Danger! Natural Selection at Work!

Bob has a new mobile phone.

Do you remember Bob?

Some of you may remember him from when he and I went on a mighty expedition together. The report can be found here. And, as an update to that report, I can now reveal that Bob eventually found his way back home, much to his wife’s chagrin as she had already cashed in his life insurance and taken up with a new man.

But that’s another story.

Anyway, Bob has a new mobile phone. And, being Bob, he was insistent that it be the latest, most up-to-date, all-singing and all-dancing mobile phone, with more apps (whatever they are) than…something that has lots of apps.

He has an app for everything; an app for navigation when he is out in the countryside (naturally!), an app to help him choose whatever he is going to buy if he needs to go shopping, an app that gives him a weather forecast. He even has an app that tells him when he needs to eat or go to the toilet.

Heaven only knows how he managed to cope with life before the phone.

But, there is a downside to all this.

We went for a walk and, sure, we didn’t get lost. This was because Bob had his head over the phone the whole time. We didn’t get lost, but Bob bumped into twenty seven trees, fell in two streams, had an altercation with a herd of cows, tripped over almost fifty tree roots and finally walked into the bus stop.

And he had no idea of where we had been or what sort of countryside we had passed through. Rather a waste of time, really.

Now, Bob is not unique in this, oh, God, no.

The sidewalks in our town have become dangerous places since these phones became popular. I’m beginning to get seriously cross with the number of pedestrians who march towards me, head over their phones, and not even walking in a straight line, so it becomes quite difficult to avoid them. And should I have the temerity to perhaps cough discretely to let them know I’m there, or even to feebly call ‘look out!’ or ‘excuse me!’ I invariably get a glare and perhaps a few muttered words about not looking where I’m going.

And it appears to be an almost universal phenomenon now.

We get more and more news items about these people walking into the paths of vehicles, or off the edge of cliffs, or finding other similarly stupid ways to get killed.

Perhaps it’s a modern form of natural selection? I don’t know. Large numbers of idiots seem to kill themselves the same way taking ‘selfies’ (what a f*cking irritating word that is!), so perhaps there is something in that.

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Jaipur – a random photo. Don’t try it here! 

I first became aware of the truly frightening potential for these sort of incidents a few years ago in India. Some of the driving on the switchback roads in the Himalaya is notoriously terrifying in any case, but to then see these fellows also using their phones while driving just made it even more frightening.

And then there was the girl I saw with a mobile phone ‘doing a Bob’ across an extremely busy Calcutta street.

Yet, she survived.

If there is anything in the theory of natural selection, then the future belongs to her!

Trapped!

It’s snowing here, and I fear we are completely cut off from civilisation.

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Well, this is the UK; we don’t exaggerate a great deal, but our experience of bad weather, especially here in our little corner of the country, is not quite as extreme as in some other places, so cut us some slack, will you?

Now, if it was raining hard, we wouldn’t bat an eyelid. Or eyelids…there could be a grammatical issue here, but I’m not going to pursue it right now. This is the UK, so we do rain. We may not get a monsoon, but, hell, we get more than enough of the stuff. We get floods and high tides and days and days of it pouring out of leaden skies onto us. We get so much of it that if we ever get a period of more than a week without rain, we officially declare it a drought and order everyone not to use hosepipes and make it compulsory to take baths with a friend, and ration it so severely that all we have to drink is beer.

Actually, we should declare a drought most weeks, I reckon.

But back to the present. I had been planning to walk to the nearest large supermarket to do our regular shop for large items, but now this doesn’t look nearly so attractive. And, quite frankly, nor does the thought of the return trip with a rucksack full of catfood and soya milk and other heavy bulkies.

And what is worse, we are running low on essential supplies; eggs, bread, beer…you know, essentials.

Of course, we can get some of these round the corner at the little shops in our own little high street, but because of the severe arctic conditions prevailing outside, we have been reduced to glowering at each other and using psychological warfare;

‘I thought you wanted a newspaper.’

‘I do. I thought you might go and get it.’

