Thursday, December 07, 2006

Warm Tone

I like science; it fascinates me, even though it doesn’t seem to like me back. My relationship with science is like that of the music connoisseur who can’t play a note on a musical instrument: I think it’s really cool, and I like to imagine that perhaps if I’d paid attention, or discovered my interest at an earlier stage, I might have been able to understand more of it. As it is though, I just read stuff written for the laity and try and understand it to the best of my feeble abilities. I know this sounds strange coming from an English Literature student, but there it is.

I make no claims to be some great empiricist (I’m a very trusting person and well aware of my inability to comprehend anything more complex than literary criticism*) but I do have a reasonable grasp of basic scientific principles gained from my father, brother and school and know when things don’t smell right. In recent months this incredulity has been fed and educated by the discovery of Ben Goldacre’s rather fantastic pseudoscience bashing blog/newspaper column.

When people think of Pseudoscience they generally think of the obvious practitioners – alternative medicine, cosmetics companies and various conspiracy theorists of various hues and flavours. But I think I have discovered a wonderful new area of wonky science to poke at…

As I’ve mentioned in other posts (ones that, like this one, are best avoided) I’m a musician, of sorts,** and I take my hobbies seriously. The ‘Guitar Stuff’ folder in my favourites, for example, is subdivided into numerous different flavours of geekiness*** and my face is known in guitar shops throughout the land. Reading reviews of instruments and websites/press releases from various manufacturers always makes me cringe; generally, with the exception of one or two small-shop luthiers everyone seems to feel the need to justify and explain various design decisions, and how this gives the instrument/amplifier/effects pedal/component part/cable/strap a ‘warm tone,’ with all kinds of scientific claims. I think this is especially prominent in the realm of electric instruments as there are just so many variables in what constitutes a players signature ‘sound’ including: First and foremost, the ability of the player then The materials of the instruments construction, the pickups, the hardware, the brand of strings, the effects, the amplifier, the speakers etc..

Now as I said, I’m not exactly hot shit when in comes to thinking about stuff that isn’t meaningless, but the following there is so much stuff associated with this industry that smells distinctly of bollocks. Most of it is just wild exaggeration; attributing a major, audible difference in the quality of sound to a design feature that might, at best, make a miniscule difference to the sonic properties of an instrument, detectable only with expensive scientific equipment and certainly beyond even the most discerning ear. The following two (there are many more examples, but it’s late and I’m tired) instances really get on my (ample) tits:

The belief that making the distance between the anchor points of the string (the tuning pegs and the tailpiece) longer will somehow raise the tension of the section of the string which is used to make the noise (between the nut and the bridge saddles). I would have thought that you could have a headstock the size of a cricket bat and the strings would be the same tension

The assertion that the kind of finish used, as in what sort of varnish, paint or wax the body is coated in, makes a difference to the sound. People speak disparagingly of polymer based paints – claiming that they don’t allow wood to ‘breathe’ or resonate properly and others speak knowingly of the ‘natural’ sound got from using no finish at all.

Both of these seem to be examples of rather more wild exaggeration than I normally tolerate in advertising or press-release bravado. I mean seriously, what the fuck? It’s paint for crying out loud! The main objection I have to all of this is the belief prevalent amongst many musicians that this bullshit encourages – namely that spending money on new gear will improve your sound more than just practising for a bit longer or, you know, actually having some talent. Buying an Eric Clapton signature Stratocaster will not make you Eric Clapton.

Basic rule of thumb – if it is science being used to sell something, then it is probably a load of horsecrap.

-Ben

*Although I’ll admit that the more complex narratological and linguistic stuff tends to make me go cross eyed a bit when trying to understand it.

** not a very good sort, but nevermind, I enjoy myself

****Guitar Makers, Amp Makers, Retailers, Parts/effects, and Reference.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Giggage

The Future of the Left are very good live.

They usually seem to be billed as ‘two of mclusky and one of jarcrew’ or words to that effect, but they really are an altogether different, and musically sexier beast than just the sum of their parts. They rocked. The songs I’ve heard on their website sounded even better live and the songs I haven’t heard before were brilliant. Live, tracks like ‘Wrigley Scott’ and ‘small bones small bodies’ sound incredible.

In fact the quality of the whole set matches that of the tracks on upcoming double A side of ‘The Lord Hates a Coward’ and ‘Fingers Become Thumbs’. Which all bodes very well for the album, whenever that gets recorded. All the material I’ve heard so far from them is a metric shiteload better than anything I’ve heard in a long while. Certainly better than most of the shoegazing indie noises that make up most of the music that ‘the kids’ are listening to these days.

----

Tch. We generic middle class indie kids are so predictable, Falco joked about how all the posh bastards who weren’t jumping around and getting into it would probably go home and write about the gig in their journal…

And here I am.

Oh well.

-Ben

Picture of the gig courtesy of ed.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Interesting

I'm currently slaving over a hot essay and so I'm not going to be elaborating on my travels for a while, I'll just leave my one person readership in suspense for a while.

In the meantime I thought I'd share something I noticed whilst idly wikisurfing away from what I was supposed to be looking at - I think it was Aristotle’s poetics, but I'm not sure; and how on earth I got from there to here is beyond me.

I ended up looking at the page on the FSB (Russian security services) and then on the page about the KGB (soviet security services), both of which have been in the papers a fair amount recently due to their alleged involvement in the death of some ex-KGB/FSB agent who turned conspiracy theorist and fled to the UK complaining of persecution and threats to his life. Although, in a country where you can hire a hitman for a few quid and a sandwich, you don't have to do anything particularly unpleasant to be at risk of being shot at. It's getting a lot of attention over here because it's dramatic, gruesome, and has all the fun of a conspiracy theory whilst pandering to the (possibly not unjustified) suspicions many have of the Russian government.

Anyway, Here are the logos of the FSB and the KGB



Interesting iconography. The shield, symbolising protection, the sword symbolising strength, might and the ever present threat of nastiness and the emblem of the government for which these powers are being exercised. One notices that the only substantial changes that they made to the logo with the collapse of the soviet union was to change the emblem on it from the Hammer n' Sickle five pointed star jobby of the Soviet Union to the eagle thingy of the Russian Federation and to make an attempt to conceal the sword, with the threat of violence it entails, behind the shield.

I've not got any real point to make or axe to grind here, I don't know enough about Russian politics and there is way to much wild speculation going on around this anyway. I'm just saying that really they could have chosen their iconography in a way that is slightly less easily interpreted to mean 'democracy = we are more sneaky about doing away with those we don't like'. I'm sure I'm not the only who has noticed this, and I expect that there are already plenty of venomous editorials using this iconography to indicate that we should nuke them, invade them, cuss their momma etc..

anyway. I've got work to do.

