Friday, August 22, 2008

Three Steps to Heaven

As my nod-off-book, I'm reading (again) Stephen Pinker's "How the Mind Works". It really is an excellent book. Just before I nodded off last night I was reading the speculations about the date of the earliest traces of homo sapiens sapiens, i.e. us.

Pinker talks about the date possibly being around 45,000 years ago.

Now, I don't know about you but I find numbers from around that big and upwards hard to digest. I think we tend to be comfortable with tens and hundreds but when you get into thousands, never mind millions and billions, we lose the arithmetical perspective.

This is perhaps why politicians can say, "the plans we have for reforming XXX will cost 5 or 6 billion pounds/euros/dollars..." and no-one says in return, "hang on a mo, pal... that is a difference of 1 bleeding BILLION! What kind of accountants do you have there?"

Anyhow, I put down the book, turned off the light and started thinking about making all this a bit more graphic.

How about imagining you are on a path, let's say a long country path in the autumn sun... so not too hot, pleasant and fresh... the leaves on the trees are just beginning to turn from green to a slight yellowy-brown... late wasps are buzzing drunkenly...

So... erm.. oh yeah - we are on a path, and now imagine that one step you take is the equivalent of going back 2000 years into the past. So with one step along the path you cover all of recent history back to the clock change from B.C to A.D.

Ok, one step and we are back 2000 years to about year zero. Then take another step and we have reached the first known written texts, the beginning of writing. Every book/papyrus roll/clay tablet/etc. that has ever been written in human history for people like me to nod off to is covered by those two steps.

Take 4 more steps, so 6 altogether so far, and we have arrived at the moment some people somewhere grew a bit of wheat and put a fence around it. The start of agriculture.

To get back to Pinker's date for the possible emergence of us as a species of tool-using, hunter-gathering, foraging creatures you need another 18 steps (please feel free to check my maths!).

So, 24 steps in all to get back to the very first humans who were like us. We wouldn't even need a sit down. Then to get to the oldest distinctly human fossils you need about 80 paces.

Ok, this is fun! Where to next? How about everyone's favourite - the dinosaurs. Let's stroll to the "end of the dinosaurs"; the massive meteor collision which wiped out all the tyrannosauri and brontosauri and whatever and left the coast clear for our very early mammalian ancestors.

How many steps do you think? 100? 500? 1000??

Have a guess, I'll tell you later!!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Couple of Odd Socks

...the title was meant to be metaphoric but as I wrote it, it occurred to me that I actually do only have odd socks. Fortunately they are mostly more or less the same colour so I think I get away with it.

My dad used to say,

"Are you wearing odd socks?"

"Yeah, and funnily enough I have another pair just the same at home."

Right so... erm...

Oh yes, on Friday it was 15th August. To most of you simply a day. To me, for two reasons, a bit more.

Firstly, here in Deepest Bavaria (and in Greece), it is a public holiday, Maria Himmelfahrt (which, due to a linguistic coincidence between English and German, provides us Anglo-Saxons with a little puerile amusement - Himmelfahrt... tee-hee-hee).

Had I not lived in Greece and Deepest Bavaria and been asked maybe ten thousand times by English students what this day is in English, then I, like you, wouldn't have known that it is, in fact, Assumption Day. Reassuringly, having told the students this, you can then ask them, "and what is Assumption Day?" and find that they have no idea!

So, it's a day off in Deepest Bavaria and Greece but also in Greece it is the "end of the summer" or rather, "The End Of Summer". This is another thing I like about the Greeks - they are totally loopy.

I first heard this end-of-summer thing during my first summer in Ioannina probably somewhere round about today, 17th August:

Greek shopkeeper: Brrr, you can tell it is the end of summer!!

Me, soaked in sweat: But it's 45°C!!

Greek shopkeeper and other (Greek) customers: Brrrrr!


The other odd sock is that yesterday evening there was a lunar eclipse here in Deepest Bavaria. Unfortunately, in these days of street lights and living indoors, nobody so much as notices it but it's an amazing thing... and it is easy to imagine how it must have struck terror into the hearts of our hunter-gatherer forefathers and mothers. Very, very slowly a shadow creeps over the surface of the full moon, turning it a sort of miserable bluey-grey until the shadow totally consumes the moon and it then goes a dull red-brown.

I find it amazing to stand there and look at it and imagine that a line from the moon to my eyes which would then be extended back through my head and through the earth would point to the sun, shining away million of miles behind us.

And what links these two socks? No idea actually... hmm, maybe the full moon itself.

