May 19, 2004
You can date periods in your life by what software you were using when or perhaps when you first got a glimpse of Windows (to some people it was 'wow! - that's so much better than DOS' and to others it was 'my Mac or Archimedes has done that faster and better for years, big deal'). Anyhow, I digress.
When I visited MyOldMac the memories of spending days playing with a Mac Classic on system 7.0 in a paper-strewn office in Little Clarendon Street in Oxford, just flooded back. The German geniuses behind this simulation even had the spark to program MacWrite in, just to tweak my nostalgia nerve. Quite brilliant. Of course, it would be even better if I could speak German...
(Thanks to WIRED)
May 01, 2004
When - freshly arrived in the metropolis - I began working in London in a temporary capacity for a management consultancy, there would be days when my time would lie fallow and I would browse the net. This was a time before you could assume anyone else had an email address and when the sheer newness of the internet felt to many like a guilty secret.
As later on in a different job I read Doonesbury to keep the mind ticking over, in this one I feasted for several otherwise tedious days on Geoff Ryman's 253.
253 takes the form of a novel (and is still available on Amazon) in which one page is given over to each of 252 passengers and the driver of a Bakerloo line train as it hurtles towards disaster. Each character is linked in one way to another on the train and a complex network of pain, happiness, frustration and passion is played out in which ever order you wish.
The site is almost old-fashioned in its pure html with few graphics, harking back to a previous age online. At the time (six years ago) some people took 253 and other online fictional experiments to herald the end of the paperback book, which clearly seems premature today. Still, recently there have been lively discussions about fictional blogs spiced-up by with the 'is it/isn't it' debate about Belle de Jour.
The web hasn't killed the book, but I'm certain there is plenty more scope for books to embrace the web than we've seen hitherto. If you feel like being inspired, you could much worse than heading to 253.
April 21, 2004
What happens when someone you've known for years is almost killed in Iraq
I've known BD for over thirty years. He's a US Army reservist who has recently been on a tour of duty in Iraq where this week he was one of the hundreds of US soldiers who have been seriously injured by Iraqi insurgents. Such was the severity of the attack, BD, a College sports coach, had to have his left leg amputated in the field. When I saw the image in the paper of BD upon a stretcher I had to sit down to take it in.
That I'm less than thirty myself may give a clue as to BD's identity: he's a regular in the Doonesbury cartoon strip syndated around the world. That he is fictional makes little difference to the shock I felt: when you see these characters day in day out (I have Doonesbury in my favourites bar in my browser) they are almost indistinguishable from your 'real' acquaintances. It is not a little unlike a soap opera, yet to manage such depth of character from four frames per day is little short of genius; it is no wonder that Garry Trudeau has won the Pulitzer more than once.
For years I never read the strip: it didn't seem funny without knowing the characters. It was only as I was getting bored rigid at work several years back in a former job that I stumbled upon the Doonesbury website and with it, then almost 30 years of strips. Each morning, as lunchtime seemed further and further off I would sneak into the Doonesbury Townhall and work methodically through the years - from Trudeau's 'Bull Tales' whilst he was a student at Yale (and a contemporary of a certain George W Bush), through Watergate, Vietnam, Carter, Reagan and into the nineties. It was what got me through the day: my new found friends at Walden College.
Not long ago an intern from the US started a placement in my office. When I discovered, whilst chatting on the lawn of the local park one lunchtime, that Trudeau was a close family friend I almost fell over. So I am a fan.
Still, to return to today's installment: what made the papers was not the daring of almost killing a character, a staunch Republican at that, in so political a fashion, but whether the papers syndicating the strip would run the Friday issue with the words 'Son of a bitch!' in it. Call me European Guardian-reading liberal, but surely some values have been seriously warped when such comparatively mild language is employed sparingly to so suitable a storyline?
I am certainly not the only reader/fan knocked sidewise by the current story: if you visit the site and head for the 'Blowback' section you see plenty of people with a similar reaction to mine. I'll finish with a quote from two:
T.K.Enright, SLC, UT I don't think Trudeau's ever done anything this seriously. The death of Andy and Dick were both done with a bit of humor (Dick's lingering obsession with ornithology; Andy's exaggerated eulogy). And Ray's Gulf War injury was, too ("Hey, this cheeseburger's a celebrity.") Despite the inexplicable hostility some comics fans feel towards GBT, he handles drama better than any of the soap opera strips.
To me, the helmet coming off today was a bigger deal than the leg. BD never takes his helmet off--not for sex or anything. I vaguely remeber BD once saying removing the helmet was a delicate medical procedure. That Trudeau is so willing to defy his own conventions says a lot about how important the storyline is in the strip's history.
Payton Smith, Washington DC
Wow... The current storyline with BD wounded in Iraq is the most compelling I have seen in more than 30 years of Doonesbury strips. It's a stroke of genius to put the reader inside BD's head while who-knows-what is happening around him -- it captures the confusion, frenzy, and fear of the battlefield in an amazing way for such a simple artistic medium. Very moving.
April 20, 2004
Oh, hobbledehoy... of course
I slept badly last night: shortly after I turned out the light and shortly before I fell asleep, a strange memory floated to the surface briefly, then disappeared. It is a puzzling memory from a decade ago, in which I was not absolutely certain what was going on: unable to read other people's – and particularly one other person's – intentions.
I didn't dream about it, but instead worried about how I was to post an entry to the Commonplace this morning. Half-formed dreams repeatedly harried me with unreturned comments on some nameless but very popular website. Nothing I saw or read really grabbed me yesterday (except the seed of an idea to write on the new Trollope TV adaptation on BBC1 on Sunday evening) and the blogging addiction has been curiously rapid in its annexation of my spare time.
The 19th-century novelist Anthony Trollope almost certainly did not sleep with his friend Kate Field. She liked him. They corresponded frequently. They saw each other as often as they could, which, given that Trollope lived in Britain and Field in America, was not often. Trollope was enough of a public figure to generate some tabloid press over the non-affair. He was happily married, and faithful. For all that, I have no doubt there were times when Anthony and Kate sat across from each other and he wished she would jump out of her chair and into his arms. Kate was stunning, funny, an early feminist, and altogether formidable. He wrote of feeling his heart flutter in her presence. Everything remained platonic – the novelist had often written about hobbledehoys, and at the core of hobbledehoydom there is a commitment to reasonableness, a tempering of one’s acts if not one’s thoughts, all born out of terror in the presence of beautiful women. So he sat. Had he moved at all, Kate might have responded favorably. Who knows? He did not dare. He was a putz, a coward, a Charlie Brown, a hobbledehoy.
On reading this article everything fell neatly into place. Though different in circumstances, this was the word to describe my situation all those years back, and Martinez writes beautifully in exploring what it means to him and to Trollope. For perhaps now I look back, it was in seeing He Knew He Was Right the other day that dislodged the fragment. The hero, Louis Trevelyan, does what he thinks is correct even though he is uncertain how to read his fellow characters or still more importantly express himself effectively.
Trevelyan is a hobbledehoy, though not in quite the same way as Martinez argues Trollope himself was, but he is a 'putz, a coward, a Charlie Brown' all the same, just as I was in that fragment, which now rests back where it belongs.
March 31, 2004
Spring is here
At school I had a friend who had that infuriating and most enviable talent of learning and recalling the lyrics to almost anything he heard. When a fellow pupil passed him the Tom Lehrer Songbook it was only a matter of weeks before the he was exclaiming the delights of the 'masachism tango', celebrating 'Oedipus Rex and his strange complex' and perhaps most memorably announcing how he would 'go poisoning pigeons in the park'.
It would hardly be March and Ben would begin 'Spring is here! Spring is here! Life is skittles and life is beer! I think Spring is the loveliest time of the year - I do. Don't you? 'Course you do.'
And so I found it oddly disconcerting to find myself singing this yesterday morning beneath bright blue London skies. Almost makes you want to 'do in a squirrel or two'.