Archives » 2008 » November

Ross County 2-2 Dumbarton

Victoria Park, Dingwall, 29/11/08

We’ve just drawn, away, with the team 4th top of Division One.
And we came back from two goals down.
Well done the lads. My pessimism of last week was thoroughly misplaced.
Also it looks like we didn’t start 4-2-4 which is a good thing – but we may have finished that way since super sub Derek Carcary scored both the goals.

However, in my continual search to find the cloud in any silver lining….
We actually have a good record up there so maybe the result isn’t so surprising. (Yes it is; they’re two divisions higher.)
But it was against ten men and we now stand to be distracted from the League; especially if we get a big team in the draw. We do not need distractions with a crucial game coming up at Central Park next week.

Yet again; we most likely won’t get through the replay. Our home record against Ross County goes beyond dire.

Special congratulations to the Shire on putting out Livi. The Shire are the form team in Div 3 right now.

Trains and Boats and …… Poems?

If you enter Kirkcaldy railway station on the War Memorial side, go past the ticket office, and make your way up the stairs to Platform 1 (Trains for Edinburgh and the South) you will see hung permanently on the wall of the waiting area a poem, of all things. It is cut into an unusual material for such a display, linoleum – the origin of one of the queer-like smells I posted about recently. This is partly a celebration in verse of the town of Kirkcaldy and its most famous product, but more, it must be said, of the halcyon days of the railways. It is called The Boy in the Train and was written by Mary Campbell Smith.

Curiously, I first came across these same verses thirty years ago when I was working as a Research Chemist in Hertford, just north of London. My (English) co-workers brought them to me because they wanted to know what they all meant! Imagine their astonishment when I told them I would be taking the train to “Kirkcaddy” the very next day. (I was coming up as part of my holiday to visit the good lady’s parents who, at that time, lived in Glenrothes. Kirkcaldy was the nearest suitable railway station if you didn’t have access to a car; which at the time I didn’t.) I only moved to Kirkcaldy myself twenty years ago.

The poem has stuck in my mind ever since. (It is not only cheap music that has potency.) By one of those strange word association things that probably shows what kind of brain I have, whenever someone muses on what they’ll be eating for their evening meal I always mutter to myself, “a herrin’ or maybe a haddie.”

I very much doubt that the town’s name was ever pronounced Kirkcaddy as in the poem. That usage was clearly adopted to fit the rhyme scheme.

The Boy in the Train by Mary Campbell Smith

Whit wey does the engine say ‘Toot-toot’?
Is it feart to gang in the tunnel?
Whit wey is the furnace no pit oot
When the rain gangs doon the funnel?
What’ll I hae for my tea the nicht?
A herrin’, or maybe a haddie?
Has Gran’ma gotten electric licht?
Is the next stop Kirkcaddy?

There’s a hoodie-craw on yon turnip-raw!
An’ seagulls! – sax or seeven.
I’ll no fa’ oot o’ the windae, Maw,
Its sneckit, as sure as I’m leevin’.
We’re into the tunnel! we’re a’ in the dark!
But dinna be frichtit, Daddy,
We’ll sune be comin’ to Beveridge Park,
And the next stop’s Kirkcaddy!

Is yon the mune I see in the sky?
It’s awfu’ wee an’ curly,
See! there’s a coo and a cauf ootbye,
An’ a lassie pu’in’ a hurly!
He’s chackit the tickets and gien them back,
Sae gie me my ain yin, Daddy.
Lift doon the bag frae the luggage rack,
For the next stop’s Kirkcaddy!

There’s a gey wheen boats at the harbour mou’,
And eh! dae ya see the cruisers?
The cinnamon drop I was sookin’ the noo
Has tummelt an’ stuck tae ma troosers. . .
I’ll sune be ringin’ ma Gran’ma’s bell,
She’ll cry, ‘Come ben, my laddie’,
For I ken mysel’ by the queer-like smell
That the next stop’s Kirkcaddy!

Since it is not in Standard English doctorvee considers the whole thing to be written in slang, though it is of course in a variant of Scots, which, while now declined, was once one of the great languages of mediaeval Europe, capable of producing a classic work such as Ane Satyre Of The Thrie Estatis.

I make no literary claims for the poem in question, however. Since it is written from the viewpoint of a child its language is, no doubt deliberately, debased and the “poetry” is really no more than doggerel. (Though it is more than several degrees above McGonagall.)

Since those far off days in Hertford I have always had a hankering to provide a cod English translation. So to my old colleagues at MRPRA, to doctorvee (and to anyone who cares) here is:-

The Boy in the Train 2008

For what reason does the locomotive make that piercing noise?
Is it afraid of confined spaces?
Why is the fire not extinguished
When rain falls onto it down the chimney?
What will we be eating for our evening meal tonight?
Herring perhaps, or haddock?
Has Grandmother the modern convenience of electric lighting?
Is the next stop Kirkcaldy?

There’s a hooded crow atop a raw swede,*
And six or seven seagulls,
I’ll not fall from the carriage window, mother,
It is secured as certainly as I am eleven years of age.
We have entered the tunnel and there is no light,
But there is no need to be scared, father,
Beveridge Park will soon be in view.
And the next stop is Kirkcaldy.

Is that the moon I can see in the sky?
It’s terribly small and curved.
Look! There’s a cow and a calf out there,
And a young girl pulling along a small playcart,
The attendant has checked and returned the tickets,
So give me my own, father,
Take the bag down from the luggage rack,
Because the next stop is Kirkcaldy.

There is a plethora of boats in the mouth of the harbour,
And, I say! Can you espy the cruisers?
The sweet comestible I was enjoying just then,
Has fallen and glued itself to my trousers,
Soon I shall be ringing the bell at Grandmother’s house,
She will say, “Enter, my fine young fellow,”
For I know myself, by the strange aroma,
That the next stop is Kirkcaldy!

*Edited to add:- “raw swedes” should be “row of swedes” – see Comments

The Wonder That Was Woolworths

Today, sadly, Woolworths went into administration. This looks like the demise of one of the fixtures of British High Streets (though the company started in the US) since ever I can remember. 99 years in fact. Some of their original shops were Art Deco too.

Another source of sadness is that doctorvee works part-time in the Kirkcaldy branch, so it’s like a personal blow.

It is the latest, but will not be the last, victim of the credit crunch. The company is probably viable on a day to day basis but its creditors wanted their money back. Since this has forced Woolies into administration they will now most likely not get it (or at least not all of it.)

There had been attempts to sell it to someone else for £1 and they would take the debt over, but these have fallen through.

Most likely the immediate reason for today’s administration is that the staff were due to be paid tomorrow and the money wasn’t readily available for that; or their bank (Barclay’s) wouldn’t make it available.

Ironically, Woolies’s cash flow was probably quite good this week as they have had a 20% off offer on everything (only 10% on DVDs and electrical goods.) The Kirkcaldy store has certainly been busy. Yet I suppose these moneys would not have got through the system in time to prevent the administration.

While supermarkets have been expanding into most product areas and therefore undermining them and the rise of £ shops undercut them, Woolies was still the only place in the High Street where you could be sure of buying certain items – ironmongery and sewing thread spring to mind here and in Kirkcaldy their selection of sweets was greater than their competitors – so it will certainly be missed.

Some stores may be saved but most will soon have disappeared.

So it goes.

Cirque by Terry Carr

Science Fiction Book Club
, 1979

This is by Terry Carr (on title page and dust jacket) though for some bizarre reason the spine says Terry Hall. It’s old now; I picked it up in a second-hand shop a few months ago mainly because Terry Carr wrote the short story “The Dance Of The Changer And The Three” which features probably the most alien aliens in all of Science Fiction. Otherwise he is more well-known for editing The “Universe” series of anthologies as well as a large number of “Year’s Best SF”s. I was interested to see how he dealt with a novel length work. A welcome boon was the book’s brevity, only 187 pages. Most SF novels nowadays are doorstops by comparison.

