Daze Ex Machina

Yep, it’s the big one. Goodings is tackling the concept of God. Make room, open the hangar doors of your preconceptions, and let me unload my truth freight into your shipping bay of ignorance. So, let’s decide once and for all, is there a god? Nah I’m joking, I don’t fucking know. I just like to pretend I’m the annoying sort of atheist that sneers at people who hold religion dearly. But actually, I’ll happily sneer at anyone, I don’t discriminate. Black or white, gay or straight, religious or normal.

The idea of god is interesting, and the concept that some people need a higher power as an arbiter of morality and truth. I don’t mean that as a criticism. There are loads of day to day things that I read on the modern-day deity of the Internet, and like a chump, I just believed them when they are obviously false. I mean, I once read that Einstein abandoned his theory of the cosmological constant as a static universe stabiliser, and for a second I was like ‘Oh yeah that makes sense.’ But then I was just like, ‘Hello! What about the shifted wavelengths of light in between accelerating galaxies that point to dark energy as the cause for an expanding universe?!’ Boy was my face red! Redder than the redshift of the light stretched by dark energy! Haha!
Similarly I recently typed into Google: ‘do spiders eat their own legs?’ And the results amounted to a lengthy version of ‘yes, sometimes’. And now I am entirely convinced that all spiders eat all of their legs all the time. Although that also seems obvious.

But the idea of people needing something to worship is interesting, and not in a BDSM way. For example, the ‘higher power’ needed to complete the twelve step programme for addiction can easily be a religious god. But without having a faith, I have no idea what my higher power would be. The main commandments I regularly surrender to are the cooking instructions on the back of ready meal packaging. And the only thing that can offer me as clean-living advice is the nutritional information on the front, warning me of the dangers of eating ready meals.

I suppose your higher power can be your own well-being, as though you are worshipping the platonic ideal of your own potential, which feels pretty narcissistic. It’s essentially what Matthew McConaughey said in that awards acceptance speech about looking up to a version of himself ten years in the future, who has more wisdom and perspective. A nice idea if you’re Matthew McConaughey, but very few of us are. The ideal version of me ten years from now just looks much more tired, with more wrinkles, but with another 500 blogs written ostensibly about highbrow concepts, but with numerous digressions into self-referential bullshit.

Julian Jaynes has a controversial theory that what humans used to call ‘gods’ three-thousand years ago and earlier, was actually the result of something called the ‘bicameral mind’, which if you’re any sort of discerning legend and have seen the Westworld TV show, you may have heard of. A bicameral mind is a human mind before consciousness. And according to the theory, under stressful, unprecedented situations, we would hear an internalised voice providing advice that felt like it wasn’t under our control, like a form of schizophrenia, or a guided meditation podcast. These voices were attributed to gods, whispering assistance inside our minds on how to deal with a never before seen threat, like a horse with a guy on top, or a blue telephone box landing out of nowhere, producing some old white guy who decides to stick his fucking nose into everyone’s business.
If it seems difficult to imagine someone with no level of insight or self-reflection, essentially running on autopilot, who feels as though they’re constantly under the scrutiny of some remote intelligence, just watch Gogglebox and you’ll see it.

Jaynes also uses the example of the feeling you get after a short, habitual drive where you realise you weren’t ‘tuned in’ during the journey, even if you remember it, known as ‘Highway Hypnosis’. He says this is us behaving without consciousness, enacting a routine task that you do so regularly you hardly have to think about it. In my case that would be something incredibly commonplace like writing a great blog post, or receiving a shower of compliments about my latest great blog post. Also forgetting to take the bins out. Happens so often I hardly have to try now. Don’t even realise I’m not doing it.

I imagine it would be very comforting having a god to look to for guidance, but if Jaynes is right, then that guidance attributed to gods was just coming from our own brains. We are the masters of our own destiny. We are our own messiahs. What I’m saying is, as far as I’m concerned, I’m God. I am the ultimate architect of my own reality, irrespective of whether or not that tallies with a possible objective reality. Maybe McConaughey was right, and I’m the only inspiration I need. Maybe I should strive to be the best version of myself, drowning in success and fulfilment, a subjective god of personal direction.

Really feels like God would have a greater blog readership than this. I blame Richard Dawkins.

Next time on the bandwagon, if radiators radiate, and indicators indicate, do alligators alligate? The answer may surprise you, if you thought the answer was ‘yes’.

