You’re as cold as ice

Astronomers have discovered the biggest known structure in the universe, and it turns out it’s a hole.

This is surprising information to many of us who thought that a hole usually constituted a gap, with a distinct lack of any structure. But there you go.

In any case, it’s an incredibly big hole (as you might expect of the biggest known structure in the universe), even bigger than the hole in the wall between our lounge room and bedroom in our previous house, and you could put your fist right through that one.

This newly discovered hole is 1.8 billion light years across, and is “distinguished by its unusual emptiness.”

Our reporter is on the scene now, talking with the hole.

R: Wow, man, you really are LARGE. I’d even say gargantuan. I can’t see the other side of you from here. If I tried to, I’d die about a gazillion years before I got there. If you don’t mind me asking, how did you get to be so big? 

H: Hey, dude, that is a bit hurtful. You know, I don’t get to talk to many people, and I start thinking it’s because I’m lonely that I feel this unusual emptiness. Then someone like you comes along with your judgemental comments and I remember why I prefer to be alone in the first place. It’s a real bummer always being talked about in terms of your size. Lay off. I have plenty of other good qualities.

The Hole, yesterday afternoon.

The Hole, yesterday afternoon.

Pic: The Guardian/ESA and the Planck Collaboration

The existence of the large hole was discovered as a result of a targeted astronomical survey, which confirmed that around 10,000 galaxies were missing from the part of the sky where the hole is.

(I’m not a scientist, but I think it’s stating the obvious when I say that if 10,000 galaxies are missing from exactly the spot where there is a gaping big hole, clearly they’ve all fallen out and you’ve lost them all, and it’s your own fault for not sewing up the hole before it got any bigger and you lost all your galaxies.)

Questionnaires sent out to the millions of galaxies in that neighborhood had a surprisingly good response rate, but it became noticeable that none of the 10,000 galaxies within a particular radius had sent back a response. Extra time was allowed, in case they had used Australia Post.

Finally, however, the deadline was reached, and still not a single response was received from the area in question. When surveys from the other galaxies were collated and the data was analysed, scientists’ fears were confirmed: a recurring response from dwellers on nearby galaxies was, “where have the 10,000 galaxies just past the next solar system disappeared to? We just had them over for a barbecue a fortnight ago – now all I can see is a dark patch of nothing where they lived.”

Now as it happens, the scientists who sent out the survey had been hoping to come across a large void, because previous research had revealed that the sky was unusually cool in that region.

The so-called Cold Spot was discovered in the last decade. It was named when an astronaut on a passing space shuttle felt a chill run down her spine, and remarked “Wow, that is a really cold spot!” Ever since then, scientists working on modelling of the expansion of the universe have shaken their fists at that pesky Cold Spot, because it disproves current theories about how the universe has evolved following the Big Bang. The Big Bang was named when….oh, never mind.

The Cold Spot has created controversy within scientific circles. As Prof ____, a cosmologist at the University of Durham, said: “The Cold Spot raised a lot of eyebrows.”

(A note to our readers: in some parts of society, if you are upset you throw a hissy fit, trashing your dressing room and refuse to go on stage even though your promoter is begging you to. In the scientific world, they raise their eyebrows.)

Of course, the main reason so many eyebrows were being raised was because scientists had previously determined that the coldest spot in the universe was in the refrigerator section at an IGA supermarket. This has been taught in the science curriculum at secondary schools for years, which is why everyone knows to take a coat when shopping at IGA. So it was a shock to the scientific community, the wider public, and the skinnier members of the public, to discover that there was a larger, colder, (and unusually empty) cold spot somewhere else in the universe.

H: Hey, I have to admit I kinda like being called The Cold Spot. It’s better than being referred to as a Hole. From now on I’ll be know as The Cold Spot, or Mr Cold Spot.

R: OK….um…look, I’m sorry Mr Cold Spot, man. Forget I said anything about your size. What I’m more interested in is how it feels to be the coldest spot in the universe. I mean, I’ve shopped at IGA in winter time, and brrrr, that place is cold. While we’re on that topic…..I’m kinda curious as to where those other 10,000 galaxies have gone. It’s kinda fishy that they’ve all gone and disappeared, and meanwhile, you are so large…..did you eat them to keep warm?

CS: Wow, that’s really heavy, dude. You are really starting to freak me out. First I’m unusually empty, then I’m incredibly large, then I’m unusually cool, now I’m almost a cannibal. I had no idea this was what people were saying about me. If it’s cold around here, it’s probably because the Sun is a vindictive bugger and we had an argument a while back – I guess it’s payback. And to answer your other question, no, I don’t know where the galaxies have gone, and no, I didn’t eat them!  As if. I’m on the paleolithic diet.

The supervoid is not an actual vacuum, but has about 20% less stuff in it than any typical region of the universe. “Supervoids are not entirely empty, they’re under-dense,” said Prof ____, a co-author at the Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest.

CS: Is he talking about me – a Supervoid?  That sounds pretty cool, like I’m the void that saves all the other voids in the universe. From now on I think Ill be known as Supervoid.

R: Ok…..Mr….er…Supervoid…..so anyway, Hoover asked me to see if you’d be interested in some kind of advertising deal. Look, of course they know you’re not an actual vacuum because obvs you’re way too large to fit inside anyone’s broom cupboard….but they think there’s potential for some kinda cool advertising gimmick given how you suck energy out of light as it passes through you. 

