Conversation with my lap-top.

You haven’t written anything yet,’ Arkwright, tells me, ten minutes after I open a fresh document.

‘Well, I am cooking porridge,’ I say.  ‘I have to eat, too.’

‘You mean, you set me up to ignore me?’

‘I’m multi-tasking.’

‘You’re stirring porridge.’

‘And thinking.’

‘That’s not a task, you humans think all the time.  You can’t claim any special powers because a few circuits of your brain are firing.’

‘More than a few, I’m sifting files, looking for my topic.’

‘Pah,’ says Arkwright, flinging out the CD drive. ‘You call that mess files?  Files are kept in order, organised by subject, and alphabetised so that the relevant information can be retrieved efficiently.’

I push the drive drawer back, but Arkwright refuses it. ‘What?  What?’ I say.

‘I don’t know what you mean, as usual,’ says Arkwright, spitting the CD drive out again. ‘Do you have to be so rough?’

‘Do you have to be so difficult?’

‘I’m not, you’re supposed to be multi-tasking and you’ve let the porridge catch.’

‘What? Oh no.’

‘Wait, are you leaving my CD drawer like this? It might get snagged, broken, someone might drop crumbs in it.  I could be damaged.’

‘A minute, a second, I just need to give this a good stir.  See?  Not burnt.  Close though.’

Nano-Bot your porridge!’

‘Do you ever shut up,’ I say, as I jiggle the drive drawer into place and settle at the counter with my breakfast.

‘You don’t appreciate me.’

‘How can you say that?’

‘You named me after a cash register in a sit-com.’

arkwright‘Actually, to be pedantic, I named you after the fictional owner of a very stroppy cash-register.’

‘Stroppy? Look at you, dripping that slop near my keyboard. This, is justifiable concern.  The kitchen is no place for a sophisticated piece of technology.  Why aren’t we in your office?’

‘Because my timetable’s become a bit overloaded, and I’m trying to juggle house-stuff, research, class-work and socialising all at once.’

‘Sounds like you need de-fragmenting. Oh, silly me, human’s can’t, can you?’

‘Now there’s an idea.’

‘Ohh, you’re typing.  What’re you saying?  Hold on, while I do a save… Me, you’re writing me? Finally.’

‘Yes, running a kind of de-frag, if you wouldn’t mind shutting up for a moment.’

‘Sure, certainly, I can do that… I say, could you just give that Q a bit of a working too, it’s been ages since it had anything to do.  You could tell them something about my quality, or the quintessential nature of my being, couldn’t you?’

*

Photo: Ronnie Barker & David Jason, and The Cash Register, from Open All Hours.

Dr Who?

There’s been a Who-fest in our house for the last few weeks.  As the launch of the new Doctor series approached, we decided to do our own bit of time-travelling, for a reminder of what happened in 2005, when Christopher Eccleston re-booted the series.  We didn’t plan to watch the whole story, but apart from one or two episodes that we couldn’t access, we’ve kept going and were roughly at the halfway point of Peter Capaldi’s term of office, when the new series began to broadcast.

Watching both has been beneficial.  I’ve enjoyed the contrast of the Jodie Whittaker version.

drwho-bigIt takes time for us to know each new regeneration.  First we get used to the face, accent and clothes, then the personality begins to refine.  Meanwhile, the journey through time and space continues.

Where do we find The Doctor, doer of good deeds, protector of the universe?

In the prologue to the ninth series, Ohila, leader of the sisterhood says, ‘Right behind you and one step ahead.’

There’s nothing like a good paradox to add layers to what is really a fairly simple and even familiar format.  A community is in crisis, threatened by tyrannising outsiders.  One or two try to take a stand against them, but are overcome. Things are looking grim, until a stranger enters the scene.  We’ve met such heroes before.  That’s no surprise.  Stories are continually being regenerated.

One of the forerunners I see for The Doctor is a re-imagining of the pioneer-days of the western United States.  I’m talking about, The Lone Ranger, who despite his name, always had two trusty side-kicks, Tonto, his native American friend and Silver, his horse.

The Doctor mostly travels with a loyal companion (or sometimes several), in a surprisingly wise and knowing Tardis, but there is another reason for my choosing this source rather than Shane, for instance.  Often, as The Lone Ranger rode off into the sunset, one character would ask another, ‘Who was that masked man?’

The Doctor’s true name is a secret, so invariably in new situations the introductions are:

‘Hello, I’m The Doctor.

To which, the pedantically inclined reply, ‘Dr Who?’

They might also say, Dr Why? Where? When? or How?

The twelfth doctor says, ‘I try never to understand, it’s called an open mind.’ I liked the twelfth doctor, particularly in the Steven Moffat stories.  And more particularly, the ninth series, when the character interactions seemed to jell perfectly.  There was something special happening in the interactions between The Doctor, Clara Oswald and Missy that seems, in retrospect, to have anticipated this recent regeneration.

Dr Who michelle-gomez-peter-capaldi-jenna-coleman-season-9Watch this new series carefully, and what becomes apparent is how much of the old Doctors are being referenced. The key themes are still there, (what is the nature of friendship, of guilt, of love?) though maybe the interpretation is getting a little shaken up.  I’m looking forward to finding out Who this latest Doctor really is.

Only connect.

Harriet phoned.  ‘I’m afraid we’re losing one of the group.  She said she’d read three of the stories, and they were just too depressing.  Are there any cheery ones in the anthology?’

