Monday, July 30, 2007

Family Slang

I was thinking the other day about the unique phrases and words which families develop, they are like the in-jokes that form between friends only more so; they are often passed around the extended family, handed down through generations. Most interestingly, because they are treated as normal by the older generation, the younger generations of a family often take a long time to even realise that they aren't common parlance. A cousin of mine, for example used one of these phrases amongst some friends and was embarrassed and surprised to find that none of them had ever heard them before. The words and phrases I've written out below are a just a few notable examples of the vocabulary that I'm pretty sure is unique to my family

Pelly Bags- A bag, usually a supermarket carrier bag, which is filled with clutter and jammed into a cupboard prior to a party – these bags are usually packed haphazardly and with little attention paid to the contents – many a valuble item has been Pelly bagged, forgotten, and declared lost, only to turn up in a cupboard years later. Named after a family friend who died some years ago, whose surname was Pelly, and who described the hours leading up to the beginning of a party as being spent “running around sobbing and stuffing rubbish into plastic bags”

The Headstaggers – A disease which affects small furry animals, such as gerbils, hamsters, Guinea pigs etc. It is characterised by odd stiffness of movement and is a sure potent of the imminent death of the aforementioned furry creature.

The Strunts – Similar to the headstaggers but more generally applicable. Similarly fatal but can, however, occur in milder forms A touch of the strunts.

Fitchy-Foo – To feel 'fitchy-foo' is to be bored and restless. Also occasionally chanted to indicate boredom in a social setting. From a long dead, and very strange, distant relative who used to wander around the house mumbling 'fitchy-foo, fitchyfitchy-foo' ad infinitum when he couldn't think of anything to do.

I might add further examples when I can think of them, but these serve to illustrate my point well enough. What I'm curious to know is whether or not other people's families form similar personalized vocabulary.

Thursday, July 26, 2007


I've been working on guitars a lot recently, not as a job, just as something to do, and occasionally for a little extra beer money. As you can see from the cheese grater and salad in the background, I hardly run a sleek professional sort of operation.

(Tony's blue Tanglewood mid-way though the fretdressing and cleaning process)

Today I rummaged around the house for some old classical guitar and mandolin tuners that had been left over from some repairs dad made to his instruments many years back , then cannibalized them for parts. I took a hacksaw to one set and liberated the worm gear and button for use in the completely knackered machinehead in Tony's guitar

(It's hardly an elegant solution but I'm not being paid enough to source a matching button, so he'll have to make do with a girly one for now.)

After that I did a little repair work for my own amusement - my mum found a tiny half size acoustic guitar with it's neck broken off, no strings and no machineheads. A little wood glue, some more parts liberated from the machineheads I found and whammy! I have a tiny guitar.

(it's only got four strings because the nut slots for the highest and lowest strings are buggered. The strings it has are tuned E-A-D-G, like a bass, and tuned to the same pitch as a guitar. Which gives the thing marvellously slack strings that can be bent and wobbled to my heart's content)

Here's a shot of it with a normal sized classical acoustic and a 3/4 size classical acoustic to give you an idea of scale.

I'll give it back to the school at the end of the summer holidays but for now I think it's going to be my special barbecue guitar.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Psychology Study

(quoted from the website because it doesn't seem to be a stable enough url to link)

This study investigated the relationship of working memory to open and closed belief systems. Two hundred college students completed a working memory span test to measure verbal working memory, and Rokeach’s Dogmatism Scale (1956). Regression analysis was undertaken to determine the contribution of verbal working memory to dogmatism. A negative correlation was found between dogmatism scores and working memory scores (p = .002) confirming the hypothesis that those participants who display a larger working memory capacity would show lower levels of dogmatic beliefs than participants displaying a smaller working memory capacity. Error analysis was employed to determine the significance of inhibition processes; indicating that capacity limits in verbal working memory, and not processing deficits, were primarily responsible for poor working memory scores. Dogmatism was not found to be related to gender, age, ethnicity, religious affiliation, academic major, or level of education.

What little I can find out about the Rokeach Dogmatism Scale mentioned in the abstract this study doesn't necessarily consider 'dogmatic' purely in the sense of religion, although the only sample question given in this article seems to. I'd assume that the findings are equally applicable to the politically immovable and the religiously dogmatic. It must be considered, however, that I'm not even close to having the slightest understanding of the terms discussed so anything I say is a humanities graduate speculating aimlessly about science and should, therefore, be ignored.



I'm been threatened with vicarious rocks, so I suppose I better write something here. Although I have no idea what I could write as little has happened to me of note recently. I read the last harry potter book the other day but I'm definitely not going to talk about that here, I decided after I read it that I was to going to try not to talk about it at all regardless of company, so spouting my views on the interblag is certainly not something I'm about to do.

