400 Blows

In which The Author passes another milestone

This probably won’t mean anything to most of you, but this is my four hundredth post in this blog.
Technically, it’s not actually Number 400. As far as the WordPress dashboard is concerned, the eight interconnected posts which make up It’s Grand Oop North! count as individual entries. I’ve also deleted a very small number of posts which were no longer relevant. However, as far as my Contents Page goes, this is Entry Number 400.
When I first started blogging on MySpace (remember that, anyone?), back in 2007, I thought I’d be lucky to reach double figures, to be perfectly honest. I expected that I’d get bored, or run out of things to say, or abandon it as one of my many half-started projects. Raise a glass, if you please – unlike the England cricket team, I’ve managed to notch up 400 not out.
My friend Geoff E. has written a book, of which I’ll tell you more in about ten weeks’ time. Suffice to say that it’s got a military connection. In true army fashion, I’ve been volunteered to proofread it before it goes to the printer. I left myself open to it, really, when he first told me about it months ago. I must have let Geoff know that I was available to give it a good going-over prior to publication. I was around at his house in June, and at some point in the proceedings I found myself talked into helping out.
I don’t mind, of course; I’ll get a mention in dispatches, and it’s very good experience, after all. I feel a little bit like an obstetrician, checking up on the progress of a baby throughout its development. I wasn’t exactly present at the book’s conception, but I’ve followed it through its gestation, because Geoff’s kept me up to date with its progress. It’s due to see the light of day soon. While I might not witness the exact moment of its birth, I hope that my gentle interventions will help to create a healthy end product.
Having accepted this mission, therefore, I presented myself at Aberdare Library just before lunchtime today. I was fit and ready to face Geoff’s typescript about the Great War. I raided the shelves for a few books on military history, etiquette, English usage, and the copy of The Chambers Dictionary which I knew perfectly well was there – I donated it to them a few months ago, as I told you in The Gift of Words. Having built my little defensive bunker of reference materials, I established a faltering connection to the field telephone WiFi, and set to work.
I’d been working quietly for a while when a chap came in and sat nearby. I’ve seen him there before, of course. Aberdare Reference Library is a bit like a local pub, only without the beer, jukebox, and reliable Internet connection. It has its hardcore regulars, like me, Geoff himself, Jason C., Alan J., Mike, Bill, and several others who are on first-name terms with the staff. There’s a decent number of people who pop their heads in almost every day as well. Some of them have assumed a second virtual life on Facebook via my tongue-in-cheek updates: Woolly Hat Man; Grunty Man; Scanner Woman; Virtual Darts Man; Headphones Guy …
I’d feel rather sad if I actually knew any of their names, because I’m sure fairly they can’t really be as interesting as my mental pictures paint them to be. Actually, that goes for all of them except Mad Invisible Dog Woman, who really does deserve to have a mention in any book about bizarre Aberdare characters.
I’ve met a fair number of mentally unstable individuals in my life, but Mad Invisible Dog Woman is in a league of her own. I first encountered her about five years ago, when we were on a train to Pontypridd. I had my book for company; she had an imaginary dog at her feet, which she gabbled to and petted occasionally for the duration of the journey. A few weeks ago, I learned that the Invisible Dog’s name is Jock. To judge from her posture and the angle of her head while she was talking to it, I suspect it’s a Scottie, or possibly a Westie. It can’t be much bigger than either of those.
It’s always entertaining to learn what she’ll be sourcing from the Internet on a particular day. We’re all privy to her surreal search targets; when she’s not pulling books from the shelves and laughing hysterically over the contents, she’s pestering Judith to print out seemingly random images. Maria B. is convinced that Mad Invisible Dog Woman will be my next girlfriend. Given my run of luck with successively loopier bints since 2001, I fear that she might actually be on to something.
Anyway …
Today, this middle-aged chap came in, plugged his laptop in to the mains, connected to the WiFi (eventually) and got on with whatever he was doing. I was working my way through Geoff’s typescript, and I wanted to double-check an entry on the Aberdare Urban District Council & Education Committee Roll of Honour.
This impressive memorial used to be attached to the exterior of the old town hall in High Street. When the building changed hands, the memorial was relocated to the foyer of Aberdare Library. With my Vanishing Valleys project in mind, I decided to photograph it in its new home. I grabbed my camera and headed downstairs for a couple of minutes. Once I’d taken a couple of half-decent photos I returned to my seat, glanced at my new neighbour, and said casually, ‘Not much of a day for taking pictures, is it?’
