Following a purchase of some DIY products about a year ago, I got a rather random email from the hardware chain: Homebase, asking me to review an insignificant item I obtained as a matter of course whilst attending to some minor household maintenance. I was so puzzled by the request that I followed the link in the email and discovered a webpage that offered me suggestions as to how I should construct my review. Their guidance included the following suggestions:
“What to include:
I was so enthralled and indeed excited by the prospect of reviewing the product that I submitted the following review:
Homebase Own-Brand “Steel Wool - Fine”
This purchase made my day and indeed the rest of the week that I bought it - never have I found steel wool so fine. I was particularly excited about the fact that it was as soft as ‘actual’ wool but was in fact made of steel. Its gently abrasive properties worked their magic on the project I was working on and I can honestly say that without it my endeavours would have been lacklustre. Initially I was drawn to its shimmering gray texture which invoked a sense of the golden age of industrialism and I pictured in my mind vast, steam-powered weaving sheds churning out bales of the stuff to a busy parade of awaiting carts pulled by shire horses. This romantic image alone had me reaching for my credit card but then I saw the price and realised that for just the coins in my pocket, this item could be mine. Considering the effort that must have gone in to the manufacture, marketing and distribution of this fine product; the asking price was more than generous and if anything belittles the true value of this exceptional and most desirable of trade consumables. I can wholeheartedly recommend this superb item to anyone wishing to own some of the very finest of fine steel wools.
I do hope that my review prompts other consumers to choose this very boring product. What else could I do?
Long ago, at the beginning of time there was a God and she was known by all who worshipped her as Chuck.
Chuck looked upon her world and decreed that hats should be worn in her honour at a special time in spring and that flowers should adorn those hats to cheer her up. Her devoted subjects did this diligently until, by and by, they fell in to laziness and she was perplexed by their sins. She so loved her people that she sent a messenger rabbit to hop amongst them and said that he should be known as Rocky. He was a pious soul and taught all the people how to correctly display flowers on their headgear in celebration of Chuck’s wisdom and love.
So pleased was Chuck that she called upon Rocky to ride upon her back in a majestic display of her satisfaction and in reward promised to lay only chocolate eggs for them to eat. Sadly, Chuck moved in a mysterious way and not all her eggs could be found so the children of her people had to hunt to collect them all but they were thankful as they had a fine breakfast of sweetness on that day and for all time to come.
Television is evil. In spite of the tens of thousands of programmes available there is rarely anything of any quality that warrants investing time in. More than this; it kills the communion of company, hinders intelligent conversation and is omnipresent in any room in which it is switched on where all eyes are pulled like magnets to its flickering images. By contrast, a radio is a companion. It softly ushers music, conversation, drama and comedy into the background to be paid attention to or ignored at will. It is as though one’s home is populated by witty and intelligent people having interesting conversations and sharing, from time to time, selections from their record collection. The internet, by contrast, appears to be a bridge between the two. How many times do we now see families sitting around a lounge with a television (now relegated to ‘that thing in the corner’) and with each member on a web enabled ‘device’ of some kind - usually also engaged in active conversation. The times they are a-changin’ and hopefully we will see the demise of television altogether in favour of user-controlled media rather than distributor-controlled entertainment and (let’s be honest) their social control by brain-numbing - leading to the individuals’ lack of questioning of the system?
‘Selectively’ and ‘actively’ viewing is priceless The majority of programmes are designed to silence us and halt our thinking, however, my caveat was that: ‘there is rarely anything of any quality’ - ‘rarely’ being the operative word. What I’m about to say is going to make me sound not only like an ‘anorak’ but also put me in a tiny minority, but, I learn more about what is happening in the world by listening to short wave radio from across the globe such as Radio Free China and Moscow as well as many others across Europe. (I heard about the riots in Iceland live, weeks before they were reported here for example.) My point is: that I am an ‘active’ user of media. I go in search of truth, education and quality entertainment. The windmill that I am primarily tilting at, is the kind of person who will sit, endlessly (and in silence) in front a television without ever questioning its various messages. They are the ones who will absorb advertising messages to the degree that their lives will appear deprived without the latest products and they are the ones who believe that whatever is thrown (up) at them is as good as it gets. Eleanor Roosevelt said - ‘Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.’
