Happy Ides of March!

Today is the 15th of March, the nearest equivalent in our calendar to the Roman Ides of March, the date on which – as we all know from our Shakespeare – Julius Caesar was assassinated. Everybody knows to beware the Ides of March. It’s even been reported that one of the reasons for not sending Britain’s Article 50 letter to the EU today is to avoid any association with the Ides of March.

The thing is, Shakespeare emphasised the Ides of March as the date Caesar was assassinated deliberately for the sake of contrast, because to the Romans that was a joyous day – it was a day of new year celebrations and religious festivals. It would be like a contemporary book setting an assassination of a president on Christmas or Easter day. Or even some other date that has a generally positive feeling about it – “Beware the Spring Bank Holiday”.

I think we should start a campaign to rehabilitate the Ides of March. I’ve just been out in the garden, where the birds are singing, the sun is shining, the Magnolia and ornamental cherry are beginning to blossom and the leaves are returning to deciduous trees. I think the Romans had it right when they made March the first month of the year. Early spring is when the year feels new, it’s when optimism starts to return after the dark days of winter. We should celebrate it, just as the Romans did.

Happy Ides of March, and a happy new circle of the seasons!

Clickbait

I was idly browsing some clickbait linked to on Facebook by a friend of mine, and came across this one:

ben-carson

It made me stop and think. Because there are two completely different messages here, and yet both are really, really important.

The first is the positive one. Your value is in what you are good at, not what you are bad at. If you compare yourself with other people based on what they are good at, you will always feel second best. If you’re trying to be what other people are, you will never succeed. But if you’re aiming to be what you are, then nobody else can match that. Be Ben Carson the neurosurgeon, not Ben Carson the politician. Be you.

The other point is the negative. Expertise is not fungible. Just because someone is good at one thing does not imply they will be good at another. In particular, the political opinions of pop stars are of no more value that the political opinions of the person who works at the next desk to you. The political opinions of a successful and wealthy businessman are no more likely to be right than the opinions of your drinking partner in the pub. Make your own choices, and don’t get sucked in to the cult of celebrity. Listen to Ben Carson’s thoughts on medicine, but don’t listen to his opinions on politics. Ditto for whoever you consider your heroes in music, sport, business, art, religion, science or whatever. Celebrate people for what they are good at, but don’t make the mistake of believing that they have any greater insight into the things outside their métier than you do.

American Idiots

I was an early adopter of Gmail, so I have a fairly short and simple Gmail address. Unfortunately, that means it’s only a typo away from plenty of other short Gmail addresses, so I get a fair amount of email intended for someone else because of misspellings.

I also get a lot of email intended for someone else because they wrongly believe that they own my email address. I have no idea why they think that, but it seems to happen a lot.

Anyway, one of the emails I got recently intended for someone else was this one:

eticket

That, as you can see, is an American Airlines e-ticket. Obviously, the fact that I got it means that the intended traveller didn’t, which means that unless he sorts it out he won’t be taking his flight.

He must have realised that himself, because about a week later I got the same e-ticket again. I presume he had phoned customer services and complained about not getting it, so they had helpfully re-sent it. Except, of course, they re-sent it to the same, wrong address, so he still didn’t get it.

Anyway, this time I decided that I’d try and be helpful, so I replied to the email and told them:

I have no idea why this has been sent to my email address, as I am not Gary Marks and I did not buy this ticket. Please can you amend your records.

That prompted an auto-response, which is what I’d expect. Unfortunately, what I didn’t expect was that the person dealing with the issue would entirely fail to understand what the problem was. Here’s the eventual response:

response

This, in full, is what it said:

Dear Mr. Goodge:

Thank you for contacting Customer Relations.

Based on the information you have requested, I have determined that our reservation personnel can better address your concerns. They can be reached via 1-800-433-7300 and are available to assist you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If you are calling from outside the United States or Canada, please click on the URL below to determine the reservation center or General Sales Agent nearest you. Please have your flight details readily available to provide the representative.

www.aa.com/i18n/utility/internationalReservationsPhoneContact.jsp

Should you require similar assistance with reservations in the future, we recommend you call the above number for a more expeditious response. We have an around-the-clock dedicated staff of professionals eager to resolve concerns for customers holding open reservations. If you still have questions or concerns after your trip is completed, we’d be happy to hear from you in Customer Relations.

