October 30, 2012

Great Scott! No, not you Charles.

Apropos nothing, and not talking about The News- 

Here’s a monumental invention that’s been hiding it’s light under an Etsy bushel while the world’s scientists continue to slave away in their conventional labs. Yes folks, they said it couldn’t be done but a little known Bristol inventor had gone and invented a time machine. A TIME MACHINE!!!  
Wouldn't we love to have one right about now?  Alas, its no longer available.  Did too many try and succeed?

According to the manufacturers it was a “hand held device for traversing the chrono scape” which transported a willing volunteer through the vortex of time itself. “Feuled by raw liquid ether held in the containment vessel at the bottom,” they continued, “the user had only to wind the clockwork mechanism at the top the desired number of times to initiate chronoporting.” Fair enough.  

Ah, but did it work? At $100,000 it bloody well should have! Now if it had been on offer for $9.99 I’d be a bit skeptical myself, but if it costs that much then it had to be real. Plus they have photographic proof of its chronosphere-surfing attributes, apparently, which you can view here:  As aul owl used to say, I want to believe!

On the whole I think my favorite part of their sales pitch though, aside from their offer of the chance to navigate the boundaries of eternity itself, had to be their disclaimer:

Watts Industries Accepts no responsibility for chronofreeze, ingestion by theropods, Vexatious encounters with robots and infantication. If raw liquid ether is ingested seek medical attention yesterday.

Time flew? Don’t say you weren’t warned! 

October 25, 2012

There is travel . . .

. . . and then there is travel-

And the two should never be confused. They’re not interchangeable.  The first is merely a go-through-the-motions exercise, the dried-out process of getting somewhere, spending a little time, and returning home.  But travel is another matter entirely. It is a consuming experience, an adventure, really, and some little piece of it stays with you forever. What separates the extraordinary journey from the merely ordinary often has little to do with place.  It is simply a matter of what you bring to the trip-your frame in which you place the experience.

Despite popular opinion, travel is not, and never has been, only about collecting pre-packaged pieces of scenery.  It’s much more personal than that.  It is an individual response-your response-in a given context that makes a trip either memorable or disposable.  When it’s memorable, it’s because of what you saw and what you felt and what you thought.  Then, too, there is the discovery of unexpected pleasures.  And the irony of liking what you thought you would not,  and disliking what you expected to embrace. 

The joy of travel is making a wrong turn and confronting a sight that is at that moment the prettiest you have ever seen;

it’s a restaurant whose smell can always be recalled and always makes you feel warm inside;

it’s that little inn and the incredible days you spent there.

When I think about my favorite trips, I remember the details: colors, tastes, smells, sounds.  But what I remember most of all is who I met.  Let’s be honest, a great view is simply a great view.  It rarely makes a trip.  We have all been to places not likely to be photographed or written about where we have had an absolutely wonderful time.  And that, after all, is the point.

October 19, 2012

Noted, twice:

“I had the impression you are a gay male. However, notwithstanding that …”

“I had no idea you're a woman. Well...”

After learning that cases of mistaken identity abound on the Internet as evidenced by the above comments to me, friends, and fellow bloggers, I thought, perhaps, a bit of clarification is in order.

My avatar is female which I mistakenly thought would settle the matter of gender once and for all. If it should even matter, which au fond it does not. Yet, it would appear that I'm being perceived as man. Perhaps, it is my queenly writing style that is leaving readers mystified.

For the digital record, I am of the female persuasion, who is just the least bit flattered by the confusion, since I openly admit to an obsession for trousers on me and on men (hetero and otherwise).  It is my hope that this revelation, which has been in some doubt, will not offend, alienate, torment or anguish any and all.

October 16, 2012

Bottoms up!

Quoted from the science of aging:“…being thin is what ages you most.”

Un-Censored and I get quite grumpy about the whole 'anti-aging' mantra. We become extremely testy when told that women must 'fight' ageing, as if it is some rampaging mob armed with pitchforks. We think that women with wrinkles instead of stretched, worked-on, wind-tunnel faces, are beautiful.  On the other hand, we see no reason to develop any more lines than necessary. So we are going to keep on eating.
Studies confirm what many women have known for a long time and what the magnificent Catherine Deneuve enforced years ago; that after a certain age women have to choose between their face and their derrière. (The genteel Daily Telegraph translated this as choosing between face and body, presumably because too many of their gentle readers might drop their Frank Cooper's Oxford at the mere mention of a lady's bottom.)
So hurrah for science!  Hurrah for a generous appetite. Hurrah for all of our munificent derrières.

October 12, 2012

It is a wise thing to be polite . . .