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Tiring On All Cylinders

“I’ll sleep when I’m dead” – people who don’t know what sleep or death is.

Fatigue, if left untreated, can in severe cases lead to being asleep, which of course can be incredibly detrimental to living a continuously wakeful lifestyle. So, try to avoid fatigue where possible by occasionally sleeping for eight hours every single day sometimes. People are definitely getting less sleep than we used to, even a few years ago. Sleep issues came in at number two of the top health complaints in a 2015 survey among Americans. “That’s probably because of the time difference and jet lag screwing up their body clock!” you cry. But no, the survey was also carried out in America if you can believe it. So either people are getting less sleep, or just think they are. Well certainly it seems people are more educated on things like sleep apnoea than they used to be. And maybe we’re therefore more eager to self-diagnose with that knowledge, assuming that the diagnosing part of doctoring is where the big bucks are. It could be another casualty in the war of cyberchondria; reading about conditions online and instantly assuming you have it, like how I convinced myself I had throat cancer because I couldn’t hit the high notes in an Elton John song for the first time in a while. Although the symptoms weren’t as specific as that, it did list ‘sore throat’ as one, and after straining for the same unattainable note for a few hours, that’s exactly what I had. Turns out it was just a mild case of glandular fever, or the kissing disease, if you like to brag about being disgusting. See also ‘the love bug’ as a euphemism for chlamydia, or if you have oral herpes, just say you have an ‘infectious smile’.

But you’ve been there. Convinced you have Lyme disease because of a rash; or meningitis because you have a stiff neck; or worms, which would explain your loss of appetite, vomiting, and your coat looking less thick and shiny. So is it us being over dramatic, or are people actually getting less sleep than we used to? And if so, why?

Kristen Knutson headed an investigation into this in a journal called ‘Sleep’ a few years ago, where they identified that, yes, people are getting less sleep than we used to around forty years ago, and one way they measured this is identifying an increase since then in the proportion of ‘short sleepers’ – people who get less than six hours of sleep in every twenty-four hour period. Interestingly, they also worked out that statistically people are more likely to be short sleepers if they are over 45 years old, male, have some college education, are single or separated, and are African-American (again, from an American study). So if you were wondering how Bill Cosby can sleep at night, the answer is, statistically not very well.

One reason would be the role of technology in our lives, even something as ubiquitous as artificial light, but also having immediate access to stimulating media on our phones, right up to the point when we shut our eyes to go to sleep. Apparently the colour blue brings to subconscious mind the daytime sky and is featured in a number of apps like Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Twitter and Safari, so what chance do we have? One of those apps is so popular it literally had a movie made about it. No-one’s made a movie of Twitter yet, but any new Scary Movie instalment is surely only one fired writer away from just being a ninety-minute long recitation of the funniest tweets of that year. So how is this going to get any better? Children born now will be on their phones more than any previous generation, so by the time they’re my age, will they just be wakeful monsters, devouring all illuminated content with a mildly blueish-hue? Sleep deprivation can also contribute to weight gain, since it of course increases fatigue. And weight gain will just continue the cycle of not wanting to exercise. We all know the feeling of being inexplicably tired from having done nothing all day. Not working up energy or motivation can lead to feeling knackered, even though you’ve expended hardly any energy. Newborn babies need sixteen hours of sleep a day, and I can only assume this is because they’re also tired from laying around doing fuck all.

So what is our ultimate fate? The movie Wall-E probably had it bang on, apart from not mentioning that humans will eventually stop sleeping entirely, and probably employ some weird dolphin brain-technique of sleeping with half of our brains at a time, while the other half mindlessly scrolls through social media updates that don’t make any sense, since they were written using only half a brain. Never has the phrase ‘wake up sheeple’ been less appropriate. Don’t try so hard to be ‘woke’. Stop scrolling looking for ineffective petitions to share. Put your phone down, and pick up something with a numbing orange glow to it, like a Lucozade or some fire. Stare into that until you feel drowsy, and take a nap. Just half an hour or so. Meditation’s gaining a lot of traction in the west among wannabe Buddhists, and probably vegans, but why not settle for the original, subconscious meditation that requires no training or purchasing of expensive manuals.
Get some sleep sheeple.

 

 

Next time on the bandwagon, I’ll teach you how you can make a basic shelter, just using objects found in any ordinary household, including the house itself.

All Persons, Living or Dead, Are Purely Referential

Pop culture references were invented in 1989 by Seth Brundle, when working in his lab, late one night. He was writing up his findings to an experiment on the influence of synthesiser music on coked-up rats, when he accidentally drew a crude comparison to the scene in Back to The Future, when Marty McFly steals rock n’ roll from black people, then tells a room full of white people they aren’t ready for it yet. In suggesting the rats were similarly unprepared, the scientific paper went whatever the 80s equivalent of viral was (no, not that) and thus the first pop culture reference was born into the world.

Okay, so here’s my question. There were a couple of pop culture references in that paragraph, but did they make it better or worse? Are pop culture references entertaining in and of themselves, or do they need to be making a comment on the subject of the reference? Pop culture references are the poor-man’s metaphor. They provide an easy, immediate comparison to something, in order to illuminate it and draw satisfying parallels, like Abed in Community seeing his world through the prism of TV and movies, and commenting on the tropes of those media as rules by which to live his life. But whereas metaphor is only used to illuminate, pop culture references can either additionally, or exclusively, have the surreptitious motive of displaying your particular taste, or bragging about your pop culture knowledge/nerd credentials.

Sure, we’ve all slipped the odd The Office quote into conversation (if that’s true, excellent) but what is the allure of doing it? Is it the feeling of a shared experience, the idea that you can relate to someone on the most basic level of ‘I’ve enjoyed this thing, let’s see if you have too’? Because if that’s true, why not just insert the names of universally enjoyed foodstuffs into conversation? ‘Yeah I’m having a great weekend, a real Red Velvet Cake of a time. ‘ ‘How’s the weather? It’s warmer than that pasta we had once!’ Is it because pop culture gives a low-level, accessible opportunity for artistic critical analysis, where you can slag off an episode of Game of Thrones with no prerequisite of intelligence or education. You just have to have watched it and have an opinion, even if that opinion is ‘dragons + tits = great TV’.
But what about elements of pop culture which require a decent level of knowledge of pop culture itself in order to enjoy it? Metatextual or post-modern pieces, such as parody, satire or homage. You couldn’t enjoy an episode of Community or the movie Hot Shots in a vacuum. A lot of alternative comedy subverts traditional forms, and so relies on some knowledge of the genre to understand what’s being commented on. And not even for comedy. Just take a look at the trailer for Ready Player One, which basically looks like the most expensive fan film ever made, The Phantom Menace notwithstanding. At first glance, I couldn’t glean any information about the story from the trailer. It seems like it’s being marketed on nostalgia and plain old recognition of existing properties – “Did you like Star Wars? Well it looks like this film does too!” Could it just be a ploy to use an overly familiar set of logos and references as packaging for a mediocre story? Basically ‘The Big Bang Theory: The Movie’, or the commercial equivalent of ‘you had to be there’.
To make up my own mind, I read the book Ready Player One to see if there was a substantive basis of a story. I wanted to see if the the pop culture references were a garish accoutrement, like putting googly eyes on the Mona Lisa. Or if, as the trailer suggested, the references themselves were the whole point; a movie built on a house of cards, specifically a game of Top Trumps where the only category you’re allowed to play is ‘brand recognition’.
To be honest, it’s a little of both. The story requires the main character to educate himself on 80s pop culture in order to complete his hero’s journey, so they are presented as necessary for the chosen narrative, but equally the entire time you’re reading it, it feels like the author is peering over your shoulder, waiting for another ostensibly obscure reference to crop up, so he can elbow you in the ribs and bark, ‘Remember? From before!?’

But it’s still enjoyable. And if you pretend this is a singular problem with this book/movie then I’d suggest that it just seems like the logical end point of a culture obsessed with self-referencing, and increasingly scared to venture money or intellectual effort in a new idea. We shouldn’t chastise a child for saying a swear word if they’ve grown up hearing their parents use that language, we should tell them why swearing is lazy and unimaginative, even if it is hugely fun. If we didn’t want Dr. Frankenstein to make that monster, we should have disposed of our corpses more carefully.
Just to clarify, that was a metaphor, and then a pop culture reference, both used to illuminate the same idea. Which did you prefer? I liked the one with the thing from a movie in it.
Commenting on pop culture can be fun and interesting (and not commenting in the Gogglebox way, where you just say ