the brilliantly leaping gazelle

‘Offensively loud’

One of the things I’ll miss when I leave here and return to North London is being able to play my music loud. Not that I’ve ever been able to play it really loud, you understand, but loud. Previous and present house-mates might take issue with my definition of loud and really loud, but firstly, Lauren Tate and secondly, they have all had quite questionable taste in music, so…

I had cause to reflect on this yesterday afternoon. Joe, Marge and LMS had gone outdoors to do whatever it is people go outside to do when it’s cold. Actually, I don’t think the weather made much of a difference one way or the other. They went somewhere out of the house. Marge asked if I’d join them. Resisting the temptation to exclaim that they looked as if their limbs and heads were securely attached, I made a noise that could easily have been misheard as ‘I might join you later’

But the voices in my head were screaming ‘Are you mad? Go outdoors? When if I stay indoors you’ll leave me alone in the house, with just me, my computer which when synced to my hi-fi means loud music therapy. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out’. Really? Pass up on the only opportunity I get to play music loud? When they’re all out of the house and there’s only me to please. Because I can’t convey exactly how fundamentally important music has been to me.

Always has. Ever since I was 13, and got a paper round just so I could save up enough money that I could afford a ghetto blaster one and persuade my Mum to let me have it in my room. It wasn’t long, thankfully, before I discovered pirate radio. It’s hard to convey just how little choice I had until that happy revelation. There was Radio One, Radio London and that was it. Chart based pop in the day and jangly guitar ear botheration at night. Great! My parent’s favourite album was ‘Distant Drums’ by Jim Reeves. You haven’t heard it? You’re lucky. Between him, ‘The Chieftains’’ and ‘The Dubliners’ my childhood was a sonic nightmare of Irish folk songs. Not that they used the stereogram that in the front room that much and when they did, I always associated it with the volume being turned down, never up. Even now I have a pathological resentment towards people who turn music down. Or talk over it. Or stop a track before it’s ended.

Anyway pirate radio. JFM, LWR, Solar, these were the big three. I fondly remember turning the radio’s tuning dial with the concentration and precision of a safecracker. The one thing that united the pirates was a deep and abiding love of the music, mostly funk and soul, then later a smattering of electro and early hip-hop, and their eagerness to share it. The next logical step was for me to buy a turntable to connect to the ghetto blaster so I could play the some of the records I’d heard on the radio. Buying them wasn’t a problem. I knew exactly what record shops to go to because they were name-checked by the D.J’s.

I’ve still got some the tapes I recorded off the pirates. And that’s the thing with music. The music you like, you might fall out of like with it, but the music you love, well…Its like an aural TARDIS, instantly transporting you back you that the time in your life when you first heard that song, that tune, who you were with, what you were doing, who you were doing. Or sometimes, it’s simply a great piece of music that needs to be played loud.

Which is odd, given as how Marge bought my speakers for me – I chose them – but she knew they’d be positioned directly under her room, perhaps she misguidedly thought it meant she could be all ambient police; enter the sitting room, declare the music was too loud and then leave. Not before turning the lights up. Or down.

But in North London I am reliably informed that my ‘offensively loud’ music will not be tolerated. Neighbours, apparently. I’ve never had to worry about them for over 30 years, having lived in places where that wasn’t a concern. Not that it would’ve affected the volume if I had, you understand, but still. Now I guess I’ll have to.

‘Offensively loud’. Is that even a thing?

Reason 0 – Expediency 1

Last night Marge told me that London was now under ‘Tier 2’ lockdown. Whatever that means. Marge did try and explain it me, but as she did, all I could think of was of football. Specifically, the football match between the Brits and the Germans on Christmas Day 1914. You know, the famous one, the one everyone goes on about, like it somehow meant something that some men took a break from trying to kill each other over some bit of land and had a kickabout on it instead.

I couldn’t help but think that the coronavirus isn’t going to give us a Christmas truce. It doesn’t care that we need a jolly. And it doesn’t care that we’re tired of it all, all of the this, all of the that, and especially tired of all of the other and we just want a few days off when we can just be.

