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Dreadful Nonsense

"I've read your blog. it's really funny. you should write a column." - Jon Ronson

29 December 2002

I didn't go to the sales, and I didn't get a dog. I instead spent most of the day in bed, then got up in a bad mood and managed to annoy everyone that met me, missed an eye test appointment and decided that, instead of going to the club that I've been longing to go to every day since leaving Dublin last time, we should go to the gay club at the top of the street instead.

It turned out to be a fantastic night, the way that all days that start out rubbish tend to. We had a brilliant time - any club that will play Xtina's Dirrty twice in one night and never once be ironic about it is just great in my mind.

Tomorrow - or rather later on today, if I ever get to bed - I'm going back to Edinburgh. Edel will be there before me, and will collect the dog from the kennels. Susan has been there for two days already. The journey is going to take me eight hours. Lordy, if only I could get solid drunk and pass out in Dublin Airport, only to be shaken awake in Edinburgh. It would be so much easier. Still, I'm currently reading three books, and I should really be starting to study for the beginning of my Open University course, so the time should just fly by. Although maybe "fly" is the wrong choice of words.

I burst in to tears yesterday at the thought of having to go back to work. This does not bode at all well.

26 December 2002

Look at that. Six days, and all the difference they've made.

This time last year, some people may remember, I had the good fortune and foresight to fall down some stairs. This year I decided that a safer occupation would be to climb a mountain with not one but both of my god-daughters. There was much anticipation around the two of them meeting, it being their first time. My six year old god-daughter was particularly nervous about the meeting, as I had suggested to her in the car on the way to the mountain that perhaps they should have some kind of competition to see who was the best. My twelve year old god-daughter didn't seem quite as concerned about proving her abilities to me.

Anyway. Labradors mixed with aunties, uncles and cousins and a huge group of us - between the ages of 6 and 60 - went traipsing up a hill with no cares in the world. Christmas is fabulous for taking time out to do stupid things, and so we watched in amusement as many people went running past all of us in search of orienteering posts. We tried to explain what they were doing to Roisin, but even after the explanation, she couldn't quite see the point. Maybe the fault lay in the fact that we couldn't either.

Now, the house is still full of cousins, aunties and uncles, but thankfully everyone here is now over the age of 20. It's a lot easier that way. We're all about to eat turkey again, which seems unwise, but I'm sticking to my quorn.

So then. Have a lovely Boxing / St Stephens Day, and hopefully I'll have something to boast about finding in the sales tomorrow.

(I'm also trying to persuade my mother to adopt a jack russell tomorrow. I've already submitted our details to two different websites)

20 December 2002

First leg of my journey home today!!! I'm getting a train from Edinburgh at 2pm, which should get to Holyhead (after changing twice) at about 8pm. I've just done a ferry check and it looks like all is running smoothly. Have packed far too much, and didn't really sleep last night. Am convinced I've forgotten something - but I've got my tickets, my wallet and my walkman, so everything else is a bonus.

Woo hoo!

18 December 2002

2 + 2 = 5
A message from Thom Yorke


17 December 2002

A moral lesson for everyone working in an office today, taken from the diary of business a.m. this morning -

“Somebody should tell the young lady that works for Helen Liddell in the Scotland office in Dover House that when she spends her time looking busy, but is actually playing solitaire on her computer, she might not be visible to the rest of her office. But she is clearly visible to passengers on the top deck of a passing bus – some of whom might just be Scottish taxpayers.”

I really wouldn't want to be in her shoes this morning.

13 December 2002

Oh, this made me laugh far too much.
The BBC World Service has been running a poll to find "the world's favourite song" - and running a serious chance of getting in to the Top 10 is the song A Nation Once Again by the Wolfe Tones. It's right up there with the horrifying company of John Lennon's Imagine, Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody, Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven and (horror of horrors) Hero by Mariah Carey.

So. For goodness' sake.

12 December 2002

It's almost as traditional as Santa Claus himself... today I got my first copy of that email - the one that explains why Santa can't possibly exist. Here you go. Share and Enjoy.

