ladyofastolat: (sneezing lion)
How big does a group need to be before it is acceptable to give Christmas cards to only some of its members?

Yes, I know there are many groups where everyone decides not to give cards at all, or to only send electronic cards, or whatever. But let's confine our musing to groups where the dishing out of physical cards is the norm.

A company with just 6 employees, or a book group with just 8 members. People would almost certainly give cards to everyone in the group, even those they barely knew or didn't like. Giving to only half would seem like an insult to those you'd missed out - and you'd almost certainly find that one of them gave a card to you, thus causing that whole "oh no, I got a card from them and it is not Too Late to give them one in return" angst.

But a large open-plan office or choral society with over 100 people in it? That sounds Too Big for people to be expected to give to everyone, and it's also much more likely that there are people in the group you've never met. Is it socially acceptable to give cards only to a hand-picked selection of people you know and like, while missing out the others, or is it necessary to devise some other justification based on sub-groups: "I'm only giving cards to the brass section," even if you absolutely hate Erica on second trombone, and had a great time with viola-playing Lily in the pub last week?

So, how big does the group have to be before it stops being the norm that you give cards to everyone?

I ask only out of idle curiosity, not because I'm facing any card-related dilemmas of my own.

Memory

Oct. 8th, 2016 12:54 pm
ladyofastolat: (sneezing lion)
I've tried everything. I've tried gripping it tightly in my hand and holding on tight through thick and thin. I've tried muttering its name quietly to myself for minutes on end, a constant silent mantra. I've tried putting it in an entirely obvious place, somewhere where I can't possibly fail to notice it.

All to no avail. I pay for my shopping, leave the shop... and only then remember the voucher that would allow me to recover my parking costs.

Gripping it in the hand can be awkward. I try this on the principle that I will be constantly aware of it as I shop; that I will be unable to get my money out without seeing it. Browsing can be a bit tricky, since I have to do so with a piece of paper in my hand. By the time I get to the checkout, I've grown accustomed to this little complication and have learnt to dismiss it from my mind. Packing my shopping into bags seems a little more fiddly than normal, almost as if something is getting in the way. Getting my money out is a little tricky, since some of my fingers seem inexplicably occupied. But, oh well, I've coped, and I'll take my shopping to the car, where I will struggle a little to get my keys out because there's already something... in... my... ha-- DOH!

Putting it in an entirely obvious place - i.e. my purse, right next to the cash or card that I intend to use to pay, ought to be foolproof. According to the plan, I ought to open my purse, and there is the parking voucher waving at me, saying, "look at me! look at me!" If I fail to pay attention, it will turn nasty, and snarl, "I am blocking your access to your money. You cannot reach it except through me!" Yet somehow it doesn't work like that. It disobeys and sits there silent. I rummage to find my money, which seems to be hiding rather well today, behind some random piece of unimportant paper. I pay and take my shopping to the car. Often the sight of the car reminds me, and we have another DOH! moment against a carpark backdrop. Sometimes I find it three weeks later, having spent 3 weeks completely failing to notice it in its entirely obvious place in my purse.

Silently muttering "parking voucher" to myself in a constant mantra as I go through the shop ought to work. However, few mantras can survive contact with terminal dithering. By the time I've spent half an hour walking to and fro across the shop constantly changing my mind on just what tapas to buy, I have entirely forgotten to keep up the mantra. If I do keep it up, by the time I approach the checkout, it has become an earworm. "Par! King! Par! King! Voucher!" I might be singing to myself, to the tune of "We will rock you." By the time the moment of truth has been reached, I have moved on to Bohemian Rhapsody. Six hours later, as I'm asking myself why I've had Queen songs in my head all day, there it is again, the DOH! moment.

I suspect that they print these things on special camoflage paper with cloaking ink, so they people who glance their way fail to perceive them, and those who see them have forgotten them within minutes. It is the only explanation.
ladyofastolat: (Misty Glastonbury)
The stated justification for the Round Table is that no knight takes precendence. However, most medieval depictions of said table show King Arthur sitting at it. This is a clear contradiction of the stated aim, since precedence will be defined by proximity to Arthur. Yes, you could randomise this, perhaps by holding a daily raffle (proceeds to go to distressed damsels), but you could do this just as easily with a plain old rectangular board. I think the most likely solution is that King Arthur sat in the middle, either in a hole cut in the exact centre, or sitting on an elevated platform that dangles from the rafters. No knight should suffer the ignominy of having the king's back turned to him, so the King would have to rotate. It would be easy to devise a mechanism for this, like a turnspit or a donkey-powered well, powered by dogs or small servant boys (but probably not hamsters.)

However, other problems present themselves. Some sources put the number of Knights of the Round Table as high as 150. That is a VERY large table, and likely to need a veritable forest of legs beneath it. However, medieval carpenters who can build cathedral roofs can cope with such a table. But what about the poor king, stuck in the centre of a circle large enough to hold 150 round its circumference? Think of the noise, and the constant shouting of "what? What?"

And then there's the problem of serving. Service a la Russe hadn't come along yet, so all dishes need to be put on the table at once. With a rectangular board, you can fill up from both sides. High Table, sitting on only one side, can be served from the opposite side, and regular people can ask the person opposite to pass them the buttered parsnips. With the guests sitting around the rim of a vast circle, only a tiny part of that table can be used for serving food, and the rest is wasted, and impossible to clean without clambering on it. The King, stuck in the middle, would need food parcels thrown at him - a skill, perhaps, practiced by pages in the tilting yard?

But there are other ways to denote precedence at the dining table. Take the whole "above the salt" thing. Clearly it would be out of the question to have a single, elaborate Salt on the table. Thus we see the origin of the small salt shaker that we see now on every cafe table - or maybe even tiny sachets, that survived into the present century only in Salt 'n' Shake crisps. And what about boars' heads and such like, and the honour of carving such things? If Knight A has a boar's head put in front of him, and Knight B only has some boiled cabbage, then Knight A is clearly more favoured! Instead of this divisive practice, we would need a vast array of small plates of mixed food stuffs, none of them an obvious centrepiece. Did the dining needs of Camelot lead to the invention of tapas?

Or did the Round Table itself rotate along with the King, thus bringing boar's head to each knight in turn? Was the Round Table the origin of the Lazy Susan?
ladyofastolat: (sneezing lion)
Today I have mostly been ranting about the way that trousers (for which read trousers or hose or braies or braccae or leg wrappings or any other leg covering of choice) have been airbrushed out of Yore and Fantasyland. It is well-known that people don't wear socks in Fantasyland, even though they jolly well should. In a recent episode of Game of Thrones, SPOILER, recently returned from an absence of a considerable number of episodes, killed someone, took his boots, and put them on over entirely bare feet. I had to try a few million pairs of boots on before I found some that were comfortable for long walks, and even then, I wear two pairs of socks. I warned SPOILER about blisters. He didn't listen.

But trousers (hose, braies, breeches, whatever) appear to have been excised, too. I've been reading a very silly vaguely Arthurian novel in which a feisty warrior woman goes round wearing a jerkin over entirely bare legs. Now, the internet offers up a dazzling array of images of jerkin, but none of them would be remotely decent when worn over bare legs. I've also been watching Arthur of the Britons, in which the costume department clearly added an accidental few extra noughts to their order of white sheepskins, and, forced to cover up their mistake, have shrouded every single Saxon extra in at least four sheep. Some are positively spherical in their sheepskin cardigans, some of whom wear them over bare, spindly little legs, with bare, spindly little arms and shoulders struggling to emerge from the white globe of sheep.*

These are the two examples that have troubled me today, but it is an ongoing rant, prompted by numerous historic and fantasy films, and by the sight of chilly Roman re-enactors shivering bare-legged in the British cold.