‘I’ve got a blog post to write and, anyway, I’m not worried whether we get a newspaper or not.’

‘We’ve got no eggs. Don’t you want an omelette this morning?’

‘I’ve had cereal.’

‘You always have an omelette on Saturdays.’

‘Not always. We need milk soon, too. I only put a splash in my tea, you use much more than me.’

‘Grrr’

‘Snarl’

But you can get everything delivered, now. Perhaps we could get our eggs delivered by Amazon drone, since this is the coming thing. And Amazon sell everything in the world now, or will do soon.

‘That doesn’t sound a good idea,’ says my wife (we’re talking again, although we still haven’t gone to the shops) ‘perhaps they will just put a chicken on the drone, instead, and when it reaches the customer’s house the drone could automatically give it a hormone injection to stimulate egg laying, then return to base afterwards.’

Of course, the calculations would be quite complicated; they would have to take into account the weight and body mass of the chicken, the number of eggs required…heaven knows what else. But I like the idea of parachuting in emergency chickens.

I’m a little worried about the larger items, though. Crates of wine or sacks of rice might pose an altogether different and somewhat stiffer test. How big are the drones? It’s all very well in theory, but none of want drones the size of a 747 landing in our streets with a new refrigerator and a week’s worth of potatoes for the neighbours.

Oh, it’s stopped snowing, now.

Three Weeks in Middle Earth

This is a re-post of something I put up not long after I had started this blog. Since I now find that I am read by many more people than I was then, I thought I’d revise it a little and bung it up again.

With grovelling apologies to J R R Tolkien…

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Our holiday began with a couple of days home stay in Hobbiton, the only settlement of any note in the Shire. Unfortunately, this rather set the tone for the rest of the trip. Immediately, it proved impossible to pick up a mobile signal of any kind, a problem we were to encounter time and again throughout Middle Earth, which made trying to alter our travel arrangements extremely difficult.

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Our host claimed that we had been given what he called ‘the best room in the house’. Hole, more like, in every sense. One could be forgiven for thinking that flush toilets had never been invented. Admittedly, it was pleasant in a rather rustic, bucolic sort of way, and the meals were everything that we could have wished for, but the beds were a nightmare – ours seemed to be made for a child, and Cheryl and I lost count of the number of times we banged our heads on the low door frames.

Then, looking for entertainment, we visited three of the bars in the village, all of which advertised themselves as gastropubs, and I’m afraid that each was full of tobacco smoke and were quite simply too noisy. Incidentally, it was in the third one that we visited, that this guy we spoke to slipped me some odd ring, and since then a whole lot of strange dudes seem to be following us around.

The courier seemed a little surprised at our complaints, the following day, claiming that for most tourists Hobbiton is one of the highlights of their holiday, but agreed that we should move on a day early, if he could not find better accommodation for us. As a result of this, we went on to Lothlorien, which could not have been a greater contrast. Two days there at least made us appreciate Hobbiton – where that had been rather rough and ready, noisy and dirty, Lothlorien was simply bland, boring and anodyne. Entertainment seemed to consist solely of rather highbrow concerts and book readings, restaurants were all rather expensive and uninteresting and we felt that we should be tip-toeing around the whole time, hardly daring to speak other than in whispers. At least, though, the oddballs that had been tailing us disappeared for the duration.

But forgive me if I say little of the journey from Hobbiton. Several days through a bleak, cold and windswept landscape, with nothing to see and no accommodation other than our tents. The last part was the worst part, though. We travelled through some ghastly, cold tunnel, where we felt threatened by attack from bandits at any moment, and all sorts of dreadful noises kept happening. It was simply awful, but the courier insisted that it was normal and quite safe. I will be putting in a strongly worded complaint about him after we return.

And the problems we then had at the border were simply unreal. It seemed at first that they were not going to let us into their wretched land. The ringleader appeared to be a particularly unpleasant and overweight, orange-haired elf who was waving his arms around in a strange fashion and shouting, with a horrible bright red face. ‘Were we Dwarves? Had we not just come from Moria, which was one of the restricted lands?’ Were it not that there happened to be a judge in our caravan, I don’t think they would have let us in. As it was, the red-haired elf muttered something about locking us all up and making Lothlorien great again and stared at us most aggressively until we were out of his sight.

