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Theives

Yesterday I spotted in a charity shop in Kirkcaldy the legend, “Theives will be prosecuted.”

My immediate thought was, “So do thieves get away scot-free, then?”

On Monday I saw in the Guardian that for the first time there would be an episode of Doctor Who on New Year’s Day this year.

No. That would already have happened. The clue is in the name. New year.

The episode will actually be broadcast next year.

Dare to Call it Treason

There was an interesting article in Friday’s Guardian about the thought processes that led to some people – English people – seeing the EU as a domineering menace. Written by Fintan O’Toole, it was headlined The Paranoid Fantasy Behind Brexit with a subheading saying, “In the dark imaginations of English reactionaries, Britain is always a defeated nation – and the EU is the imaginary invader.” It’s well worth reading.

O’Toole argues the misguided logic of the Brexiteer mindset seems to be that Britain somehow actually lost the Second World War (or both World Wars if you will) as the European countries did much better than us economically after it. Thus it is that Brexiters come to make comparisons of the EU with Hitler as the EU is conjured to be a dark, disguised continuation of a project to subdue the UK, a delusion in which they revel. Invasion fantasies such as Len Deighton’s SS GB and Thomas Harris’s Fatherland (even though that was set in Germany) can also be seen as manifestations of the idea.

The piece reminded me of an article in The New European from January last year which states that the English aren’t team players; they just don’t like having to take other poeple’s views into account. Insouciant dismissals of the imminent Irish border problem on Brexit are only confirmation of that sort of attitude as is the Westminster Government’s lack of acknowledgement of the concerns of the devolved administrations in Wales and Scotland.

The avid Brexiters like to characterise those who have views differing from theirs as traitors and enemies of the people.

They have it arse-backwards.* They are the real traitors, they who are the real personification of treason as their prescriptions and nostrums are neither in the interests nor the well-being of the country. They it is who have cultivated the seeds of dissension, stoked anger and proposed an entirely spurious remedy for the ills which beset the UK; a remedy which will only exacerbate those problems and, far from increasing Britain’s influence and standing in the world, will only lead to their diminution – a process which is now well under way. And their fantasy of a minimally regulated polity would be nothing but a complete disaster for those they claim to be championing.

(*Shouldn’t that phrase actually be arse-forwards? As in arse-about-face. Surely an arse already points backwards?)

Age Shall Not Weary Them

As an addendum to yesterday’s busy day we watched the film They Shall Not Grow Old shown on BBC2 last night.

The colourisation of the archive black and white footage brought an immediacy to some familiar images, a more visceral appreciation of the conditions the war was fought under, a greater humanisation of its participants; bringing it home that they were exactly like us, even at a distance of one hundred years.

I only wish though, that the film’s title did not embody a misquotation of Laurence Binyon’s poem For the Fallen.

He of course did not write, “They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old,” but rather “they shall grow not old,” a more poetic rendering but also one that implies a different sort of growth, that the remembering would increase as time passed.

(I note in passing that the Lord Lieutenant of Fife made the same misquotation at Fife’s one hundredth anniversary of the Armistice Remembrance Service in Dunfermline Abbey on Friday 9th.)

Binyon’s poem is also almost always misquoted in its next line as “nor the years condemn.” He in fact wrote, “nor the years contemn,” a stronger meaning – and one borne out by the commemorations occurring during the last four years.

“Half an Hour Ago I Was a White-Haired Scotsman”

Last night I watched the first of the new Doctor Who series on BBC TV. It was okay as far as it went but I’m not sure it will have won over any of the easily disgruntled unreconstructed among us who thought the Doctor couldn’t be a woman. There’s no reason why the Doctor wouldn’t be able to change gender – after all the Master already has – but I didn’t think this episode was strong enough as an introduction to the new one.

Jodie Whittaker probably has the chops to make a good doctor but on this evidence I’ll be reserving judgement as to the story-lines.

A curious feature in this one was that there was no introductory theme music – not even after a few minutes in when the problem had been set up. Again I thought that was a mistake.

Then we had, “Half an hour ago I was a white-haired Scotsman.”

No. Half an hour ago you were an alien with two hearts from the planet Gallifrey. You still are. Half an hour ago you may have had a Scottish accent but you were never a Scotsman.

You also said, “I would of.”

You can reboot yourself right there. The correct phrase is “would have” or at a pinch “would’ve”. Don’t do it again.

Emusing Title?

This isn’t really a linguistic annoyance but I’ve not used that category for a while.

Anyway I was tickled by the title of this recent listing on eBay. (PHOTO DUMBARTON CENTRAL RAILWAY STATION VIEW IN THE 1960`S WITH AN EMU IN VIEW.)

“An emu?” I thought.

Then after a second I realised it must be train-buff speak for electrical multiple unit.

King Richards

Ever heard of him?

No. Me neither.

Yet he was the answer to one of the questions in the Guardian Weekend Section’s quiz on Saturday 24/6/17.

The question was, “What links Oxford, 1157; Bordeaux, 1367 and Fotheringhay Castle, 1452?”

The answer given was, “Birthplaces of King Richards.”