What could be more spectacular than that moment when one is lying down waiting for sleep and the spirits come to take your hand; the trials and labour of the day melt away and yield to the sparkling, swirling colours and visions from within one’s own mind. The imagination is unleashed and a million ideas surge through the landscape in an extravaganza intended purely for entertainment and joy. Then, at the end of the darkness comes that similar moment when awaking from a sleep full of dreams, that the mind is weighed down with souvenirs and stories, routemaps of new horizons and blurred photographs of an epic adventure. We are washed ashore like bedraggled but happy shipwrecked sailors on the beach of reality. Nothing could be more precious to a writer than this, for in those moments; greatness is revealed and delivered on a silver platter. Not only is this experience free and readily available, it doesn’t rely on any drug and better still - it’s part of our DNA. We are born to be this way.
I had an attack of Acephalgic Migraine today. I have been free of any incident since my last episode (and subsequent blog about it) back on the 26th July this year so this time I felt it worthy of documenting - not just for my own benefit but also for the scientific interest surrounding this mysterious condition.
Today, at about 11.30am, I became aware of the central ‘sparkle’, just to the right of my centre of vision. With an outstretched arm it was about the size of my thumbnail and grew in size over the next fifteen minutes to occupy a space the size of my spread palm, again at arm’s length.
By noon it was in full force and filled the whole of the lower right quarter of my vision but by ten past it was largely a peripheral awareness. The visual lightshow usually lasts about forty minutes and by half past twelve I had a dull ache at the base of my skull. This ‘heaviness’ was accompanied with a tight sensation which by 1.00pm had become similar to an external or muscular tension throughout the back of my neck and lower head.
By 1.25, nearly a half hour afterwards (and two hours since the onset) the feeling was not unlike a hangover with a tight ‘banding’ sensation across my forehead which became a cold sensation on the crown of my head. This persisted until about 3.00pm by which time it had receded to be merely a stiff neck and a ‘distant’ sensation - similar to having just awoken.
Usually, this is about all that happens but today something new emerged. By 5.00pm I was having another onset, which has never happened before. This time it began evolving in the left side of my vision. The ‘Stargate’ lights moved larger and larger, once again lasting about forty minutes but this time; rather than observe I resorted to taking two paracetamol (which stemmed the heavy feeling but not the muscular ache).
I have tried to replicate the visual effect in the following animation but it doesn’t come close to visualising the intensity of brightness of the white areas nor the colour. Similarly, it is almost impossible to recreate the movement (which seems to pulse at about four or five cycles per second). Not only that but every colour appears to shimmer and be in a constant state of rapid and jagged movement.
When looking at this image, imagine it to be your computer desktop and do NOT look at the moving colours. To get the effect, try to be aware of them as you concentrate on the Tellytubby at the centre of the image.
At half past twelve today, 24th September (just two days later), I had another onset. This time the lights spread out from the very centre of my vision and lasted for about half an hour and was not followed by headache. This is the first time I have had a recurrence so quickly after a previous one. Also noteworthy, on both occasions I had drunk between four and five very strong cups of coffee just prior to the incident.
Internet ‘bots’ are, for the most part pretty annoying but from time to time they can be quite entertaining. It’s generally easy to spot one and I feel sympathy for those who fail to recognise them and try to engage in sincere conversation.
What follows is a ‘chat’ that occurred between myself and a ‘bot’ called Shay which happened when I logged in to Hotmail recently. This character somehow added me and occasionally sent a message or two but this time I decided to have some fun and see how ‘intelligent’ it was. As you can see, it is not very clever (in spite of the use of mis-spelt words and other net parlance).
Shay says: (14:45:36)
Jude says: (14:45:58)
Shay says: (14:46:07)
hello to you too
Jude says: (14:46:22)
how’s your day?
Shay says: (14:46:31)
Yay! Someone to talk too!! :-)
Jude says: (14:47:10)
So, what you been up to? Annoyed any other MSN customers today besides me?
Shay says: (14:47:20)
lol my name is Jenny i found you on the messenger directory, I’m 22 n go 2 school in cali, just moved here from miami. Umm can i ask you a question?
Jude says: (14:47:32)
Shay says: (14:47:41)
I have a slim waist do you think its to much to always be in gym clothes? I love showing off my body ;-) Do u have pictures?
Jude says: (14:48:00)
you asked me that before and I didn’t like it then
Shay says: (14:48:10)
Well i have pics but they are not on this computer, all i have is the cam. Want me to turn it on??
Jude says: (14:48:30)
How’s your day going? you never answered me
Shay says: (14:48:40)
lol right y wouldnt u want to see me?! well let me put something on cuz i’m damn near naked right now lol brb real quick
Jude says: (14:49:45)
Why do you never answer my questions?
