Lockdown Extension Day 95

Having muttered about keeping this running because the lockdown wasn’t over I got distracted by other matters – mostly reading books that I’d picked up here and there, and doing some other more idle scribbling, and bubbling.

So the garden has been sitting quietly.

And I’ve not been thinking of the blog so much.

However, Boris has done his little thing today and announced that the public-transport-using majority can now go and see their relatives this weekend.

Who may be surprised to find the station looking busy, and people looking cheerful, and not really expecting these sudden visitors anyway, having been making a point of avoiding the news and especially Boris’s pronouncements for several months.

(May be a bit quiet, but best I could find with the lead-in.)

Lockdown Extension Day 83

Today’s picture is from a walk a few years ago along the Malverns, in the days when I could go to interesting places. (Car owners – this series is continuing because as someone reliant on public transport I am still in effectively the lockdown imposed on 23rd March plus access to bubbles, and am not sure when this will end. When the media seem to think the whole thing is now over I am beginning to resent these restrictions, for obvious reasons.)

We’re up on Jubilee Hill, looking north towards the aptly-named Perseverance Hill, after climbing up from Colwall station. This is the weather in one of its more favourable moments. It went full white-out-blizzard as I approached the Worcestershire Beacon, so I lack interesting pictures of the view from the top across a snowbound landscape.

I did actually have an interesting outing today – I took the bike off to a bookshop that I wanted to visit. Unfortunately the bookshop is 20 miles away over a couple of stiff hills, so my legs are exhausted and my back is expressing comments about abrasive rucksacks. Took about two-and-a-quarter hours each way, which manages the remarkable achievement of being slower than the normal roundabout rail journey. Not sure this bike thing is really suited to long-distance bulk transport.

It was slightly reminiscent of a time when a holiday journey ended up in a 22-mile rail replacement cycle (the bus, put on at the last moment when the line was shut because the weather forecast predicted rain, couldn’t take bikes). This was irritating enough on the outward journey (I am certain that one of the circles of hell involves pushing an overloaded bike up a forest track in the dark and light rain for eternity) but when the exercise had to be repeated on the way back I had a mild urge to murder the managing director of the train operator involved (I also remain of the view that the jury, or at least a jury of moderately unfit people who had done a 22-mile hilly cycle ride carrying a rucksack with a fortnight’s laundry inside, would have unanimously acquitted). Towards the end of the journey home, during one of the legs where the train showed up, a fellow customer watched me struggling the bike into an on-train cycle rack and remarked cheerfully that I must wish I’d just cycled. I may have unwittingly responded in a tone which suggested that this remark was not in the slightest bit funny.

Anyway, speaking of difficult journeys, here is a clip from The Huggetts Abroad. Britain’s great post-war film family have decided to try their luck in South Africa and emigrated, complete with the partners of the elder daughters and an ex-Army truck for the luggage. To while away the voyage, the younger daughter – a certain Petula Clark – begins singing about the secret to eternal youth.

(A charming little series, although the producers never managed to get the actress playing the eldest daughter to return for another film so the character was continually recast.)

Lockdown Extension Day 81

I was busy writing something else yesterday (whoop!) so had the night off blogging too. But tonight is quieter, so here are some wine-red lilies.

Not so quiet though that I fancy being imaginative in finding bits of entertainment. So here we have a dispossessed drop-out Vietnam War pilot expanding on his memoirs during a flight to Los Angeles to an entirely innocent fellow-passenger. The death rate of these passengers is something of a running joke.

(Immediately before this sequence he has been expanding on the challenges of teaching basketball to various members of a jungle tribe. The Guardian had an article recently suggesting that this was an uncomfortable scene that was borderline racist. I always thought that the joke was on our hero for being so excruciatingly wedded to his view of the difficulties of basketball and how innocent these isolated natives were that he failed to notice they had taken to the game in about ten seconds.)

Lockdown Extension Day 70

The hostas have started flowering.

But it’s a bit hot to sit outside and admire them, so I will take this clip from My Fair Lady out of context – which context is what an utter waster the heroine’s father is, and why she is therefore happy to go off to act as a guinea-pig for a lunatic – and settle down to contemplate it.

