On fire

Electric light is a hopeful thing. A blaze of hope. It strings us together and tells us we belong. With electric light, you are connected to something larger, that stretches between you and your neighbour. It is communal and inclusive, binding us together. It speaks to us of civilisation and order and at its base safety.

Fire light is a more elemental thing. We command it and have tamed it, but it is inconsistent and fickle. It needs to be cared for. It is a more lonely light, as it is individual. It casts its light on you alone. It keeps the dark at bay and the safety it affords is fragile, an atavistic protection that can withdraw at any moment.

While the lost traveller will feel relieved to see a flicker of light ahead, as they stumble in the dark. After all to see lights in the dark is to see humanity. But how would the type of light create a different timbre of relief to flutter through them? Seeing electric lights means the edge of the civilised world. Their illumination needs planning, technology and organisation to create. It’s sparkle says here we have infrastructure that has followed at path, which you can follow home.

Fire light on the other hand says here is the edge of the wilderness: the point of the edge of a pin we have pushed into the dark fabric of the wilderness. There is a way home still, but it is still through the terrible night.

But does that make fire light more hopeful?

If we are looking at a glimmer of hope, it is frail and unsteady. It has no permanence, flickering, fickle and still mounted by danger.

When you see a glimmer of hope, it means not safe yet, but soon.

This cod profundity was written in response to the prompt glimmer.

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The strange gunpowder smell thinking causes

Who is the guy in Kung fu movies who always appears halfway through a fight going totally berserk swinging huge knives around?

It’s probably that it’s not really his fight. He’s got a lot on already. He’s got a punch up due and he’s already behind on it.

But suddenly his boss is at his desk, saying “sorry Craig we’re having a bit of trouble with a fist battle down by the docks. Could you just step in and see if you could project manage it a bit? You know, [clicks tongue does hand chops] work your magic?”

And he’s reluctant to do it. “Isn’t there any one else who can handle it? I mean literally anyone else? I’m chocka today.”

“Well you see Craig, this guy’s good. He’s already thrown several men into several packing crates full of cabbages that we’d ordered for an epic car chase.”

“I don’t know guys, I’ve already got a scuffle booked in for after lunch and I’m meant to be chairing a fracas tonight.

What about the crazy shrieking guy who leaps up and tries to double foot kick the guy in the chest?”

“Yeah, he was thrown into some cabbage crates.”

“What about that fellow who is always swing nun chucks around? Can’t he handle it? He’s always in the break room talking about how good he is at nun chucks.”

“Ah, see well the guy we’re fighting took the nun chucks off our man and used them against him. He smashed our man straight into a big stack of crates.”

“Full of cabbages?”

“Yes, a huge pile. Maybe 6 feet tall. Come on Craig, it’s quite a lot of cabbage crates. If you take the massive knives you can do it super quick.”

So he really doesn’t want to go, but says

“oh okay as long as it’s quick.”

But secretly he’s thinking I do not have time for this. And he’s angry at his boss, because he’ll be the first one complaint that his own fights are late.

Which is why he’s always turning up late for the fight and is super pissed off.

The easiest things to steal

Before email existed, some authors would mail out their manuscripts to publishers and another copy to themselves.

They did this to make sure that no one pulled their work out of the postbox, ripped off the front cover and sent the newly altered manuscript to a publisher as their own work.

Whether this strategy was a successful way to prevent stealing can be measured by the fact that the number of postmen turned novelists fell to zero after the advent ‘send with attachment.

While pilfering whole books has become much harder, thieving sections has become much easier.

As soon as CTRL C/CTRL V popped into existence, reading went the way of travelling by horse. While some people did it, it was an anachronism reserved for only a few people who had nothing better to do with their time.

University students could now construct an essay in a matter of minutes, before returning to watching gameshows and making cups of tea. In fact, it got to the point where the only two people who had read one well-used text book were the author and his wife.

But where technology can facilitate criminal behaviour, it can regulate, too. Student essays are now regulalry cranked through plagiarism software.

With access to databases of thousands of academic essays, this software runs its own version of compare and contrast on the each essay.

The only way to beat it is by producing original work, leaning heavily on significant quotations from published work.