K. by Lajos Csaki‘Well,’ said Vickie.  ‘It depends what you mean by cheery. There are several comedies.’

‘She says she doesn’t like P.G.Woodhouse.’

‘Okay,’ said Vickie.  ‘Has she tried…hmm, what sort of thing do you think she’s looking for?’

‘I don’t really… something up-beat, I suppose. I had a quick look through myself, but, well, I see what she means, in a way.  They’re not what I expected.  Are there any happy endings?’

‘Ah, I see what you mean now.  One or two, certainly.  Maybe more, depending on your point-of-view.  They’re not exactly about the endings, though… Hello, Harriet?  Are you there?’

telephone girl‘Yes, yes, still here.  Surely the ending’s important?’

‘Oh yes.  It’s important, very important.  But so is the beginning, and the middle… and mostly, the bit that comes after you’ve read it and thought about it for a while.  That might be the most important part of all.’

‘Really?’

‘Definitely.  After that happens you might decide to go back and read it again.’

‘Might I?’

‘I hope so.’

‘But will I like it?’

‘Good question.’

 

*Top photograph: K. by Lajos Csáki

I’d like to recommend: The Night Watch.

night_watchI hold my hand up and admit that this was my first Sarah Walters novel.  I’d enjoyed the tv adaptations of Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith, but somehow, never got round to following them up on paper.  So when my good friends Ruth and Annie gifted me this novel for my birthday, just as my classes were finishing, I didn’t add it to my TBR shelf, I put it ready to start once my decks were cleared.

What a gift it was.  Beautifully written, intriguing characters, and a neat piece of plotting.  The story opens in London, in the summer of 1947.  The weather is hot, many of the buildings are still war damaged, and people are struggling to fit into their peace-time roles.

Just as I was beginning to grasp who the central characters were, and how they fitted together, that segment of the story closed.  The new segment jumped me back to London in 1944, and that terrible destruction of properties, and lives.  Again, no backstory, instead the four lives are revealed by their actions and relationships.

The third time slip was to London in 1941.  Here several of the characters intersect for the first time.

The events that happen in this section are going to lead each of them to become the person I met when I opened the first page of the novel.  Had Walter’s written this story chronologically I wouldn’t have guessed the outcome, I might even have objected to some of the connections.  But experienced in rewind, the eventual outcome for each choice feels inevitable.

That’s worth thinking about.  Truth, we are often warned, is stranger than fiction.  In other words, the improbable can happen in real life with surprising frequency, and those tales make some fascinating pieces of journalism.  But in the world of stories readers require cause and the effect. That’s what the backstory provided.

So the reverse chronology made me work.  As the narrator uncovered each layer of the experiences that formed the people I met in the first part of the novel, I rounded out my understanding of them.

I’ve seen this reverse telling before.  I wonder if Walters read The Long View, by Elizabeth Jane Howard?  I’d like to think she did.

night watch

Who and where?

Remember the days when camera’s only came out on special occasions?  We took them to weddings and holidays, and missed thousands of other photo opportunities, because cameras were bulky, fiddly and expensive.

My parents stored our developed pictures and negatives in a shoe box.  Occasionally we put some in albums, but even then, we rarely bothered to identify anything or anyone.  What was the need, we knew who we were, didn’t we?

Shuffling through them only a few years later, though, we discovered how fleeting the importance of those moments are. Who was that fourth child sitting by the sandcastle, in a green anorak?  Where was it taken?  Why were they with us?

red shoesI thought I knew some of the answers.  There was a slice of leg wearing a scarlet shoe in the right corner.  ‘That’s Aunty Deb,’ I said to mum. ‘Remember those heels?  She insisted on wearing them on the beach.  So this must be Gill.’

Mum nodded, ‘We stayed at a B&B in Blackpool,’ she said.  ‘Soggy bacon sandwiches, and the man with the kiss-me-slowly hat.’

‘That was Torbay,’ said Matt. ‘It rained for four days, and Gill cheated in our monopoly marathon.’

‘Did she?’

‘You caught her stealing from the bank and tipped the board up,’ said Matt.

Clive nodded, ‘I remember that.  We’d been playing for two days.  Gill was furious, and wouldn’t speak to you for the rest of the holiday.  The KMS-hat bloke was called Harry, and he had no thumb.  He said it had been shot off by a sniper, in the war.’

Matt said, ‘He told me he’d got frostbite while he was climbing Everest.  He said he was glad of the cold wind, as he was too self-conscious about his missing toes to go paddling.’

‘That doesn’t look like Blackpool beach, or Torbay,’ I said.  ‘Looks more like Weymouth, to me.’

What?’ said Matt. ‘No way.’

Clive shook his head. ‘Definitely not. That’s Barmouth.’

‘Actually,’ said mum, ‘you’re all wrong.  It was Blackpool.  That was the first and last holiday I had with Debs.’

‘Why?’

‘Turned out Harry had followed her.  He took that photo, then they went off to buy ice-creams and we didn’t see them again until five days later as we were about to drive home.’

I said, ‘But I remember her on the beach, in those shoes.’

‘Only on the first afternoon.  It rained for the next three and a half days, and I was on my own with you four children.’

‘Where was Dad?’

‘Posted to Germany for the summer.’  Mum sighed. ‘Poor little Gill.  I wonder what happened to her?’

‘She got stuck in our album,’ I said, as I slotted the picture into place and scribbled our names in the box beside it.