Lockdown Extension Day 63

It’s chucking it down again, to the minor delight of the pink lilies:

I should probably be finding something funny about rain, and come to think of it there’s a good bit in Three Men on the Bummel, which I will have to save for tomorrow as I have emails to write.

So here’s Inspector Jacques Clouseau breaking into a castle instead.

(Increasingly I find the music in the background makes this a rather mournful and solitary scene towards the end of an otherwise funny film – and no, that’s not something I’ve decided since lockdown started.)

Lockdown Extension Day 61

The raspberries are coming along – the bush (such as it is) has a mix of green bulging growths, mid-ripening berries and spears marking the ones that have been scoffed already.

We’ve reached another one of those “is this still lockdown?” points, but as family gatherings are still a bit limited, public transport is restricted and holidays are dicey I’m inclined to a view that it’s still on. Still, the zoos have re-opened – which provides a lead-in to what I am told is an annoying song:

Although of course not all zoos are created equal:

(Nowadays of course, especially as Lord Attenborough is no longer with us, it seems a little odd not to find the park being presented by his little brother David.)

Lockdown Extension Day 41

Today’s picture is of the first nasturtium flower of the year.

A couple of years ago I tried growing nasturtiums in my hanging baskets. This didn’t really work (the results were rather stumpy) so last year I tried again because if it did work they’d look good. The results were much the same, except one of them came through the winter intact. It has now flowered. So here’s the result.

Yesterday was Towel Day, in honour of the late Douglas Adams. I missed this through a spot of absent-mindedness at a critical moment, so here’s a quote from Fit the Tenth (Series 2 episode 3) explaining the definitive nature of that wholly remarkable book, The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is an indispensable companion to all those who are keen to make sense of life in an infinitely complex and confusing Universe, for though it cannot hope to be useful or informative on all matters, it does make the reassuring claim that where it is inaccurate, it is at least definitively inaccurate. In cases of major discrepancy it is always reality that’s got it wrong.

So for instance, when the Guide was sued by the families of those who had died as a result of taking the entry on the planet Traal literally (it said “Ravenous Bugblatter Beasts often make a very good meal for visiting tourists” instead of “Ravenous Bugblatter Beasts often make a very good meal of visiting tourists”) the editors claimed that the first version of the sentence was the more aesthetically pleasing, summoned a qualified poet to testify under oath that beauty was truth, truth beauty, and hoped thereby to prove that the guilty party in this case was life itself for failing to be either beautiful or true.

The judges concurred, and in a moving speech held that life itself was in contempt of court, and duly confiscated it from all those there present before going off for a pleasant evening’s ultragolf.

This short excerpt features many interesting elements of Adams’s comedy. First is the pleasant interweaving of running gags, giving us as the audience a sense of a rounded universe that we could find our own way around in the knowledge of several of the risks involved. This particular running gag is the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal, which crops up in the first episode (eating a Vogon’s grandmother, which the Vogon is – to his profound irritation – unable to do anything about without pursuing the proper line of consultation and paperwork first) and appears at periodic intervals thereafter.

An interesting pub quiz question is whether we ever actually meet a Ravenous Bugblatter Beast in the Hitch-Hiker’s universe, in its many forms. The immediate response is that one appears in Fit the Sixth – followed by a recollection that this monster is in fact a spontaneously re-evolving Haggunenon that has turned into a Ravenous Bugblatter Beast because this is a convenient shape for disposing of some unwanted wannabe hijackers of his flagship. A Beast appears in the film with the task of eating Trillian, though we never see more than its eye. It appears to live in water in a (relatively) small container.

This contrasts with the computer game, where the Beast is introduced as a shadow that turns out to be “vaguely Bugblatter Beast-shaped”. Once seen properly it has “Lasero-Zap eyes, its Swivel Shear Teeth and its several dozen tungsten carbide Vast-Pain claws, forged in the sun furnaces of Zangrijad”. This makes it sound like an artificial creation, which explains why it is generally referred to in the singular (with the notable exception of the Fit the Tenth description above).