This way, everybody wins. Academics know that carte blanche copying is kept to a minimum. Meanwhile, students can still rely on copy/paste for their erudition, with the liberal addition of inverted commas.

Ok, the above suggests that theft is rampant and young people’s deal thirst for knowledge has been quenched by technology’s lure of laziness.

Not so, even before digital technology, people were lazy and taking huge reams from other people’s work was a feasible shortcut. It’s just previously you’d have to copy it all out by hand.

Hand copying meant that nothing was identical. Each copiest adding their own errors, like the world’s longest game of Chinese Whispers. These copy errors piled one on top of the other until what had started off as The Iliad by Homer became, thousands of copies later, Jilly Cooper’s Riders, which in turn morphed into Chicken Soup For The Soul and the first four pages of The Little Book of Calm.

This abject nonsense was written in response to the daily prompt identical.

It sounds stupid but

Is it possible for your face and brain to have different reactions?

People often say about me

“Aw, look at him. He’s blushing.”

Which is pretty rude because I’m right there in the room, chap. But is also true.

My face is a prude of the worst order. Even the most innocuous remark will cause the blood to rush to my cheeks and my face light up like an emergency lamp.

Pretty much anything embarrasses my face and instantly it flares hot and red like a match being struck.

I was once trapped in a lift with some very drunk women who were on a hen do. It was a Moulin Rouge theme, so lots of bossom was being offered for view.

That wasn’t what embarrassed me though. I am old enough and gentlemanly enough to survive close proximity to breasts without gawping at them. (Well…within reason. It’s impossible not to skim read the main facts of a situation. But too much scholarly interest is crude to the point of rudeness.)

What embarrassed me was the fact that these girls had thick Northern Irish accents, which I was learning that I found utterly incomprehensible.

What is the most important thing to do when in sudden, involuntary close quarters with a group of women dressed mainly in complicated underwear? Why, be as charming as possible, of course.

Instead, I felt my face getting redder and hotter, like a brick in an oven. My embarrassment. Not the flesh, but the increasing number of times I’d had to say

“I’m terribly sorry, please could you repeat that?”

And the decreasing number of repetitions before it came across as terribly rude. And that’s the last thing you want to be in front of half-dressed members of the opposite sex.

They, of course, assumed my discomfort was boob-related. But no, my face was a flame with shame because I was worrying about offending people because I couldn’t understand their regional accent. I hadn’t been quick enough to feign deafness, either.

Meanwhile, my brain was squatting down, as close to my ears as it could and muttering

“As soon as I can make out even one damn word, these ladies will be charmed to the point of marriage.”

Then the lift door opened and they were gone. I wiped the steam off my glasses and made a mental note never to visit Belfast.

Anyway, that’s one working example of my face’s terrible social awkwardness.

My brain however knows no shame. If I was an Ealing comedy, my face would be Ian Carmichael. And my brain would be Terry Thomas, because it’s a rotter; an utter scoundrel.

Brain won’t spare anyone’s blushes. His conversation verges on the lascivious. What he won’t tell you would kill a whole convent of nuns.

Perhaps that’s the right way round though?

Better by half to hamper the beastly brain’s connivance with a flustered face than have a saintly brain trapped behind the leer of a demented pervert?

Written in response to the prompt Blush. (Also, written on the train as a first draft so lacking the usual second-draft-before-I-gave-up polish.)

How to ruin a perfectly good weekend

These simple steps will help make Saturdays as fun as Mondays

There is nothing sweeter than, at 8 pm on Sunday, looking back at the brief hours of freedom that was your weekend and berating yourself for wasting them.

If you plan the two days well, you will ensure that this mournfulness is the cherry on top of a thick, creamy layer of regret and self-loathing you’ve managed to spread over the whole of your time off.

Did you file the Jenkins report?

To guarantee a miserable weekend, make sure that work is the first thing you think about when you wake up on Saturday morning.

The two days off should be a tranquil Coy Carp pond at the centre of a Zen peace garden. By thinking about a small but unpleasant chore that’s waiting for you on Monday you will be trampling over the flower beds so you can pour a bag of Blue Circle cement into it.

