Monthly Archives: July 2006

A jump lead walked into a bar and said, "Gimme a drink!"

The barman said, “Well okay, but don’t start anything”.

Asking for money

Sometimes by the side of the road you see people holding a sign up, begging for cash.

My friend US Nick* swears blind that he saw two kids holding up this sign by the side of the road:

Parents killed by Ninjas,
Need money for Kung fu class.

* This is to differentiate between US Nick who came to visit recently and UK Nick who you may have seen mentioned before.

Moon Eaters

There once was a family of mice who lived on the moon. Their entire lives had been devoted to that moon ever since they could remember. Their family history told of generations and generations of moon miners. That was just the way that their family had always been.

But now things seemed to be changing. That’s what Grandpa Simon had to admit, and he didn’t want to. He had to realise that things had changed these days. That people didn’t need the moon to just wax and wane like it had before. How much moon did people really need? There were a lot of mice around now. And people needed more things. Those little creature comforts that made life just that little bit easier. So what if the moon waned a little bit more than it used to? Who was Grandpa Simon to stand in the way of progress?

Grandpa Simon was a great big long grey mouse who knew a thing or two. He was old and crotchety and had thinned out more than he really liked people to see. He knew he was old, everyone else knew he was old, but did they have to talk about it the whole time like it was suddenly the latest fashion on the block?

Simon, lifted himself off of some straw his nephews and nieces’ decedents had laid for him, and he waddled over to the centre of the room. He didn’t have to waddle any more, he’d been thinning out for a few months now, but he knew that those around him would literally think less of him if he didn’t. What was he going to do? The moon was dying, the moon hadn’t been so green before? It was definitely greener. And the story that Jennifer had redecorated was getting old fast. He needed to get them to do something. But what?

Why didn’t they notice that the world around them was crumbling away and the only way to fix things was to go back to the old ways. But the old ways were hard. The new ways made things easier for everyone. In the old days someone like Simon would have had things no different than he had things now. But in the old days he’d have been the only one. In the old days people would have gone hungry and the moon wouldn’t have supported all of these people. Whereas now people were free-er. The moon was fairer now. And everyone could do what they wanted always knowing that there was a moon shaped safety net underneath them to save them if they never worked again.

It was all his fault, Simon had ruined the moon and he knew it. He had been seen as the great saviour. The free-er of the masses, but in the end what had he really done? The ruling class had, he had to admit now, known about the problems of balance. They had been eating the moon for years. They had been living off of it, enjoying it, but never – ever – revealing its secrets to the masses. But then suddenly one of the masses had got in charge: Simon.

He had been walking alongside a parade one summer, the stink was high at the time, and everything felt like it was leading up to be a great summer when suddenly Simon found himself in a fight he hadn’t started. He was just between these two men who were at each other like it was the end of the world. And Simon, in a split second, decided that one of them had kinder eyes than the other. And he took sides. He was hailed as the saviour of the royal family because the one with the kinder eyes had been the future prince. And Simon was promoted to the aristocracy. And the minute he had been promoted he learned about how you could eat the cheese.

For three years he survived under the prince out of respect for what he had given him. But then the prince died and Simon had no further allegiance. So he decided to tell the moon what had been kept from them for all of this time, they could eat the cheese. He thought it would free the common man from the tyranny with which they had been oppressed. But in the end it had lead to havoc.

Now nobody worked. Now all everyone did was eat the moon that they lived on. And now the moon was almost gone. The last great moonslip had happened a month ago when four thousand mice had slipped over the edge. The only person who could save them was Simon. He knew. He had to think of something…

Check in next Friday for more Moon action.

Why did the lobster blush?

Because the sea weed.

Boy inter…

I was reading an article on the guardian website the other day: Leave me alone… which talked about how corrosive interruptions are to modern life. My job is at the extreme end of this as I’ll often have three people vying for me to talk to them all at the same time standing around my desk while I’m trying to do something for myself. The average according to the article seems to be that most people are interrupted every three minutes which is pretty bad, but my question is about how many of these interruptions are things that we actually have to deal with now?

In the situation I described above you have to respond. Somebody has wandered over into your space and asked you a question. It’s the same thing with a phone call. If you don’t answer then the other person won’t go away (especially if you don’t have voicemail). But what about a text or e-mail? Or a reminder in Outlook. All of these make noises and stuff but then we’ve chosen that they do. None of these things actually have to be dealt with instantly. We can respond when we want to respond. We could put them all on silent. And then remember to look at a scheduled time (but without a popup reminder of when this scheduled time is how would you remember)?

The reason we don’t have all of these things on silent is that we like to be interrupted sometimes. And sometimes the thing interrupting us is important enough that it should be considered more important than what we’re doing. We kind of need a way of being able to judge where that importance level goes. The only problem is that you need a two way level of priority because if we left it up to the people who want us to do stuff for them then it would always be level 1 priority.

I’m not sure how it would be organised, but it would be something like this. You want to be able to rank people by a level of how much you know them, so junk mail and cold callers have a rank of zero, firms that you have signed up to deal with have a rank of one. Above that you have colleagues and then friends and so on up until you get to say your partner right at the top. Then each of the people sending you stuff can add a priority level to the stuff they are doing and if they don’t set anything then it defaults to zero.

We already have the capability for receiving e-mail. We could set complicated rules and automatically downgrade anyone who didn’t set an importance level to the e-mail that they were sending (if they don’t care enough to assign an importance level then they aren’t important enough to listen to). But what about phone calls? What about people just walking up to you and not noticing that you’re in the middle of something?

Perhaps the only solution is the one suggested at the end of the article… I’m off to saw off a bit of all of my chair legs. Oh wait a minute. Sadly it turns out that I work in an office in the modern world and all of the chairs have wheels on the bottom.

Two oranges walk into a bar…

One turns to the other and says, “you’re round”.

Waiting for Pizza

I was at a theme park some years ago in up state New York and I was standing on line* for a slice or two of pizza and a beer.

I was standing with a friend of mine and we were looking at the choices available. The line was long and so we got to discussing what was a better deal: two small slices or one big slice. I was suggesting that the single larger slice was a better deal. No, my friend argued, it couldn’t be because you actually got less pizza. No you didn’t I argued, although the diameter numbers looked that way you had to take account of Pi. I almost certainly made a joke about how Pi was a factor in choosing your pizza pie.

It was a pretty geeky conversation, I know that I probably don’t come off well from it, but somebody comes off less well in a moment, just hold on.

Suddenly a voice from about three feet below me calls out up to her father, “Dad make that man stop talking, he’s making my brain think”.

*Look I was in America so I was on line. If this really upsets you then feel free so substitute queuing although it’s not really the English way.**

**Generally in English if there is are multiple words that can be used in a situation that’s what becomes adopted. Although that can seem counter intuitive actually it makes sense because our language much more flexible. Although some English speakers deride people’s splitting of the infinitive it is to the fundamental benefit of the English language that we are able to do it and still be understood. Variation is the spice of life***

*** indeed, variety is the point.

"Why do you look so lonely?"

“Why do you look so lonely?”

“I don’t know, maybe because I am lonely”, the lonely looking guy looked up from his beer after he’d finished speaking. He slightly chuckled to himself in a way that sounded like it meant the subject was being closed.

Helen continued to stare at him as he looked back down at the bubbles forming on the top of his beer. The brim of his hat touched the rim of the bottle. She made a decision.

“What’s your name?”

He started to answer, he opened his mouth to do it. But before he could say anything he was ceased by a smile. A grin really, and she knew from that grin that he was a good guy.

And kinda interesting too.

“Bill. Bill,” he paused to chuckle again, a slight half chuckle which told Helen that, if she could have seen his eyes, they must have sparkled at exactly that moment, “my name’s Bill. What’s yours?”

Bill looked up and turned. He still didn’t look quite at her. But he certainly was paying more attention to her than his beer. As if to redress the issue he lifted up his beer bottle and buried it’s neck somewhere under his moustache.

“I’m Helen”, she thought for a second. And then another. She knew through both of these seconds that it would be possible to go with this man. This man that she found attractive, this man that she could love. But for every second that she remained thinking about it she knew that it couldn’t happen. Consider, she considered, the practicalities of the situation.

Could she really go out with a guy now? Especially a guy that she’d just met? She knew that for every second she kept thinking about it then she wouldn’t go for it. And she knew that she’d keep thinking about it until it was no longer a possibility. She was her own worst enemy, and she hated that. But at the same time she knew it was her best defence. If she could just keep herself thinking then she didn’t have to commit.

Why was she so bothered? She’d not gone out with people so many times before? And she didn’t even like men with moustaches! The only thing that bothered her was the realisation that not going out with people was easier in the short term but that easier in the short term almost certainly didn’t mean happiness in the long term.