However, I don’t want it to sound as though it has all been bad, and that we have done nothing but complain. Possibly the best part of the trip so far, certainly for Cheryl, was staying in the eco lodge in Rohan. She was delighted that we were so close to horses the whole time, and the lodges reminded her strongly of the yurt that she stayed in on a previous trip away. Our hosts were friendly and happy to indulge us in our whims – mine to sit outside the lodge at sundown with a glass or two of the local (admittedly rather rough) ale, and Cheryl’s to help with the mucking out in the stables.

Personally, I definitely preferred Gondor, a modern, forward-looking country with a booming economy. Although some border regions are still occasionally subject to unrest, the capital, Minas Tirith, is considered by the Foreign Office to be safe to visit, although I was less than impressed when our caravan was attacked by a lone Nazgul, which succeeded in killing two of the armed escort that the travel company had provided for us for this stretch of our journey. Our courier, however, assured us that this was an unusual occurrence and that all steps would be taken to ensure that there would be no repeat. It was after this, though, that they suggested we abandon the day trip to see the ruins at Osgiliath, which was rather a disappointment, and something that we had both been looking forward to.

It was equally disappointing to find that they absolutely refused to take us to Mordor. We met a number of folk in Gondor who assured us that it is completely safe to travel there now, and that visas could be easily obtained at the border crossings. So eventually we booked a couple of nights on a houseboat there, through one of them. We did do our research, and after speaking to several of these guys, we are happy that what we are paying is a reasonable sum. After all, it may not seem much to us, but it is a lot to people living in these third world places. This did entail us having to make our own way there, but it proved easy enough to book a place on a caravan leaving tomorrow morning, through a friend of the houseboat guy who we met in a nearby bar.

One great plus here, is that the authorities apparently consider it vitally important that a good signal is available for everyone, which is very welcome after a couple of weeks of mobile coverage that has been, at best, very patchy. I would have been in touch sooner, but that has proved impossible. One consequence of this is that it has taken us some twenty minutes or so just to update our profiles.

Ah, the guy on the front desk has just called to say that these caravan dudes are here to meet us. We are packed ready, and just need to slip away without being seen by the courier. We have left him a note. I’ll keep you updated what happens!

Darren

Sent from my iPhone, Minas Morgul.

I have some news!

I have some news.

I’m sure some of you (especially the writers) will remember that I reported here a week or two back the disturbing news that fictitious characters now have the legal right to sue their creators for defamation of character, or any other hurt (real or perceived) caused through those said creators’ thoughtless and heartless actions.

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In case you want to have a look, the link is below.

https://mickcanning.co/2016/10/22/sue-me-and-ill-have-you-killed/

Well, news reaches me this morning of a new grouping of characters, namely sidekicks in detective stories, who have come together under the name of Sidekicks Of Detectives (or ‘Sods’) to challenge their positions as The Most Stupid Person In A Detective Story.

Initially, the group was to have been organised by Captain Hastings, sidekick to the famous Poirot, but after some heated discussion it was agreed that, actually, he couldn’t organise his way out of his own front door without help, and the task was then delegated to Doctor Watson, who arranged a meeting at a coffee shop, one of a well-known chain, in Central London. Unfortunately, he forgot to mention either which branch it was, or the time of the meeting, and so there has only been limited progress on that front, so far.

But, further cases have already come to court.

A number of characters from ‘Three men in a boat’, by Jerome K Jerome, Bertie Wooster and others created by P G Wodehouse, and various characters from books by Spike Milligan began a collective case, but were laughed out of court.

Dan Brown is being sued by every single character he invented.

And there is some confusion in America, where Donald Trump has apparently filed a case against himself on the grounds that he has irreversibly blackened his own character.

I’m told he is confident of winning the case, since the stories he has spread about himself are scarcely believable, and that it is generally held that he must be a fictitious character, since the majority of observers and commentators say they ‘can’t believe this guy is for real!’