Mostly what I've been doing in the last few weeks is sitting around in my house watching the rivers running down my street. You know that post a few weeks back where I talked about the biggest most extreme thunderstorm I'd ever seen? Yeah, well they've become pretty much normal now – it's been pissing it down so much that the Thames is rising to dangerous levels, the Thames! I didn't realise that the Thames was enough of a river to do that anymore.

The floods are arousing the usual army of commentators in the press: The lefties are split, half saying that the floods are the fault of global warming, the other half declaring that disasters in the third world are much worse and we should all go and feel bad about that instead. The northerners are whinging about how floods in the north don't get so much attention paid to them in the media. The right wing papers seem to divided also, torn between arguing that they used to have better floods in the old days, and that people these days are a bunch of sissies, and figuring out ingenious ways in which the weather can be blamed on the government. And the sun, is, of course, just trying to figure out ways of getting somehow flood-related pictures of half naked women.

Whilst sitting around inside watching the rain I've had to amuse myself somehow and it's mostly been through the medium of listening to heaps of CDs; bought, borrowed, and found. I have concluded that Seasick Steve is badass, Our Endless Numbered Days by Iron and Wine might be the best album I've heard in a few years and that the Spinto Band and Tapes n' Tapes are both up to 30% more awesome than there nearest comparable competitors.

I'll think of something intelligent to say at some point in the next few days, I hope.


Saturday, July 14, 2007

Mr Ben Has Graduated

I am now a university graduate, I wore the gown and shook hands with the vice chancellor and everything. I even wore a suit under the gown and not just a tshirt with a suit printed on it.

Note the extremely stiff and awkward stance of someone who is very uncomfortable in smart clothes. I did, however, only wear the suit for about 20 minutes longer than I absolutely had to - very soon after I was out of the ceremony i was back to looking like this

The evening went downhill from the point when Matt said 'Biddendens?' and I said 'hells yes!'

also - my last encounter with the campus bunnies.

Who didn't seem to remember me, they just ran away.


Saturday, July 07, 2007

Shock and Awe

It's a strange feeling, that sudden realisation that you are, quite frankly, small time. To see someone do something that you thought you did well better than you had even realised it could be done, moving the ceiling of what you thought was possible. It's like being told you are an eight, an eight out of ten, you assume, only to discover that in fact the highest score is in fact 100.

I think the trick is to respond with 'I can be 100? awesome!' but it can be hard, especially when you are sitting around listening to the Flecktones or reading Joseph Heller.


Friday, July 06, 2007

New Title

It's not great, but it's better than the old one - which I only chose because it was written in large friendly letters on my wall (a sign I'd made to help me through my exams) and my mind was blank.

The new one is actually a phrase used to angrily describe me in a seminar discussion by one of my lecturers - I've always been rather proud of it.


Thursday, July 05, 2007

Open Mic

This evening me and my dad went out scouting for new venues in which my dad can, and I quote, "assault the ears" of the general public - we went to an open mic night at a pub in a quiet corner of greenwich behind the edifice of greenwich town hall (Pointless Fact: it has a nuclear bunker underneath). It was interesting passing through greenwich now that the smoking ban in public places has gone through, there were lines of damp smokers huddled around the entrances of the many pubs we passed along the way, especially outside the Auctioneer, which was always an unpleasantly smoky pub.

In the pub we went into (I can't remember the name off my head, but it was quite nice) it was strange, but quite cool, to be able to stand around in a small, crowded pub and not be wreathed with smoke like the beginning of an amateur production of Macbeth. I'm not a particularly militant non smoker; unless it's really heavy generally pubsmoke doesn't bother me, yes, it makes my clothes smell bad, my hair smell bad (when there was enough of it to smell) and often leaves me talking like Barry White the next morning but I'd never really given it any thought. That's just how I work - I accept things as they are rather than getting huffy about what I'd prefer them to be. So the way I feel about the smoking ban is roughly the same as the way you feel when someone makes the tea that you so badly needed before you even realise that was what you were after.

but yeah, the open mic night was interesting, some quite good people, the overall quality wasn't great, but it wasn't that bad - some good singers doing good covers and some passable original stuff. The only downer was the odd bloke.

Allow me to explain, whenever you get a gathering such as this one there will always be the one odd bloke (it's always an odd bloke in my experience) - one guy with a complete tin ear and/or useless guitar playing who, due to the fact that he lacks important social skills, is completely unable to read the looks of dread which strike the faces of the regulars when he walks toward the stage as a hint that he should stop.

This guy set off alarm bells with me when he wandered in the way of the person performing at the time and produced a case with 'Ibanez JEM555' written on a handwritten label on the bottom. I have no huge objection to that guitar, other than the fact that it is a little tarty and out of place at an open mic night, what worried me was the label on the bottom - only two sorts of people have to write labels on their guitar cases; people with more guitars than they know what to do with; and weird obsessive types who have to arrange everything neatly. Niether of these possibilities bode well for a musician in my opinion. This guy launched into a rendition of erm, something, which was lacking in skill and soul and half drowned out by his horribly oversaturated effects.

