Sunday, November 30, 2008

Slogan for a T-shirt yet to be made

FRONT: Life is pointless.
BACK: More pointing please.

Song titles (revised): #117


A studenty girl talking about a Christmas present someone has bought for someone else:

GIRL 1: She's got him like this wartime book, for forty quid, and it's like got stuff in it.
GIRL 2: [Makes some kind of commiseratory sounding noise].

Also overheard

Bunch of students leaving Caffé Nero, talking about what they have to do later:

GIRL: I need to bleach my hoodie.

Rejected Ad Campaigns: #123

If cleanliness is next to Godliness, and if God is to be feared, is it any wonder that people litter?


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A short story without a home

I was writing earlier and didn't know quite what to do with this gloomy specimen, but as it's pretty short and also more or less a true story (to the extent that I ever remember anything correctly) I decided it may as well darken my blog...


I once met a man with a hole in his head. We all have holes in our heads, of course, to let air in and feelings out, but this was an actual hole in his actual skull - in the ordinary run of things it shouldn't have been there.

He told me that he'd come for a meeting. I told him that he was a month early.

"But I've come all the way from Norwich!" he said, as if expecting that this would somehow collapse time.

It didn't; time was lamentably robust at that reception desk. By way of consolation I offered him a cup of tea to refresh him before he retraced his mistake.

On his return from the toilet the tea was ready; I passed him a mug, and perhaps assuming some kind of exchange was necessary, he gave me his life story. I politely tried to give it back, but he was insistent - I suppose when you've come all the way from Norwich you want to do something more than drink tea.

Happily, I forget the exact events of it now - it wasn't a terribly happy story. All I can remember today is that it included an accident and a year of painful, lonely treatments and recuperation in a specialist ward at Addenbrooke's Hospital, in Cambridge; a year that left him still not quite right, but much healthier and with a hole in his head. He pointed it out to me, or I'd have never known it was there - it wasn't even big enough to be shocking. But it was still hard not to show revulsion - the state of his scalp was terrible: great flakes of rice-papery dandruff... you could almost smell the hair just by looking at it. Maybe when you have a hole in your head, though, washing your hair is far more trouble than it's worth?

Finishing his story - the tea was long gone - he got up, sighed, and returned to Norwich. I took the mug, washed it up, and returned to my book. I was 23, and wished I didn't identify quite so strongly with the central character, a middle-aged man who is slowly coming to the realisation that he is an unwilling stranger in his own life, too tired to even wholly despair, barely even able to feel, drearily trapped inside his own head - something must have happened to cause it, he thinks, but he has no idea what. It's like a part of him is missing.

It's a good book, though, Something Happened - once you get used to the repetition. And I'm quite OK these days.

A few days later it snowed., overnight and unexpectedly. No buses ran; I could have stayed home; but I set out for work anyway, on foot. Mile upon mile of gleaming white, almost wholly untouched; the world transformed, shining, deserted - a clean slate in negative? I wasn't even sure of the way to go - but how could I not?

UPDATE: Well, with the benefit of a day's distance and some helpful comments, it's finally back to the original ending, I think - many thanks for the free editing :) I might even leave the damn thing alone now.

Oh, and if you highlight the apparently blank space above, the alternative ending's still there.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Obama: a plea for sanity

A few moments ago, I was going through the long neglected news feeds on my Google Reader account (now there's a singularly unpromising opening line...) - the World News feed for the Guardian, to my dismay, had something like 738 unread stories on it! Yikes. How would I ever catch up with all that newsiness?

Well, 738 headlines later, it turned out I needn't have worried: nothing has happened. Absolutely nothing. There was an election somewhere (Glenrothes, or America, or some such place), but besides that the world's done nothing. Actually, that's not true, I think someone somewhere might have annoyed a bear and died, but besides that it seems the planet was too busy holding its collective breath until Obama got elected to be doing anything newsworthy. Frankly, it's a miracle the sudden collective exhalation on November 4th didn't cause a tsunami - thank goodness for Time Zones.

If I sound cynical about the whole thing, well, I'm not really. Just bored. Thoroughly bloody bored of the whole wearisome decade-long bloody election that still doesn't seem to be over even now that it is. Yes, it's lovely that America's found someone to burden with the task of living up to the unrealistic and contradictory dreams, hopes and expectations of billions worldwide - and disappointing at least half of them. And no, it couldn't have happened to a nicer person - poor guy (even if he does only have himself to blame). But does it fill me with hope?

Sort of. A bit. Maybe.

Oh, I don't know - I mean, isn't hope too precious to pin to just one thing? Especially a politician - even one who isn't George Bush, a moose hunter, or one heart attack removed from a moose hunter. Anyway, I'll certainly be leaving my hope where it is: sort of free-floating, generalised, and mostly unattached (much more difficult to lose it that way, I find, but that might just be me).

My real point, though, is that although I'm glad that by far the least Bush-like candidate won, and I really am, I can't help but be afraid that expectations of Obama have been raised so high already that he can only disappoint - whenever someone is so lionised by the media it only ever ends one way. Sure, I'd love it if that didn't happen, if he somehow didn't drown beneath the water everyone's expecting him to walk on, if he somehow managed to emerge from the economic, environmental and foreign policy minefield he's inherited without it all blowing up in his face, and if he somewhow emerged from the most potentially compromising role in the world without being compromised. But he's only human - and we're a disappointing bunch on the whole, aren't we?

But is that how the media will see it?

Just a couple of days after he'd won the race to stand beneath the biggest, most clangingly apparent sword of Damocles ever for the next four years, someone in the Guardian was already asking: Now that Obama has won, will the blogosphere turn against him?

Well, of course it will. Not just because the blogosphere isn't just one thing with one mind, it's lots of different people with vastly differing perspectives, so at least some of its denizens won't be happy (to be fair, the writer is actually talking about the Democratic blogosphere; but even there the point probably still holds). But mostly it'll turn because sooner or later he'll actually do something.

Instead of talking about change, he'll change something. Instead of saying, "Yes, we can", he actually will. And instead of saying, "Yay! Go Obama!", some of us will start saying, "Well, maybe he can, but I wish he wouldn't." In short, we'll discover what his policies actually are - and we won't like some of them.

And what will the media pick up on, what could possibly be the biggest, most newsy news story after so much hype and hope? Disillusion. The slightest hint of it and the media will remember, "Ah, we loaned a pedestal somewhere...", and send in the repo-men to take it back.

Of course, there's every chance it'll all go swimmingly (if not quite walking on water, that would still be quite an achievement), and that I'm completely wrong to even suspect that the mother of all media backlashes is waiting somewhere around the corner expectantly sharpening her disapproval. I would love nothing more than for Obama to make the world a better place. But...

There is other stuff happening. I'm sure there must be. I mean, there usually is, and sometimes it's even sort of important. And if we could hear about that instead for a while, please, that would be lovely. I mean, I get it, I really do; everyone's really excited; the world might be about to become a nicer place, and to an extent it already has. But come on, everyone's behaving as if the whole world's won the lottery. It hasn't. Not yet. It's just bought a ticket. So if we could just stop talking about the winnings - endlessly speculating, predicting and raising expectations beyond all reasonable limits - until we know what they are... well, that's just not going to happen, is it?

But hey, I can dream.... or wait, should that be dream I can? Or... (there. You see what this incessant Obama coverage is doing to me? And now I've just added it to it... Gah!).