The trouble is, all this is symptomatic of our legislative culture. It was the retrospective case brought by Big Ears and Mr Plod against the estate of Enid Blyton that, I think, I found most distressing. By all accounts, they cooked it up over an evening of heavy drinking, after being taunted by the Tubby Bear family, and it is strongly suspected (although it cannot be proved) that much of the impetus came from a third character – possibly one of the Fluffy Cats, since they are known to be bad through and through (it’s okay, I can say that. It was proved in a recent court case of character assassination that the Fluffy Cats brought, and lost, against the estate).

But Big Ears and Mr Plod did win their case, and now not only is it a legal requirement that in future they both be referred to as intelligent, but Big Ears must henceforth be renamed as ‘Graham’. And his ears are officially ‘of normal dimensions’. Or else.

Which brings me to my own characters.

I have decided that I am not going to be dictated to, or browbeaten by, some miserable little…hang on, there’s someone at the door. I’d better just get that. Hello? What? A writ? about what? Oh…

I’m sorry, I have to stop there.

Sue me and I’ll have you killed!

…slowly, he inched his way along the ledge, his heart in his mouth. It was too late to even contemplate turning back now. The sun was sinking rapidly in the pale sky in front of him, dropping towards the distant plains that were almost hidden in the desert haze. It would be completely dark within the hour. For the first time, he knew real fear. He could never survive a night on this thin, narrow ledge – God knows, there was barely enough room to stand and almost nothing to hold on to. It was inevitable that he would slip off at some point. Even now, there was a thin skin of ice on much of the surface, and the terrible cold would descend as soon as the sun disappeared.

Gritting his teeth, he edged towards what looked like a slightly better foothold, and cried out in sudden terror as his foot slid into space, the momentum taking him over the edge and falling…

Hell, I can’t do that! Stop! Phew, that was close.

As writers, we have to be so careful, because nowadays even our characters have rights, did you know that? And we can’t just be doing this and that to them, just as we please. Only the other day, a lawyer claiming to be acting for a character in a well-known children’s series attempted to take the author to court and sue her for, literally, defamation of character.

This character claimed that the author had totally misrepresented his actions, and applied motives to them that could only be described as evil.

And she said he had no nose, which was just spiteful.

He has claimed damages running into millions of dollars.

If this character is successful, then it is difficult to know where we will see this ending.

The fact that the author has created said character is no defence in law. Really, they are like our children. And whereas a few hundred years or more ago, parents had absolute authority over their children, and, short of killing them, could do whatever they so willed with them, nowadays they have more rights than their parents. And I’m afraid that it may come to that with our characters, too.

‘Why should I be killed off?’ They cry. ‘What right have you…?’ And so they will challenge it.

It has even been mooted in some quarters that these characters should perhaps be able to resort to the legal process appropriate for the time and world that they have been created for. Thus, a dragon in a tale set in ancient times, peeved because the author claimed it ate virgins and had bad breath (not sure if the two are connected…) might very well demand that it meet the author in Trial by Combat, a trial that the author would probably be rather ill-prepared to face.

Upset a Tudor monarch or a Viking chieftain, and I wouldn’t give much for your chances.

And any authors writing tales set in the future, who had unwisely failed to specify what sort of legal process was in existence at this time, might find the lawyers, or even their characters, being given the right to specify this. And that might get very nasty indeed.

But there may still be one remedy open to us. If our characters hold the threat of litigation over us, we might, just might, be able to retaliate by threatening to make their next incarnation even more horrible than the one that they are prosecuting us over. Threaten to sue me for creating you with a flatulence problem? Go ahead, and see what problems you have in my next novel! Don’t forget I’m writing a series! You had quite a decent time in the last one, it’ll be the torture chamber for you next!

It might work, but I’m still nervous about it.

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So what am I going to do? I’m just going to write nice stories about pussy cats, from now on, that’s what.

Authors, you have been warned!