It was a perfectly innocent remark, serving no purpose other than that of phatic communication. That’s a technical term which I learned years ago, in a textbook on Communication Studies. It describes snippets of conversation which serve no useful purpose, but merely serve to reinforce the social fabric.
You’d think …
I’d expected to resume my seat and carry on with what I was doing. Instead, I unwittingly triggered a natural phenomenon which I’ve witnessed on countless occasions: the Cynon Bore.
I don’t know exactly how long my new ‘friend’ spoke for. I do know that Denise went for lunch; Judith came up to cover the desk; Denise came back from lunch; Mad Invisible Dog Woman came and went; in the meantime, I managed to do all of about five minutes’ worth of proofreading. The rest of the time was taken up with this man’s fascinating life story. Not just the brief CV, mind you; this was the full six volume autobiography, complete with footnotes and appendices.
By the time the WiFi collapsed altogether, I knew far more than strictly necessary about every subject imaginable: his family background; his career history; his employment situation; his financial status; his political views; his hobbies (stamp collecting and computer programming – go figure!); his technical tribulations (because by now he’d realised that I wasn’t a Lo Tek, and therefore worth hassling for advice); his opinions on the media; his prognostications about the economic future of the Valleys …
Actually, I think I’m still reflecting his weird psychic influence, because even I got bored reading that last paragraph back to myself.
Throughout all this, I was trying to concentrate very hard on what Geoff had written. I needed to check his typescript against my query sheet, and cross-reference both of those against the few websites which had dared to poke their heads above RCTCBC’s barbed wire barricade.
Once the WiFi knocked off early for the weekend (at about 2.30), the monologist packed up his kit and headed for one of the PCs.
I also needed to use a reliable Internet connection, to check some references in my case, and Aberdare Library had let me down again. I packed up my Netbook and fucked off to the pub.
I hadn’t been there long when someone else decided to capture me. I’ve known her for a long time, and have always credited her with a fair degree of Emotional Intelligence. It seems that I was wrong. She parked herself at my table and talked about nothing for ages, in spite of the fact that I’d told her that I was busy.
As I’ve observed previously, there’s a deeply ingrained Valleys mentality, built up over two centuries of manual labour, which means that a person can’t be ‘working’ unless he or she is physically occupied with a task. The idea that just sitting at a computer and reading constitutes ‘work’ is an alien concept to most people around here. Once again, I abandoned any hope of progressing and headed out into the pissing rain.
The biggest irony of the whole afternoon was that the Cynon Bore told me what his academic background was; his degree was in Communication. Perhaps I should have reminded him about the existence of the word ‘phatic’, to see if he’d take the hint.
Mind you, his name should have been a dead giveaway: Malcolm.
In my opinion, nobody called Malcolm can ever be remotely interesting. I think I’m right in saying that there were only two worthwhile Malcolms in the history of the Twentieth Century. One was Malcolm X, the firebrand civil rights activist of the 1960s. The other was Malcolm McDowell, the charismatic and spellbinding star of 1960s films like A Clockwork Orange.
To my mind, Malcolm is a joke name, like Duane or Tracy. ‘Malcolm’ is usually a spineless character in a sitcom, played by Milton Johns. There’s only been one noteworthy Malcolm of recent years, and he was an invention. The Thick of It‘s spectacularly foul-mouthed spin doctor Malcolm Tucker was a purely fictional character. Is it just my imagination, or is there something deeply incongruous about someone with such a wishy-washy name pouring forth such a torrent of divinely inspired invective?
I’m well aware that I can be a bore at times. We all can, to some degree. I can expound at considerable length about rock music, or public transport, or Doctor Who, or books which I love, or obscure SF films. However, I’ve chosen this medium to indulge my appetites. If someone doesn’t enjoy what I’ve got to say on a particular topic, there’s always something interesting just a couple of clicks away. I don’t trap unwary passers-by and bend their ears for hours on subjects which nobody else really gives a fuck about. That’s what Jehovah’s Witnesses and wannabe UKIP councillors are for, after all.
During the brief gaps while Malcolm stopped for breath, I mentioned my blog a couple of times. I doubt whether he was listening, to be honest. Then again, he might log on to the Internet tomorrow, ego-surf his name, and find his way here. I almost hope he does. He might take the hint.
I doubt it somehow, though.
So, in spite of my best intentions, my four hundredth post isn’t anything to write home about. I’m disappointed to report that it doesn’t even have a snappy title. In short, it sucks. Or maybe, as young people say these days, it blows.
Oh – hang on a minute …


In which The Author longs for a USB cable

I’ve finally been upgraded.
No, don’t worry – the Cybermen didn’t ambush me on the way to town this morning. It was much more prosaic and a lot less painful, I can assure you.
A couple of weeks ago I was having a quiet pint with John K. and his wife Liz, and the conversation turned to the subject of mobile phones. John’s quite a bit older than me, a Twentieth Century Boy and happy to stay that way. Liz has reluctantly come to terms with technology, as she acts as his secretary when he’s away on business.
They were both quite amused by my Nokia Thickphone, which is an extremely basic model: no camera, no wallpapers, no downloadable ringtones, no mp3 player, no Internet access, and no apps. (Nevertheless, it’s capable of surviving a night in a field, as I told you in Grassroots Research. I wonder how many iPhone 5s could manage the same feat. Swings and roundabouts.)
Liz mentioned that they had a slightly more advanced Nokia gathering dust in a drawer at home, and offered it to me. They were pretty sure it wasn’t locked to a specific network, so it seemed as though it would work with my existing SIM card. It would be worth a try, whatever happened. On Thursday night, Liz came to the quiz night and presented me with a virtually new Nokia 300.
After charging it yesterday, I swapped out the SIM card from my old phone and switched it on. I was pleased to see that it prompted me for my PIN, and then powered up to reveal a pleasing colourful icon menu with all my contacts intact. It’s slimmer than my old phone, but wider and taller, with a nice big touchscreen and a chunky keypad. It’s going to take me a little while to get used to a touchscreen – and I’ve yet to try using it while wearing gloves – but at least it looks as though it actually belongs in the Twenty-First Century. Perhaps 2005, if not a little later.
And it’s got Bluetooth.
My limited experiences of using Bluetooth have not been auspicious, to say the least. The first time I tried connecting via this ‘wireless technology standard for exchanging data over short distances’ (Wikipedia) was when Carys and I had breakfast together at the University of Glamorgan, back in 2009. She had her mobile phone; I had my Netbook, which dual-booted Windows XP and Ubuntu Linux. We struggled for about half an hour to get the two devices to recognise each other before giving it up as a bad job.
The second time was in the Cambrian in Aberdare, when Simon M. asked me if I could send him my ringtone. Once again, we fucked around for ages before finally achieving a connection. Needless to say, it dropped halfway through transmission, and we had to start again from scratch.
The third time was when I tried to get Martin H.’s photos to transfer from his phone to his laptop. This was even more problematic, as the latter didn’t have Bluetooth as a standard feature. We tried using a USB Bluetooth adapter, which plugged okay but didn’t want to play at all. In the event, I think we pulled out his memory card and transferred them using my universal card reader and the USB port.
The fourth time was this morning. I was at home, potching with my new toy, and it occurred to me to try and set up a distinctive wallpaper in case it decided to go walkabout one evening. I knew exactly what picture I wanted to use, as well:


I’ve disabled Bluetooth at startup in my Netbook, because it simply draws current for no reason. I went into the Applications menu, called up the Bluetooth module, and switched it on. Then I changed the Visibility setting to ‘on’ and turned my attention to the phone. I found the Bluetooth menu and activated it, then went back to the Netbook and carried out a search for Bluetooth devices. It only took a few seconds to pick up the Nokia 300, and asked me if I wanted to ‘pair’ the two devices. A few moments later, a six-digit code was displayed on each screen, and I had to confirm that they matched. The Bluetooth menu on my Netbook showed a paired Nokia 300; the Bluetooth menu on my phone showed a device called ubuntu-0. The job was on its way to being a good ‘un.
Or so I thought.
When it came to actually connecting the two devices, the system broke down entirely. The Netbook and phone were less than a metre apart, so I couldn’t understand why they couldn’t see each other. I tried a few times, placing the phone in different areas of the room, but without success. At one point, the Netbook asked me if I wanted to send a file to the paired device. I decided to try it anyway, selected the picture I wanted to transmit, and a few moments later an error message popped up on the screen.
I’m in Aberdare Library at the moment. I came down to see if the problem lay with my house itself – it’s a solid Victorian construction hemmed in on all sides by its neighbours. (I know that in theory that shouldn’t affect the transmission of internal radio signals, but I like to keep an open mind on such phenomena.) After half an hour of further potching, I’ve finally been able to send the picture across about half a metre. I guess that counts as a ‘short distance’ for a radio signal, but it was a result nonetheless. Even Marconi had to start somewhere.