Personally, I never wear shorts on a walk, because walks often involve wading through brambles and bracken and other scratchy things, and I want the protection of a layer of fabric, thank you very much. It would tend to ruin the impact of a surprise ambush if all your bare-leggety warriors were constantly going "ow! ooh!" as they knelt in thistles and squelched in slimy cow pats. Warriors who charge naked into battle, clad only in woad and bravado, are presumably hard enough to cope with the string and prickles of outrageous flora, but why would those who've bothered to clothe their top half forget to bother with clothing anything under the waist?

* Bagpuss )
ladyofastolat: (sneezing lion)
I've always thought that "see you later!" was something that could only be said to someone you were expecting to see later that day. "See you tomorrow!" and "See you next week!" or a vague, "well, um, see you again, um... well, sometime," were available for other occasions, as were more generally applicable things such as "Bye!" and "See you!"

However, this has led to exchanges such as this. Colleague leaves in the afternoon to go to a meeting elsewhere. "See you later!" colleague says. "Oh, are you coming back?" I say. "No," says colleague. This has happened so often, and with so many people, that I am now wondering if I have been wrong all these years. At the end of our weekly dance practice, loads of people say "see you later!" to everyone as they leave, although they know these people won't be seen again for a week. Maybe I am the only person who interprets "see you later" in the way that I do.

So who do you agree with? Me, or (almost) everyone else I know?
ladyofastolat: (sneezing lion)
I've just caught up with a programme on last year's retail trends, a subject which I find very interesting, even though almost all of the trends have entirely passed me by. I found the programme simultaneously very interesting and very annoying, largely for its habit of making sweeping statements about how "we were ALL" doing something or other, when the figures quoted revealed that although there was indeed a note-worthy increase on last year, it was still very much a minority thing, no matter how much trendy media types might have written about it. They were very fond of saying that "a staggering £x million" was spent on such and such, when a quick bit of mental arithmetic on the likely price of the product and the adult population of the country revealed that this was actually a fairly unimpressive number. Sometimes they even made this easy for us. After one little piece about how "we were ALL" buying something or other, some trendy media type said that "it became more a case of who DIDN'T have one than who did." Yes, revealed the presenter, by the end of the year a staggering one household in 60 had one of these things. I expect there are things sneered at by the media as sad minority interests that are actually indulged in by individuals in more households than that.

We also had a use of one of the Standard Units of Measurement - in this case, the Olympic Swimming Pool. Last year, due to a massive explosion of beards that I had remained completely unaware of, enough beard trimmers were sold to fill three Olympic swimming pools. I never find the Olympic swimming pool / football pitch / London bus school of measurement remotely impressive. To me, it turns "Big Number!" into "something you can fit into a fairly small patch of ground that can be seen by one person without them even moving." "Big Number!" sounds impressive - at least if you don't think about it, and realise that it works out as only one per sixty households. Something that can fit under one roof sounds far less impressive to me, even if the roof is a big one, and each thing is very small.

As for me, the programme revealed that I have indulged in precisely two of this year's retail trends. Despite not being a huge fan of fizzy drinks - although I tolerate them more than I used to - I've bought Prosecco, since they kept plying us with free Prosecco when we were in Sorrento, and ever since then, the drink has reminded me of that holiday. I also have an adult colouring book. It's a Game of Thrones one, which I got for Christmas. I had no idea that such things promoted mindfulness! I've heard of mindfulness, but never really known what it was, or bothered to find out. I had no idea that when I spent quite a ridiculous amount of time colouring in a joust scene the other day that I was indulging in mindfulness. I thought I was just colouring in a picture.

I still have no Christmas jumper.
ladyofastolat: (sneezing lion)
I do not understand expensive Christmas crackers. Now, I have never experienced truly expensive Christmas crackers. Dukes and millionaires and super-villains may well adorn their Christmas table with thousand pound crackers that contain real tiaras, jokes performed by world-famous comedians (who appear in holographic form at your seat to perform them), and crown jewels and rocket packs.

Okay. Resuming now. I took a few minutes off the imagine the staff Christmas party in an evil overlord's secret underground lair, and from there moved on to Christmas dinner in the Dark Lord's fastness. I think I'm ready to resume this post now. Right. *deep breath*

Forget super-expensive crackers, and consider only the price range of crackers that you buy in normal High Street shops. I've experienced (do you experience a cracker?) crackers that were £4 for 12. I've... experienced (I'm saying it more doubtfully now, as I mentally envisage a theme park called The Cracker Experience, and pause to imagine its rides) crackers that wanted to be sold at £12 for 6 (but were reduced to half price; I only EVER buy crackers at half price.) I've experienced (said defiantly this time) crackers that I'm sure cost twice that, if not more.

Compare the cracker )

Commuting

Oct. 24th, 2015 07:47 pm
ladyofastolat: (sneezing lion)
What's the difference between commuting to work and merely travelling to work? Idly browsing books earlier, I came across something that explained the origin of the word "commute," and then said that nowadays, anyone who regularly travels to work is a commuter. "Surely not!" I thought. I mean, I used to walk three quarters of a mile every day to work, but I'd hardly count that as a being the action of a commuter. I have some thoughts on the matter - some of them vague and contradictory - but I'd be interested in hearing the thoughts of others.
ladyofastolat: (sneezing lion)
I have just been accused of overthinking things. I find this accusation very unfair. I mean, somebody just asked the question, "What would you do if the world was going to end in a week, and this was a certainty, with no room for doubt? What would you do?" "Well, obviously I'd stop going to work," someone else said.

"But wouldn't everyone do that?" I said. You wouldn't be able to buy anything, because there would be nobody to sell them or stock the shelves. There would be no power, water or electricity - presumably, unless these things carry on quite happily without human intervention. You couldn't jet off for that holiday of a lifetime you always meant to have, because who would fly you there or accommodate you or feed you? Some people would just go, "Wahay! No police! No judges! No consequences!" and indulge in looting and crimes and anarchy. So when the law-abiding people, driven by their inability to buy food, were driven to some polite and tentative looting of their local shop, it would be empty anyway.

The only hope would be that the "Wahay! No consequences!" gang were outweighed by those who were driven by the impending End of All Things to turn to religion, and therefore were determined to cram as many selfless good deeds into that last week as normal. But it would be too much to hope that all these good deeders were electrical engineers, or saw the orderly maintenance of grocery supplies in local corner shops as as good deed sufficient to tip the balance in their Last Judgement. And, besides, some of them would be too busy desperately turning the other cheek that they'd get squished by the "Wahay! No consequences!" lot. As would the "there might be some mistake; best not do anything rash in case this whole thing blows over" lot. If they hadn't starved due to their refusal to even try to loot bread, that is.

"Okay," said the others, "what if the world was going to end, but only you knew about it?" That would be just as bad, I said, because there would be Questions. Try to quit your job. Questions. Bureaucracy. The slow-moving wheels of HR. Pretty annoying to spend the last week of the world locked in disciplinary hearings and the like. And could you really enjoy that last week if you had to watch everyone around you proceeding in blissful ignorance, when you knew that everything would end in a week? And imagine all the arguments that would result from the whole "what's the matter, dear?" "Nothing," conversations.

