(Prentice McHoan in Iain Banks: The Crow Road)

 

Side effect of stereoblindness?

Looking down from my kitchen window last month it occurred to me that my stereoblindness may be to blame for my not being afraid of heights, as I could hardly tell any difference between looking down fourteen floors here and looking down five floors at my last place in the old country. And that this would also explain why those skyscrapers in La Défense many years ago didn’t look all that astonishingly high to me, although I had never stood in front of a skyscraper before.

 

Getting blinder

For some years my vision hardly deteriorated. I wore the same lenses and most of the time didn’t even need my glasses. Last month, though, I had a strange experience. A plane was flying at some distance and only my left eye could see it. When I closed it, the right one just saw an empty sky.

Apparently I should find and visit an optician again. I’m probably in sore need of new glasses without feeling it.

 

Mondegreens

For some reason, I’ve lately seen several articles with this theme. It’s reassuring to find so many other people too often get it wrong. (Although admittedly, I often don’t get it at all, rather than wrong.) According to one poll, most people misheard Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams: instead of “Sweet dreams are made of this/Who am I to disagree?” they hear “Sweet dreams are made of cheese”. Personally, I’ve always heard “Sweet dreams are made of beings/Whoever might can disagree.” Not that either of the three makes much sense.

Sometimes, though, a mondegreen can make as much sense as the real thing – only a different sense. Like the Paperback Writer couplet “It’s a dirty story of a dirty man/And his clinging wife doesn’t understand.” Now what I’ve thought until very recently McCartney was singing, “his cleaning wife”, isn’t such a bad version either, is it?

 

In love again

If the chance ever comes to you again to fall in love, grab it, every time. You might always live to regret it, but you won’t find anything to beat it, and you won’t know if it will ever come to you once more.

(Joseph Heller: God Knows)

 

Without any warning, last week made me temporarily feel younger than my actual age.

Not the fact that on Monday I somehow succeeded in re-sealing the bath’s edges and then found a welcome sum had appeared on my account, enabling me to buy (online, that very night) a 17-litre minifridge and look up more furniture. I half-expected the money, though not so soon. Not the fact that on Tuesday I spent several hours in IKEA and eventually bought an assortment I still consider a good choice. (For once I managed not to rush when shopping.) What followed.

Because presently after my return, a friend texted, asking me whether I could put him up. I’d promised him earlier he could leave his things with me if he needed, but this was a bolt out of the blue.

Basically I didn’t like the idea at all and I told him so, although I didn’t expand on the reasons: For one thing, I’m a gay in my mid-forties and he’s a straight in his early twenties. For another, I wasn’t absolutely certain my contract allowed this. For a third, we weren’t that close. (I’ve known him for over a year, we must have spent dozens of hours smoking together, twice or thrice he’s been to my old room and once to my new flat, he accompanied me on my first walk outdoors after my accident in case I couldn’t cope on my own, but that was all.) And I’m a bitter curmudgeonly old fart unaccustomed to such intrusions on my privacy, especially at such a short notice.

But when it turned out I was his last chance not to end up literally on the street, what the fuck could I do? Even my selfishness has its limits. We were so close that I couldn’t find it in myself to turn him down under such circumstances.

So I did put him up. After all, I argued, he’d be useful with that furniture. When he came I stressed I wanted him to leave asap, and I went to sleep that night not too happy, but consoling myself with the knowledge that for once I have overcome my cowardice and selfishness and done the right thing. However, my mood soon began to shift. Because the better part of Wednesday we spent together. Assembling the furniture, eating, smoking, drinking coffee, even shopping – and chatting away with a thousand chuckles. In other words, I was living with somebody I liked a lot, something I haven’t experienced for the last five years and hardly hoped I would ever experience again.

Going to sleep that second night I realised that I couldn’t wait to see him go and at the same time didn’t want him to leave at all.

But on Thursday he finally got a room in a hostel for homeless people. I accompanied him when he went there for the first time to check in; later he returned for another meal together and to pick the most necessary things. After he left again I went to buy me a bottle of whisky and fags and on the way finally decided I loved him. Even said out loud so much. Back home I tidied the flat and then just drank coffee and whisky, smoked like a chimney and thought about him and my previous loves and life in general. Glad I was alone here again at last and sad he was already gone.