Shay says: (14:49:56)
hmm well its gonna take to long t0 find somethin 2 wear haha… tell me what u think of me dressed in red! ;)
Jude says: (14:50:27)
what are you studying in California? advanced artificial intelligence?
Shay says: (14:50:36)
ok goto http:_ _ _ and we can go 1 on 1 chat. Just click Accept Invite button… I’m ready now just bra and panties :)
Jude says: (14:51:08)
just talk to me. How rude. :(
Shay says: (14:51:17)
Do you see my video i made dancing, i hope u like the latin music, had to add some spice 2 it
Jude says: (14:53:30)
You actually aren’t listening are you
Shay says: (14:53:39)
This site is awesome cuz they have new technology that assures me people can’t record me. I dunno what i’d do if my parents saw this lol
Jude says: (14:54:19)
are you just talking to yourself here?
Shay says: (14:54:30)
you might need to fill out cc info for age verification but dun worry baby ur card wont be charged
Jude says: (14:54:46)
I’m trying to ask you questions. Hello, hello.
Shay says: (14:54:56)
Jude says: (14:55:20)
none of this makes any sense
Shay says: (14:55:32)
I’ll do anything you want me to do.. Do you see me? I can’t chat with you on the site till you register :-(
Jude says: (14:56:02)
I don’t want to register and I don’t want to see you dance particularly. I hardly know you.
Shay says: (14:56:12)
http:_ _ _
Jude says: (14:56:25)
stop sending me links and talk
Shay says: (14:56:37)
Its http:_ _ _ just accept my cam invite!
Jude says: (14:56:53)
No. Not until you answer my questions.
Shay says: (14:57:03)
Baby I’m So Horny right now! Do Whatever You have to, to get in! i’ll spank my ass till its red for u!!!
Jude says: (14:57:39)
You don’t even know who I am. I might be your mom.
Shay says: (14:57:50)
Your such a good boy, i’m gonna show you what good boys deserve.. i’ll be waiting for you on the site…
Jude says: (14:58:15)
Just wait til your dad hears about this.
Shay says: (14:58:24)
i’ll be waiting for you! Goto http:_ _ _ and Join then we’ll chat live!
Jude says: (14:58:47)
When I think about all the money we spent sending you to school
Shay says: (14:58:56)
there’s no $$ involved!!
Jude says: (14:59:16)
Ha. There’s gratitude for you. Your father sweating his life away in that factory for you to be exposing yourself all over the internet
Shay says: (14:59:26)
Jude says: (14:59:46)
Not so smug now are you, missy?! You haven’t been listening to a single word I type have you?
Shay says: (14:59:55)
yes I am finally single!! its great!
Jude says: (15:00:28)
Are you even able to understand English?
Shay says: (15:00:39)
Jude says: (15:00:50)
I take that as a no, then.
Shay says: (15:01:02)
Jude says: (15:01:14)
Yes I am indeed. Have you fed the chickens?
Shay says: (15:01:17)
Jude says: (15:02:27)
Aaaand, we’re clear. That’s a wrap everyone.
(Forgotten British heroes, part one)
You’d be forgiven for thinking that the basic premise of this idea was a little corny but back in March 1953 it was hot stuff. Children all across the British Isles were delighted when the first edition of a new comic; The Lone Star (“the only magazine with three dimensional pictures!”) hit the newstands featuring Sheriff Ace Hart. Created and drawn by artist Ron Turner, Ace (or Space Ace as he became known) thrilled and entertained the nation with his galactic swashbuckling every week.
Ron Turner is a name that is probably known to hardened comic book fans but to most of us, he is largely unknown. It’s a safe bet, however, that we might have all seen his art from time to time as his later work included comic strips featuring Thunderbirds, The Daleks and Judge Dredd. But it was Ace Hart that really got the ball rolling for this prolific illustrator and was the culmination of a lifetime’s fascination of science fiction for him.
The ‘space western’ is a well known trope in modern culture but executed properly it can be very effective and quite endearing. Star Trek is perhaps the best example over recent years but in the 1950’s they were more occupied with creating the genre, not steering clear of the clichés. The trope revolves around the idea that the vastness of space contains many hazards and adversaries similar to those encountered by American settlers as they forged a path across the ‘new world’. In that context, Ron was being truthful to the idea by casting his spaceman as a hard-nosed, western lawman.