Adams also frequently plays jokes on convoluted reasoning – the introduction of the Babel Fish is promptly followed by its use as an argument that God does not exist based on the fact that a creature so useful must have been created by some kind of deity; the Infinite Impossibility Drive is invented using a finite improbability generator owing to it being only a virtual impossibility and therefore merely highly improbable rather than actually impossible; the above quote features a twist on poetic observations about beauty being truth with the obvious response that a beautiful observation about Ravenous Bugblatter Beasts must therefore be true. The punchline of this marvellously clever argument is then neatly whipped away and followed by the fates of the people who came up with these brilliant lines of thought: the Man who proves God’s non-existence with the Babel Fish then gets killed on a zebra crossing; the inventor of the Infinite Improbability Drive is lynched by a bunch of respectable physicists; the Guide lawyers who argue nonsense about beauty being truth are summarily executed by the judges overseeing the case.

There is something satisfying about the fact that the people who make these arguments don’t actually win. They push the boundaries, but the boundaries push back. Even in an infinite universe, there are rules.

But then also perhaps part of the appeal of the humour is its innate violence; it’s got the explosions and slapstick of simple “childish” humour, but dressed up in (usually pseudo) philosophical and scientific discourse. After all, this is a story which begins by wiping out “six thousand million people” and plays it for laughs as much as shock value.

But the laughs are also played by exaggerating existing problems, especially those of our hero Arthur Dent, into little local difficulties compared with the planet-sized problems that spring up in galactic terms – and once we’re on galactic terms nobody is very interested in Arthur’s problems any more. So in Fit the First his house is knocked down, but this is juxtaposed against his planet being blown up; in Fit the Fourth it then turns out that a whole dimension of alien beings is upset not about the wholesale slaughter of the residents of the planet but at the fact that they now won’t get the Ultimate Question to Life, the Universe and Everything that would enable them to understand the singularly useless Answer. In Fit the Sixth Arthur’s friend Ford expands on a planet that got potted into a black hole during a game of intergalactic bar billiards and killed ten billion people – “only scored thirty points”. In Fit the Ninth Arthur has an argument with a drink dispenser, which episode (via a vision in the sky) later turns out to be responsible for the dominant race on the planet Brontitall staging a revolt against their electronic gadgets.

So here lies a message all difficulties are local and personal to us, even when they affect billions of people, but at that level they become impersonal masses of numbers. Such impersonal masses of numbers, in fact, that at one point an entire battlefleet is accidentally swallowed by a small dog due to a terrible misapplication of scale. Of course, once we are involved personally these impersonal masses of numbers become terribly important to us, perhaps as justification for our point of view (the plural of anecdote is data after all) and to this end in the computer game it is very important that the dog – usually just a throwaway gag – does not eat the battlefleet.

Perhaps this sense of one person finding his way through a big and confusing universe, filled with impersonal masses of numbers, is another reason why Hitchhiker’s, in all its forms, is so popular. The universe is a big and confusing place but, through one means or another, Arthur finds the people who matter to him – be that a staggering coincidence involving an Islington ‘phone number or the whereabouts of where he thinks he left his cave. Mostly happy things happen (except in Mostly Harmless, which is a bleak book filled with fairly unmemorable happenings).

So we have local difficulties reduced to amusing anecdote because they happened to other people, twisted logic from irritating clever-clogs (who don’t get anything out of being a clever-clogs) and slapstick jokes. It’s a reassuring world to grab onto in the style of all great children’s novels, but a thing to hold onto is just as relevant in adulthood. Some more adult-y jokes (booze, expensive restaurants, rude words) plus the detailed scientific theories round it out into a graspable, intelligent world. It sounds like a good basis for something worthwhile.

Later Adams would get an entire computer game out of the difficulty of getting the bank to send him a new credit card. Perhaps his writings, even in this relatively obscure Infocom text adventure, are responsible for the fact that this now just involves walking into the bank. (Well, it does with mine. And admittedly not at the moment.)