I think (in the sense of I am now making this up) the full moon has something to do with the dating of Assumption Day and I am relatively certain (= 100%) that it really has something to do with the eclipse.

Once again Douglas Adams' fundamental interconnectedness of all things to the rescue.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

But What Does It Matter?

The Large Hadron Collider is getting close to being turned on - or whatever it is you do to it to get it to work... somehow 'turned on' seems a bit weedy.

Anyway, I seem to be hearing voices saying, "does it really matter?"

I must admit I have problems with this question. At the risk of being not PC and not tolerant of others' viewpoints and not willing to see the controversy and all that claptrap, my immediate response is, "well, of course it f***ing well matters! It's about where we come from, where the world comes from, where the bleeding universe comes from."

But I think I have missed something in the question. What this question really means is, "I don't know anything about this... I don't want to know anything about this... I am not even the slightest bit interested in this... and therefore I don't understand how anyone else could be interested in this so... does it matter?"

Hmmm... well, does anything matter in that case?

In one sense no, nothing matters. In just 100 years you and I will be dead as herrings but maybe someone will still vaguely know something about us. In 500 years we, our children and even our children's children will be herring-like.

In another sense though, personally, yes things most certainly do matter. I am a human and I can revel in the fact that things matter... they matter to me right now, I demand that things matter!

It happened that I had my guitar with me one day in the teachers' room of a language school where I used to teach. The other teachers wanted to hear me play something so I took out the guitar and started to tune it.

"Oh, what is it with these guitarists?" one teacher asked, "they always have to tune their guitars before they play something! What does it matter?"

(I should mention in her defence that she was Scottish and maybe having been brought up on bagpipe "music" the concept of being in tune was alien to her.)

"Of course it matters, of course you have to tune it... otherwise it sounds horrible"

"Ach, sounds alright to me!"

So I detuned the guitar seriously until even she had to admit that it didn't sound good.

"Right, so how it sounds to you now is equivalent to how it sounded to me before, ok?"

It mattered, it matters, it will matter...

Actually, come to think of it everything matters and as the Large Hadron Collider mght show us where matter came from, it matters too!

Happy Birthday Nicky!

Nicky gently terrorising her sister

25 years ago now I was just being called out of an English lesson by a frantic secretary at the company where I was working and told "the waters have broken".

The rest is history!

My Nicky is 25!!!!! (Neutron faints away into a mouldy, shrivelled heap)

Well, if the weather remains fine - and it BETTER HAD or there will be trouble - we will all be meeting up at the Hirschgarten, Munich's largest beergarten and downing a few litres of Augustiner from the barrel - erm, well, from the glass...and then the pain might recede somewhat.

Happy Quarter Century, darling!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Jamwave, MySpace...

I have a sneaking suspicion that MySpace is easier to set up than I think... it's just that every time I try to sort out my MySpace space I end up spaced out and wondering where I have to click to edit the bloody thing.

Meanwhile my JamWave erm... thing now has a new design and you can listen directly to a couple of songs. Don't know what good it does me being on JamWave but there you go.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Played with Sticks...or Did I?

Since I posted Happy Birthday Williamo I have been asked a couple of times about this diary-keeping thing...

Well, it all began at Xmas 1964 when I got this as one of my presents...

The diary stayed in Liverpool for a long time and then my mother generously gave it to my older daughter - so that my kids could have a good laugh at my expense!!

And, as they do, they did. They really did.

I have had the piss taken out of me mercilessly since then for the naive, innocent, ten-year-old-boy entries I made and for my... erm... somewhat limited access to toys and my consequent enthusiasm for what to my modern-day kids, spoilt, if I may say so, by PlayStations, Gameboys, PC games, etc. which would then have been like artefacts from another planet, seem like objects of incredibly mind-numbing boredom!

To be fair, the very first entry, 1st January 1965, does reveal a certain access to what was a that time a very, very new toy called 'lego'.

Curiously, what looks like the first entry - for 31st December 1964 - is in fact a bit of Winston-Smithian re-writing of the past.
There are a few examples of this where I have obviously revisited the diary from my teenage years to enter something which for some reason I felt I should have written. Don't know why I did that - it is totally obvious too, as the handwriting is completely different...!

Anyway, one of the catch-phrases which has developed amongst my kids to underline the poverty of my childhood play is "Played with sticks. Had a smashing time" (normally done in a Mr Bean-type voice) followed by peals of derisive laughter.

Well, after intensive research of my records of 1965 I can now reveal that I did NOT play with sticks - at least if I did, I didn't bother writing about it.