S: What? Yeah, whatever…..just wait a minute…….I’m still trying to process that last information. So I’m not completely empty after all? That seems like a good thing, right? But then that dude said that I’m under-dense. What does that even mean? I must be too dense to know. Wow… I don’t know if it’s because I’m under-dense, but I can’t tell if you people are trying to bring me down, or if you’re on my side. 

Poor Mr Cold Spot. He now knows how it feels to be a victim of the paparazzi. In a matter of days, (*Earth time) he has been described in the media as everything from “The greatest supervoid ever discovered,” and “the Everest of voids” to “an empty spherical blob.” It seems that even an incredibly big hole struggles to maintain its credibility in the fickle world of scientific journalism.

We hope that this article will help to provide some balance, by giving a voice to the supervoids.

*

*We contacted IGA Supermarkets for comment. A spokesperson said that they had never set out deliberately to be the coldest spot in the universe but they just couldn’t get the hang of how to work the store thermostat. He said it was a relief to hear that a colder spot had been discovered and he wished The Cold Spot all the best.

*

This post was inspired by the words and phrases used in an article in the Guardian about the discovery of the incredibly large hole. You may be excused for thinking that the post was just me taking a flight of fantasy – ok it is, but it’s peppered with entire words/phrases/descriptions lifted from the Guardian article, possibly some that you will think I invented.

Acid Tracks

I’m currently reading an American classic.

Well, that’s according to the quote from Newsweek prominently displayed on the cover. (“An American classic – Newsweek.” )

If I asked you to name an American Classic, however, my guess is that this book is probably not the first one you’d think of, dear Reader, and probably not the second or third, either. Its not The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Moby Dick or  To Kill A Mockingbird.

For those who only like fiction, this book may not be of interest, but if you love reading first person accounts of the era in America when the Beat generation of the 1950s morphed into the hippy generation of the 60s, and/or if you are interested in the particular style of non-fiction writing that developed in the 60s and 70s, known then as New Journalism, then this book would be as good a place as any to start your studies. It’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, by Tom Wolfe.

KoolAid_1stUSEd_front

In any discussion of the “new”, subjective, or first-person-perspective style of journalism pioneered by writers in the 60s and 70s, three American writers are usually mentioned. These are Joan Didion, Tom Wolfe and Truman Capote. I’ve read a few of Didion’s books but, to my shame, thus far I have not read any  Truman Capote or Tom Wolfe, and keep on meaning to do so. A few weeks ago I heard someone on the radio talking about In Cold Blood, by Capote, a book that I know quite well is sitting somewhere on my bookshelves, and I thought, as I’ve done before, I really should read that.

Coincidentally, I was between books at the time, so I attempted to look for it, but while clambering around amongst the 2000 – 4000 books in our house (exact numbers are a hotly contested topic), I accidentally stumbled across The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

Given the difficulty of locating a specific book amongst the many books in our abode, there is usually a partially-planned, yet partially-random element to any book selection I make, so when I found The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, I hesitated for only about 0.6 of a second to wonder if I should just read it instead. Since my main purpose was to read one of the renowned New Journalism authors that I had not yet read, that’s how long it took to decide that it would serve the purpose beautifully. I could always look for In Cold Blood again next time, and probably end up reading Breakfast At Tiffany’s instead.

Now, this post is not a review of The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. I’m only up to page 92 of 366, so to attempt a review at this point would be ridiculously premature.For those who are totally unfamiliar with the book, as I was until a week ago – suffice to say it is a non-fiction account of the real-life shenanigans of author Ken Kesey and a group of friends/followers from San Fransisco, who live communally, experiment with psychedelic drugs, and drive across the U.S. together in an old school bus.

I began this post with the intention of taking off on a tangent from an idea casually suggested by one of the “characters” in the book. Now, however, through writing those introductory paragraphs above, I have become a victim of the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test myself. That is, it has distracted me completely. My other ideas have slipped away, and all I can focus on is the name of the book.

So let’s just all pause here, dear Readers, to unanimously agree on the spot that this book title goes straight into the Top Ten Book Titles ever.* Or maybe it should be in the Top Ten Book Titles That Capture The Place And Time In Which The Book Is Set. (Although whoever thought up that particular competition title clearly has no ability to judge a good title – that is terrible!)

That title is appalling! Off with her head.

That title is appalling! Off with her head.

The title of the book, on the other hand, is unquestionably groovy. It captures the time – the beginning of the 1960s, and the place – America, or even more specifically, San Fransicso in the 1960s. All through those few key words, Electric, Kool-Aid and Acid, words that were either new, or had obtained new meanings, or conveyed a new significance, in the early 60s.

Electricity was certainly not new in the 1960s, but it was still a relatively new thing that most homes in America (as in Australia, where I am writing from) had access to electricity. Even newer were the electric appliances flooding the  market, designed to make household chores quicker and easier, and give people access to communication and entertainment right in their own living rooms. Telephones, televisions and radios became more affordable – now every home could aspire to own one! Women’s magazines were full of breathlessly excited advertisements for these electrical products and gadgets, and the humble appliances themselves seemed to signify a new, modern lifestyle. It’s no coincidence that”electric” came to also be used as an adjective meaning “thrilling.”

