Thursday, November 27, 2003

Service Announcement

I realise things have been a tad tumbleweedish 'round here of late but there's a reason... actually there are several reasons some of which I'd have been blogging about if I weren't afraid of temping fate...

Anyway the one most pertinent to the site (and least likely to attract the attention of any malevolent meddling gods) is that I'm working on a full-site overhaul, so all the spare time I'd usually devote to tinkering with the site as is (yes, both minutes) is going on 'behind the scenes' stuff just now.

So expect a new and improved to emerge early next week, and normal service to be resumed here on the blog page after that.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003


I'm not really much of a history person: I haven't studied it since I was about 13, and for the most part it leaves me cold but for all that, there are certain aspects of turn of the century history (meaning 19th-20th of course, not 20th-21st) which I find oddly compelling, specifically those relating to a sense of the time which I think is best described as 'early industrial optimism'.

At work I'm recataloguing our history section amongst other things, and I've reached 941.08 (which covers British history from the turn of the century) where we have a few texts on the impact of industrialisation. As per usual I'm spending as much time leafing through the books as I am cataloguing (it's hard to be surrounded by this much information all day and not want to soak some of it up!) and so found myself skimming an old Open University textbook called Industrialisation & Culture 1830-1914. Believe it or not there are some fascinating insights in it but in my whistle-stop tour of the topic the thing which struck me most was an image of this fine vessel*.

Why is it that we don't build things with any majesty to them these days? sure, by every reasonable measure the 300ft paddle steamer Columba is hugely inferior to her modern day descendents, but.. well ... look at them: squat functional uninspiring lumps. I'd bet good money that there's not a thing afloat with a fraction of Columba's poise and grace, which seems a shame to me.

*incidentally I'm quite tickled by the fact that in a few short seconds I could find an exhaustive online gallery of paddle steamers (why? why not!) containing several images of this relatively obscure old ship. Modern times might fall short in terms of awe inspiring industrial design, but when it comes to information we've got it licked!

Tuesday, November 11, 2003


I seem to be hearing this word everywhere lately, which could just be because I've had to walk across Edinburgh University's campus several times of late and perhaps there are exams and/or essay deadlines coming up, I don't know. The point is that I'm quite conflicted in my feelings about its spreading usage.

On the one hand the little Patrick inside me who used to be teased at school for having "swallowed a dictionary" is heartened to hear anyone else using words with more than three sylables! On the other hand I can't help but wonder if the popularity of this particular word is bad news: if everyone with a half decent vocabulary is busily procrastinating (is that an oxymoron?) then how is anything intelligent ever going to get done?

Friday, November 07, 2003

shallow? me?

last night MTV held their meaningless music awards here: my city was filled with puffed up pointless people that we're all supposed to believe are important and talented simply because that's what their marketing says... needless to say i was utterly unimpressed by it all...

... until this morning I learned that Vin Diesel was in town wearing a black leather kilt, and suddenly it all seems much more interesting! ;)

Thursday, November 06, 2003



I just heard in the staff room that someone was seriously burned by the falling firework last night, now I feel really really bad for laughing... all those god games I've played on the computer over the years must have warped my fragile little mind.

UPDATE: November 7th Liz has scoured the net for word of the meadowbank display and reassures me that the only mention she could find was in the last sentence of this (disturbing) BBC news story. One person had minor burns as a result of the falling firework, nothing too serious.


Last night I went to an organised fireworks display for the first time in my 26 years on the planet. For the benefit of anyone reading this who doesn't already know, November 5th is a minor national holiday here in the UK called Bonfire Night (or Guy Fawkes Night if you prefer, which I don't.) On Bonfire Night as a kid, I would wait eagerly for the skies to get dark, and then go out into the back garden with the rest of my family to stand around a Bonfire eating sausages, baked potatoes and treacle toffee (though not all at the same time you understand) whilst/before/after my Dad presented us all with a small fireworks display from a selection box bought earlier in the week from a local newsagents. The timing of the evening varied year to year, and when we lit the fireworks seemed dependant on a complex combination of the weather and my parents' collecive mood that year, but light them we always did, one at a time with a round of ground based fireworks, followed by some rockets, and finishing off with sparklers.

I knew that organised displays existed, but for me Bonfire Night was always a cozy family affair (even on the years when we got rained out!) Besides which we'd usually manage to time our own small observance of the failed attempt by a group early fifteenth century catholics to destroy parliament, so that it finished a short while before the big displays over toward town started. My parents' house sits on the top of what passes for a hill in that part of the country, so there's quite a good view out over the surrounding area. After we'd watched all our fireworks (my personal favorite being the Traffic Light) and safely sparkled our Sparklers until they fizzled out and were dropped in a bucket, my little sister and I would run upstairs to peer out of the darkened windows at all the fireworks going off over the nieghbouring larger villages. This way we got to see all the displays without the irritating necessity of being with a bunch of other people all evening. :)

For the past several years I've lived in Scotland. Since Bonfire Night is an essentially English event, I've not really done anything about it since moving north, but this year a bunch of us (me, Liz, Anita, Hamish, and Austin) none of whom are scottish, decided it'd be fun to go and see some pyrotechnics together. Anita asked about in town and found us an organised display to attend at Meadowbank football stadium. Two firsts in one night: me in a football stadium and me at an organised fireworks display!

It turns out that once the organisers shut up and the fireworks start, an organised display is quite something: the fireworks seemed to go on forever! Admittedly not quite as long as the Hogmanay displays on Princes Street but almost, and it was easier to see too because you weren't being jostled by hoardes of drunken revelers singing Auld Lang Sine. Anita had got tickets for everyone (you can just turn up for free and watch the display side-on from in the grounds, but four quid gets you a seat in the stands facing the action,) but of course everyone except Anita (myself included) was late, so that we ended up sitting rather higher in the stands than intended, with the roof obscuring the higher explosions from view.

That said we still had an impressive show and when a stray rocket veered off course and landed in the middle of the crowd over in the grounds, we were all very glad we'd paid not to have incendiaries dropped on us! ...We also laughed quite a lot I have to confess, because from our vantage point way up there the little people in the grounds didn't look real, and the sight of tiny people standing about looking dumbstruck for a few seconds at the flaming white ball of explosives that had just landed in the middle of them, and then all running away was just too video-game comic for us not to laugh at... I'm pretty sure nobody got seriously hurt, and I certainly felt suitably bad for laughing when I remembered that they were in fact real people over there and not cartoons.

After the display was over and we'd had our completely unseasonal chinese meal, it was really nice to walk back to the car through the slightly smokey autumn air: There's something quite comfortably autumnal about that smell which I think I'd missed without realising in recent years.

Next year new legislation will come into force, limiting the type of fireworks on sale to private individuals, and banning the really loud ones. For my part I'm happy about that: I've never been a fan of the rowdier fireworks (my fondly remembered Traffic Light for example simply changed colour from green to amber to red and fired a quietly whooshing orb up into the night at each colour change.) Another friend, Kieth, didn't join us last night and has written an elloquent explanation of why. I remember that part of Bonfire Night too: cuddling the confused quivering wreck of our dog Jet while bangs and whistles went off overhead from down the street, usually before it was dark enough for the 'real' fireworks to start... Where's the fun in making the place sound like a war zone anyway? give me a Sparkler and some treacle toffee over that any day.