The Centre Cannot Hold

I was about 6 or 7 the first time my mother was rushed to hospital suffering from a nervous breakdown, so I don’t remember anything about it.

Her condition was referred to as a nervous breakdown for the convenience of everyone else. I was never one to question adults, and, at that age I was as likely question my father, or the other adults that promptly began to arrive at our house bearing casseroles, on the diagnosis, as I was likely to question them about the existence of God.

I thought that whatever adults told me was true, and as for what they didn’t tell me, I never thought of that at all.

When I was about 9 or 10, Mum was rushed to hospital again, with another nervous breakdown. For the adults around me, it must have been easy to believe in the convenience of a nervous breakdown, after all, by the time of the second one she had five children, with the nervous breakdowns occurring in both cases shortly after the births of numbers 4 and 5. She never had been a confident, capable person so it was easy to see a cause and effect.

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Of course, you could question how I could know that my mother wasn’t very capable back then. I was not old enough to make that judgement. Even now, looking back, my store of memories from primary school days are a few unconnected scenes, that don’t reveal anything about my mother’s personality, abilities or confidence levels.

Memories from back then, with my mother in them: there’s Mum, breastfeeding a baby (my brother G), and me being told by a relative to leave the room. There’s Mum, swatting at a dragonfly that had got inside the house. I think Dad was away that night. There’s Mum, with a scarf tied over her curlers, having washed and set her hair as she did every Saturday afternoon, before baking scones.

An actor could play those scenes in many different ways – brimming with confidence and a sense of fun, filled with doubt and anxiety, or conveying listlessness and emotional removal. I cannot say how my mother played them.

All I can rely on is a pile of memories accumulated after these events, that, compiled, build up a sketchy picture of my mother’s personality and state of mind. Those memories are augmented by the way she describes herself when talking about the past. In any stories she tells us, she always describes herself, with some amusement, as hopeless and incompetent.

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As I was so young, I remember little about my mother being hospitalised, just that we kids were shipped off to my mother’s sister. My aunt had about 7 kids then (she went on to have 9), so in taking us in, she had about 12 kids to look after. Unless this was during school holidays, (she was a teacher), she would have been working full time. Some of my cousins were a few years older than me, and in families like hers,  kids know how to make dinner for 12 people by the time they are about 10 years old, so I guess we ate many dinners of 2- minute noodles. As far as we were concerned, we were just having an extended holiday while Mum was in hospital.

My only other memory of those events is that after one of my mother’s trips in an ambulance, a friend and I developed a new game to play at lunchtime at school. We ran around on the asphalt playground, holding a basketball between us, making a noise like an ambulance siren. In case you are wondering, we were an ambulance and the basketball represented my mother.

Nothing was ever explained to me or my siblings about this when we were young, and it was only as I got older, that I began to suspect that nervous breakdown had been code for something else. Mum took regular medication that was linked with the issue that was never spoken of, and I knew that every second Friday afternoon she saw a psychiatrist. It was hard for my parents to hide this, because when we were younger, we’d have to wait outside the psychiatrist’s office in the car with Dad, while she had her appointment. Mum didn’t drive.

When I became old enough to question it, my private diagnosis was Depression. (There was no internet in those days, so I couldn’t look up the symptoms of clinical Depression. This was just a teenager’s interpretation.)

Depression, as I imagined it, seemed to explain Mum having trouble getting up in the morning, usually not making it out of bed until after the older kids, myself included, had already left for the bus. It seemed to explain arriving home from school at 4.30pm to find the blinds drawn and Mum asleep in bed, my younger siblings watching TV in the lounge room. Or to explain the dinners that were frequently ruined, because after putting vegetables on to boil, Mum would go back to bed, and the dinner would boil dry on the stove.

Blinds were often kept down, and my mother slept a lot.

Mum was hospitalised one more time for a nervous breakdown, when I was in high school, but in my memory it seems that occasion was less dramatic. Perhaps it didn’t involve a sudden departure in an ambulance. Maybe we visited her in hospital on that occasion. I can’t recall any detail. It seemed to have less of a coat of shame and silence than the earlier incidents, although that doesn’t mean that any more information about it was shared with us.

