Monday, February 07, 2011

Homophonia

INT. BEDROOM - NIGHT

Mr BC and I are in bed preparing our characters for a new season of Dungeons & Dragons campaigns, because that's the kind of saucy stuff we get up to these days.

ME: My character is going to be massively gung-ho and macho, but I can't think of a name for him.

MR BC: Call him something Pictish.

ME: Great idea, I'll borrow a name from the (largely fictional, history fans) Pictish king list. I'll call him ... *thinks* ... Brude Urpant.

MR BC: You could call him that, but I must warn you, people may laugh.

ME: WHO DARES LAUGH AT BRUDE URPA.. Oh OK, I'll change it to something else.

A couple of minutes pass.

ME: I've got it! I'm going to call him Ben MacDui.

MR BC: (Outraged) You can't call him that!

ME: Why not? Not Pictish enough?

MR BC: Ben's a well-known Jewish name.

ME: Yes, but it's also Scottish Gaelic for 'mountain'. Like 'Ben Nevis'. And Ben MacDui is a cool mountain, it's the second highest peak in the United Kingdom, you know, and it's supposed to be haunted by a ghostly Great Grey Man, although that's pretty much discredited now, and most people think it's probably just a Brocken spectre, although Brocken spectres in themselves are pretty cool, they're like a giant shadow cast on the-

MR BC: You can't call him Ben McJewy, it's racist.

ME: Not McJewy! MacDui! With a 'd'! And a 'u'! And, for that matter, an 'i'!

MR BC: I'm just saying.

ME: Brude Urpant it is then. All hail Brude, Eladrin Druid, occasional shapeshifter, and part-time forklift operator in a Feywild basket warehouse.

MR BC: Sometimes I think you don't take this nearly seriously enough.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The New Old Library

It seems that Penryn Library is about to fall victim to Cornwall Council's £110m cost-cutting initiative, details of which were made public today.


Reading between the lines it looks as though the library will either be closed or handed over to volunteers - if any suitable ones can be found.


Of course my immediate thought, apart from "bastards" and "where will the Blue Kitten get her Turn-the-Wheel with Spot books from now?" and "what kind of civilisation closes its libraries, for fuck's sake", and "there goes another community focal point" and "how can we expect standards of literacy to rise if this is the kind of thing we let happen?" was "well, this poses a problem for Penryn's microtoponymy and no mistake".

You see, just around the corner from the library is a very handsome bow-fronted building, whose name is The Old Library. Here it is, resplendent in today's autumn afternoon sunshine.





The Old Library was once the actual library, but it's someone's house now, a bit like The Old Fire Station*, at the other end of the street.


Which made me think: if the current library goes the way of the Old Library, will the owners of The Old Library have to rename their gaff The Old Old Library?

And as the economic downturn continues to bite into Penryn, where every other shop is now empty, will we soon see a raft of similar name plaques springing up as abandoned emporia are turned into private residences?


'The Old Pet Shop'


'The Old Off-Licence'


'The Old Sex Shop'

And so on, until the whole of Penryn is just a collection of houses whose names preserve a blueprint of how the town used to function.

Which is a neat post-modern concept, but a rubbish reality. I'd rather have the library than The Old Library, any day.


* Which, as James points out, looks like it's built from Lego. In fact this actual Lego fire station looks more like a real fire station and less like Lego than The Old Fire Station does.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Semantics Of Anti-Ageing Creams: A Monograph

Regular readers will no doubt remember my pioneering discovery of Garnier's Law of Mascara Names, which dictates that the product names given to fancy eyelash gunk will double in hyperbolicity every two years, irrespective of any corresponding technical development in the product itself.

I had long suspected that this same law must also apply to other areas of the beauty industry, but lacked the time and wherewithal to investigate further. But a fortuitous combination of circumstances yesterday led to a major discovery which I feel I must document here for the benefit of future generations.

Those circumstances were a) the good fortune of my being on maternity leave, and therefore having more time at my disposal to explore evolving semantics in the cosmetics industry, and b) the chance arrival of an email from Homes and Gardens magazine, inviting me to enter a competition to win a supply of L'Occitane anti-ageing products.

Now the anti-ageing business is not something I profess to know a lot about, being of the opinion that it's all a scam to sell expensive goo to ladies rendered suitably insecure by half a lifetime's exposure to idiot-rags like Grazia and Closer.

