Picture yourself in a boat by a river

It makes me feel ancient to say this, but TV was still relatively new in Australia when I was a child in the 1970s. TV existed before this, of course, but it was not until the 1970s that it became common for most households in Australia to have one.

Although they dutifully purchased a Black-and-White Television Set, my parents were never really converted. My father watched the news, and my mother would sneak into the lounge to watch Get Smart or Dr Who – other than that, they didn’t really watch TV at all.

My generation – Generation X – was the first for whom a TV was a standard item in the house from the time we were very young. There was a new realisation of the educational role that TV could play, and new programming targeted at our generation from the time we were pre-schoolers reflected this: the long-running American program Sesame Street aired its first episode in the year I was born, and the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) had developed the educational children’s program, Playschool, just a few years earlier.

I don’t remember much of the TV from the pre-school years of my life, other than those two educational shows mentioned above. My other vague memories are all shows with a fantasy element, featuring magical creatures or magical events, so I assume that magic was a popular theme in the shows of the era.

I guess there was a lot of magic, or something like it, in the air in the late 1960s. (episodes being aired in Australia in the early to mid 70s were often made in the UK or America in the late 60s). For example, I can recall a well-known magical roundabout, a magical flute, and a magic pencil.

Of all the above items, it was the magical pencil that struck me most. What a fantastic tool. All the hero had to do was draw something he needed and voila! – it became real. What I needed was one of those pencils.

(Despite spending at least 10 full minutes searching online, I can’t locate or identify the show I have a vague recollection of, featuring a magic pencil. I found a boy with magic chalk and a gnome with a magic pencil but neither of those looked right. Either the internet, or my memory, have failed us.)

Somehow, in my 5 year old brain, drawing an object and having it become real seemed even more exciting than your every day, garden variety magic, where you were (for example) granted a wish by a benevolent fairy godmother and could just verbalise your desire for something to appear. (When I was 5 this was undoubtedly still on the cards as a realistic possibility.)

Perhaps the in-built limitation of having to draw your desired item was the key  to making it seem more realistic – there was a clear restriction on what you could create (you had to be able to draw it) so therefore it seemed more like real life. As a kid who loved to draw, I found the idea tantalising.

That was 40-odd years ago now, but I would still enjoy a magic pencil. Just imagine it. Oh boy. Where would I start?

First: a cure for this damned head cold please. Aha, but madam, you must be able to draw the desired item, you can’t just ask for “a cure” in a general way. Oh alright then, here, I’m drawing a glass of Cointreau on ice, thank you. It’s got a slice of orange in it, right?

A pencil drawing of cointreau on ice, with a slice of orange

© blathering 2017

Next? Ok, well, if you read my last post (or maybe it was the one before that) you’ll guess that the next picture I’d scribble would be a car, before my current car totally conks out. Then….I’d draw another room, to add on to our tiny house, so that visitors had somewhere to stay. You’d like to come and stay in the new magical room, wouldn’t you?

(This leads me to wonder though, how do the logistics of this whole magical pencil thing work? Do I need to draw a floor plan as well, in order to arrange where the new room will be placed? Or will it just appear from the sky and plonk itself in the middle of the back yard? If so, can I please have a moment to make sure the cat is not sitting in that spot first?)

What would I draw after that?…well, I’m sitting upstairs writing this and the kitchen is downstairs, and I’m too worn out from all this drawing to walk downstairs, but I’d love a nice warm cup of tea….

 

A pencil drawing of a wonky cup of tea

© blathering 2017

Of course, a pencil like this could never exist, because if it did, we’d grab the nearest piece of tracing paper and the nearest $100 note, and trace 100 of them with the magic pencil, wouldn’t we? (tracing a $500 note would be more expedient, but after writing that half a sentence, I did some fact checking, and there is no $500 note in Australian currency! I checked because I couldn’t recall ever seeing one, but that didn’t prove that they don’t exist. It might just have meant that ATMs don’t dispense $500 notes. But I’ve checked and it’s a fact; they don’t exist. I must have been thinking of Monopoly money.)

Given the difficulties that we, as adults, encounter playing Pictionary™, I wonder how successful we’d actually be with a magic pencil in real life. We know from agonising over that board game, that there are many things we can’t draw, that we might often privately wish for – more confidence, courage, assertiveness, generosity, patience, selflessness, for example. The pencil will be no use at all in trying to improve oneself, I’m afraid.

Forget trying to depict abstract ideas; even our ability to command into being the physical objects we are hoping for is dicey at best. It comes down to the rules of the magic. How much accuracy and detail does your drawing need to have for the magic to work? Does it need to be a detailed hyper-realistic rendering giving an illusion of 3-dimensional perspective, or can it be stick figures, squiggles for clouds, and square houses with triangle rooftops?

If the rules of the magic dictate that you get exactly what you draw, there will be a lot of people hobbling around in lopsided shoes that look like dinner plates, and walking around with a life-size, wooden cut-out cartoon car strapped to their front like a sandwich board, instead of driving the cars they hoped for.

