November 2014


Christmas cards are not an e-thing

My letterbox – such an old-fashioned device in these days on inboxes and outboxes – is becoming more cluttered than ever. Perhaps I should be pleased for this increased influx consists mainly of seasonal greetings. I am being wished all manner of goodwill, bonhomie and success by so many people.

Well, not so much people, as entities. The Christmas cards are flooding in from corporations, businesses and, inevitably, charities and money-seekers. Without except, their felicitations cloak a wish that I will buy their product, favour their services or contribute to their causes.

Increasingly this has become not so much the season of goodwill to all men but rather one of  let’s have your money now and for the year(s) to come.

Much as deride the incessant and ever-increasing commercialisation of a season that was never meant to be thus, there are moments when I feel a fleeting glow of welcome towards these well-wishers. They, after all, have at least bothered to create, sign and mail a Christmas card.  Which is something so very few “friends” seem able to do.

No one seems able, willing or caring enough to take the trouble of seeking an appropriately worded Christmas card, penning a few personal words and walking to a real mailbox to send it on its way.

Instead, the inboxes of our computers are recipients of a ceaseless flow of e-cards that are sent at the click of a button without scant touch of the personal about them.

They are the lazy way of communicating. They show little of the personal feelings they purport to express.  They simply compound the overall debasement of Christmas.

Their only merit is that they can be instantly deleted, whereas the junk in my letterbox merely adds to the mountains of garbage generated at this most wasteful time of year.

Bah humbug!

Rubbernecker recommended

Well, that was some book. And for once it lived up to all the hype and praise highlighted on its covers and frontispiece.

Having earlier devoured the superb The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (and now looking forward to the much-praised stage version in a few months time), I have been even more captivated, intrigued and thoroughly absorbed by Rubbernecker (Black Swan Books) by Belinda Bauer.

Little wonder that it won her the Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year award for 2014. It’s a stunner.

Like The Curious Incident, its main protagonist is a young person with autism or Asperger’s (no one is quite sure which) who weaves his way almost nonchalantly through a minefield of pitfalls, setbacks, disasters, assaults and insults as he doggedly unravels a mystery that all around him either refuse to acknowledge exists, or are attempting to hide.

All he wants to know is the truth. Seemingly such a simple quest for one with what might be termed a “simple” mind. But, as we all know, the world is full of liars, ditherers, spin doctors, prevaricators, distorters and cover-up merchants to whom the truth is something to be twisted and denied.

Bauer provides a master-class in piling mystery upon mystery as her anti hero, the perpetually bemused Patrick, doggedly seeks the answers to his father’s death and that of a man whose body he has to dissect as he studies the intricacies of anatomy. She gathers numerous threads, each seemingly loose and disconnected, and gradually weaves them into a neat and highly credible solution. But the route she takes is tortuous and tantalising.

It is a stunner of a book that steps well beyond the usual borders of the mystery/detection genre yet remains a thriller, astonishing in its plotting and beautifully crafted in its writing.

Bauer has already won the CWA Golden Dagger award for Crime Novel of the Year with her first book, Blacklands, and Rubbernecker suggests there are many more accolades to come. Can’t get enough of her.

 

Anti-social mobility

There they sat, side by side, sharing a meal and drinks, husband  and wife on a night out at the theatre together. Together?  Well, physically. Mentally and emotionally?  Doubtful, very doubtful.  There was total silence between them. Not a look passed from one to the other – not a smile, a frown, a grimace, or even a wink. Their attention was focussed elsewhere. Eyes were directed downwards and firmly fixed on their iPhones. And they remained steadfastly posed that way for at least  the fifteen minutes I sat alongside them.

Sadly, so very sadly, such scenes have become the fabric of daily life.  And they underscore one of the most blatant misuses of the English language among the hundreds that already exist in daily usage. The above-mentioned couple were, of course, engaged in what is described as social networking. They were using a so-called social network.

What the bloody hell is the slightest bit  social about going out for the evening with your presumably nearest and dearest and then spending most of the time totally engaged with third parties?

Yet this seems to be the norm. Study the scene at cafes, restaurants, bars or out there on the street and you will see couples, triples, even whole groups of people, in company with each other yet fixated on others who are merely a presence in cyberspace.

Social networking be damned. It is as anti-social as it is possible to be. It is reminiscent of Princess Di who tragically bemoaned the fact that “there are three people in this marriage”, the third party being an unseen presence who provided a constant distraction to the person supposedly devoting his time and attention to her.

And when these phonophiles are not busily ignoring the people they are  supposedly with, they are paying even less attention to the world around them.  They have become a mobile (in both senses) hazard far worse than skateboarders, cyclists, mums with buggies, Zimmer-frame users and all the other  obstacles pedestrians have to cope with.   They are as unyielding as light poles, signposts and litter bins.  They emanate messages of “make way” and “let me through.” The importance of their conversation – even if it is only vapid chat about last night’s TV or a check on if  the fridge has run out of beer – takes precedence. They’ll brook no detours, delays or interruptions.

If smokers can be stopped from fouling the air we breathe surely we can control these thoughtless invaders of our walking space. Perhaps, akin to designated smoking areas, there could be talking zones where you can chat away for all you’re worth. But there is to be no talking while walking.

As for the morons using a phone while “socialising” with others, the best course is simply to get up and leave them to their own devices, as it were. Clearly they live in some other universe.