However, having time on my hands I duly clicked the link in the email, only to discover - to the delight of my scientific and enquiring mind - that unlike, say, Moore's Law, Garnier's Law of Anti-Ageing Cream Names appears already to have reached the limits of its potential.

Naturally, as Ben Goldacre will tell you, you can't make an assertion like this without first conducting an exhaustive survey across the whole field of enquiry. Before publishing my astonishing findings to the world, I first had to investigate the names given to anti-ageing creams from other companies. Not knowing any off the top of my head, I turned to Twitter for advice. Sadly this elicited little of use, unless you count 'jizz', suggested by @Lfbarfe, or 'Tesco Value French Mustard', suggested by @Nibus.

So, like all serious scientists, I turned instead to Google.

Here I discovered that, by comparison with mascara names, prevailing naming conventions for anti-ageing creams are actually quite modest. L'Oréal, for example, offers us 'Revitalift' and 'Renoviste', hardly the stuff of fervid dreams of long-lost youth. Garnier, meanwhile, prefers 'Vital Restore', which sounds more like a business continuity procedure in a midsize accountancy firm's data centre than a face cream. Elizabeth Arden has come up with the mysterious 'Prevage', which makes me think of André Previn, who makes me think of Andrew Lloyd-Webber, which we can't exactly chalk up as a metaphoric triumph.

This surprising reticence could be indicative of a number of things. Perhaps in a rare moment of marketing sobriety and self-awareness, these companies acknowledged that none of their products *actually* has the capacity to halt the ageing process, and are therefore a bit circumspect about making hyperbolic claims for them. Or perhaps, unlike their impetuous colleagues on the mascara watch, their branding executives are aware of how much time lies ahead, and how they must not gratuitously squander the precious finite resources of the English, French and Franglais lexicons.

But among all the reticence and linguistic frugality, one company stands alone, on a lavender-scented hilltop, throwing circumspection, restraint and Garnier's Law to the marin and the tramontane. Ladies and gentlemen, that company is L'Occitane, who have seen fit to name their anti-ageing range 'Immortelle'.

Immortelle. You don't have to have GCSE French to figure out what they're getting at there. "Buy this face cream," whisper L'Occitane seductively, "and you will become immortal."

It's a bold claim, and not one that I fancy would stand up under the brutal spotlight of scientific scrutiny. It's also not one that I find particularly comforting. Linguistically, 'immortal' is synonymous with 'undead', which conjures up images of hordes of desiccated liches stalking the earth, draped in grand clothing yet showing all too well the weight of years; decay and corruption their constant companion.

On balance I think I'll take my chances with soap, water and death.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I Love The Smell Of Permethrin In The Morning

Of all the wars in which this nation is currently engaged, the least covered in the media, discussed on Twitter, or made controversial reference to by the Deputy Prime Minister during PM's Questions is the War of the Fleas.

This is because the War of the Fleas is a comparatively small war, being fought on quite a localised front, id est down the posh end of Broad Street in Penryn.

(All of Broad Street is *quite* posh, but this end is posher due to its being situated opposite The Square, which is the poshest bit of Penryn by far, and doesn't really take kindly to being overlooked by the scuzzy-by-comparison houses that comprise The Posh End of Broad Street, but there we have it, that's how the medieval town planners laid it out in 1259 and there's no going back now.)

And when I say 'down the posh end of Broad Street' I really mean 'in our house', aka Casa Patroclus, or, if you prefer, Blue Cat Towers.

If one were to follow in the mighty footsteps of A.J.P. Taylor and cast about for the origins of the War of the Fleas - for its inciting incident, if you like - one would be hard pressed to identify anything as definitive as, say, Hitler's invasion of Poland in 1939. No Archdukes were bitten outside no. 42 during any of Penryn's many parades. No tiny aeroplanes emerged from the Western skies to destroy the yuppie flats in the recently-gentrified Inner Harbour. The fleas are not - as far as I can tell - evolved robots returning from hundreds of years in exile with a nebulous plan to annihilate the human race. I have no idea how it started, or how it got to the point I am about to describe.

