Blog posts September 13 - 18

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From coffee to internet (18 September)

Bar Italia 18.9.21

Since lockdown I've been getting up early most days and doing writing. First at home, before the rest of the house stirred, then sitting outside cafes and sitting scribbling in in my Alwych ALL WEATHER notebooks. I'm now very familiar with what time Central London cafes open.

I started off with something a bit like Morning Pages - just unfiltered random noodling, not intended to be read. That was incredibly satisfying for a long time and it undoubtedly helped to keep me a little bit saner. But after about a year it started seeming a little bit sterile and samey. I find it hard to write for myself. There's less pressure to find the right words, to make the right effort. I don't really care what I think. I care what you think. Even if I don't want you to tell me. So it was less satisfying.

Then I tried to make it more like a diary. Maybe the audience can be Future Me. But that didn't really work either. I care even less about Future Me. what's he ever done to me?

So, I thought, maybe my daily writing can be blogging. That's what I really like. Random (mostly) unfiltered noodling but with some vague sense of an audience*.

But, I further thought, I don't want to take a typing device to coffee. I have also enjoyed the manual pleasures of scribbling in a notebook. So, I have surrendered to the instagram advertising algos and bought myself a Remarkable 2.

I am currently scribbling on that. Testing the limits of its handwriting recognition.

And that will be the plan. I guess this is Day Zero. I will be writing inane thoughts and sending them from coffee to internet. Though probably with some filtering in between to correct mis-recognition and to add pictures and footnotes if necessary.

For the record: it's 8:05 AM. I'm at Bar Italia in Soho, London. There is opera in the background and the smells of waste and autumn mingling in the air. Ronnie Scott's are taking a delivery of vegetables. Outside Caffe Nero a man attempting to connect to a Lime bike and swearing at his phone.

*As Clive Thompson says: “Even if I was publishing it to no one, it’s just the threat of an audience.” and "I’d argue that the cognitive shift in going from an audience of zero (talking to yourself) to an audience of ten people (a few friends or random strangers checking out your online post) is so big that it’s actually huger than going from ten people to a million people."

Local news (17 September)

2 September 2021
Buxton Advertiser

Polysyndeton (16 September)

I normally write in that annoyingly plain and chatty way that grow up with blogging and involves saying 'stuff' a lot. But, for some reason, possibly overexposure to the Book of Common Prayer, I do this...

"Polysyndeton is, in a nutshell, the overuse of conjunctions. It can give an emphatic sense of grandeur to a bare list of things, however. The King James Version of the Bible is full of it, as witness Genesis I, 26: ‘And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.’ The opposite of asyndeton."

Apparently it's called polysyndeton.

From You Talkin To Me by Sam Leith

Blog all dog-eared pages: Contact (15 September)

Contact by Mark Watson is full of insightful thoughts about the now, technology and life.

"The fact was, she quite obviously couldn’t go to sleep while all this was going on. And that thought was cheering in its own right. No point in going to sleep. Insomnia couldn’t touch her while she was handling this crisis. The night seemed so thick when you were trapped in it, but being up and busy reminded you of how brittle it was. Soon, there would be no night left."

"It had been a terrible, painful slog to achieve a distance which many runners would do a couple of times a week. But even three months ago he wouldn’t have been able to run if an axe-murderer was after him. Through the exhaustion he recognized, with a swelling of the chest, that he’d surprised and surpassed himself."

"‘Are you still liking it, the driving?’ asked Karl, in a tone which contained a number of male ingredients James correctly identified: a little envy, a little regret, and a total refusal to admit either of those even to himself."

"That night, James did look up the relevant form. File a Customer Abuse or Harassment Report, said the heading, in a cheerful font which would have been at home on the website for a boutique hotel. As soon as he started typing, a pop-up box asked whether he would be interested, after filing this report, in answering some questions about how easy it was to use; he could win a case of champagne."

"This was his fourth round of toast since all the chaos began. They were going to have to get a new toaster if he kept going like this. He was trying so hard. If the loss of her son was a problem that could be solved by carbohydrates alone, as he seemed to believe it was, it would all be over by now. But this was what Lee did, she supposed. If he sensed she was a bit down, he put up a shelf. If she talked about a health complaint he immediately emptied the dishwasher."

"Sports news was showing on the TVs which played to an empty bar: subtitles over red and blue jumpers playing rugby. Tomorrow’s match in Eddie Blair, said the caption, and then the correction: Tomorrow’s match in Edinburgh."

"We often hear that technology is fragmenting the world, reducing our relationships to screen exchanges rather than the real stuff, and so on, as if machines – rather than humans – were responsible for maintaining our mental health. I wanted to write something which explored the opposite possibility: that phones give us a power to affect and improve each other’s lives that we have never had in history before. Contacts was of course written before the bewildering events of 2020, but the lockdown has reminded a lot of us how dependent we all are upon the core relationships in life, on our networks, and perhaps how much we’ve taken some of those relationships for granted. Contacts is about the fact that, for all its dangers, the age of instant communication gives us what is basically a superpower … If we only choose to use it."

For some reason (14 September)

I'm still doing these

Cafe in the park (13 September)

This is one of the Regent's Park cafes. It's gone under various names but I think of it as 'the cafe in the park'. It's a place of happy memories for me. Trips with Anne and Arthur, and latterly the destination for trips in the Morris Minor and a place to meet colleagues during lockdown.

At one point, in the 60s, it was, apparently a Little Chef. It was also the setting for an odd scene recounted in the Regent's Park Lit tour.

"From the Outer Circle we head south across the long slope and over a bridge. A short walk along the Inner Circle brings us to the Rose Garden restaurant, scene of a farcical encounter related by John Mortimer in his autobiography, Clinging to the Wreckage (1982). He is very vague about dates but it must have been some time in the Sixties when he arranged to meet his wife, the novelist Penelope Mortimer, to discuss their divorce.

'We sat in the sunshine and Penelope ordered spare-ribs. It was extraordinarily peaceful as we sat surrounded by a silence which was only emphasized by the distant murmur of traffic.'

Suddenly Penelope freezes, looks horrified, sweeps up her belongings and rushes off. Mortimer sits on, musing at this turn of events, and absent-mindedly bites into the half-eaten spare-rib. Unfortunately he has had a tooth capped that morning, and part of the cap breaks off. At that moment he is called to the phone. It's Penelope, apologising.

'I said that I understood perfectly and that it was not an easy thing for anyone to sit at lunch discussing a divorce. It wasn't exactly that, she explained. What had happened was that, as she bit into her spare-rib, a cap came off her tooth and she hadn't wanted to go on sitting with a mouthful of gap...

I went out into the sunshine where the plates hadn't yet been cleared away. And there was the spare-rib which had captured fragments of dentistry from each of us, and which held them tightly and remorselessly together.' "