Before the extraordinary heat, currently affecting the North West, makes its way to the Best Coast, it’s worth describing how nice things have been here. Last week revived all of the “joie de vivre” that we imagined we had before the pandemic: two lovely summer evenings in pub gardens, followed by a family meal in an impossibly picturesque country house, impossibly in Langhorne. Drinking in beautiful summer weather, in lovely surroundings, with lovely friends, has been a distanct memory, but last week it all came true. Thanks to the PHS popup beer-garden, and the wonderful Union Tap House, both in Manayunk.
People have different connections to music. Some like it, some just aren’t interested, and some others deeply feel part of the sound, which can result in goose-bumps [goose-pimples], frisson, and obsessive looping of audio fragments in the brain, whether awake or asleep. There’s no doubt that I fall into the last category, which means that earworms are more than just an irritation; they can absolutely overtake my consciousness and interfere with the normal functions of a tedious life. There are two main categories:
- Earworms I can identify, and may even know the words to.
- Earworms I can’t identify.
Category 1 are an annoyance, but they’re easily replaced by listening to other category 1 earworms that aren’t as sticky.
Category 2 are a far greater problem and can really interfere with the normal functioning of life. They’re also quite fascinating because it’s not clear how they work or why they can invade your consciousness when you can’t even identify them. If you know the tune, and even some of the words, how is it possible that you don’t know what it is? Has anyone ever managed to implement this situation in a neural network? I doubt it.
So, the other night I had a category 2 earworm in my head and it was interfering with my concentration and slowly overtaking my entire brain. There was a jingly introduction, a sad voice, probably in 3/4 time, and a feeling that the whole song moved from the little jangly thing into something big and pleasing. That’s way too vague to identify. But it would not leave me alone. It felt so familiar but also so alien. Why did it feel alien? How could it be so familiar but so distant?
So I killed it off by repeatedly listening to one of my favourite addictive earworms, made powerful by strong childhood associations and the fact that I knew the words. [“Bad Guys” from Bugsy Malone if you’re interested]. Problem solved.
The next morning, in the shower, the jangly, 3/4, tragedy returned. I had to get it – but how do you trick your brain into giving away associations? OK, it wasn’t the style of music I normally listen to, so it was probably something I came across or was shared with me. It was also well grounded in my memory so I can’t have recently discovered it; I’ve no idea how I knew that, but that was the only clue I was given. The last time I was subjected to a whole bunch of music I didn’t know was while I was working at Mediaguide (now, sadly, defunct), so it was probably one of the bands I was introduced to there. I went through the ones I remembered, and narrowed it down to a few artists that could fit the bill. But even with that shortlist it would have been a heap of music to wade through – and that would have been a last resort.
There was one band in the list that I had also been listening to a lot recently, but as music to work to. I couldn’t name any of their songs or even hum them – they just worked well as coding music. My memory of the music was not like this jangly sad thing… but maybe it was an odd track.
So, I fired up Amazon Music on the telly, and searched for “Here We Go Magic” (for it was they) and found the album that I’d been introduced to seven years ago. There’s no way it was at the start of the album…so I flipped to the last track and played it.
Boom! Jingly 3/4 sadness and beauty. Somehow there was a part of my brain that knew this, and was desperate to hear it – but it seemed unable to communicate it with the rest of me. Why does it work like that?
[The song is “Everything’s Big”, and the rest of the album is great, and worthy of more than background music.]
This was a fortunate, pleasing and baffling experience for me. It’s not normally that easy. If you find yourself in this situation here are some tools for identifying a song:
- midomi lets you find songs by humming them. I’ve not had a lot of luck with this TBH
- musipedia helps you find a song by melody. Either play on a keyboard, tap out the rhythm or whistling.
- watzatsong has actual humans who can help you identify music. In fact they have successfully helped me identify a tune in the past.
Over the past few years, I’ve become increasingly aware of the American obsession with “good” and “bad”. It seems to be accepted by all strata that there is such a thing as a good person and a bad person.