He’s still got most of his things here, so occasionally he revisits. (On Saturday we even day-tripped together, but that deserves another post.) I’m not daft though. Even as I think, now and then, “my cup runneth over”, I understand how fleeting this situation is. I don’t care. I’m not madly in love, anyway; but for a couple of years or so I wondered whether I’d lost the ability to fall in love altogether. Obviously, so far I haven’t.

And I still feel somewhat younger than my actual age.

 

Heat wave

The average day temperatures often attack 20C, the maximum ones sometimes climb up above 25C, and there is no precipitation worth mentioning. This has been going on for maybe two weeks by now, so I wonder how long it will take before we hear again the old clichés about how it is always raining and how there is no summer in Britain.

My wild guess is two months after the heat wave ends.

 
ETA 27/7/13 (with heat wave just over): An interesting article about the ways in which Britain is ill-prepared to cope with so much heat is here.

 

Right to buy to be scrapped

Nicola Sturgeon announced that the Scottish Government would abolish the right to buy in an attempt to improve access to social housing. I would need to study the matter more to form a stance on the policies involved, but the interesting part of the article is Annabel Goldie’s reaction.

“I could still remember the days when people lived in monolithic council house schemes […] and they were afflicted by a postcode prejudice. They were apprehensive about disclosing their address because they felt it would negate their chance of getting a job or even being accepted for an interview, and by offering a tenant the right to buy you […] stopped them being trapped in that environment because that’s exactly what they were.”

She apparently thinks that if you lived in a monolithic council house scheme and bought your flat, you no longer lived in a monolithic council house scheme. And that if you bought your flat, this was somehow reflected in your postcode, or perhaps in other people’s opinion about that postcode.

This is slightly disturbing. I remember Ms Goldie from First Minister’s Questions in the days when she was the leader of Scottish Tories, and although she would sometimes fall into poetic overstatements, as all politicians would, I don’t recollect her ever uttering something so patently absurd.

 

Snowden

For some time, Edward Snowden’s leaks about the US National Security Agency’s Prism surveillance programme and his attempts to get an asylum filled the headlines every day.

There were some interesting aspects to the story. For instance, the US officials’ insistence that Prism couldn’t be used to intentionally target any Americans or anyone in the US, as if a terrorist attack couldn’t originate from Americans or from inside the US. The implication that they are willing to spy on anybody else, icluding the EU. Or their anger that after Mr Snowden revealed US spying on China and Russia, these countries didn’t hurry to apprehend him and return him to the US. All in all, good old American arrogance. It was contagious too, whatever really happened with that Bolivian presidental plane.

Nothing lasts forever and soon we’ll be able to say with Joseph Heller, “Où sont les Neigedens d’antan?” US will go on snooping as much as it will be able to, as will China, Russia, UK and everybody else; no amount of leaks can stop that. But if it prevented some people from creating more ridiculous laws about cookies, there would be at least one positive result . . .

 

Pinkston building works

For my first visit to the Cathedral since moving house (multitudes both there and in St Nicholas Garden, but then it’s tourist season) I decided to take routes leading through parts I hadn’t walked so far. This (and inevitably losing way for some time) allowed me to notice two things. There’s really something being done at the Basin, although seemingly not as much as could be expected a mere twelvemonth before the Games. And of the five high-rises, one has already been turned to rubble and another will obviously follow soon.

 

Search machine translations

On 8 July, Libération announced it was publishing its 10,000th issue. It’s interesting to compare what Bing and Google translators can do with the announcement.

Libé: Le 10 000e numéro de Libération est à retrouver ce mardi 9 juillet en kiosque ou en version numérique.
Bing: The 10 000th release number is to find this Tuesday, July 9 in kiosk or digital version.
Google: The 10 is the 000th issue of Liberation find it on newsstands Tuesday, July 9 or digital version.

Libé: Pour l’occasion, votre quotidien a inventé 14 unes au lieu d’une, couvrant toutes les actualités fortes du jour.
Bing: For the occasion, your daily invented 14 each instead of one, covering all the heavy news day.
Google: For the occasion, your daily invented 14 each instead of covering all significant news of the day.

Libé: Un quotidien, comme l’écrivent Nicolas Demorand et Fabrice Rousselot dans leur éditorial, c’est inventer et se réinventer tous les jours.
Bing: A daily, as Nicolas Demorand and Fabrice Rousselot in their editorial, write it is to invent and reinvent themselves every day.
Google: Daily, as Nicolas Demorand and write in their editorial Fabrice Rousselot is to invent and reinvent themselves every day.