Apparently Kool-Aid was not new in the 1960s either (I had to google to find out what exactly Kool-Aid is, since it has not broken into the market in Australia) but I somehow suspect that once again, the massive increase in exposure to advertising on TV, radio and magazines in the 1960s meant that Kool-Aid probably also seemed to symbolise newness and modernity. And speaking as someone who doesn’t live in America, it certainly seems to signify America. I’ve only just discovered via the interwebs that Kool-Aid is a powder that is added to water to make a flavoured drink.  It sounds like a dehydrated version of a drink in Australia that we call cordial – a concentrated flavoured liquid that is added to water to get, I’m guessing, a very similar result: flavoured water.

The fact that we don’t have Kool-Aid here in the land of Oz highlights how the title of the book captures the time and location it is set in – if it had been written in Australia, or Britain, The Electric Cordial Acid Test just would not have quite the same ring to it, would it?

As for acid, any year 8 student could tell you that acid, a generic term for a chemical compound, was not a new word or concept in the early 60s. That same year 8 student could probably also fill you in on the development of the psychedelic drug LSD, which was very new in the 1960s, and was referred to by users as acid. It was so new, in fact, that Wolfe records how Kesey, the main subject in the book, was given LSD under observation in hospital, for purposes of scientific research – to find out what the side effects might be.

So I’m 92 pages in and so far I’ve learned that acid and Kool-aid mix together very nicely, particularly when kept in the refrigerator of a large converted school bus as it drives across the USA. And that the Acid Test in the title refers to the practice of using acid together as a group to try and achieve a communal trip. And I don’t mean the kind of trip that the bus alone could provide.

Stay tuned for further updates as they come to hand.

*

*Another great book title is Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – or is this just a sign that my inner hippy gets really excited at titles with the word electric in them? I was never a big fan of the Electric Light Orchestra so I like to think it’s not that.

A Kiss With a Fist

Contrary to what some of my posts may make you think, I don’t live in a bubble.

Although most of the posts on this blog may paint a picture of me as an air-headed creature who floats around thinking about nothing more compelling than Air Supply, moustaches, and how much I hate milk, long-time readers would be aware that there is a thinking, feeling person behind the posts, who gets stressed out at work, suffers from insomnia at regular intervals, and experienced grief at the loss of her brother a few years ago, a topic that filled up this blog for some months. Sometimes, that person feels angry and depressed when reading or watching media coverage of certain local social and political issues, and occasionally she will exercise her perogative to vent her thoughts and feelings on those issues on this here blog.

So I’ll let you decide whether you care to read further, because this particular post is not a fun post. This weekend I feel as if something has to be said, by anyone who has the ability to draw attention to this issue, on any public platform, about a crisis in Australia at the moment. It’s a crisis in violence against women.

The reason I’m motivated to write about this topic is because of a family in country New South Wales who should have been celebrating their daughter’s wedding yesterday. Instead they held a memorial picnic commemorating her life and mourning her death one week prior.

The young woman in question went into her workplace on Easter Sunday, to finalise handover notes in preparation for taking leave for her honeymoon. A normal-enough activity that any of us might do. She was never seen again. Since then a male person, known to her through her work, has been arrested and charged with her murder.

There is a lot of media coverage of this case at the moment and, just as when I was moved to write about another horrible case of violence against a woman that caught the public’s attention in Melbourne and beyond 2 years ago, I’m not interested in trying to capitalise on all the attention currently focussed on this case, so I won’t name this latest victim or say too much about her case here. If you want to find more information online I’m sure it won’t be hard.

Since the tragic death of Jill Meagher, the woman I did not name when writing that other post 2 years ago, there has been increased media attention, and, I think, increased realisation by the general public in Australia, myself included, of the unacceptable level of injuries and death of women from violence in this country. (It’s perhaps important to note that in both of the cases that have motivated me to write a post, the woman was killed by someone other than a partner or former partner. These are in fact the more unusual cases – a higher proportion of deaths by violence are at the hands of a partner or ex-partner.)

A few years ago, a feminist group in Australia, Destroy The Joint* began to address the silence around violence against women as an issue, by keeping an annual count of women killed by violence. When they started this count, I think DTJ may have been responding to the fact that a widely-discussed topic in the Australian media at that time was the issue of random drunken violence against young men – specifically, a spate of tragic, senseless deaths caused by drunken “king-hits” at parties, hotels or nightclubs. A report in 2013 stated that 90 young men had died in the past 13 years from “one-punch” hits fuelled by alcohol. There was talk of toughening up the laws around hotel closing times and introducing tougher penalties to those supplying alcohol, and some changes to those laws have been passed since then.

Without lessening the tragedy of those lives senselessly lost, I think DTJ wanted to address the imbalance in the lack of attention given to a similar issue. Women were being killed by violent attacks but there was no count being reported, no overarching “issue” of violence against women being discussed in the media. So they started the grim task of keeping an annual count of women killed by violence. Their count so far is 31 women killed by violence in Australia in 2015 thus far. As we enter week 15, that makes an average of over 2 women per week, or potentially 104 by the end of the year if the rate does not decline. I have no intention of belittling the aforementioned issue of deaths by king-hits, but have included that article to illustrate that if 90 deaths over 13 years constitutes an issue that requires changes to legislation, then violence against women is an epidemic.

