Friday, October 17, 2008

"U" Gotta be kidding

At the very core the Grumbler is, of course, little more than a loose collection of generalisations, prejudices and bizarre compulsions wrapped up in a loose bag of skin with just enough spare room for the occasional beer and curry to be added. Same as any bloke I suppose.

This doesn't automatically make for a bad fellow (my Mum told me that, so it must be true) but it does need some work to ensure a positive result. Happily, most of these attributes can be disguised as the kind of eccentricities for which 'the English' are justly famous. Of course, great care must be taken to ensure that one remains at the correct end of a scale of 'unusualness' which stretches from Peter Sellers to Peter Sutcliffe, although maintaining the tantalising promise of being prepared to operate at either extreme can give one an incredible advantage in negotiations.

In today's character defect under the microscope session, we will concentrate on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder as manifested in the form of extreme grammatical pedantry. For example, my reaction to the greengrocers' apostrophe. This particular crime against humanity involve's the placement of an apostrophe where none is necessary. (Did you catch that one?) It takes its name from the fact that it's commonly seen on signs outside greengrocers' shops - such as "Potato's, twelvepence per bushel". To the disgust of the ladies in the Grumbler household who believe that there are more important things in life, I am rarely able to let one of these things pass without comment.

Of course, my high moral standing is fatally weakened by the fact that I am a little careless and thus, occasionally, I do tend to 'drop one' myself. I like to think of this as the literary equivalent of accidentally farting in church - a bit embarrassing if anyone notices. (Of course, being noticed farting in church on purpose, rather than embarrassing the offender, tends to lead to the sin of pride.) Anyway, I digress.

Now, I've never actually been one to stalk the streets with a bottle of correction fluid and a selection of marker pens, with the intention of altering apostophical atrocities. But an obsession with a related subject has recently been threatening to 'push me over the edge'...

...It's well known that English spelling differs, depending on whether one is resident in its birthplace, or the other side of the Atlantic. I've never really thought much about it before, but recently I have begun to suffer a series of agonising temptations to return the letter 'u' to its customary place in so many words in 'American English' from which it has been removed. For example, our cousins in the US have cruelly emasculated words like colour, flavour and labour in favour of alternatives that I can't bring myself to type.

This weird compulsion first manifested itself when replying to emails, but its become more frequent and harder to resist. Recently, in a bookshop in California, I was sitting skimming through an American edition of "Rogue Herries" by Hugh Walpole, and I suddenly came over all peculiar. I felt my hand creep, as if under the malevolent control of some invisible puppeteer, towards a (arguably) mis-spelled word with the clear intention of re-inserting the missing letter. Terrified, I curtailed my Walpoling activities, sallied forth, and infiltrated a place of medical practitionery to seek a diagnosis of my plight.

It turns out, much to my relief, that my malady is actually a reaction to too much 'processed' text. Apparently, if I start reading quite a bit more stuff that hasn't been messed about with - you know, words with the dirt left on, organic text, that kind of thing, it'll clear up quite nicely. Apparently, what I have is called "Irritable Vowel Syndrome" and it should clear up once I get enough literary roughage. "Why don't you try a little extra punctuation?" the doctor asked me. That, of course, was just seconds before I smacked him with one of the "Organic Cucumber's" I'd been forced to buy while arguing about grammar with the illiterate shopkeeper next-door and fled, screaming, into the night...

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Credit crunch (again)

Now, I don't usually just republish things on this blog, but I was just sent something by my good friend 'Chicken Jon' which was so good that 'I want to share it with you'.

(I learned, to my intense displeasure, while captive in an airport bus in Los Angeles, that the phrase "I have something I want to share with you" is often the preamble to a sales pitch delivered, on behalf of some crappy pyramid selling organisation, by someone with terminal halitosis and no personality. I suppose its better than being informed by a one night stand that you now have 'crabs', but not much. Anyway, this one, you will like... I promise).

A modern Aesop’s Fable.

Once upon a time...
in a place overrun with monkeys, a man appeared and announced to the villagers that he would buy monkeys for $10 each.
The villagers, seeing that there were many monkeys around, went out to the forest, and started catching them. The man bought thousands at $10 and as supply started to diminish, they became harder to catch, so the villagers stopped their effort.
The man then announced that he would now pay $20 for each one. This renewed the efforts of the villagers and they started catching monkeys again. But soon the supply diminished even further and they were ever harder to catch, so people started going back to their farms and forgot about monkey catching. The man increased his price to $25 each and the supply of monkeys became so scarce that it was an effort to even see a monkey, much less catch one.
The man now announced that he would buy monkeys for $50! However, since he had to go to the city on some business, his assistant would now buy on his behalf.
While the man was away the assistant told the villagers. 'Look at all these monkeys in the big cage that the man has bought. I will sell them to you at $35 each and when the man returns from the city, you can sell them to him for $50 each.'
The villagers rounded up all their savings and bought all the monkeys. They never saw the man nor his assistant again and once more there were monkeys everywhere.
Perhaps now you have a better understanding of how banking and the stock markets work!

Friday, October 03, 2008

Relativity as an excuse for tardiness

How many times have you waited in all day - sometimes for several days in a row, for something to be delivered, only to feel that perhaps you could actually grow old and die before it actually arrives?

Or maybe you work in some computer related industry, and find yourself eagerly anticipating a particular piece of hardware or software which, the supplier tells you, will, with absolute certainty, be ready on schedule and within budget. It never is, is it?

Now, never mind the inconvenience of not actually having whatever it was you were waiting for in your eager hands (metaphorically speaking, obviously, if the item in question is a fridge) - no, what really 'does my head in' is how the cheeky bugger at the other end of the telephone line can so absolutely confidently trot out and assurance that 'it will be there on Wednesday' when he or she has demonstrably never once managed to hit a predicted time or date. Oh, and why are these people almost always called Keith?

You know they've no more chance of making it this time than you have of getting a decent bacon sandwich in a synagogue. And yet you could wire these people up to a full-on lie detector setup, you could attach elestricles to their tectrodes, kidnap their children and threaten to return them over a period of time in a series of minute parcels and you wouldn't get a blip. Their confidence is unshakable. How on earth can this be?

Well, the answer is obvious really. As Arthur Conan Doyle was overfond of declaiming "when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth? ".

They aren't lying to you. That's right, they're telling the truth.

And yet, the eagerly awaited gizmo, doodad, widget, gimmick or ethereal piece of intellectual copyright still fails to manifest itself. Paradoxical? No - let me explain.

Its all down to Einstein's theory of relativity, and something called the Twin Paradox (look it up in Wikipedia if you don't believe me). Put simply, if you take identical twins, stuff one of them into a rocket, and send it off quite a long way at speeds approaching that of light, then bring it back, the traveling twin will be younger than the one that stayed behind. Or to put it another way, the twin who's moving might have spent a week in the rocket, while the one that stayed behind has waited a year to be reunited with his sibling.

This has been proven, by the way, in a complicated experiment involving flying clocks. There's another proof to look for as well. When you accelerate an object close to the speed of light, you can pump immense amounts of energy into it with out it going any faster. In fact, the energy is turned into mass.

So what's happening is that the delivery man, or purveyor of technology is actually moving so fast to be sure of not disappointing you that they nearly reach light speed. In the process, they get quite a bit heavier than they were when they started.

When, eventually, a hugely fat individual turns up with what you've been waiting for, relativity has kicked in, they think they are on time, and you know they aren't. This also explains their child-like look of bewilderment and unjust hurt when you berate them for their tardiness.

So next time this happens to you, please don't give the guy a hard time. Tell him how much you appreciate his efforts, and give him a cup of tea.

OK, I have to go now, I have to take a mug of Lapsang souchong to 'Colossal Keith' in the office.

This has been a public service announcement issued by the Royal Association of Fat Lazy Buggers.