An Ideal Dinner Party

Before my friends and family protest – I’m only imagining one. I don’t cook, I loathe cooking almost as much as I loathe having other people in my little sanctuary. So please view this in the spirit in which it is intended, as an entertaining thought experiment and not much more.

But – if I were to have a dinner party, who would I invite? Apparently, there are rules to these things; firstly, you must have equal numbers of men and women; secondly, all the invitees are to be fictional characters*; and thirdly, it is assumed that you’ve got an unlimited budget in terms of food, drink and catering generally. I don’t believe that a detailed menu is required, so I’m not providing one. They’ll get what they’re given and like it, as my gran used to say! So, here’s my list of dinner guests:-

1 – Miss Havisham, if she can be crowbarred away from her rotting wedding breakfast and enticed into polite company. She’s allowed to keep the wedding dress, mind.

2 – Jay Gatsby, because at least he knows how to throw a party. And besides, he’d probably know where to get some more booze if we run out.

3 – Morticia Addams, because it wouldn’t be a very good dinner party without her. She’s elegant, witty, intelligent and disarmingly funny.

4 – Gomez Addams, for the same reason I would invite his wife. Although in his case, he would probably be armed and funny.

5 – Brienne of Tarth (Game of Thrones) because she’s a wonderful character and I think a blooming good meal with great company would do her the world of good. And she can practice her swordplay with Gomez.

6 – Wolverine, because he’d bring his own cutlery and keep things from getting too boisterous.

7 – Alice, because I want to know if her wonderland is real. And besides, someone has to pair up with Gatsby…

8 – Count Dracula, assuming he actually eats and promises to leave the guests alone. In return, I promise not to use him as a target for archery practice.

And there you have it. Mind you, ask me again tomorrow and I’ll give you a completely different list…

* An alternative version has real people who are deceased. Nobody living is ever allowed.

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A SHORT BREAK FOR THE HOLIDAYS

Nothing serious, I promise you, but as the Festive Season is just around the corner, I’m going to have a short break from the blog to do stuff with the family but shall be back again in a few days.

However you celebrate it, be it Christmas, Yule, Hanukah, Kwanzaa or under the duvet wishing it was happening to someone else, stay safe and be happy and I wish you every success and happiness in 2018.

See you soon.

Goya’s Gothic Masterpiece

Goya painting titled “Time” or in Spanish Las viejas.

Deep down, I know I really shouldn’t like this painting half as much as I do. It’s really very wicked, blackly funny and very clever; it’s also slightly monstrous, which I think is why I like it. Of course, Time is nowhere near as bleak and gruesome as his famous painting of Cronos Eating his Children, but I think in its own way, it deserves to be centre stage a little more.

On the surface, Time is a portrait of a society lady who is incredibly elderly. She is accompanied by her maid, and there is a dark figure in the back, whom we will explore later. The lady is exceptionally well dressed, draped in white silks and lace and presumably her best diamonds. Behind her fan, you can tell that the maid is sniggering despite her skull like features. Yes, the lady who may once have been beautiful has decided that she will be beautiful again, by wearing finery that is outdated and probably unfashionable. The maid may have gone along with it as an opportunity to laugh at her betters – and it’s a salutary lesson for those of us who may occasionally risk harking back to our younger days and getting the punk/goth/rockabilly outfits out. What suited us when we were 17 may not necessary suit us when we’re 50.

Now, the character at the back – most art historians state that this is a personification of Time, which is very hard to disagree with (because of the title of the work) but because there is a very clear message about the effects of the passage of time. Alongside this analysis is also that this could be a personification of Death – he awaits us all and it is only the passage of time that separates us.

If your only taste of Goya has been his Black Paintings (which aren’t for everyone, even though I think they’re rather wonderful) this is a great example of his wicked sense of humour.

Why Did The Earth Stand Still?

I caught a rerun of the original (and still the best) version of The Day the Earth Stood Still, a 1950s black and white science fiction classic where the special effects are basic and things don’t have to be blown up to make a very good film. I suppose the thing that bugs me most about this version is the overt Christianity – there are many references suggesting that Klaatu is a Christ-figure, which jars with me – and that there is no explanation for the title. Why did the Earth stand still? In surprise at the arrival of beings from another world – or is it a description of the result of Klaatu’s “experiment”?

About half way through the film, Klaatu agrees with Professor Barnhardt that he would get the world’s attention in such a way that nobody could either fail to take notice or get hurt. He does this by shutting down all electrics and mechanics – interestingly, early cars and motorcycles don’t move, even though they are much more mechanical than they are today – except for planes in flight and power to hospitals. This EMP lasts for precisely half an hour, during which Klaatu explains to Helen, a fellow tenant at the boarding house he is staying in, who he is and why he is on Earth. Although he can interfere with man’s impact on the Earth, he can’t affect it’s movement in the universe. So the Earth, strictly speaking, still moves.

