June 23: welcome

I have a very cheap computer. When I get it going it says Welcome for a very long time. At first I thought, that’s nice, I’m getting a right royal welcome from my computer with a red carpet and everything. Then I realised what was happening was that the gatekeeper was checking my ID and my QR code. And then,when I think I can get in, all the hangers-on from Teams kick in and stop me getting over the drawbridge; then all the pop-ups from Google Chrome swarm around me for an autograph. I had to take steps on the autograph pop-up hunters from Google Chrome and joined the Firefox label instead but all the foxes snap at my heels there too and delay my emergence into the crystal city. When I enter that land of endless promise I am exhausted. My girlfriend with her fancy machine is waiting for me on the other side of the moat twiddling her fingers. I come trundling through.

I do not have a smart phone. When I flip up my apparatus and switch it on it produces a merry jingle like something from Breakfast Television when that first started in the eighties. Then my fingers need to engage in elaborate prodding to just get the thing awake properly. It doesn’t like getting up in the morning, my phone. When emoticoms come through on text messages they just show up as blank squares for me. We live a very austere life, my phone and I. We are like a crooked old couple from a nursery rhyme. Jack Sprat and his wife.There is no fun allowed. That’s why most of my messages consist of monosyllabic agreements or rejections: OK, I say. Or else. No Can do. People must be confused that I, normally so verbose, come over all shy on the phone.

Yes. I am wandering through the world with just a coat to my back. No armour; no mace and chain; just poor forked man.


June 17: sherlock Holmes on the tube

I found myself noticing a middle-aged woman on the tube this morning. She was reading and using a US dollar bill as her as her book mark. On her ankle was a Betty Boop tattoo. I surmised she liked American culture. I thought she probably wasn’t American. I wonder how Sherlock Holmes would have gone about the semiology. In his day society was more homogenous. He would just look at the quality of soil on the boot of a young lady and knew she had been to the Derby at Epsom. He would smell the type of tobacco on the coat of a gentleman and know in which establishment he had acquired it. You see, they didn’t have Tesco in those days. Today most people are emitting scores of signs at any moment: the clothes; the haircut; the post on TikTok or Instagram. They are desperate to belong to this huge variety of freemasoneries, or even sometimes to emit a sign without knowing what it means or that it completely contradicts what they think they stand for. You buy half a pound of signs like you used to buy half a pound of licorice allsorts and you just eat the whole bag. All we can do is try and be the person without qualities, to avoid falling into this pool of burning emblems and insignia. Semiology is pretty much dead.


June 17: guns

The Americans like guns; we know that. Practically all of their films feature extended shoot-outs where you just yawn and press the mute button. You might do as I do and press the mute button for the car chase sequence and all. This basically cuts the film down to about an hour. I also mute the scenes with the heroic ex-cop at odds with head of police or the FBI about his unorthodox methods of bringing a villain to justice (that’s another fifteen minutes gone), as well as all the Freudian backstory to one of the key chraacters (ten more minutes). That basically leaves shots of cars pulling into drives to set the location. Many of us are confused by this dull entertainment. When shooting goes on, you know they are not really killing each other. There is no truth in it, whereas in good dialogue there is always truth of one kind or another. We know all this, but one thing I noticed this week when half-watching an American zombie film on the Horror Channel is that often the heroes have guns and the baddies, zombies or whatever, often don’t. They are just picked off. It is a strange notion to designate the hero as the one with the gun and the unarmed underdog, whether that be zombie or humanoid, as the character we would not root for. It seems to designate a moral society as the one with the gun.


June 15: the death of canned laughter

I have seen, obliquely from my position on the settee, bits of two or three sitcoms on the telly this week. You note that they do not have canned laughter. Up until quite recently they were the staple of both American and British comedy. I noticed its obtrusiveness in The Big Bang Theory, I recall. Opinion generally approves of its demise. After all, why were we being told when to laugh by studio executives? This was a patronising and manipulative ideological instrument. It was invented in the 1950s in the US when a so-called Laff box with a huge range of different types of laughter from titters to belly-laughs was invented to add to the sound track of comedy shows of the moment. The type of modern comedy, in the UK particularly, has changed. Shows tend to be more tragy-comedy these days; we laugh at awkward situations; complex reactions are explored. You can see why laughter tracks can’t fit so neatly in contemporary comedy. But, you know, when you look at modern comedy, you are still being told where to laugh: through the intonations; through oblique looks to the camera in mock-documentaries like The Office. In feature films, music still tells you what to feel (the worst types are those where the music starts up even before the moving scene begins); music figures less in the sitcom. The modern sitcom is often dealing with intermediate states. You might not get many laughs. You just get some assurance about your uncertainties.


June 7: my new shorts

A nice pair of shorts is difficult to get for summer. They tend to be too long, too tight, too branded. I found a pair on line that looked all right and ordered them. It’s always a bit of a risk but they weren’t expensive. I arranged to pick them up at AppleGreen which is a pick-up centre in the Greggs-cum-service station near the Tesco. I popped in this morning on the way to work. Imagine my surprise when they gave me an enormous package. After all, I’m only 33 waist. I said it’s only a pair of shorts! but the woman in AppleGreen said that’ll be the packaging. They always over-pack it. I lugged it into work and opened it there when I had a moment. Of course, it wasn’t a pair of gentleman’s city shorts, it was two pairs of white addidas trainers and a lumberjack shirt. My heart sank. Not because of the erroneous order but because I had ripped open the package, which, not being used to the on-line world, I would now have difficulty repackaging to send back. Now I am lugging these items around town and will see what I can do tonight. It is indicative of my relatively cloudless life that dealing with this erroneous order casts a thick shadow on the day. Rubbish really. At least there is no tube strike today, as there was yesterday, so you will not see me hopping form one bus to another with two pairs of unwanted trainers and a lumberjack shirt. That would probably have made for a better story.


June 4: the first man

I have just finished reading Camus’ unfinished text Le Premier Homme. The manuscript was found in his bag at the scene of the car crash that killed him on January 4 1960. It is a series of autobiographical texts that talk about Camus’ father and Camus’ own childhood in the suburbs of Algers. The term first man is enigmatic. It is only mentioned once and seems to refer to himself and also his father, both being people who constructed themselves without the cultural or economic assets that come from a family that is settled and well-off. At one stage in the text the child is contrasted with a another child at the lycee from a privileged background, whereas he comes from a single-parent family managed by an illiterate mother and grandmother. In this sense he is a premier homme. This makes the text a somewhat boastful and nostalgic one but it has some nice moments. I do not know that we can make this distinction easily between a self-made man and another. Self-made man is an imperfect translation but perhaps the only approximate equivalent, though the term tends just to refer to their making as an economic one. Self-made men tend to be a bit boastful. They take as their guide their own experience, which is neccesarily just anecdotal. I suppose in analysing people we need a bit of the anecdotal and a bit of the abstract. Some people do win the jackpot in the lottery but the statistics tell us it will probably not be worth playing the lottery all your life.