I think there has been a conflation - as in ancient writings of the past; e.g. the Bible, the Iliad or Odyssey to name just 3 - of two quite separate entries. The first is from 2nd January above where you can clearly see "Played on the pipes... had a smashing time." These were huge concrete sewage pipes which were lying around on a field behind our street waiting to be put underground and it was pretty exciting playing on them, I can tell you!

The second part of this conflation or misinterpretation probably comes from 11th August... here we see, "played with bits of wood..."

Not only are they clearly not sticks they turn out to be bits of wood which would fly through the air if we spun them!!

Beat that with your poxy PlayStation...

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Tax Attacks

I HATE doing my taxes! HATE!! Especially when I am late with them... VAT for the second quarter in his case.

Bleeeuuugghhh... and no matter how you grub around with your bills, tot up the mileages you have driven, rake around for expenses you have had, you always end up having to hand over a huge wodge of cash to these pecuniary leeches.

Today will be like this from Black Books (highly recommended!!)

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Happy Birthday Williamo!

My youngest is now officially a teenager... 13!!

(Does this mean I no longer have any children??)

Anyway, William so far has received all sorts of wonderful pressies, has had cake, gone off with his mates to one of Munich's very pleasant open-air pools, will be back later for more cake and an evening of varied entertainment.

It made me wonder what I did on my 13th and what I got... so, I searched around or my 1968 diary (yep, I kept a diary then... did it for years actually).

(original orthography)
Wednesday, October 16th 1968
This morning I got an Ordinance Survey Map of Roman Britain off Auntie. In Rugby this afternoon we lost 11-8.

Phew... steady on - an overdose of excitement there. Further reading revealed that the Ordinance Survey Map of Roman Britain was not the only pressy:

Friday, October 18th 1968
This morning at the Baths we did gliding in. Tonight my Electric organ came. It is great! At the moment I can play "Abide with me" and "Hark the Herald angel sings!"

This was not a real electric organ by the way - the kind you can programme to play an orchestra-worth of music - this had bellows inside it run by an electric motor (hence electric organ) and it was so loud you could hardly hear the notes.

Meanwhile back in Liverpool in 1968 the excitement had still not abated:

Tuesday, October 22nd 1968
In Gym this morning we ran the mile. I equalled my personal best with 7 mins 9 secs. I am still recovering from it. Tonight the legs for my organ came but fixing them on had to be postponed.

(Sorry, I have no idea why, there the record ends!)

So here we have proof that the kids of today don't have all the fun!

Happy Birthday William!!

Tuesday, August 05, 2008


It's just after 2 in the morning and I am now soaked to the skin but enjoying a cognac to "celebrate" survival.

Over the weekend we were up in Nürnberg having trials of our own getting the PA to work at the Bardenfest where we played Saturday and Sunday.

I (or 'we' until Sunday night) drove up to Nürnberg on Saturday, played two 2-hour sets till 11 pm... had a 'couple' of pints... staggered back to the hotel, 'slept', got up, had breakfast, went back to our stage and played two 2-hours sets again until 10 pm, drove back to Munich - got up, checked emails etc, went off to the studio to do the arrangements for the last lot of songs for the new CD, went off to play a solo gig, had problems with cables and my guitar, got the lovely TM to bring my reserve guitar down to the club, plugged that in to find the battery was nearly flat, played a set, battery gave up on me, changed the battery, finally got everything working, played, ended up talking to an undergraduate from Texas who invited me to Las Vegas to see the Beatles show "Love" over there, oh, and who videoed the evening and said, "you're gonna be SO famous in the US!!" - had a beer or two and went out to find my bike and cycle home through the desultory rain drops that were apologetically splashing on me from the sky... and then the aforementioned cognac...

But tomorrow...

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Whatever Happened to June, It Just Happened to July as Well

Gor blimey... it's August!

Maybe July and August go so quickly because they are interloper months, gate crashing into the calendar.

Have you never wondered why Septem-ber (septem = seven in Latin) is the ninth month, Octo-ber (octo = eight in Latin) is the tenth month, Novem-ber (novem = nine in Latin) is the eleventh month and Decem-ber (decem = ten in Latin) is the twelth month?

Well, it's the bleedin' Romans innit? Just because Julius Caesar and Augustus Caesar were deified after their deaths they also had to be given months too - as if being elevated to god-status was not enough. So they bunged July and August into the calendar between June and September. So, now, my theory is that the summer is getting its revenge by making these months shorter than they should be.

Well, it could be!!

Anyway, for something completely different, here's a really creepy video which shows us what has been going on in the world of robotics while we weren't looking (you might want to turn down the sound a bit before you watch!)