As someone noted in the past week on social media, when a woman is killed by her violent partner, a common, and misinformed response is, “well why didn’t she leave him?” When a woman is killed walking home alone from the pub at night a common question is “why was she out walking alone at 3am – particularly after she’d been drinking?” Even recently, when a young Melbourne girl was randomly stabbed to death while walking in a park near her home at 7pm, while it was still light, the response from the Victorian Police and others was that women should not walk in parks alone.

Well, if we follow the line of thought that says that in order to be safe, women must narrow down what they do, what does this latest incident tell us? That women should not go into their workplace on the weekend unaccompanied? Or basically, that women are not safe anywhere they go, unless they have a chaperone? That being a woman is not safe. That women should live in a state of fear when they are out in public, and also, in way too many cases, in their own homes.

I’m motivated to write about this today, through empathy for the shock and grief felt by the family of this latest victim, and her grieving fiance, and her whole small-town community. I’m also motivated because I am a woman myself, and mother of a daughter. I am angry that so many of these incidents occur that it causes me to worry, particularly about my daughter, who has a whole life ahead of her. If my own life is anything to go by, it seems likely that hers will involve walking in a park on her own, walking up a street late at night in the dark on more than one occasion, probably after having a few drinks, and even, going into her workplace on the weekend when no-one else is in, to finish up some work.

According to Vic Health, Australia has reached a point where the largest single contributor to the ill-health and death of women between the age of 15 – 44 is violence.

People have different ideas about the way to tackle this problem. I think that it goes back to deeply-rooted sexism and misogynistic attitudes – which can be held by women as well as by men. I don’t think there is any quick fix to that – I think it would take generations to change sexist and misogynistic attitudes, the same as it would to change racist attitudes, because we learn these things most profoundly at home, from parents and other elders. Kids learn most profoundly by example, and that’s where little, insidious, allegedly “harmless” sexist jokes and misogynistic attitudes will undermine any attempts to “teach” the “right” attitudes. I think more support services are needed for families having difficulties, and desperately needed for men who are separated/divorced and feeling as though they have no rights. Otherwise lots of young boys will continue to observe angry, bitter, disempowered fathers, and learn from them how to think about, and treat, women.

In  the past few weeks, we’ve seen the beginnings of some action around this problem. One State government has announced a Royal Commission into Domestic Violence and another has introduced a Minister for Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault. It’s too late for all the women who’ve already died but I hope this is the beginning of some significant changes.

When my brother died (not violently) I recall thinking to myself how horrible it was, to feel so shocked, grief-stricken and numb. It occurred to me to wonder then, how much more could a loved-one bear? It struck me that some people have to deal with a loved one dying suddenly, but also violently. And for some, there is more to deal with than merely violence – how do families of women who are sexually assaulted and killed, or murdered by a partner, deal with the knowledge that in their last moments, their loved-one was being brutalised and terrorised? I thought to myself, back then, that there must be someone dealing with this knowledge for the first time, somewhere, every day. I had a brief insight, at that time when I was in shock and grieving myself, that the world must be overflowing with people who will be forever damaged by the violent death of someone they loved. And I wondered how on earth they go on.

So I guess this post is my little attempt to help to raise awareness – as there is nothing else I can dedicate to the woman who died in NSW last week.

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Destroy The Joint: formed some time in 2012, in response to a growing weariness with the sexist attitudes that were coming to the forefront in Australia back when Julia Gillard was our first female Prime Minister. The name of the group was supplied by an obnoxious shock-jock radio personality who publicly (and rather hysterically) stated, in relation to the Prime Minister and other females in leadership roles in Australia at that time – that women were “destroying the joint!”

For non-native speakers of Oztraylian, a “joint” is, in this context, a “place” – ie, Australia. In other words, women in leadership roles were destroying Australia.

 

Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough

I’m going to have to update my CV, specifically where it lists my hobbies.

I’ve realised lately that a hobby of mine seems to be discovering an old song, or album, years or sometimes decades after it was released, or sometimes years after I actually first bought the album, and then becoming rather obsessed with it. Obsession lasts to the point where it’s a fine line between pleasure and pain: I catch the song, or a song from the album playing in my head while I’m at work, for example, and feel sick to death of it, and yet as soon as I get the opportunity, I’m listening to the album one more time.

At the moment, that album is Hail To The Thief, by Radiohead.

Now of course, it’s cool to discover albums by revered musicians, decades after they were released, and I’ve done a bit of that, although not as much as some people do. I admit that my music collection is dominated mostly by music from the 1980s and onwards.

There’s a great tradition of bands who honor musical heroes by covering their songs, and when I was in my twenties and seeing live bands multiple times a week, I was inspired by a number of local bands to discover some legendary musicians.  Thanks to My Friend The Chocolate Cake and their beautiful covers of songs by John Cale and instrumental pieces by The Penguin Cafe Orchestra, I’m familiar with the work of those artists. Kim Salmon’s cover of Suzanne, (a compulsory inclusion in any of his solo sets at that time), and the Black Eyed Susans’ cover of Memories similarly compelled me to seek out the music that Leonard Cohen was releasing in the 60s and 70s. Elvis Costello’s lovely cover of Days, included in the soundtrack to the 1991 Wim Wenders film, Until The End Of The World, inspired me to pick up an album by The Kinks. (Interestingly though, Jane’s Addiction’s cover of Sympathy For The Devil, which I love, didn’t increase my almost complete lack of interest in the Rolling Stones.)

