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Counters January 26, 2009

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
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The Russian doesn’t realise that the world will end if he turns on the heating at random. I don’t mean because the ice-caps will melt and the oceans will rise and the only habitable place on earth will be a very crowded and inhospitable peak somewhere in the Himalayas. Though perhaps I could factor that worry in too. No, he doesn’t realise that all sorts of chaos will be unleashed on an unsuspecting humanity if he just struts elephantinely up to a radiator and, terrifyingly, turns it on at random.

Whereas I, like any sane person, of course have to have a radiator on a setting. They go from 0 to 5. Obviously, strikingly so, a radiator can only be switched on to a whole number. Or, if I’m feeling very, very devil-may-care, a radiator could just about conceivably be switched on to 2 and a half. 3 and a half. But the Russian will happily – happily, I tell you. He even laughs maniacally after he’s done it and puts on an eye-patch – and nonchalantly turn the knob without even looking and walk away and get on with something else like ironing the bills or filing the tea. Once he is safely out of sight, I will approach the radiator with trepidation, as if approaching a ticking bomb.

2 and a quarter! 4 and a seventh! Not even on a notch. The arrow might not even be aligned to anything at all. Just looking blankly at a bit of white plastic, between black lines crying out to be aligned against to save the world from instant chaos. I take a few deep breaths and gingerly adjust the dial to a world-saving setting. No doubt, on each and every occasion, getting there in the nick of time.

I rush to the bathroom to get a cloth to apply to my forehead. The veins in my temples will be throbbing. I will cry from relief at having saved the world again. Suppress narcissistic thoughts along the lines of, “…and what thanks do I get, eh?” And try to regain my composure. I turn the hot water on but instantly sense that all is not right with the world. Bracing myself for the worst, I turn my head slowly to the right.

“Oh god, no!” the water-heater will be on 3 and a bit. “Jesus H….” but there’s so little time left to save the world that I don’t even get to finish the exclamation. I hurl the dial to 3 or 4, depending on whether I’ve been paid or not, and dread to open the bathroom door. The chances are, after all, that the whole world will have collapsed. Descended to a pile of dusty rubble. The bathroom will stand, the only man-made structure surviving, in recognition of my attempts at good-deedery, on a spindly pinnacle of rock… Yet I must have just got there in the nick of time once again. The bathroom doesn’t open out onto a scene of devastation and lifelessness. The dingy corridor is just where it’s always been.

I dash to find the Russian. This has gone on long enough. I plan to have it out with him.

He is busy filing the tea.

“Darling, you switched a radiator on to 2 and a seventh. And the water-heater was on 3 and twelve seventeenths. How can you be so disrespectful of human life? Don’t you care about humanity’s fate? This is probably why Russia’s history is so troubled. Democracy won’t just flourish with irregular settings left willy-nilly in flats everywhere.”

“ByeeB, I no khev time diskaas zis now. I filink ze tea.” And he cackles a cackly laugh and puts an eye-patch over his second eye.

I repair to my quarters, close the door for the peace and quiet I need to mull over the fact that fate has thrown me together with the world’s most dangerous man, and ponder the future. I begin to give in to self-pity. What bad luck. To be thrown into the maleficent arms of the world’s most recklessly uncaring man. But I glean a sliver of bright light. It may be my bad fortune to have to adjust dials for all eternity, but then, aren’t I fortunate to feel the glow of good-deedery that saving the world so god-damned often brings? And then, if we’re counting our blessings, I have to be grateful that the Russian is the only person on the planet who has the disorder of not turning radiators and water-heaters to numerically succinct settings!

The quandary solved, I switch on the TV to clear my head. To let worries be driven out by images and noises of vapid, empty nothingness. I go to adjust the volume. With only minor dread. I mean, surely he couldn’t have… Surely he wouldn’t be so evil as to… To not have the volume on a setting divisible by 5. I press the volume button. 17!

“Oh, god, no!”

Keep your fingers crossed that I keep making it on time.

iSchool January 16, 2009

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
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The Russian’s got an iPhone. I can’t remember if it was for Christmas or just for occasionless extravagance. Probably the latter, knowing the Russian, who loves nothing more than a bit of occasionless extravagance and only thinks a day has been well spent if cash has been parted with to acquire something needless and luxurious. Or on a night out. Or on flights somewhere. Which perhaps bespeaks a much better attitude to life and money than my own, which consists of never leaving the house and, the second a penny ever arrives, doing something sensible with it, like paying tax, or paying bills, or paying off debts, or going out and blowing it on booze.