It’s a thing that Helen had been thinking about more and more recently. That the things that gave her the most happiness in the short term, drink, drugs, sex… were very rarely related to long term happiness. In fact every single thing that was an easy way to be happy today was an easy way to be miserable tomorrow. And the opposite was true too, the things she was most proud of in her life had been real hard. They really took an effort, but she had never looked back on an effort and thought that she had wasted her time.

“I sound like a PBS special”.

“What?”, Bill looked confused, and suddenly he looked directly at Helen. “What did you say?”

“I said, I sound like a PBS special. I had had this whole conversation in my own head. Like it could have been in somebody else’s head I guess, but there it was in my own head, and then at the end the next thing I needed to say to myself was to tell myself that I was sounding like a PBS special, but unfortunately I thought that thought too loudly and ended up saying it out… well to you.”

“I like PBS, and I like you.”

“Okay, well I like you too, so what are we going to do about it?”

“Well I’m going to buy another beer right now. Just one more but I’m going to do it. And I’d like to buy you a beer too. Or whatever it is that you’d like to drink…”

“Beer’s fine.”

“Right, well I’m going to buy both of us a beer, and then we’ll just see how that goes. But there’s one condition”.

“What’s that?”

“I want you to talk about who you are. Because I’m interested in who you are. But I need to know from you before I buy you this drink, that when you talk about you, you won’t sub-vocalise anything. You’ll just tell me exactly what you’re thinking. Because while you might think that what you’re thinking is the most embarrassing thing in the world. To me it’s the most interesting thing you can say.”

Where do Bees go to the toilet?

At the Bee Pee station.

The Miser and the River

On the south side of the Thames is a full size model of the Golden Hind. The original Golden Hind was the ship that Francis Drake used to travel around the world*. When he went around the world in his ship he was the first Briton to circumnavigate the globe and it took him three years. This replica Golden Hind has also been around the world before returning to its mooring place on the south of the Thames.

But it is the dock rather than the ship that I’d like to talk about. The dock is known as the dock of St Mary Overie. And the dock has a story as fantastical as those told about the Golden Hind itself.

On the site of the dock many many years ago lived a man who made his money by transporting people back and forth across the river to their jobs in the City of London. He was a horrible miser who tried to save every penny he could. He was always trying to come up with new schemes to save himself money. And finally he thought he had come up with a really great one he’d pretend to die.

He thought it would work something like this, he would pretend to be dead and his whole family would go into mourning. The best thing about mourning, as far as he was concerned, was that you had in those days to not eat anything for the entire period of mourning. This would save him a whole lot of money as he thought it would mean he wouldn’t have to feed his entire family for three days.

However the plan didn’t work out quite the way that he’d imagined. Instead of mourning when he seemingly died the family were quite happy as they all really hated him. So Mary, his wife, sent for her lover with news to come and join her for a big party that they were going to hold that evening. He was so excited by the news that he might get hold of the Miser’s money that he set off immediately for their house on the fastest horse he could get. Unfortunately he was in such a rush that he failed to pay attention to what was going on around him, his mind was so focused on the money, that he didn’t spot the branch of a tree that the horse (rather more sensibly ducked under) and he was killed instantly.

While all of this scheming and plotting had been going on the Miser had been quietly lying in his coffin thinking of all of the money that he’d been saving, it was only once the party started going that he began to realise that his money saving plan wasn’t working that he jumped out of this coffin and ran towards the party.

What he hadn’t quite realised was that his one virtuous daughter was sitting in the room with him praying for his eternal soul when he had jumped up out of his coffin. So convinced was she that she had just seen the devil’s work that she grabbed the nearest shovel and whacked her father on the head with it repeatedly until he really was dead.

Mary was so distraught by what had happened that she realised that she had to change her ways. Her husband and her lover had been killed and her daughter had become a murderess all in the pursuit of money. So Mary decided to give it all away, and became an incredibly charitable woman who worked tirelessly for the poor of London. She founded a nunnery which was known as St. Mary Overie. The nunnery was destroyed in the reformation but the church part became the church known as St. Saviour. Then in the 1900s the church became Southwark Cathedral.

* When the ship left England it was actually known as the Pelican but was renamed during the voyage. Drake renamed it just before reaching what was imagined to be the really treacherous part of the journey: the straights of Magellan. In fact that bit was relatively easy for the ship, it was the pacific ocean which was a big problem some months later. Those on board must have been especially pleased at this point as they had not been told when they left England that circumnavigation was on the cards. They thought they were going to Africa. Some people complained about the whole round-the-world thing but Drake killed them.