Your achievements define you

One of the most important ways you can ruin a weekend, not just for yourself but everyone around you, is set yourself a vague, ill-defined goal. Or, even better, a series of complicated, yet obscure achievements that run counter to each other, or would take much too long to complete, even if you started one.

For instance, build a boat and learn watercolour painting. Actually, these aren’t very good examples at all. Both are far too specific. Better to set targets such as ‘learn something’. Or even better, simply ‘do something productive’.

As long as your goal remains a washy ‘something’, failure is guaranteed.

It’s also essential to keep reminding yourself that the weekend will be a massive failure, unless you do something creative or meaningful. Without this constant, nagging litany, you won’t have anything to feel rotten about when your alarm starts hammering away in Monday morning.

While your stirring this sensation that you need to do something, make sure you are actually doing as little as possible. The watchword you need to live by is ‘fritter’.

If a task is worth doing, half-ass it

With the whole of the weekend stretching in front of you, there’s nothing wrong with spending time to luxuriate in the tasks that you rush through in the working week.

Spending time to apply consideration and care to a mundane task can reward you with a feeling of contemplation and ease. This is the exact opposite of what you are trying to achieve. It is better to take as long as possible on a quotidian event, while at the same time reminding yourself that there are thousands of other things that are more worthy of your time.

To help me achieve, what can only be described as expert-level frittering, I have developed an intricate level of vanity.

Shaving is perfect for building up a requisite level of self loathing, so that you can make yourself as disagreeable to yourself and by extension to everyone else in the household, too.

Firstly, lather up your shaving brush. There’s no room for the convenience of an electric razor in the world of the soured weekend. Rotate the whiskers in the soap for as long as possible. Not only will this build up a pleasing head of foam, it also allows you to spend a goodly amount of time looking yourself in the eye. This allows you to reinterpret the week that has passed. What better time to turn recent history into a maze of wrong turns and bad decisions that you will never extricate yourself from.

Once you’ve built up a good head of foam and a suitable sense that you’re tangled in the sticky ropes of a life you fell into, it’s time to apply the lather to your face. This is best achieved by moving the bristles in a circular motion from bottom of the neck to the chin, then cheeks and upper lip. During this action, you can build a frantic pace, as you work to obscure that pliant, credulous face that gawps back at you, like a particularly loathsome fish; albeit a very foamy one.

For a particularly distressing shave, use an old razor blade. Despite the careful benedictions of your strokes, as you run the blunt blade over your cheeks and throat, much of the stubble is vexed rather than cut, leaving you with a haphazard and uneven finish.

Not only does this take you a considerable amount of time to achieve, it creates a dissatisfying result, which sets you up for a full day of manufacturing little failures.

As you rub an inexpert hand over the stripes of beard, you also have time to silently condemn your own vanity. Ask yourself how long you wasted on this slapdash shave and question whether your inability to even tackle vanity properly behoves larger failings in your character.

For the best results, also throw the razor blade away afterwards. This should generate a small stab of guilt about the amount of waste you needlessly create. With your sense of the inevitable doom you have cursed the world with, you are ready to achieve nothing productive with your day.

The golden rule

The golden rule for ruining a perfectly good weekend is that the amount of things you do should be inversely proportional to the amount you have planned.

Maybe, use one of the perpetual Udemy sales to buy access to several online courses, which you tell yourself you will definitely start later. Spend time downloading as many of the tutorials as possible. This is also a good time to revisit some of the courses you have previously purchased, so you can feel a brief stab of guilt at the growing number of things you’ve made 1% progress towards mastering.

As long as you don’t give any sense of priority to your impossible list of endeavours and you continue to listlessly flit from meaningless, unimportant task to another, you’ll be well on the way to sabotaging your days off.

It’s time to take a break. One of the most important things about frittering away time is to never keep to your deadlines. If you’ve told yourself that you’ll start your big, creative, productive weekend after lunch, make sure to take three hours. This time is best spent in front of the TV, flicking between old episodes of Time Team, Diagnosis Murder and a Spanish western on Movies for Men.

I always find that, by now I’m beginning to fidget and I’m wrapped in a smothering blanket of boredom.