So, like I said, apparently I overthink things and ruin perfectly good conversations. I have no idea what they're talking about. ;-)

Petrol

Jul. 30th, 2015 12:28 pm
ladyofastolat: (sneezing lion)
Well over half the times my petrol warning light comes on, it comes on just as I'm turning into our Close, or so it seems to me. Theories:

Possibility 1. It doesn't actually do so at all. It's done so 2 or 3 times, which is enough to draw my attention and make me think it always does it. I fail to notice all the millions of times it comes on at other times. However, it's months since I first started remarking on this phenomenon, and I've paid particular attention ever since then, and I can confirm that it does indeed come on at this point at least half the times it comes on. Possibility ruled out.

Possibility 2. It's much more likely to come on when I'm near home. Due to living on an island, all my journeys are fairly short ones: round trips of 10 to 30 miles. If when setting out, I notice that the gauge is getting low and the warning light is likely to come on early in my journey, I will probably stop for petrol en route. If I don't, it's because I've judged that I've got more than enough to get me home and out again the next day. By my own actions, I'm therefore making it less likely that the light comes on when I'm miles away from home. I think this is a factor, yes, but doesn't explain why it always come on as I'm turning into our Close, not when I'm half a mile away or a mile away, or just as I'm leaving the next day.

Possibility 3. There's a speed bump just before I turn into our Close, admittedly a fairly pathetic one. Something about the combination of a speed bump followed by a ninety degree turn sloshes the petrol around and confuses the sensor into thinking the tank is emptier than it is. There could well be something in this, although it's hard to believe that the pathetically flat speed bump and the glacially slow turn - for there are always parked cars in the entrance to the Close - could cause much sloshing.

Possibility 4. My car is sentient, although of limited intelligence. It knows where it lives, but it doesn't recognise the approach. Only when it's turning into the Close does it think, "Oh! Oh! I'm nearly home!" Like Pavlov's dogs, this thought causes it to salivate in anticipation of a nice cup of tea and some warming toast, and it shouts, "Oh, I AM hungry!"

Yup. Possibility 4 is the only explanation that works, really.
ladyofastolat: (sneezing lion)
The supermarket I usually use has a "baskets only" lane, but doesn't specify how many items you can have. I naively assumed that all express lanes were the same, but found out to my cost that they were not. On my first visit to the supermarket across the park from where I now work, I joined the express lane with 11 items, only to get sternly told by the assistant that it was strictly ten items or fewer. She made me put everything back in the basket and join another queue.

Today I had 10 items, so decided to risk it again. There were 4 people ahead of me in the queue. However, it turned out that one of them, although he had only 3 items, had forgotten about the whole concept of paying, and when asked for money, embarked on slow but laborious search of every possible bag or pocket, in search of his wallet. Another was doing something long and complicated involving exchanging stickers for knives. The sight of knives on the conveyor belt caused someone behind me to say, "She's got a knife!" and run away to the trolley aisle on the grounds that it would quicker. The other 2 people had 12 items, so had split them into two groups, and paid for them in two separate transactions, thus taking quite a lot longer than they'd have taken had the system allowed them to go through with 12. (I consider this Cheating, and grumped silently about it in the queue behind them.) ("Have you got a loyalty card?" they were both asked on transcation 1, and said no. "Have you got a loyalty card?" they were both asked again on transaction 2, on the off-chance that they'd just acquired one by magic. Clearly this is a shop that believes in Rules and Scripts, and neither can be departed from.)

Anyway, it seems to me that the important thing in an express lane is the amount of time you take going through, not the number of items you have. I therefore propose that express lanes start labelling themselves as "no more than 90 seconds per person," or something like that. Of course, shop assistants vary very much in their speed, so each assistant would have to have a speed rating, and extra seconds would be added (or taken away) from the 90 seconds accordingly. It's only fair. Also, delays that are Not Your Fault (barcodes that don't read etc.) will result in the automatic pausing of the stopwatch.

The problem comes with deciding how to penalise those who exceed their time. After all, the time limit is most likely to be reached after they've bagged their items up, but before they've paid, so it's not the shop's interest to have the assistant say, "sorry, your 90 seconds are up. Please take your bags and leave." Cancelling all the purchases, and making them take everything out of their bags and go back and queue again is clearly not an option, since it would only cause even more waiting for the people behind in the queue. I think the best solution is to fine everyone who overruns. If they've not yet reached the point of being asked for money, £1 can be added to their bill, but if they're half way through paying, they'll have to put £1 in a collecting box. It would also be nice to reward super-quick shoppers with something, too: perhaps points on a card, which they can collect to redeem for nice things.

Musicals

Apr. 3rd, 2015 07:57 pm
ladyofastolat: (sneezing lion)
I'm watching Easter Parade at the moment, since it was on TV this morning and looked like a fun film to watch on my Good Friday alone. It's reminded me just how awkward I find musicals. I certainly not against them per se. I love Singin' in the Rain and Calamity Jane and West Side Story (oh how I sobbed when first I saw it, aged 16 or so!) and Moulin Rouge, to name but a few. But there's always a sense of strangeness about them. My brain just can't quite cope with the fact that these people act like normal people for most of the time, but suddenly burst into song whenever they feel any strong emotion. Attempted song, I could cope with, but this is finely crafted song. There are no pauses as they struggle to find a rhyme. There are no aborted lines as they realise that the sentiment they wanted to express doesn't fit their metre. It bothers me. As someone who does their filking by wandering along for hours, deaf to all human contact and muttering distractedly to themselves, it bothers me. I tell myself just to accept it and go with it, but it bothers me.

(It bothers me in Tolkien, too. When Aragorn and Legolas sing their lament for Boromir, for example, I can only cope with it by, A, telling myself that Tolkien has drawn a veil over the two hours in which they muttered to themselves as they slowly composed their verses and desperately chased their rhymes, or, B, by telling myself that they are not made of common stock like us lesser Men, and the ability to create perfect rhymes at the drop of a hat is a skill that has been lost to us in the latter days.)

Opera I can cope with. In opera, they sing all the time, so I can just about accept the fact that these people come from a race that defaults to communicating in song. It helps when it's not sung in English, when you can imagine that they're singing glorious sentiments. I still haven't quite recovered from the experience of seeing La Boheme in English, and realising that certain lovely phrases of sonorous Italian actually said something like, "are you with me so far?" and "Yeah. Carry on!"

I've only once gone to the ballet. Ballet I just couldn't cope with. I could accept that someone might sing when overcome with love, but I couldn't accept that someone would show their neverending love for someone by picking them up and twirling them around while sticking their leg out at ninety degrees while wearing sparkly tights. But, then, I was 17 at the time, and I sang in a choir, but had yet to discover dancing. Maybe it would be different now.
ladyofastolat: (sneezing lion)
It used to be a rite of passage for new members in the Oxford Tolkien Society. At some point, innocently, they would say "SORE-on" or "MINE-as Tirith," and get loudly corrected by everyone present. Okay, so it didn't happen to everyone, but it happened enough to be - in my memory at least - something of an in-joke. I certainly pronounced both words wrong until I was told.

The Hobbit was a book I had read to me, aged 8 (although I illicitly reached the book down from its "out of reach" place on top of the wardrobe and read ahead) so I can blame my original mispronunciation of Smaug on my Mum. (She also said "Fylie and Kylie," which I stubbornly persist with, despite the Kylie Minogue connotations (that didn't exist back then, of course) because I think the alternatives sound even sillier. Or sylie. Or seelie.) The Lord of the Rings names I read to myself at 9, so have only myself to blame.

