Saturday, August 26, 2006

While Late Night Zapping

(Warning: bit long this post!)

Sitting slumped in the armchair with the remote loosely grasped in my hand I zapped around the TV channels the other night. A shock of recognition woke me somewhat when I saw Professor Richard Dawkins on some sort of chat/interview/everyone-talk-at-the-same-time-and-nobody-listens programme.

“What the…?”

It was called something like “My Life” and it featured the aforementioned RD surrounded somewhat threateningly I felt by a group of mainly young people of various religious faiths.

“Oh here we go…evolution v. bible/Koran/Tibetan Book of the Dead or whatever…”

The presenter, whose name I made a mental note of remembering but have subsequently forgotten anyway, was good, objective and not afraid of cutting through the mindless unconsidered drivel some of his participants came out with – a feature which I have never before experienced on TV and which made the programme even more worth watching.

It turned out not to be the endless evolution “debate” – Dawkins quashed that quite early on by saying that any intelligent person, whether a member of a religion or not, accepts the overwhelming proof for the process of evolution, “the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Pope, high-ranking Buddhists, Jews…”

One of the main things I noticed was the complete misunderstanding and misrepresentation of Dawkins’ views.

“Why,” asked a Hindu, “are you trying to dictate what we all should believe? Religion is a powerful comfort for many people – why do you want to take that away?”

“I am doing nothing of the sort!” Dawkins replied. “You can believe what you want. I am here because this is a discussion about truth and I think to get to the truth you need to examine evidence and that is what science tries to do. There are no militant atheists trying to force people to believe something and then kill them if they don’t. That seems rather to have been the prerogative of some of the more popular religions over the years!”

Collective drawing in of breath!

A Muslim woman pointed out, “the Koran has not changed for over 1300 years, surely this shows that it must be true?”

“Well, for example, it says in the Koran that an adulteress should be stoned to death…”

A young bloke said, “There is a section written in the Koran for unbelievers. It says, “We, the believers, believe what we believe and you, the unbelievers, believe what you believe. We will never believe what you believe and you will never believe what we believe.”

The presenter commented, “Well, that was certainly worth writing down!”

An Anglican vicar picked up on Dawkins’ atheism.

“You have no proof that god does not exist so shouldn’t you really call yourself an agnostic and not an atheist?”

At this point I wanted to reply myself not about the hair-splitting atheist or agnostic point but the proof of existence bit but I couldn’t of course being still slumped, at least not quite so corpse-like as before, in front on the TV and not in the studio. However, having my own blog means that here I can, albeit belatedly, butt in!

When I was a teenager, as my doubts about religions and my awareness of their mutual inconsistencies began to grow, I started to think about the difference between proving that something does exist and proving that something doesn’t exist.

It is not just the same thing the other way around or whatever.

If someone claims there is a kind of butterfly with “eat my shorts” written on its wings then no matter how sceptical you are to begin with it would only need one such butterfly to be caught – or maybe a family of them – for you to be convinced that they exist. However proving that such a butterfly does not exist…well, where do you begin? Even after you have combed every square inch of the world and not found one it could still be that on some remote planet there is indeed a creature which we would classify as a butterfly and which has shapes on its wings which very much resemble the words “eat my shorts”.

Proving that this thing does not exist becomes an infinite task.

So, if it is vastly easier to prove that something does exist, wouldn’t it be fairer to put the onus on those who actually claim that this particular thing does exist?

Perhaps that’s worth writing down too.

Anyway, the TV programming bosses, in their infinite wisdom about how much serious thought we can handle in one evening, had imagined that 30 minutes should be enough to deal with this topic, so prof. Dawkins, the presenter and the assembled religious representatives ran out of time of course and finished having scratched the merest nano-millimetre of the surface.

I went back to zapping between “Celebrity Love Cess-Pit” and “Australian Snail Sucking Championships” and started wondering why so much TV is total junk and why the little jewels now and then are more then than now.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

So, what was I doing...?

It started with my monitor. It just wouldn’t turn on. It made that sort of monitor sound ‘…zzzzapp! – crackle …crackle’ but then there was a kind of quiet ‘clunk’ at the side and it then just sat there looking blank.

I left it to cool down a bit and then tried again. Zzzapp – crackle crackle …clunk.

Now, of all the apparatus I have lying around or hooked up to the PC, the monitor is the newest …and it is not second hand or on permanent loan – I actually went to a local ‘cheap’ PC shop and bought it just 2 years ago when my old monitor had got so greeny-dark of picture that it was like peering into a festering aquarium.

This seemed to be a job for the vacuum cleaner. It gets incredibly dusty in my ‘office’ and that often leads to the electronic stuff overheating – which also leads to clunk type noises as various equipment gives up the struggle.

So I went and dug the hoover out of the broom cupboard and hauled it into the room. I noticed a few wodges of dust under the desk so I sucked them up first. Then I tried to hoover the monitor through those little slits at the back – I gave the casing a couple of thuds too to loosen the dust inside. “While I am at it,” I thought, “I might as well do the PC”. So I put the nozzle of the hoover at the back against the grill where the fan is and let that do a bit of dust sucking too.