Mr. Goodge, thank you for bringing this to our attention.

Sincerely,

Lourdes Foyt

Customer Relations

American Airlines

This is the wrong response on so many levels that I don’t really know where to start. So I might as well end with this.

Soft soap – a lessen on misreading statistics from the BBC

Decorative_Soaps
If you take the BBC’s website at face value, you might think that hardly anyone – or, at least, a minority – uses soap in solid bars any more. As the article puts it:

How do you like to scrub up? If you prefer liquid soap to the solid stuff, you’re in the ascendancy. According to market research firm Mintel 87% of Britons regularly buy liquid soap, against 71% who buy bars of it.

That’s under a headline of “Five reasons some people prefer bars of soap to liquid soap”. The rest of the article is a rather patronisingly toned set of reasons for still using bars of soap, based on the implicit premise that most people don’t.

Except, of course, that most people do.

Assuming Mintel’s stats are accurate (and there’s no reason to assume otherwise), 71% of people buy solid soap, as opposed to 87% who buy liquid soap. But those figures add up to more than 100%, so they clearly overlap. For most people, buying solid and liquid soap is not a mutually exclusive choice.

We can see that more easily if we reverse the figures. If 87% buy liquid soap, then 13% don’t. And if 71% buy solid soap, then 29% don’t. Add those two together, and we find that 42% of people only ever buy one form of soap, either solid or liquid. Which means that 58% of people buy both. (That’s discounting the possibility that some people may buy no soap at all, but it’s correct if the survey is of soap buyers in particular rather than shoppers in general).

Now, if 58% of people buy both solid and liquid soap, that probably means that they’re using them for different purposes or in different contexts. So, what are those different uses?

Well, my own experience, and something which seems to be borne out by observation of other people’s houses when I happen to find myself in one, is that liquid soap is more convenient for handwashing. A liquid soap dispenser by the kitchen sink, or beside the sink in a bathroom or toilet, is both convenient and non-messy – unlike bar soap, which can get nastily grungy in soap dish by the sink. Liquid soap also makes it easier, when washing your hands, to ensure that you get soap even into the cracks and get your hands nice and clean all over.

For bathing or showering, on the other hand, bar soap works better. As the BBC article says, you can hold it in one hand, which makes it easier to give yourself a good scrub. And all the other reasons in the article apply too, including the fact that bar soap is generally perceived as more luxurious. You can also use bar soap under water, which is pretty much essential in the bath. You can’t do that with liquid soap as it all dissolves away faster than you can apply it to your skin.

I’ve got no stats to support it (other than those from Mintel quoted by the BBC), but I’d hazard a guess that the overwhelming majority of people who take a bath regularly use bar soap. And almost certainly a majority of those who prefer a shower, although in this case there is a significant minority who prefer shower gels (which, quite probably, accounts for the difference between bar soap buyers and liquid soap buyers – the 29% of people who never buy bar soap are very likely to be showerers rather than bathers and prefer gel to solid soap).

Either way, though, the implication in the article’s headline and introductory text, that bar soap users are a dwindling minority, is completely false. Maybe the BBC could do an article on how not to misread statistics?

When did the word “cash” stop meaning cash?

I have long been irritated by the Coinstar scam machines in supermarkets, which proudly proclaim “Coins in. Cash out” on the front. Their website gives the impression that they have even registered the phrase “Coins to Cash” as a trademark, although there’s no trace of that in the IPO’s trademark database.

This despite the fact that what they actually do is the precise opposite. They take cash, in the form of coins, and then give you vouchers that – at least at my local Morrisons – have to be spent there and then in the store as they expire in 24 hours. And they deduct a “handling fee” for taking the cash off you, so you end up with less than you started with.

I’ve often been tempted to print off a new slogan and stick it on the front of the machines:

Cash in. Vouchers worth less than the cash you paid for them out.

That would, at least, be honest. It would also retain the traditional meaning of the word “cash”.

More recently, though, I’ve encountered another abuser of the word “cash”. At least, in this case, the perpetrators aren’t misusing it to deliberately deceive you, unlike Coinstar, but it is still annoying.