-Ben

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Part the Second

Well. The next part is here quicker than I expected, probably something to do with the fact that I’ve got a shiteload of work to do and no inclination/ability to do it. It’s a grey and cold day today in Canterbury and it’s nice to reminisce about the days when it was sunny, warm and I had someone to talk to.


I arrived at Heathrow airport at about 2am – my flight wasn’t until 8:30 but considering the scenes of chaos they’d been showing on the news for the preceeding few days I figured I’d rather be bored for a few hours than miss my flight. Thanks to this I was able to see the strange sight that is an airport with nobody in it, I’ve been in airports before for the usual reasons - to collect relatives, convert people to my cult and claim other people’s baggage. There is, however, something very weird about places designed to hold and allow for the movement of massive numbers of people, like airports; anyone who has walked around the north Greenwich peninsula* or stood in an empty football stadium will know what I mean – the places seem expectant, incomplete. The railing corrals and exit gates are meaningless without a full complement of bored and angry people standing in them, without them these places just look like strangely aseptic racehorse paddocks.

In the couple of hours that passed between my mother going home and the check in desks opening I amused myself by staring into space, humming songs, explaining to myself the wiring of the electronics in my fretted bass (it’s complicated) and watching the odd little refugee-camp style settlements people were setting up in the area of the check in desks. There was a Japanese family who were all asleep on the benches covered with those foil blankets they put on marathon runners, which looked very sci-fi, there was a bunch of American backpackers earnestly working their way through all the wine they had and telling stories about people driving on the left etc. There were various couples wandering around aimlessly including one middle aged couple who came over and asked me if they were at the American Airlines check-in area – “dis muhkan aerlynes?” (they were, it was written in big writing on just about every flat surface). I think that’s what they asked me, I was rather distracted by the appearance of the man: he was about 6’ with brown boots, grey slacks, a white shirt with that strange seam pattern that country singers wear and, get this, a black bootlace tie (with silver bull’s head on the top) and a big cowboy hat. I later learned, not hugely unexpectedly that they were bound for Fort Worth, TX. I hope that it was all an elaborate joke. Surely.

When the desks finally opened about 5 or 6am (I forget which) I was about 10th from the front. Not great, I hear you say, considering I’d got there at about 2am but I was fine with it as by the time I got my tickets and checked my bags the queue stretched through the three metal corral areas, snaked around the terminal and then disappeared out of the front door, I’m pretty sure that the people at the back are still waiting to this day, old and beardy.

Surprisingly, considering what the news had led me to suspect, there weren’t really any queues or problems at security – having never been in an airport before I can’t really comment on how it compared to normal running – I took off shoes, hoodie, belt, bag and was searched by a big Sikh bloke from security. It was all over nice and quickly and was much easier than I thought it’d be. Despite my long hair and beard I wasn’t poked with a cattle prod, or given any of the unpleasant internal examinations that my friends had been joking about since the 10th.

Airside lounges are boring tense places, like big trains stations but without the tramps and lingering smell of urine. I spent the whole time looking up at the boards every few seconds and worrying about things, there were some ‘cancelled’ notices on the board and some people shouting and raving at this. My flight was on time, which was a relief, and, after another rigorous search at the boarding area, I got to my seat somewhere in the arse end of the plane.

I was wondering, whilst waiting for takeoff, whether they intentionally design the plane so that the people with economy class tickets have to walk past all the upper class seats and envy all the smug rich people in their gigantic vibrating armchairs, four-poster beds, hot tubs etc before being stuffed into the hold. The takeoff was an interesting experience, I figured that I was probably going the fastest I’d ever moved in my life somewhere halfway along the runway and was enjoying the pinned-to-the-seat feeling of the G-force. The pilot was taking off into a pretty hefty headwind and so when we left the ground we did so with a lurch that made me feel like I was going to hurl (something I later found, to my relief, isn’t typical of takeoffs).

I’m not sure what more I can really say about the flight; between taking off and landing they aren’t the most interesting experiences. It was a cloudy day and I was a long way from the windows so I didn’t really have anything to look at. The fact that my little screen thingy was broken and that no electric devices were allowed in hand luggage meant that I had no idea what time it was, how long we’d been flying or anything like that. That, coupled with the fact that I was drifting in and out of sleep for the whole time caused me to have a very disorienting flight. About an hour from the end of the flight (I think) I was given a little green form to fill in, which asked me such useful questions as

Have you ever been or are you now involved in espionage or sabotage; or in terrorist activities; or genocide; or between 1933 and 1945 were involved, in any way, in persecutions associated with Nazi Germany or its allies?

You have no idea how hard it is to resist the urge to write “yes… I mean NO.. aw, damn, you got me.” But I was sensible and restrained all facetious and sarcastic impulses somewhere in the left thigh for the duration of the arrival process.

At immigration the passengers were divided into ‘US Citizens’ and ‘Foreigners’ The American line moved much faster and I felt a little imperial outrage - “I’m not Foreign. I’m British!” - at being stuck in the slow moving line. I was Processed though immigration quite quickly by an Arabic looking woman, which I found rather surprising considering the American paranoia about Arabs controlling ports. I was fingerprinted, which I found unnerving but I wasn’t in any mood to ask questions and so there is probably a study, in black and white, of my fingerprints somewhere in a federal database somewhere still. JFK airport was a strange contrast to Heathrow, it’s very small and tatty, the greying square ceiling panels and tire scuffed lino reminding me of my old school more than the airport I came from.

I collected my bags, still intact and in one piece and, after I’d gone through more searches in customs, wandered out into the arrivals lounge thingy having been awake for around 30 hours. I remember seeing Kristen’s sister first, before I’d even come through the door, sitting off to my right, then Kristen appearing in my view… and. Yeah. I’m not going to be able to write anything coherent about that…

Once that was all over with I was led around like a drugged up outpatient, with lots of attention being lavished on me, affectionate attention from Kirsten, and morbid curiosity, I think, from her sister. She took a couple of photos of me looking like a concussed tramp standing around in a grey car park gormlessly staring at a bottle of apple juice.

I think I’ll stop writing now, seeing as I’ve just written more on this in about two hours than I have in the last two weeks on my essay. I think it’d be better for everyone concerned if I didn’t write in quite so much detail for the rest of this saga.

-Ben


* Loads of stuff built to accommodate the massive numbers of people that never bothered to go to the millennium dome

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Part the First

I suppose I should write about all this travelling I’ve been doing, not the half arsed account of the really quite mundane aspects of my summer, where all I really did was go to other parts of the UK and get drunk in them. The most interesting thing that happened this summer was a result of Kristen finishing her job in Long Island, NY and going off to start her new job on the other side of the country. Due to a shocking act of unprovoked generosity on the part of Kristen’s parents I was going to go with her on a road trip across the United States driving from New York to Berkeley, California, via South Carolina and her family home.

