Saturday, 10 May 2008

A Chattering of Teeth

Niccolo Machiavelli has passed into modern idiom as a metaphor for obfuscation, manipulation and - lets say it plainly - spin. A sixteenth-century author of a manual for rulers and statesmen wishing to stay in power, he comments that being hated is not good - it can stir up too much resentment. However, doing stuff behind the scenes which flauts all acceptable moral codes, but maintains the status quo, is pretty much okay...the status quo being the big be-all and end-all for the tush on the velvet cush.

"The Prince" makes interesting reading. However...I would have to say that I did not think it had been published in twenty-four point helvetica, illustrated with friendly culturally diverse cartoon children, and presented in a tear-proof plastic wallet. No - "the Prince" is not one of the selection of stories in the "Oxford Reading tree", a series I admire. I wonder, then, how my five-year-old, who has never been organised enough to return her first library book this year, can have obtained access to the cunning machinations laid out in the Florentine's thesis.

But somehow...she has.

Yesterday morning, I rose early. I rose early, because I had a moral duty to perform. A tooth had been presented to me the night before - at ten-thirty pm, and I had no cash to augment the Tooth-Fairy's then empty coffers. She was done for the night, I said. She was a one-woman business. She worked crazy hours, and had to knock-off at ten, to preserve her sanity. And wash her very very smalls. Payment would follow the next day, when my daughter's tooth would become top task on the roster.

The offspring took this well. She has an ongoing correspondence with the Tooth-Fairy, and trusts that she will deliver. She has even discussed the pink curly-fonted rose-emoticonned emails, posing as IOU's, with spellbound classmates.

The Tooth fairy is a pragmatic girl. She is an edgy lass who is a sort of rebel at the gates of dawn. she is Boudica in her chariot, with espadrilles ( the original kind with flat heels) and unshaven calves. She wears her "Mountain" tee-shirt emblazoned with ravening Wolf fangs with aplomb, beneath her tiny leather jacket, grown from mouse stem cells. (I read about this. It exists as actual art in a famous gallery. But I am feeling a mite queasy today, so am not going to google a picture. Nope.)

Anyhoo...the Tooth Fairy could hire help, but, like I said, she is a one-woman show. Iconic. If she went out to franchise, standards might slip. And somehow...she might lose out to her disloyal shareholders, and be forced to wear a Barbie Mariposa outfit, with strobing karaoke wings. Goth-girls, even weeny-teeny ones, like to plough their own furrow. And yeah...she has to be a Goth...cos there is something sort of alternative about what she does. Something out-there, mysterious, ill-defined. There is some purpose in her egalitarian activities/proclivities, but no one can exactly say what. whatever they are, my guess is that they are edgy, but also environmentally friendly. She will most likely have an Ebay shop, liberally bespotted with dragons and orbs, and selling vaguely familiar-looking pearly enamel beads. she is a rockin recycler.

This is what she wrote:

"Wow! That was a late tooth-wiggle and pop-out! You caught me on the way home. My fairy antenna buzzed, but I had run out of coins. If you like, I can leave a surprise present instead of money. I see you like Littlest Pet Shop! So do I, my dear.

You have been a good customer, and might like a change. If money is best, then I will leave that instead. Just put a note under your pillow, or tell your Mummy, and I will overhear, as I'll be back in Dundee tomorrow, and my fairy hearing is excellent. Woo hoo!

Much love to you,

The Tooth Fairy"

It was a nice letter, and well-received. Moved by the same collectivist OCD principles which have passed to my daughter's DNA, I spotted and boughted a large tin box of "Littlest Pet Shop" toys, which I knew would go down very well. Indeed, they elicited a heartwarming whoop of infantile joy.
However...a few hours later, the spell was broken. Grandma came to collect the small one for an overnight stay, and raised a grey pall of doubt over the aforementioned tooth. I recalled the scene...the surprised "Oooh", and the handing over of the shiny pearly item. The ritual pointing-out of where the tooth had originated. It all seemed above-board. However, Grandma was smelling the proverbial rat. She remembered another tooth, lost a fortnight before, which had gone missing before the tooth fairy had dutifully paid a generous five pounds sterling for it. This tooth, Grandma prognosticated, was a Scarlet Pimpernel amongst milk teeth, and had popped back like a bad penny to spirit away more funds for some dubious cause.