The city of Cirque stands on the edge of a gigantic abyss into which flows in a great cascade the river Fundament. (In passing, I’ll say there is something scatological about this image and its phraseology on which I shall not dwell.)

This setting bears some similarity to that in the recently read Scar Night. (Though I doubt Alan Campbell has ever read Cirque. In any case his city was much more gritty.)

The tale here is yet another multi-stranded narrative wherein we have: an alien millipede that can see the future and consequently does not believe in causality, a woman who has taken a pill in order to unleash her multiple personalities, a city Guard and her boyfriend, an adolescent who monitors the minds of everyone in the city and telepathically broadcasts interesting things which people are witnessing to all the other inhabitants, a priestess of Cirque’s particular religion.

Inevitably, in the abyss something is stirring, and it is observed by the city Guard who is overflying it in a gravity boat. She investigates and we go down to the bottom of the abyss – which is hoaching with white-tentacled creatures apparently fed by the rubbish which Cirque’s inhabitants have poured down on them for centuries – but curiously the river by then seems to be absent.

The inhabitants of Cirque immediately resolve that the creatures are harmful and decide to poison them. But they don’t get them all. One escapes to the surface. Cue panic and mayhem, followed by resolution.

The most thought provoking ideas are propounded by the millipede who not only does not believe in causality but thinks that only one number, 1, exists. Sadly, apart from a bit of foreshadowing, this seems to be the only reason for the millipede’s appearance in the book. It is there merely to observe things, as are we, the readers. The other characters are not much more than ciphers to propel or observe the plot. Only the monitor really develops as the novel progresses. Even the millipede is not as convincingly alien as those in “The Dance Of The Changer And The Three.”

Perhaps then, if modern doorstop SF does allow more space for characterisation, inordinate length becomes less of an issue.

Winter’s Shadowy Fingers (ii)

Woke up this morning to snow on the ground in Kirkcaldy. It was more or less gone by one o’clock, though.

I remark on this since, in all the twenty years I’ve lived in this house, there has been less than a handful of times – this morning included – snow has actually lain for any length of time. (Note, here, the past participle of to lie, and not of to lay.) Only once was there ever enough snow for my sons to build a snowman or go tobogganing in Beveridge Park – which is just over the railway line from our street.

Partly this is because we live reasonably close to the sea and the temperature is therefore always slightly higher than just a hundred metres or so inland and so we rarely get snow. It is noticeable that the snowline generally starts a bit up Oriel Road. Its higher elevation as well as more distance from the Promenade helps explain that.

In my youth in Dumbarton snow was also relatively unusual – it used to start where the Clyde narrowed at Old Kilpatrick and the warming effect of the river lessened.

This did not of course apply in the winter of 1962-3 which was famously severe and during which I actually stood on Loch Lomond. I believe this was itself not a patch on the winter of 1947, which was in addition made to seem worse by the austerity of those post-war years, my father told tales of folk burning old shoes as fuel – but I wasn’t around then.

Otherwise I do not recall snow falling, and lying, before New Year, except once.

It’s still November and a week to go before December, at least five before New Year. A harsh winter ahead? In August I noted an early onset of leaves going brown.

I remember reading somewhere in the early autumn that the weather patterns in Britain this summer resembled those of 1962 and that such patterns had a tendency to repeat themselves after gaps of years.

Just what we need! Credit crunch, banking collapse, the world financial system tottering around our ears and a possible harsh winter. (You read it here second.)

Dumbarton 1-1 Albion Rovers

The Rock, 22/11/08

Have we been found out?

Things are no longer looking so good. It feels like a long time since we had a win.

Our lack of clean sheets is costing us. That and the fact that (judging by the personnel) we seemed to be playing 4-2-4 again. It is rare for a footballing team to escape from Div 3 – though we did manage it last time – but rarer still if you neglect to shore up the midfield.