If it did have a consciousness, it might conclude that the government’s scientific advisors have given their advice and the government had decided to do what is practicable and enforceable instead. That the government had looked back to last summer, the hordes of people swarming to the south coast in breach of the lockdown and decided, quite rationally that they didn’t want a repeat of people doing their own thing.

If Boris Johnson had wanted act statesmanlike, as if he was somehow above doing things based on political expediency but instead took the less popular but more courageous one, he could be fairly described acting like his political hero as Churchill, and acting in the national interest. Instead, he went for a quick win, and by so doing, inadvertently scored an own goal.

The facts of like.

Yesterday’s post about guidelines also caused me to reflect on other non-words. By that I mean words that have a specific meaning when used in a specific context, but can also be used in a non-specific way, in a way that doesn’t commit the speaker to anything.

Goal is a textbook example of this. Used in relation to a specific context – a sports activity – a goal is the specific place that a team has to either attack or defend, lest their opponents manage to pass the ball through that space. If they do, they are said to have scored a goal, or earned a point. Fine. That makes sense. There’s no ambiguity about what a goal is that context. A goal is a goal.  However, when people talk about having a goal, it has an altogether different meaning. It is used to denote a target at which to aim or a point to be reached or an amount of something to be raised. Also if that goal is to achieved by collective endeavour, so much the better. It doesn’t imply that anyone is committed to undertake anything in pursuit of that goal. Nor is there a sense of having failed should that goal not be achieved. The fact that there was a goal is the important thing, not that it wasn’t attained.  

Same with ambition.  You hear a lot of talk about an ambition to achieve something.  Politicians use it all the time. An ambition is a good thing whether or not that ambition is ever translated into actual demonstrable results is another matter.  But it is enough that the ambition was there, the intention to do the thing, regardless if the thing was done or not.

Like is another example of a word having a specific meaning, to be keen on something or generally having positive feelings toward that it. But free of that contextual underpinning, it means nothing at all. Apart from someone feeling that they’ve said the right thing that is, and uttered a socially accepted form of bullshit. An example might be someone saying ‘I’d like to do x’ or ‘I’d really like if it…’ It doesn’t commit them to doing x or indeed ever making any attempts to achieve x.  The point is more that for the few seconds everyone feels good, the bullshitter and the person being bullshat.  The x isn’t important here. It can be anything at all. The fact that someone would life’ to do something is. They probably won’t.

But they’d like to.

I myself have exploited this linguistic loophole for wholly self-serving needs.  In a previous life one of my jobs involved dealing with, amongst other things people’s complaints.  So I quickly learnt that by saying ‘I’d like to say sorry for x’ was a neat way of not saying sorry at all.  Because they heard ‘sorry’ and I would say it with such an earnest and sorrowful look on my face, they never twigged that me saying I would like to do something wasn’t the same as me doing the thing.  I wasn’t saying sorry, just that I would like to say it. I wasn’t. And I had no intention of doing so either. But that was bye the bye, and almost always did pass them by.

So in that context ‘like’ has as much meaning as ‘guidelines’ as does ‘ambition’ as does ‘goal’. 

And wish. 

Not forgetting aspiration. 

Guidelines

Guidelines. It’s such a wonderfully opaque word isn’t it?  Guidelines don’t order, compel, or otherwise enforce compliance.  They’re basically advisory.  You can do this or not.  It’s up to you.  How you interpret them will differ to a greater or lesser extent than someone else. In most cases guidelines are wonderfully apt.

I receive personalisation to pay for my domestic care.  The great thing about this is that there are no hard and fast rules governing what my money can or can’t be spent on.  Yes there are guidelines, but social services haven’t seen fit to furnish me with these despite my continued requests.  Which leaves me with a pretty large grey area with which to play with. After all, if I haven’t seen the guidelines, it stands to reason that I can’t interpret them.

Therefore in some cases, interpreting guidelines according to one’s own needs is fine. As long as it has no detrimental effect on society, that is.