No. The implications of this were too enormous.

1. My sweet and dainty daughter is as cunning as a Renaissance Florentine spin-doctor.

2. I am an unfit mother, not to have noticed that the gap was healed.

3. I was well and truly duped, although I like to think my teacher's sixth-sense is still functioning, though long out of use.

4. It is a wizard wheeze, which I would never have had the gall to attempt, even if it had crossed my mind. Which it didn't.

Nevertheless, I didn't believe the accusation. It seemed kind of way beyond the bounds of normal infantile deviousness. She held to her original story. But there was definitely a waver. An ever so slight disinclination to look me square in the eye - a disinclination which pleased me, a it took the edge off my fears of innate sociopathy.

A day later, when it became clear that the selection of huge-eyed wobble-headed plastic creatures with magnetic bottoms would not be returning to Woolworths, the truth came out. Or, as near as I may ever get to the truth. I shall paraphrase.

It started out as a game. But I believed her. The lie escalated into untold portals of potential gain. She kept schtoom. She never actually stated directly, that the tooth had fallen-out at that given time. She may have given powerful indications that it had, but not direct notification in actual words.

I am seeing a curly wig and ermine in her future.

And mayhap, a cosy Georgian town-house in a very smart part of London, with a granny flat, full of nearly-new but frivolously cast-aside qwerty-mobiles, laptops, and video iPods. a comfy little place. Not too far from the Natural History Museum. or maybe the Tower, and Wagamama's noodle bar.

I am feeling a little more steady on my pins.

Friday, 2 May 2008

Ringing the Changes

Well...I have been making the lofty ascent of the spiral staircase of the Old Steeple for a fortnight now. I have had four lessons. I would surmise as to whether I am improving...but in all honesty, I know myself well enough to know that I am not really the best person to make such an observation. For the first three lessons, I began as though I'd remembered nothing: anxious, and tense: wanting to repay the effort and patience of the instructors with actual measurable progress. I like to do things well. That involves taking them away, and puzzling over them in corners, turning them fore and aft, inside-out, and through a glass darkly. I am fine with a pen in my hand, and a snowstorm of papers. I am not good with muscle-memory and practical applications. The theory is fine. Give me a formula, and I can learn it. Formulae trip off the tongue like a mad poem, and are a joy. Implementing them is quite another matter.
I had read about the complexities of change-ringing, and had seen it in action! Watching the five expert ringers weave their pentamenter verse in the rhythmic movements which controlled the bells, was spellbinding. The measure changed as the conductor called out which ringers would change places in the ringing cycle, yet no-one flinched, stopped or jarred. Bell-ringing has its own ancient, fluid choreography.(These ringers are from Lincoln Cathedral.)

There are two main strokes in bell-ringing: backstroke and handstroke. One rings the bell down, the other rings the bell 360 degrees, back to the balance, wher it sits mouth-up. I try to visualise what is happening up there...up beyond the wooden roof where the brightly coloured sally disappears and reappears. Making sense of what's happening above my bonce, will hopefully help my hands reach out to catch the sally at the right time. Make me muscles react in a relaxed and understanding manner. No hasty grabbing. It is difficult to describe how difficult this is. I am carrying baggage, I know, in the form of my lack of co-ordination and maths phobia. I know I am seriously numerically challenged, and may well have two left brain hemispeheres sandwiched together. I had to give up driving lessons, as I just could not drive in a straight line, AND watch the road. I fall off the step in step aerobics.

Therefore, reading such analyses of bell-ringing, as proffered on Wikipedia, have left me a little disconsolate.