A Tax on Sugar

In a surprise move yesterday, the British Chancellor announced in the Budget that there would be a sugar tax introduced on soft drinks that carry a large amount of that substance.

The shock that the public, and indeed many of his own political party, received from this announcement was as nothing compared to the shock received by those in the industry.

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A nice cup of tea with no sugar in it and an apple that doesn’t have a great deal either.

In an interview earlier this morning, I was privileged to speak to the anonymous CEO of a major soft drinks company, Mr Satan Moneyglutton. Weeping copiously, he explained to me:

‘For long years we have been told that what people want are chemical compounds devoid of any nutritional merit, packed full of sugar, and now I feel that we have been stabbed in the back.

‘On the best advice from the governments of the day, we undertook our duty, I would almost say our mission, which we take very seriously indeed, to create a nation of fat people with poor health and rotten teeth.

‘And now the accumulated wisdom of years is being ignored. If these drinks are now said to be so bad, then why are they so effective at causing children to lose concentration and run up the walls of classrooms and become disruptive?

‘If they are so bad, then how come we manage to get such a large proportion of the public addicted to them? Our products are industrial success writ large.

‘This is nothing more than an attack on enterprise and the free market. Why no tax on water? Or tea or juices? I suppose the Chancellor prefers fine teas to a nice bottle of ChemoSludge *TM.

‘And it is socially divisive! This will hit the poor the hardest, since this is where we make most of our profits. We know that the poorer the family, the less likely they are to be well educated, and then the more likely they are to purchase our elixirs. This is where this horribly unfair tax will hit.

‘We were given no warning, no sign of this change of mood. Where will it all end? First they try to destroy the reputation of our lovely healthy tobacco industry, and now this. Honestly, I fear that the government’s next target might even be our ObeseBurgers *TM.’

At this point, the line to the Cayman Islands went dead.

The Expedition Report

As promised in my last post, I attach here a report of my expedition.

On Saturday 30th January 2016, the morning sky cleared and the sun came out. It would be a good walking day.

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I had thought long and hard over the various logistical challenges of this expedition, and decided eventually, albeit reluctantly, that it would be wise not to attempt it alone. As much as I was loathe to share the glory of this journey, the sensible traveller realises his or her own limitations, and assesses the difficulties and dangers that they are likely to meet. And so I decided that I would take a companion; not only to make the journey more amenable, but also to help with the navigating, act as a safety back-up, and who could act in need as a porter.

We decided to split the tasks. ‘You’re leader,’ my companion Bob said, ‘so you take the big pack with the emergency stuff, and I’ll navigate. It will make life easier for both of us.’ Somehow, that wasn’t quite what I’d planned.

We picked up our packs, said our goodbyes, and set off down the path to the road. ‘We go left here.’ Bob said, turning right. I hesitated. ‘What are you waiting for?’ He asked irritably, turning round.

‘You said left.’

‘Yes. Are you going to stand there all day?’ I shrugged, and then followed him. The first part of our journey presented few difficulties. We turned left at the next junction (‘I said right!’) and followed the road until we had left the town far behind and were surrounded by a sparsely inhabited landscape. Now we needed to find our way down the hill on the other side of the road.

‘It’s not safe to cross here.’ opined Bob.

‘There’s hardly any traffic!’

‘It comes round the corner really quickly. Let’s go on a bit further and find somewhere better.’

‘The corner’s half a mile away! I’m crossing here!’

‘You cross then.’ He sounded sulky. ‘I’ll catch you up.’ He turned away and stomped slowly along the pavement.

I crossed the road, found a bench, and settled down to wait. Minutes passed, and I took out a chocolate bar and ate it. I had a drink of water. I pulled out the guidebook and went over our route again, and then got side tracked and began reading about the dreadful earthquake of 1734 that destroyed so much of Tunbridge Wells. I had another drink of water. I found a newspaper in the side pocket of my pack and did the crossword. As I finished, I looked up, and my companion arrived.

‘Where have you been?’ He looked sheepish.