I suppose the best place to start this would be the 10th of august 2006. By this point I had got my head pretty much around the idea that I was actually going to America to see Kristen and, through much staring at maps, had almost got my head around the kind of distances we would be covering. Being from a small country I really had trouble with the idea of driving for an entire day and not reaching your destination – well actually that’s not true, but in the UK if you drove for a day your destination wouldn’t be anywhere interesting, it’d be just some small damp town in Scotland somewhere where the locals amuse themselves by drinking whiskey and shaving sheep. So, it is more accurate to say that I couldn’t get my head around the idea of driving for days and ending up somewhere where people have mains electricity and sewers. I tried to put the trip into some kind of perspective that I’d understand and so I worked out how far we were going to be travelling, roughly, and looked to see how far that would get me in Europe…

I found that it would in fact get me out of Europe altogether, and that it was pretty much like driving from here to Baghdad – although, despite the stories I’ve been told I was going to assume that the journey we were about to undertake was considerably safer than that one.

Anyway, back to the 10th of august. By this time I had sorted out what I needed to bring and got hold of an appropriate bag and suchlike logistical necessities, meaning that there wasn’t much else for me to do other than try and distract myself from the prospect of flying, which wasn’t one I relished. I’d never flown before so it was all a bit daunting. I wandered downstairs on the morning of the 10th (actually it was probably the afternoon – I’m not an early riser) and switched on the TV.

In case you don’t remember the story here it is

I spoke to some friends who had family going on holiday that weekend, camping out in the airport for days seemed be the norm and most of them lost a day or two from their holidays as a result of cancelled flights, which would have had devastatingly unsexy effects on my own trip.

Strangely, after the initial screaming heebie-jeebies, it wasn’t the fear of being exploded in midair by some shifty beardy geezer who I probably went to the same school as that particularly bothered me. This whole episode actually made me calmer than I was before about the prospect of flying. I don’t mean the sort of crazed calm one gets walking into exams, I mean that I was forced to either sit down and think rationally about the odds and probabilities of the whole thing or run away screaming and hide in my cupboard. I figured that getting in a plane was probably a few thousand times safer than getting a lift from Danny*.

So I did the sensible thing. I went out for a walk and watched the greasy brown sunset over London from the top of the hill – say what you like about pollution, it certainly does lead to some, erm, very unique sunsets – and later on decided to finally assuage my fears in the normal manner, which is going out, getting my wobbly boots on, and making really crass and tasteless jokes about it with my friends as if I’m not in the slightest bit bothered. I find that I can often convince myself that way.

---

So. There you go. Episode one. I’ll write up the rest of it later, well I’ve written most of it already, but It’ll probably require proofreading and rewriting like this one did and I need to get back to work.

-Ben

*No offence Danny, it’s just that you drive like Biggles.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Love and Honour

As a socially backward musical instrument obsessive I spend probably more time in guitar shops than any healthy person should. I’m one of those guys who is always sitting around playing whatever new stock the shop has and having nerdy discussions with the shop owner. I always stop if someone comes in who looks like they might be a legitimate customer, even if it does mean that I end up handing over whatever bass I’ve been messing around with to some 16 year old who then launches into a interpretation of some Metallica song that owes rather more to enthusiasm than ability.

In Canterbury (where I live) there are five guitar shops that I know of. I won’t bother mentioning one of them in any detail as it isn’t really guitar shop, more a secondhand shop that sells anything that electricity passes through, from mobile phones to valve amplifiers, and this just happens to include guitars.

Two of these shops are independently owned and run enterprises, the other two are franchises or chain stores of some sort. Now I’m not one to try and reinforce stereotypes but the two chain stores really can’t match the independent ones for quality of products and service despite their much larger size and more substantial stock. Part of the reason why they aren’t as good is because their stock, whilst large, is always limited to a small number of large brands that their parent company has distribution deals for but the main reason is that they generally sell guitars with neither love nor honour.

When I say that they sell guitars without honour I mean that they don’t really consider what the customer actually needs, instead trying to coerce them into buying whatever it is they get a good profit margin on or are having trouble shifting to more discerning customers. A good example of this being a co worker of my mother’s who went to a chain store in SE London near where she lives and was sold a overpriced, right handed, fender electro-acoustic guitar despite the fact that she told them that she was only looking for something to learn on (therefore no need for it to be amplifiable) and that she was left handed (which they told her was irrelevant). They had no honour and as a result of that, and their ridiculous prices*, they went bust about 6 months after they opened.

By love I mean caring about the instruments you sell and the people you sell them to. This isn’t just some tree hugging small business ideal, it makes sense, if I’m told I can’t play an instrument unless I’m seriously thinking about buying it then I won’t want to buy anything from that shop. This is a bigger consideration when you take into account the fact that whilst I have spent a whopping £50** on a new bass this year I estimate that I have spent more than twice that on various musical necessities – strings, straps, mic stands, jackleads etc. – and all of that goes to the independently run shops who go for a more holistic approach to musical instrument sale.

The love for the instruments also makes financial sense; if an instrument is badly set up and poorly maintained then nobody will want to buy it. Both of the chain stores in Canterbury have a wide selection of basses which are completely untouched from the factory: they still have super high action and appalling intonation which renders even the highest quality models unplayable. The people who work there just don’t seem to care, it isn’t their shop after all. On top of this most of the instruments don’t appear to have even been tested by the guys who work there***. I played the most expensive instrument in one of the stores today and, in addition to its nasty action and bad intonation, it was a factory lemon – the pickups were wired out of phase****, which is something they should have picked up when they took it out of the box.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is that if you are in Canterbury and need something of a guitarlike persuasion then go to Socodi music. They rock.

-Ben

*their battered 1983 ibanez musician would only be worth the £700 price tag they put on it if it’d actually been played by jesus

** That isn’t a typo, it’s a Yamaha fretless bass that I got from a pawnbroker and lovingly nursed back to health

***yes, with the exception of Denmark Street guitar shops are always run by guys

**** put them both on equal volume and they cancel each other out, resulting in a nasty, scooped out and above all, really quiet sound.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Shoe Event Horizon

I’m still working in a vague sort of way on the write up of my summer travels but I got a bit disheartened when I wrote about 1500 words and hadn’t even got to the part where I landed in the US. I’ll manage to write it eventually but it might have to wait until I have other work to do that I wish to avoid.

Today I was thinking about how strange the commercial development of towns can be. How some places become saturated with a certain kinds of shops and yet lack completely in others. The best example I can think of at the moment is Woodbridge in Suffolk; a town with a wildly disproportionate number of secondhand bookshops and tearooms run by little old ladies. It is much easier to notice a surfeit of a certain shop in a town than it is to discern the absence of one - or at least it is until you want to go into one. Canterbury, being a sort of hub of commerce for central Kent and a popular shoppytourist destination for Johnny Foreigner, is a town pretty damn well stocked with shops. It is not one, however, without its own strange absences.