Unless of course you can cheat, and draw a large box tied up with ribbon, and say “I’d like a large box tied up with ribbon and inside that, a pair of Prada sandals just like the ones I saw on the cover of Vogue!”

A coloured pencil drawing of a box with Prada shoes inside it.

© blathering 2017

It’s fun to multi-task: how to keep busy while watching TV.

Welcome back, it’s good to see you again!

You may recall that just the other week, we discussed how excited we all are, in the advent of streaming services like Netflix™ and Stan™, because we can now deposit ourselves on the couch and watch series 1 through to 27 of our favourite show in one hit, with almost no need to even move off the couch for a week unless the chips run out.

After our little chat, many of you wrote in with questions. I’m sorry that I can’t answer them all personally, due to a lack of postage stamps, but I will answer the most common question here on this blog. That question was, could I suggest any activities suitable for undertaking while bingeing on television?

Now, at first I was puzzled by this request, but then the penny dropped. See, as I’m a Generation X-er, the kind of activities I’ll do while watching TV are those that require very little concentration. For example – eating, drinking and chatting to other people. But to the younger generation, this is a huge waste of potential multi-tasking time! Surely (thinks the younger TV viewer) I, or any other viewer, could be increasing the productivity of our time spent watching TV, by doing something else at the same time – such as undertaking a personal training session, buying and selling shares on the stock exchange, or notching up some part-time hours as an air-traffic controller.

Bearing this in mind, I’ve come up with some activities that you could easily do while watching TV. The usefulness of these activities is dubious but at least you’ll be multi-tasking.

Run on a Treadmill – activity best suited to viewing House of Cards

This activity is good for those with an interest in health and fitness, or equally, for those interested in anger management techniques.

Not an episode goes by without a scene of Claire Underwood furiously jogging on the treadmill, often while her caring husband Frank angrily pumps away on the rowing machine in the next room. As a pair of conniving sociopaths, I guess this is a harmless way for them to vent their pent up anger and frustration when there is a temporary set back in their plans to walk all over everyone else in their quest for power. The bonus for you is that the physical activity will nicely balance out all that time spent watching TV – at least you weren’t sitting on your arse for the whole series. It’s a great way to watch a whole series in one sitting, without sitting.

One hitch with this activity is that it is probably not practical for those living in small studio apartments, or those without a lot of spare space in their house; but if you can afford to have an extra room built on to accommodate the treadmill then away you go!

Other thematic activities that can easily be done while watching House of Cards could be: cyber-bullying your friends or colleagues, or drumming up support for a cause that you don’t believe in, in order to undermine a rival.

 

Make your own methamphetamine – activity best suited to viewing Breaking Bad

This activity is useful for those with an interest in chemistry or thinking of starting up a small business.

It may surprise some readers to hear that I have no experience whatsoever with making methamphetamine, but it’s true. The closest I’ve ever come was when I made some smelling salts, using a recipe from an Aromatherapy book. They were meant to be therapeutic, and counter the symptoms of hay fever. I’m not quite sure how successful they were in that endeavour, but I’m fairly sure that they didn’t make the hay fever symptoms any worse.

So I’m afraid I’m not qualified to provide a recipe or suggested procedure for making your own methamphetamine at home, but I’m sure that you could do a quick search on the amazing interwebs and educate yourself on the correct process fairly quickly, if you wish to take up this activity.

The benefit is that you could set up your TV or computer screen in your Meth lab, however, based on my memory of high-school chemistry, be mindful that concentration on the task at hand will be required at certain points in the process. I seem to recall that precision is important in chemistry, so you may need to switch your concentration from your favourite show for a moment when measuring out the various chemical components, as well as when timing steps of the process, and when checking temperatures. Chemistry is all a little bit pedantic that way, and that’s probably why I did not pursue it as a career.

 

Mix up cocktails for yourself and your friends – activity best suited to watching Mad Men 

If there was an episode of Mad Men that did not feature at least one scene where someone, in a bar, by the side of a pool, in their lounge room, or, most often, in their office, poured a bourbon on the rocks, or mixed a cocktail for themselves and their friend/lover/wife/husband or new client, I must have missed it.

Again, this activity is ideally suited to doing while watching TV, since in most homes it’s not hard to find a way to bring the television and the cocktail-making paraphernalia into the same general location. If for some reason you are having trouble with this, a trip to IKEA will probably solve the problem, as you are sure to find some kind of mobile bar/entire miniature kitchen that you can wheel into your lounge room when needed; or alternatively, an entire miniature lounge room including TV, that you can wheel into the kitchen.

Gather together a variety of different types of liquor, a few mixers (eg. soda water), some stylish drinking glasses, and a small ice bucket, preferably filled with ice. Try experimenting with some of the cocktails from the era – look up the recipes for an Old-Fashioned, or a Manhattan, for example. I found these two cocktails here but I’m sure there are heaps of places you could look.