‘I turned left by accident. Never mind that, I’m here now.’ He sat down beside me. ‘Sorry, I need a drink.’ He took out a flask and poured a little of the contents into the cup.

‘What’s that?’

‘Oh, just a drop of whisky.’

‘That was meant to be for emergencies only!’

‘This is an emergency!’

When we set off again, we were fortunate to find a track that seemed to be going in the right direction. It was no more than twenty foot wide in places, surfaced with a smooth, black layer, and showing occasional white markings roughly in the middle, as if left to guide travellers. Following this, we worked our way down from the ridge and found ourselves in a fairly steep-sided valley. The road bent around to the right and ran along the bottom the valley, following a stream on one side of the road, and an old railway track on the other. There was a signpost beside us, a pub on the left, and a farm on the right. In front of us a church tower showed clearly above the trees.

Bob took out the map and compass, handed me the map and then carefully lined up the edge of the compass with the side of the map. For a moment or two his eyes flickered between the map and route ahead of us, and then he clicked his tongue irritably.

‘I think we’re lost.’

‘Er, the compass needle isn’t pointing north.’

‘Eh? What…’ he fiddled with the compass for a moment. ‘Oh, you had the map upside down, you fool. No wonder!’ He snatched it from my hands, looked at it suspiciously, glanced up at the signpost quickly when he thought I wasn’t looking, and then handed the map back to me. ‘This way. Come on!’

Half a mile along the road, a track turned off to the left and ran under the railway and into a little wood.

‘This way,’ I said.

‘Are you sure?’

‘Yes.’ I went under the bridge and into the woods, to find that the path was a morass of mud. This area is renowned for enjoying (or otherwise) what can be regarded as fiercely localised weather. Even though it was pouring with rain today in the Lake District and in Southern Hungary, the sun stubbornly shone throughout the afternoon on our little expedition. But it seemed as though that hadn’t always been the case recently. This part of our journey should only have taken us about ten minutes, but it was almost half an hour before we crossed the stile in the fence that marked the boundary between where we were at the time and somewhere else.

The next section of the trail took us down a steep and uncertain track, ankle deep in autumn leaves and with little sections of mud here and there underfoot. It proved necessary to watch our footing carefully, and now and again we had no choice but to hold onto the guard rail for a moment. After a minute or two, however, we reached the foot of the slope safely and paused to catch our breath and have a snack.

We checked the map, noticing that we would have to navigate the next section very carefully.

‘I’ll lead this.’ Bob said, starting to take the map from my hands. I slapped him.

‘No, you won’t.’

We passed under the old railway bridge, which incorporates parts of a still older construction. All that remains now is one end of a medieval banqueting hall, complete with shields. In places it is still possible to glimpse traces of what appear to be the original wall paintings. Judging by what remains of the inscriptions, they possibly depict Saint Darren, patron saint of nearby Tonbridge.

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It is a glorious place in the spring, when the wild marsupial trees are in blossom, but now it was a gloomy place. But still it was with reluctance that we dragged ourselves away from this important historical site, and tramped onwards through the woods.

For the next leg of our journey, the path took a great, sweeping loop around a mysterious and secretive area of pipes and tanks and low buildings. The trees creaked ominously overhead. Was it just the wind? Yes, of course it was. It has always had an evil reputation, though. In medieval times, it was a place of alchemy, and rumours still persist that it was in some dark chamber beneath the ground, at this exact location, that an evil sorcerer discovered a magical substance that turned real beer into lager, or false beer as it is properly called, threatening to plunge the whole kingdom into a new dark age.

And at times the traveller of today can almost fancy that a whiff of sulphur or some such odour still overhangs this dreadful place. Several years ago someone tripped over a protruding tree root nearby and hurt themselves, and the rooks call their depressing calls overhead in the gloomy trees.

We were glad indeed to get away from such a terrible place.

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Now, on almost the last leg of our journey, our path ran along south-facing hillsides, through one of the small tea gardens that produce our famous Sussex tea, and then dropped down lower to meet the overgrown and largely clogged up remnants of the Bristol to Tunbridge Wells canal. It was still being used to transport coal and gin from Bristol to Tunbridge Wells, with a return cargo of young slaves, as recently as sixty years ago, after which it fell into disrepair as demand for these products fell off.