"Method ringers can trace their bells' courses visually in a diagram called a blueline.)Instead, a system of change ringing evolved which centres on mathematical permutations. The ringers begin with rounds, which is simply ringing down the scale in order. (On six bells this would be 123456.) The ringing then proceeds in a series of rows or changes, each of which is some permutation of rounds (for example 214356).

In call change ringing, one of the ringers (known as the conductor) calls out to tell the other ringers how to vary their order from row to row. Some ringers practice call changes exclusively; but for others, the essence of change ringing is method ringing.

In method or scientific ringing each ringer has memorized a pattern describing his or her bell's course from row to row; taken together, these patterns (along with only occasional calls made by a conductor) form an algorithm which cycles through the various available permutations.

Serious ringing always starts and ends with rounds; and it must always be true — each row must be unique, never repeated. A performance of a few hundred rows or so is called a touch; approximately five thousand rows make a peal (which takes about three hours to ring). A performance of all the possible permutations possible on a set of bells is called an extent; with n bells there are n! possible permutations. Since 7!=5040, an extent on seven bells is a peal; 8!=40,320 and an extent on eight bells has only been accomplished once, taking nearly nineteen hours."

Algorithm! Logarithm! Those are maths terms...that much I know. They are embossed in my mind's eye with a black skull and crossbones, imprisoned in apothecary's vials with a wax-sealed cork. They are in my mental poisons cabinet.
However...there is a chink of light. A little sunbeam has worked its way into the morass of gallic hapless shrugging and lack of self-belief.This week, my instructor dismissed the maths analogy.

"It isn't a mathematical issue." he commented, with genial assuredness. "It is just like riding a bike, or learning to swim."

Woo hoo!

I have done both of these. I may have run over the policeman's feet when he came to the school to teach us cycling proficiency - but he still passed me. I can officially ride a bike. Jumping off into the grasss verge if a vehicle approaches doesn't count. I can stay on the thing. And I have my 36 lengths swimming certificate. This means that I can do this.
The sun had washed the city with a golden arc as I left the tall dim tower. I stop to admire the peal board in the foyer, a tribute to four hours of concentration and stamina.
Spring had sprung, and the trees were heavy with fragile blossom.
After the week of unremitting rain, the limitless possibility of renewal lay before me and I walked with a lighter step.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Intermission: A Word from our Sponsors

To check-out this review in glorious technicolour on the original site, click on the link on the right hand-side of the page. :)

Greetings Citizens!

We at Luddites and Gadgets, who brought you the Easyphone and Wind-up charger, are sending you this latest offering, which brings a wonderful low-tech solution to power-failure induced hypertension. We love it!

You may have already seen this...but our mission is to alert and inform in a blanket fashion. This is the techy element creeping in. We are up for being considered spam, in an effort to bring manageable technology to the people.

Kindest Regards,

(Editor in Chief (elected.) Check out our SALE items, below!


Great news for all Luddites out there in mobile land. Although not specifically designed with us in mind, this top telephone has caused a great stir since we reviewed it last month. We have the wonderful Easyphone now on sale at slightly less than half-price. Hooray! No high-pitched internalised screams over T9 texting with this baby. You can't text from it at all.Problem solved! Get this stress-dissolving gadget and reduce the risk of myocardial infarction.

The smokin hot high-octane Easyphone Curve (above) casts a scurrilous orbit at 3G, trackballs and touchscreens. You cannot actually call from this little gem, but you can input your favourite numbers. It also comes complete with a big button on the back, which if you get into a fankle, can be pressed, alerting the emergency services over a sixteen-mile radius.

Note:We recommend a square-inch of Duck-tape to guard against accidental pressage. Check out our shop for great deals on this Luddite failsafe favourite. Our motto: Duck tape makes the things we can actually work, last that little bit longer. Keep that scary upgrade in the box!