The beauty of this activity for many of us is that, unlike making methamphetamine, precision is not very important. So if, while laughing your head off at Roger’s wisecracks, you slosh an extra few shots of bourbon into the drink you’re about to pass your friend, and forget to add the soda water, I doubt that anyone will complain.

Other thematic activities that could be done while watching Mad Men could be: smoking. This can be done even if you’re watching TV from your bed.

Cocktail photo (Cuba Libre) by Richard Aufreiter

 

Inputting coordinates into your device – activity best suited to viewing Dr Who

This activity is good for increasing mathematical skills and understanding of astronomy, as well as developing the capacity of your imagination.

For this activity to be any fun, you should input galactic coordinates if possible, for the exact location of where in the universe you would like to go. You can input these into any device you have at hand – an iPad, iPhone, android or even a good scientific calculator, but best results will be had if you input them into a GPS device or into an online map. One thing is for certain, that is, no matter what device you use, the result will be similar; that is, you won’t suddenly be whisked to that point in the universe, but you can have a lot of fun pretending that you are in the Tardis and now on your way to Gallifrey – or Mars, if that’s your preference, and watching TV on your way there.

With this activity, precision is only important if you are the sort of person who really cares about whether or not you would really reach your imaginary destination. Remember, when we are talking about the distances covered in space travel, one small miscalculation at the start could result in you accidentally travelling light years out of your way and ending up in some totally wrong part of the universe. But if you’re the kind of person who likes surprises, then by all means, type in the coordinates absent-mindedly while you are engrossed in a particularly scary episode of Dr Who, and away you go!

input your galactic coordinates into your calculator

    You can input your galactic coordinates into your calculator if that’s the only device handy

 

Eat so much food that you almost explode – activity best suited to viewing Scooby Doo or The Simpsons

This activity is good for people with an interest in food and nutrition.

If it’s hard to find an episode of House of Cards where Claire does not go running on a treadmill, it’s damned near impossible to find an episode of Scooby Doo where Shaggy and Scooby don’t eat their own body weight, and then some more, in hamburgers, hot dogs or maybe, if they are in Mexico, tacos, until they are almost comatosed. They’ve been steadfastly eating their way through mountains of fast food since the 1970s, but these days, when asked who is most likely to eat until they explode, 9 out of ten viewers nominate Homer Simpson, which just goes to show our short memories. Or perhaps that’s because Homer doesn’t run off the extra calories later on as Shaggy and Scooby always did.

Either way, this activity takes some pre-preparation. Of course, as always, if you have a TV in your kitchen, all the preparation could be done while watching TV as well. Simply make up enough hamburgers/hot dogs/sandwiches/(fill in the blank) to fill the back of a large moving van, and then somehow get them all into the room where you will be watching TV. That part is important, because once you’ve eaten about half way through that truckload of hamburgers, you won’t be capable of walking to get the rest. Then, once you and your food is all ready to go, simply sit down and start watching TV. Easy!

Other thematic activities you could do while watching Scooby Doo include: creeping around the room on tippy-toe, hiding behind the couch. Keep in mind however that if you were really in Scooby Doo, that is where the bad guy would also be hiding. Doh!

Just a small entree to start with.

                                            Just a small entree to start with.

 

Pics:

Cocktail: Richard Aufreiter via a Creative Commons Licence

Calculator: Josueth Acevedo via a Creative Commons licence

Scooby Doo: Pintrest

 

Television, Man.

Not many CVs include it under Hobbies, but a popular pastime these days – amongst people over 30 with nothing better to do, anyway – is to binge-watch entire series of television shows all in one sitting.

Way back in the prehistoric era – that is, when I was in primary school – we’d have to wait with bated breath, from 9pm Sunday night right through to the next Sunday night at 8pm, to find out if Laura and Mary Ingalls would finally get a cute puppy to guard their little house on the prairie from ferocious wolves and bears. Oh, the anticipation! (Others apparently had to wait a whole summer to find out who shot JR, but we were never allowed to watch television shows with Adult themes so we were spared that agony.)

Whole decades later, not much had changed in this regard, or not in Australia anyway. Right through the 1990s and first decade of the 2000s, viewers without Foxtel (by the 2000s, this was possibly just me) were still kept on the edge of their seats, waiting a full week for the next episode of NYPD Blue, or CSI Miami, or sometimes even a show that wasn’t an American police drama, such as The X-files. Sometimes the show wasn’t even American, believe it or not, in fact, I never watched any of the shows mentioned above, but I did sometimes turn to SBS and watch Austrian police drama, Inspector Rex.

Things only changed recently in this regard, in Australia, at least, with the arrival of streaming services over the internet (I hope I’ve got that terminology right. If you have a complaint about incorrect terminology  please send it to the PO Box address at the top of the page, allowing up to 4 weeks for Australia Post to deliver, but only if you live in the next street. If you are further away than that, we recommend carrier pigeon, which is cheaper and more reliable.) Of course, everyone with an internet connection – basically anyone except my parents, who still enjoy sitting back to watch an episode of Ma and Pa Kettle on VHS – has access to streaming services like Netflix™ or Stan.™

Ma_and_Pa_Kettle

Ma and Pa Kettle, still going strong in the Ma and Pa Blathering household.