In any case, that was the last time Mum was hospitalised for a nervous breakdown. After that final hospitalisation, and the treatment that followed, other strange behaviours that we, as a family had been resigned to, dissipated, and we were able to feel a little more normal as a family. Back in those days, there was a huge stigma around mental illness – even more than today – and although we kids knew nothing about what was going on, I imagine I wasn’t the only kid who internalised a deep sense of shame that there was something about my Mum that was so mortifying and unthinkable that we couldn’t talk about it.

Since that time, I’ve learned bits and pieces about what my mother’s condition was, and more bits and pieces about how she was treated for it, but I will leave that for another post, because all of this was actually inspired by a line from a poem that I haven’t even got to yet.

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A little while ago I wrote a post that was partly about poetry, and since then I’ve meant to come back to that topic.

Recently I went to a gig in Melbourne that was a tribute to the poet W.B. Yeats. Various musicians did sets, performing songs that included lines from Yeats’ poems or were in some way inspired by them. I have never studied Yeats, so didn’t expect to be familiar with any of his poetry, but I liked the idea of a rock gig paying tribute to a poet, an Irish one at that. The decider, however, was that in the background of the ad for this gig, I could hear a song being sung by a musician I like, David Bridie, and it was the words that captured my attention: the centre cannot hold.

I must have heard this song before, having been a big fan of bands that Bridie was in years ago, but I’d forgotten about it. Hearing that simple fragment of a sentence this time, I was compelled to look up the poem.  It’s called The Second Coming, and these are the first four lines:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

These lines are up there with the lines from Macbeth that make the hairs on my arms stand up. In those lines, Yeats successfully conveys a fatalistic sense similar to the one that Shakespeare conveys (earlier) in Macbeth – that the natural order of things has been broken, and Man (in Shakespeare’s case, Macbeth) has lost any sense of control. In Yeats’ poem, Nature has taken back the reigns and cannot be controlled by man – anarchy reigns. Yeats, and Bridie, use the line to refer to an inability to control elements of the external world – Bridie’s lyrics, and the clip for the song, are about war and its victims, countries being torn apart, and people being displaced from their homes.

When I read Yeats’ poem, or hear David Bridie sing those lyrics, the centre cannot hold conveys those meanings about the outside world, man, nature, and the struggle for power. But taken out of context, and heard, or read, on its own, the line holds another meaning for me. It’s not about the outside world, it’s about the internal world. It’s about how unstable our sense of self can be. Its about how for some people, it can be a struggle to contain that within them, that sense of who they are. It can be fragmented or lost, the boundaries between self and other unclear.

It reminds me that when the health of someone with a mental illness is deteriorating, they gradually lose, or are incapable of caring about, our usual sense of social boundaries, that sense of holding it all in for show. It makes me think of someone much like my mother.

 

clip from timcolesoundart

Gonna change my name to Hannibal, or maybe just Rex

Dear reader, just to keep you wondering, I have rebranded.

If you are a regular reader, you may have subscribed some time ago to a blog called It Keeps Me Wondering, and been happy enough with that, only to suddenly today received in your inbox, or discover in the feed on your Reader, a post from a site called Blathering About Nothing.

The funny thing is, I don’t even have a Marketing Manager, nor have I hired an online consultancy firm who has advised me to rebrand. I just have myself and my usual uncertainty, and my tendency to be unsure about the choice I made 4.5 years ago for what would be a public “image.”

Unfortunately for me, through lack of planning a strategic marketing campaign at the time of my birth, as well as the non-existence of a public profile that I could capitalise on by changing my name to one word and incorporating a dollar sign or hashtag into it, I hadn’t realised that I was a brand when I set up my blog. Now, 4 1/2 years later, my poor blog has a split personality.

When I decided to start blogging, I agonised for weeks over what to call my blog, umming and aahing over possible names for weeks, until my main impetus was to just bloody well pick a name and get writing. I had a list of names in a notebook, so I picked one out: Is That Coffee? Thus the url: isthatcoffee.wordpress.com

(How did I come up with that? Well this all happened during a period when I had given up drinking coffee – I’ve since fallen off that particular wagon – and probably had a lot of spare time on my hands from all those cups of coffee I wasn’t making or drinking.) I guess I thought that was kind of amusing, because it implied that I was slightly hysterical about coffee – and left it pretty open as to what I would write about.

Only days after creating the blog, I came up with a name I liked a lot more – It Keeps Me Wondering. I liked it because it implied that I’d be writing about what I was thinking about, rather than what I was doing. My ideas, rather than my life, if you like.