Not that I feel that guilty, really. Questions about the pronunciation of made-up words. )
ladyofastolat: (sneezing lion)
I have posted previously on some ways in which the physical world works differently in fiction. Necklace clasps part obligingly at the slightest tug. 100,000 Turks can stand roaring outside your tower, but until you open your flimsy wooden shutters, you hear not a sound.

My latest sighting is the fact that weight loss works very differently in fiction. In just the last few months, I have noticed this in at least half a dozen different places. A female character, described as "plump," is encountered again after three stressful days of worry. "She had clearly lost a lot of weight," we are told. Another character, a "big girl," is ill for two days. When she reappears, she is "gaunt."

Why is this, I wonder? Do fictional characters actually require an daily intake of 50,000 calories to power all their internal monologues and character arcs, and thus are far harder hit by fasting than we mere mortals, with our 2000 - 3000 average needs? Are there any lessons the real world dieter can learn from this?
ladyofastolat: (sneezing lion)
People often seem to have difficulty accepting a person's taste in fiction doesn't necessarily reflect their real-life opinions. Several examples in the last few weeks have set me a-musing.

Musings )
ladyofastolat: (sneezing lion)
How do dragons carry their loot?

Some dragons, such as Smaug, start with an advantage, in that they set up their lair in a place that already has much loot in situ. However, gold-worshipping as they were, I doubt that the dwarves of Erebor kept all their riches in one huge, great, enormous pile, with the Arkenstone buried, oh, *vague hand-flap*, somewhere over there. So even dragons like Smaug have to break open dwarf babies' piggy banks, grab spare change from dead dwarves' pockets (not an easy job when your fingers are as big as oak trees) and gather the loot all together in one place, not to mention ferrying over all the riches of Dale and elsewhere.

However, most dragons prefer remote caves, and remote caves do not normally come with piles of gold in situ, unless they've been formerly inhabited by pirates or smugglers, and in that case, we would expect to find kegs of brandy and bottles of rum in the standard dragon hoard, and of these, the stories do not tell. Therefore, we must act on the assumption that most dragons have to carry all their loot from Point A (a sacked castle, for example) to Point B (lair.)

Another assumption we have to make is that dragons must carry this loot by themselves, utilising no mode of transportation other than that provided by their own bodies. This (below) is something we never hear tell of in the tales:

dragon3

More theories and pictures )
ladyofastolat: (sneezing lion)
I don't find it that hard to accept that the world has changed since I was a child, because I have changed. Even so, it still sometimes startles me to look back at pictures and images of the 1970s and see just quite how old they now seem. Things like Life on Mars startle me by showing (and doubtless exaggerating) how much things have changed. There was a very recent series on Channel 4 which consisted of modern people watching 1970s clips and gasping, "wow! What primitive racist/sexist/perverted/bigoted idiots everyone was back in the 1970s and how enlightened we are now!" (Everyone at work was talking about it, gasping in horror at the clips (and, yes, many of them were quite startling.) I said I hoped to live to see the 2060s version of the show, in which celebrities from 2060 look back at clips of TV in 2014 and gasp in horror at the quaint and shocking social attitudes that were considered normal back in those unenlightened days. This was not the correct reaction, apparently.)

Anyway... I find it a lot harder to accept that the world has continued to change after I became an adult. This fact jumps out at me every now and then, and startles me far more than the 1970s so. I was just reading a book that I was thinking of as "modern," since it's the first book in a current series set in the modern world. At one point, the main characters heard a reference to a local historical figure, and needed to find out who he was. How on earth can we do it? they wondered. The library's on half-day closing today. Who else can we ask? No mention of the internet whatsoever. (And, yes, I know full well that even nowadays, not everyone has access to/can use the internet - I deal with this issue every day at work - but that's not the point.) I turned to the publication details, and the book was published in 1998. and therefore probably written in 1997 or earlier. In one way, it's "modern." In another way - no internet; mobile phones being very much a minority possession; people smoking in indoor public places - it feels like another world.

It must be hard to be writing a long ongoing series in an era of rapid change. What are your choices? You can make your internal chronology match your publication chronology, but you might not want your characters to age that rapidly. You can doggedly stick to your desired internal chronology, and gradually slip into writing historical novels: book 1 is set this year, but book 25 is set 20 years ago. You can just hand-wave it away, and hope no-one notices: book one has 1998-style technology, and book 15 has 2014 technology, but strangely the characters have only aged two years.

Or you can just be plain confusing and contradictory. I'm now on to book 2, which was published in 1999. However, the publisher seems to have decided to "update" it for a new edition, since an event that happened 25 years ago has now been date checked as being 1984. However, since people are still assumed to be incommunicado when away from home, and nobody uses the internet to search for information, and everyone's still smoking inside, it seems like a very pointless update, as if the publishers are trying to con us into thinking it's set "now" when it clearly isn't.

Randomness

Oct. 26th, 2014 09:25 am
ladyofastolat: (sneezing lion)
Still very tired. I thought I was mostly better, so walked into Newport yesterday, but it left me so near-paralysed by tiredness that I had to fight hard not to burst into tears in the M&S menswear department. But tea and a spot of people-watching from the Sainsbury's cafe - positioned above the shop's entrance so you can watch all the comings and goings - perked me up enough to get me home, although I continued to be rather useless for the rest of the day.

Finding myself without the brain power to do anything useful, I have been musing on the following things:

- When did Yore get dirty? Historical movies made in the 1950s and 1960s show a past that is all shiny and clean, and, in the case of movies made in colour, full of bright, crisp colours, even in hovels. Modern films are usually full of dirt, dark lighting, dingy colours. So when did film-makers decide that the past was dirty? (Pellinor blames Monty Python.)

- It occurs to me that the same punctuation mark is used for the absent-minded or angst-ridden pause, as is used for the sort of sinister pause so beloved of plotting villains. "He shall be... dealt with." "We will seek an... alternative solution." It's quite a different thing from the pause used by someone trying to remember the next thing on their shopping list, or so overcome with angst that they can't finish their sentence. I feel that the world needs a new form of punctuation to convey this Evil Ellipsis. (I also wonder if aspiring evil overlords can buy self-help books that teach them how to employ such a pause. It wouldn't do to use it in all the wrong places. "Today we will have... [pause to stub out cigarette in menacing fashion]... baked beans. On toast."

- I dragged myself to work on Friday, but found myself lacking in brain power to do anything other than sort through boxes of old books returned from various sources. One box was labelled "Highbrow produce" from "Highbrow Farm." I could almost be tempted to draw a picture of these highbrow parsnips and carrots, earnestly discussing opera while being boxed up on a farm full of sheep who sneer at reality TV and cows who sit round reading Nietzsche all day. Except that I'm tired, so I won't.
ladyofastolat: (sneezing lion)
In the book I'm reading at the moment, a character has recently appeared, whose "face was deeply scored with the tell-tale lines of debauchery and self-indulgence." What are the tell-tale lines of debauchery and self-indulgence? I've just spent a rather strange few minutes desperately trying to look self-indulgent in front of a mirror, to see if lines are likely to be etched in my face if I do it repeatedly, and have yet to notice any particularly unique and unambiguous lines. A few pages on, it was remarked upon that somebody else's face bore lines that spoke of the year of angst and hardship they had experienced a few hundred pages earlier. However, lines etched by self-indulgence are clearly completely different from Lines of Angst.