Today I was wandering around town in search of either a knife sharpening stone or some really light gauge metalworking files – not for sharpening knives, but for fret levelling on a bass I’m having problems with. Whist on this course I remembered something I observed in the first year but forgot; namely that there are no hardware stores in Canterbury. There is just about every other kind of shop you’d care to mention but nothing that sells anything like that.

The closest thing that there is to one that I know of is the B&Q on the outskirts of town. B&Q is a fine British institution which prides itself on their very open, non racist, non ageist non sexist employment policy – it is always staffed by a fine cross section of society united only by their orange aprons and abject stupidity. Last time I went to B&Q I had to explain what sandpaper* was to a gormless little skinhead.

I’ve actually had some insight into why this might be though; when I was about 17 I applied for a job there and was given an application form that took the form of a large multiple-choice questionnaire. It was filled with questions like this --

-1- A man fires a gun at a customer you are about to serve, what would you do?

(a) Jump in front of the customer and take the bullet for him

(b) Take cover and call the police

(c) Laugh, put the boot in, and then rummage through his pockets for change

Now I look at this set of answers and think: “now surely they don’t expect me to lie that much, I’ll put B as that is sensible and plausible”.

Needless to say I didn’t even get called up for an interview, someone I know though - who couldn’t count to 11 without taking his shoes off - applied at the same time, answered A style answers for everything and got the job with no problem. They have a recruitment system so stupid that anyone capable of thinking with any kind of subtlety is eliminated at the first round.

As a result of all this though, to get back to my original point, I am still having fretbuzz problems on the 3rd and 6th frets on the E and A strings which makes me cranky.

Anyway. I think I’m going to go to the pub now, as I’m already bored and it’s only 8:30

-Ben

*yes I know that it’s technically called glasspaper and I did try that one – I think it just confused him further

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

I know what I did this summer

It occurred to me the other day that I have this blog and that I’ve been neglecting it rather badly. It’s not that I’ve been desperately busy these last few months, although I have done slightly more than I normally do during the summer holidays (the same, however, could be said for most coma patients) it’s just that I pretty much forgot that this thing existed and when I did remember that it was here I’d usually get distracted or run out of things to say before I could finish writing an entry. Since the last time I looked on here I’ve done a fair amount of travelling, got a tan and grown my hair about another 6 inches, so I should probably update the picture and write about what I’ve been doing.

The summer started as every recent summer has; with me climbing bleary eyed out of bed after a week or two of post-exam recreational alcoholism, jamming as much of my stuff as will fit into the back of my parents’ car and travelling back to London. I spent a few weeks doing the usual half-arsed jobseeking, settling back into my old routine and finding, once again, that my old sixth form friends are still a lot of fun to be around. If events hadn’t intervened I probably would have ended up spending my time doing the exact same thing I do every year – putting on weight, drinking too much and failing to get a job.

Things didn’t go down like that this summer though, firstly my older brother ended up in hospital in Durham with a collapsed lung. The collapsed lung was caused the fact that Ed is so thin that he can do hula hoops with a cheerio and would need a belt to wear a pair of 80’s rockstar spandex, seriously, he weighs about as much as my left leg. As a result he did a bit of enthusiastic air-drumming his lung popped like an overinflated prophylactic (that may not have been exactly how it happened). I went up to Durham to see him in hospital and had the scary task of meeting Ed’s girlfriend’s parents. They were very nice people but I’m always nervous about meeting people when I require the use of two possessives to explain their relation to me, it generally doesn’t bode well and makes explaining who they are very messy. I stayed for a few days in their giant Tudor house with more bedrooms than they know what to do with and was present for a rather unpleasant infection scare at the hospital where it looked like Ed might be stuck in there for even longer than he had been already.

He got better though, and has a cool set of surgical scars as a souvenir. I’m no medical man but I think the procedure involved supergluing his lung to the inside of his chest and gaffa taping up the holes.

It came at a pretty bad time for him though what with him and his girlfriend due to be moving into their new house pretty soon after the operation. As a result of the surgery he was very weak and had been forbidden to even think about lifting heavy objects for a few decades afterwards (at least that’s what he claims they said) so I ended up making the trip back up there to help with the loading of all their worldly possessions (which is quite a lot) into the van and unloading all the stuff when they got to oxford where eddie’s job and Lucy’s course are located. It was quite an entertaining way to spend a few days, although, due the way things go, had to take place during the hottest period we had this summer, so I ended up carrying furniture around in 38 degree heat. Which isn’t a lot of fun.

My memory of the chronology of this summer is really bad, I remember the events but I’m not too sure about the order in which they happened. I could probably rummage through my email records and figure out when this stuff all happened but that’s more effort than I’m willing to put in and it’s not particularly relevant. It was around this time that I unexpectedly got invited to go on a road trip across the US and my summer got much more interesting. The prospect of travel meant that I gave up what miniscule effort I was putting into gaining employment and devoted myself to the serious business of having fun. There were lots of friends with family who had gone on holiday and lots of good barbeques and, strangely and wonderfully, I managed to spend almost no money in this entire period – for some reason it was perpetually someone else’s round.

After this the preparations for my epic journey started in earnest and that is something that I think I will document another time, partly because there is so much to say and tell and also because right now I’ve got stuff to eat and a leaving bash that I don’t hugely want attend to try and weasel my way out of.

I apologise for the poor quality of the grammar and prose. I’ve not done any writing in ages. I dread to think what my handwriting looks like.

-Ben

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Plymouth and things

I have spent the last few days in plymouth having a great deal of fun and hanging with Eddie, Lucy and my family.

I will write something about that trip in more length when I can be arsed, right now I am much too tired to write anything coherent, as I'm sure you can tell.

One of the cool things about plymouth is its large number of Pawnbrokers, in one of which I picked up a new bass.

for £60, a Yamaha fretless bass for £60 - I have no idea of its age, perhaps 15-18 years old judging from its appearance - but it plays real nicely and has a good sound, and it's fretless.

mmm, it's jazz time.

it was so cheap because the electronics weren't working. that was, however, the work of about 30 minutes with spanners, screwdrivers and a soldering iron (actualy me - although in all fairness I did solder the wire in the wrong place at first) to fix.

I'm going to bed now, tomorrow I will continue the repairs and tweaks and perhaps write something about the trip rather than just rambling about some battered old bass I bought.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Drunken Ramble

I went to the pub tonight, I probably shouldn't have done as I've got more work to do than an English Lit. student should ever have to face, but I did anyway, as I was bored, tired and I've spent around 40 hours in the library this week. I went because Martin Jonathan was playing and he's always good for an evening of absurdly skilled guitar playing and damn fine songs. The drink was flowing (at a modest rate as I'm modestly bankrupt) and, in one of those 'inevitable rules of nature' doohickies, the trips to the toilet were frequent.

