Monday, 23 July 2012

E is no longer just a letter?

Cat reading a computer screen
rEading cat - Photo Source: Flickr by SuziJane
Today at work I saw a title that said e is for escape.  The article itself was talking about ebooks for the elderly.  However, it made me think E scape.  Huh, a technological escape.  Suddenly my mad brain took this idea and ran with it.  The letter e in front of things means some sort of technological version of them.  Ebooks, and emuseums are somehow online and accessible through new technological means.  If the letter e stands for technology then I decided all sorts of other words needed to be rethought.  For instance, a rEunion is where people are rEunited by the internet or facebook after a period of time.  Come to think of it, rEthought itself needs to be rethought.  REthought could mean coming to your conclusions based on things you have read on line.  The word rElate can mean to email a friend a story, or to form a connection or bond with someone online, (e.g. She could rElate to the blogger's love of ice cream).  To rEgift would be some form of sharing online, perhaps on facebook or twitter.  To rElax would be to find peace in online activities.  To dEstroy can be to ruin something online.  To bEsiEge can be to attack something online, probably with nasty comments (it gets two E's because besieging things in real life requires you to surround them and it is a rather intense process involving numbers and deserving of two E's).  But you could probably Evade capture by simply going offline.

On second thought, I don't think Escape is a technological escape.  I think Escape is a technological landscape.  A long row of computers could be considered an Escape though.  Or maybe a picture of the components of a computer.  Escapism could become a new art form.  It would be the next stage beyond post-modern.  It would be so post-modernly modern it could almost be modern.  See (which would become sEE, would be to view images online, and considering the eye-popping implications of two capitalized E's they are no doubt shocking ones).  Anyhow, my sentence got derailed by that tangent.  This is what happens when you start replacing whole words with letters and using letters to mean whole words.  E, is no longer just a letter which can only lead to more confusion in the future.  E is the most used letter in the English language if I am not mistaken.

Think about it.  Words like Elucidate (explaining things online) may be just as good as elucidating face to face.  But consider words like Eat and Elope.  Eating and Eloping are not in any way enhanced by an online experience.  These words are physical and their enjoyment is in the real physical world.  No E anything can rEplace that.  And what about sEcret.  There are no secrets online.  This all brings new meaning to the word Evil.  Is technology of the devil or is it simply malicious?  I'm not sure.  But this just brings me back to my rants about technology ruining the world and so forth.  Before I go on at length about this I will go to bed.

By the way, bEfore, now means procrastinating online when you should be doing other things like chores, or sleeping.  What other E words can you think of?  Ok, I'm really going now, you must be rElieved.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

A Sunday Drive to Hebden Bridge

Today was entirely too lovely to be spent indoors.  So, although I had slept but a scant few hours I knew I needed to go ahead with the plans to hike with friends.  Why, you may ask, had I not slept much?  I had been working incredibly hard on an application for a job.  This is no ordinary job.  This job is so unusual, so specific, and so remarkable that it must have been made for me.  This job is to conserve, repair and generally work with model ships in bottles.  If I were to get it I would work at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, under an organic conservator and help do tiny repairs to ships in bottles.  I cannot think of a more random or delightful job to do.   I love ships in bottles.  I make miniature dollhouse furniture etc. in my spare time.  I studied the history and science and sailing at university and learned how to calculate longitude.  Yeah, that's right.  So, because I cannot think of a more amazing job and because I am randomly the most perfectly suited person for this job I spent hours agonizing over every detail of my resume and cover letter.  Eventually I admitted defeat, sent the application in its imperfect state and went to bed far too late.

Lantern that reads: The Hole in the Wall, Pubmaster

Why did I need to go on this hike today?  Well for one thing, I told them I was going.  I am a person of my word.  If I say something I mean it and if I tell you I will do something I will.  For another thing, the sun was actually shining.  In case you do not know or cannot appreciate the significance of this I will explain.  I live in the UK.  This means that the sun NEVER shines.  Ok, to be fair it shines three days a year.  But this is simply not enough days in the year for me to fulfill my sunlight quota and replenish my vitamin D levels.  I was born on the West coast of the USA and I need my sunlight.  Needless to say I needed to savor the rare and delicious sunshine on this fine day.

