Wednesday, October 20, 2010


I am now past the Wednesday of my 20's.

I also have a head cold that is gradually getting worse. Bleurgh.

I'm working on a couple of small shows as part of the Creative Producers Collective with the Camden Council. I'm working very hard to clear my sinuses so I can think and be productive, but so far I haven't been very successful. I commented at a production meeting this afternoon, after spending ten minutes trying to read the lips of my nearby collaborators, "it's funny how this theatre has such dampened acoustics, seeing as it's not particularly well-insulated." They all just looked at me until I realized it wasn't the space, it was me.

I've tested a few more colours on the dining room walls and we may have found one we like. Still need to give it a good stare and (brain-functional) consideration before I splash out on the whole room. It's a saturated orange-coral shade.

Anyway. That's all I can manage with my snarfly brain. I just knocked over a glass, my lip balm, and a roll of tape. My hands are like the front axle of a 1978 Chevy Silverado with 30-plus years of mountain driving on its steering column. And a cup of coffee. Damn. I need a bib.

Monday, October 11, 2010


Value Added Tax. This tax increases the price of goods and services.

The Department of Redundancy Department strikes again!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Cleaned Up

Today Boy and I visited his Granny's house to begin organizing a disused study. His Grandpa passed away in 2001 and left vast stores of books, articles, photos, and Stuff neatly heaped in what could be a guest bedroom at the top of the stairs. Overwhelmed but ready to part with it, Granny needed someone who knew books to have a look at it.

I came along for the ride.

While Boy indexed shelves of tomes (discussed here) I dug into the contents of drawers, unearthing a treasure trove of nifty gadgets, contraptions, and art supplies. Granny really didn't want any of it, so we made out like kings. I'm now the proud owner of:

:a well-maintained draughtsman's tool set, including compasses, dividers, and ruling pens

:a set of French curves, rulers, and scale rules

:a small, 2-inch measuring contraption made of brass and horn embossed with "J BUCK LONDON" (Any ideas?)

:A pile of cool nautical gadgets, including small wooden parallel rulers, a marlinspike, and a small, brass weather forecaster (that depends on you having a barometer)

:Folding knives and steel measuring tapes of all shapes and sizes

:Sealing wax sticks and two stamps--one the monogram "WI" in florid lettering and one of a rabbit.

:Several fillable fountain pens and ink that's still good

:Tiny steel futuristic staplers and thousands of tiny futuristic staples

:An antique ammeter

:A clip-on coat of arms for Grandpa's school--The Brentwood (Happy 42nd, Douglas!)

:Folding scissors

:A tiny silver twist-up pencil, about 3" long, engraved with rosettes and Grandpa's initials

A suction-cup listening device for recording phone conversations.

I left some things at the house though, simply because I had no real use for them, but couldn't bring myself to throw them away. These included:

:2 Walkmen with built-in microphones

:Several sliderules and sliderule-esque devices (yuck. These things make no sense and I'm convinced they make maths harder)

:Dozens more rulers and neat wooden rules with bizarre increments

:An inlayed wooden letter-opener

:Computer cassette tapes

I was able to throw away a number of items, some joyfully, such as:

:Dozens of giant, obsolete computer and audio cables

:Bizarre answering machine accessories

:dried-out adhesives, inks, and varnish

:Windows 95 (With a separate CD for Internet Explorer 4)

:Ancient batteries and an equally ancient universal charging station

:Instruction and warranty booklets for obsolete (and generally absent) electrical goods

I've learnt a fair bit about Grandpa in the past few years--it would have been cool to have met him. He was a Methodist minister and a technology writer, so the study is filled with roughly even numbers of theological and engineering texts, many of which he wrote himself. Some of Grandpa's mechanics books are still referenced by engineering students. He was a draughtsman, a sailor, a computer fanatic, and a lover of gadgets who was regularly invited to manufacturing plants all over the world to write about their systems and machines.

As you might expect, the religious texts are still fairly relevant--even the crumbling centuries-old analyses and wartime reflections on the function of the church in society continue to resonate. We came across a family Bible that is over 150 years old, with names of children neatly written in the front as it was passed through the generations, and it looks and reads pretty much exactly like a nice, presentation-grade King James you could find today.

The technology texts, however, are all about ten to thirty years out of date. Even the newest books treat the internet like it's a novel idea. All of the manufacturing systems described in the academic texts look fairly archaic and the computer studies are hilarious. Remember the difference between "Microcomputers" and "Minicomputers"? (Spell-check apparently does!) Remember when 16-colour displays were "Sleek and cutting-edge" and enough RAM to run an egg-timer was "powerful"?