I'm not sure whether this is because I have a small bladder or that I just jump at any excuse to get my cock out (probably the former but who knows) but when I drink beer it seems to go through me at a great speed, taking all the liquid it can find on the way with it. This means that I spend probably more time in pub toilets than anyone who isn't either a coke addict or really easy.

For men, the toilet, whether it is in a pub, in a house or in a little wooden shack at the end of the garden, is a place of quiet contemplation. I was standing at the urinal (the one at the far end, closest to the wall - only a complete cad will choose the middle urinal if the others are not occupied) and looking at the exact same advert that has been on the wall there for about a year.

Which is strange in itself considering that those adverts must be subject to the closest 'eyes front, don't look at the other guy's penis or you'll catch the gay' scrutiny that any kind of advert is exposed to - you would have thought that this ad space would be fought over and changing hands constantly. It is not, however, and so after reading the government anti smoking advert for a few seconds (the one that tells you it will make you impotent - not really an issue to me as I've not got any in a good long while and don't smoke) my mind started to wander.

Whilst in this urine smelling reverie I started thinking about toilets, as you'd expect, given the situation. The toilet, I think, is one of the few areas of life in which the norm is biased towards women. Have you ever been in a house with a urinal? I think not... unless you have some very odd friends. The fact is that the toilet is something designed to work for women and work for men, just about, if you are trying.

I suppose it isn't exactly that its design is biased towards women it's more that it isn't biased towards men, which is either the ubiquitous norm or a loved memory depending on which websites you visit. I expect that it is this conspicuous difference to the other things in the world which are biased towards men (like porn, or any number of things I can't think of because I'm drunk) that makes the toilet such a domestic battleground. I mean, let’s look at this objectively here, how much harder is it for a woman to lower a seat than it is for a man to raise one? Considering fact that they are on average lower down and so have to do less bending, and their task involves less heavy lifting, I think if we go purely on caloric expenditure it would only be fair for 'up' to be the default position. However, it is this knowledge, conscious or otherwise of the toilet as a piece of feminist plumbing that makes these disputes so heated.

I mean seriously, women have no idea, the average penis (whatever that looks like) has about all the inherent accuracy of a rusty sawn-off shotgun in a hurricane, and a normal toilet is a long way down and very small compared to the safe surface area for a piss receptacle (about the size of a hedge or, whilst drunk, the Berlin Wall) even with the toilet seat up pissing into a toilet is a risky venture. By leaving the seat up man isn't causing a major inconvenience (unless the woman likes to sit on the toilet in the dark without checking the seat is down) it is that man is trying to make the toilet more man friendly, taking away a crucial area of dominance.

I'm not sure where I was supposed to be going with this, I'm drunk and I got distracted by shiny things, but basically what I think I was going to say at this point is that the toilet is difficult enough for man to navigate without the added difficulty of putting the seat up, which often wont stay up for very long and, mid stream, will come lunging down at your penis with rabbinical intent. For women going to the toilet is already easier, by leaving the seat up man isn't trying to take away women's rights, he's just trying to level the playing field a little.

-Ben

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

'Don't Play God'

It really gets on my nerves when people say that, look at this

morons, has it not occurred to them that perhaps keeping someone alive on a ventilator who would, if man had not intervened in the natural order of things, be dead, constitutes playing god?

It was the same thing with the Terri Schiavo case (I just googled that I found that I spelt it right first time, go me.) There were all these godbotherers saying that it wasn't up to man to intervene in god's plans but, if that was what they really believed then why didn't they insist that she be allowed to die when she had the massive cardiac arrest 10 years previously.

I have no problem with people not wanting their loved ones to die, that's fair enough but why do they have to use the same dumb cliche without actually thinking about what it means.

it's a nice day though, so i can't sustain a full length rant, I'm going to the garden.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Whitstable

Yes, that's right, I actually got off my arse today, and whilst my feet hurt as a result I'm happy that I did so.

I woke up at about 9am today, and sat around wandering what exactly I was going to do. I was up because I'd set my alarm to wake me, something I do every Thursday due to the fact that I have a lecture at ten. It has, however, never actually suceeded in waking me up before, 9am being one of those times I consider far more appropriate as a bedtime than a start to the day, so I wasn't entirely sure what to do.

I was in a daze, like a mormon who just been asked into a house, and so wandered up to campus. It was a lovely day when I set out, all suneshiney and warm* I decided that I really couldn't be arsed to go to the lecture after all and I was instead going to walk to Whitstable.

Whitstable, in case someone new has stumbled onto this site whilst looking for gorilla porn or something, is a pretty seaside town about 6-7 miles north of Canterbury (where I live). It can be reached either by getting a bus - boring, a car - impossible - I can't drive, or walking, which is nice as it takes you down a long footpath that runs through the woods and fields following the route of an old railway line. That is the route I take unless it's really dark, scary and raining.

Today, however, it was neither dark nor scary nor raining so I put on my sunglasses (which make the world look a lot more rich and colourful) and set out to go wandering. I passed through parkwood on the way there; the new houses are odd, they tower over the rest of parkwood like a castle or something, being a good three storeys higher than anything else on that side of campus. Can't say I'm a big fan of them, although the effect that they had on the number of people in Woody's is negligible; there are actually less people in there than there were even on a quiet night last year - I went up there on a Wednesday the other week and there were only about 20 people in the whole place, I was able to sit down on pound a pint night! Which is just wrong. I think the reason is that the new parkwood flats have the highest rent on campus so they are probably filled with posh buggers who aren't really suited to the Woody's vibe.

In my head I divide the walk to Whitstable into stages; they vary in length but are generally from one landmark to the next.

The first is the walk from my house to the edge of campus - last year this only took about 5 minutes and so didn't really count as a stage. This year, however, it is closer to about 45 minutes and so I count it as a kind of warmup stage - to check for holes in shoes, forgotten wallets etc, and see if the weather is good enough. I've had two trips fall down at this point; one because I realised I couldn't be arsed, the other because I got about half way to campus before I decided it was just too damn cold and manky for me to make the trip.