Still, the Russian has an iPhone. And I can quite see the point of it now that I’ve worked out how to win the tennis game. And then it has that clever Shazam music-recognising programme which Herr Engelsk alerted me to last summer which I then thought – and might still, at a push – was the best technological invention since the fax. But now we’ve discovered the even funner midomi, which is a programme that lets you sing into the phone and then it tries to tell you what it is you’ve sung. Unfortunately, it almost always tries to tell you you’ve sung something by Avril Lavigne, when I don’t think I’ve ever heard a song by her (except I do know Complicated, having just looked at a list of her songs) (I’ve got a feeling I might have gone head-to-head in karaoke against my niece in that one) (I bet I won) (though not via iPhone), but we have managed to make it recognise us singing something by Abba, Eternal Flame (on the Russian’s recommendation, as he said, belittling his singing abilities, the programme had even recognised his rendition) (though he thought it was originally by Atomic Kitten) and Hava Nagila.

But anyway, apart from improving our tennis and singing skills, the iPhone is even refreshing our education. I think it’s just as well I’m a whoopsy as I’d be much too thick to help my children with their homework but we did have cause to resort to mathematics the other day. Technology can make even the utterly mundane interesting for half a second and the Russian and I whooped with wide-eyed amazement when the device told us that it was 360m to our nearest tram-stop and 460m to our nearest U-Bahnhof whereas, I must admit, trudging those unquantified distances in real life has never aroused my excitement once.

“Hm, so it’s 100m from the tram-stop to the Underground,” I said to the Russian as we were bored of discussing the essence of being yet again.

“Da, I sink so… Oi, nyet, ze distance maast be as ze byurd fly.”

“Oh, well maybe I’d better go and stand at the tram-stop and ask the phone how far it is to the Underground then, otherwise we’ll only have to move on to, ‘Whither the Russian soul?’ or, ‘Something happened on the way to the smetana queue/chip-shop’.”

“No, use myeths,” suggested the Russian, as if I was 14.

Anyway, thinking it was good for my personal redevelopment, I’ve been out to buy a set-square, a protractor, a compass, an exercise book with squares in it, logarithm tables and a slide-rule and got down to business. But to spread the fun, I’d like your help or, rather, I’d like to test your skills too and see whom, based on IQ, to foster and whom to delete from my circle of acquaintance.

“Hmm, but which maths to use? Well, I’ve got two distances and one unknown distance. Two known lines and an unknown line. Ooh, a triangle. Oh bugger. Is this trigonometry? I don’t know my sin from my cotan. Or is that something else? Oh, hang on, it’s a perfectly straight line from here to the tram-stop. And then a 90° turn from there to the Underground. Oh my god. It’s a right-angled triangle!”

Darlings, Pythagoras it is.

Frau Schmidt has a gammy hip. Frau Schmidt has an appointment with a specialist to see about getting a hip replacement. Frau Schmidt needs to get to the U-Bahnhof which she knows is 460m as the crow flies, because every time she needs to get to the station, she waits for an obliging flock – or is it parliament? – of crows to sweep her off her balcony and deposit her there and they announce the distance like a taxi-driver might announce his fare. But today the crows refused to deposit Frau Schmidt at the U-Bahn as they were on the go-slow and said they wouldn’t fly a flap further than the tram-stop. “360m, that’s our limit today, Frau Schmidt,” they squawked. Frau Schmidt says it hurts if she has to walk more than about 200m. Will Frau Schmidt make it to the U-Bahnhof without too much trouble or will it be effing and blinding all the way?

Right, we’ve got the hypotenuse, i.e. the distance from here to the U-Bahnhof. 460m. And we know that from here to the tram-stop is 360m. So, how far is it from the tram-stop to the U-Bahnhof? Please show your workings.

All correct(ish) answers will receive a one-man standing ovation.

Virtue-gap January 3, 2009

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
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Darlings, what’s yours? In DWBs*? A virtue-gap being, of course, the period of clean living it takes you after a period of unclean living to put the wicked memories of debauchery and ribaldry behind you and feel that you wouldn’t look out of place and, indeed, might even cut quite a dash in a village church on a Sunday morning?