So I changed the name to It Keeps Me Wondering, but didn’t change the url. Once my blog started to get a few regular followers, I wished I’d changed the url to match, but I’ve continually been too scared to take that step because it sounds like there is a risk of breaking links and losing followers. So I had a blog called It Keeps Me Wondering, and a url address that didn’t match, and meanwhile I wrote my first few posts.

Soon I wrote two posts inspired by some plays by Samuel Beckett, a literary hero of mine:

Blathering About Nothing in Particular, and Blathering About Nothing in Particular, Part 2.

These were named after a line from Waiting for Godot:

…yes, now I remember, yesterday evening we spent blathering about nothing in particular. That’s been going on now for half a century.*

Beckett’s minimalistic plays from the 1950s-60s have almost no action in the traditional sense, and often cross-examine the meaning, or absence of meaning, in language, and by extension, in life, through seemingly absurd dialogues, or monologues. His characters often make reference to the fact that their conversation is both repetitive and ultimately meaningless.

The irony in that concept seemed to fit perfectly with the idea of me, sitting alone writing a blog which would no doubt often be repetitive and ultimately meaningless.

Inspired by this idea, I then changed my user name to Blathering, and the default category for posts, when I’m just writing rubbish, to Blathering About Nothing. I’ve often thought about changing the name of the blog to Blathering About Nothing, in a little homage to Beckett, and also a humorous nod to essentially the same thing – that the blog is about ideas, anything and everything, and essentially, nothing. I like the self-deprecating inference and it also feels very Irish, which is my heritage. The only reason I haven’t is, as I said, uncertainty, and fear of causing confusion for followers.

But it seems that I’ve committed one of the worst sins possible in the world of creating an online presence, which was to have a blog title, a url, and an online “identity” that were all mismatched.

A while back I wrote a post about a book I read, that references contemporary television shows, to illustrate the philosophies behind Pre-Modern, and Modern thought, and the self-imposed problems Modern thought creates. The fundamental difference was around the concept of identity – in Pre-Modern thought, what we did constituted our identity, in Modern thought, what we do only reflects our identity.

So today I spent time pondering the ultimate Modern dilemma of identity:  how many different online profiles do I have now, and should I be trying to consolidate some of them? And, if my online profiles are identity-reflecting, what does it say about me that my blog alone has about 3 different identities?  These matters are, as you can see, of grave importance in the great chain of being.

In the world of social media, having a “consistent brand” is the golden chalice to aim for. It seems to be becoming our primary obligation. Certain human beings are now often referred to as a “brand”, particularly if they go by only one name, or even better, if the media have managed to merge their name with their partner’s name to form one catchy name, as if they are the same being, ie, Brangelina. (If you are not sure who that is, congratulations! You win an all-expenses-paid trip to the Brangelina mansion.)

As if  I have not created enough random chaos by having a blog with an identity crisis, I’ve also delved into Facebook, where I am myself, and into Twitter, where I have a profile that is “me” where I tweet about the arts, or social justice issues that I think are important, as well as a Twitter profile as Blathering, the author of this blog. (@_Blathering)

So in summary, after reading a book about the dilemmas of Modern thought, I had one of my own and as a result, finally made a decision.  Now, at least, the name of the blog, my gravatar, the theme of “blathering” that runs through the blog, and my (second) Twitter account, all match up. Phew!

The long list of things that keep me wondering should hopefully now be shorter by one item.

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Stay tuned for the next episode where we discuss whether I should make the following changes:

a. Change my name to Hannibal, or maybe just Rex?

b. Change my shorts

c. Change my life

d. Change into a 9 year old Hindu boy, get rid of my wife?

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*the line from Waiting for Godot is said by Estragon, to Vladimir, p.66 in my very old copy.

*the changes above are not really under serious consideration at this point in time. They are lyrics stolen from the great Modern philosopher, Tom Waits, from his albums Goin’ Out West, and Step Right Up.

*Hidden somewhere in this post is the Twitter handle of my personal account – but in keeping with my truly non-strategic approach to social media, it doesn’t have anything to do with any of the other “identities” mentioned here.

Waiting for the great leap forward

On a day off from work, it is not uncommon that my sole aim for the day, from the moment I get up, is that I will write a post on my blog.

Hmm, on second thought, perhaps sole aim is not quite the right term to use there – I fear that makes it sound like I swan around on my days off, with so little else to do that I really should give the servants a raise, and take up Decoupage.