The rest are just the walk from one landmark to the next. From campus to the church on the hill near Blean, this is just down a valley and up a hill, which has a church at the top a mile from the nearest town and creepy as hell in the dark. From the church to the farm with the orchards and polytunnels, For some reason I always encounter lots of cyclists around this bit, despite the fact that they are no more likely to be there than anywhere else on the trip. Then from the farm to the edge of the woods,
taking you past the cowshed containing a herd that never ceases to be amazed by me until I go out of sight; although they are cows, probably once I'm gone they stare, amazed, at the puddle in the yard. Then the walk through the woods, which is all pretty much the same, and at this time of year, not very interesting - the world is asleep. Finally the last leg from the edge of whitstable to the beach, which is probably the longest stage of all, encompassing the road right at the edge of town with the crazy ULO** that looks like a spaceship, the long path to the station and the final weaving through the little streets full of little houses across the high street and onto the waterfront by the Prince Albert (snigger).

I sat around on the beach for a while, ate my lunch and watched three planes fly over in tight formation. They were small prop driven monoplanes and sounded like Second World War fighters (bloody loud), they looked like P51s, perhaps from Biggin Hill, but that seems unlikely, expect they were just stunt planes or something. I didn't stay on the beach that long because it was making me all sad and miserable and it started snowing to just add a bit of pathetic fallacy to events.

Yes. Snowing. You know I said about it being a beautiful sunny day? Well it still was, hardly a cloud in the sky and none above me. I've never had the experience of Snow on sunglasses before, and I doubt I will again. After trudging despondently around the town for a while I decided to walk home again.

I encountered a large number of cats; I think they tend to become ubiquitous when there are lots of old ladies about. There was a big old ginger cat was asleep on a sunny windowsill when I passed on the way there and whose position was no different on the way back except that it was facing the opposite direction. In another window there was a very regal looking Tabby that stared at me with a look of scorn that I usually only get from teachers. Then, when wandering around a churchyard, a shockingly cute little calico kitten started hunting me; clumsily prowling low behind me, then, when I looked round, sitting completely still with an air of badly feigned nonchalance.

I've never been in the churchyard there before, it's a strange place, with less of an air of crumbling antiquity that most of the ones round here have. There were a load of military gravestones around, about four from the home guard surprisingly, and it contained one hideously ugly mausoleum and one interesting one.

The hideously ugly one was impressive, probably cost more to build than my house and was pretty disgustingly ostentatious - which was why it made me smile to see the way that it was now in a dilapidated corner of the churchyard, covered in moss and mostly concealed by trees. I couldn't make out the words over the door at all; the only bit I could see was the first few letters which read "IANVA" in heavy Romanic script, which makes no sense at all.

The interesting one was a more conservative affair, just a wall about 1 metre high enclosing a square around 4 metres across with a little statue in the middle of some naked chick looking slightly miffed. Around the inside of the wall were a series of stone plaques. Only one however, actually had anything on it, just a the name of a man described as a husband and father who died fairly young. Presumably his wife remarried, perhaps to someone with slightly better taste in commemorative sculpture.

hmmm. I just googled 'Whitstable mausoleum' and it came up with a picture of the ugly one along with this information which is interesting. Google can tell you anything, no matter how amazingly obscure and pointless. I figured there was probably someone somewhere who likes these things.

On the way back I figured I'd try and cut off a big chunk of the walk. I live in Hales Place which is basically exactly where the old railway used to go - by taking the path, which diverges from the route of the railway at about a right angle a few miles from Canterbury, I was actually adding about a mile or two to my walk. Bearing this in mind I decided to carry straight on when I reached the pumping pond. At first this worked out fine, I was headed in the right direction and a man came past walking his dog from the way I was going. After walking for a couple of minutes, however, I came to a dead end with a big sign on a fence saying: "No Trespassing! This is private land. The railway line was bought from British Rail in 1952" I had to clamber through a hedge, walk about a mile across a waterlogged ploughed field, and climb over a field gate to get back to the Crab and Winkle way. What baffles me now is where the hell the guy with the dogs came from.

The walk back through campus and home was uneventful, I saw no-one I knew, except for ultramuntygirl who I hid from and that walk is so familiar to me now I don’t even notice it.

I wanted to include some pictures in with this, but I don’t have a working camera at the moment – the little digital camera forgets pictures after about 10 minutes and the lightmeter in my big Pentax needs new batteries. I don’t think anyone reads this anymore so I doubt it matters much about presentation. I appear to have written rather a lot here. Perhaps I’ve broken my mental blockage. I’ll have to see if I can get this energy to transfer to my essays.

Back to Work.

-Ben

*I don't exactly mean warm in the conventional sense of the word, it is February after all, but rather that the temperature was well suited to the amount of clothes I was wearing and the amount I was moving around, keeping me at a nice temperature. -- I know that these footnotes are annoying but that was too big a digression to fit into the main text and I felt I needed to clarify - I don't want people thinking that the UK is warm in February after all, I could get sued for false advertisement.

**Unidentified Lawn Ornament. Sorry, I just can't stop.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

The Domino Effect

I was reading this article the other day

It’s one of those articles that basically confirms something that most people have always known, except with figures and in more scientific language. I think universities have whole faculties to do this kind of research; the 'newsworthy but not really surprising statistics' department.

People will like things that other people like, this is true. I mean that sentence literally; I don’t mean that people will pretend to like things that their friends like; I mean that people will genuinely like things, in which they wouldn’t otherwise be interested, because they are popular with a certain clique or compatible with a certain image. People do pretend to like music - I’ve done it plenty of times myself - in order to fit in. I’m not going to deny that, but there is another level of self deception, where pretending takes place at a much lower level, one that the conscious mind is largely unaware of.

There are two causes of this; the first is the aforementioned desire to belong to a certain clique, or just to give yourself some common ground with those around you. People are anxious to belong to something; it’s a core part of the way people think - we are social animals. In relation to culture this manifests in the formation of ‘scenes’; each with their own cultural touchstones, clothing styles and social norms. People get very attached to their ‘scene’, trying to find some kind of esoteric herd identity. One which allows them to slake their desire to fit in, without subscribing to the mainstream identity in which, accepted wisdom holds, individualism can’t survive. When a cultural product comes along that is perceived as a rallying point for a scene, people will flock to purchase this icon and confirm their allegiance by liking it. This is because most scenes are, under the fa├žade of individualism and art, social groupings formed around the consuming of products; there is no defining code of conduct for a hipster, no set of beliefs; all that is required is that you buy some tight jeans, an Ironic T-Shirt and really like the killers.

A subset of this is the principle that you will try to like the music of the person whose pants you are trying to get into, for a while a few years ago I think I actually started to like the distillers.