This time, it’s one of the car buying websites, WeWantAnyCar.com (not to be confused with the somewhat better known outfit with a very similar name using the word “buy” instead of “want”). WWAC, as I will now call them for reasons of simplicity and laziness, are currently running radio adverts for their service. After extolling the virtues of their car-buying service, they end with the promise that they will “pay cash directly into your bank account”. They make similar promises of cash payment on their website.

Except, of course, that they don’t pay cash. They pay directly into you bank account. That’s what we techies like to call “Electronic Funds Transfer”, or EFT. It’s more commonly known in the finance industry as a BACS payment, or sometimes CHAPS. Or, more recently, Faster Payments, which doesn’t seem to have got abbreviated yet. Either way, it’s very much not the same as the traditional way of paying for a used car, which is to hand over a wad of twenties which the seller then painstakingly counts before giving you the keys.

Now, I’m not so much of a linguistic luddite as to argue that words should never be allowed to change meanings. But this use of “cash” to mean “not cash” does irritate me, not least because in at least one of these cases it’s deliberately being misused in order to mislead. It’s the sort of thing that ought to be covered by the Trade Descriptions Act, but, as far as I can see, actually isn’t. You can’t sell something that is black and call it white, or vice versa, but you can advertise that you pay in cash when, in reality, cash is the one thing you will never pay. That seems wrong to me.

Incidentally, if you do have piles of coins that you need to get rid of, don’t put it into Coinstar machines. If you’ve got really large amounts, take it to the bank, where they will conveniently weigh and sort it for you and then either pay it into your account or give it back to you as notes. Or, if it’s a relatively small amount (up to around twenty quid or so), tip it into the coin hoppers at a supermarket self-service checkout. The machines will take what they need to pay for what you’ve just bought (which could be as little as a bar of chocolate or your lunchtime sandwich), and then give you change.

Even better, the change will be in the smallest possible combination of notes and coins. So if you buy a sandwich worth £1.95 with a pile of coins worth £19.51 in total, then what you will get back is a £10 note, a £5 note, a £2 coin, a 50p coin, a 5p coin and a penny. Which is a lot less cumbersome than what you started with. Try it, it really works.

Don’t spoil my enjoyment

I’ve just finished reading the script from the first episode in the new Doctor Who series. It’s pretty good, actually, apart from a rather large and pointless MacGuffin that initially threatens to derail the plot and a tendency (which, frankly, has been part of the show since the beginning) to rely a bit too much on Deus Ex Machina solutions to tight situations. But the primary plotline is well drawn, and we begin to get an indication of how the new Doctor’s character will develop. The ending is a particularly neat (and intriguing) twist that’s hinted at just enough in the preceding dialogue to make the savvy viewer (or, in my case, reader) grin when it happens.

A screenshot of the first page of the PDF

Apparently, though, letting me read the script is a bad thing. The BBC has issued a statement saying that

We deeply regret this and apologise to all the show’s fans, the BBC and the cast and crew who have worked tirelessly making the series.

While I appreciate the BBC’s concern, I have to say that, at least in my case, it’s entirely misplaced. I really don’t share the fear of spoilers when it comes to drama. And I think that the hysteria over leaks like this one (and the previous times that it’s happened) are driven by a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of both visual drama and the people who consume it.

Let’s look at that BBC apology in a bit more detail. Why are they apologising to fans?

There seems to be an implied belief here that fans of the show a) are incapable of resisting spoilers if they’re available, and b) will have their enjoyment of it damaged by reading them if they do.

The first of those is clearly wrong, at least as far as the vast majority of readers are concerned. Everyone who has ever read a book has all the spoilers they need right in their hands. It only takes a moment to flip to the last chapter to see how it all turns out. Most people don’t do that, though. They don’t have to consciously resist the temptation to skip to the end, they just want to enjoy reading the book all the way through.

The idea that people are incapable of resisting spoilers is deeply insulting to their inteligence. The fact that the Doctor Who scripts have been leaked isn’t going to make anyone read them who doesn’t want to read them.

It’s also not true that knowing how a story unfolds in advance spoils the enjoyment of it. If that were the case, then there would be no point making a movie or TV adaptation of a book, or one based on a well known real life event. But it didn’t hurt the box office takings that everyone knows the Titanic sinks. JK Rowling managed to keep us wondering precisely which side Snape is on throughout the series (at least until the last book, when anyone who wanted to know could just take a peek at the end), but nearly everyone watching the last movie already knew. And even movies and TV series based on original scripts can still be enjoyed the second or third time around, despite having already lost every possible element of surprise.