I did have other goals for the day – if you count all the boring things like phone an electrician about the fan in the bathroom, vaccuum the floors, pick up kid and grocery shopping!!! – but write a post is the creative goal that will make my day feel worthwhile – something that grocery shopping and vacuuming will not achieve, worthy pursuits though they may be.

Each time I plan to write a post on my blog, I hope that it will be a good piece of writing, that it might even be the best piece of writing I’ve posted here so far. Each time I publish I post, I am certain that I fall short of that mark, but nevertheless, I do still get satisfaction from achieving the goal of the doing, and the posting.

After such an introduction, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that today is one of those days, a day where my sole aim has been to sit down and write a post on my blog – and here I am, starting this post at 5.08pm. That doesn’t bode well for producing a high quality piece of writing to post by tonight, since, as we all know, 5pm is the point on any day off where time starts to accelerate. Evidence suggests that the acceleration effect is even more pronounced when you have to work the following day.*

On a day off, the morning is delightfully slow, particularly if you indulge yourself by sitting in the wintery morning sun, drinking an extra cup of tea and reading your book while the laundry is washing. Early afternoon eventually rolls around, and gently nudges you into recalling that you better pick up the pace and finish off those chores if you want that image of yourself sitting by the window writing in the afternoon sun to have any chance of becoming a reality.

Lo and behold, after you’ve done the grocery shopping, put groceries away, made the marinade, prepared dinner ready to be cooked, and answered a few emails, it’s 5pm. Cue that sinking feeling, because you know that time is going to speed up from here, and the next thing you know you’ll have cooked and eaten dinner, cleaned up, had a glass or 2 of of wine, and it will be 11pm and you”ll still be plugging away at that post because you’re so determined to post it today – even though you have to be up at 6.30am and really should be in bed.

I don’t know about you, but for me, that’s the point where I frequently end up publishing my post, whatever stage it’s at, despite misgivings that it’s not my best piece of writing ever, and in fact a fear that it’s really a very mediocre piece of writing indeed.

Still, the upside is that I do gain a sense of satisfaction from getting the writing done and posted, and thus achieving that goal.

A lot of advice to writers highlights the importance of plugging away and just doing it, and by doing so, forming a habit of writing, and that certainly fits with the contentment I feel in getting a post written and published, even when I sometimes wish I’d written something far more memorable, insightful, witty, intelligent, or (insert praiseworthy adjectives of your own preference here.)

So the good news for me, and people in a similar dilemma, is that today there is apparently an extra second in the day. Yes, on June 30 in the Northern Hemisphere, or July 1 down here where we are always slightly ahead of you all, we had a Leap-Second.* I am not sure how it escaped my attention up to this point in my life, but apparently ever since 1972, Coordinated Universal Time is adjusted by a second every now and then (approximately every 3 years) to keep time with the Earth’s rotation, which is apparently irregular.

Looks regular, but you can never tell from appearances who's regular and who's not.

Looks regular, but you can never tell from appearances who’s regular and who’s not.

Pic: Fact Monster

Now that I’ve discovered the existence of the leap second, not only am I enjoying all the extra time I have on my hands this afternoon, I’m putting it to good use by reading about the leap second. I needed a topic for my post, see, and although this may have seemed like it was a post about writing posts, that little bit of navel-gazing was just a ploy to lead into the topic of the leap second. Or is the topic of the leap second a ploy to pad out a post about writing a post? Well, dear reader, you can decide for yourself, when (or if) you reach the end. (for those who don’t reach the end, please don’t write in to ask what happened.)

Firstly, it’s impressive – when you consider all the seconds that have ticked by since the Big Bang occurred – and let me assure you, there have been quite a few of them, – that this particular second gets to be singled out with a name. Admittedly it is not a proper name, but nevertheless, a categorical name.

The extra second, captured in a photograph taken at NASA this morning.

The extra second, captured in a photograph taken at NASA this morning.

Imagine if we decided to name (even categorically) every second. For a start, we’d have to think of names that could be said in less than a second, so obviously we’d be looking for one syllable words for names – eg,  Jeb, Dan, Syd, Bip, Bam and Pow. We’d also need to think up the names in fractions of seconds, and we’d need to have our Second Naming Department staff do nothing else but think up and name seconds, 60 seconds per minute, 60 minutes per hour, 24/7. No toilet breaks. Obviously to undertake this endeavour we’d need a large team of rotating staff and a large supply of speed.