Pic: dvdclassicscorner.com

Released from the shackles of free-to-air TV, no longer do we have to wait a whole week to find out what disastrous conniving Frank Underwood will come up with next. In fact, there’s nothing but but sheer self-discipline to stop us from succumbing and watching through a whole series of our favourite show all in one sitting, so completely absorbed that we even forget it’s bin night, only remembering with a shock the next morning, when we are woken by the clank of the garbage truck, realising in that same moment that we’ve missed the garbage collection, and, what’s more, that binge-watching TV is destroying our lives and the lives of those around us, who now have to put up with an overflowing rubbish bin for a whole week.

Overflowing_bins_1672021c

After a few weeks of binge-watching TV those bins can get out of hand.

Pic: The Telegraph

The only hitch for me in this delightful new model of leisure-time activity is that I seem to have trouble fully succumbing. I’m still bothered by a niggling need to be doing something. Of course, in this context, I use the term something fairly loosely. Since something pretty much means anything that is not nothing, then I guess I could blow my nose and that would suffice, but I am driven by the need to something that feels just slightly more useful, or productive, or meaningful, than nose-blowing. Only slightly, mind you.

Even reading a novel fits my category of something that’s more productive than watching TV, since reading a literary book these days feels as virtuous as engaging in any other equally quaint and archaic pursuit might do. In terms of how virtuous I feel about doing it, I may as well have with baked my own bread from wheat that I’ve grown and harvested in my tiny inner-suburban backyard, or sewn my own clothes, from fabric that I’ve previously woven on the loom I keep in the attic. All the above activities involve using technology that is slowly dying out, to achieve an outcome that – some would argue – can be achieved through much more efficient means.

If a book doesn’t feature a celebrity chef, celebrity sportsperson, or celebrity celebrity on the cover, or promise to supply you with the tools to change your life, then reading it seems to be an activity that is looked on with bemusement by most people. This vocal majority cannot fathom why we bother, when there are so many games available to download from the App Store, feeds to follow on social media, and shows to stream on Netflix. Plus, the Olympics are on, or so I’ve heard.

But I digress.

Because of this annoying compulsion to be productive, my absolute threshold for bingeing on television shows is 3 episodes in a row of House of Cards, after which time I feel compelled by forces beyond my control, to go and do that useful something. Up I rise, from the couch, and off I self-righteously trot, probably straight to my laptop, where it’s likely that, although intending to write a witty post on my blog, I’ll spend the next 45 minutes idly scrolling through social media posts, or trying to locate someone I haven’t seen since 1976 (not actually with any intention of contacting them, you understand, more out of curiosity to see if they still have any hair).

After a good part of the next hour has been lost for ever, I’ll be overcome with guilt at all the time I’ve wasted, and scramble to do some hurried edits on a half-written post that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere – most likely, deleting a comma and then, with a flourish, inserting a dash instead – before packing up and going to bed, with a sense of satisfaction at another day put to good use.

But, as regular readers (hi Mum!)* will know, I do binge occasionally, only, it’s usually on music. In fact, this very blog is to blame. Yes, that’s right, as far as blogs go, it may look as though butter wouldn’t melt in it’s mouth*, but it’s been the cause of more than a few musical binges before, during, or after I’ve mentioned some music while writing a post. Maybe I used a lyric as a title to a post – next thing you know, I’ve listened to an entire back catalogue four times while writing the post, and had a particular song stuck in my head for about three weeks until I can’t bear to catch myself humming it yet again.

But, my friends, those musical binges will have to be a tale for another post. Today’s post, which has been slowly written over a week, including sessions where I probably did do little more than delete some commas and insert some dashes – hopefully with outstanding results – was really about the major conflict experienced in modern life: being torn between indulgently binge-watching our way through a whole TV series, whilst also experiencing an annoying urge to be creative and/or productive.

The moral of today’s tale is, quite clearly: those who binge-watch too much TV will end up with a row of overflowing smelly garbage bins, and those who are all smarmy about how they don’t watch much TV at all, are probably lying; or just have really bad memories – and, furthermore, likely to be the sort of person who drastically overuses the dash.

 

*

*I’ve never understood what butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth really means, or rather, I get that it means that someone looks innocent when they are not, but I don’t understand how the analogy of butter melting in someone’s mouth came to be used to convey that concept. If you know the history to how this became a common turn of phrase, please write to the PO Box at the top of the page, or if you don’t trust Australia Post not to return your mail by accident, then please write your answer in the comments section. All correct answers will receive an honourable mention in next month’s newsletter.

*Observant readers will have picked up that my mother does not have internet at home, so for her to be reading my blog regularly, it would need to be available as an animated version transferred onto VHS tape. That in itself is a fantastical option, and if you add in the need to post them to her via Australia Post, you will realise that whenever I refer to my mother reading my blog I am cracking a halarious inside joke, which never fails to be amusing to at least one of the persons writing this blog.

 

There’s always something new to learn about fish

Today, in what could possibly become the first in a regular* series, we look at: Advertising slogans.

Now, pretty much everyone in the world is subjected to advertising all day long, whether it’s online, on TV, on radio, in printed media, on billboards and signs. We are used to hearing and reading inane little catch-phrases devised to appeal to the listener and entice him/her to buy whatever product/service is being peddled, but, ironically, often insulting any thinking person’s intelligence in the process. These are so commonplace that the stupidity of a specific piece of advertising barely seems worth commenting on, but on the other hand, sometimes the stupidity stops us in our tracks. When that happens, we need to point them out to someone else and say “WTF?” Well, that’s what this post asks you, dear reader.

This week seems to have been full of dumb slogans. Probably because I felt so lazy on Sunday night that I watched some free-to-air TV. That will do it, for sure.

Here’s just one example of what I encountered there. An ad that begins with a musical fanfare that lasts about 2 seconds, and signals to Australian audiences that we are about to see an “infomercial” – a tried-and-true format that’s been on our TVs for at least about 20 years, cunningly disguised as some kind of community service to provide the consumer with straight-up information about a product, with no made-up story or background music.

It has as much integrity as a segment on a morning talk show, where the host asks a marketing person some really hard questions about the vibrating weight-loss belt featuring that day, we cut to shots of slim, good-looking models using the vibrating belt – and then back to the studio, where the host and the marketing person both agree what a fantastic product it is!

But back to our ad. After the quick fanfare, Pavlov’s dogs the TV viewer is greeted by a pleasant, semi-professional-but-not-in-a-threatening-way woman – with wavy, brunette, shoulder length hair, slim and of indeterminate age – old enough to be taken seriously but not look “old” – wearing a neatly pressed, loose-fitting, shirt and slacks, standing in front of a wall of shelves in a supermarket.

“Let’s face it,” she chirps brightly at the camera “there’s always something new to learn about fish!”

Now, this statement could – perhaps unkindly – be described as a pretty inane opening to an ad, but my criticism of this ad is not that I disagree with this statement. Humans do have the capacity to continually learn new things, and that includes new things about fish. Whether you are a marine biologist, or a hairdresser who always wanted a goldfish, I’m of the school of thought that one can always learn something new about anything, and fish certainly fit into that category. (i.e. “anything”).

To prove my point, I have written posts previously on the topic of things I’d like to know more about, and amongst the long list of things I’d like to know more about, alluded to fish (within the general category of deep sea creatures.)

Fish are part of an incredible aquatic ecosystem that fills our rivers and our oceans. There are fish that walk, fish with teeth and fish that are bioluminescent (included the dreaded, yet cutely-named cookiecutter shark!). It’s not hard to imagine that the drive to uncover more information about fish could indeed become a life-long obsession.

So at this point in the ad, I’m right with you, smiley lady in the neat shirt. Hit me with some facts about fish!

A walking fish.

A walking fish.

Pic: Suess.Wikia

But in the next second we discover what type of fish this woman is referring to. Today’s new information about fish relates to…..the Finger variety, classification: Genus Fishus Fingerus.

Ah yes. Commonly known as the Fish Finger. Most often found swimming in the bottom of the greasy water in the sink after the dishes have been washed, the Fish Finger is a strange, primitive creature, barely evolved from single cell organisms as scientists have so far had difficulty detecting any nervous, respiratory or digestive system, and when observed under water, they exhibit almost no movement, and begin to disintegrate after a few days, a trait that is highly unusual in aquatic creatures. Scientists are also still in the dark as to how this species reproduces, but note that numbers are at a healthy level and the Fish Finger is not on the endangered species list.

Some have joked that in a darkened room, the fish finger could be mistaken for a piece of cardboard, and indeed, if Coal Mining industries have their way, Australia’s famous Great Barrier Reef, currently the home to a wide variety of marine life, may become a large, bleached-out, colourless pit of sludge best suited to hosting schools of fish fingers or cardboard. But that’s getting us off track.

When I encounter a line like this opening an ad, I am compelled to stop and picture the meeting where the creatives were tossing around ideas to meet the client’s brief. I am just totally perplexed as to how, when briefed to devise an ad campaign for processed stuff that is almost definitely not fish, sculpted into something that doesn’t look like a fish, some bright spark came up with the idea of running ads disguised as infomercials that begin with the statement that we can always learn more about fish.

What, exactly, are we to learn about fish, from a box of fish fingers? That this is what happens to fish that don’t eat their peas??

The primitive Fishus Fingerus, wishing it had eaten its peas.

Two primitive Fishus Fingeruses. Above them is a sea cauliflower. Next to them, some sea cauliflower pooh.