I emailed them, “I believe the answer to question 15 in Thomas Eaton’s Quiz in the Weekend, 24/6/17, contains (i) a logical impossibility and (ii) an inaccuracy.

To take them in order:-
(i) How can a King have been born in more than one place?
(ii) There has never been a King Richards of England. (Nor one of France.)

I do note, however, that England has had three Kings Richard.”

They seem to have ignored this.

The Colour of Television

“The sky above the port was the colour of television, tuned to a dead channel.”

What do you make of the above sentence?*

Pyrotechnic? Emblematic? Iconic? Redolent of a new sensibility? A clarion call for the new digital age?

Or did it perhaps elicit a bemused, “Eh, what? Come again?”

It is of course the first sentence of William Gibson’s Neuromancer which thrust cyberpunk onto the novel-reading SF public all those years ago now and to which I alluded in my review of Tony Ballantyne’s Dream Paris.

Many saw it as the perfect embodiment of the new style of SF Gibson was promulgating. Yet to me it’s not quite in the league of the wake up calls that “Come on and hear!” or “One, two, three o’clock, four o’clock rock!” were in musical terms. It’s not as pithy for a start. And when you begin to parse it any meaning it might contain slips away.

The sentence has been taken to mean descriptive of an oppressive, lowering sky, deep grey, I assume. (The colour of battleships, painted for action?)

Its first six words are unexceptional. But what, pray, is the colour of television?
I have no difficulty visualising the colour of a (or the) television (which word is still in the back of my mind suffixed by “set”.) Nowadays they’re nearly all black but back when Neuromancer came out in 1984, they could be all sorts, white, blue, pink, yellow. Some even had wood on them; or if it was plasticky, what I used to call pseud wood.

But television, with no defining article, is an abstract noun. Used in this way the word usually means the industry which produces the programmes it displays, not the apparatus they are shown on. And how can an abstract noun have colour? (Another possibility would be the band called Television, also fairly abstract, but that is spelled with a capital T.) It’s not even the apparatus’s screen that could be implied. Nowadays they’re uniformly blackish when the set is switched off; back in the day they were a deep olive green colour. That would be a sky too odd even for Science Fiction – except perhaps off Earth (which this sky wasn’t.)

Then there is that “dead channel”. I don’t suppose the young things these days know what that could possibly look like, when is a channel ever dead now? But then if the channel wasn’t broadcasting (the only possible interpretation of “dead”) the screen wasn’t even a uniform colour. It was spitty and specky, flecked with black and white, displaying what physicists call white noise; not a particular coherent signal as it was designed to do, but any signal – and every signal – picked up in the absence of a modulated transmission. Have you ever seen a flecked, spitty, specky sky? I haven’t. Not then, not now.

That sentence destroyed Neuromancer for me. From that point on I could not trust the author or what he attempted to describe. (I know about unreliable narrators but this was of a different order, it was in the omniscient third person for a start.) I didn’t have quite the same negative response to Gibson’s next novels Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive but still couldn’t really warm to him.

Ballantyne gave us, “The sky was the colour of an unpolished euphonium, tuned to a dead key,” which makes a bit more sense, but only a bit, and he did have the grace to come back to it at the end.

*For myself I think the sky was the colour of an author, straining, unsuccessfully, for effect.

Live It Up 33: (We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang

I wasn’t one for dance music (and we’ll forget the outrageous but intentional misspelling in the song’s title for the moment) but the title of this has become very to the point this month.

As has the lyric. Just replace “Reagan’s” with “Trump is” and “Generals tell him what to do” with “white supremacists tell him what to do”.

This is Heaven 17 in a live performance from a few years ago of their 1981 hit.

Heaven 17: (We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang

“A” One Hundred?

The formulation 100 means “one hundred” in the same way 20 means “twenty”. 100 does not stand in for “hundred”.

So why do some people write “a 100” when they mean “a hundred”?

Would they write “a twenty”? (Granted they could say “a score” instead – but, in the same way that a dozen when written as a numeral is read as “twelve”, “a score” can’t be written as a numeral. If it is, it is read as “twenty”. I can not remember ever seeing “a 12” when “a dozen” was meant.)

So why do we get this nonsense with “a 100”?

Still less should “100s” be used to represent “hundreds”. The word “hundreds” ought always to be written out. If it means anything “100s” means “one hundreds” not “hundreds”. There may be a subtle difference between the two usages but usually hundreds is sufficient to the purpose.

This folly reached a new depth for me when I recently read the phrase “a 120 miles an hour”. That would be “120 miles an hour” then, (a hundred and twenty miles an hour); not “a” one hundred and twenty miles an hour. There can’t be more than one such velocity after all.

I suspect this foolery has come in as people have drifted into the habit of writing the numeral instead of spelling out the number fully when writing prose. I was always taught that it was bad practice to write the numeral in such a circumstance.

Libraries Now Doomed

Fife Council has decided to go ahead with the closure of sixteen libraries in the county. This includes three of those closest to me and which I use regularly.

(I note in the newspaper article in the first link above the occurence of the spelling calamatous. Did the author by any chance mean calamitous? Did no one in an editorial capacity notice?)

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