Who even suggested that idea? Clearly naming every second would be an outright waste of taxpayers money. Let’s get back to the second in question – the leap second.

The leap second does not have the upper case status of a proper noun, but nevertheless I enjoy the many references online to the leap second as a noun that needs to be dealt with. I have decided to picture it as Coordinated Universal Time’s equivalent of a little green frog. (which would make the Leap Year a large, ugly, overgrown toad.)

It seems the humble little leap second manages to generate controversy. The Wikipedia entry on the leap second (linked above) has a section devoted to the  Proposal to Abolish Leap Seconds. What – no! Yes, Reader, I’m afraid so. It also has a section entitled Examples of problems associated with the leap second. (I note the careful wording, whereby Wikipedia avoids saying that the problems are “caused by” the leap second, in order to avoid being sued by the leap second. It’s not so cute when it’s mad.) There is also a section on Workaround for leap second issues, which may be useful if your mobile device is telling you that it’s still June 30. (or perhaps you’re just in L.A. and it IS still June 30.)

The poor old leap second. Soon we’ll be reading articles about how it’s been misunderstood and neglected, and then soon after that, articles on its impending extinction.

So there was an extra second today, and that extra second has led to this post. To wrap up, I thought it might be nice to pretend that this was always the plan: here is a list of things that happened in that extra second today*:

– a snail moved approximately 0.1 mm

– a bee beat its wings 270 times

-light travelled all the way from the moon into our range of vision here on earth

– 4 babies were born

-2 people died

-neurons in my brain transmitted a response after I read an article about leap seconds; that led to this post.

 

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*references for the list of things that happened within that second:

Top Ten Incredible Things

Ecology Global Network

Space.com

 

X will mark the place

Lovers of poetry may gasp, but I will admit right here that while I am a fan of theatre, books, music, visual art, and just about any form of the arts, I generally do not seek out, or expect to get a lot out of, contemporary poetry, of the traditional variety. By traditional I mean, poetry presented as a written text, for example in a literary magazine or highbrow newspaper – as opposed to a spoken word performance, which to me feels like a whole other artform.

Generally, and very unfairly, when I come across contemporary poetry by accident – which does happen – I expect it to be obscure, or indulgent, or both, and when I see a poem printed in a newspaper or magazine, I will simply turn the page to read the next story. I know this is unfair of me. When I studied poetry in Year 12 English Literature, and discovered Sylvia Plath and Robert Lowell, I was totally inspired, even to the point of writing my own poems, as all 17 year old girls do. Unfortunately, I liked poetry so much that I took poetry as an elective at uni the following year, where, sad to say, I was far less inspired – my memories are of interminable lectures about Alexander Pope, and what he wrote, I cannot tell you. (Now that I’ve remembered that, I blame Melbourne University for my suspicious approach to poetry.)

It’s hard for all forms of the Arts to compete for attention in a world where people are constantly plugged in and listening to podcasts, watching Youtube clips and reading their friends’ status updates on Facebook, on their mobile phone on their way to work. So it’s particularly hard to understand how Poetry, an artform that has been around since the ancient Greeks and Chinese were wooing lovers and hailing conquering heroes, an unobtrusive, pared-back artform that relies entirely on the internal landscape of the reader’s imagination for any accompanying loud noises, pretty colors or handsome character in the main role, can still expect to fight for a portion of that audience.

(If Poetry had any thoughts at all on the matter, I guess it would first turn up its hearing aid, and then agree that it has passed its prime but is quite enjoying its twilight years.)

Yet while I mostly avoid reading poetry, at the same time, I’ll readily listen to song lyrics, and be quite willing to ponder the possible meaning contained within, if they are obscure and hard to fathom. It seems that I’m able engage with lyrics the way I do with visual art, that is, by taking the approach that it’s up to me, the viewer/listener, to make my own meaning from the work when the meaning does not seem clear, and that there is no right or wrong answer.  In some cases, where lyrics seem nonsensical, I’m even willing to imagine that the songwriter was just having fun with words, and perhaps had no other intention beyond that.