The other cause for this faux enthusiasm is that of image. It is accepted that peoples’ self image is reflected in the things they like. Many, however, attempt to like things that they probably, deep down, don’t. This is an attempt to reverse the process – by liking certain books, bands or films people hope to persuade themselves that they are something they are not, something cooler. This is not to be confused with people lying about their likes and dislikes to project a specific image to others, I’m talking about actually doing it to yourself. Like the way that I drift from genre to genre like a deranged musical butterfly, I often wander if I’m just an indie kid in denial and that I don’t really like folk music, Jazz, hip-hop or Armenian trouser polka. I noticed a good example of this last night when I was browsing the thestudentbar.com (UKC online community) and I realised that pretty much all the American Literature students list On The Road by Jack Kerouac on their list of favourite books. I’ve read On The Road, it’s a good book, but it also ticks all the boxes for a certain sort of person: On The Road isn’t on the American Literature syllabus, meaning it saves the person the ignominy of admitting that they like the books they study: It’s a book that is internationally recognised as ‘cool’ and, unlike something more obscure it has the cachet of being a book that everyone has heard of but few have actually read. These factors make a good book into a great one in the eyes of many – I, for example, might have actually thought it was rubbish, I read it about a year ago and it could be the opinion that others hold of it that has elevated it in my mind. I don’t know.

I think that this is the cause that has the most effect on me; I’m not very sensitive to herd thinking. I do, however, belong to a kind of unspoken scene – the scene of the sceneless. To even speak of it is probably grounds for expulsion from the scene (that doesn’t exist) it is a scene of people who consciously try and avoid being in a scene. I listen to all kinds of music and pride myself on this fact. I’m constantly on the lookout for strange and unusual directions to expand my musical collection – over the summer it was folk music, for the last few months it’s been hip hop, now I’m heading in a Jazz direction - probably as much to uphold my self image as an eclectic kinda guy who doesn’t care what you think as it is because I like the music. Don’t get me wrong I do like this stuff but, I tend to exaggerate how much; for example, if someone said ‘Eliza Carthy?’ I’d say ‘hells yes’ despite the fact that I only like about three tracks from Anglicana and am not familiar with her other work. The thing that worries me is where this road takes me, before I know it I’ll be some middle class tosser waxing lyrical about the latest piece of fashionable world music at a dinner party.

And I don’t want that.

The thing is that I'm not sure if it's ever going to to be possible to distinguish music you like because of the music and music you like because of outside factors. You might take a disliking to a kind of music after getting a new group of friends but this might be as much due to the growing influence of the new friends as it is to do with the waning influence of the old ones. Ultimately, it really doesn't matter though, if you like it, go with it.

"ours is not to reason why/ ours is but to get down and shake serious booty" -- Alfred Lord Tennyson

I should probably get back to work.

-Ben

Friday, February 10, 2006

I can't remember

I actually thought of something interesting to write about here earlier today, but I can't, for the life of me, remember what that thing was. This is annoying but I'll just ramble and see what happens. If it's even half interesting I'll probably put it up as that way I don't feel like I've completely wasted time that I should have spent working on the latest batch of essays.

I've been getting rather good marks this year, which would be fine if they had happened my usual way - through a mixture of pretentiousness and luck - but this time I've actually got good marks by working hard. This is, of course, very foolish. If I give the impression that I'm the sort of person who works hard then people might expect me to work hard again: pressure that I really don't need at the moment. I wish I could just apologise, explain that it was out of character and not what they should expect from me. My normal style is badly proofread, incoherent and with a bibliography about three books long: but featuring occasional patches of verbose lucidity that redeem and bring it to at least the 50-60 range.

Last term I was fine with the high marks, then I had no expectations - I was happy just to be not failing. This time around I've got the possibility of a first hanging tantalizingly above my head and I've somehow managed to buy into my own bullshit and start to think that this is a possibility. This term, however, I'm up against, on the one hand, texts that are so boring they have a reading to sleep ratio of 3 pages per 30 minutes of nap and, on the other, a set of questions so complex and difficult that I'm 3 days of research and 20 pages of notes into one and still have no idea how I'm going to write the damn thing.

So I'm doing the only sensible thing, which is listening to music and writing a rambling whinge about it on here, avoiding the ominous word file sitting down there on my taskbar, mocking me with its emptiness. My logic might not be exactly watertight but it'll do for the moment, just until I can say that it's 'too late to carry on working' and go to bed.

I suppose I could have asked for some help from my seminar leader, but it seems more likely that I'm just not paying attention than I'm genuinely stuck. At least this way I write the essay the way that seems right to me and not according to the personal specialities of my seminar leader (I'm guessing with this one he'd tell me to relate it all to Conrad and then tell me a story about tar, Conrad, teeth, and finish it off with some trivia about Conrad)

...

Well that plan doesn't really seemed to have worked, I've run out of things to say (although it would probably be more accurate to say that I never had anything to say in the first place) and I'm not even close to that magical 2am barrier where I declare it to be too late for work.

oh well, back to the essay o' death.

-Ben

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Bastardism

Sitting around inside my head I’ve noticed that a few things have changed over the last few years. I’ve gone from being a fat kid with spots to a fat bloke with a beard who, although no less ugly, no longer hides from mirrors. This process, however has a major side effect and that side effect appears to be that I’m becoming a nasty, arrogant bastard.*

This process began one day a few years ago when I took my dad’s old Gibson out of its mangled, sticker plastered case - ignoring the old sock and the label that quite clearly said ‘ainzorf!’** And, one bored spring afternoon, learned to play the bassline from a blink-182 song. I forget which one now; they all sound much the same. I had two friends who had been playing the bass for about a year each they were keen to help me on my way.

About a fortnight after I first played the thing, I sat down and spent an entire Sunday learning the chorus riff from Travelling Without Moving when I should have been doing my homework. I expect my timing and technique was awful and now I’d cringe to hear it, but at the time I felt like I’d climbed a mountain - partly because it made my fingers hurt. This was the first thing I’d done where there seemed to be a real relation between the effort I put in and the result I got. I started trying to play more and more complicated songs to see if I could, even making some very rudimentary forays into the world of slap bass. Within about a month I’d gone past the standard of my friends’ playing.

In a side note, the confidence this gave me made me actually able to control my nerves for long enough to get a girlfriend and from that route most of the positive aspects of my metamorphosis have sprung. That, however, isn’t what I’m concerned with here, and I think that any discussion of the details of how that transformation took place would be rather sentimental and involve a couple of rather obscene diagrams.

I’ve encountered few people who are better bass players than me since then, my dad and Nick of Mumrah being the only two I can think of at the moment, which is probably more testament to how little I leave the house than my actual ability. But in the absence of anyone better than me I’ve ended up building a great big ego around the fact that I can play Jerry was a Racecar Driver or something like that.

I’ve got better at other things in the last few years - I’ve got consistently high marks this term, and I excel in seminars and the like - probably due to the fact that I don’t notice when other people are trying to speak and I like the sound of my own voice. My arrogance, in other words, has spread into many other areas of my mind, I’m even starting to think that I’m reasonably good looking now, which is just weird.