An Engineer's Perspective of Santa Claus

1. There are approximately two billion children (persons under 18) in the world. However, since Santa does not visit children of Muslim, Hindu, Jewish or Buddhist religions, this reduces the work load for Christmas night to 15% of the total, or 378 million (according to the Population Reference Bureau). At an average (census) rate of 3.5 children per house hold, that comes to 108 million homes, presuming that there is at least one good child in each.

2. Santa has about 31 hours of Christmas to work with, thanks to the different time zones and the rotation of the earth, assuming he travels east to west (which seems logical). This works out to 967.7 visits per second. This is to say that for each Christian household with a good child, Santa has around 1/1000th of a second to park the sleigh, hop out, jump down the chimney, fill the stockings, distribute the remaining presents under the tree, eat whatever snacks have been left for him, get back up the chimney, jump into the sleigh and get on to the next house. Assuming that each of these 108 million stops is evenly distributed around the earth (which of course we know to be false, but will accept for the purpose of our calculations), we are now talking about 0.78 miles per household; a total trip of 75.5 million miles, not counting bathroom stops or breaks. This means Santa's sleigh is moving at 650 miles per second - 3000 times the speed of sound. For purposes of comparison, the fastest man made vehicle, the Ulysses space probe, moves at a poky 27.4 miles per second, and a conventional reindeer can run (at best) 15 miles per hour.

3. The payload of the sleigh adds another interesting element. Assuming that each child gets nothing more than a medium sized Lego set (two pounds), the sleigh is carrying over 500 thousand tons, not counting Santa himself. On land, a conventional reindeer can pull no more than 3000 pounds. Even granting the "flying" reindeer could pull ten times the normal amount, the job cant be done with eight or even nine of them - Santa would need 360 000 of them. This increases the payload, not counting the weight of the sleigh, another 54 000 tons, or roughly seven times the weight of the Queen Elizabeth (the ship, not the monarch).

4. 600 000 tons travelling at 650 miles per second creates enormous air resistance - this would heat up the reindeer in the same fashion as a spacecraft re-entering the earths atmosphere. The lead pair of reindeer would absorb 14.3 quintillion joules of energy per second each. In short, they would burst into flames almost instantaneously, exposing the reindeer behind them and creating deafening sonic booms in their wake. The entire reindeer team would be vaporized within 4.26 thousandths of a second, or right about the time Santa reached the fifth house on his trip. Not that it matters, however, since Santa, as a result of accelerating from a dead stop to 650 m.p.s. in 0.001 seconds, would be subjected to centrifugal forces of 17 500 g's. A 250 pound Santa (which seems ludicrously slim) would be pinned to the back of the sleigh by 4 315 015 pounds of force, instantly crushing his bones and organs and reducing him to a quivering blob of ping goo.

5. Therefore, if Santa did exist, he's dead now.

10 December 2002

Work! Huh. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing. Say it again.

I have, for some time, been feeling slightly miserable in my present job, despite the fact that it took me so long to get here. Everyone obviously remembers my job hunt – if not, check the archives for details. I’d link, but I’m far too lazy.

On Friday, my boss had the fabulous idea, considering my current rocky feelings towards the workplace, to take me in to her office and reprimand me for a number of different misdemeanors – some of which were founded, some of which were so outrageously false that I was rendered completely speechless.

I was told that I’m taking too much time off. Chance would be a fine thing – I’ve had my holiday allowance very curtailed thanks to the adventures in August, and since then, every time I’ve requested a holiday, I’ve had that thrown back in my face. I’m going home for a very very short period over Christmas, something which is breaking my heart. I’ve had to come in late at least one morning every week for the last month due to having to go to physiotherapy for my back problems – but really, I shouldn’t have fallen down a flight of stairs last December, should I? I already cleared that with my boss though, and at the time she said that my health was my most important consideration. She seems to have changed her mind.