Pic: Huffington Post

And lastly, but definitely not leastly, why, when writing the script for this ad, would you start that line, which will so quickly be proved to be meaningless, with Let’s Face It? That’s a phrase most often used when you are about to reveal an unpleasant truth to someone who probably already knows it.

Let’s face it, Bob, ever since you got that wooden leg your chances of winning the State Breakdancing Competition have been very slim.

Let’s face it, Margery, if you eat another tub of ice-cream tonight you’re not going to fit into that leotard tomorrow.

Let’s face it, if you turn on the school alarm right before the exam, you’ll end up in detention AND still have to take the exam.

It just doesn’t fit at the start of neutral, observational statements unless it’s going to be accompanied by negative news at the end:

Let’s face it, the bus is due at 10.25. (so you’re going to miss it.)

Let’s face it, those are fantastic shoes you’re wearing. (but they just don’t go with your dress)

Let’s face it, I just saw Joe up the street. (and he still looks as if he’s about to croak any minute.) 

And it’s definitely out of place at the start of an upbeat announcement:

Let’s face it, we’re having a baby!

Let’s face it, I passed my exams with flying colours and got into the university of my choice!

Let’s face it, flights to Bali are on sale for the next 48 hours, let’s go on a holiday! 

Let’s face it: after all things are taken into consideration, I just can’t fathom how anyone came up with that opening line for an ad about fish fingers.

I’m afraid the sheer idiocy of that line was the only part of this ad that I took in, so I can’t tell you what information about fish was actually imparted within the contents of the remaining 30 seconds of air time. I’m pretty sure it was not why and how some fish are bioluminescent; a fact that I only mention a second time because I love the word, and concept: bioluminescence. I’m also fairly sure it did not touch on the fact that some fish are in danger of becoming extinct, or anything to do with fish other than their very tenuous connection to the Fish Finger.

Which is a shame, because it would be a great community service, to impart new facts about fish on TV every day.

*

*Here at Blathering About Nothing, a “regular” series could be anything that’s been posted at least once in the last 5 years. Notable series so far include the dangers of yoga mats, and – well, that’s about it.

 

Days Of Our Lives, or, SEO for beginners

If you are a blogger, raise your hand. Now raise the other one. Now turn around once and jump to the left. Then sit down and take a few deep breaths, because if you’re a blogger, that’s probably more exercise than you’ve had all week. Oh, and you can put your hands down now.

All of that activity leads me to paragraph 2, and if you’re still here at this point, that means that your curiosity was raised by the title of this post, so I surmise that you feel as if you should read about techniques for gaining more readers, even though secretly, you know that you prefer to read silly stories.

But don’t be discouraged, dear blogger with less-than-adequate understanding of technical terms! Speaking for myself, I sometimes feel as if I could, and should, be doing more to maximise readership of my blog (this thought usually only occurs when I’m really happy with a post I’ve just published, ie, only occasionally) but if I attempt to read a guide to increasing readership, my eyes immediately start to glaze over and I find myself wondering if it’s too soon to put the kettle on for another coffee, or whether I really should clean the shower after all.

Until now, the trouble with all those posts full of tips for gaining more readers is twofold. 1: they are instructional, and 2. they utilise technical terminology. I mean, what even is SEO, right? Right!

So in order to help myself and any other bloggers who is unable to read and follow a list of instructions, I’ve turned the relevant terms into characters from a daytime TV soap opera.

Behold:

*

Sitemap: Sitemap is the town where our soap opera unfolds. It’s just an ordinary little every-town that you’d find in any Westernised country, with a quiet, suburban, middle-class feel to it. There’s not much to make it stand out, apart from an unnaturally high amount of organised crime, supernatural incidents, and the large number of multi-national corporations run by corrupt bosses that are headquartered in it.

SEO: SEO is the patriarch of the family at the heart of our story. His nickname, SEO, (pronounced to rhyme with Theo) is derived from the fact that he is the Senior Executive Officer at some shady business that is never described in more than the vaguest terms as some kind of import/export business. Like the Godfather, you don’t mess with SEO, and if you do, you may find yourself in the river with a brick tied to your person. However, don’t feel despondent – there’s always a chance that if you were popular with viewers, you will make a comeback when it’s  discovered that it wasn’t really you who was thrown in the river after all, but your previously-never-heard-of twin brother.

SEO, the patriarch at the head of all the drama set in Sitemap.

SEO, the patriarch at the head of all the drama set in Sitemap.

Site Rankings a swarthy hero in a black leather bikie jacket, Site is a bit of a dark horse, and in season 1, we just can’t tell if he’s a tough guy with no feelings, or whether there’s a heart of gold  beating underneath all that black leather.

Page Rankings Fiery and pretty, Page Ranking’s true identity as Site’s younger sister is only revealed in Season 4, at which point a series of flashbacks helpfully remind the viewer, and the troubled Site, of scenes from Seasons 1, 2 and 3, when the two found themselves forced together in compromising situations. For example, they first meet in Season 1, when they are the sole survivors of a shipwreck, and are forced to live together for weeks on a tiny desert island, in a small cabin with nothing but a small bar fridge and one large four-poster bed.