Is it a coincidence that the game at Montrose, where both Stevie Murray and Derek Carcary were missing and Chissie and Cusack were playing like orthodox midfielders, was the best Dumbarton display I’ve seen this season? I only ask.

After these last two results I now fear a gubbing in the Cup up at Dingwall next week.

Not only that: at the end of our next league game we could have lost touch with third place.

But it’s at Cowden, so I suppose I’ll be there.

Kirkcaldy’€™s Art Deco Heritage 2. The Fire Station.

Kirkcaldy Fire Station facade

This is in a much more restrained Art Deco style than Kirkcaldy Ice Rink. There are rather more horizontal than vertical aspects to the overall look here but there is some interplay.

Kirkcaldy Fire Station from access road

There also seems to have been some sort of an attempt to cohere with the Scottish vernacular architecture of the East Coast.

I think it actually looks better from the side and back where the bricks are painted red to match the detailing instead of being, well, brick coloured as at the front.

This rear view shows off the Scottish style chimney stacks. Note the pink painting on the railings of the balconies as at the front.

Kirkcaldy Fire Station rear

Kirkcaldy Fire Station tower

The tower is quite prominent from parts of Kirkcaldy’s promenade and the higher areas in the town.

This fire station is a more striking building than its equivalent in Dunfermline which has a white and grey finish and lacks much of the fine detailing seen here.

Kirkcaldy Fire Station Fire Service symbol

I love the stylised fire service symbol on the metal rails above the left hand door. It’s almost socialist realism but not quite.

Kirkcaldy Fire Station Kirkcaldy crest

This other detail, above the right hand door, is found on Kirkcaldy’s town crest. The wee man is apparently St Bryce, Kirkcaldy’s patron saint. I didn’t know the town had a patron saint until I looked up the town crest!

The Negation Of Being?

Do any of you say, “Are I?”
Thought not.

Would any of you say, “Are I not?”
Not likely is it? (Personally I would say, “Am I not?”)

Then why do we hear people say, “Aren’t I?”

It’s a horrible construction, ugly and ungrammatical. [In the jargon of grammatical discourse, the subject fails to agree in number with its verb; in plainer terms it combines a plural verb with a singular noun.]
And I hate it.

None of the characters in my fiction has ever uttered the phrase. If I had my way they never would. (Unfortunately, there will come a time when one has to because of who they’re supposed to be and where they’re supposed to come from. But I’ll still hate it.)

Where I was brought up the suitably grammatical phrase, “Amn’t I?” performed the function perfectly.

I do not expect it to catch on.

The Trouble With Time Travel

Time travel is one of the most worn of SF tropes but its appeal is enduring, witness the revived Doctor Who. The fascination of being able to go into the past, perhaps to alter it, or to see the future (you do of course reach a small part of that in the normal, slower way) seems to strike deep. Many stories focus on the paradoxes that could arise; say by inadvertently causing one of your ancestors not to be born will that mean you yourself will never exist? (In which case you could not possibly go back to the past to change it.)

A classic of the time travel sub genre is Robert Heinlein’s “All You Zombies” where the narrator, Jane, by time travelling and sex change, turns out to be her own mother and father – which as an idea for a story would be hard to top.

Time travel fiction’s offshoot, alternate history (counterfactual history as it is sometimes called) is a safer bet as it allows the writer to meddle in this way without affecting real history. Each such story is also a thought experiment which explores the ways in which our own world could have been different – for better or worse.

The advent of many worlds theory offered a get out clause for possible time travel paradoxes in that the paradox is avoided if you can only travel back to a different (albeit only slightly) universe, not your own. It also legitimises any alternate history story as it could (must?) be set in a different universe.

We can of course not yet travel in time in the real world; only in fiction. It is possible that in the future we may develop the ability. I seem to remember reading a speculation that only when time travel has been invented will people be able to travel back in time but only to that point and no further back and hence this is why no one has yet travelled back to our time. We haven’t invented it yet.