In the story, Ace is struck by a meteorite which gives him immunity to radioactivity. This super power leads him to become Space Squadron Commander (naturally), captaining the new spaceship The LS1. His crew includes the craft’s inventor Professor McKay, his chief pilot Bill Haines, science officer Dr Wang Fu, mining expert Monty Milne and a mascot monkey called Marmaduke. It sounds like a typical line-up for a space adventure but you have to remember it was created long before Star Wars. In fact, it was only eight years after the Second World War. Quite forward thinking for its time, I think you’ll agree.
British audiences never really experienced the explosion of science fiction radio drama that the Americans had during the 40’s and 50’s but it’s very likely that Ron was aware of them. So much so that his series was quite similar to a children’s series called Space Patrol which began a couple of years earlier than his comic strip. Kids in the 1950’s were obsessed with space travel and the potential which the brave new future promised them.
Space Patrol featured a young hero called Commander Buzz Corey and it was his job to see that law and order were kept in the thirtieth century around our solar system which was known then as the United Planets. Created by Mike Moser as a spoof of Flash Gordon, it soon gripped the imaginations of the American youth and during its run, between 1951 to 1954, it garnered the sponsorship of the Ralston Breakfast Cereal Company and spawned much merchandising, including a curious device called a “Space-O-Phone’.
Not to be outdone by their transatlantic cousins, the Die Cast Machine Tools Company (the firm which produced the Lone Star Comic) decided that they too could make a profit by cashing in on the idea of selling hero branded toys. It wasn’t long before they had produced their very own version of a futuristic communication device, available in a variety of colours, for children to reenact scenes from the adventure.
I was lucky enough, just recently, to discover a set of these at a collector’s fair and even more excited to get them for just £1. I don’t think the seller knew the significance nor the history but to me they were almost mythical in my imagination. I have been researching this genre for many years and had heard the radio advertisements proclaiming that it was possible to hear voices up to one hundred yards away. How was this achievable? I remember thinking.
Apart from the fact that it is possible to actually hear someone talking a hundred yards away without the aid of any device, I was intrigued as to what advanced technology lay behind these little miracles. Imagine my disappointment, then, when it became clear that they were little more than two tin cans and a length of string - in principal at least. Imagine also; the disappointment of a young ten year old lad and his sister as they gleefully opened the box on Christmas morning 1953 to discover, essentially, two plastic handles and some coloured cord. It must have provided literally minutes of entertainment before being thrown on a bedroom shelf. The dream, it seems, is always more resplendent than the actuality.
In fairness, they work really well and even have a small whistle set into the base of the handle so that you can alert the other user of your need to communicate. But it’s the thought of having a hundred yards of hazardous string between the two sets that jars with the practicality of playing out. How many times must that wire have got caught on furniture and branches in the rush to catch an alien. Worse still: as we all know - long lengths of any kind of wire, when left to its own devices, begins to tangle and knot itself into an impossible dreadlock of frustration. But most of all it’s the way that you have to stand facing your friend with the string held taught for the phones to work that is the single most play-inhibiting factor. That, and the fact that they are, well, a bit rubbish.
All of this is a lesson. It has taught us that childhood heroes come and go. One minute it’s mutated turtles, the next it’s a child wizard and all the time the manufacturers are watching us - waiting to bring toys and other objects branded with our loved one’s logo and sturdy endorsement to prise our hard-earned pocket money out of our sweaty and gullible hands.
More than this, it has taught us that Britain had a passion for science fiction long before Doctor Who and also had some very talented artists bringing it to us. Ron Turner may have slipped under the radar in the internet age but his spirit lives on and much of what we, as a culture, organically know of scifi today, is due in part to the exploits of a radioactively immune western sheriff that he created.
I’m happy to talk about my condition as it falls into a category of illnesses which are best described as ‘bizarre’ but also, sadly, untreatable. What medically happens, is that a wave of electrophysiological hyperactivity begins at the very back of my brain which gradually flows forward and is followed by a wave of inhibition. Basically, the electrical charge is flipping from positive to negative. This can last for up to a quarter of an hour and is called ‘Cortical Spreading Depression’. It’s brought about by increased extracellular potassium ion concentration and excitatory glutamate. It is also the underlying cause of migraine aura.
To put another name to this; I suffer from what is known as ‘Acephalgic Migraines’ which is similar to a regular migraine but without the headache. It sounds impossible if you have no experience of this phenomena but you must believe me when I tell you that when I first encountered this condition I feared for my life. Ignorance, in this case, certainly isn’t bliss.