This isn’t true in a pandemic. Our actions are not consequence free. The interpretation of the guidelines by people last summer by vast swathes of people have bought us to this unfortunate yet preventable circumstance; one where yet more guidelines will be issued and which will be interpreted as before. Remember last summer? The crowded beaches? Of course people knew the guidelines said that they shouldn’t travel, but they also knew, they knew, even though it hadn’t been announced, that travel restrictions were going to be eased. Same with ‘Eat Out to Help Out’. The gastro-pub at the bottom of our road took part in this. On balmy summer evenings the street outside was chocca with people eating at tables. There wasn’t much evidence there of social distancing.

We are where we are because people interpret things according to their own needs and see no contradiction in blaming others for doing what they do.

The Sherlock Holmes guide to making tea

This morning has gotten off to a truly dreadful start.  Appallingly bad, in fact.  I haven’t felt this low since… well I can’t recall but not for a long time anyway. 

I got up this morning and LMS made me a cup of tea.  I write ‘made’ but ‘made’ doesn’t cover the half of what she does. She makes tea in the same way a tailor makes a made to measure suit. Some people when they make a cup of tea turn the kettle on and then make a phone call or are otherwise distracted and then make the tea with water that boiled some minutes ago.  Or they make the tea, add the milk and the sugar, give it a stir and that’s it.  Or even worse, an unholy combination of the two. 

But not LMS, oh no. 

She waits by the kettle until it has boiled then a few seconds later she adds the boiling water to the cup.  Then she takes the teabag out and puts some milk in.  She then adds the sugar, which is where most people would stop and think their work here is done.  But no, she’s only just begun.  Like a chemist in a lab she carefully takes a sip of the tea from a teaspoon and decides if it needs more sugar or milk puts, the teaspoon down and if it dies, uses another teaspoon uses another one to add more sugar.  She gives that a stir, and repeats the testing element.  Sometimes, she will put the teabag back in and add more milk.  Her reasoning being that she wouldn’t serve me a tea that she wouldn’t herself drink.  Which is fine and dandy in my book. 

However, the reason I am so appalled this morning is because it has just dawned on me that the maker of consistently outstanding cups of tea will very soon be in a different part of the country to me.  Not an especially good start to the day.

Sherlock Holmes was given to remark that some of his problems were so fiendishly difficult to solve that he’d need three of pipes of cocaine to help him deduce. A three pipe problem, he’d call it. LMS has refined this so that making a cup of tea can become a three teaspoon problem.

A lesson in how not to things

If you’re anything like me, by that I mean cynical and not brain damaged, possibly you have occasionally wondered how on earth firms such as Capita, G4S, Serco et al, are continually awarded large government contracts which they fail to deliver on. Wonder no more, for this morning I was ‘treated’ to a front row seat of how to do things. Badly. Granted, it was only LMS having her first online lesson of this particular lockdown. But as a very small, very inconsequential example of how if this was massively up scaled to, oh I don’t know, test and trace, it gave me an insight of the truism I mentioned yesterday, namely ‘no plan survives contact with the enemy’

Any plan that has as a key component technology is already on the backfoot, moreso if it involves untrained people – in this case parents – using computers. The first problem was joining the session in the first place. This took while and I was given to idly contemplate that just because someone says something in a calm voice, it doesn’t make what they say calming. More importantly, I reflected on the fact that the school should’ve foreseen this as a potential problem and sorted this out. After all, it’s not as if they didn’t have any experience of hosting online lessons to call upon. They had earlier this year, when they did the same thing. They could, they should’ve learnt from this. But no.

It reminded me of Joe’s experience trying to give blood the other day. Blood plasma from people who’ve tested positive for cornavirus is valuable in developing a vaccine. Or something. I just know it has things in it that are important things and these things could help lead to other things, which might lead to something important. Anyway, the thing is that given how the government had bestowed some importance on this, and given for the whole thing to work it needed the people to give their blood plasma -incidentally not as straightforward as donating blood – given all that, one would imagine the process would be as simple as they could make it. You might well think it, but thinking it doesn’t make it so.