. . .consequently, it is a stupid thing to be rude  . . .
~Arthur Schopenhauer

One of the rules I made when I started this blog was to avoid, if at all possible, ad hominem attacks. This is not just because they are illogical, but also because they are rude.  Occasionally, someone in the public eye would drive me so nuts that I could not refrain from a little dig, but even then I tried hard to stick to the rule of criticising the thing a person had said or done, rather than anything to do with their character or their appearance. I imagine if you dug back through the archives you would find times when I did not strictly honor this rule, but it remains my serious aspiration, and the older I get the more I think it is important.

There is this odd phenomenon of herd mind, when every single pundit appears to pick on the same person at the same time.

The bashing of public figures goes way back and beyond, and in many ways has an honorable history. When Richard Nixon told reporters, ‘You won’t have Nixon to kick around any more,’ he did not get much sympathy, nor did he deserve it. There was a president who possibly needed a bit more kicking around.

But now there is something which does feel new. It is the rise of the Internet pundit and the Twitterers with the trigger fingers. Professional journalists aren’t perfect and do make grievous mistakes, but most of them have some sense of responsibility, to their paper, to their readership, even, if one can say this without everyone falling on the floor laughing, to the ethics of their profession. Not all are hackers and smearers. If you don’t believe me, read Jon Snow on the intricacies and nuances and terrors of Syria, for a shining example of journalism at its crest and peak.

There is something about the new media which can turn quiet people into screamers and slashers. Some of the things written on the comment sections of the most august publications make me blanch and blush.

There are Facebook tantrums and Twitter firestorms and blog eruptions. It is so easy to type fast, as the red mist of rage descends, and press send; the distancing effect of the Internet ether can make a civilised human seem to forget they are talking of another human, with friends and family and feelings. This happens not just to the brigade with the pots of green ink; the unshackling power of social media may lead to respectable commentators hurling about insults that they would never commit to print.

There is something about cyberspace which lets slip the dogs of war.

Hate a politician’s policies; argue their positions until your ears fall off; oppose their ideas with every ideological bone in your body; but don’t resort to playground taunts. Apart from anything else, it’s a bit like Godwin’s Law: first one to mention the Nazis has lost the argument. If you must go straight to fat or ugly or stupid jokes, the suspicion is that your intellectual cupboard is bare, even though the opposite might be true.
It is also unkind. You will wound all those who love that person. You are not winning an argument; you are unleashing untrammelled meanness.

But the real problem with this kind of attack is that it has no utility.  No policy will be changed; no mind converted. All this kind of low barb achieves is an addition to the sum of human unhappiness.

I know all this sounds a bit joyless. So much more fun to slash and burn rather than be reasoned and measured. Some people might even think it bloodless and mealy-mouthed. Self-censorship, they cry, their righteous flags of freedom of expression fluttering in the wind. But I stick with grandma, who advised me from a very young age to endeavor not to make personal remarks.  Private Eye, that most gleeful pricker of balloons, manages to have festivals of satirical fun without going for the straight mean. It will tease and mock; it is fierce in exposing acts of hypocrisy; it will squeeze the pompous and the foolish until the pips squeak. But it is much too clever to go for a low procreation slur. It wins arguments and casts light into shady corners precisely because it dances right up to the edge of the sharpest satire and the most antic lampoon, but rarely descends to pointless cruelty.

The unfenced prairies of cyberspace seem to invite odd levels of intemperance. Inhibitions are cast aside, consequences forgotten, lesser angels come out of the closet.  The problem is, once you are shouting madly like a saloon drunk, you convince no one of the brilliance of your insights, the rightness of your prescriptions, or the goodness of your heart. You are just, shouting.

For the little urban hipsters.

October 09, 2012

Words are…

…how the world works.

“Language can shape and limit people's ambitions: "We are not nouns, we are verbs. I am not a thing – an actor, a writer – I am a person who does things – I write, I act – and I never know what I am going to do next. I think you can be imprisoned if you think of yourself as a noun.” ~Stephen Frye
“If one could only teach the English how to talk, and the Irish how to listen, society here would be quite civilized” said Irish born London based writer and poet Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde (1854 – 1900) when he was 28 years of age and already a cultural icon. Speaking English is like being on a constantly changing journey, one you have to experience first hand, while moving through time and space.  It’s a mystery, mostly to the people who speak it, certainly for those who are trying to learn it and, for those desperately trying to understand and comprehend its many complexities. As a language it is reputedly the hardest for other language speakers in the world to learn, understand and embrace a creative cocktail of social history, literature and linguistics. It is all about tone, shape, style and context, as well as construction.