Whack fol the diddle all the di do day.
So we say, Hip Hooray!
Come and listen while we pray.
Whack fol the diddle all the di do day.
The Clancy Brothers*

Music has its own power, but there is a kind of chemical reaction that results when the perfect combination of some simple words, music that captures the right mood, and the human voice are put together. When that happens, even contemporary rock music has the potential to achieve the pinnacle that art is capable of, in my opinion. That is, that it’s capable of giving us a momentary glimpse of something deep within ourselves that also connects us to the universe (through shared experience with the human condition). I’ve written before about the shiver that runs down my spine when I hear, or read, Macbeth’s final soliloquy. That particular shiver is one of awe, in recognition of the insignificant smallness of human life, in relation to the unimaginable eternity of the universe.

Sometimes when listening to a song, a line jumps out at me that causes a similarly tangible response. Often that response is a sense of sadness, or poignancy – a particular line that captures something I have experienced, or something I have lost, or the grief I felt at the death of my younger brother. It’s a very personal response so I’m aware that the same line may mean nothing to another listener, and quite possibly meant something completely different to the person who wrote it, but in that moment of emotional recognition, it is of no importance whether my interpretation of the line is what the songwriter meant by it.

The example I have in mind today is a song by Radiohead, from the album Hail To The Thief – yes, the album I was addicted to about 2 months ago. You’ll be pleased to know that in-between, I did stop listening to it for a while.

The song is Where I End And You Begin. Lyrics are as follows:

There’s a gap in between
There’s a gap where we meet
Where I end and you begin
And I’m sorry for us
The dinosaurs roam the earth
The sky turns green
Where I end and you begin

I am up in the clouds
I am up in the clouds
And I can’t and I can’t come down
I can watch and cant take part
Where I end and where you start
Where you, you left me alone
You left me alone

X’ll mark the place
Like the parting of the waves
Like a house falling in the sea
In the sea

I will eat you alive [x4]
There’ll be no more lies [x4]
I will eat you alive [x4]
There’ll be no more lies [x4]
I will eat you alive [x4]
There are no more lies [x4]
I will eat you alive [x3]

 

Now, I really don’t know what Thom Yorke had in mind when he wrote this, and any interpretation I can give it doesn’t quite add up – for example if I was to suggest that some of the lyrics could be spoken by someone missing a loved person who has died Where you, you left me alone, then the earlier lyric I am up in the clouds doesn’t make sense – that sounds like the person who has died speaking. And what can I make of the last lines, I will eat you alive, there are no more lies? – I have no idea. For purposes of writing this post, I prefer not to look up the various websites where people spend time analysing lyrics, and do as my English Literature teacher advised me to do when responding to a text –  give my own interpretation.

So whatever is meant by the song as a whole, if anything is, I don’t know, but theme of separation, ending, and possibly death in the earlier section of the song mean that when I first heard Thom’s ethereal voice sing the line,  X’ll mark the place, I felt a jab at my heart. I don’t care what interpretation anyone else gives the song, or the line, but that line gave voice to a new thought for me: that an imaginary X will mark forever the place where my brother died, and another X will mark the place where I was when I heard that he had died. I guess those imagined X’s mark in my mind the physical place where we separated forever.

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This post was meant to continue on, as I was going to tie this all back into poetry, and how there are plenty of beautiful lines in contemporary music that have been borrowed from poems. I did start down that track, but the post was getting too long, so I think I will end this here.

So stay tuned for part 2, where I admit that what I said in this post is not entirely correct, that there are poems I do like (at least from the canon of poems written up to about 1960, I haven’t studied any poetry more contemporary than that) and that there are lines from poetry that do exactly the same thing, ie, jump out at me and suddenly bring a tear to my eye. It’s just that those are often brought to my attention courtesy of a contemporary musician, who works them into their music.

So bless those poets for plugging away at their craft.  Maybe those ancient Greeks were onto something.

*

 

*Have I ever mentioned that I grew up listening to my dad’s Clancy Brothers albums? I’m sure there was a song that went “O, ro di diddly dum, o ro di diddly dum, de diddly diddly diddly dum, de diddly diddly diddly dum.” (I could sing that if you like.) Now we see where Ned Flanders got his inspiration from.

Trouble Is My Business

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “A Dog Named Bob.”

I skimmed the skin off a cold cup of coffee that had been sitting on my desk since Tuesday, and took a sip while I tried to recall what day it was. In return, my stomach sent word that it wasn’t accepting any more of Tuesday’s cold coffee. I figured it must be about Thursday. I couldn’t remember anything about last night, but judging by the way I was feeling it must have involved either a lot of alcohol, or contracting a deadly disease that was now invading my brain and stomach.

My notebook was under a plate with half a jam donut on it. An entire colony of ants had died in an attempt to swim through the syrup oozing out of the donut, but if I wiped them off, it would do for breakfast. According to townhall clock I could see from my office window, it was 3.15pm.

I flipped open my notebook and reviewed my notes on the case so far, in an attempt to get my brain to kick into gear. There had to be something I’d missed. The mysterious message I’d received 2 days ago led me to a mailbox, containing a note written in old-fashioned pen and ink. The note led me to a mansion out in the hills, where an elderly dame lived with a pack of birds – of the feathered variety. The old dame, a Mrs Fennessey, had more money than she knew what to do with. She was particularly fond of a bluejay that basically had its own apartment. I could have put my office inside the bird’s apartment and built a nice little house for my retirement in the space that was left over.

Mrs Fennessey also had a butler, a maid, a dog, an aquarium full of fish, a room for her jewellery, and a story that was so weak that if I had poked it with a feather it would have fallen over. I didn’t poke it just then though. Something was up with the bird lady, but I wanted to find out more before I quizzed her any further.

I put down my notebook and rifled for a cigarette. My head was aching like I’d used a cement block for a pillow last night and wound up in a pillow fight with a chum. The 2-day old coffee was making my stomach join in on the fun.

I glanced out the window as I patted my pockets for matches. The weedy guy who runs the laundromat below my office was across the road buying the paper, and on the footpath next to the newspaper stand, a dog was sitting, waiting for its owner. It was untethered, just sitting there looking like it had all the time in the world to wait for whoever it was waiting for. I knew that dog. His name was Bob, and he belonged to the bird lady, Mrs Fennessey. Not too many brown dogs have large white patches on both ears, but more to the point, not too many dogs that head out to do the shopping without accompaniment wear a collar that’s worth about 50k. What was he doing here, in a crummy suburb, miles away from his mansion in the hills? Who was he waiting for? Was he keeping an eye on me?

I felt way too crappy to care what the answers to those questions were, but I knew that I’d have to find out.

*

**I cheated!! This is a response to a Wordpress Daily Prompt (Link at top of page), but part of this particular challenge was to write the piece in 20 mins. When my timer went off, I had the basic 4 paragraphs that make this “story” written but was having so much fun I didn’t want to stop. So I’ve spent about another 20 mins changing bits here and there, embellishing and tidying it up. So total time was 40 minutes, with no pre-planning (I start writing and then think!). I’ve stopped here in order to honour the idea of having a time limit, but also because I’m really not sure how Bob, or the bluejay, were going to bring the case to a close. I’d like to say “Stay tuned…” but I’m sorry to say that there may never be any satisfactory conclusion to this story.

Dear Spam

DEAR SPAMMER,

Good day. This is to inform you that your sentences make no Sense in this office Files records over here. I’ve also checked in the office Files records Over There as well, but they still made no sense, Here, There, or Anywhere.

We founds your email in our  Junk mail folder/Federal Ministry of Finance, (as we like to call our Junk Mail folder from time to time), but it was clear that your email is Genuine and is most Definitely Not a scam.

Despite your awkward sentence structure and Strangely random Use of Capitalisation, which we put down to a probable culturally and Linguistically Diverse background where English is your second, or possibly Fifth, language – and/or that the letter was generated by a Computer Program, designed to generate letters that could only be described as Vaguely coherent at best, and send them out to confuse Approximately a million people, of whom perhaps one will respond – we are Pleased to be doing Business With you.

We are Excited to hear about the Victim unpaid Compensation Funds program, and happy to Update your information by contacting you Through this email (obvs). The amount of $3,800, 000.00 USD (surely about $4,500 000 AUD!) sounds entirely believable – please write out a Cheque for immediate payment without further delay. Although somewhat confused by the content of your Letter, I surmise that as long as I am Alive, I will receive this amount from the Victim Compensation Fund, for being the victim of a Scam. This comes as a pleasant Surprise as I was not even Aware that I had been scammed, but I’m sure that I am alive.  

Please accept this email as signification (as requested) that I am alive and Willingly to Receive my funds payment. I make a practice of never making Guarantees about things over which I have no Control, Particularly if they are a Condition of Payment, so I must Emphasise that while I am alive at Time of Writing, I am unable to confirm the Exact Timeframe on how much longer this State will continue. Unfortunately, I will be unable to Inform you via Email, Fax or Phone if this condition should alter.