There are apparently good cops as well as bad cops. Good protesters as well as bad protesters. Good clerics and bad clerics. There are probably good bank-robbers and bad bank-robbers too. If only there was a simple hand-held test that would show if someone was good or bad – life would be so much easier.
On one occasion, while entering the States during a short period working for a pen-testing company, the immigration officer asked what I did for a living. On learning I was a “cyber-security professional” he said “ah, keeping the bad guys at bay?”
It was absolutely bewildering to me. He really thought it was about bad guys: evil people trying to hurt the good people, purely because bad guys want bad things to happen. No middle ground there.
Then I noticed how many times I hear people on the news – the fucking news – invoke the notion of “bad guys”. Because they’re the problem really aren’t they? Why don’t we just put all the bad guys in prison? Wouldn’t that solve all of society’s problems if we simply outlawed bad-guyism? If we did that, then all that would be left are the good guys. And they’re good!
It’s like living in a really crap cowboy film.
A friend, and a friend of my wife, managed to persuade me to have a crack at fixing our broken dishwasher rather than just fork-out the stupid amount of money required for a new one.
This all happened on Facebook of course.
This all happened when I’d had a few drinks of course.
This was my debrief:
Right, you bastards, the dishwasher is fixed. I have you to thank for encouraging me to try and fix it myself. I fixed the fucker…but it bloody nearly killed me in the process. I said I’d keep you appraised of the progress and so this is your punishment.
The $130 pump arrived and, in a fit of optimistic excitement, I rushed home whilst watching the clear and concise video that explains how to fit the part. I watched it enough times that I had every detail memorized and so with excitement I assembled tools and attacked the machine (power off at the circuit breaker).
There were several things they omitted to describe in the video. The main ones were:
1> The state of the floor under the dishwasher.
2> The state of the cupboard containing the water feed and the waste pipe.
3> The fact that the person who made the holes for the water pipe and waste pipe could well have been a lunatic.
4> You would have to lie on the floor to detach the water pipe and disconnect the electricity through a two inch gap at the base of the machine.
5> Water, water everywhere. Where does it all come from?
So, I spent a while lying on the floor of the kitchen, in a bizarrely large pool of water, trying to undo things though a tiny gap that the spanner and screwdriver were unable to work with no matter what angles I managed to force them into.
Meanwhile, the piles and piles of mouse shit that had built up underneath the dishwasher were liberated by the extraordinary amount of water that was mysteriously present, and turned the puddle I was lying in, into shit soup. But I persisted.
Oh yes, it was in the 90’s that day, and the A/C unit in the front room was not helping.
After an exhausting and humiliating amount of time lying in the soup-du-merde with sweat pouring down my face, I eventually got the machine out, replaced the pump, hoovered up as much mouse shit as I could, replaced the machine, replaced the water supply, replaced the waste pipe, and reconnected the juice – every action taking 3 times as long as it should have done because of fucking dishwasher/foor topology. I was soaked in a variety of unpleasant fluids, exhausted, in pain, but at least I’d replaced the part. I turned the juice back on, turned on the stop cock and started the machine… water ran in but the noise was different.
I settled back into the shit soup and shone a flashlight underneath my nemesis. Water was leaking out from the back of the machine.
There was a lot of screaming and swearing. After pumping out the machine and disabling it, I took a shower/hair-wash, replaced my clothes and sat in the front room shivering with horror, rage and humiliation.At that point I decided that for the rest of my life, I wanted nothing but enough money to make sure I NEVER have to deal with a broken dishwasher ever again. It was trauma.
To cut an already long story short, a week later I decided to have another crack at it, with the idea that a failure would give me the opportunity to destroy the beast in an unnecessarily vicious and humiliating way. But this time it worked. I think I’d put the pump in the wrong way round or something last time. It all seems to be working now.
Despite the aggro, I spent less on the spare part that I would have done on the installation of a new machine alone, so it ain’t all bad.