I think Google is a clear winner. It’s not afraid to disclose that Libé is inventing their news instead of covering them.

 

Further on

When do you know that you’ve really truly moved? When all your tasks, however many of them there can be, are more related to the future than to the past. When they’re about what you want to do yet, rather then about what you still haven’t done. And if you’re lucky, when you’ve had your first visitor.

I’ve mentioned here already that the first phase of putting the flat in order was over. On Tuesday, Tommy visited (this prompted me to buy a second chair, one from a local charity shop, so we both had something to sit on), and we had a pleasant leisurely two-and-a-half-hour chat. He was appropriately impressed – and appropriately un-overimpressed – by my new place of abode; I hope he’ll ultimately fare at least as well as me.

And yesterday – because it’s already after midnight – I at long last caught up on my blogging backlog. From now on, both in my so-called real life and in my so-called virtual one (sometimes it’s hard to tell which is which, to be honest), I’m again going on more or less in a linear chronology.

 

Opera 15

To say I’m not impressed would be an understatement. Admittedly, it’s quicker, but how much time can this save? A couple of minutes a day? Certainly not enough to make up for the disadvantages. To name but a few: You can’t organize bookmarks. You can’t pin tabs. There’s no RSS. Most of the extensions I use in the old Opera don’t work. Speed Dial customization is a joke. It can open a PDF, but that’s about the only thing in which it beats Chrome. As somebody mentioned in some forum, it’s good enough for searching with Google or being on Facebook – and that’s about that.

To make a long rotten story short, given that presumably the old girl will no longer be updated, I’m after a few happy years with her returning to Firefox as my primary browser. It’s not as good (for instance, its handling of RSS is pathetic), but I guess I’ll have to get used to it again.

 

Stirling

We had some time to kill between our jobs in Dunblane and Stirling, so we spent it at the Castle. I considered visiting the renovated Royal Palace; I’m not sure whether or not I would give the £14 for the ticket if I had them on me, but I didn’t. As it was, I just spent some time with the others on the battlement overlooking the Esplanade and the Esplanade itself.

With the sun getting unbearable and only the Bruce statue offering some shadow, I later parted for a while to see again the Old Town Jail. Noticing the Church of the Holy Rude was open I went inside; as I’d never been there before, I lit a candle for the sake of the two people whose deaths had shook me most, Geordie M and Tony L, praying I wouldn’t follow them too soon.

And then it was back to work, and later (through Plean, a town I’d never heard of) to Larbert Hospital and possibly the quickest job I’ve been to so far . . .

 

Andy Murray won Wimbledon

I’m not much interested in this kind of show business, but noticing Murray was playing the final I opened this page and by accident had a look there later when the score was Murray 6-4 7-5 3-4 Djokovic. I decided to wait till the end of the set, and so I can say I watched the victory. Interested or not, I admit it did excite me a bit.

By coincidence, the next morning I had a job in Dunblane. It seemed very quiet, as if after a night of celebrations only those who had to be at work were awake. I could quite understand that . . .

 

Post-referendum replicated bodies

I’m a mild supporter of Scottish independence. The way the unionists conduct their campaign, however, might yet turn me into a strong supporter. Admittedly, it was the Yes campaign that managed to do what looks impossible: turn a single word into a cliché. Yes, I mean the word “scaremongering”, which they seem to use more often than the word Britain.

But they have a point: hardly a week passes without the No campaign telling us that an independent Scotland will face some problem which only a slightly closer look reveals as absurd. No, I’m not referring just now to the roaming charges gaffe. I’m referring to the list of bodies that may need to be replicated post referendum. (Not, as the BBC tells us, “post independence”. Post independence means after independence ended, for instance just now.)

200 isn’t such a big number at all, especially as they count in even bodies like Visit Britain, which already exists alongside Visit Scotland. And we have evidence from the 1980s from Eastern Europe that these things can be done without much fuss – as long as there is political will. In case of a Yes vote, the follow-up won’t be as easy as the Yes camp pretends; but it certainly won’t be as hard as the No camp threatens, unless Westmister gets peevish and makes things harder out of sheer spite.