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!