It wasn't the bad playing that distressed me particularly, I've heard myself play way to many times to be bothered by that, it was the fact that he was so completely oblivious to his own inability - it didn't even seem to dampen his enthusiasm when the compere abruptly ended his song early. The problem for me is that when I encounter people like that and I can't get this thought out of my head:

'If I was like that, I'd never know... perhaps I am like that'

I don't think I am, but i know that I'm very bad at reading people and can be a bit obsessive when I'm interested in something, often to the point of driving people around me nuts. I wonder if perhaps I'm a nutter who has learned to do a passable impression of sanity through sheer effort.

Then I remember that I've never done anything by sheer effort in my entire life, and calm down.


The Weather

I'm aware that talking about the weather is a terrible British conversational cliché, so I've been trying to avoid mentioning the weird apocalyptic storms we've been having lately out of a fear of looking even more boring than usual. But I've caved in, they are just too unusual - so unusual that in a country where the sensible take a raincoat and snowshoes out with them on a summer's day 'just in case' people are getting confused.

Firstly, it has been raining, really hard, like way more even than a normal British summer. The windscreen wipers have been on what is referred to in my family as 'holiday speed' pretty much everyday for a few weeks. Entire towns have submerged under the water, Sheffield, especially, seems to have done something really bad to incur the wrath of whatever deity was nearest - when we passed it both going to and coming from York this weekend it was blanketed by gigantic stormclouds and masked by a dirty bastard of a downpour.

As if that wasn't bad enough, this crappy weather, not content with just soaking northerners, has the tenacity to disturb us in London - a city where weather patterns have to check all weapons before entry and behave nicely. The road outside my house was a river the other day, it was washing away heaps of building materials from the innumerable extensions and garden projects that happen on this road in the summer. It must have been around a foot deep in places and formed big pools in hollows.

To cap this all off, we had a hailstorm. A big hailstorm. I'm not talking hailstones that sting your ears and scare cats, I'm talking hailstones the size of ping-pong balls that stripped the pointing off our walls, cracked the windscreen of our car and put some dents in the bodywork.

This clearly all wrong, extreme weather doesn't happen in London, it gets lost - forgets where it is going and just ends up dribbling on people. Poor innocent commuters were staring at each other on train platforms, their frightened eyes windows to panicked minds searching for long since atrophied vocabulary.

"eerm... very erm... moist?.. Crunchy?... weather we're having today? Eh? Clarence?"


Tuesday, July 03, 2007

brain farts

I was just thinking I wonder if anyone would sponsor me if I spent an entire day telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth for charity. I mean think about it, it'd be interesting, sort of the mental equivalent of shaving your head - it makes you look very unattractive afterwards but people give you a sort of grudging respect. All questions, no matter how personal and unpleasant would have to be answered frankly and unambiguously. It'd be a test of willpower, resisting the urge to omit some grisly detail, character assassination for a good cause.


Monday, July 02, 2007

York, etc

I have returned to London, having spent the weekend in York sampling the parties and hospitality of Sarah and her fellow grad students. Who'd have thought that postgraduate medievalists partied so damn hard. Me and Matt attended a Sci-Fi/Fantasy themed fancy dress party, me dressed as Jesus* and Matt dressed as Rimmer from Red Dwarf, as his desire to dress up stretched as far as sticking a letter H to his head (it stands for 'hologram', fact fans). The next day we had the hungover tour of the Town plus a very very tasty meal in a pub with more spirits behind the bar than I knew existed.

I have a very bad memory for parties, generally forgetting them even on the rare occasions when i attend them sober (this wasn't one of them) so I'm having a great deal of trouble writing anything coherent about it (I'm actually having a great deal of trouble writing anything coherent at all for some reason, I've rewritten this whole thing twice now). What I do remember mostly consists of beer pong, a guy dressed as a faun, a woman dressed in a incredibly well made Nanny Ogg costume, someone whose robot costume made them look like a baked potato, and a man with a water pistol loaded with tequila.

There were many other things but unfortunately the act of describing things requires a certain amount of in-head coherence in which I'm somewhat lacking, any attempt to write more could cause me sound like a modernist ponce. It's all strange shapes and garbled chunks of memory in my head.

As things currently stand, however, I'm feeling distinctly manky, I think I was ambushed by some dastardly northern germs that my southern pansy immune system was unable to withstand. On that note, I realized today, with the exception of some stress-related migraines, a minor inner ear infection and a couple of colds, I've not been ill in more than four years. Which is a bit strange, I'm worried that perhaps it's like that scene in the film where the guy turns to his pursuers and makes his best scary face and they all run away, only for him to discover that they were in fact running from the scary monster lurking behind him.

In other news Tapes n' Tapes are awesome, as is the Tyranny of Distance by Ted Leo.


*erm, yeah, I'm a bad person