The Hole in the Wall: Pubmaster.  I just loved this lantern.

Reluctantly and determinedly I got up way too early and got ready to go.  We were going to Hebden Bridge a cute little town on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales.  The drive was leisurely as we wound our way past idyllic landscapes made even more perfect by the delicious sunlight pouring down on them. Hebden Bridge was delightful.  We had a nice lunch outside in a park.  We strolled along the river.  We admired architectural details, ducks, and dogs.

Hillside cemetery in Hebden Bridge
Tiny hillside cemetery on the way up the hill.

We climbed a small hill to go explore the little town of Heptonstall.  It was adorable as well.  It had its own tiny museum, the place where Sylvia Plath was buried, and a fascinating church ruin.  The old medieval church ruin sits majestically at the top of the hill nestled amongst the gravestones of the long dead.  Just at the other end of the small cemetery in the same churchyard is the newer larger church that is still used.  The ruined medieval church began its life in the 1200's and its stones bore witness to the many changes it saw during its lifetime.  The roofline was clearly altered, raised to match the new nave that was added.  The arches and windows were updated to be a bit more gothic.  Many churches have changes made to them through the centuries, but what made this church unique was the fact that it had two naves side by side.  When the town was prospering and growing in the sixteenth century the church was made larger to accommodate the growth of the town.  The walls and aisles were not just widened, an entire second nave with a new north aisle was added alongside the first.  I have never seen a church with two naves like that before.  It was fascinating to think about and gorgeous to behold.

Medieval church in Hebden Bridge with two naves
The flowers growing among the stones mark the division between the two naves of this church. 

In case this was not evidence enough for you that this was a fascinating church I have another oddity for you.  The south entryway into the church seems to have been roofed with old gravestones.  I'm not sure at what point in history that decision was made, but I suppose they were a handy material as there are lots of them lying about the church yard.

Gravestones being used as roofing tiles
Note the writing on the gravestones now acting as roofing material.

In the newer cemetery we did not find Sylvia Plath's grave.  The weeds were quite troublesome to wade through in much of the cemetery and we eventually gave up our search. I did see a headstone with RIP on it though.  I don't believe I've ever seen one outside of cartoons.

Cross with R.I.P. on it

We walked back down the hill climbing on a few nice boulders on the way down.  We sang some songs about rocks, mostly meant to be about rock and roll, but we giggled anyway.  Then we ended our day back along the river in Hebden Bridge eating ice cream.  It was a lovely way to soak up some sunshine.  If my luck holds I may read in the sunshine tomorrow.

Foxgloves growing behind a gate in Hebden Bridge

Low sunset over Leeds
Sunset over Leeds

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Batty Ideas, Harmonizing Bubbles, and Bonsai Trees

Foggy morning in Leeds
Foggy morning in Leeds
Today at work I had one of those moments where I realized how bizarre my life is.  This time it had to do with two things.  1. My stranger than strange job.  2. My very strange mind.

Let me explain.  My job is to come up with new ideas for ways to talk about and ultimately write about my clients.  There are only so many times you can write about the way that blinds allow you to adjust the light in a room.  So you need to come up with other topics.  I'm really good at it because my thoughts are well, simply random.  When I interviewed for this job they told me they were looking for more creative thinkers.  So I employ my creativity without any filter at my job.  Which means that I write about whatever come to mind.  Sure I've written the articles about decorating with blinds, but I've also argued that wooden blinds are more eco-friendly than curtains.  (There is some truth to it in the way that some materials are produced and acquired more sustainably than others.  Nonetheless, they're about even really.)