Here we have the sizzlin wind-up charger, which acts simultaneously as a fitness device. So portable! Also doubles as an anti-stress gadget in those midday meetings where seething inwardly will lead to a peptic ulcer. Save on Tagamet, and wind this little hum-dinger to reduce chagrin. We recommend winding in full-view on the tabletop. This will not only infuse colleagues with envy, but will distract your rambling boss at the same time, letting you get at least some of your lunch-break.

Note:(The fitness element is reflected in the extent of the wind-age required to achieve ninety-seconds of talk-time. 360 revolutions will give you biceps like David Banner in chlorophyll mode.)

Keep checking-in for more reviews of low-tech solutions!

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Vertigo and Campanology

I have always loved church bells, and like to sing the rhythm of them, into myself, when I hear them. They are not heard much, these days. Nevertheless, they are most wonderfully Luddite, being heavy and complex and high-tech, in a very low-tech sort of way: a sort of metaphysical conceit in the form of a ton of ancient metal. I like that.

Seemingly, there are five-thousand bell-towers in England, thirty in Scotland, and thirty in the US. Towers with the sort of bells which can turn 360 degrees, when rung, and which need specially trained peeps to do it. Peeps with a head for heights, and who can count. And climb. And concentrate. Not, I could say with confidence, someone remotely like me. Ah well...what is life, without a challenge or two? As D.H. Lawrence wrote, "if you take a leap, you are bound to land somewhere." Yesterday, I took a leap in the dark. was getting dark, at seven pm. And the leap? Well, it was more of a stalwart and stolid climb. But it gave me lactic acid surges, so it qualifies to be posted here.

I have to say that I am pretty unfit. I don't drive, and walk a lot, but still, any unexpected burst of anaerobia turns my ample thigh-muscles into a quivering blancmange. (The thighs may be ample, but the muscles inside may not be. Just sayin. Ed.)

That Ed fellow follows me around. I think he is my healthy-living conscience.I think he looks like this. (Now he is saying he wants a larger photo and a centre-spot. Sorry Ed. that's all the publicity you're getting here. Get yer own blog.)

So, there I was, a plus-size lady with serious vertigo, heart clattering, climbing a twelvth-century church tower, for her first lesson in bell-ringing. Nobody told me that there were 121 large stone stairs to reach the ringing chamber, and umpteen more to hit the actual bell-chamber itself. I guess the ringers have real thigh muscles, and don't really notice it, or the terrrifying gradient of the spiral staircase, with its long, sheer and unremitting drop. Waa! There were others having a trial lesson too...all skinny, I have to say. And brave. They all chose to go out onto the parapet around the top of the tower, where the general public do not gain access. I have to say that my visit to the ancient bells involved hugging the cold stone walls with my back, and being told to move away from in front the particular bell which was about to be rung from the chamber below.

It is funny how being overweight can make you self-conscious in all sorts of odd ways and situations. Perhaps it is just the general feeling of vulnerablility which focusses attention upon it. "Here I am. The fat lady, who is also now, 'vertigo lady', and 'poor binocular vision, making her slow to climb back down to the ringing chamber lady". Oh well...I cracked a few jokes whilst we waited for everyone to gather together. Not that I play the clown, far from it. I am just one of those people who is uneasy in silent situations which might theoretically be social. And I was very high off the ground. Hearing nesting pigeons cooing somwhere at your elbow, makes you realise just how far you've soared. So...we went back down to the ringing chamber. It is such a wonderful place! An Aladdin's cave of intriguing artefacts, going back, I am told, as far as the eighteen_hundreds. These are juxtaposed with more eclectic and seemingly arbitrary curiosities. .
There are scale-models; heaps of bell-ringing magazines; certificates; old framed sepia photos and lithographs; broken carpet-sweepers and bits of radio equipment which look like they were abandoned up there, sometime after the Second World War.

I wish i knew what was inside this lovely old cupboard!