Joe was contacted and invited to a donation centre. Where they asked him a load of questions, eventually deeming him unsuitable for donating his plasma. Which is fine, there’s nothing wrong with being thorough. But the problem I have is that when they contacted him, there could easily have been given information about an online questionnaire, that could have informed him instantly if he was suitable or not, or if he’d need to turn up and provide additional information. But no.

That would’ve been too sensible and wouldn’t have wasted enough of time. That’s the thing, if the government – basically you and I, the taxpayers – are paying the bill, there’s no incentive do a thorough job. Indeed quite the opposite in fact because the same companies are rewarded for their woefully lamentable performance with yet more government contracts they fail to deliver on.

Granted, a schools ability or not to successfully organize an online lesson for sixty pupils, isn’t in and of itself that important. But the school receives taxpayer’s money and parents might reasonably have an expectation of competence. Same with the blood plasma fiasco.  They’re both indicative of a culture of taxpayer funded incompetence that seems be the single tangible result of outsourcing.

Helmuth von Moltke the Elder

So, we’re in isolation and naturally, we’re following the governments guidelines regarding what you can and can’t do whilst in isolation. Well, we’re following them as most people are and applying to whatever seems to fit in with their lives at any given time, One of my housemates – and there’s a large caveat there – on hearing the news of LMS school closure and that we all in isolation, declared that as he hadn’t been in her company much recently, he was off for the weekend to help his ex with their childcare.

And that, in a nutshell, helps explains why we are where we are. Of course the government should impose regulations that curtail certain civil liberties on people if it will help protect the most fundamental civil liberty of all, the right to life. I mean we can all agree on that, can’t we? Can’t we? Because it seems to me that that whilst that theory works fine in theory, it is when it meets reality things go wrong. A famous Field Marshall once said ‘No plan ever survives contact with the enemy’ and what is true in war is also true in the fight against this pandemic it seems

I myself am not immune from the self-serving application of the rules. When Joe had a positive test for coronavirus a month ago, a week’s holiday suddenly vanished. Chuffed I was not. Although being fair to Joe, he did drive me to have a test and helped me complete it. But once it came back negative that was it. I was out of the house and making the most of the disappearing warm sun, thinking ‘No fucking way am I staying cooped up if I have to”

So whilst in theory we might agree with something, that agreement only applies to other people, not to us, we’re somehow exempt from the opprobrium we dole out to others. Talking about curtailing civil liberties, I’ve been summoned by LMS to inspect her den that she’s made with packing boxes.

It has windows now

Not Doris Svensonn

The last couple of days have involved me having the rather disconcerting experience of me not being someone else. And why was I not Doris Svensonn this morning? Well the sound of a harmonica being played while I’m having my first cup of tea, the first cup of tea moreover, that the person playing the harmonica knows I like to enjoy in silence. A thought has just occurred to me: why is a harmonica called a harmonica, when the sound that comes out of it is so patently not?

Anyway, LMS continued on in the vein for what was too long until Joe asked her stop, which she did. Eventually. However, the silence couldn’t last and there were no thoughts of homicide in my mind whatsoever, no idle speculation of which of the items readily to hand could best be used as a murder weapon, when Joe suggested that LMS should try to play scales on it instead in a kind of weird parental amnesia.

This ear bedevilment was soon replaced by Joe suggesting that LMS should play the bongo’s. “Quietly, he said. Yes indeed he did! I had no idea that bongo’s came with volume settings, I just thought there was only one, bloody infuriating. With of course they are, one glorious exception:

From 1:46 on its just aural perfection. It just is.

Anyway, enough about me. How was your morning? Again, another thought has just popped into my head. Mine wasn’t so much a morning as a mourning.

Not Howard Moon. Yet.

So. We are where we are. And where I am, is back in isolation again. And not in ‘The Mighty Boosh’ surrealist absurdity way either, but an isolation that is increasing feeling like a right royal pain in the gary. Oh, did I not mention the previous two-week isolation? The one I enjoyed after Joe had tested positive for coronavirus? I mean having had the test one might have presumed he had realistic cause to imagine he had it. it. No one has a test if they have no symptoms and therefore expect a negative result, do they?