Not that, as a wicked old nullifidian – darlings, I all of a sudden got worried by the word atheist and wondered if it made me be a wanker to come out as one. That what’s-his-face Hitchens – not the one in America whom I can’t help having a crush on even though I’m probably meant to disagree with quite a lot of what he says – I might even do, possibly, but he always says it so alluringly – although he looks much worse now that he’s had all those makeovers and his teeth done. No, the sour-puss brother – is right that atheism is a belief-system in itself. I mean, I don’t think it is, but then I want my unbelief to be un- rather than actively non-, I think, and worried that if atheism is active belief in there not being a god, which I’d probably be happy to throw my lot in with, actually, then I’d still rather be labelled, when the machine in the people-labelling factory gets to that stage in its workings, just in case, say, by some, admittedly, extremely queer twist of fate, we had to be labelled according to our beliefs, with a label that meant, ‘doesn’t-much-go-in-for-that-religion-lark,’ which perhaps nullifidian suits better – I should be equating attendance of a service in a village church with the height of virtuousness. And, as tolerant and respectful of others’ belief systems as I am, sometimes, I must say my faith in a certain type of Christian wearing t-shirts with verses from the Bible was cruelly dented when I saw a walking billboard quoting Jeremiah 30:17 – King James Bible version: For I will restore health unto thee, and I will heal thee of thy wounds, saith the LORD; because they called thee an Outcast, saying, This is Zion, whom no man seeketh after – trying to barge into a hot-dog queue.

But I do do that equation a bit. Which is an odd virtue to have at the top of my virtue Christmas tree. That the personified height of virtue should be the type that turns up at a village church religiously – boom, boom – of a Sunday morning. This moral nirvana is located, in my head, in some corner of England I don’t know but can ascribe all the attributes of a virtuous idyll to. Probably in Lincolnshire. Near Spalding somewhere. And the church would be full of kind Lib-Dem-voting types who popped in on their old neighbours and bird-watched and wore greens and browns and whose wickedest ever misdeed was failing to enter a cake in the village fête. The men would all look like this and take The Telegraph – or would Lib-Dem-voters take something else? – and like cricket and obviously prefer rugby to football and drink real ale – but not to excess, although perhaps they’d allow themselves one half-squiffy evening three times a year – and be active in local politics and drop in on new residents of the village to make them feel welcome – probably taking along the cake they’d forgotten to enter in the village fête and a bottle of surprisingly good white wine that they’d bought when staying at their house in Brittany – and speak less-than-execrable French and be thinking of learning Spanish or Italian and think Britons’ lack of knowledge of foreign languages was worthy of despair and that knowing a few words of the local language can really open up the culture and the locals react so differently (as they are packing their goods into the removal van from the house you’ve just bought off them) and know how to use a gun, though would approve of Britain’s gun laws and would drive within the speed limit but cycle where possible and support local businesses and certainly never inhale and be an accomplished, considerate lover. (Too depressed to describe his wife now. Lucky bitch.)

But a half-logical moral idyll to create because it’s as far-removed a life from my own as I can imagine within the same cultural boundaries. And I can’t think what the perfect moral man from my other two worlds – Russia and Germany – would quite be like. Except that the Russian moral paragon would ruin things, for me, culturally, by lecturing folk on how this was moral perfection and everyone else should live like this too and the German would be proud of his beer consumption and probably like to do things in the bedroom that my Lib-Dem-voter would have to wrinkle his brow at.

Because the time of year has made me feel particularly unvirtuous. Not that I feel guilt – oh gosh. I did one of those word-cloud things for this site and, apart from me, me, me, narcissistic drivel, public masturbation, me, me, me again, the word ‘guilt’ came up. Bugger – at calendric hedonism, really, but I do see the picture of the boys from Swing Out Sister, which I carry around with me as something to aspire to at all times, slowly erasing itself like Marty’s family photo in Back to the Future. Day upon day of wanton drinking. And not doing anything virtuous, i.e. work, which would nudge my moral compass closer to Lincolnshire before you knew it.

But that’s the festivities done. No time for any more fun till the vernal equinox at the very earliest. The weekend can just jolly well skip straight past my hard-nosed threshold and hand over my fun-ration to the wonderful couple next door. (Yes, they did complain on Christmas Day, since you ask.) It’s working my fingers to the bone from now till 2017.

Though I’m not sure if it’s the current alignment of the planets or the global economic crisis meaning we have to make cuts where we can, but my 2009 virtue-gap from marauding, self-destructive, bawdy, loud-mouthed, braying arse-hole to sedate, glasses-wearing (and my vision is perfect), Schubert-listening, moralising, tutting tosser with the demeanour and sartorial acumen of a Latin teacher is now down to a single DWB*.

I shouldn’t be at all surprised if I make the 2010 New Year’s honours list.

*days-without-booze