What about lines of short-sightedness? I've got vertical grooves between my eyes that come from having one short-sighted eye and one slightly long-sighted one. Between the two of them, my eyes focus okay, but only if I ever so slightly frown with my short-sighted eye. But I don't think fiction tends to notice such things. In books, facial lines come from past experience or from general disposition, and can even tell you at a glance if their wearer is a goodie or a baddie.

But at least they're not as expressive as eyes. Eyes in fiction are so much more expressive than our boring, workaday real-life eyes. In fiction, eyes can convey an amazingly in-depth account of their owner's emotional state, doing to every last nuance, and the person who sees the said eyes always perfectly understands what they can see. I keep wishing for an exchange along these lines:

"Her eyes were brimming with her love for him, but there was a shadow in them, too, caused by her concern about her father's disapproval, but - ah, sweet hope! - a glint of defiance that showed that she was planning to defy him and risk all for her love."

He went down on one knee and took her hand. "Oh, my love! I can see in your lovely azure eyes that..."

"Oh! What?" She shook her head sharply. "I'm sorry. What did you say? I was trying to decide whether to have meatballs for dinner, or if pork chops would be better."
ladyofastolat: (sneezing lion)
Scenario A: While shopping, I decide that one dinner will involve Food Product A, in our favourite flavour, flavour X. It's a little bit more expensive than most dinners, but I know how much it is, and am happy to pay it for a treat. I go to where Food Product A lives, where I find that Flavour Y, and only Flavour Y, is on special offer. We both dislike Flavour Y very much indeed, and it is not an option. Because Flavour Y is on special offer, Flavour X suddenly seems very expensive indeed, and something of a rip-off. I do not buy Food Product A at all, despite it being no more expensive than I'd expected, and make new plans.

Scenario B: I want to buy Product B, which is a perishable item. I know how much Product B costs. When I get there, I see that Product B is on a multibuy special offer (2-for-1, or 3-for-2 or such like.) I do not want two (or three, or whatever the deal is.) It is a perishable item, and there is no way we could get through it. However, because I could get 2 (or 3) for a better price, just buying a single one for the normal, non-discounted price, seems like a waste of money. I do not buy Product B.

Scenario C: We find ourselves in need of a few items while out without my purse. Pellinor has money on him, but no supermarket loyalty card. Two small local supermarkets are within easy reach of us: the one we possess an absent loyalty card for (Sainsbury's), and one for which we have no loyalty card (Co-op.) Wherever we go, we will get no loyalty card points and no bundle of money-off vouchers, which sometimes (occasionally) have given us several pounds worth of vouchers just for buying one small, cheap item. However, shopping in Sainsbury's, where we should get these things but won't, somehow feels worse than shopping in Co-op, where we never do. I fight the urge to say that we have to shop in the Co-op as a result.

Is it just me, or does anyone else catch themselves in similarly irrational thought processes when shopping?

(In my defence, though, I should add that Scenario A worked out in the end. I held out for months, but eventually Flavour X got its turn at being on special offer. The freezer is now full of it.)
ladyofastolat: (sneezing lion)
(Ow. Typing is hard. I've managed to slice my thumb on some rose-scented shower gel, thus confirming my belief that Lush is a shop that come with a health warning. I'd previously wanted one on the grounds of its extremely potent smell, but now I realise that for all their happy, fluffy, "I am natural!" labelling, their products have TEETH.)

Anyway... I'm reading a book at the moment (the brand new Dresden Files novel, but that's probably not important, unless it turns out that we're talking about a UK/US difference here) and at some point, some people are trying to grab someone who's currently at work. For various reasons, going into his office is not advisable. Not to worry, they say. He's bound to leave the office to have lunch.

I don't think I've ever left my work place in order to have lunch - i.e. to eat lunch in a cafe, restaurant, bar or similar. If I'm out and about over lunch time, I will buy a sandwich and look for a pretty park bench or car park to eat it in. None of my colleagues ever go out for lunch, either. Perhaps once every fortnight or so, one or other of them will have forgotten to bring any lunch, and will pop out to the Co-op to buy a sandwich, which they will then bring back to eat, but that's it.

To me, eating out at lunch is an extravagent thing that only happens on holidays or rare special occasions. It's definitely not something that gets done on a normal work day - or indeed a normal weekend day, when at home. So what's more unusual here: my feeling that eating out at lunch is extravagent and unusual, or the book's assumption that going out for lunch is normal, expected behaviour?
ladyofastolat: (sneezing lion)
I'm sure that somebody on my Friends list posted about this a few years ago, but I can't remember who, so can't track it down to check responses.

When I was little, in my experience, men didn't wear wedding rings. My Dad didn't (and still doesn't.) My uncles didn't. I went to quite a lot of weddings, since I sang in the church choir, and while it's entirely possible that some grooms got rings, I certainly never noticed it happening. (However, we used to hide books in the voluminous sleeves of our robes, and read during the boring bits, safely hidden by the rood screen, so I might have missed it happening.)

Shortly after I got married, I became aware that in fact most married men did indeed wear wearing rings. Male colleagues who had been married for many years were wearing them, so it wasn't a new thing. I've spoken to people about it, and they all express utter amazement - disapproval, really - that any married man might not have a wedding ring, unless he's deliberately hiding his married state.

I am not debating the rights and wrongs of the issue, merely wondering about people's experience. Is this something that has changed over the last few decades, or did I grow up in a strange pocket of ringless men, already out of sync with the rest of the world?

Swimming

Jul. 10th, 2013 08:43 am
ladyofastolat: (sneezing lion)
I can't swim. The reason is quite obvious to me. Neither of my parents can swim, so I was never brought up to be happy in water. They didn't want me to be like them, so they did send me to swimming lessons when I was 8 or so, but then I'd already had 8 years listening to my Mum's terror of water. "You can never trust water!" is one of her most common sayings. She won't say, "Oh, look at that lovely babbling brook!" just, "Oh no! Step away! There might be a flash flood!"

I had a series of lessons, but in the end, the teacher threw me out of class. "I wash my hands of her," he said. "She can swim, but thinks she can't." Looking back at it, this seems quite shocking to me. I hope it wouldn't happen nowadays, and that children like me are given the help they need to build up their confidence, and aren't cast out in shame. He was on to something, though. In Primary School swimming lessons, my teacher noted that I could swim (well, sort of; it was a frenzied doggy paddle, since I didn't want to risk getting my face wet) when wearing flat armbands that I thought had air in them, but couldn't swim without them. She found this quite amusing, but didn't follow it up.

We had swimming lessons at secondary school (aargh, those memories of easing my painful way into that hideously cold outdoor pool!) and the teacher was similarly unsympathetic. (Not surprising, this. This was the same teacher who snapped to my Mum, "she's an intelligent girl; of course she can play hockey.") She once decreed that nobody could go to lunch until I'd swum a width, and made the whole impatient class watch as I flailed in my desperate doggy paddle, half my upper body out of the water. I did my width, but it certainly didn't fill me with any desire to ever get in a swimming pool ever again.

I remember being on the Arthurian North Wales pilgrimage in 1993. It was gorgeous weather, and we all went down to the beach at Harlech. Everyone else ran out on the long sands, into the shallowly sloping water, and out into the distance, to swim under the blue sky. My fellow non-swimmer and I stood watching them, and both said that this was the first time in years that we wished we could swim. I almost felt the same yesterday, when having lunch down on Ryde Sands, a similarly shallowly sloping beach.

Maybe I should try to learn to swim. Pellinor keeps offering to teach me, but the trouble is, when you can't swim, you're not used to wearing a swimming costume - I don't possess one - or appearing in public wearing one. Society decrees that as a woman, I'd have to shave myself in annoying places. I'd have to learn in a public place, where everyone else would see my desperate flailing. I shudder at the memory of the horrible cold of it, and the smell. There's just so many reasons (excuses?) not to. But maybe I should...
ladyofastolat: (sneezing lion)
Whenever people in fiction are called in to be questioned by the police, they summon "their" lawyer. This is not just a mere common-or-garden "a" lawyer, but their lawyer. Does everyone in fiction have a tame lawyer, perhaps stashed away at home and fed on nibbles and occasionally allowed out for walks? Or do they all keep a lawyer on a retainer, just in case, in the same way they might keep the card of the friendly Polish plumber who fixed their dripping tap four years ago?

It would have to be the right sort of lawyer, of course. I suspect that the only time we've ever used a lawyer was when we moved house, but if the police were questioning me as a suspect in a crazed axe murder, I doubt that lawyer would be of much help, unless he could distract the police by helping them sell their interview room and buy a nice little police cottage in the country. So I would have to make sure that I had an agreement with the sort of lawyer who specialised in helping people accused of crazed axe murders. Wouldn't the very fact that I had that sort of agreement be somewhat suspicious?

I imagine most people don't have their own pet lawyers at all, and it's like games kit at school, with random ones pulled out of store and dished out like oversized knickers to people who failed to turn up with their own.

Um... Did I have a point to this post? I think I possibly did once, but I losted it. Oh well... But while I'm here, I'll just mention that the local paper is warning its readers about people who are going round "exploiting insecure doors." Oh, the poor doors!
ladyofastolat: (Default)
LOADS of bitey things around at the moment! I presume it's because the country has spent the last three months gradually turning itself into a swamp. Bitey things, midge mythology, bad things and naughty books )
ladyofastolat: (Default)
I don't tend to visualise fictional characters very clearly. I'm left cold by that "who would you cast in the movie version of this book?" debate that seems to happen regularly in every book fandom, and is greeted by other fans with great enthusiasm and many ideas. I do have impressionistic views of the characters, so if a movie is indeed made, I can look at some actors and say, "That's not how I imagined the character," but I couldn't give a clear idea of how I do envisage the character.

I'm reading a series at the moment that hasn't, as of book two, decribed its main characters at all, and I'm surprised just quite how disorientating I'm finding it. I don't want in-depth descriptions. I don't want detailed paragraphs describing every feature. In fact, such paragraphs can have an unfortunate effect on me, since the part of my mind that comes up with vague impressionist pictures of characters has much in common with a caricaturist. If the text says, "She had a prominent aquiline nose," or, "His eyes were close-set beneath a towering brow," that feature ends up getting ridiculously exaggarated in my mind.

But I do like descriptions that give a feeling of how the character looks. Are they lean and solemn? Do they have such a charming smile that everyone warms to them? Do they exude hard-bitten sternness? Do they look dour? Do they look like a consumptive romantic poet or a retired sergeant of marines? Could they pass for 18, or do they look 60? I feel quite lost in this book without any such indications. Although, thinking about it, quite a lot of this doesn't need to be conveyed through overt physical description, but can be conveyed through the character's dialogue and demeanour and the way other characters react to them. And the series in question gives us precious little of that, either, making the main characters blank ciphers in more ways than just physical description.

So maybe the question I ought to be asking is: why am I still reading?

Clothes

Jan. 28th, 2012 08:23 am
ladyofastolat: (Default)
I was amused by a little bit of radio phone-in that I heard yesterday, prompted by a few cases of schools/job centres/supermarkets banning people from arriving in their pyjamas. "Why shouldn't people wear pyjamas outside," one of the guests said, "since it doesn't harm anyone?" "No!" thundered the other. "Wearing pyjamas outside is Wrong!" "Why is it wrong?" asked the first person, "since it doesn't hurt anyone." "It's wrong because it's wrong," the second person effectively said. This little cycle went on for quite some time. It seemed to me that they were both demonstrating the same thing, which is that rules on correct clothing are indeed completely irrational and silly, but are still adhered to by most people. There is nothing rational in the rule that it's fine for a woman to wear a very skimpy bikini on the seafront promenade, but not to wear much more substantial bra and knickers to the local supermarket a hundred miles from the beach. There's nothing rational in the rule that pyjamas aren't work to the shops, but elasticated jogging trousers, which might look well nigh identical, are fine. I'm always amused by people who pronounce so earnestly that such and such a clothing combination Is Wrong, when these rules are so dependent on class, country and year. The other day, my boss spent a while going on about how tasteless and awful "we all were" in the 70s. I argued that "taste" is a purely subjective thing, and what we are now taught is tasteless could well end up being the pinnacle of good taste in ten years' time, but he wouldn't have it. All these people who cite their rules of acceptable clothing are doubtless wearing things that would have horrified people 50 years ago or 100 years ago. There is indeed no rational reason why wearing pyjamas outside is Wrong. Except, of course, because we do currently live in a society in which the vast majority of people consider it wrong, and might be offended by it, and will at the very least judge you harshly for doing so. Conventions may be irrational... but people still need to be prepared for the consequences if they flout them. Hmm... Maybe I should have phoned in. :-)
ladyofastolat: (Default)
For several years, I've been wondering when the standard way of saying dates out loud would switch from "two thousand and..." to "twenty..." After all, we say "Ten Sixty Six," not "One thousand and sixty six." I'd half expected the change to happen in 2010, since "Twenty ten" is nice and easy to say, whereas in the previous years, you had the slight awkwardness of having to add an "O" to dates you started with "twenty." ("Twenty O Nine," not "Twenty nine.") However, although I heard quite a few twenty tens and twenty elevens, I heard a whole lot more two thousand and tens and two thousand and elevens, despite the additional two syallables.

However, for the last however many years, we in Britain have been bombarded with talk of the Twenty Twelve Olympics, so I have confidentally expected that the start of 2012 would be the tipping point, after which almost everyone (in Britain, at least) started using "twenty..." consistently. However, amongst people at work, I'm still hearing "two thousand and twelve" pretty much universally.

I wonder if the decade after 2000 is the only one that isn't consistently referred to using the "Three eighty-five," "Nine seventeen," "Fifteen oh eight" sort of pattern. If so, I wonder why. Is it because "the year two thousand" has been spoken about for years in the context of imagining the future, or is it all Arthur C Clarke's fault?
ladyofastolat: (Default)
There's nothing like fiction to make you realise that you're no longer young. Every now and then, when reading a book written and set within my lifetime, I find myself stopping in my tracks, struck by evidence of how much the world has changed. Technological changes don't surprise me as much, since I'm well aware of how much things such as the internet and mobile phones have changed the modus operandi of intrepid child detectives, but attitudes and behaviour can still shock me right out of the story.

I was reading The Ogre Downstairs yesterday, because I felt slightly guilty about forgetting it when doing a Sporcle quiz that asked me to name every Diana Wynne Jones novel. Written in 1974, it includes a short reference to a past incident in which a girl of probably around 8 or 9, travelling alone, got off at the wrong bus stop and got lost. A man - a total stranger - came to her rescue, took her to a cafe for ice cream, then drove her home. Sometimes the plot of a children's book requires a degree of suspension of disbelief, in order to allow the children to be free to pursue the plot without parents getting in the way, but in this case, it was little more than a throwaway reference, written as if it was nothing remarkable.