It’s a word I hadn’t used, or considered using, before a few years ago. It usually only turned up on TV when people were taking the piss out of lefties, or when actual lefties talked to me about politics. Frankly, being ill-read, I didn’t really know what people meant by it. This seemed problematic for a word that is generally used as an insult, but now it all makes sense. The people being insulted can’t possibly understand what it means, nor are they meant to; they’re almost certainly not part of the conversation. Anyone who understands it will know what it means, why it is insulting, and why they are using it to describe Adam, Toby, or whoever is being discussed.
Coincidentally it was another ‘B’ word that led me to this enlightenment: Brexit.
The Brexit vote happened during my time in the U.S. of Arse, far away for the raw heat of the societal tear which caused the eruption of red hot fury to launch forth from beneath. It was bizarre to observe. There were three main factions:
- Ignorant racists.
- Anti capitalists.
- Bourgeois people who were concerned about the effect of the price of Camembert, retirement opportunities in Spain and the availability of cheap plumbers.
It turns out that the majority of my friends are number 3. I used to think they were lefties. No. What they are is the archetype of bourgeois.
As the UK was being carefully separated into rich and poor by the ancient ruling elites, all anyone I knew was complaining about was fucking Brexit. The NHS had been whittled away for the last 30 years, and the welfare state was unusably fucked, leading to the mass homelessness, suicides, dependence on foodbanks, and deaths as a result.
Meanwhile, the neoliberal bourgeois masses were protesting: about the UK not being part of the European trading gang-bang. They whined about how difficult it would be to import and export goods from the Europe, as if they had ever had first hand experience of doing it before or since the existence of the EU.
They sought solace in speeches from knights of the center right like Michael Heseltine, Kenneth Clarke and John Twatting Major.
Then the election came.
Pressure from the bourgeois activists led the only left-wing party, Labour, to shift its policy to supporting a second referendum
Boom. Overnight they lost factions 1 and 2 (see above) Obviously faction 1 can fuck off (despite consisting of a large and misguided section of the population)… but faction 2 was underestimated. Labour got more votes than ever before. But not enough to win.
In the smoking remains of the aftermath, things look clearer to everyone who lost.
The bourgeoisie see that the fault is with me and my selfish desire to fix the NHS and public spending. Why was I so “hard left”? Why couldn’t I be more…
The word “pragmatic” is a shibboleth among the bourgeoisie and is code for shifting further right. They believe there is a large body of ignorant right-wing people who need to be appeased. And they’re right: themselves!
The opposite of “pragmatism” is “ideology” which has now become associated with lunacy: at least the current leaders are using lubricant! If we don’t keep voting for them we’ll get people who want to go in raw.
The canonical example of “pragmatism” is a quote from Mr Tony Blair which sums up the problem precisely in one of his famous soundbites:
“Power without principle is barren, but principle without power is futile.”
The bourgeoisie see this as not only reasonable, but obviously reasonable. If they were reading this blog post they genuinely wouldn’t understand why anyone would disagree.
Douglas Adams perfectly summed up this paradox in the fourth book of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy trilogy.
The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards rule the people.”
“Odd,” said Arthur, “I thought you said it was a democracy.”
“I did,” said Ford. “It is.”
“So,” said Arthur, hoping he wasn’t sounding ridiculously obtuse, “why don’t people get rid of the lizards?”
“It honestly doesn’t occur to them,” said Ford. “They’ve all got the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government they’ve voted in more or less approximates to the government they want.”
“You mean they actually vote for the lizards?”
“Oh yes,” said Ford with a shrug, “of course.”
“But,” said Arthur, going for the big one again, “why?”
“Because if they didn’t vote for a lizard,” said Ford, “the wrong lizard might get in. Got any gin?”
The bourgeoisie regard ideologues as the enemies of liberal democracy… which they bloody well should be even if they aren’t. If, even when confronted by all of the evidence, you still believe in liberal democracy, then you are lost.
Don’t tense up, just try to enjoy it.
The “Night down the pub” has been a very important part of my life since the age of about 2. So here is a random sample from 2019:
Head down the Union Tap House with a fully charged phone and a brand new copy of Private Eye so that I can enjoy a quality beer [yes, singular] whilst reading.
On arrival, I see that the only person at the bar is Irish Paul and a voice in the back of my head suggests that I may end up having an extra half-pint on top of my target pint.