There are a gazillion ancient hymn books tied up neatly with string, touched with the golden strips of fading sunlight just sifting through the arched windows, and lluminating the patches of dust on the threadbare red carpet. I wonder how long it is since it ws swept. The instructor tells us it was donated by a local pub, and that it took several washes to rid it of the faint odour of beer. I find that very cool. has to admire the endeavour of those who shouldered the burden of the carpet shampooer, up those interminable and cardio-mungous stairs.

I feel high-up, and the base of my spine is reacting, in some way, making me feel a mite dizzy. There is no open drop, but I can feel that I am high. very, very high. The bell-ropes drop down from the roof, tied with loops at the end, like seven nooses. It is a little unnerving.
I had asked the instructor beforehand, if it really was possible to shoot up into the rafters when ringing a bell, or if that was only on, "Tom and Jerry". He had answered a little too non-commitally for my liking. It turns out that yes, if the bell is facing mouth-up, and you don't give the end of the rope an exploratory tug before ringing, you can indeed shoot up into the stratosphere...or ringing-chamber roof. Oh aye..

The ringers begin their practice-session, and it becomes clear, just how complex the exercise really is. Each bell rings two seconds after the rope is pulled. The ringer listens for his/her own bell, within the five to seven which are sounding above. Each ringer rings within a twentieth of a second of the previous person. They change places in the ringing cycle, which causes the rhythm of the bells to change. It is all very complex. The sheet music looks like an EEG trace, but perpendicular, and you follow the line across as it passes the number of the bell you ar ringing. I think. As a person who had to write right and left on her school gym shoes, and lost the numerical plot forever when letters moved traitorously into maths, I am not sure. I am completely spatially challenged.

After watching the ringing for two hours, and having a very brief preliminary ring myself, I felt a little whimper of positivity. Maybe this could be a hobby! I am heavy and awaiting abdominal surgery, and cannot run far. Knee-lifts are not really the boogie either. So bell-ringing might be for me, if the height thing can be overcome, and the spatial thing, and the counting thing. Because, climbing those interminable stairs is a wonderful thing. Only a handful of people ever go there. The same handful, year in and year out. It is a mysterious and special place. If more people learn to ring, the bells can ring again for Sunday service in the church below. Wonderful old bells, drawing people in. And I will be taking exercise. And keeping away from the temptation of evening nibbling, which is my achilles-heel. Those hundred calories I'm still allowed, are just the road to ruin. They somehow get shoved out of the way by the thousands of calories that I am not allowed, but continue to welcome with open arms, or should I say, mouth :(

The bell-ringers had an other-worldy air. Having a quiet drink with them afterwards, their 'other-ness' was clearly apparent, in the bustling twenty-first century pub. Sitting in the corner, doing a quiz from a Sunday paper, they stood out: serene, self-posessed, un-selfconscious. They seemed to come from professional backgrounds, as far a i could tell: some working, some retired. None of the women wore make-up; most had gone happily grey. All wore timeless comfy clothes in a range of hues. I etched their dignified features in charcoal, in my mind's eye. Faces full of character, like a troupe of mediaeval strolling players. It was oddly moving. I felt I was looking into a time-tunnel, still watching them, ringing, down through the centuries, and the bells singing out. I hope I can learn this skill, and feel good about learning something new. And work those unused thigh muscles! (And, mayhap, kick-start a few spatial neurons from their cryogenic sleep.) Awake, axons: awake! You are needed to ring for victory. Help a hapless luddite stay on the ropes, and not fall on her face...where she might break her phone, and be forced to set up the skeery new upgrade.

Luddites and Learning Curves

I thought I would take the plunge and post my first blog entry. My friend Bob has a fell braw travel blog which I enjoy contributing to, and she, being the insightful and tech-tastic lassie that she is, 'nipped ma heid' in the nicest possible way, that I also needed to get one of my own. (She knows how much I love writing, and that it gives me a nice infusion of serotonin. She also knows that I will never print my digital pictures, and will surf for affordable art and second-hand smartphones on Ebay, rather than get myself organised to write anything at all, unless I start a blog.) She is absolutely right,and here I am!