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Care has to be taken along this stretch, as the old towpath along the edge of the canal is quite obvious, but on the other side lies the Great Groombridge Swamp, which has been known to swallow up unwary travellers. Bob was leading at this point, and we were both keen to reach the end, now. I noticed him straying slightly towards the swamp so I called out ‘Just go right, a bit.’

Oops.

A quarter of an hour later I was enjoying a pint of Black Cat Ale, before catching the bus back home to write up my notes and then make a tricky phone call to Bob’s wife.

Still, all expeditions, like life itself, throw up challenges that have to be faced up to.

Disclaimer:

Please note that an expedition of this nature is not one to be undertaken lightly. Should you wish to follow in my footsteps, you are strongly advised to ensure that you have adequate training and suitable equipment for the journey.

A Short History of Blogging

Blogging has always been about self-promotion. The first known blogs were on cave walls, although they were pretty crude, to be honest, and it is often really difficult to make out what the bloggers were on about. There is speculation, indeed, that to refer to them as ‘blogs’ might be a little misleading. The fact that they tend to be short and that it is very hard to make out what they mean, leads some experts to assume that they were an early form of Twitter. And then the fact that they frequently depict crude human figures, especially exaggeratedly female ones, and various animals, suggest that even in these early times, social media were largely the preserve of young person

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‘Share if you think these babes are hot.’

By the time of the rise of the first true civilisations in Egypt, they were beginning to get the hang of it. They have left massive numbers of inscriptions all over walls and columns and pretty well anything else that they could get a hammer and chisel near.

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‘Amenhotep snubbed in Big Brother Pyramid game – LOL’

Some even see the Rosetta Stone as a forerunner of Google, but others don’t.

The first English blogger was The Venerable Bede. His blog is one of the main sources of our knowledge of Saxon times, which is a bit of a bugger really, when you consider how reliable social media are today as a source of modern history. He probably missed out most of the good stuff. But he blogged in Old English, anyway, which no one can understand nowadays so it probably doesn’t matter.

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Leonardo da Vinci did a wicked selfie, but would probably be criticised nowadays for how few he produced. To be anyone on social media, it is probably necessary to post a minimum of twenty selfies in any twenty four hour period, but Leo was never up to that. But most of his blogs were all about what would then be science fiction and art and politics…so he’d have fitted in quite well with today’s bloggers really.

Samuel Pepys’ diaries are, of course, just the notes he took for his blogs. They are a mix of politics and news and what his family were up to, and his ‘conquests’ of various ladies. Wisely, he wrote most of this in shorthand and, even more wisely, put the more salacious bits in code. Nowadays, it is unnecessary to use code, since language is now changing so fast that no one can understand anything that was written more than six months ago anyway.

The Puritans thought blogging might be fun so they banned it, along with just about everything else, except breathing and praying. Well, praying, anyway.

A little later, newspapers were invented. These were not really blogs, since they were filled with news, rather than self-promotion, and it took a number of years before newspaper owners and editors realised that. Once they did, however, they worked very hard to make up for lost time, and now there are very few newspapers in the world that print mainly news.

And quite a lot that do not print any news at all.

In fact, they tend to be full of primitive opinion and often depict crude human figures, especially exaggeratedly female ones, and various animals.

And thus life turns full circle.

 

Photo credit (picture 1): jmarconi via VisualHunt.com / CC BY         

Photo credit (picture 2): PMillera4 via Visualhunt / CC BY-NC-ND

 

Two weeks in Middle Earth

It is so easy to travel, nowadays…

Our holiday began with a couple of day’s home stay in Hobbiton, the only settlement of any note in the Shire. Unfortunately, this rather set the tone for the rest of the trip. Immediately, it proved impossible to pick up a mobile signal of any kind, a problem we were to encounter time and again throughout Middle Earth, which made trying to alter our travel arrangements extremely difficult.