Grandpa kept up-to-date on computer technology until his final days, and there were books in the stacks from the early 2000's, but even the edgiest machines and theories of the day are adorably wimpy or pointing in the opposite direction to how history unfolded. Oh Betamax. Oh car phones. Oh poor, poor laser-discs. (I find it interesting that when CDs came out they weren't sold as 'CLDs')

Boy spent the day filling a data sheet with titles, publishers, dates, and volume quality notes, and I covered myself in dust rooting through historic pointy objects. There's still plenty left to do, and I haven't even mentioned the massive hanging file, the thousands of slides that need to be digitized, and then the final decisions: What do we do with all this stuff?

We may be able to find theologians interested in the religious texts, I'd imagine we'll recycle the obsolete tech books (those not written in-house), scan the interviews and articles, and I'll take the slide projector if no one else wants it. Might come in handy in a scenic context.

Oh dear. I've been doodling with a ruling pen this whole time and my fingers are impressively ink-stained. I feel so quaint.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Better Wording for a Controversial Policy Change

I am responding to recent news reported here

It is imprudent to remind readers and viewers that their hard-earned money is being taxed to support large families--that just opens the door to people saying "but families need that money to support all their children--if you take it away, the children will suffer!"

No. Put it simply. "The current system gives families on Benefits more money for every child they have. Working people don't get a raise every time they have a child--even folks with below-average incomes. Indeed, it is the children with working parents who suffer in this system." Or, to make it personal, "I don't get more money for having more kids, so why the hell should you?" Controversy obliterated.

Maybe some prudent people only decide to have another kid after they've gotten a raise, but that's entrusting a lot of responsibility in your average parent. Some people do check their finances before trying for a child or additional child to ensure that they can still live comfortably with the new addition. Some people think they've got enough, then find out they don't and have to find a second job to feed a second mouth. Point is, some industrious (and frequently religious) people have 8 or more children and work their asses off to afford them, frequently getting by, or even thriving, on far less than what they could receive from the State. For some people this is an issue of pride, but for many it's just considered normal. One parent leaves the home to earn money and the other minds the kids. Some people put their kids in day-care so they can go work (mostly to pay for the day-care, but whatever) which offers children an opportunity to socialize.

I guess...I have several points, some of which are reasonable, and some of which are not. People do what it takes to make ends meet in order to provide for their families. Most people have the number of kids they want and can afford. (for me both columns are marked 0) If big families, like anyone, temporarily fall on hard times I am okay with the government supporting them until they get on their feet--provided they're trying to stand up--and hopefully allowing them to keep their home, neighbourhood, and dignity. I think reasonable limits must be kept in place regarding duration and extent of Benefit allowances, and after a while, if it hurts the community to keep paying for big houses or expensive private schools, everyone should have to take things down a notch. I don't think big families typically have enormous houses or send their children to expensive schools though, so this is largely moot.

But when it comes to people having more kids than they give a hoot about or can reasonably supervise and raise; people having kids for the sake of getting more money (I recall one memorable exchange between two teenage girls with screaming, ignored strollers, waiting for an A train at Hoyt-Schermerhorn, "Of course I'm looking for another baby-daddy! I need that check, and that child support. By the way, you like my new nails? I got the Works. It was only fifty dollars more than usual.") I have one simple phrase to utter, one that would piss many people off to hear.

There are people out there who would love to raise all those kids.

Of course, in all social service issues the best interests of the children involved must be the first priority. I think giving money to parents to sit around and not contribute meaningfully to their society or family, thereby teaching their kids that this behaviour is acceptable, is not in the kids' best interest, but there aren't really better options available--the foster and hostel systems routinely turn kids to crime, drugs, and violence; you can't always get kids adopted young enough to not screw them up mentally; if you interfere in every failing family there probably won't be enough hopeful adoptive parents around to take care of all the kids; the list goes on. But Actively Rewarding layabouts for making more kids? That's an insult to society. That undermines every teaching of state, church, and scout troop--and as "sit back and let the government pay you to do nothing" involves much less work than effort, study, and responsibility, it is a much easier and stronger lesson to learn. Laziness and a sense of entitlement are natural, but useless, components of the human condition. If we all did that, we'd all starve. No. Cut people off at the level that most people have to live on, regardless of family size. That teaches kids, "if you want more comforts, you're gonna have to earn them."

Saturday, October 02, 2010


We ate my first eggplant last night--it had bright white flesh and a stripey purple and white skin. Very tasty, but quite small. I was proud of it though--I planted them out back in March and over half of the plants were eaten by snails, then we had a sudden freeze in late April that knocked out a few more, and then I found out that they usually don't do anything outside in the UK because it's not warm or humid enough for them. So I got 1, and there's another one that's still little...not too bad for a novice in London with the coldest, shortest summer on record.

I'm still bringing in about 30 tomatoes a week. We had a huge amount of rain lately and several of the most recent pickings have been big and bright but kinda tasteless. I think this is in part due to the water overload and partly because I haven't been willing to go out and fertilize them in the storms. ("There she goes again, with an umbrella, watering her plants..." "poor dear, she must be rather simple.")