Stephen Fry acting Oscar Wilde

The television series Stephen Fry’s Planet Word, when it was released in 2011 was billed as a round-the-world trip of a lifetime. Television director and writer John-Paul Davidson had the witty British actor Stephen Fry offering the diversity and delight of a wonderful world of words, wooing people with his style. It’s an interest they both shared and a journey on which it was possible to find out who the 105 year old man that invented modern day Chinese was and how he all but eradicated illiteracy.
It was an intelligent five part monologue surveying the evolution of language from ancient Sumeria the first linguistically identifiable urban literate society, to the contemporary world of blogs and twittering. You were able to build your trivia knowledge by finding out why in Japan the go-light is blue and, why superstar rock legend Mick Jagger embraced a ‘cockney’ accent. For a man with a huge intellect, hyperactive mind and an incredible ability to emphasize the point, Fry made complete use of cleverly crafted words in a series that must have been both a challenge and a joy for him to present.
Fry uncovered the origins of language and explained how different peoples around the world are identified through their language, by examining its development. This included slang words and swearing and what effect they have on our lives. He explained language in an engaging way and it helped that he was a bit of a wit, a total wag and master word smith. No wonder has an ever growing number of ‘twitter’ fans, over three million and counting, who hang on his every word. On Planet Word Stephen Fry explores language, helping us to understand how we learn it, write it, sometimes  lose it and, why it defines who we are. He and special guest David Tennant spent time talking about the wonderful words that make up Shakespeare’s Hamlet because words are how the world works.
Up until a gramophone and tape recorders were invented there were no ways of recording the languages on our planet and how they were being spoken. The only clues came from how words were written down and, in the case of English, writing them down has meant a whole set of rules that for centuries has been constantly changing, or being broken. This has just added to the confusion for those already challenged by its constant state of flux.
It was after the Elementary Education Act of 1870 in England that the educated élite would rebuke someone who said ‘loik’e instead of ‘like’. Up until then everyone had spoken the different dialects of the British Isles with great pride. This is the point where accent levelling became a social status marker.
An approved ‘tone’ also needed to be acquired as it was now ‘desired’ that a whole new ‘standard’ of English be spoken, especially when the age of the recorded voice and electrically transmitted sound began. This is when teaching elocution became a new age profession.
According to Davidson’s publishers, Penguin, the book about the series with an erudite forward by Stephen Fry, ‘uncovers everything you didn’t know you needed to know about how language evolves: from feral children to deaf Tourette’s, fairy-tale princesses and wicked stepmothers to secrets codes, invented languages, back slang – even a language that was eaten’.
It also informs us that according to the Snohomish tribe of North America, we speak different languages today because of a row about a duck.
It asks do you ‘take a bath’ or ‘have a bath’, do you use a ‘napkin’ or a ‘serviette’ and are you wearing ‘spectacles’ to read this or your ‘glasses’? How we speak and what we say (or don’t say) reveals much about our identity. But does where we come from influence how we think? Does a Frenchman better understand love? Has a German-speaker a more technical way of looking at the world?
The only place language seemingly remains static is once it is in a printed format, especially a dictionary. Those published in the many different languages of the world over the centuries will become collector’s items in the years ahead. They provide a valuable record of language and cultural development. Those in English will also offer a rare insight into the progression and pace of change, of surely one of the most fluid of all our world’s languages.
According to statistics provided by Penguin, there are still more than 6,000 languages spoken today, some by only a handful of people. However by the end of this century the prediction is there will be only about 900 left. Eventually experts tell us, we will no longer have a need for a written language at all, only using pictures and symbols to communicate instead?  With a heart being the first graphic to enter the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) are we already well on our way? Are we going back to the future, to a whole new world of hieroglyphics?
The story of English reveals how people can fasten their anxieties about changes happening daily on to words, utterly believing that to say something ‘incorrectly’ or not in the right context is just about the end, at least for them, of civilisation as we know it.
This is rubbish; language should be and is a constantly movable feast, which is what makes it so damn interesting.
It is easier for a majority of people in out world of words to dwell on the well-catalogued and recorded past, rather than live in the present, world. The whole idea of an even more rapidly evolving life of words, via phone texts and twitter is for many people, completely overwhelming.
Stephen Fry’s Planet Word is absolutely sensational, and celebrates the complexity, variety, and ingenuity of language all around the world.

October 03, 2012

Packing for a Life’s Journey.

This time of year I always journey back in mind to my own school years, and then my god children’s.  At the first hint of fall, I unpack memories of what were some of the happiest of days - memories that travel with me.

My memories of the pleasures of fall, of greeting old friends and making new ones, were refreshed this year when I returned to give the commencement address celebrating our anniversary.  

It was to this school I went on my first journey away from home, taking with me all the things my family had given me, especially my grandmother’s unfailing inspiration and good common sense.  More important than the sweaters and books in my overstuffed luggage were the lessons she taught: Hold on to your dreams, do what you think is right, take joy in living each day.  By example, she showed me the great potential women have.

I have taken many journeys since, and with each, added to the values I call the baggage of my life.  (I use the word baggage in a positive sense, because the sum of our experiences determines who we are.)  What I carry with me is pride in my feminine heritage, and what I have received is doubtless because of it.  School, marriage, family, friends, career - so many priced parcels to take along, to serve me in the day’s to come.

I hope that the travels you undertake will remind you, as my grandmother might have, that happiness is in the journey.

for Anja and Clive