The worst thing that was said was that fact that “some members of the team” didn’t feel that I was pulling my weight. This isn’t mountain rescue here, people. This isn’t a life or death situation – I work in a freaking office. I move paper around. I type things all day long, and occasionally I fax things. I do what I’m asked to do, and I think I do it quite well. I’ve been fighting my corner here about a few things for a while now, and the thanks I get is that I’m just not doing enough. My immediate reaction? – Screw all that. I’m not trying anymore. This is due to the fact that, mentally and emotionally, I am 5 years old.

What I do every day from 9am to 5pm is my day job. This is how I earn money to do other things. This is what I do so that I can go down to London for a weekend and spend 5 hours in the freezing cold so that I can jump up and down and scream at some musicians for three hours. This is what I do to pay my bills and feed my dog. It is not a choice. It is a necessity. I’m just trying to make it the best I can.

But to be told, despite your best efforts to fight through the boredom, the tedium, the repetition and the thankless nonsense that you have to do every day, you’re still not seen to be doing enough? I’d rather sweep the roads for a living. I’m seriously considering leaving, and soon. Is this a good idea? Why not email me – sharon@drugsmakemecool.com – and tell me what you think. All advice appreciated.

05 December 2002

"You find that most people place one half knot on top of another. This results in either a notoriously unstable granny knot or a very stable reef knot, depending on whether the two half-knots have the same or opposite orientation," Dr Polster said. "If you are a granny-knot person, you can turn yourself into a reef-knot person by changing the orientation of one of the half-knots."

Important scientific investigation reveals how to tie your shoe laces properly. The Guardian explains.

04 December 2002

Surrounding me on my desk at work are:
- a flask full of full caffeinated filter coffee
- a bottle of full-power coke
- a packet of salt and vinegar crisps
- a half eaten chocolate bar
- a half-full coffee cup of strong black coffee

I couldn’t look more like I was drinking last night if I tried. I’m totally exhausted, still slightly dehydrated, have lost my voice and look like someone punched me under both eyes. It’s a good look for me.

The reason for all this is that myself and Olivia dandered off to Glasgow last night to watch the wonder that is David Gray in full flight as he performed at the SECC. We got a coach there and back – which, I’ve now discovered, is the best way to travel to gigs – and then stood dead centre in the middle of the crowd and jumped up and down for four hours, screaming our heads off. The gig was fantastic – he played all the songs that I hoped he would off the new album, and then also played Late Night Radio and Faster Sooner Now. I discovered that I’ve forgotten the words to Silver Lining. Tim the keyboard player seems to be morphing in to Richard Thomas, (formerly of TMWRNJ and now composer of Jerry Spring – The Opera). David Gray hasn’t cut back on the old head wobbling one tiny bit – in fact, after Real Love, he thought he might have given himself whiplash. Clune is still a complete nut job.

When David came back on and said that he was going to play the first track off his first album, I shrieked without thinking. And then called Susan and left all of Shine on her answering machine. Because it’s beautiful, and David Gray is a genius. He also sang a new song – Go Down Easy – dedicated to John Martin. It’s great. He’s great. Everyone’s great.

I’m going down to London this weekend to see him do it all again on Saturday. And then again on Sunday. Can’t wait.

SET LIST, David Gray, Glasgow SECC, 3rd December 2002

Other Side
Dead in the Water
Real Love
White Ladder
Be Mine
My Oh My
We're not right
Late Night Radio
Faster Sooner Now
Last boat to America
Signal Break
Silver Lining

Encore 1 -
This Years Love
No easy way to cry
Say Hello, Wave Goodbye

Encore 2 -
Sail Away
Go Down Easy
Please Forgive Me

01 December 2002
Another flattering review, this time from one of the Sunday broadsheets. After waiting for months for the book to come to the attention of the wider world, I am now hoping that the hype will end soon. Eoin can no longer cope, and is now living in the shed at the bottom of my garden, having reached breaking point when he found a journalist hiding underneath his bed, hoping to hear some of the poetry he is rumoured to recite in his sleep. I myself am coping well enough, keeping busy waking badgers from hibernation and training them to do my bidding. The New York Times is expected to print a review in tomorrow's paper, which should be quite interesting. Only time will tell whether The Inadvertent Twin will test the patience of the US art world, which is notoriously childish.

