I'm doing Jury service at the moment. This is mostly pretty interesting as it's the first (and hopefully only) time that I'll ever have anything to do with a real court. Until now my only experiences have been via books and the media, which tends to exagerate the drama and underplay the waiting around.
Being a Godless type, I chose to affirm rather than swear on a holy book. It's good that one can do this, but the wording of the affirmation is so much more clumsy than that of the oath. I feel let down by whoever drafted it, and wish they might have tried for the same terse majesty.
Compare: I swear by Almighty God that I will faithfully try the defendant and give a true verdict according to the evidence.
with I do solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm that I will faithfully try the defendant and give a true verdict according to the evidence.
I went to Anglesey over the weekend, for a bit of paddling that got a little more interesting than I like it to be.
Today was horrid, it rained and rained and rained, then it rained harder, just to prove it could. This was a shame, as I was hoping to go off and see some meteors.
Thankfully, the clouds cleared away a couple of hours ago, so I headed off out of town to a secluded spot with some Grateful Dead [1969-04-22], lay on the ground (getting cold in the process, but there you go) and set my gaze on the heavens.
I had around 45 minutes before the clouds moved back in, and saw a good few streaks of fire. Not the three-a-minute promised, but then, it was a little misty in spots, and my eyes are only so big.
And now, you must all make a tremendous sacrifice to those who sent us these signs. Place Java upon your altars, slay with abandon, and the world will be saved. So it is written. For ever and ever. Etc.
It would also be a shame if, twenty five years after the eradication of smallpox -- the greatest acheivement of microbiology, and perhaps of medical science -- if the lack of a few million dollars over the next few years puts us back where we started.
What enterprise that an enlightened community may attempt is more noble and more profitable that the reclamation from barbarism of fertile regions and large populations? To give peace to warring tribes, to administer justice where all was violence, to strike the chains off the slave, to draw the richness from the soil, to plant the earliest seeds of commerce and learning, to increase in whole peoples their capacities for pleasure and diminish their chances of pain -- what more beautiful ideal or more valuable reward can inspire human effort?
Yet as the mind turns from the wonderful cloudland of aspiration to the ugly scaffolding of attempt and achievement, a succession of opposite ideas arise... The inevitable gap between conquest and dominion becomes filled with the figures of the greedy trader, the inopportune missionary, the ambitious soldier, and the lying speculator, who disquiet the minds of the conquered and excite the sordid appetites of the conquerers. And as the eye of thought rests on these sinister features, it hardly seems possible for us to believe that any fair prospect is approached by so foul a path.
Or so said Churchill, back in the day when he was still fairly useless at playing First Lord of the Admiralty, yet very good indeed at writing. I saw these passages cited in a book about the Empire, and saw their connection with recent events. But I also saw that scaffold would have conjured up images of the hangman and his noose, of trapdoors, of falling and of immediate yet anticapated doom. An image we lack in our own enlightened times, free of hangings but not, alas, of barbarous beheadings and warring factions.
And, politics aside, my thoughts also turned to a book I've just read, Digital Fortress, described by some reviewers as Brain candy, or a brainy thriller, when it lacked for any sort of imagery beyond the trite and expected. Seas of black in the darkness, everything suddenly, nothing researched... And I wondered for a moment what we'd lost.
But then I remembered where I learnt about images, and how words can draw them through my imagination, of only connect, and of the savage pain of unexpected loss. I was worried that we'd lost something along the way, that somehow no one could find it in themselves to excite me or touch me with language, but there are still some that do. Good writing is out there, and it won't be going away, but I should probably buy fewer thrillers while waiting for trains at Swindon.
I've recently returned from my holidays, and some trips with work, with a lot of sitting around in planes and airports and trains which leads, as ever, to a lot of reading.
One of the books was me eventually getting around to The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman. Overall it was very good and fairly thought provoking. One thing, though, did hit me. He spends a lot of time on taps, and how they ought to be obvious, and mentions that the little ones they use on planes are very good because there's nothing you can do but push down on the handles to get water out.
Of course, moments before getting to the bit about taps I'd encountered the very ones, and, just to prove his point, I'd first tried to make them work by lifting up the paddles, rather than pushing on them as intended. This probably suggests that I'm odd.
My favourite taps, though, are the ones in the Tate Britain. These are just spouts over a sink with no visible signs of how to use them. People wonder up, wave their arms under the spout, wave them over the spout, peer under the sink for peddles, start to clap, and well, try all sorts of other actions. Eventually they get so perplexed that they lean over the sink to look beind the spout to see if there's anything there, and lo, water streams out.
The sensors, you see, are installed in the ceiling above the sinks, and aren't sensitive enough to trigger until a whole person is between them and their sink. Funny, really, and probably -- as Donald often suggests -- award winning.
Recently I've been reading about Egypt (in the days of old), which is fascinating enough by itself, but the highlight of doing so must be the language used by academic types to avoid talking about parts of people.
From these beginnings, during the Roman period, Pan became the god of the Eastern Desert, the capricious guardian of the desert routes. He is shown not as the Pan of Greek mythology, but as the ithyphallic Min, his erection clearly inherited from his previous life.
Of course, I might just be confusing Real Life with Spam again. It's hard when that happens.
More importantly, I've been spending my hard earned cash on a new boat, and it's orange. And shiny. And it's coming to the Alps in a couple of weeks.
Stephen Evans tries to be all Letter from America but gets lost in the post.
Trains in England now have Quiet Carraiges, coaches in which it is not permitted to use a mobile phone or a personal stereo. Mostly these work fairly well, although you still get the occasional call broadcasting demi-conversations about being late, and gaggles of children are never silent.
Most of the time, I quite enjoy train journeys as they provide time for reading the Economist and a bit of personal reflection. Sometimes though I've nothing to really think about, and wouldn't mind having a conversation with one of my fellow travelers. Being the reserved sort that I am, these rarely spark up without some sort of, er, fuel (like delays, or merry inebriation). Anyhow, to provide a reason for a chat with a stranger it might be a nice idea to have a coach for extroverts which are in the mood for talking.
Then again, most people are fairly dull at the end of the day, so a conversation coach probably wouldn't catch on.