Our host claimed that we had been given what he called ‘the best room in the house’. Hole, more like, in every sense. One could be forgiven for thinking that flush toilets had never been invented. Admittedly, it was pleasant in a rather rustic, bucolic sort of way, and the meals were everything that we could have wished for, but the beds were a nightmare – ours seemed to be made for a child, and Cheryl and I lost count of the number of times we banged our heads on the low doorframes.

Then, looking for entertainment, we visited three of the bars in the village, all of which advertised themselves as gastropubs, and I’m afraid that each was full of tobacco smoke and were quite simply too noisy. Incidentally, it was in the third one that we visited, that this guy we spoke to slipped me some odd ring, and since then a whole lot of strange dudes seem to be following us around.

The courier seemed a little surprised at our complaints, the following day, claiming that for most tourists Hobbiton is one of the highlights of their holiday, but agreed that we should move on a day early, if he could not find better accommodation for us. As a result of this, we went on to Lothlorien, which could not have been a greater contrast. Two days there at least made us appreciate Hobbiton – where that had been rather rough and ready, noisy and dirty, Lothlorien was simply bland, boring and anodyne. Entertainment seemed to consist solely of rather highbrow concerts and book readings, restaurants were all rather expensive and uninteresting and we felt that we should be tip-toeing around the whole time, hardly daring to speak other than in whispers. At least, though, the oddballs that had been tailing us disappeared for the duration.

But forgive me if I say little of the journey from Hobbiton. Several days through a bleak, cold and windswept landscape, with nothing to see and no accommodation other than our tents. The last part was the worst part, though. We travelled through some ghastly, cold tunnel, where we felt threatened by attack from bandits at any moment, and all sorts of dreadful noises kept happening. It was simply awful, but the courier insisted that it was normal and quite safe. I will be putting in a strongly worded complaint about him after we return.

However, I don’t want it to sound as though it has all been bad, and that we have done nothing but complain. Possibly the best part of the trip so far, certainly for Cheryl, was staying in the eco lodge in Rohan. She was delighted that we were so close to horses the whole time, and the lodges reminded her strongly of the yurt that she stayed in on a previous trip away. Our hosts were friendly and happy to indulge us in our whims – mine to sit outside the lodge at sundown with a glass or two of the local (admittedly rather rough) ale, and Cheryl’s to help with the mucking out in the stables.

Personally, I definitely preferred Gondor, a modern, forward looking country with a booming economy. Although some border regions are still occasionally subject to unrest, the capital, Minas Tirith, is considered by the Foreign Office to be safe to visit, although I was less than impressed when our caravan was attacked by a lone Nazgul, which succeeded in killing two of the armed escort that the travel company had provided for us for this stretch of our journey. Our courier, however, assured us that this was an unusual occurrence and that all steps would be taken to ensure that there would be no repeat. It was after this, though, that they suggested we abandon the daytrip to see the ruins at Osgiliath, which was rather a disappointment, and something that we had both been looking forward to.

It was equally disappointing to find that they absolutely refused to take us to Mordor. We met a number of folk in Gondor who assured us that it is completely safe to travel there, now, and so eventually we booked a couple of nights on a houseboat there, through one of them. We did do our research, and after speaking to several of these guys, we are happy that what we are paying is a reasonable sum. After all, it may not seem much to us, but it is a lot to people living in these third world places. This did entail us having to make our own way there, but it proved easy enough to book a place on a caravan leaving tomorrow morning, through a friend of the houseboat guy who we met in a nearby bar.

One great plus here, is that the authorities apparently consider it vitally important that a good signal is available for everyone, which is very welcome after a couple of weeks of mobile coverage that has been, at best, very patchy. I would have been in touch sooner, but that has proved impossible. One consequence of this is that it has taken us some twenty minutes or so just to update our profiles.

Ah, the guy on the front desk has just called to say that these caravan dudes are here to meet us. We are packed ready, and just need to slip away without being seen by the courier. We have left him a note. I’ll keep you updated what happens!

Darren

Sent from my iphone, Minas Morgul.