Lockdown Extension Day 39

(Which makes 60 days total, incidentally.)

Today’s picture is a view from Ludlow Castle. This is a rather handsome and charmingly-situated affair which once climbed turns out to have been built very much with strategic considerations in mind – the view is about as endless as they get:

So – its content (click the picture for the larger version). Filling the lower foreground are some other bits of the castle’s main tower, which is in an unexceptional state of repair. Various quick-growing flowering weeds sprout out of the ancient stonework and take the edge off its brutalist purity, although it’s not really broken enough to count as Picturesque.

Beyond are some trees, filling the courtyard and hiding the outer wall. They like trees in Ludlow Castle. Ludlow’s castle is an old one from the early Middle Ages – started not long after the Norman Conquest by a Walter de Lacy in a bid to clarify his new status as the local bigwig.

Ludlow itself dominates the hill beyond. The old town area is clumped around the castle gate and the church tower to the right, and is largely hidden by the inaccessible bit of castle turret. The church is dedicated to St. Lawrence and is much noted for its handsome architecture and 135ft tower. It also has a sort-of bishop – he’s a Suffragan bishop, assistant to the Bishop of Hereford, who is deemed to represent Ludlow in accordance with one of King Henry VIII’s bright ideas for his newly independent church hierarchy.

The round grey-domed thing left-of-centre on the top of the ridge is St Peter’s, the local Catholic church. Just to the left of the purple tree can be seen the roofs of the local supermarkets – Aldi (greeny-brown, sloping, looking rather like a 1950s job) and Tesco (big silver roof and top of south wall, designed to be lost amongst the older buildings).

Ludlow has expanded in more recent times across the flanks of the hill which separate the River Teme from the Ledwyche Brook. The Teme flows around the back of the castle a few yards behind the camera and maybe 200 feet below. It has just passed the confluences with the Onny and Corve rivers.

The Ledwyche, together with its tributaries the Hopton and the Dogditch, is responsible for the valley stretching away eastwards towards the ridge of the Clee Hills. The wooded hill to the left has various names appended to it on the map depending on the direction of approach, including The Hope, Titterhill and France (actually, that last might be just one of the farms). The flat peak to the right, attempting to hide behind the church, appears to be Titterstone Clee Hill, which has variously provided a seat for giants, a hillfort for people who value visibility over easy access to farming country, a radar station for people who accept that radar needs a good field of view and a quarry for the philistines who look at a mountain and say “Look at all that building stone being wasted holding up that hillfort”. The philistines also provided Ludlow with a branch line to serve their quarries which culminated in two handsome inclines (one for each flank of the hill).

Away to left of centre can be seen the peaks of Brown Clee Hill. Hidden beyond it are the upper reaches of the River Rea; then there’s another smaller hill separating the Rea from the Borle; then a relatively irrelevant ridge splits the Borle off from the River Severn at Bridgnorth.

Someone remind me what time it is:

Lockdown Extension Day 35

The hairy caterpillar is back (well, reappeared briefly). I think it’s supposed to grow up into a Tiger Moth, which is a handsome flutterby that is worth encouraging.

Garden 29 JPG

On the other hand, before the caterpillar moved on again it entirely devoured this petunia at a cost to me of circa 60p. While this is a reasonably low donation to whatever society it is that encourages the propagation of tiger moths, I fancy the petunia begged to differ on my thoughts about the greater good. I should probably have found the caterpillar another foxglove to examine.

Thoughts of The Greater Good remind me of a certain scene in the film Hot Fuzz, but unfortunately it comes towards the end of the picture and so might be considered an undue spoiler. So instead here is a sequence with a sea mine.

(I have a vague idea that about thirty seconds later it goes off, but it’s a while since I saw the film.)

Lockdown Extension Day 30

The roses are flowering:Garden 27 JPG

I bought a row a few years ago to help keep the local cats at bay. Their growth has been varied. One is taking over the world and the other three are ground-huggers. This is one of the smaller ones.

I was pondering a bit more poetry but am running late for the evening meal, so will make do with a short clip from Carry On Abroad.