Take time out

This is always the best time to go shopping.

On good days, shopping is a restorative experience. It speaks to our need to acquire. Something we have done from our hunter-gather days. However, with your sense of disappointment well established, spending time aimlessly walking round the shops can fertilize that seedling of unpleasant anger that sprouted in your heart on waking up.

Visiting the shops is most effective if you don’t actually need to buy anything. The bustle of other shoppers, and the dissatisfaction with the shops available will all help sharpen your mood. None of the uninteresting high street chains seem to have anticipated your nebulous desires; wants that you have struggled to articulate even to yourself.

Once I have reached this level, sometimes I find that my sense of frustration plateaus. When this happens it is best to visit a shop that reflects ambitions you held when you were younger. This might be a record shop, art supplies or sport shop. For me it’s book shops. There’s nothing like surrounding yourself with the fruits of others’ labours to amplify the feeling that you are stumbling closer to the grave through a series of fruitless days.

It’s one of my least favourite things to do: to pace the aisles of Waterstones, each wall crammed from floor to ceiling with books that exemplify the hard work, dedication, stamina and perseverance of its author. This is the perfect place to question your own abilities, measure your own motivations and find them wanting.

Here you are as a mere (best to say it as a dirty word) consumer. Someone who gobbles down what others have crafted and loved. whisper it to yourself until you feel the tears prick at your eyes and you want to run from shelf to shelf, flinging the books to the floor rather than let them taunt your failures and laziness.

If you do find something to buy, tell yourself that this purchase will not make you happy and that any thrill of acquisition will be fleeting. It’s best to do this quietly but insistently, before you reach the cashier.

Time is not on your side

Once you have fretted away Saturday, it is best to remind yourself of your age and see if you can rekindle that existential dread of time falling away from you: an inexorable downpour of days, flushed way and lost. Why not review what you have done with the day? Especially as you’ve convinced yourself tat it’s far too late to achieve anything today anyway. Open a bottle of wine.

Blame is a kind of love

If you are lucky enough to have a partner, family, or even a pet, I highly recommend displacing some of the disappointment you feel about yourself by putting it on to them, instead. After all, in some oblique way it is their fault you spent four hours sitting on the edge of the bed, playing Fruit Ninja, instead of learning to whittle.

Remember, there’s no better way of letting someone or something know that you cherish them by making passive aggressive comments from behind a wine glass. Another favourite strategy is to answer their questions about what’s wrong by saying nothing in a way that makes it 100% clear that everything is wrong and that somehow they are the bitter centre of it all.

Once you have accomplished a miserable Saturday, make sure you promise yourself that Sunday will be different. for best results make sure that you repeat this cycle in its entirety.

Thanks for reading. If you want more ideas for ruining a perfectly nice two days off, you can procrastinate about joining my mailing list.

Considering absurdism

You’re like…Like a clock with hands made of icicles…By midday…Even if you’re keeping perfect time, no one knows…They can’t see the mechanism…just an infuriating blank face…That refuses to answer simple questions!

He is gasping, red faced.

Perhaps that’s true, I reply, but who would buy such a unique clock and not want to preserve it? Only a delinquent owner would subject this marvel to heat and sunlight. You would live in an ice house and wear furs in August to cherish such craftsmanship.

His eyes bulge; tongue stammers.

I return the form to him, unstamped, and inform him it’s lunchtime.

The eighth wonder of Southwest England

To call any holiday truly great, a visit to Porlock should sit at its very heart.

This small Somerset town is probably unfairly judged for its execrable place in English literature. While just down the road, the rolling hills of gorse and bracken serve as the backdrop to RD Blackmore’s Lorna Doone, Porlock is most famous for having people barge in on romantic poets, making them forget what they were doing.

This is of course what happened to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, as he was most of the way through writing Kubla Khan. Having woken from his laudanum laced dream with the poem fully formed, he was interrupted by a ‘person from Porlock’.

While the resident of the town has become literary shorthand for an unwanted intrusion on creativity, anyone who has traversed Porlock Hill will know that, whatever that person wanted to tell Coleridge, it must have been damn important to trek all the way up the incline.

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