Migraine sufferers generally experience ‘onset symptoms’ and one of the very common side effects is visual disturbances which are often called an ‘aura’. In my case, what I experience is like a wave gathering momentum as it reaches a beach then finally crashing in an explosion of activity and aftermath. But the way that I experience it is called a ‘Scintillating Scotoma’ which I think is a wonderful title which invokes an almost Victorian sense of wonder about it. Indeed, it was first observed by the 19th century physician Hubert Airy and his deliberate choice of the adjective ‘scintillating’ makes it sound almost thrilling.
In a strange way it is thrilling, I have to say, but the consequences are more often than not - most inconvenient. I am aware of the arrival of my episode by a tiny speck of sparkly lights just to the side of my centre of vision. This spot is no bigger than a pea if it were to be suspended from a thread about twelve inches from my face. However, because of the nature of the experience I have come to know of this dot of twinkly lights as a kind of wormhole which I refer to in my mind as my ‘stargate’. For, over the space of about twenty minutes the illusion is that I am passing through a dimensional portal, which approaches then absorbs my body whole - leaving me at the other side of a parallel universe with little more than a sense of weary dizziness to show for my transformation.
The reason that it is inconvenient, is that for at least half of the time that the stargate is approaching, I am unable to see normally as it obliterates the very central focusing point of my sight. But oh! the colours. As a young art student I would have paid handsomely for a psychedelic display like this. The stargate begins as an intense white light which appears to burn in the same way that iron filings do but as it grows in size it takes on a sawtooth pattern which ripples and flows along its length. Every edge has a shimmering and pulsating rainbow around it with thin beams radiating outwards. The inner firework display reaches a climax as it engulfs my entire peripheral awareness and I feel as though I am surrounded by glittering Angels.
Before I knew all the science behind this event I was terrified. The first time it happened I genuinely believed that I was dying and that these scintillating angels had come to carry me home. Now that I know it is nothing more than a domino-effect of polarity shifting electricity in my head I can rest a little easier. Usually it means I have to make a cup of tea, sit down for a while, watch the light show and wait to emerge at the other side. Today I have had a particularly epic transition and wrote this entire piece through a ring of white fire, waiting for it to pass. I thought that everybody experienced this until I spoke about it and found that they didn’t. Now that you know, perhaps you’ll forgive me when I say ‘I feel a bit weird’ sometimes.
If the internet has proven anything, it has demonstrated to me that I have never had an original thought in my life nor am I likely to do so in the future. That might seem like a bold and somewhat pessimistic statement to make, but the more I research and delve into the, almost, infinite archives of the world-wide-web’s vaults, it becomes increasingly self evident.
Every interest, passion or pursuit I can imagine (or hold) has been explored more thoroughly - more intensely - by someone else. Each activity, which I hold dearly or with any depth of commitment, has been more expertly defined by someone else at some point. Almost without exception, all conceptual ideas and combination of fictitious premises has been covered, often with more verve, style and proficiency.
The idea of being an expert in a subject seems to slip further and further away (for all of us) when we stumble upon another who has investigated that area to within nano millimeters of definition. This leaves me with the feeling that, in the future, the only way to develop as a species and to grow unique, original thought is to embrace the concept of diversity and symbiosis.
It seems that; only through the combination of well established thought patterns and ideas can we reveal new concepts. It is a kind of ‘fractalisation’ of thinking which demonstrates any new avenues. By combining and incorporating seemingly disparate elements it is (just about) possible to expose something new.
Which, in a sense, is no different to the past. When Thomas Eddison and his like attributed new inventions to themselves, they were merely combining several pre-existing ideas and innovations in new and productive ways. The telephone, for example, was only a marriage of a collection of previously developed and understood devices. It was not a ‘new’ idea, it was a ‘new combination’.
If the internet has proven anything, it has demonstrated to me that we must try harder to be original. It has shown me that uniqueness is defined by - not merely - having a thought, but by examining that thought and searching for similar thoughts elsewhere. And, having found something which is the same - introducing something different to it.
I’m trapped in the wrong dream.
A nightmare that somebody’s having.
And every day my strength dies away; the giver and the given.
No one sees my pain.
No one knows my sorrow.
Nobody hears the dread that I feel, at every new tomorrow.
It’s a lonely road.
Not quite sure where I’m going.
And the weight of the rain that is falling is stopping me knowing.
When is it my time to crumble?
When is it my turn to fall?
When will I get the chance, to be so incredibly small?
Crushed like a snail underfoot.
Lost like a drunken night’s promise.
Tired of the climbing this hill all alone, if I’m honest.
But I carry on. Yes, I carry on
Because I have to. I need to.
There’s no other way; there’s another day.
Can I carry on? Can I be that strong? Forever.
(A work in progress)