All these other little conceits, however, are ultimately grounded in the fact that I can do something better than most other people, someone might get a better mark than me in an essay but I can think ‘bet they can’t even play Aeroplane’ and this salves my wounded ego.

Whilst I dislike the nasty person I’ve become I’d rather not let him go, You see, whilst I can keep my unpleasantness under control most of the time I have become aware that the faculty of this university is mostly made up of nasty, arrogant people, and they seem to respond well to those like them; giving me good marks and tolerating my laziness. I need the overconfident attitude to continue to do well here.

This all gives me a mortal fear of the people saying things like ‘my flatmate plays bass’ or something like that - I’ve built myself up from a depressed lonely teenager with the self esteem of a suicidal platypus to an academically successful and reasonably well adjusted, if overconfident person on the basis of my ability to play a four stringed fretted instrument better than anyone else. I live in mortal fear that one day someone will come along and burst my bubble, every new bass player I hear about makes me nervous, last week I heard that the boyfriend of someone in my seminar group was really good and I lost sleep. I probably won’t feel calm until I’ve satisfied myself that I’m better than him, whether that involves actually meeting the guy or just convincing myself that he's almost certainly rubbish.

So I apologise to all those people that I’ve shown off at, all those kids in guitar shops or people who’ve tried to impress me, I don’t mean to be a bastard, it just happens.

-Ben

* I can think of a few people who would dispute this, saying that I’ve always been a nasty, arrogant bastard and hte examples I can think of I can't say I blame them for it.

** in a south east London accent that word is the phonetic spelling of ‘hands off’. It’s a pretty weak joke but it was the seventies, and good ones were expensive.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Open Casket

I’ve been reading Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying today*. It’s not an easy book to read as in this book William Faulkner deployed all the literary techniques that are the bane of the lazy English student. I’m talking about stream of consciousness passages, weirdly named characters*2, a disjointed sense of time and multiple, often contradictory, narrative voices.

As I lay Dying, as you can probably tell from the title, is about someone dying, the matriarch of a clan of missisippissippi*3 hill farmers and the family’s attempts to transport her coffin to her home town many miles away for burial. That’s a pretty simplified summary, but I’m not writing an essay here. This got me thinking about how people deal with their dead, which isn’t that much of a jump considering my attention tends to drift away like a pair of loose swimming shorts on a beach holiday when I’m trying to do something constructive.

With the exception of elephants, no other creature I can think of seems remotely interested in their dead beyond a “let’s eat him before he starts to smell” sort of way, so why are people so interested in cadavers beyond their use in traumatising practical jokes? I suppose it’s a sort of decorous waste disposal, all this ashes to ashes stuff to disguise the more real, pragmatic reasons for sticking a decomposing body away from people and water supplies. Each culture goes for a different approach to this though, in the west it’s a matter of “stick the bugger in the ground once we’ve talked about him for a while” but other countries have different methods: from the uber cool Viking method “stick the bloke in his boat, set fire to it and push it out to sea” to the downright icky ancient Egyptian “do strange things to his innards and then put him in a pyramid, oh, and stick all his servants in there too” to the strange Tibetan method of “leave the guy on top of a mountain until the creatures of the air and land have eaten all the nasty bits”*4.

With Christian funerals, the thing that interests me is the fact that there is such a reliance on the body, making it the centre of all ceremonies, almost a religious idol of some kind. Just think of all the funerals you’ve been to (however many that may be, I hope it’s quite few) with the coffin placed centre stage at the front of the church all eyes on it. The people aren’t up in the pulpit talking about that body, they are talking about the person whom that body used to convey. Whether you believe in an omnipotent big daddy or not, the fact is that the body in the coffin has already gone from living person to cooling meat. Whatever it was that made them them, so to speak, whether that is an immortal soul or just the fact that their brain was plugged in, has departed.

Christian theology is always body bashing, talking about how the body is weak and inconsequential compared to the soul. Yet when it comes to the actual time when the separation of the soul and body takes place society seems extremely unwilling to acknowledge this. Instead it prefers to continue to deal with the two as if they are one, unable to shake the habit of a lifetime, despite all the embalming fluid and general lack of comment from the deceased that would suggest otherwise.

This is especially pronounced in America where it seems common practice to have some kind of wake or open casket staring session with the body on view for all to see. The purpose of this evades me completely, are you supposed to talk to it, or poke with sticks or try and revive it? Mankind is intrinsically afraid of death; the primary purpose of religion seems to me to be to make people less scared of death, usually by giving people the concept of the immortal soul to take comfort from. If you are shown the open casket you do not see an immortal soul, you see a dead person, the soul, even to the devout, does not show up and tell you everything is all right. The open casket thus serves to disturb both the religious, by distracting them from the contemplation of the eternal paradise, and the godless heathens like myself, by making us see the inert cadaver of someone close to us, intruding on our memories of them when they moved and made noises.

I think that the most sane funeral practice*5 I’ve encountered is that practiced by Muslims. According to Sharia law the stiff must be buried as quick as possible – for example recently the king of Kuwait was buried a couple of hours after he died – no fuss, no elaborate service, just put him in the ground facing Mecca. They do have memorial services for people to grieve and remember but in Islamic nations these ceremonies do not require the inexplicable attendance of a corpse and usually take place some time after the person is buried. This shows a sensible separation of the two functions of a funeral, commemorating the life of the deceased and getting them out of way of water supplies.

I don’t understand why the two should take place at that same time.

-Ben

*yes I know that seems like pointless intellectual namedropping but it has some relevance to what I’m saying

*2. Have you ever met a man called Jewel? Or Vardaman? Or a woman called Dewey? Eh?

*3. I never know when I’m supposed to stop that word, like when I try to write bananananana – I tend to get a little carried away.

*4. This piece of information is from Seven years in Tibet so I take it with a pinch of salt because I get the impression that as a narrator, Heinrich Harrer was full of shit. The other two are from Terry Deary’s Horrible Histories series, which I trust completely.

*5. I mean sane as opposed to fun, the Taiwanese ones with all the firecrackers and noise are good, but don’t make a great deal more sense

Buffer

I'm just writing this to act as a buffer between the previous post and the ones that might follow.

I've decided to restart this thingy

I don't think that I'm a better writer than I was when I decided to stop writing this but I'm less lazy, and it was the fact that I couldn't be arsed that was a bigger factor in the cessation of bloggage than the reasons I gave.

In the period between this post and the previous one, not a huge amount has happened, I'm still an english student, bored and lazy. Although I've found myself to be a more academically successful student than I was expecting myself to be in this second year. I'm still overwieght and drink too much although I'm working on those two, insofar as a man with no willpower can.

About all that's changed is that I'm now 20 years old, and therefore not a teenager anymore - although I'm yet to figure out what exactly this means - and I've got more hair and more beard.

let the aimless rambling commence!

-Ben