For readers, I am ashamed to tell you, earlier this summer the situation reached a low ebb for the motley band of human and feline fighters whose wretched lot was to strive valiantly, day in, day out, against the indefatigable hordes of tiny, biting invaders. There were casualties, many casualties, on both sides. Hundreds of fleas were teased from their hiding places among the cat's fur to meet a boiling, salty, watery end. Hundreds perished in sweeping aerial attacks of R.I.P. Fleas. Biological weapons designed to annihilate the fleas' children and their children's children, yea even unto the tenth generation, were strategically, then indiscriminately, deployed. A sheepskin rug had to be thrown out.

To no avail. Like H.G. Wells's Martians, still they came.

Your human and feline heroes had to change tactics. High-tech weapons had failed. Blanket bombing, carpet bombing, bathmat bombing, all had failed. A short-lived offensive which involved transporting individual fleas to Falmouth in the car, then depositing them in Church Street Car Park, proved to be environmentally and logistically inefficient. It was time for something new.

Enter the parcel tape.

Parcel tape, as it turns out, is a pretty effective anti-flea weapon when deployed judiciously. Favourite tactics include:

1. Sticking strips of tape across the carpet, then removing the lot - and any adherent victims - in one satisfying wrench.

2. Watching, waiting, watching, waiting for a nasty leaping beast to get on to the cream-coloured sofa, then swooping from above with a pre-cut section of tape. Result: instant sticky death.

3. Romantically scanning each other's limbs and clothing for errant fleas, then either a) leaping into action with a pre-prepared section of tape or b) wildly shouting 'tape! tape!', in the knowledge that one's other half knows by now exactly what is signified by this stirring war cry, and will respond by passing the nearest roll. (N.B. not to be undertaken while guests are present.)

It has been quite a miserable summer, all told, not helped by being heavily pregnant for most of it. But now we have reached if not the end, then perhaps the beginning of the end. For today the War of the Fleas entered a new phase, marked by the emergence of an exciting new game that may soon be sweeping the nation. I will spare you the intricate detail of Dirt or Dead?, but suffice it to say the winner is the player who can most accurately distinguish between a) a small piece of black fluff and b) a Corpse of the Fallen.

The cat, meanwhile, has taken to living a shadowy twilight existence under the garden table and refuses to set foot in the house. But soon, all will be back to normal. I hope.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Walk In The Park

Opposite our house is a little park, and it was to this park that I yesterday decided to take the Blue Kitten during a break in the seasonal Cornish rain.

While the Kitten is used to going to the park with her dad, an afternoon outing with me is a bit of a rarity, given that I'm one of those Daily Mail hate-figures; a full-time working mum.

Still, it all started off very successfully: we managed to navigate the crossing of the road OK, the Kitten obediently held my hand until we were safely inside the park with the gates closed behind us, and the planned game of kickabout with the plastic football unfolded in frankly impressive style.

(Indeed if Fabio Capello were to send a talent scout down to Penryn, he or she would undoubtedly return Up Country raving about a tiny blonde bombshell, the quality of whose dribbling and running-forward skills cannot be disguised even by the wearing of one-size-too-big Dora the Explorer wellies.)

Not only that, but we had a great game of peeking at each other through some of the new and slightly perplexing municipal exercise equipment, and I successfully dissuaded the Kitten from shredding the poppy wreaths around the war memorial (the park wasn't always a park; until May 1941 it was an impressive Georgian terrace flanking a three-sided Georgian square, brought to an untimely end - along with 18 of its residents - by a stray German bomb probably intended for Falmouth Docks).

There followed a chase around the path and a gaze through the railings at the Bowling Green, which, I informed the Kitten, had been there since the sixteenth century at least; the sea captains domiciled in Broad Street playing endless rounds of bowls while waiting for favourable winds and tides to take them to fight Spaniards, or loot Spaniards, or sell granite to Spaniards according to the prevailing politico-economic circumstances of the day.

(Today, the good citizens of Broad Street and Quay Hill stay indoors playing Fallout 3 and Bioshock 2 as they wait for favourable calls from literary agents, television commissioners, organisers of international sculpture exhibitions and artisanal tea-growers, but the Bowling Green remains, its clubhouse very much a terrestrial departure lounge for Penryn's elderly residents if the frequency of its flag flying at half-mast is any guide.)