I’ve not see the remake, starring Keanu Reeves as Klaatu, but I expect it is glitzier and with better special effects. I’m told it’s not as good as the original, and that significant changes were made to the screenplay, giving it a more topical appeal. Hopefully they will also have lost the religious elements as well. I’m not sure a society as advanced as Klaatu’s would still believe in myths and legends.

Many science fiction fans have spent ages trying to decipher the key phrase “Klaatu barada nikto”, which Helen has to say to Gort when Klaatu is shot by the National Guard. The best suggestion is that it is a deactivation code, preventing Gort from going on a killing spree. Yet so far as I can tell, nobody has considered the meaning behind the title. Why is it called “The Day the Earth Stood Still” when it clearly didn’t? Perhaps we’ll never know.

Some Books I Just Can’t Stand…

In spite of His Lordship’s more fervent assertions to the contrary, I have not actually read every book in the English language. I’ve read a lot, I grant you. Some books I didn’t enjoy when I was younger, but re-reading them as an adult was much more pleasurable. Moby Dick is a classic example of this kind of thing. I hated it when I was 13 and never got further than the first few chapters, but reading it a few years ago and I found a great deal of interest in Melville’s style, and surprised myself by realising how dark it was.

That said, there are a few books that I really just never took to, so they were discarded and have lain ignored ever since. I’ve tried approaching them years later, but a glance at the cover told me that it was simply never going to happen. Some of the titles may surprise you but if I’m going to be honest about this, if I ever find these under the tree at Christmas, I may well never speak to you again.

Wind in the Willows – I’m told that anyone who has actually read these tales of Toad, Badger, Ratty and Mole at the right age simply love them. There’s no middle ground and they are invariably discussed in tones of hushed reverence. Well, clearly I was never at the right age because I hated them and never want to read them ever again.

Winnie the Pooh – My sister is a huge Pooh fan, but it just leaves me cold. If I’m honest, I don’t think I’m particularly good with anthropomorphic animals. Although Eeyore might be my spirit animal.

Just William – Never read the books, watched the 1970s TV series which put me off for life. Dennis the Menace was more my thing.

A Tale of Two Cities – I’ve tried, really I have, because I love Dickens, but by the end of the first chapter I was giggling hysterically, which I don’t think was meant to happen. I’m told it’s wonderfully sad at the end, but I couldn’t stop laughing long enough to get there.

Anything published by Mills & Boon – Please, I have standards.

I’m fairly sure there are loads more, but these are fairly representative. If I think of any more, I’ll let you know.

Dissecting Conspiracy Theories

I’ve been reading about conspiracy theories lately – well, it made a change from the end of the world – and one of the books I’ve picked up does a pretty good job of dissecting most of the popular/well known/most widespread ones by resorting to Occam’s razor. If you’re not familiar with Occam’s razor – and unless you’re a philosophy student, why should you be? – this essentially boils down to “the simplest solution is almost certainly the right one”. I have to say that a lot of the time, this method is really very effective but does take a lot of the fun out of things.

To select three examples which David Aaronovitch – for it is his book I’m reading – uses, let’s use the deaths of Princess Diana, Marilyn Monroe and John F Kennedy and, using Stef’s Hatchet rather than Occam’s razor, let’s see where we end up.

It’s all rather prosaic, actually. Princess Diana died in an avoidable accident (somebody really should have put their foot down and said that the driver was too drunk to be behind the wheel) and Monroe was an accidental overdose given that she had taken sleeping pills for a very long time and was reportedly rather depressed when she died. JFK is the one that I had most fun with. I’m still not sure that the angles work out for a lone gunman, but I’m going to stick my neck out here and come up with a really neat solution that entertained me for all of ten minutes.

Lee Harvey Oswald had already attempted to kill a public figure in April 1963, but was unsuccessful. He had the means, motives and resources to kill Kennedy. Opportunity favoured Oswald when the route of the motorcade was changed to go past the Book Depository, where Oswald worked – so he managed to get in, secrete himself on the sixth floor and wait. However, down in the crowd, somewhere near a grassy knoll, is terminally ill Jack Ruby, who decided that he was going to go out in style and take a president with him. Three shots are fired and it’s unclear who fires the fatal shot. It’s not until Oswald is arrested that Ruby realises he may have failed; he’s the one who shot the President, not this upstart. So he goes and kills Oswald in revenge for stealing his bit of limelight.

How neat was that? It’s plausible too, if only there were evidence to support it. Oh well, never mind – lone gunman it is then.

The thing is, people create conspiracy theories for two main reasons; (1) they don’t trust what they are being told by the government or the media, and (2) they want to believe in something. Any theory, therefore, is better than no theory. I think this tells us an awful lot about the relationship between government, media and populace and I’m surprised it hasn’t been explored more.

When Technology Makes Me Redundant

There’s a scene in the recent Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie where Mr Bucket (Charlie’s dad) is made redundant from his job at the toothpaste factory because the position has been taken over by a robot. I’m fairly sure that a number of car manufacturers underwent a similar process when they mechanised aspects of vehicle production. And it’s almost certain that the number of secretaries will decrease as people become increasingly techno-savvy and start producing their own letters and documents. I expect that by the time technology gets rid of my job, I’ll be ready to retire anyway.