So there are two big falsehoods here: the idea that the fans are incapable of avoiding spoilers, and that their enjoyment of the programme will be damaged as a result. Neither of these stands up to anything more than cursory consideration.

There’s more in the BBC apology, though. After the fans, it mentions the cast and crew. Here’s a bit more of the statement:

We would like to make a plea to anyone who might have any of this material and spoilers associated with it not to share it with a wider audience so that everyone can enjoy the show as it should be seen on 23 August.

Apart from the reiterated implication that people won’t enjoy the show if they read the scripts in advance, there’s another little bit of weasel wording there in the phrase “as it should be seen”.

Now, I fully accept that it’s up to the show’s makers to decide how it looks when it’s on the screen. That’s what we pay them for; their skill as writers, set-makers, actors, producers and all the other roles that crop up on the end credits. In that sense, I do want to see the show as it should be seen. But it’s a big, and entirely unsupported, leap from there to suggest that “as it should be seen” includes the absence of any knowledge about the content. My reading of the script in advance will not change the show. It will be exactly the same programme for me as it is for everyone else who watches it.

So why shouldn’t I read the script before watching the programme? In what way is this different to reading a Harry Potter book before watching the film of the book? Who, precisely, is being harmed by this?

I’ll just throw in a couple of side comments here. The first is that reading the script is very different to seeing the programme in advance. There are cases where TV programmes and films have leaked to the Internet – not the script, but the video itself – prior to the release date, and it’s fairly easy to see how that could harm the makers. It may not harm them as much as they think (and this is the “sharing isn’t stealing” argument again, but that’s a different issue that I’m not going to go into here), but the potential for at least some quantifiable harm is obvious. In the BBC’s case, they make a lot of money by selling Doctor Who around the world, and if the show was readily available online prior to the transmission date then some broadcasters may be less inclined to pay for it. But the script doesn’t fall into this category.

The other point is that there is a sense in which reading the script in advance is definitely wrong: it involves a clear breach of copyright. But, oddly enough, this isn’t even hinted at in any of the comments either by the BBC as a whole or from Steven Moffat, the writer. Of course, there is the argument that an unpublished script has no commercial value and hence the infringement causes no financial loss. So there would be no point in the BBC trying to sue me, or anyone else with a copy, as it wouldn’t be worth anything in damages (although that argument disregards the possibility that the BBC may want to publish the scripts at some stage in the future, which is by no means implausible). Even so, I do think it’s telling that the BBC doesn’t seem to think that copyright law is a useful angle in this case.

Anyway, back to the question. Why shouldn’t I read the script before I watch the programme? It is’t hurting me to read it. It isn’t hurting anybody else if I read it. It isn’t hurting the BBC if I read it. And the one legal reason that the BBC could utilise to prohibit me reading it is not, in fact, being used.

There are actually two possible answers to this. The first is that this is just another example of corporate arrogance, of the provider forgetting who is the customer and who, ultimately, pays the provider’s salary. After all, if it isn’t doing any real harm, then why get so worked up about the leak of a few scripts? If people gain enjoyment (as I have) from reading them, then why try to stop them? It’s only an issue in the minds of those small-minded enough to make it an issue, and those small minds don’t control my mind.

That’s certainly a plausible hypothesis. It fits in with Steven Moffat’s own comments on previous leaks, where he expresses contempt for people who share them and makes it clear that, as far as he is concerned, a story has no value unless it is secret (so it’s a good job that he works on original drama, then, and not on adaptations). And his belief that “stories depend on shocking people” possibly explains why for me, and, seemingly, quite a lot of people, the revived series went downhill a bit after Moffat took over from Russell T Davies as lead writer. It’s fashionable to blame that on the departure of David Tennant, but it seems to me that the real problem with the Matt Smith era wasn’t Smith, but the material he was given to work with. It will be interesting to see if Peter Capaldi’s Doctor is more three dimensional. And it’s definitely believable that Steven Moffat really is so far up his own posterior that he genuinely feels deeply hurt by the leak of a script.

But still, why does it matter? There is, as the saying goes, no such thing as bad publicity. It has to be said that this story has given the new series plenty of publicity. And it’s not like it’s never happened before, either.