Or perhaps they do. Hordes of them. Pranksters, the worried well, the bored. The lonely with no-one to talk to, who’ll do anything for some human interaction.

At least then it was just warm enough, and the days were long enough, for me to be in the garden. The nights were balmy too.

Now they’re just barmy.

“I’m radiating impatience!”

This morning started well enough.

I was woken up by LMS knocking on my bedroom and asking if I wanted a cup of tea, a question as superfluous as it was disingenuous. Because she knows full well the answer will always be ‘yes’ and I know the question is really her way of saying ‘You know that when you’ve finished the tea you’ll have to play with me.’ With a voice thick with sleep I said ‘Yes’ and then remembered it was a school day and by rights she should’ve been on her way to school and not offering my some working class champagne. I asked her why this was the case, at which point she burst into my room, did a victory dance and announced that school had been cancelled because one of her classmates had tested positive for coronavirus.

Now the correct response of any right thinking person would be one of – adopts serious tone – to express concern for the child, hoping that it wouldn’t be that serious and indicating sympathy for the parents at what must be a difficult and anxious time for them. However, seeing as how I am brain damaged demented wrongcock, I thought ‘Yes! Get in! Result’

Then it got even better.

The tea was washed down with the news that LMS was to be off school for two weeks! Simply wonderful! Some explanation of my reaction to the news that a child had tested positive for what in some cases is a fatal disease might be in order.

We’re moving out of this house next month. The owners are taking possession, a fact which we’ve known about for some time. Joe, Marge and LMS are moving to Swanage and I’ll be moving up to North London. All very boo-hoo, for a number of reasons, but one of the main ones is that I’ll no longer see LMS as often.

As I’ve noted many times on this blog, the transformative effect she has had on my mood is incalculable. Because all the various anti-depressant medications I was prescribed were as much use as glass trampoline. What did work and forced me to get out of bed, emerge from my room and generally stop giving up was a two year old girl banging on my door most mornings and saying ‘Get up, I want play’ Repeatedly, until I did.

A few years later it was time for her to start primary – or junior – school – I’m not a parent, I don’t need to know these things – but the upshot was that LMS would be going there every day for most of her awake time. I know that both her parents were counting down the days until this millstone was lif – oops did I write millstone, so sorry I meant to write milestone – milestone was reached and more people could be permitted to share things with her. Only later did I realise quite how devastating this was for me. Whereas before there had been the sound of exuberant laughter now it was all a bit Simon and Garfunkel. Far too much of it, and not the comfortable kind either, more the kind that’s more redolent of abandoned stately homes or Dickens novels.

That was why when the lockdown was announced earlier this year I decided to come back here, rather than stay in North London. Again I’ve written extensively about this whole period but the one abiding memory, the one that sums up why I choose to return and the wisdom of so doing is the following. One morning, as Joe and Marge were discussing yet another increase in the rate of infections and bemoaning the dismal performance of the government, LMS and I were sitting a few feet away discussing ways to classify farts. The thorny issue being what types of farts made what kind of sound. The kind of silliness that kept at bay all the pernicious doom and gloom, rather like expecto patronum to the dementors!

For this and a great many other reasons I’ll miss living with her. I’ll still see her, it just won’t be the same is all. I would say she’s one of my favourite people but seeing as how nearly all of the people I knew have excused themselves from my life, that isn’t the compliment it once would’ve been. That being unfortunately so, let me write that she is one of my most favourite ever people. Top five easily. I’m reminded of the line I heard somewhere that sums up how I’ll feel perfectly: ‘the absence of her means more than the presence of others’

Which is why two weeks of her is such an unexpected joy, and coming at such a prociptious time to boot. This morning as I was drinking my tea too slowly for her liking, she sat next to me, a stern expression on her face and said, “I’m radiating impatience!” How could I not be charmed by that? I get that it might be considered something by some people to be so thrilled at me finding someone else’s ill heath fortuitous, but really! Have I ever really cared what other people think?