I know I’m something of a Luddite sometimes, but I’m not against technology as a rule. Technology has given us agriculture, food, clothing, books, housing and public health. Some technology is beneficial – BUT not all of it is and sometimes the after-effects of a technological innovation may not be immediately apparent or simply not something previously considered. The example that is usually given is Airbnb; seen as a way of helping people pay their mortgages by renting out rooms on a night-by-night basis, it has pushed up housing costs in some cities reliant on tourist income. Uber has had a devastating impact on the incomes of licensed taxi drivers, many of whom undergo rigorous testing to start their income. Amazon may be wonderfully convenient, but some of their working practices leave a lot to be desired and the “high street” has felt its impact considerably. Progress doesn’t always lead to utopia, despite what the CEOs tell us.

Perhaps we need to start seeing past the brands and look at what the companies actually do. There is still a lot of discontent about the number of major global companies who – quite legally – avoid paying corporation tax, even though they make billions of dollars in profit every year; and some of these are “hip young start-ups” like Uber and Airbnb. What impacts will their technologies have on people who don’t necessarily use them – and is that impact necessarily a good thing? The last thing I want is to end up in a mud hut sending smoke signals, but I do think we ought to question the brands a little more – and if we don’t agree with what they do, we need to go somewhere else, preferably before they put us all out of a job.

The Great Avocado Crime Wave

I shouldn’t laugh – this really is quite serious – but there is something really funny about avocados being at the centre of global organised crime. It feels a little like a detective story written by Salvador Dali.

The root cause of it, unsurprisingly, is climate change. Extreme weather in South America has had a significant effect on the harvest and the fruit has been priced out of the reach of many local consumers. A secondary cause, especially in Australia and New Zealand, is that demand is far outstripping supply, to the point where any avocados are being harvested from orchards in the hope of making a quick buck. Apparently, Down Under they even trade through social media.

Despite how bonkers it sounds – and I still think it’s the silliest thing I’ve heard in ages – it’s incredibly serious and I think ought to force us all to look at how we view food. I ate my first avocado at the age of 30; it’s not something that I grew up with. Vegetables were the basics; peas, potatoes, carrots, sprouts, cabbage, parsnips or swede (or beetroot with a salad). Fruit was even more basic – pears, apples, plums, oranges, bananas for a treat. Food fads were extremely rare and superfoods were unknown. What we did have was food grown locally, bought locally and tasting delicious.

If we promoted local produce, grown according to our local climate, I do think we would all be better off for it, both in terms of health and in not allowing crime to pay – which is what it’s all about really, isn’t it?

Being Batty

I think most readers will be familiar with the expression “he’s got bats in his belfry” to suggest that someone may not be entirely sane. Indeed, I’ve referred to myself as a batty old dear (or deranged old bat, or variations thereof) in the past. What I want to know is – when did a lovely little flying rodent come to have anything to do with a person’s sanity? Bats aren’t particularly known for their odd behaviour. It’s a conundrum.

I think the saying has a bit more to do with the commotion of bats taking flight from a tower (or belfry, which is the church bell tower) and it has somehow come to be linked with disordered thinking. Even Buddhists and Taoists have a similar idea, which they call “monkey mind” or “butterfly mind” – when the mind flits from idea to thought to idea to thought without really pausing at anything; one cannot concentrate because one is constantly being distracted by new ideas and thoughts.

Bats themselves are not unintelligent; they are one of the few land creatures which use sonar to find food on the wing (i.e. when flying), and roost in packs in dark recesses – trees, caves and roof spaces are common places to find bat colonies. If you do find one, it is against the law to disturb it. Most bats are endangered and any steps that can be taken to promote their conservation are encouraged.

I do think it’s a very strange juxtaposition; bats and madness don’t really go together in any way that I can see. Not that it matters. I’m quite pleased to be batty.

Goths and Disability

I’ve said before and I will say again (and will keep saying until the message gets through) that Goth is a broad church of all shapes, sizes, colours and creeds – and if it needs saying, abilities. There is no reason why people who are blind, deaf, have a disability or a chronic condition shouldn’t consider themselves Goth. It’s not a fashion statement, after all (and I think I’ve mentioned that a few times as well).

Speaking entirely personally, I’m deaf on one side after extensive ear surgeries and I think I have previously mentioned that I wear glasses. I’ve never felt excluded or unwelcome in the Goth community – quite the contrary. Obviously there are practical considerations to bear in mind, but I think they would apply regardless – if you use a wheelchair and have arranged a meet up, to make sure that the venue is accessible, that kind of thing. Actually, if you are a Goth wheelchair user, I’d love to see if you’ve vamped up your transport in any way!

The point I’m trying to make is that there’s no reason to feel excluded. Why should there be? The whole point about Goth is revelling in the fact that we are not the same as everyone else, and having a disability – or difference of ability, or however you want to phrase it – makes no difference in that regard. If you are blind, deaf, a wheelchair user, have a learning difficulty or a chronic illness of any kind – go for it. Just go for it and have a great time.