A triumphant cry rings out, from Luddites everywhere.

I have come late to blogging. But then - one is permitted to come late to a literary genre. As a researcher, that is. Part of me is still ensconced somewhere in a seventeenth-century theatre. On a couple of occasions, the British Library posted out completely unread volumes to me - so old, and yet so new, the pages needed slitting. A finger-trembling process, I have to admit. Coming new to blogging is a little different. A whole new genre is opening up, metamorphosing and shape-shifting, before my luddite orbits.

Two years ago, I dipped a toe into the maelstrom, in the form of posting, not without trepidation, on The pace of posting started out at a brisk jog, and I had time to ponder, whilst keeping up with alacrity. (Alacrity posted from another timezone, and acts as a metaphor here, for the incredible speed and growth of the posts on the site. One day, I was happily musing on the village green. The next, I was lost somewhere in central New York. I lost my nerve, and Alacrity outpaced me. I would wake up to find a new topic, and four-hundred posts to read, before I offered my views. Blogverse waits for no luddite. You have to hit and run.

Nevertheless, I found my way to Monkbot Talk, a pacey place, but with room to ponder on one's, "grassy Knoll", and not feel lost in the crowd. I enjoyed it very much. (Hi Shelley and Evie!) Blogverse as a genre reflects a furious adaptation which would put even the most voracious virus to shame. It is supple and fluid, blatant, and yet evasive. Its history is neatly stored in archives which everyone can view. You don't need white gloves and a special ticket. I am alternately blinded by the light, and blinking in the gloom.

As a recovering technophobe, then, I am putting out an anemone-like feeler, seeing what technology can do, hitting a wall, then lurching back, to consider my options.Two years ago,I threw away my mobile, as its workings were beyond my ken. Texting was delving into the realms of the hieroglyph. So saying, I would rather puzzle out an ancient stone inscription, armed with dusty parchments, than face a mobile instruction manual. Nevertheless...I am getting there.
Now, I have an ageing MDA Vario smartphone with nifty qwerty keyboard: as fundametal to the Luddite psyche, as it is to happeinin professional sorts who can't waste time texting. A nice paradox. I can lurk in the shadow of the Blackberryists, and pretend to be one of them! My MDA is my right-arm, but am only skimming the surface of its technical fathoms, having just found the back-button last month. Bob was visiting from the US, and asked where it was. I used to switch the phone off and on again, to flit between functions. Sigh. You can see that I do try. Trying has merit.

I am sort of in Luddite no-man's-land. Purgatory would be too strong a word. I can sense the possibility of being ensnared in the barbed-wire of my technological ignorance, but I don't see Dore and Breughel-esque demons chuckling maliciously behind their hands, as I cut off the man from T Mobile, attempting to answer his call. (Maybe I would, If I wore my glasses.)

The call-droppage could clearly be down to the phone itself. However, it is in my genetic make-up to assume responsibility for all failures and malfunctions. After-all, someone with oodles of spatial awareness and an ability to count backwards in threes, better than her granny with dementia (cough) has designed the thing. phone is a style icon, and one has to forgive a lot, in the interests of style. (At least, this is the argument my daughter uses, when she wishes to go outside in the freezing cold, without a coat.) Barbie Mariposa is on her teeshirt, and pneumonia is sort of a secondary concern. (Barbie Mariposa sounds more ominous, nevertheless. Like you would need Tetracycline to shift it, instead of Amoxycillin.)

So here I am, the last person, to quote my Ph.D supervisor, ever to type their thesis on an electric typewriter. 500,000 words, and that was just the final draft! Luddite and proud. is time to place a twitching toe into the foaming briny of the unknown. :) (I like to make up bad metaphors.) Here I am, pondering about life, technology and whether or not all my contacts will be lost if I take the sim card out of my phone.

Here goes!