Perhaps my crowning work was the piece on creating a cardboard castle for your children to play in.  It comes complete with a working drawbridge I'll have you know.  What does this have to do with wooden blinds you ask?  Ah, well, every castle needs a portcullis and what better to use than wooden blinds?  I kid you not.  I get paid to write these things.  But today while I was writing a slightly more sane article about kitchen safety I had my realization that my job is truly strange.  I was talking about the danger of toasters getting too close to curtains and catching them on fire (you should really use wooden blinds see?) and I happened to write the phrase "errant toaster".  I had been thinking that it had simply wandered out of it's usual place and gotten too close to the curtains.  When I revisited this article I read it with the other connotation of the word errant.  I read the sentence with the mental image of a wayward toaster.

I am sure I do not need to tell you that my mind took this idea and started running with it.  Suddenly I was grinning vacantly at my computer screen as I imagined evil toasters with devil horns and pitch forks running around the kitchen prodding things, setting toast and curtains on fire, and generally creating havoc.  Undoubtedly I was scarred forever by the nightmare scene in The Brave Little Toaster and deep down still cringe at the idea of a toaster in flames.  Except this didn't star a creepy clown and the toaster in my work was evil not cute.  This is like the Brave Little Toaster's evil twin.  With that train of thought derailing my sane article writing I decided to switch to another topic.

Harmonizing Bubbles?
Photo by Stellajo1976, via Flickr
Cleaning.  Surely cleaning was a safe topic.  I'd write about how you can make cleaning more fun.  I wrote an article about turning household chores into the Cleaning Olympics, complete with sibling rivalry turned into athletic competition, timed events, and medal ceremonies.  Then I started working on making cleaning fun for adults and my thoughts got derailed by bubbles.  Yes, bubbles.  Ever since I watched Disney's Cinderella I have wanted bubbles to harmonize with me while I scrub the floors.  Is that really so much to ask?  I'm not asking for singing, talking, loveable mice to help me.  I'm not asking for Fantasia like powers to make the mops do the work for me.  I even sing the song, Sing Sweet Nightingale while I do my work.  All I'm asking is that the bubbles oblige and harmonize along with me while I work.  I started thinking about this and got utterly derailed on that article too.  I decided that the problem was the head scarf.  I haven't been wearing a head scarf while I scrub and I can't tie a perfect bow behind my back.  I mean, how do you do that anyway?  Mine always end up sideways.  Sigh, yet another Disney ideal I'll never reach.

At the end of my shift I realized I had to stay and water the bonsai tree.  Now that I've started watering my colleague's tree and everyone knows that I'm keeping it alive it is sort of my job.  If it dies it will now be my fault not my colleague's.  So I now have bonsai watering duties at work.  It is growing leaves again, but it looks so straggly and sad.  I feel sorry for it.  When I placed it back on the desk I shook my head.  I have the weirdest job in the world, but I guess at least I have the mind to match it.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Is brevity a virtue?

Concise.  Pah.  I couldn't be concise to save my life.  What other people can say in two words I feel requires so many more.  I turn phrases into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, and paragraphs into pages of ramblings, rants and randomness.  I am verbose.  And that perplexes me actually, because I'm quite the opposite in real life.  In person, in real life face-to-face situations I'm quiet.  No, I'm worse than quiet, I'm down right reticent.  Maybe my writing style just makes up for the cautious nature of my quiet personality.  But then is this really such a bad thing?  All through school they try to tell you that you need to be as concise as possible.  But some of the most beautifully written things are those that elaborate, in a great many words I might note, on the beauty of some minute detail that mere mortals have passed over unobserved.  Poets are not exactly concise, yet their writing is arguably far more worthy to read than the most concise documents with legal abruptness to their credit.  So why is concise writing considered such a virtue?

Handwriting in a book
If a picture is worth one thousand words and you aren't using pictures and don't use one thousand words... are you really communicating? Just a thought.

If you are trying to be scientific then yes, brevity is admirable.  You lay out the facts in a logical and clear way that communicates all the important points neatly and concisely.  Well done, you can write a brief report and make charts; but I will argue that this is not what real writing is all about.  Writing is not about merely communicating facts it is about telling stories and communicating feelings.  And stating facts concisely does not make for interesting reading.  Every love story ever told can be condensed into this, two people met each other and fell in love.  That is not interesting.  Yet, we are continually drawn to love stories.  Why is that?  We are drawn to them because we love to watch the way they unfold.  Sure, they all start the same way, with two people who discover that the other person is unlike anyone they've ever met and they can no longer see themselves with anyone else.  But what we really want to know are all the details.  Why it works for them, how they respond to each other and difficult situations, how they work through the struggles that face every couple.  Love brings out the very best and very worst in people and we want to be made to feel for the characters with every delicious word of their story.

Sometimes a sentence just isn't enough to capture the depth of feeling.  Sure you can simply state, I'm angry, or I love you, and leave it at that.  The Emperor of Brevity will no doubt knight you on the spot.  I will argue that this is not enough.  Why you feel that way is just as important as the fact that you do.  The beauty of language is that it allows you to communicate with great variety and depth everything you feel and think.  You have an entire language or two, or three if you're feeling ambitious, to draw words and concepts from to express your thoughts.  You have the ability to use all of the rich and subtle variations of thousands of years of vocabulary to put your feelings into words that express them exactly and beautifully.  Do not cheat them of this richness by believing that brevity is a virtue. 

Scholars may opine that brevity is best.  They may look down in haughty disdain on those of us that cannot reduce our words into scientifically precise sentences.  Yet, I would challenge them to argue that the statement I love you, can in any way compare favorably to an entire love letter.  I would bet they cannot do so convincingly.  No, no, words are a delicious thing and I believe they were meant to be devoured in great quantities.  Let others strive to be concise.  I think I'll keep my words.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Expressions of exhaustion

Today was one of those weirdly long days.  I got up early this morning to sneak off to a book fair at the Medieval Congress.  I met a friend hopped on a bus and got all the way there to discover that the book fair wasn't on today.  Grumble.  So I got rained on and then had to pay two pounds extra to get home without the solace of books.  I did get to see some pretty moss growing on a wall though.  And I got a lovely picture, so it wasn't a total waste of a trip.
Moss on a wall
Moss on a rainy July morning in Leeds
Then it was laundry time before work.  I tiptoed around the freshly mopped floors, did a bit of cleaning of counters and threw in my laundry.  Then I rushed off to work where I had a fashion client again today.  It was a long day of looking up prospective link targets.  So, my colleague and I took turns sighing and using our various expressions for exhaustion.  She would say, "oh honey" with a large sigh, then she'd look at me with exhaustion on her face. Sometimes she would add "I'm just too tired for this", or "I'm not making any progress".  A few minutes later when I hit a wall with my client I'd sigh and use my very American expression "Oh man".  I really don't know why I say oh-man, I just do.  Sometimes when I didn't understand a strange blog I was looking at my inner southern woman would come out and I'd express my disbelief at the world and my job by sighing "Oh, Lordy".  Apparently exhaustion is not expressed the same in the UK as it is in the US.  But then again, maybe that is just our individual ways of expressing it.  Nonetheless we had a few sighs and Oh-honeys and Oh-Lordys over in our corner tonight.
We were both glad to be out of there when our shift ended.  Luckily I made the early bus even though I had to run for it a little bit at the end.  But I was triumphant that I made it.  And really excited that the poor office plant that everyone was neglecting had started to flourish now that I was watering it.  Then on my walk home it was actually sort of pleasant.  It had finally stopped raining and the breeze was nice.  I got a nice picture of the Parkinson building and some church spires on my way home.
Sunset over the roses and Parkinson tower in Leeds
Parkinson building at sunset. July in Leeds.
So it wasn't an altogether unpleasant day even though it was tiring for some reason.  So now that I'm home sighing "Oh Lordy" at my piles of laundry. I think I should go to bed.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Words, confounding words!

Guaranteed Allergy Quality
Guaranteed allergy quality because substandard allergies are unacceptable  - Photo Credit: Flickr by elliottzone
Allergy friendly.  What does that really mean?  Yes, I know that the phrase is meant to be telling you that you are safe it eat it, use it, or what-have-you.  Somehow this is meant to be alerting you that this product is hypoallergenic.  I mean, hypoallergenic makes sense as a word with the prefix hypo meaning under and having a connotation of less in a medicinal context.  It makes sense then for people with allergies to search for products that have less allergens in them and are therefore hypoallergenic.  But allergy friendly?

I don't know about you, but to me, the expression allergy friendly sounds like it is somehow more friendly with the allergy than the person who suffers from allergies.

I love Pollen
I love Pollen! - Photo Credit: Flickr brookenovak
I can just see a saleswoman telling you "Oh yes, this is a very allergy friendly product.  It practically provides a paradise for allergens to multiply in."
"But," asks the allergy friendly customer, "what about the long lasting benefits?"
"Oh yes, of course.  You see our product is very good for feeding allergies.  It boosts the health of your allergies by providing the right environment and nutrients for allergens to prosper in.  But the allergies will run out of nutrients quickly.  You need to use our product frequently for the best results" says the saleswoman.
"I see. And how quickly can I expect this product to take effect and improve the health of my allergies?" asks the curious customer.
"You can usually see the increased strength in the allergies right away.  Sometimes you can feel your eyes start itching and your breathing become laboured and wheezy within seconds of using our product" says the saleswoman.
"Well, that's rather fast-acting.  That's good" says the customer.
"Oh yes. All our products come with an allergy satisfaction guarantee.  If you are not miserable within minutes your allergies can demand a refund" the saleswoman finishes.
"Perfect, I'll take it" the allergy friendly customer decides.
The saleswoman beams.  It is another glorious day to be an allergy.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Freedom without Fireworks

Being an American who lives in the UK there are all sorts of strange and somewhat unexpected cultural divides that I run into on a daily basis.  Sometimes the words I use get blank stares from the people around me.  Often my accent gets made fun of.  But the real problem of living here is that you can't really celebrate the Fourth of July properly.  You can't really run around saying, "I'm free from your tyranny", when you willingly returned.  You end up looking like the naughty dog that got off its leash and ran wild for ten exasperating minutes before returning, grinning foolishly, to your master to receive that withering look.  Of course, this doesn't stop me from running around wearing red, white, and blue and proclaiming my independence in this manner.  It just sort of dampens the camaraderie a bit.  If you can manage to find a few other Americans and all celebrate together all the better.  But we are still lacking one key ingredient.  Fireworks.

I don't know about you, but fireworks are the best part of the Fourth of July.  Don't get me wrong, I love the bbq's, the food, and the summer outdoor parties filled with friends, family, and the best of summer fruits.  But while I can attempt to recreate all of that here I am still missing the fireworks.  Fireworks are amazing, truly.  In my opinion we would all do good to invent more holidays that require fireworks.  There are just not enough times we get to have them.  And who doesn't love them?  I really don't think I've met someone who doesn't like fireworks.  Unless of course, you are counting your canine companions.  I have met a few dogs who quiver in fear at the loud bangs and if asked would probably tell you they hate fireworks.  However, I imagine that most of the people you'd be polling would not be answering from a dog's perspective, so I can safely say that most of them will love fireworks.  I can't imagine meeting a person who doesn't like fireworks.  They must be very odd people, and yes, I do realize I don't have much room to judge on the subject.  Have you ever met someone who doesn't like fireworks?  Think about it, they must be odd and very boring people.

What is not to love?  The deafening booms are regular, not like the somewhat terrifying and random demonstrations of canons in places like Colonial Williamsburg that can catch you off guard and make you jump out of your skin.  They are far enough away, for safety reasons, that they have a dullness to their booming that renders them slightly safe sounding.  Yet, if you are fortunate enough to be watching fireworks in a valley you can sometimes hear the booms echo off of the neighboring hills for great effect.  The colors and shapes, and fun fizzing sounds that fireworks make are eminently lovable.  There are the standard bright colors, the ones that look like smiley faces, and the ones that look like they are chandeliers made of fairy dust straight out of a Disney cartoon.  They are simply magical in a way that is all their own.  There is simply nothing that can compare to fireworks.

Maybe next year I should just plan on going home for the fourth of July.  But until then, Happy Fourth! Happy Independence! And enjoy the fireworks for me.