Thursday, September 28, 2006

Lingual

When I was in the selection process for a top-secret job at GCHQ, somewhere back in the early 90s, one of the things they tested me on was my ability to learn a new language at speed. They'd gone to the lengths of inventing a completely fictitious language that bore no resemblance to any existing language, so that no one would have an unfair advantage.

I didn't get selected in the end (though it was a close-run thing; it was only my total and utter ignorance of macrogeopolitical affairs that let me down), which was fortunate, because if I had, my entire life would have been subject to the Official Secrets Act and I would never have been able to have this blog.

But I keep being reminded of their fictitious language every time I see anything written in Finnish, which given that I'm currently in Helsinki, is quite often. I'm treating the Finnish language (which, as any fule kno, bears no resemblance to any other language apart from Estonian and Hungarian) as a giant crossword puzzle that I have to solve in its entirety before I leave on Saturday.

It's quite difficult, but there are helpful Rosetta Stones everywhere, as almost everything in Helsinki is written in Swedish as well as Finnish, and Swedish is practically German, which is practically English*, so that's OK. This is how I came to realise that keskus in Finnish means 'centre', and that keskiviikko, which means 'Wednesday', is literally 'centre of the week'. I got almost as much pleasure from linking these two words as I did from idly reading the signs in the hotel lift and suddenly realising that avain means 'key' and avoinnen** means 'open'. By my reckoning this means I've done 2,138 across and 25,876 down, and now I've only got 48 hours left to finish the whole thing!

Oh, the inside of my mind is a terribly interesting place, I can tell you. Luckily it's balanced out by the inside of James's mind, which is constantly inventing fantasy subterranean zoos and enumerating the physical attributes of the manticore***.

Meanwhile, in the real world, we had a top international blogmeet with the lovely Taiga, who gave us Moomin fridge magnets and Superlon photos, and showed us around her gallery, where there was a fantastic red painting by a person called Janne Kaitala, and a slowly revolving brass and mahogany Victorian-style globe that was also a music box and played the music created by the outlines of the countries. So you can see we haven't been putting our time by idly, oh no.


* Pace BiB, I know it's not really.

** Or avoinna. Oh I don't know, I'm confused now.

*** Apparently 'the body of a lion, the face of a man, the wings of a bat and the tail of a scorpion'. But it wouldn't bite you.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

I'm Clearly Researching The World's Greatest Novel

Things I've apparently looked up on Wikipedia recently:

Albigensian Crusade
Arsène Wenger
Clay Shirky
Collioure
Cryptozoology
ECHELON
Fauvism
Flintlock
Monitor Lizards
Morwenstow
Occitania
Panty Line
Periwig
Philippe le Bel
Pierre Bourdieu
Quatermass
Raoul 'Tin Tin' Dufy*

I *am* Neal Stephenson and I claim my £5! And now (well, shortly) I'm off here, with this one, to turn it all into a pale imitation of this. Hurrah!


* Which made me laugh a lot, but not as much as Wyndham's job interview.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Nature Suddenly Goes Terribly Wrong

On my walk yesterday, I couldn't help but notice the following natural phenomena:

1. Blazing hot sunshine and thirty-degree heat

2. Mushrooms growing on one side of the path

3. Crocuses growing on the other

It was as if all the seasons had come at once, in a sort of apocalyptic telescoping of all known laws of nature! I was half-expecting to come across some isolated patches of snow underneath the quince trees.

I rushed home and reported this foreshadowing of Armageddon to my mum, who looked at me witheringly and said "Yes, Patroclus, they're autumn crocuses."

Oh.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Your Cruel Teabags*

In accordance with the scriptures, the mighty Husky Rescue have at last recorded their fabulous languid Finnish electronica cover of Alice Cooper's 'Poison'!

Incontrovertible proof that God is in his heaven and all's right with the world!

Of course you should really be buying the single, because that way you also get the marvellous [Barley alert!] Kustaa Saksi cover design, but I can't let this pass without informing you that tip-top Texan mp3 blog The Rich Girls Are Weeping is giving it away, absolutely free, with this post! So haste ye over to see the rich girls while it's still available!

Over and out.

UPDATE: Husky Rescue now playing unexpected gig at London's toppest small venue the Luminaire in Kilburn, on Wed 11th October. Tickets £10. Woohoo! Anyone fancy it?


* Try and tell me that's not how the first line goes...

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

I Can't Define It, But I Know It When I See It

7.45am: Patroclus puts the finishing touches to an article that argues that Europe is a post-industrial society, and has to rely on service and intellectual property for economic growth.

8.00am: Patroclus goes out for a walk, observing the local populace hard at work harvesting grapes.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Conversations With My Mother, Part 1

INT. CHATEAU QUINQUIREME - DAY


My Mum and I are sitting in the living room.

ME: I've got to write some text to go on some pretend playing cards, that my client's going to send out in an envelope that looks like a sleeve. Look.

I hand mum the mock-up of the playing cards, which have that 'lorem ipsum' placeholder text printed on them.

MUM (in the manner of the Pope reciting the Nunc Dimittis*): Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet...consectet tempor incidunt...ut lab ore et dolore veniami...

ME: Yes, that's not the real text.

MUM: Quis nostrud exercitation...ullar com modo consequat...duis autem vel esse...

I disappear into the kitchen and return some minutes later with a cup of tea.

MUM: In voluptare velit esse molestare...so tum toesne legume...duis autem vel esse molestaire con...I'll say it's a con.

ME: Yes, that's not the real text, it's just...

MUM: Tum toesn legume...that's not Latin...odioque civiuidia...duis autem...This is nonsense. I should charge double if I were you.

ME: I think I will.