By the way, the German language, once hailed by philosophers for its clarity and literalness, has a fine expression for vacuum cleaner. I mean “vacuum cleaner” is a bit weedy and non-descriptive anyway, which is probably why in English we use the much more evocative and onomatopoeic “hoover” in everyday speech.

Erm ...where was I? Oh yeah, German.

Well, the German for vacuum cleaner is Staubsauger which literally translated means “dust sucker”! Isn’t that great? For me it ranks alongside the German for “glove” which is Handschuh – literally “hand-shoe”.

So, vacuum cleaner still in hand, I looked over at Lappy. “Hmm, keyboard could do with a quick once over” – lots of mini-crumbs there from too many biscuits and sandwiches consumed during translations.

So I ran the nozzle from side to side across the keys until suddenly – thhhhunk….rattle rattle rattle …thwunk…

The zero key was gone!!!! Down into the unappetising bowels of the dust sucker.

I had a moment of vague panic as the hoover seemed to be screaming out for more and I looked at my disfigured keyboard waiting for blood to come pumping out of the wound…then I gathered my wits and turned the moaning mutilating monster off.

Into the kitchen; newspaper on the floor; open up the hoover; remove the bag – ER theme music in the background… I started exploratory surgery. I carefully tugged out some tufts of hairy dust… no key …then some more …nothing … swab …oxygen …

Finally there it was, the zero key still attached to a little bit of black plastic. Right, back into the ‘office’. On the keyboard itself there was a rubbery stump sticking up and another little black plastic part. Obviously these two little black parts fit together somehow.. hmmm.

I had often wondered how the keys work on a keyboard and now I know… it’s dead ingenious and dead fiddly when you try and put it back together having to rely on deduction and reverse engineering to understand where each bit goes. Anyway after about an hour of delicate plastic manipulative surgery, including bits pinging away onto the floor and a fair degree of cussing and swearing I finally got the key clicked back into place…

Aaaahh… that’s better!

Now, what was I doing again…?

Friday, August 18, 2006

Back to the Nest

Well, we got here. Through rainstorms and showers, drizzle and hail – and traffic jams, don’t forget the traffic jams…

We got to Dunkerque at just after midnight and had a 5 hour wait till the ferry at 6 a.m. The rain was streaming down, lashing down, battering down on the roof of the car as we tried to snooze.

Around 5, through the misty windscreen, I could make out a strange orange blob hovering towards us – alien abductor, balloon from “the Prisoner” - I wound down the window a little – actually you don’t ‘wind down’ windows any more in these new-fangled cars do you…erm ...buttoned down the window … motored down the window…? - and a strange voice said, “lowdin’ in ten minutes, moit.”

It was the very wet and windswept steward from Norfolk Ferries in his wildly inadequate oilskins.

You must do a crossing with Norfolk Ferries …the boats are amazing. The first time I crossed on one I had to ask to make sure I wasn’t on a luxury cruise ship to the Bahamas …they are dead posh …shining marble and steel and glass. The problem is that the passengers look like the last refuges from a bombed out village in Iraq …bleary eyed and cruddy-looking – crashed out anywhere there is a body-sized bit of carpet …plastic bags of duty-free offers tucked in around them…

We got a seat facing a floor to ceiling window …wow …the Channel can be dead impressive. A rain-soaked foreboding sky and a sea a mixture of two disturbing colours – a military steely-grey and a sickly hospital green. Over towards the French coast the pendulous clouds were licked on their distended underbellies by a lurid unhealthy pink-orange reflection of dawn.

The White Cliffs looked very white too for once.

We disembarked and set off for the ’Pool. 500km and two appalling coffees (taste and price) later we straggled down the avenue, up the path and into the abandoned forlorn house.

It’s funny how little things can affect you powerfully even when you know they are going to be the way they are. I mean, I know there is no-one in the house to cut the grass and I know no-one has cut the grass this year and I know the weather has been very agreeable for unsupervised grass to grow …but still when I looked out of the back window and saw this …

…it hit me yet again that there is really no-one living here any more and what always seemed like a refuge …a nest, was not so nestlike any more.

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Saturday, August 12, 2006


Off we go through the rain and cold of Germany to the rain and cold of England. We should be there tomorrow midday.

Expect patchy posts in the meantime...



Thursday, August 03, 2006

Tenuous Grasp

I have just got back from one of the companies where I teach English. The last lesson was with a bloke, Tony, whom I have been teaching for years.

He got a new colleague a month ago... a 31-year-old father of two young kids. Tony was off last Monday and he phoned in the afternoon to check that everything was ok with his colleague...

"Yes, everything's ok ...see you tomorrow!"

"See you tomorrow..."

The new colleague went home at 4 ...had dinner, played with his kids until it was time for them to go to bed. Apparently he always went into the children's bedroom with them and lay down on the floor next to the bed while they settled down and went off to sleep - he didn't like them to go to sleep alone. So on Monday evening he lay down on the floor as usual and reached out to hold his young daughter's hand as she drifted off.

His wife looked in after an hour and she saw they were all asleep ...that often happened!

A couple of hours later she thought she'd better check again ...Thomas would be awake all night if he slept so long now.

When she went back in the children's room, Thomas was still lying there, still holding his little daughter's hand but he was stone dead.

Heart attack ...31 ...never ill in his life.

What a tenuous grasp we have on this slippery thread of life.