This is where it all starts to go wrong. Wearying of my fascinating local history lesson, the Kitten makes a dash for the wrought iron gates, furiously shaking them in an effort to escape the park and go and do something more exciting, like rolling about in the road. In rapid pursuit, I gather up the football and discarded jacket and catch up with the Kitten just as she manages to wrestle her way out on to the pavement. Here, she decides, will be a good place to lie on the ground shouting 'DEATH!' and 'Six Six Six!' for the entertainment of passing motorists. Nothing will persuade her otherwise.

There is no option but to pick her up, temporarily abandon the fallen-off Dora the Explorer welly boot, and bundle her home (which is only on the other side of the road). Heroically, I gather up Kitten plus football plus discarded jacket, and the mission is close to being accomplished.

Except that I can't get up. At eight and a half months pregnant, I am stuck squatting on the pavement opposite my house clutching a wailing two-year-old, a football and a jacket, and I can't move. Something has to be jettisoned, so I let go of the football, which trundles forlornly into the road. A passing motorist slows down, picks it up and throws it back on to the pavement, but there's nothing I can do about that now. I am the worst mother in the world, unable even to go across the road to the park without getting into difficulties and endangering the life of my own child and that of sundry passing motorists. I try not to imagine the Daily Mail headlines.

Seconds later, the Kitten and I both arrive home in floods of tears, much to the bemusement of Mr BC, who thinks we only went for a nice stroll in the park. I dash back out to recover the lost welly boot and the football, only to discover two lost wellies, one of which is in the middle of the road being studiously avoided by passing motorists, and one of which is on the pavement opposite.

There is no sign of the plastic football. I imagine it rolling away down Quay Hill, gathering pace as it approaches the junction with Commercial Road, causing a multi-vehicle pile-up outside Jumblies Day Nursery before bouncing nonchalantly on to Exchequer Quay, rolling towards the edge, falling into the Penryn River and commencing a maritime rampage across the Carrick Roads, causing multi-yacht pile-ups as it bobs merrily towards Falmouth Bay and the wide blue ocean.

In due course it will wash up, faded and deflated, in a lobster shrimp net along Louisiana's BP-blighted Gulf Coast, its historic role as the first football of England's legendary female 2026 World Cup striker unrecognised and uncelebrated.

Today the Blue Kitten's dad will take her to the park. It's by far the best all round.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Sofa No Good

For as long as Mr BC and I have been together (four years and a sundry number of days, fact fans), it's been my mission to procure a sofa that we can both sit on at the same time to watch DVDs and the like.

This has been no easy task given the triple constraints of a) my bank balance, b) the dimensions of the doors and stairwells in my/our various homes to date and c) the vast and comical height discrepancy between Mr BC and me.

When we were first going out, the only piece of comfy furniture I had to my name was a cherry-red leather Klippan from Ikea. Mr BC's six-foot-two frame promptly occupied the whole of said sofa, leaving me to perch awkwardly on a corner for entire seasons of Battlestar Galactica. This forced me into an unscheduled further visit to Ikea, which opportunistically took place between the ceremony and reception of a friend's wedding, from which I triumphantly returned (via the wedding reception) with a stripy Karlstad armchair.


This was promptly occupied in its entirety by the cat.

(In the end we had to drive to Somerset to get another red leather Klippan, so we could all have something to sit on, but that's another story.)

But that was then. Today, due to a variety of fortuitous circumstances, my bank balance is healthier than it used to be, my doors wider and my stairwell more expansive (although the comical height difference between Mr BC and me remains at an immutable 14 inches).

So it was with no little glee that I allowed myself to rootle through the Dwell sale in search of the perfect DVD-watching sofa. I ended up ordering an extravagant modular number, with a long bit, a corner bit and an extra bit for good measure, paying no heed whatsoever to how big these things might be or how much space they might take up in our upstairs living room.

At length (Dwell only deliver to Cornwall once a month, apparently) the items arrived. They got through the front door OK, but there was no way the long bit was going up the stairwell, however expansive its proportions. Eventually the drivers left the parcels downstairs and bid us a hasty goodbye before the INEVITABLE DOMESTIC ARGUMENT broke out.

Presently:

ME: This is all your fault, you know.

Mr BC: How can this possibly be my fault? You chose them. You ordered them. You didn't look to see how big they are, or whether they'd fit up the stairs.

ME: Because of what you told me about the sofa models.

MR BC: What sofa models?

ME: When we first knew each other, you told me that on sofa adverts, all the models are little people.

MR BC: Did I?