For this Reason, I urge you to Make payment of the $3800 000 USD as soon as possible. Finally please e aware that Mr Willams Cooksey is attempting to scam you. I’ve never heard of him, he is no relation, and not entitled to inherit my windfall, Regardless of whether I am alive or dead.

As requested, I have filled out the form you sent, below.

FORM FILLING SIGNIFICATION CONFIRMING YOU ARE ALIVE;

PERSONAL DETAILS

Your Full Name: Blathering*
Full Residential Address  (P.O.BOX NOT ALLOWED). This is problematic as I live in a PO Box, please advise what I can do about this?
Direct and Current Phone:  I have both, in fact they are one and the same.
Nationality: Australian
Occupation: Wool-gatherer
age/sex: any age is ok amongst consenting adults
Present Country: No – I am presently in the city
passport identification: Photo
*I go by just one name, like Cher

Virtual Transport System

Note to readers: I spent time today going through some old folders saved on a usb stick,  and stumbled across this piece I wrote 10 years ago,  for a writing course I did back in 2005.  As not too much has changed I thought it was worth publishing for a laugh! 

*

Virtual Transport?

Apparently I’m not the only one who loves op shopping. I was surprised to read in The Age last week that State government employees are doing the rounds of the second hand shops too – to source parts for the antiquated  computer system running Melbourne’s metropolitan trains!

According to the article, the computer network currently in use was installed in 1981 when the City Loop was opened! Back in 1981, when I had just started Year 7,  computers were still a fairly new phenomenon. I got right through school and only used computers for one semester, in a subject called, aptly, “Computers”, where I learned how to start one up in DOS, by typing “run” at the white cursor that flashed on and off on a black screen.

Imagine any school or business still using the same computers now as they were using back then!  It is not surprising that the only way for the Metrol computer system to be maintained is with  “parts sourced from garage sales and op shops”. (The Age, 2/7/05)

I must look out for computer boffins from the Department of Transport sifting through the goodies at the Salvation Army. In fact – here’s an idea – perhaps I could keep an eye out for them, if they care to pass on a general description of what they are after! Surely it would only cost about 50 cents for a keyboard from 1981, so if it doesn’t work perfectly, it’s not a big loss for the government’s transport budget, is it? The Lilydale  train might get stuck at Ringwood station for a while when the Shift key jams, but currently it goes backwards whenever the Caps Lock is on, so anything is an improvement….

Do government employees sent to browse through op shops and garage sales enjoy it the way that seasoned op shoppers like myself do? Do they get a thrill out of finding a real bargain in vaguely working order – “Wow, a mouse from 1982, only 20 cents! The right click won’t work, but hey – that will only affect the Northern Suburbs lines at peak hour.” There is also the satisfaction of discovering a new use for an item that no-one else has thought of – “Oooh, look at this great Dot Matrix printer I picked up for a song, perfect for updating train schedules!”  I imagine the excitement of being given a budget – say of $5 – probably goes to their heads, they  get carried away, and come out with things that they – and even our dusty old computerised train network – don’t need. “Huh…I guess this old Beta video player is not really going to improve services on the Epping Line.”

er....."RUN"? Oh ok, I see, it's not on.

What do you mean the train hasn’t left the station yet?…Oh, I see, it’s not turned on.  Oops.

Eager employees may become addicted to the search, and become collectors of historical computer parts, attending garage sales and op shops in their own time for another fix. They may start gravitating eagerly towards the book section of the charity shops, where all sorts of treats would be in store for anyone needing technical computer book written in the 80’s.

Of course, for the private company now running our trains, that’s just another benefit of this thrifty approach to technology – purchasing the ‘how-to’ manuals is another whole area of budget savings. If you go to your local Op Shop on the right day, you could get a whole bag of technical manuals from 1981, enough for your entire metropolitan train system, for $2!

According to The Age, the government is finally looking to upgrade, and is calling for tenders to replace the system. I think I can help here. I have a ten year old computer, a spare monitor, a laptop bought second hand four years ago, on which the screen no longer works, an old walkman from the early nineties, a few old computer leads and a mouse. If  you plug them all into a power board, they could probably replace the entire computer system from 1981 currently running our trains.

Industry sources allegedly  told The Age that “a new system is a virtual certainty.” I hope the sources didn’t mean a virtual reality.

*

Pic of old computer: old-computers.com 

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