Webmaster:  A mysterious bearded gentleman in a long robe, rumoured to have come from “the East.” True to the genre of Western daytime soap operas, his exact origins are never made any clearer than that, and his dark skin and mysterious unnamed place of origin serve to make the character seem exotic and slightly “other-worldly” within the insular world our characters inhabit. To enhance this image, the Webmaster lives in a little hut in the forest a few miles out of town, keeps owls, and takes an interest in all sorts of mysterious practices, including Pilates and astrology. Thus his appearances in the storyline occur when it’s necessary to save a character who can’t be taken to a conventional hospital for some complicated reason, or to give the viewer a hint of some disaster that is about to befall one of the characters.

Webmaster tools the crystal ball used by the Webmaster as an aid to fortelling the future. Other tools include astrological charts, the weather report, Yahoo Answers, and Siri.

 

A crystal ball - one of the Webmaster's tools for predicting the future

A crystal ball – one of the Webmaster’s tools for predicting the future

Algorithms: Algorithms is the chilled-out bar where the main characters frequently hang out, grab a few drinks, and hatch their plans. Algorithms has been the site of a number of significant moments in the show, for example, the engagement party for Site and Page, where Site’s third cousin-once-removed, Hierarchical Link, drank one too many Bacardi and Cokes and tells Site that she is not really Page’s mother, as everyone has believed to that point, leaving Site to work out for himself who Page’s mother really is, an investigation that is the main focus for the next 2 seasons of high-rating episodes. One of the most popular storylines so far was in Season 2, when Site and Page Rankings were holed up in the Algorithms bar for a month, living on nothing but peanuts and ouzo, while a gang of bikies held the bar under seige. (see below.)

Crawlers: a gang of bikies who have connections with some unsavoury characters living in Sitemap. They hold a grudge against SEO and the entire Rankings family, for reasons yet to be revealed, and feature in some of the most popular story lines, for example in Season 3, when they kidnap Page Rankings and keep her locked in an old deserted schoolhouse for weeks, while Site Rankings and the local police chief follow false leads in their attempt to rescue her, and in Season 2, when they take over Algorithms and hold Page and Site hostage inside it for more than a month. (see above.)

*

Well dear readers, that is where our lesson in SEO for beginners ends for today. I hope this will help next time you come across any of the terms above. Hopefully now, you will be able to read with more interest, rather than tuning out, because as you read, you will be wondering, who really is Page Rankings mother, and what is real secret behind the grudge the Crawlers hold against the Rankings family?

To find out all of this and more you will have to stay tuned until Season 17.

 

Pics:

Al Capone: Pinterest

Crystal ball: Phoenix Orion

 

The surprising similarities between a Slayer and a Mother

If you discovered that it was your destiny to fight demons, wouldn’t you feel a little bit put out, to say the least? Particularly when your friends don’t appear to have any such unpleasant and pre-destined fates and are able to just go about, like any other Modern person, making choices about their lives.

Recently, I read a light-hearted book on philosophy, written for the layperson, or, as the author, Mark Rowlands, blatantly states, for the “couch potato”.  Aptly, it’s called Everything I Know, I Learned from TV.

Each chapter of the book uses a well known TV show (from 1990s – first decade of the 2000s) to illustrate some philosophical principles. For example, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is used to illustrate the notion of obligation. The Simpsons is used to explore the idea of being happy with your lot in life, Seinfeld is used to illustrate the idea of individualism, etc. I am the ideal demographic for this book, as a generation-X reader who had seen multiple episodes of every show featured except 24, which I’ve never watched.

It was an interesting read even though I didn’t always appreciate Rowlands’ overly-jocular style, but the device of utilising modern TV to illustrate philosophical arguments has helped me gain a general, if very superficial, understanding of some of these ideas.

The basic premise Rowlands puts forward is that there is a divide between “pre-Modern” and “Modern” thought, which all hinges on our sense of our identity and our fundamental role in the world. The Pre-Modern view was that these two things, our identities and our role in the world, were inseparable. Each of us was part of a greater chain of being, with a role to play. The relationship we held to others, for example, as servant, parent, or king, were God-given roles that constituted our very identity, and our primary obligation was to fulfil that role.

Guillem_de_Cabestany

A Pre-Modern Knight and Lady, fulfilling their roles. Pic: Wikimedia Commons

In Modern thought, says Rowlands,  identity is not fixed by any external structures. Our understanding of identity is that we are free to be whoever we want to be, so our primary obligation is to ourselves, to be the best person that we can be.

Sound simple? Wrong! Things were simple back in Pre-Modern times. You got up in the morning and went about your day, without ever having a crisis about what you “should” be spending your time doing. If you were a servant, you went outside and emptied the slops bucket, milked the cow, and strangled and plucked the chicken for lunch. If you were a king, you declared war on a smaller country, married your daughter off to her second cousin, the King of Bulgaria, and commissioned poet to write an ode to your noble deeds. Ah, for the the good old days when things were straightforward.