Paul and I chat with each other and Claudia behind the bar. It is the traditional sort of chat involving calling each other “cunts” and giggling.
We were joined by Lindsey (who was kind enough to reunite me with my long lost umbrella), Steve (who forgot to call me “your Lordship”) and Quizmaster Justin. The evening progressed in typical pub “bullshit and giggles” style. Sal and Bill joined Claudia behind the bar, forming the service dream-team. Paul and Lindsey introduced us to Mike and Lindsey before departing for home. I followed on shortly afterwards, which allowed me to only inflict my personality on Over-the-Road-Alex for a few minutes. It’s not fair that he should have to deal with that much Englishness before a pub-quiz.
One of the best parts about going to the Union is that I have to walk up a bastard of a hill to get home…unless I insult the planet by ordering a Lyft. But I didn’t do that. The walk cancels out any negative health effects accrued by spending several hours drinking and eating deep-fried pretzel bites and that is why I’m a picture of slender health.
Finally, as if things could get any better, I get to hang out at home with M and the birds while eating a superb pasta-chicken dish and watching comical British telly.
Note to future self: see – it was good!
Tonight I ended up watching a film (“movie” for my Merkin friends) starring Sean Connery, from 1982, that predicted the whole “War on Terror” including the World Trade Center bombing. You’d have thought that such a significant film, starring a huge movie star like Connery, would be well known by everyone. But if you’ve even heard of it you’re in the minority and if you’ve actually seen it then…well we’ve never met at least.
It’s called “Wrong is Right” – or for us that grew up outside of the US it was rebranded as “The Man with the Deadly Lens” (they thought Bondifying it would make it popular). Currently on Huflix Prime or whatever. Satire. Worth the whole 2 hours for the final, final scene.
Sometimes people you like can surprise you by veering off the path so much you start to wonder why you’re even talking to them. A pleasant friendship can be immediately soured for me by my friend explaining why they believe all Indian people are rude, or why Enoch Powell was actually a very clever man who was simply misunderstood, or why Donald Chump is actually a great president…
On a totally different topic, today at work during our traditional lunch discussion, everyone at the table outed themselves as keen enthusiasts of astrology. One minute we were all chatting enjoyably about some bullshit or other, the next it was all “sun signs”, “moon signs” and “rising signs”. I learned that if you don’t take into account the exact time you were born then the signs won’t be right! Imagine! You could all be discussing things that aren’t true! Without the correct birth date and time the whole thing would simply be a meaningless load of old wank.
After biting my tongue for as long as I could, it all became too much of a burden to hold in and so I exploded in angry sarcasm.
After my rant had petered out there was only one comment: “you’re only saying that because you’re an Aries.”
How did he know? Oh bloody hell, it’s all true after all.
Thirty years ago or so there was a very dramatic evening involving a bunch of teenagers who decided to explain to the victim of a Lothario that he wasn’t going to be her Mr Right. This is the kind of thing that happens when teenagers get drunk together. To us, and especially to the victim, this was a very fucking dramatic night. There were tears. There was screaming. There were feelings of distrust with the universe. There was a long walk through a local park after all the booze was gone to help cool off. Most of all there was a message scrawled on the bathroom mirror in toothpaste that read “funny old night”. This summed up the situation in more ways than the author knew…perhaps.
Since this, in my early youth, there have been countless examples of dramatic and disturbing events that range from domestic arguments to the election of a mentally disabled fascist. Whenever something like this happens, all I can think of is that toothpaste graffiti on the mirror: “funny old night”. Nowadays my brain changes it to “funny old world” because that is more accurate.
Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
Visually stunning, entirely appropriate sequel. A bit pretentious in places.
Lady Bird (2017)
Great acting; fun if you like catholic school stuff. Yawn.
The IPCRESS file (1965)
Essential fodder for spy movie buffs. Brilliant, gripping. Still cool.
Worth it for the opening scene alone. Weird and beautiful.
The Trial (1962)
Fantastic and accurate rendition of the book, without the tedium.