f r a g m e n t s


for 25/4/97

Some fragments of my life...

Hands on computer keyboard, screen in view. Soft swearing can be heard from the owner of the hands (off-camera) as he once again types Ctrl-I into the email message and fails to obtain an italic font; he considers suing Microsoft for key-combination brain damage from excessive MS-Word use...

* * *

Left hand on a (rather tasteless red plastic) mouse, right hand on a small plastic musical-type keyboard. A table full of clutter, including a computer keyboard along with books and cassettes and audio cords, in front of a Pioneer stereo system - currently emitting discordant squawks out of time with a simplistic techno drum beat. An age-yellowed computer monitor next to the stereo, displaying a Windows 95 screen with several copies of a rather neat-looking piece of software. Soft swearing can be heard from the owner of the hands (off-camera) as he struggles with the CuteLoops windows, trying to obtain some semblance of synchronisation; he considers giving up all this music crap, for which he has no talent...

* * *

Both hands on the handlebars of an old-looking pedal cycle, currently hurtling down a hill rather fast towards a corner, which it will just be possible to negotiate. Except that it won't; hands release the bike, preparing for impact with the concrete. Soft swearing can be heard from the owner of the hands (off-camera) as he picks himself up again, limping; he considers using the brakes next time round...

* * *

Hands on the original computer keyboard again; this time the Ilyama monitor is displaying a Microsoft Word screen filled with text and graphs. Central in the view: a "word count" display box showing 20,614. Soft swearing can be heard from the owner of the hands (off-camera) as he realises that over two thousand words need to be cut from the project report; he considers screaming out loud...

* * *

Sorry there wasn't a "Fragments" last week: I had my hands full.



for 11/4/97

I was walking by the river bank. Every so often, a cluster of little green things would pass, at a variable speed somewhere between a run, a walk, and a stumble.

Being as I don't live on Mars, you might think this strange, but actually it's not that unusual. You see, I do live in the UK, where for some obscure reason - probably a bizarre fetish shared by all headmasters - schoolchildren are forced to wear uniforms. Even when they're out on some kind of run, which was the case on this particular occasion.

Anyway, a pair of them passed me at a rather slow pace. One looked somewhat heavier than the average, and was breathing hard. As I walked past, he said to his companion, "If you let me win, I'll give you a pound."

(Don't get confused - a "pound" is the monetary unit here in the UK. I said headmasters had bizarre fetishes, I didn't say the kids were masochists.)

Now, I didn't hear the answer (or this story wouldn't fit my definition of a "fragment"), but a little logical reasoning can be applied. I believe this particular school is a private one, meaning that the kids' parents are disgustingly rich. Clearly, that means the boys themselves are being trained as future businessmen, lawyers, or politicians.

So I don't think there's much doubt about any of those classes of people accepting a bribe.

Examples of politicians being bribed are pretty common. (Not that I'm making any allegations about Neil Hamilton MP, of course, even if those have been pretty much conclusively proved. Or mentioning any ex-government officials who've helped the cause of certain companies while in power and - purely coincidentally - been employed in lucrative work-free positions right after leaving politics.)

As for lawyers, well, they'll do anything if they can get away with it; charge that level of fees, for instance...

Businessmen? I'm not trained in the field, but my risk analysis indicates a potential gain of 1 with a risk of somewhere around zero.

If I'm wrong and the other boy didn't accept the deal, then his greed education - the most important class at private schools - has clearly been flawed. My advice to him?

Take the money. And don't run.



for 5/4/97

Sometimes I tire of the British. This is pretty inconvenient, since I am one. But hey, self-hate is a typically British trait...

Anyway, so this came up, basically, when I was walking up a flight of stairs from a computer lab into another part of the building. There's a card-access door, so as I walked towards it I was fumbling in my pocket for the magnetic stripe that probably has my whole personality encoded (hey, there's plenty of room - it has 6 digits of space!) when somebody opened the door from the other side.

She walked through and held it a few seconds for me, so that I could grab it and not need to use my card. All good, right? Well, that was what I thought. So I didn't quite get it when she said, "Sorry."

Sorry what? "Sorry I just saved you five seconds of time?" Nah. Nobody would say that.

I muttered thanks (even if she was wasn't making sense, I was damn well going to hold up my end of the exchange) and continued on my way. As I did so, my mind was working desperately.

You see, she hadn't done anything to me, that I knew of. But she said sorry. That meant there must be something she'd done that I didn't know was her fault. I couldn't think of anything... until it came to me.

A minute before when I'd been walking up the stairs, I'd tripped for no apparent reason and almost fallen over, catching mys'elf only just in time. And she'd probably have been able to see me at that point! This couldn't be a coincidence. Somehow she was responsible for that fall.

Perhaps she'd put a tripwire on the stairs, but I'd have noticed that. The only explanation was that she had supernatural powers - she was a demon! A full-grown child of Satan himself! A despicable corruptive influence right here, in a university-full of leaders for the next generation! Tripping me up on the stairs might not provide any obvious opportunities for Satan's advancement, but the devil wouldn't work in ways obvious to mere mortals!

On the other hand, maybe the British just apologise too much.



for 29/3/97

The train pulled out of a station on its way south. I glanced out of the window to see, among a typical landscape of post-industrial decay, a tall Victorian brick building. Six stories high or more, it looked to still be in fair condition.

The original sign was still there. Not necessarily because the building was performing its original purpose hundreds of years later; more because it was done in three-metre-high relief letters, at the height of the monolith.

It read "Doncaster Cold Stores".

Well, one part made sense. Doncaster was the name of the town. But - cold stores? I could just imagine. "Yes, madam, runny noses are ground floor, and if you want a hacking cough that's on third."

Obviously, that wasn't plausible. There had to be an alternate interpretation for the name... "stores"? Hmmm... fuel stores, weapons stores, cold stores? Not a place to sell colds, but a place to keep them.

I did some quick calculations. The Victorian age... the Geneva Convention... it seemed to me that the one came before the other. At the time that building was put up, biological warfare would not have been illegal! Clearly, the country's stock of cold vir uses was kept here in Doncaster, in case of an invasion. The secret weapon that was too terrible to be used, incapacitating enemy troops with the full force of our colds; the concentrated biological result of British weather.

If it was secret, why would they display the name of the facility so overtly? Ah, that's the beauty of it. If Saddam Hussein had booked a 30-second spot on CNN to highlight the exact grid-reference locations, aerial and ground views, and ideal targetting vectors of his secret nuclear missile labs, would the US have instantly sent in a bombing raid on the information? I think not.

* * *

Who knows - maybe somewhere in that impressive building mad-scientist glassware still lurks, its test tubes and beakers dripping with the essence of a thousand colds.

As the train continued south, I surreptitiously checked in my back pocket. Just to make sure I had a hankie.



for 21/3/97

So I was sitting in a computer lab the other day, minding my own business, and this guy I know came over to me and said, "I hear you're doing a new regularly-updated web page. What's it about, then?"

Actually, of course, he wasn't unprompted; I asked him to say it. That's an example of what they call a "feed line" in the comedy trade. But anyway, if he had, I would have said something like, "Well, it's a weekly feature where I write a brief essay on some minor event I observed recently. Little pieces of writing about little pieces of life, see? And in particular, the 'little pieces' I'm writing about aren't whole. They're fragments."

Actually, of course, I wouldn't have. I'd have said something like, "Well, how the fuck did you know that?" (That's an example of what they call a "no-no" in the radio-broadcasting trade, on account of swearing being banned there.) But that was real life and this is here, and here I get the advantage of editing mys'elf so as to always sound like an intelligent and reasoning being. The reason being that if I wrote like a moron, you wouldn't read it.

Actually, of course, that's not necessarily true; witness the tabloid media. That's an example of what they call "cross-market multi-segmented appeal by the common-denominator technique" in the management trade. (The rest of us call it "including pictures of naked women to sell papers", because we can't afford quite as many hyphens as the management trade.) In any case, this column will be much more intellectual and interesting than tabloid newspapers; perhaps even stimulating to your thoughts as you read it each week, and certainly improving the morals of the younger generation.

Actually, of course, that's an example of what they call "bullshit" in pretty much any trade. See you next week.