* Or, you know, another one of those chanty Latin incantations. I don't know, I'm a protestant, me.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Establishing Shots

Given the vast number of Things I Am Supposed To Be Doing, multiplied by the even vaster number of Books I Should Really Read, there's absolutely no excuse whatsoever for me starting to read Cryptonomicon *again*.

But somehow it sneaked itself into my bag yesterday, and seeing as extra high security at Stansted meant that I could only take 'essential items' on to the Perpignan flight, I thought I'd better demonstrate its essentialness by actually reading it, otherwise I might have been carted off at gunpoint by sexy French army chicks for flouting the Geneva Convention, or something.

And by crikey, Cryptonomicon is a brilliant book, isn't it? Not really because of the subject matter, although I'm more than happy with anything that involves Alan Turing and encryption techniques and data havens and what have you. And certainly not because of the plot, which meanders in labyrinthine and prolix fashion for 908 pages, before Stephenson attempts to resolve it all in the final page and half, as is his wont.

Nooo, what's great about Cryptonomicon is its fantastic use of the English language. Now Neal Stephenson and William Gibson and my top mate Bruce Sterling usually all get lumped together as the founding fathers of cyberpunk, but while Gibson and Sterling are both disappointingly ham-fisted and arrhythmic in their use of English (even though they have great ideas), Stephenson is a brilliantly fluid and clever and erudite and witty writer.

And having reminded myself of just how brilliant the opening paragraph of the book proper is, I thought I might write a little post (this one) about my favourite Character Establishing Scenarios in Literature. Then I remembered that I don't have any favourite Character Establishing Scenarios in Literature, because:

a) I don't read all that much literature these days,

b) I never remember any of the literature I *have* read, and anyway most of it was all in foreign, and

c) I know that the minute I come up with a list, all of the terribly well-read people who read this blog (that's you lot) will come up with a Much Better List, causing me to plunge into a slough of shame, humiliation and self-doubt.

But I still wanted to reproduce the opening para of Cryptonomicon, because it's a fantastic Character Establishing Scenario, even if I will concede that it probably isn’t the best one available in the entire corpus of Literature ever written ever.

This is how it goes:

Let’s set the existence-of-God issue aside for a later volume, and just stipulate that in some way, self-replicating organisms came into existence on this planet and immediately began trying to get rid of each other, either by spamming their environments with rough copies of themselves, or by more direct means which hardly need to be belabored. Most of them failed, and their genetic legacy was erased from the universe forever, but a few found some way to survive and to propagate. After about three billion years of this sometimes zany, frequently tedious fugue of carnality and carnage, Godfrey Waterhouse IV was born, in Murdo, South Dakota, to Blanche, the wife of a Congregational preacher named Bunyan Waterhouse.

Now doesn't that have everything you could possibly wish for from an opening paragraph of a novel: macro-scale geekiness, a pleasing mixture of registers, references to computery things, nice phrases like 'tedious fugue of carnality', and an excellent undercurrent of silliness?

God, how I love Neal Stephenson.

Then I was going to go on to quote the opening parry of Cold Comfort Farm, as another great Character Establishing Scenario in Literature, and I was half thinking about citing the opening sentence of Great Expectations as another, only I couldn't remember either of them, and don't have the books here.

And then I got ambitious, and thought that I could challenge you to write your own Great Literary Character Establishing Scenario, which in turn led me to recall that I inadvertently wrote my own back in June, thus:

Ever since that time I was tear-gassed in Park Lane amid the burning cars, I've quite fancied myself as an urban guerrilla, a lone fugitive from justice, an off-world outlaw cruising the meatspaces and metaverses of West London armed only with a samurai sword and a copy of Elle Decoration.

But then I thought that that would be a bit too much like hard work for you, dear readers, and a bit too much like blowing my own trumpet for me.

So I didn't.

Did I?

Friday, September 08, 2006

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Näkemiin

The real me is off again, to France and Finland, returning to Blighty in October (I hope). Patroclus's presence in the blogosphere will nevertheless continue to be an irritatingly permanent fixture, so expect regular fig, quince, fungi, cloudberry and reindeer carpaccio updates. Bet you can't wait.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Pop Cult Update

The more eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that the serialisation of my dissertation came to an untimely end, much like the original Futurama, before I'd even really established the dramatis personae or got round to the bit where Henry Jenkins cops off with Sherry Turkle during a furtive raid on the empty space behind the metaphorical bike shed of Western patriarchal capitalist domination.

This is not because I got all coy and paranoid about my facile and ill thought-out arguments, oh no. It is because apparently Professor Chapman himself wants to read it, and my tutor wouldn't let him because (according to him) it isn't actually finished yet.

Impressed that anyone with 'Professor' in their name might actually want to read something of mine (though I might have been on safer ground if it had been Professor Yaffle), I immediately ran off to look up this Chapman chap, to discover that he's *only* the world authority on the cultural politics of Dr Who and the semiotics of Diana Rigg.

Now that's what I call academia, ladies and gentlemen.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Things I Unexpectedly Suddenly Only Had One Of

Tip for high-powered executive types: when returning to work after an extended spell of AWOLity in the south of France, do not attempt to walk the entire mile from your flat to your swanky nu-meeja converted-factory office wearing tiny bejewelled flip-flops.

If you do this, one flip-flop will inevitably fall apart halfway, obliging you to walk the remaining half a mile along filthy London pavements in your bare feet. This will cause fully attired people to stare at you as if you were some kind of mad anarchist hippy, prompting you to smile in a zen-like fashion in order to conceal your feelings of awful humiliation exacerbated by unwelcome reminiscences of all those dreams you had where you turned up to school/lectures/work naked.

Actually it was quite a lovely feeling. Mm, smooth warm pavements.

I've got shoes on now though. Just in case anyone was worried.