Changing the Face of Children's Literature
The Inadvertent Twin" by Eoin and Sharon

In the aftermath of 9/11, no medium is free from the demand for a response. Children's literature has been slow to address the darkening horizons of modernity, characteristically cowering in the shadows of tired franchises and empty fantasies. It's hardly surprising that the answer, when it comes, comes from such a dark and sinister corner.

Discredited children's writer Sharon has ended her 2-year silence to give us The Inadvertent Twin. There was an unforgettable outcry surrounding her last publication - which was removed from shelves just hours after its release upon the discovery that fragments of fibre glass had been inserted by the author (and unbeknownst to reputable publishers Scholastic) in order that children would appreciate the sensations of eponymous heroine The Girl With A Skin Complaint. Her next work would be strikingly challenged to placate those still baying for her blood, while keeping on side the few fans who maintain that her genius is simply misunderstood.

Sharon's choice of collaborator is quite devastating - a youthful ex-everythingoholic from Dublin, Eoin has in fact produced nothing of worth in his short artistic career, although the rumour some years ago that he had secreted scandalous photos of certain artistic luminaries in some of his more banal pieces, saw his entire locus being bought up in a frenzy that astonished the art world in the heady months of June and July 2001. What can we expect from such a curious team? Darkness certainly, bleakness even. A willingness to engage with the taboo, since both have fallen irrevocably into the mire of the unacceptable, and surely society is unwilling to ever accept them back within its inner circle. Cultural literacy, and indeed indifference have also characterised the previous work of both collaborators. And of course, one would expect the pages to seethe with the reported sexual tension of the two writers.

Readers will be surprised by what greets them. Ostensibly a mild fairy story with a trace of knowing sarcasm, The Inadvertent Twin almost entirely fails to shock. This rather, is a likeable and warm piece about an elf caught in a quest to discover her name. This reviewer was surprised to find herself won over by the guileless charms of the little elf and her beloved cat, and the warm cynicism of the elf's romantic ideals. But this is a book that breathes insidiously in the reader's mind long after the back cover is folded over. The elf's quest for her identity is doomed from the start, because in our new world order, identity is the ultimate double-edged sword. It facilitates our self-realisation, all the while tightening the noose of inevitable mutual-obliteration about our ethnically-defined necks. The forest of the tale bubbles with tension between scarcely-sketched characters, each failing to understand its own purpose or motivation. The book is peopled by confused ciphers, uttering 20th century wisdoms that are hollow and misunderstood. There is no agency in this story, only blind adherence to an inevitable narrative that nobody (least of all the reader) can perceive. The tragic downfall of our postmodern heroine will devastate children, but is this really a children's book?

The great triumph of The Inadvertent Twin is in its layout. 20 pages of exquisitely designed text are followed by 20 pages of illustration, also a collaboration between Sharon and Eoin. No necessary connection is made between the two, and in the gap between what we imagine while reading the story, and what we see afterwards, exists the tale's real power. The illustrations are brutal, dark and terrifying. The medium is not confirmed anywhere on the publication (certainly not on the review copy anyway), but I would be very surprised if that maroon was achieved without the use of human blood. As to the vicious evil of the cat's face (a pastiche of the faces of Osama Bin Laden and Pope John Paul); the superimposed blind eyes in the faces of all the figures, and the background pastiche of a forest in which the trees are composed of famine victims... This book won't sell, of course it won't. It won't accomplish any success on the Christmas market. But it is art. Oh yes, it is unquestionably art.

Carol Ballantine is professor emeritus of linguistic determinism post-End Of Humanity in the William Walters University of North Cavan. She writes for TV and radio, and has a regular column with this publication.