Sorry for the image quality--I took these pictures with my phone before we sliced into the aubergine. Ben was a bit concerned that it wasn't ripe because it was white inside instead of that sort-of parchment colour you see in grocery-store varieties, but it was very good. I only wish I'd managed to grow more. Now that the weather is returning to normal I'd imagine that's all I'll get. Next year I think I'll invest in some bigger pots and just grow them in the attic.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Lessons from Childhood

I never liked The Giving Tree as a kid. I thought it taught a pretty horrible lesson: take joy in being exploited by some ungrateful douche--after he's taken you for all you're worth, he may come back and expect you to support him in old age. Great. Thanks.

That's not to suggest I dislike Shel Silverstein. I'm quite fond of much of his poetry--Uncle Shelby's ABZ Book is a personal favourite. But I've always been baffled as to why Giving Tree deserves so many honours and accolades for being such a good book for children. I never felt sorry for the tree. Perhaps I was supposed to, I don't know, but I always saw it bad taste in men coupled with a masochistic streak. The female does everything she can for the male in the hopes that he'll recognise her effort and love her for it, but he always just takes what she offers as a given and raises his expectations. And then he goes off with another woman. And she is happy.

The lesson I gained from this story is, "don't give people anything. They won't appreciate it, they'll come to expect you to provide for them, and they will offer you nothing in return." I mean hell, the tree probably got a few greenfly infestations over the years that her sweet little boy could have sprayed for. What if she'd caught a nasty rootworm? There are plenty of ways to give back to a tree, but her darling child didn't even come around to prune that itchy dead branch. But no, "the tree was happy." Being taken for a sucker. Even when the boy was young he used her selfishly, eating her apples (how can you build a house out of apple boughs?) glorifying himself with her leaves, expecting her to make everything safe and comfortable for him. While many parents of course are happy to provide for children and only want love in return, there's a damn limit.

The Boy screws up. He makes some really bad decisions--from what I can infer from his desire for "a boat that will take me far away from here." he is not welcome in his community any longer. He has ruined his relationship with his wife and children. Maybe he made some dodgy investments or was caught cheating. So he comes back to the mother-figure to bail him out. "Hi Ma, I know we haven't spoken in a while, I'm not doin so good. I need you to give me some money so I can get outta dodge. I'm gonna have to lie low for a while, if the cops come to the door, you never saw me. Love ya." He's a fifty year old man! What the hell is he doing? Who does he think he is?

If the Tree had some self-respect she'd say no. No, you're an adult. If you want me to secure a loan for you you better be prepared with some collateral, 'cos I'm not risking my credit just so you can go on another bender with no consequences. I am not an accessory to your destruction, and I happened to like your wife and what you did to her and your kids was rotten. In fact, no, I will not secure a loan for you, you're too likely to default.

I assume that's the metaphor.

And then he high-tails it to St. Somewhere, fishes the pilings and drinks his green label each day for another twenty years. And we're supposed to in some way identify with him when he discovers the cost of repatriation of remains and decides to get to the burial plot he purchased with his ex-wife when they were planning for retirement before he dies? He gets back and lo and behold, his mother or ex-wife is still there, in her nineties but holding onto her own home with a combination of social security (which he hasn't paid into since he opened that offshore account that would eventually cause him to flee the country) and her own small IRA. And he moves back into her house and continues to mooch off of her, and via her the state to which he owes thirty years of back taxes!

What a Terrible Story.

I think this book should be read to women considering IVF treatments, perhaps with a discussion session afterwards. Are you Sure you want a kid this badly? I mean, they're shitheads.

Child-rearing requires a selflessness that I will never understand. While I'm grateful to my parents for raising me, sending me to school, feeding me, and doting on me as appropriate, I don't have it in me to do the same for anyone else. I mean, what's in it for parents? After twenty years, congratulations, you've made another taxpayer.

When you get a cat, you know from the outset that they're a species of selfish little bastards, they'll always be selfish little bastards, and they don't give a hoot about you. They let you pet them if they associate that with being fed. They'll sit in your lap, not because they like you, but because it's warm. You know this, but you get one anyway because they're fluffy and cute. You don't expect them to eventually come to appreciate you, or take care of you. But with kids it seems to be different. You give them everything you can, they take it without question, and after a while they leave you with nothing but debt so they can go do the same for their own brats, so they can too find themselves giving their all for no reward. And for some reason, that's what you Want them to do. Silly genetic imperative.

This book does not provide any helpful insights or suggestions for improvement that may one day help a child or grown-up. It is simply a reflection on how assholes take advantage of others, and how other people convince themselves they deserve to be taken advantage of. It's a very common and very shit relationship that serves as the cornerstone of the modern psychotherapeutic industry.