It’s kind of the opposite of cool, though, to get into an album about 3, 4, 5 or 10 years after it was released. After all, cool, as we know, means, fashionable, hip – that you lead the pack in your thoughts, tastes, ideas and influences.

Getting into an album about 5 years after its released suggests the opposite. The only conclusion that can be drawn is that you waited until you were convinced by everyone around you that the album was good before you dared to form an opinion yourself, and even then you waited another 4.5 years before taking that final, decisive step and buying/downloading/illegally burning it.

When it comes to Radiohead I admit quite freely that I missed the boat. I bought a second-hand copy of OK Computer in about 2000, approx 3 years after it was released and was a commerical and critical success worldwide. It was not their first album, either, but according to Wikipedia,

OK Computer is often acclaimed as one of the landmark records of the 1990s[1] and one of the best albums of all time.[2][3

I guess that seemed a good enough recommendation to me. Seriously, the only excuse I can think of for why they escaped my attention until 3 years after the release of an album that was a landmark of the 1990s, is that maybe the album was too commerically successful to get airplay on the independent radio station I listened to (when I wasn’t listening to bands I already knew). But I could be totally making that up. I liked OK Computer a lot, but not enough, apparently, to rush out and purchase any more Radiohead albums straight away.

Some time later – I’m talking years, let’s say about 5 years after its release – I picked up a copy of Kid A. This was probably about 5 years after its release. I also now have Pablo Honey and Hail To The Thief, and no idea when I got them. Most of these albums were picked up at second hand stores, so it seems I’ve never actually felt compelled to run out specifically to purchase a Radiohead album.

It seems that me and Radiohead have a very casual relationship, where I just pick up their albums if/when I see them going second hand for $5 at the local charity store, and they choose to take no notice of me at all. And I’m ok with that.

So Hail To The Thief has been in my CD collection for I-seriously-don’t-know how long – maybe 6 months, maybe 6 years. Maybe more. (it was released in 2003). What we can deduce, however, is that I have barely, if ever, listened to it. Until now.

And what has changed now? I hear you ask. Good question, dear reader. Well, in a related incident, about 4 years ago one of my brothers gave me a book about Radiohead, called Radiohead – Hysterical and Useless, by Martin Clarke.

Radiohead bookAs is obviously my usual pattern, I put the book in my shelves, where it sat with approximately 2000* other books  I am slowly working my way through at the average rate of about 1 book per month. (At that rate I estimate that in just 150 more years I will have read them all) (that figure is adjusted to allow for the fact that I’ve read a few of them already, and assumes that we never buy another book for the rest of our lives).

Recently I had a sudden hankering to read that book, and located it amongst the piles. (of books). I read about the formation of the band, and the release of their early albums, which the author takes the time to describe track by track. Of course reading descriptions of each track made me want to listen to the songs being described. I searched unsuccessfully for Pablo Honey around the house – I couldn’t find the CD (perhaps it has disappeared amongst all the books) and it seemed that I had neglected to copy it onto a computer or device, so that attempt to synch my music listening with my reading was a failure, but in the course of that search I discovered an album I’d forgotten about – Hail To The Thief! What do you know?  I popped it on to accompany my reading about the band, (after all, I’d get up to the release of that one sooner or later), and the next thing I knew, I was addicted.

Pic: Wikipedia

Pic: Wikipedia

So now my problem is trying to stop listening to that album. I’ve finished the book (in fact I’ve read a whole other book since then) but I can’t stop listening to the album. I catch myself out at work, with a track from the album playing in my head and when I do, I feel tired of hearing it, but as soon as I have my iphone nearby I go straight to it for another listen.

And all I’ve told you about within this rapidly escalating word count is the facts as they occurred. I haven’t even delved into what it is about the music, and the lyrics, on these albums that I find becomes quite compelling after a few listens. It’s the combination of melancholy, sometimes quite heart-breaking melodies, with scratchy, industrial sounding noise, beats, and lyrics that seem to be a mixture of nonsense and dark hints at bleak, futuristic worlds – perhaps after apocalypse, or nuclear war, or when we are taken over by computers.

What’s not to like?

As I round this off, I’ve noted a weird connection. This obsession has happened before with songs that I’ve had to listen to over and over again, and specific songs that I recall this happening on are This Mess We’re In, by PJ Harvey, and….How To Disappear Completely, by Radiohead.

In case you missed the connection, Thom Yorke (lead singer, and song writer for Radiohead) duets on This Mess We’re In with PJ Harvey.

In short – please help, I seem to have a propensity to become addicted to Thom Yorke’s songs.

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 * regarding the number of books in our house, I was going to estimate 800 but when I asked my partner, who buys a lot of our books, and seems to always know where they all are, he thought about it for a while and said “probably about 4000.” So I went with 2000. We live in a small house!

(Update): The working title of this post was Don’t Stop till You Get Enough, which seemed to vaguely suit the topic. Of course, in my rush to finish this and publish it, I hit “publish” before recalling that I meant to search for some lyrics from a Radiohead song that somehow related, however loosely, to the premise of this post. So now, although the juxtaposition of a Michael Jackson song in the title of a post about Radiohead seems like a terrible travesty, I’m just going to leave it. Please direct any complaints to It Keeps Me Wondering Laboratories, in your capital city.