Because I have to consider safeguarding issues at work, I am particularly prone to shouting, "But that wouldn't happen! at the TV, usually when someone strolls into a school without anyone trying to stop them, in order to have some long and inappropriate conversation with a teacher in front of a class of 5 year olds. Presumably builders/policemen/nurses/lumberjacks/lion tamers are forever shouting at the TV about similar breaches of safety procedure and protocol in their areas of expertise. A certain suspension of disbelief is required in fiction, after all. But I find it inconceivable that in 2011, an author would include an incident like the one described above.
ladyofastolat: (Default)
Should books billed as "popular history" include footnotes (even if they're moved non-threateningly to the end) and a bibliography? I'm being very grrred at the moment by a book that claims to be about the "ten worst years in history," but not only contains neither of the above, but doesn't even include an intro. in which he explains his criteria for inclusion, but I'm wondering if I'm applying over-harsh standards. I also read a lot of popular science, and I don't think I'm quite so harsh in my judgements of these books as I am on popular history books.

(Sorry for the post overload; a 16 mile solitary walk provides a 5 hours of blank canvas for the mind, and Pellinor's off in Derby(?) for a few days, so can't intercept my musings and keep them from LJ, as he normally does.)

A long walk

Oct. 7th, 2011 04:17 pm
ladyofastolat: (Vectis)
I've not done a long walk since Walk the Wight in May (except for the long mountainous walk in Wales in July) and have been eager for the chance to get out and about again. I did so today, and now feel far more exhausted than I should do after 16 miles - about as tired as I was after 27 miles in May. It's depressing how quickly you get unused to exercise.

Random observations and thoughts:

- I crossed a country road next to a bus stop called "Back of Beyond." There were no houses anywhere in sight, and I didn't find Beyond itself.

- I see more and more ravens every time I go out. I think they're planning a coup.

- My route took me on a public footpath that goes right through a hilltop golf course - not perhaps the most ideal juxtaposition for either walkers or golfers. The whole hilltop is a mass of strange earthworks and terracing, and is almost enough to make me wish for some hideous future catastrophe that wipes out all written records, so future archaeologists can be baffled.

- On the way home, I saw a lollipop lady on duty outside a school that closed in July. While it's not as silly as it sounds - there's a nearby primary school and this was probably a popular route for those children to walk to school - she did initially seem to me to be a very sad and tragic figure, worthy of a sad little song.

- I did quite a bit of talking to the animals I met, which made me wonder quite how common such behaviour is. Normally, some of my talking to animals is clearly really just another way of talking to a nearby human. "Aren't you a handsome doggy!" can mean, "Hello, doggy's owner." "Hello, corvid! Are you a crow or a rook or a raven?" can mean, "Pellinor, look at that bird. What do you think it is?" But today I was entirely alone, yet still told a cow that it was very pretty, but should probably use less eyeshadow; told a smug bull that yes, his harem was indeed large and impressive; asked several gulls to confirm their identity; and told several caterpillars that they were very brown and fat anf furry, but did they really want to be wandering across the path the way they were?

I'd do a poll if I could think of what questions to include in it, but would be interested to hear when, if ever, people talk to animals, or flowers, or indeed inanimate objects.
ladyofastolat: (Default)
- Somebody really needs to design a book that doesn't fall over. I've spent the day removing armfuls of books, inserting RFID tags, then putting them back again. Every time you take an armful off the shelves, there's a CRASH CRASH CRASH of the remaining books falling over, and something a THUD THUD THUD of them all falling on the floor. Something Must Be Done. Since our shelves are metal, I've often wondered if this Something should be little magnets at the bottom of the book, but this would make it hard to squoosh the entire shelf of books up after someone takes a few out. More thought is required.

- Seen in a book I was tagging (but paraphrased here): "I want to start by exploding an oft-quoted myth: that some children are just non-sporty. There is no such thing as a non-sporty child!" Really?

- Why are most recipe books enormous glossy things with tight binding that won't stay open?

- Are there regional variations in the way drivers thank other drivers who've given way to them?

Greetings

Oct. 5th, 2011 05:25 pm
ladyofastolat: (Default)
Walking dogs last week made me ponder greetings between strangers. When I'm out on a country walk, the convention is to greet fellow walkers with a hello. However, greetings don't happen in every situation. When I walk the coastal path, I tend to get greetings from everyone I meet on the distant and remote stretches. As I begin to near the car parks, dog walkers abound, but only about half of them say hello to me. (However, I ascertained last week that these dog walkers would almost certainly say hello if I had a dog with me.) When I get to within a few hundred yards of the car park, no-one says hello, apart from people who are booted and rucksacked and obviously just passing through.

Are people more likely to greet people who clearly have something in common with them? Walkers greet walkers. Countryside dog walkers greet countryside dog walkers, but don't always greet dogless countryside walkers. On one occasion I was only doing about ten miles, so didn't bother with a rucksack or boots, and just walked in trainers and colourful cotton trousers and a t-shirt. No-one knew what slot to place me in, and nobody said hello, just looked at me oddly, or looked away.

When I walk to work, I walk along a paved footpath between houses, then along a residential street that passes a school just before the preschool starts its day, then through a leafy and wildlife-filled cemetery. I generally get hellos from the (few) people I meet in the cemetery, but not from anyone else. The body language of the parents is particularly ignorey. If I was a stranger with a small child, would this be very different? The only time I get hellos on the footpath is when I'm walking to work early on a Saturday morning, when few people are out and about, except occasional elderly dog walkers.

Why do the few people I meet in the leafy cemetary say hello, when no-one else does? Most of them are there to stroll in the greenery or to walk dogs, so is a leafy cemetary honorary countryside, where town rules don't apply? Or is it merely because it's sparsely populated? Tennyson Down is a very popular place for a Sunday afternoon walk, and the whole "say hello to fellow walkers" convention seems to go out of the window, perhaps because they are just too many of them.

Is age a factor? My Dad used to claim that when two people approached each other on a narrow pavement, the custom was to exchange eye contact in which you communicated subtly which direction you were planning to dodge in order to avoid a collision. Women, he said, were usually really bad at doing this. Then he got older and white-haired, and found that women were just as good as men From this he concluded that women were reluctant to make eye contact with strange and possibly-threatening men, but that a strange old man wasn't threatening, so didn't count.

Of course, it takes two people to make a hello. The hellos I get are influenced by the hellos I give. I, too, am making judgements about the sort of people I think I ought to say hello to, and the sort of people who I think I ought to ignore. I'm musing as much about who I expect to be receptive to a hello, as about who is likely to say it.
ladyofastolat: (Default)
I've been musing on anthropomorphised animals in children's books. My impression is that the overwhelming majority of stories aimed at pre-schoolers feature a cast of anthropomorphised animals, but the majority of books aimed at children older children about humans. I wonder why this is. Do children of pre-school age genuinely prefer to hear about Donald Dormouse's first day at school, as opposed to reading about a human child, or is it a case of publishers making assumptions?

Then we get to differences in approaches to anthropomorphism. In one we get a bear who looks just like a real bear, and who hibernates for the winter in something that looks very like a real live bear's real live home. Another might have a bear who looks more or less like a real bear, except that he wears a bobble hat and a scarf as he settles down to hibernate in his nicely carpeted cave. Another gives us the bear who wears clothes and settles down to hibernate in his fully furnished semi-detached bungalow in Skegness. Finally, we get the bear who lives exactly like a human, and who looks just like a human except for the bear-like head that emerges from his collar, who is far too busy shopping in Sainsburys to even consider hibernation.