ME: To make the sofas look bigger, you said.

MR BC: Ah, oh. Ah. I see what's happened here.

ME: Yes. You told me that all sofas are modelled by dwarves. Therefore I have accidentally ordered an enormous sofa that doesn't fit in our house.

MR BC: I was flirting with you. Because you're quite small, and yet quite nicely proportioned. I was saying you could be a sofa model.

ME: Oh. I thought you were just trying to tell me that all sofas are tiny in real life.

MR BC: No.

ME: I've warned everyone I know.

MR BC: Look, this bit's broken.

The long bit of the sofa has indeed been damaged in transit.

ME: Hurrah, we can legitimately send it back!

Several weeks and another visit from Dwell later, we have a huge, fantastic modular sofa in our upstairs living room, made out of one extra bit and two corner bits. The broken long bit has gone back on the Dwell lorry, and everyone's happy.

Later, we're recounting this story to the lovely Rach, of Nappy Mountain fame, and her lovely husband Rob, who've come for a blogmeet during their holiday in Cornwall. During the retelling, Rach and Rob exchange meaningful glances. Afterwards they inform us that they have a friend who *is* an actual sofa model, and he is six foot four.

Not long after, Mr BC and I are lounging together on the new sofa, watching Sherlock.

ME: You could be a sofa model, you know.

MR BC: Shh.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

If Business Was Really Like Inception

What a jolly romp Inception is, eh, film fans? A bit like reading a copy of Monocle after watching The Matrix and falling asleep on a train.

I enjoyed it in lots of ways (apart from its handling of the female characters, which was standard action-movie sexist tosh, and let's not even bother trying to apply the Bechdel test), but the most enjoyable aspect for me was its unintentionally hilarious depiction of the sort of thing that goes on in the world of business.

Now I've worked in 'business' for most of my adult life, so I reckon I'm fairly au fait with its daily rhythms and preoccupations. And this may surprise you, but my experience doesn't exactly tally with the depiction presented to me last night by Messrs C. Nolan & co.

If business was *really* like Inception, it would go something like this:

INT. MEETING ROOM - DAY

MARKETING DIRECTOR (terribly serious expression, portentous tone of voice) Jake, I need to know what Mega Corp. are planning for next week's product launch.

JAKE: Oh, my mate works for Mega Corp, I'll ask her, shall I?

MARKETING DIRECTOR (even more serious): No. Your friend could have been compromised. Or... worse.

JAKE: I could ring Bill McBill at PC Answers, he'll have had a press invitation.

MARKETING DIRECTOR: No. McBill can't be trusted. He's been to too many Mega Corp events. Brain got fried at that last wireless mouse launch. Can't even recognise his own children now.

JAKE: Er, I could ask on Twitter?

MARKETING DIRECTOR No. (Shouting) No! That's a trap, too easy. Jake... Jake... I need you to assemble a team. The finest people you can find. Hire them if you have to. From exotic foreign countries, if you have to. This is mission-critical.

JAKE: Right, OK, and, er, what would you like them to do?

MARKETING DIRECTOR: I need you to get inside the mind of Mega Corp. Find out what they're planning. Breakfast at the Lanesborough? Balloon flight over Hertfordshire? Go-kart racing in Nuneaton? We just don't know, dammit.

JAKE: You want me to assemble a team of mind-readers?

MARKETING DIRECTOR: More than that. I need you to lay a trap. Find a way to draw them in, reveal their H1 marketing plan. Get someone who can design an MMORPG, the best there's ever been. And a hypnotist. And an acrobat. And someone who can synthesise a new strain of MDMA that's stronger than LSD but subtler than Summer Meadow Fairy Liquid. And someone who can drive a van. And some really big weapons.

JAKE: (scribbling in notebook) What sort of weapons?

MARKETING DIRECTOR: Doesn't matter, as long as they're really big.

JAKE: And you'd like this done by when? Only I've got that contact report to write up by lunchtime.

MARKETING DIRECTOR: We only have two days. Here's a new suit, a first-class ticket to Bulawayo and passports in twenty different names. Good luck.

JAKE: Are you sure you wouldn't just like me to look on Facebook?

MARKETING DIRECTOR: (Portentous) Good luck, Jake.

UPDATE: Emordino draws my attention to this Inception spoof in the New Yorker, along the same lines but about a billion times better. The end bit is the best.