I feel stupid and contagious

This is a community announcement.

From now on, lethargy will be officially recognised as a symptom of colds/flu/these-annoying-low-grade-viruses that seem to hang around for weeks, popping  up once every few days just when you think you’re fine, and making you feel as if your limbs are made of stone and you desperately need a lie-down, even though you just got up.

In fact, lethargy is already a recognised symptom of the flu. I didn’t look that up before I started writing this post, but on doing a quick search, I see there are whole webpages devoted to lethargy, and the first one lists 45 different conditions that lethargy could be a symptom of. (Fortunately I can detect no signs of septicemia.)

This doesn’t defeat my point, which was not about what the medical  journals say. What I’m advocating for here is that there must be widespread recognition of this hideous symptom throughout the community, so that when you lug your suddenly leaden, lethargic body out of bed, and present yourself in the kitchen with no symptoms that are visible to anyone else, saying simply that you don’t feel well, you should not be met with raised eyebrows, and the insinuation that you look fine and perhaps you’re being a little bit pathetic.

(No-one has actually said that to me, but I suffer from a related complaint inherited from my Irish Catholic father, called Irish Catholic Guilt. This manifests itself whenever I take a sick day from work, so unless I’m actually unconscious, I worry that I may be exaggerating to myself how bad I feel, and that perhaps I could have hauled myself into work.)

Once it is commonly accepted that lethargy is not only a symptom of these pesky viruses, but that sometimes it is the only symptom to manifest itself on a given day, your announcement that you feel tired and need to go back to bed will be greeted with appropriately sympathetic noises, suggestions that you take the day off, and offers to make cups of  hot lemon tea and bring them to your sickbed, from family members, co-workers, and even strangers on the street (but only if your kitchen windows face onto the street and you speak really loudly.)

I’ve had one of these low-grade virus-thingys for a few weeks now, according to my own diagnosis. It first manifested as a sore throat and slight fever on a Tuesday about 2 weeks ago, that caused me to take a very rare day off work. The next day I felt much better and went back to work. It then popped up again that weekend, in the form of that insidious beast, the totally-draining-lack-of-energy. Since then, I’ve felt mostly fine, until today, when I woke up again with a slight temperature, a headache, and my body once again feeling like a limp washcloth, occasionally forced into action by an enormous sneeze.

As a side note, on the weekend I mentioned, I was in-between jobs. I finished up at my job on the Friday, and started at a new workplace on the Monday, so there may have been additional reasons for feeling a physical and mental lack of energy. I was sad to finish up that job, despite it being my own choice to resign for personal reasons, and I definitely woke up on the Saturday morning with a sense of emptiness, because that little era of my life was over. Perhaps the plummet in my energy levels was because I needed to draw in all my energy over the weekend, to deal with that change.

Whatever the case, on that weekend, even thinking was too much effort. Doing was beyond consideration.  It took all the self-talk I could muster just to sit down and shave my legs. On the Sunday afternoon I got as far as to dress and go out to the back yard.

As this sudden ebb in energy has been coming and going every now and then over the past few weeks, accompanied sometimes by a very mild headache and a not-quite-sore throat, I assume a virus was at least partially to blame that weekend.

After all, just because you leave a workplace you like, and along with it, leave a whole bunch of stimulating, energetic, open-minded people you warmed to the instant you started there, thus leaving behind many positive relationships with colleagues that were too short-lived, or too rooted in work, or that would simply be too awkward, to ever continue outside of the workplace – surely that couldn’t cause a physiological reaction where your body needs to shut down for two whole days to regroup?

Lethargy: a lack of energy and enthusiasm.

synonyms: sluggishness, inertia, torpor, lifelessness, dullness, listlesness, ennui, weariness. 

I wonder if it’s possible that sometimes, as with grieving, the outer symptom – whether it’s lethargy, weariness, ennui or dullness, might be the combined need from body and mind, to close off any unnecessary stimuli, while processing difficult changes.

Then again, of course, sometimes lethargy is simply just a symptom of the flu.

 

You say tomay-to, I say tom-ahto, let’s call the whole thing off

Here in the land of Oz-stray-lia, we take great pride in drawing out our vowels, particularly that long aaaaayyy in Oz-traaaaaaayyyy-lia, as much as possible. It’s what makes us Oz-traaaay-lian. Well, that and our universal love of beaches and sport and draping ourselves in an Aussie Flag and a pair of thongs* before we go up to the shop to buy milk.

Note, however, that even though we Aussies all love sport so much, we don’t commonly refer to sports. As much as we adore it, one sport seems to be enough for us. Now, I’m not saying we never put an s on the end of the word, but over here, it’s stinkin’ hot, mate, so if you can save a little bit of energy by cutting a word short, even by one letter, you do.

Or perhaps it’s that, in our Australian minds at least, if not in the dictionary, sport is satisfactory as both the singular and plural noun. After all, we don’t add an “s” to other plural nouns and refer to sheeps, deers or pantss, believe it or not, even if we are uncouth and run around draped in a flag.