I very much dislike the final category, and shout, "Why make him a bear, then?" at the page, but is there potential harm in some of the others? I don't mind rabbits wearing jackets, but I want them to exhibit at least some rabbit-like characteristics. But what characteristics? A lot of stories, mostly older ones, assign some sort of moral characteristic to each animal. Foxes might wear clothes and live in a cottage, but you know they're foxes because they're wily bad guys. Is this a problem? Do stories like these encourage children to make moral judgements about real animals?

Modern children's books often subvert these traditional stereotypes, however. Mouse and sheep live together in a cottage by the sea, and are terrified when a big bad wolf moves in next door, but come to realise that he only wants to be friends, and they all set up a vegetarian cafe together and live happily ever after. Is this sort of thing preferable to stories in which the wolf is always big and bad, and the fox is always wily? Or does it encourage a dangerously sanitised view of nature, in which predators and prey live happily together in a blissful commune, sustaining themselves on beans and Weetabix?
ladyofastolat: (Default)
"See you soon," my Mum said cheerily on Saturday, "As They All Say Nowadays." "Do They?" I asked, and she said that, yes, every local shopkeeper and hairdresser and tradesman and, well, pretty much everybody, really, said "see you soon!" instead of "goodbye," "which is silly," she said, "since most of them aren't going to see me soon." I said quite honestly that I couldn't remember ever hearing anyone say "see you soon" in this context, but I had noticed a lot of people saying "see you later." To me, "see you later" means "see you later today," so I might say it to Pellinor when popping out to the shops, but I've noticed loads of people saying it at the end of a once-a-week dance practice, or when serving me in a shop.

So now I'm wondering if there are regional differences afoot, or just selective hearing on the part of both of us.

Barbecues

Jun. 26th, 2011 05:59 pm
ladyofastolat: (Default)
I've just been musing with my Dad about this whole "Men take charge of the barbecue, even if they never normally do any of the cooking" stereotype, which we could both support with numerous examples, even though my Dad admitted that he personally has never cooked on a barbecue. (Also, one of his examples came from a Roman mosaic, so should probably not be counted.) My theory is that men tend to take over barbecues because the media has told them that Men Do Barbecues, therefore they believe that this is an acceptable thing for men to do. Any other theories?

Meanwhile, I'm off to tend to the barbecue... (Though only, admittedly, because Pellinor's popped out to the shops. He's done every other stage in its tending.)
ladyofastolat: (Default)
Pellinor has long claimed that the best way to recognise a primitive civilisation is to listen to what they say when they ask you to follow them to meet their leader. If they merely intone "Come!" they are a primitive people who are ruled by robe-wearing elders, and there is a risk that they will take superstitious exception to your electronic transpondulator, and try to burn you as a witch. If they say "Come with me," they probably have transpondulators of their own, although they may well pose different dangers.

However, the flaw in his theory is that you have to make contact before you can carry out this test. By the time you've heard their "Come!" you are already committed to following your primitive chap to his elders. Fortunately, there is another way to test how primitive your culture is, which can be done merely by listening to the conversation of the natives. It starts raining. "It rains!" cries the primitive culture; "it's raining," says the advanced one. The arrival of a friend is reported. "He comes!" says the primitive peasant. "He's coming," says the advanced one.

What remains to investigate is precisely when this linguistic change happens in the course of a civilisation's technological development. Does it come just before steam engines? Is it a vital development without which a civilisation cannot create computers? And, if so, please can we start researching what new linguistic change is necessary before we can successfully invent transporters?
ladyofastolat: (Default)
As I was lying in bed last night, listening to the distant thumping of the Isle of Wight Festival some five miles away, I reflected that people in movies don't have this problem. In movies, you can get someone sitting there in silence in their chamber, right next to a badly-sealed pair of shutters over a glassless window. Then they move to the window, throw open the shutters... and realise that 100,000 barbarians are standing in their garden going RAHRRR! The second they close the shutters, all is silence again.

Now, it could just be that said barbarians have been standing there in patient silence, indulging in crochet, charades and silent games of cat's cradle, and have saved their RAHRRR for the moment their audience appears, but barbarians are generally portrayed as people whose default setting involves going RAHRRR, and, besides, I don't think that even the best-organised barbarian army could cut off their RAHRRS mid-RAHRR, at the exact moment that some distant observer closed their shutters. At the very best, you'd get a diminuendoing RAHrrr effect. Therefore, it must be that the RAHRRRs continue, but the closing of the shutters means that the person inside can no longer hear them.

What is the explanation of this? At first, I theorised that windows, doors and shutters in movieland are made of some incredibly soundproof material of which modern science knows not. This is supported by numerous sitcoms and romantic comedies, in which the entire cast can stand just inside a door having a frenzied and loud conversation about how they're pretending they're not in, and the person standing just outside never hears a word.

However, further consideration reminded me that it's not just windows. In those same sitcoms and romantic comedies, people can take two steps away from someone and carry out of conversation in loud stage whispers, and the other person never hears a word. Clearly the very air can become soundproof if needed. It can also hide things from view. In the last few days, I have watched several films in which characters are travelling along, showing every sign of being reasonably alert, only to stop in horror when they realise they're three feet away from an ENORMOUS FOREST, a blood-stained battlefield strewn with corpses, or a towering inferno that fills half the WORLD, none of which they'd noticed hide nor hair of until they were on top of it.

This is almost enough for me to conclude that, in movieland, the tree in the quad only exists when there is a camera there to observe it, were it not for the fact that very occasionally, when the script demands it, that same sitcom cast whose argument couldn't penetrate a single door are able to hear an entire conversation that takes place across a corridor, through two doors, and down a flight of stairs.

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Jun. 12th, 2011 08:35 am
ladyofastolat: (Default)
This last week, I've been doing some idle browsing on and off on the Domesday Reloaded site, looking at the accounts written in 1986 of life in various places that I know. While I have found the content generally rather disappointing, it's launched me into my musing about those aspects of daily life which have changed beyond recognition in those 25 years - and about those which haven't changed much at all. I could write a long rambling post about this, but everyone reading this has lived through those same years, so can come to their own conclusions. I have now moved on to trying to identify the 25 year period of British history in which daily life has changed the most. It is, of course, a totally impossible question to answer. How do you rank a revolution in religious observance in a religious age against a revolution in communication technology? Do you dismiss the ravages of war or civil war as a short-term misery that doesn't lead to long-term change in how people go about their lives? Does every generation tend to over-emphasise the changes they've seen in their own lifetime? History is full of people saying how the world today has changed utterly from the world of their childhood, after all.

So, yes, an impossible question to answer, and probably a foolish one even to ask, but that's what's keeping me entertained at the moment.

That, and sewing Beer Banners, to accompany last year's pies.
ladyofastolat: (Default)
Since I've got a lieu day today, I thought I'd get the weekend shop over and done with, before the Isle of Wight Festival wreaks its usual havoc on the roads in Newport. Unfortunately, the havoc had already been well and truly wreaked, so I spent 45 minutes in a queue that advanced about one car's length per minute. One thing that struck me was how silent the whole thing was, with no-one beeping their horn or shouting, or anything like that. Not that I would have expected such things, of course, since all traffic jams I've been in have been just like this, even those that are obviously someone's fault, but it struck me how different this was from queues in the movies and on TV, where traffic jams always come with a torrent of noise. Have I just been lucky enough to live only in polite places, or is it just the case that an explosion of horns is just standard movie sound guy shorthand for a queue, that doesn't reflect reality?

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