This seems to me a bit like the Fermi Paradox. (In my opinion the reason we don’t have evidence of aliens is that we don’t have evidence of aliens, end of. When we do, we will. If we don’t, we won’t.)

The fact that no one has yet travelled back in time to us would tend to suggest, though, that time travel is absolutely impossible, even between universes. This does not, however, prevent us thinking about it and writing stories utilising it.

Yet there is one aspect and complication to possible travelling in time that I have never seen explicitly addressed anywhere and which may be why all those attempts to reach us from the future fail.

They end up in the wrong place.

Consider. The Earth spins on its axis once a day (give or take.)
On this count alone, if you travelled back in time 12 hours you would end up on the other side of the planet.

But…The Earth orbits round the Sun once a year (give or take.)
This equates to 67,000 miles per hour in a circular (actually elliptical) fashion.
So go back in time one day and stay at the same coordinates relative to the Sun, and the Earth will be 1,608,000 miles away!

We’re not finished. The whole solar system is spinning round the centre of the galaxy at about 1 million miles a day (give or take) in a rotational time scale of the order of millions of years.
Travel back one year and you will be 365 or so million miles away from where Earth is (was.)

The galaxy itself along with its neighbours is moving at about 1,300,000 miles per hour. One year’s travel here is 11,388,000,000 miles!

We do not notice these relative motions as they are all at constant speeds. Think how you only really notice a car or train’s motion when it accelerates, brakes or changes direction.

Eric Idle put this all quite succinctly in The Meaning Of Life.

In sum, to travel in time you must therefore also travel in space, and at what are effectively unattainable speeds. The fastest human-made object (one of the Voyager probes) has a human-imparted speed that is but a fraction of all this.

To time travel and still end up on Earth you must factor in all those vector equations to your time machine and somehow give it the speed to get it where you want to go.

(The fictional Time Lords must have got this point; the complication I’ve outlined is implicit in the acronym TARDIS.)

Of course, now that I’ve written this post, by morphic resonance the relevant calculations will have been enabled.

So, if someone from the future turns up on your doorstep tomorrow (or yesterday,) blame me.

The Book Of Evidence by John Banville

Minerva, 1990

The Book Of Evidence cover

I bought this book years ago, put it in my to-be-read shelf, where it got hidden. When I rediscovered it recently I thought I’d better give it a go.

The point of view is certainly one I have never encountered before. The tale is narrated as if by a prisoner in the dock, addressing a judge (whom he variously calls m’lud, your honour, your lordship etc) and at times, the jury. This is an unusual literary conceit but otherwise the treatment is actually quite conventional, a first person apologia pro vita sua by the narrator Frederick Montgomery. (This name almost breaks Gene Wolfe’s iron law of writing – never call a character Fred.)

If not quite stream of consciousness the narration still rambles somewhat and jumps backward and forward in time from the events leading up to Montgomery’s incarceration to his present. It eventually transpires that he is on remand and composing his narrative at a table.

Montgomery is less than reliable, however, and the prose, while not leaden – Banville picks his words, especially his verbs, with care (dust sifts down, for example) – is somehow flat. Montgomery’s detachment is curious; he does not seek to deny his crime but, equally, shows little actual remorse for it – a, to my mind, startling lack of affect.

Banville, of course, speckles the text with relatively uncommon words – aboulia, ataraxic, balanic, gleet – but I wasn’t convinced that the Montgomery the book reveals would have employed any of these. He’s more of an imperturbable type than an ataraxic.

While Montgomery’s lack of engagement does have the effect Banville presumably intended, it is too distancing and as a result none of the characters really springs to life. They are merely the backdrop against which Montgomery tells his story.

The pun in the title is also rather arch – Montgomery’s telling of his story in the novel is the case against him, and his book (of evidence) will most likely be thrown at him.

Even more years ago I read Banville’s Dr Copernicus and Kepler. As I recall those, they were much more involving than I found this outing. But then their protagonists were grappling with the mysteries of the Universe. For all Banville’s fine writing, Montgomery isn’t.

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