Here at It Keeps Me Wondering Laboratories (TM), unfortunately we don’t have a grammar expert on staff. Regrettably, the nearest we have to a grammar expert is someone who got an A in Year 12 English and has a dictionary on her phone. To discover, therefore, whether the word sport is a singular or plural noun, the team here at IKMWL had to embark on some rigorous online research. However, after googling at least 2 different online dictionaries, our research budget for this project ran out, so we are unable to answer that question. I’m sure some of you will be able to, however, and perhaps you will be generous enough to let us know what the definitive answer is. (Please address all correspondence to It Keeps Me Wondering Laboratories, in your capital city. No stamp required, as long as you post it before 6pm on the second Monday of the month.)

I have no doubt that someone with superior knowledge of grammar could explain this (and use better grammar in that previous phrase), but the IKMW research team hypothesised that sport is a lot like fish: you can have one fish, you can have 2 fish (even a red fish or a blue fish), and you can also have a whole pond full of fish – making fish both a singular and plural noun – yet I don’t think it’s incorrect to refer to fishes. Whoever wrote that story in the Bible about the loaves and fishes certainly thought so anyway, and I can see why. If it had been called The Loaves and The Fish, the dramatic point of the story may have been missed.

One fish. (Blue fish.)

One fish. (Blue fish.)

Pic: Dr Seuss Wiki

I frequently find myself reading American authors, or perusing the headings of news reports syndicated from America, where sport is used as though the word is singular, and requires an “s” to become plural.

Thus, in Australia we would say “Well, that was the news for today. Now, to sport” “I used to play a lot of sport” “She does a lot of sport at school” “What sport do you play?” In America, I gather the equivalent sentences would be “….Now, to sports”, “I used to play a lot of sports” “She does a lot of sports at school,” “What sports do you play?”

The funny thing is that when it comes to maths, the discrepancy is the other way around. Because in Australia we generally say maths, rather than math, which Americans say. 

Of course, in this case, both of us are abbreviating the word mathematics. Our research team here at IKMW Labs also spent some time looking up the definition of mathematics to determine whether it should be classed as a singular or plural noun. Is it a singular area of study, or a plural collective of infinitely recurring little numbers and plus and minus signs that all band together to stand up for their rights?

Our research team found that mathematics is “the abstract science of number, quantity, and space, either as abstract concepts (pure mathematics ), or as applied to other disciplines such as physics and engineering (applied mathematics ),”  a definition which did not directly answer our question. They pondered this definition for some time over an extended tea break, and the majority of the research team were of the opinion that this makes mathematics a plural noun, on the basis that the study of concepts incorporating the idea of infinity surely has to be a plural noun when there is an infinite amount of stuff hidden inside it. (This train of thought led me to wonder whether infinity is a singular or plural noun). (At this point I’m starting to question why we embarked upon this particular line of research. I will be checking back on the minutes from that meeting to see just whose idea this was.)

If you follow the logic that I used regarding sport, that would mean that math should be sufficient as a plural noun. It shouldn’t require the addition of an “s.” So why do Aussies keep the “s”? Could it be because if you take the “s” off the end of the mathematics, the word becomes an adjective, mathematic, eg, this is a rather difficult mathematic equation

Self explanatory really.  There are 2 fish.

Self explanatory really.

Pic: Dr Seuss Wiki

I don’t know the answer to this puzzle, and I regret to report to all our shareholders that funding for this research project has now come to an end. The all-expenses paid trip to LA and Disneyland taken by the team here at IKMW Labs was a lot of fun, and was crucial to our research, as it allowed us to confirm that Americans do, indeed, say “sports” and “math” even in real life and not just on TV. However that part of the research used up most of our funds so we have not been able to come up with any conclusion at this stage, as to why Australians add an “s” to “math.”

As a side note to this project, while writing up our findings, I’ve discovered that, probably in any country in the world, writing the word sport more than a few times can cause the writer to start wondering if she is using the correct word, or whether she has misspelled it. After staring too long at the word sport, it looks quite ridiculous, a sort of hybrid between short and spurt, words surely never heard out on the playing field without signifying a failure of some sort or other.

And by the way, I’m Australian, so yes,  I say Tom-AH-dow.

And pot-AAAAAY-dow.

*

 

* in American, thongs (pronounced “thongs”) are flip-flops. (pronounced “flip-flops”).

 

 

Who Are You This Time?

Brains are funny things.

One morning recently, as I went about my usual preparations for work, I was, as is not surprising, thinking about work. To be specific, I was thinking about a “difficult” client at work. Through a process of association, my thoughts wandered on, and I found myself thinking about my previous job, and a regular client I’d dealt with in that role, a few times each year – each “time” comprising of contact over a period of a few months while I organised her event.

I had about 3-4 lengthy “transactions” with this client each year, over about 5 years. Each  “transaction” involved negotiating about dates for hiring a venue for a week, negotiating over the charges for hire and staffing, chasing up deposit payments, organising the staffing and ticketing services, and reconciling the client’s financial account with my employer when their season was over. In short, we had a lot of contact. I recall some days telling my colleagues that I’d already had 10 emails from her, and that was probably before lunch time.

In my first few encounters with this client, I was much newer to my role and therefore far less experienced in these kinds of negotiations overall. She came across as being unorganised, rushed, and a bit pushy, wanting the hugest event possible, for the smallest amount of money. She also liked to hold out on putting down her deposit, and would come up with excuse after excuse as to why it wasn’t paid yet, until the time came where, with the blessing of my Director, I cancelled her entire hire at extremely short notice.

In another scenario, doing this to a company planning a week-long event, only a few weeks out, would have been highly stressful but by this point I’d learned to speak politely but forcefully to this client. I would lay out terms really clearly from the start, continue to repeat those terms, remind her pedantically that I’d told her extra costs would apply if she changed her schedule, or that I’d already given her a deadline for payment, and therefore be really clear about who was responsible for the action that we had to take. I learned to judge just how much to concede to her and how to do it in such a way that she was very aware of where we stood. I was always polite, respected her right to negotiate, and apologised on any occasion where someone else in my organisation made errors (which sometimes happened. I may not be perfect but I can promise you, the errors were never mine in regards to this client).

By the time I left that job, I had probably dealt with this particular woman over 3 – 4 major hires per year, over about 5 years. We are talking about many phone calls, thousands of emails, and (a crucial point as you will soon discover), seeing one another in person at least once for each of those hires, so about 3-4 times per year.

I imagine by the time we’d dealt with one another for 5 years, we each thought of the other person with a sense of resignation. She needed our venue and we needed her hire, so we had to make the best of it.

That’s what I was musing about as I gargled the other morning. Suddenly, I realised that this stream of thought was accompanied by a sort of background screen-saver I hadn’t been taking any notice of – a picture of this client in my head. The funny thing, and the reason that it suddenly struck me, was that the mental picture of her in my head was not really her! It was the image I had formed of her years ago, prior to ever meeting her in person.

Every now and then, I’m caught out like this, only realising when the real person steps in front of me, that I’ve built up a picture in my mind of someone I’ve been dealing with by phone and/or email. Usually it’s wildly wrong. I’m guessing that everyone does this, but I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s just me. I do it unconsciously, and often I don’t realise until they arrive and stand in front of me, 9 times out of 10 looking nothing at all like the person I’d imagined. It’s fascinating to wonder what factors my imagination grabs hold of when creating its own little image of the person in question. I think the name is very significant, but other factors, including accent and even profession, are also in the mix.

Take this client, for example – the one I’d met at least 5 times. She had an American accent, a very American first name (let’s call her Cindy), and a greek surname, (let’s pretend it was Onassis). From my very first dealings with Cindy Onassis, she’d come across as unorganised and with unrealistic expectations about what she could do on a tight budget, and therefore likely to create a lot of extra work.

Without realising it, I created a picture of her in my mind. By the time I first met her, I’d – partly unconsciously – determined that the person I was dealing with was a woman in her mid-to-late 50s, probably overweight, with a permanently harassed air. She’d have shoulder-length hair which was naturally grey, but dyed a coppery-red, tied hurriedly back in an unkept, messy pony tail. She would always look slightly flushed, and slightly out of breath, and untidy strands of dry, frizzy hair would always be falling out of her ponytail, suggesting that she was always rushing to meet a deadline and didn’t have time to worry about her appearance. If pressed for more detail, I could have added that she would almost certainly wear a white polo-necked t-shirt teamed with some navy tailored pants, although when it came to her shoes, I drew a blank.

So it came as a shock when I first met her in person, to see how far removed from the physical image in my head she was. For a start, she appeared to be of Philippino background, and consequently her very dark hair was not frizzy and dry, but sleek and shiny. She wore it in a nondescript, longish bob, sometimes tied back. She was shorter than me, meaning that she officially qualified as “small” – and was not overweight. She was probably about 40 years old at most. I cannot specifically recall what she wore on any of the occasions that we met, but I am going to say it was something practical, probably jeans, sneakers and a jumper or denim jacket (my memory, or my imagination – I’m now unsure which – wants to shout “double denim!”).

If anyone had been able to read my mind on our first meeting,  they would have heard me say, “Um…hello, who the hell are you, and where is Cindy Onassis, she’s supposed to be meeting me here?”

Basically, I discovered today that, some 6 or so years after first meeting someone, my brain is capable of “remembering” her as the imaginary version I’d created before meeting her, instead of the real version I met at least 5-6 times.

No-one would be surprised to hear that our imagination colors our memories. Here’s a very common example. Currently, I’ve misplaced, or lost, my work keys. I discovered this when I arrived at work on Tuesday morning. Immediately, I replayed in my mind, the scene of myself leaving work on Monday night. There I go, walking out the door, putting my work keys into my bag. But the reality is that they are not in my bag or anywhere in my car, so reason tells me that I have question that memory. Is that memory of me walking out the doors at work with keys in my hand, actually me pulling my house keys out of my bag? Or, has my imagination kicked in and allowed me to remember walking out the door with my keys when in fact I left them on my desk?*

I’m sure that our memory sometimes recalls things that were only ever imagined, mistaking something that took place only in the imagination – like my imaginary image of that client – for a memory of a real event. For example, although I can still remember seeing it, it’s possible that there was not really a dark, menacing knight in shining armour standing outside my parents’ bedroom door in the middle of the night, back in the first house I lived in until I was four.

Um…hello…who the hell are you? I’m here to find my mum and dad, let me through!

 

 

*Update: the keys were found tonight, inside a box of muesli bars in the kitchen cupboard. Before you diagnose early dementia on my part, there is a perfectly logical explanation – the open box of muesli bars was in my bag, and the keys must have fallen into it while I was driving home from work. If you don’t believe me, you’re probably not the only one.

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