So maybe, just maybe, someone in the BBC’s publicity department, either with or without the approval of the show’s makers (almost certainly without, if Moffat’s comments are to be taken at face value, or even half face value), has orchestrated the leaks deliberately. If so, I have to hand it to them. There’s nothing like a good dose of viral publicity.

Road to nowhere

One of the things that the Town Council are responsible for is coming up with street names for new developments. Normally, the idea is that we come up with some kind of overall theme for a development, and then individual names for all the streets within it.

We do, however, have to stick to some guidelines. One of those, incidentally, is that we can’t use the possessive apostrophe, something which has recently been in the news elsewhere. But another key rule is that we have to use a standard set of suffixes, such as “street”, “road”, etc. The full list of acceptable endings is:

  • Avenue
  • Bank
  • Boulevard
  • Close
  • Coppice
  • Corner
  • Court
  • Crescent
  • Croft
  • Drive
  • End
  • Fields
  • Gardens
  • Grove
  • Hill
  • Lane
  • Lea
  • Lee
  • Meadow
  • Mews
  • Orchard
  • Park
  • Place
  • Piece
  • Road
  • Row
  • Square
  • Street
  • Styles
  • Terrace
  • View
  • Walk
  • Way
  • Wood

We can also use a name that has no suffix at all, provided it starts with “The” (for example, The Beeches).

If we name a street after a person then we should only use the surname (so there might, one day, be a Goodge Street in Evesham, but not a Mark Goodge Street).

Anyway, it occurred to me that, if we were feeling in a mischievous mood, there are all sorts of possibilities for names which meet all the requirements but, nonetheless, may not be quite what was intended. For example:

  • Letsby Avenue
  • Robber Bank
  • Standtoo Close
  • Roundthe Corner
  • Lara Croft (named after the West Indian cricketer, of course)
  • Drinken Drive
  • Bitter End[1]
  • Usedtobe Fields
  • Tinylittle Gardens
  • Overthe Hill
  • Airp Lane
  • Hill Lea
  • Hole Lee
  • Nowhereto Park
  • Codor Place
  • Five Minutes Piece
  • Longandwinding Road
  • Domestic Row
  • Fore Square
  • Oneway Street
  • Different Styles
  • Terrible View
  • Lengthy Walk
  • Wrong Way
  • Good Wood

[1] If you thought I was going to suggest “Bell End” then all I can say is… great minds think alike. But I decided it might offend some people, so I didn’t.

I should point out that I have no intention of actually suggesting any of these as real street names (with possibly one or two exceptions), so the good folk of Evesham can rest easily in that respect. But I’m sure you can come up with some better ones than these…

Remembrance Day

Assembling in the Marketplace
It was a bright, crisp autumn morning as we assembled in the Marketplace for Remembrance Day. The mayor in his robes, the band’s instruments gleaming in the sun, the sea, air and army cadets in their uniforms, the old soldiers from the British Legion, the scouts, the guides, the cubs, the brownies, councillors, distinguished guests and a smattering of onlookers. We processed to the war memorial. In the park, children were playing and dogs were being walked, while the rowing club were going through their exercises on the river. It all seemed strangely incongruous. We waited for the appointed time. It seemed as though were waiting for an age, although in reality it must have only been a few minutes. Then the trumpeter blew the Last Post, and we kept silence. And the park stood still. The dogs, and their owners, stopped walking. The children came down from the playground equipment. The river was untroubled by passing craft. The end of the silence, and wreaths were laid. Each time, the same process. Walk to the memorial, stand briefly to attention, lay the wreath and step back. Uniformed personnel saluted, civilians briefly bowed their heads. Then turn, and walk away. Wreath-laying over, we processed to the church. The band played as we passed through the bell tower. As we left, the park had returned to normal, the sounds of active children competing with the music from the band. It was a pattern that, I’m sure, was repeated at war memorials the length and breadth of the land.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

But I’m equally sure that normality wasn’t suspended this morning for Remembrance Day in Syria, or Iraq, or Afghanistan, or Somalia, or Mali, or Sudan, to name just a few of the places on Wikipedia’s “List of ongoing military conflicts“. For that matter, normality wasn’t suspended for Remembrance Day on the battlegrounds of World War II, or in Korea, Suez, The Falklands, Kuwait, Iraq, Bosnia and Kosovo, to name just a few of the wars and conflicts that British soldiers have fought in since the very first Remembrance Day in November 1919.

Some might argue that this means Remembrance Day means nothing. Have we not yet learned that fighting solves nothing? Why do we keep on sending people to kill and be killed as a means of settling our petty differences? And isn’t all this just a glorification of conflict?

When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say,
For Their Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today

I would argue just the opposite. If we ever become so casual about war that we no longer care to remember those who die in pursuit of it, then we have lost an essential part of our humanity. Far from glorifying war and combat, Remembrance Day shows how far we have come in our desire to end it.

I’ve already mentioned the first Remembrance Day, in 1919. But why was it the first? After all, the First World War wasn’t the first time British troops had died in combat. The entire history of this island is steeped in militarism. There is barely a country in Europe that we haven’t, at some stage, been at war with. We name our railway stations and public squares after famous battles. We conquered half the world with a gun in one hand and a bag of gold in the other. This is a nation built on war. And, let it be said, so is almost very other country. We are most certainly not unique, or even the worst offenders.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

So why are the no memorials to those who died at Waterloo and Trafalgar? Why did it take until 1919 to establish a lasting commemoration of our war dead? Prosaically, one simple explanation may be the sheer size of World War I, and its death toll, compared to other conflicts that were then in recent memory. Because it was bigger, people cared more. But I think there’s more to it than that.

Why did it take until 1883 to abolish slavery throughout the British Empire? Why didn’t we have elected parliaments before 1264? Why did it take so long before that innovation finally resulted in universal suffrage in 1928? There’s no simple, single answer to any of these other than the fact that there has to be a first time for everything. And, whatever his reasons, in 1919 King George V announced that the anniversary of Armistice Day was to be a commemoration of the dead. And so began a journey that, unlike the initiatives of William Wilberforce and Simon de Montfort, is still a very long way from completion.

Dreams of the day when rampant there will rise
The flowers of Truth and Freedom from the blood
Of noble youth who died: when there will bud
The flower of Love from human sacrifice.

Remembrance Day hasn’t ended war. But it does mean we no longer treat war with the same casual disregard that led to the conflict which inspired it. It means that politicians and leaders now have to justify war to the people rather than taking their acceptance of it for granted. It means that we only go to war when we consider it necessary. It means that we consider it necessary a lot less frequently than in times gone by.

The day will come when we look back at George V’s institution of Remembrance Day in the same way that we look at Wilberforce’s campaign against slavery. That day hasn’t come yet. Frankly, I don’t expect it to come in my lifetime. But, in the meantime, every Remembrance Day ceremony is a step closer to a world without war.

And now the Torch and Poppy Red
We wear in honor of our dead.
Fear not that ye have died for naught;
We’ll teach the lesson that ye wrought
In Flanders Fields.

Poetry extracts, in order: For the Fallen by Robert Laurence Binyon, The Kohima Epitaph, In Flanders Fields by John McCrae, Matthew Copse by John Wiliam Streets, We Shall Keep the Faith by Moina Michael.

The London Olympic Games And Paralympic Games Security, Control And Marketing Regulations

Someone asked a question on Usenet:

Supposing the Army wanted to station missiles on my roof to shoot down Olympic miscreants, what powers and legislation would they be relying on to enable them to do this? How might I stop them?

The London Olympic Games And Paralympic Games Security, Control And Marketing Regulations 2009 gives the government the right to station missiles on any property in order to shoot down any skywriting plane which might attempt to display a logo or phrase which contains the words “Olympic”, “London” or “games” anywhere in the UK without permission. It further authorises the police to confiscate and consume any breakfast described as “Olympic”, as well as prohibiting the broadcast or screening of any films or TV programmes featuring Olympic class ships. Aircraft bearing the name “Olympic” will be barred from UK airspace, and google.co.uk (but not google.com or other localised variants) is required to blank out the area of Washington State, USA found at http://g.co/maps/jd5kz.

The legislation also forbids telephones to be answered after exactly five rings – they must either be answered by or after the fourth ring or allowed to ring at least six times. Jellies are not permitted to get set. Websites may not use the colours #FFD700, #C0C0C0 or #CD7F32. Summer in London is also prohibited by law, although the Met Office long range forecast suggests that this, as usual, is likely to prove unnecessary.

Warning: the above may contain traces of irony.

You might also want to take a look at the Olympic Visa Boycott.

Disco 2012

I went shopping today. Decided to hit the sales, and came back with a new suit and a deep fat fryer. Exciting, eh? No? Oh well. I’d taken Ellie with me, mainly because I’d promised her a day out and she’s not old enough yet to realise that when I promise a day out and actually take her shopping, she’s been had. On the way back, I had a CD playing in the car – some compilation CD that I’d bought from the “reduced to clear” rack back in the days when I still went into record shops. One of the songs was Disco 2000 by Pulp.

Well we were born within an hour of each other.
Our mothers said we could be sister and brother.
Your name is Deborah, Deborah.
It never suited you.

“Turn it up, daddy” said Ellie, “I like this song.” At least she has taste. And then, in her precocious five-year old music critic self, added “This song is about a girl called Deborah, isn’t it?”

“Yes”, I nodded. “At least, sort of. It’s more about regret, loss of innocence and the crushing sadness of unrequited love.”

“Don’t be silly, daddy” said Ellie. “It’s just a song about a girl called Deborah”. Life is simple when you’re only five, and so is music. Although her ability to pick up on the lyrics of songs reminds me to purge anything by Eminem from my in-car playlist, and make sure that it is the radio edit of American Idiot.

I said let’s all meet up in the year 2000.
Won’t it be strange when we’re all fully grown.
Be there at 2 o’clock by the fountain down the road.
I never knew that you’d get married.
I would be living down here on my own
On that damp and lonely Thursday years ago.

“Daddy, when is the year 2000?”

“It was before you were born. A long time before you were born, in fact”.

A long time. I meant that for Ellie’s benefit, since in her terms it is a long time. But it got me thinking. 2000 is a long time ago, even by my standards – eleven years is a significant fraction of my lifespan. 1995, when Pulp released the song, is even longer ago. In 1995, I’d only just discovered the Internet, and was still some time from earning a living from it. I still lived in a flat above a shop (echoes there of Common People), and had very little money (ditto). But the song doesn’t just remind me of 2000, or 1995, but when I first started to think the thoughts expressed by Jarvis Cocker. “What will it be like in the year 2000?” “Won’t it be strange when we’re all fully grown?” I can’t put a precise date on it, but my guess is that I was probably around 11 or 12 when I first gave it some serious thought.

Deborah do you recall?
Your house was very small,
with woodchip on the wall.
When I came around to call,
you didn’t notice me at all.

Jarvis Cocker is pretty much the same age as me – we were, so to speak, born within a year of each other – so this verse always makes me smile. I, too, can remember the fashion for woodchip wallpaper when I was a child. When, for that matter, I was wondering what life would be like when we were all fully grown.

I can remember how big a thing the millennium seemed before it happened. Of course, it’s just numbers on a calendar, with no intrinsic meaning – millennium or not, nothing changes on New Year’s Day, although any New year is a good excuse for a hug – but, still, the novelty of the year beginning with a 2 rather than a 1 somehow makes it feel different (which, of course, is why the pedants were always going to lose the argument that the new millennium started in 2001 rather than 2000).

I’ve taken it for granted, of course, that Ellie doesn’t remember the 20th century since she was born several years after it ended (by either the pedantic or popular measurement!). But she doesn’t yet have much of a concept of history at all. Unlike me, and unlike the narrative singer of Disco 2000.

Oh what are you doing Sunday baby,
Would you like to come and meet me maybe?
You can even bring your baby.
What are you doing Sunday baby,
Would you like to come and meet me maybe?
You can even bring your baby.

We don’t get introduced to Deborah’s baby until the last verse of the song, and, assuming that the song is, indeed set in the year 2000 (i.e, five years into the future when it was released) then that makes this baby either one of the first children of the new millennium or the last of the old (yes, I know, OK, I’ve adopted the populist definition here. So sue me). Either way, he or she will grow up with no memory of the 20th century. And so, in real life, will all the other babies born around the turn of the millennium. Some of them will be reaching their teens in 2012.

It doesn’t bother me that Ellie can’t remember the 20th century, because she’s still a small child. But, for some reason, the thought that there are – or soon will be – teenagers who don’t remember it, and never lived in it, does bother me. Because it won’t be long before there are adults who have no connection to the 20th century. And that makes me feel old. Happy New Year, everyone.