The Modern way of thinking opens up a whole can of worms – for example: if our primary obligation is to be the best person that we can be, how do we know what sort of person it is best to be? What sort of values are the best values to live by? If there is no intrinsically “right” way to be, this means all choices are equally valid so how can any choice be “better” than any other choice? These, apparently, are just some of the questions we all grapple with in the Modern Age.

No wonder the Modern Age subsequently developed Psychotherapy.

To illustrate this fundamental distinction, Rowlands beings by presenting the character of Buffy Summers, who is apparently a Pre-Modern gal stuck in a Modern age. Destined to be The Slayer, whose primary obligation is to fight demons and save humanity, Buffy could theoretically choose to ignore her duty, but she would still be The Slayer. She would be bothered by the fact that she was not fulfilling her primary obligation, particularly as she would be constantly reminded of her failure, as evidenced by all the death and destruction around her in Sunnydale.

In the meantime, however, Buffy’s friends don’t have any pesky pre-destined roles, and can choose to do and be whatever they want to be, their primary obligation being self-fulfilment, or, to be the best person that they can be.

The test that Rowlands sets, which reveals how Buffy is caught in a Pre-Modern time-warp, is whether a role is identity-consituting, or identity-reflecting. In Modern thought, says Rowlands, there is no such thing as an identity-constituting role, ie, a role that if taken away from us, would destroy our sense of ourselves and our place in the world. Any role that we Moderns take on can only reflect our identity. So, if Buffy was told that she could no longer be The Slayer, (as I think did happen in one episode), her identity would be in crisis, because she IS The Slayer. Whereas if Xander was barred from being Buffy’s wise-cracking friend, this wouldn’t affect his sense of identity, only his sense of injustice.

Buffy and the "Scooby Gang" - pic: Buffy Wiki

Buffy and the “Scooby Gang” – pic: Buffy Wiki

Notably, Rowlands does not give a specific range of dates, for his models of Pre-Modern and Modern thought. Rowlands acknowledges, as had already occurred to me while reading this book, that “Modern” references a current mode of thought that is dominant but not universal, and is more commonly associated with Westernised cultures. I could certainly think of exceptions, even within Western cultures, for example, religious people believe that there is a greater being that they answer to, and that there is a right way to do things and a wrong, or sinful, way. They may also be able to subsume their need for self-fulfilment within this life, through their belief in a greater reward that awaits in another life. Therefore, theoretically at least, they are not beset with the same dilemmas about what choices to make, or what is the best way to live.

There is another very common exception I can see to Rowlands’ theory of Modern thought. That is, me.

I was not born into a pre-destined role that was handed down to me – I’m not the son of a baker, or daughter of a candlestick maker – but I am a parent. Rowlands touches on how parenthood is an exception to his theory, without going into any detail, probably because the role of parent is a spanner in the works. Or perhaps, as he briefly suggests, being a parent steps us back into a Pre-Modern model of identity, but one that we can’t avoid.

It did not seem pre-destined, nor inevitable that I would become a mother – until I was about 29 I fully expected that I would never take on that role. In that sense, it fits with the Modern notion of identity, because there was a choice involved – I chose to have a child and therefore to become a parent. However, once that choice is made, being a parent does become an indelible part of one’s identity, that can’t be taken away by a quick change of roles. If my child was taken away, or died, I would still be a mother. If I was, for some reason, not allowed to fulfil my role as a mother, I would have a traumatic crisis in identity to deal with, probably with life-long consequences. If I, for some reason, was unable to deal with the difficulties of the role, and walked away from it, it is also likely that I would experience emotional and psychological ramifications with life-long consequences. Like Buffy, I can’t turn my back on my role without severe consequences to my identity.

However, perhaps in contrast to the purely Pre-Modern, I don’t see being a parent as my only identity, or even, in a social sense, as my primary identity. On a conscious level, I get more of my sense of identity from my work and social relationships. I know that this differs for others, in fact it was another surprise to me in the early days when I was home with a baby, to find that I was dying to get back to work. I found that I desperately wanted to feel as though I was doing something “of value” – even though I knew, of course, that what I was doing was of more value, however you measured it, than any job I’d be employed in.

That is probably why I could relate to, and give credibility to, Rowlands theories about Modern thought, because I know that for myself the idea of self-fulfilment, and trying to be the best person that I can be, is a driving force, that wasn’t satisfied by “just” being a mother.

*

Today it’s a public holiday, so I’ve spent some of it reading, and drafting this post, and pondering these ideas. This ensures that by bed time I’ll be highly annoyed at myself for not doing something more useful, like cleaning the fridge or spending more quality time with my daughter. It’s a frustratingly common phenomenon for me – intense frustration at the end of a holiday period, because I didn’t spend my time in the best way possible.

Today, I pause to wonder why that is. Is it because I suspect that a different choice of how to spend my time would make me a better person?

%d bloggers like this: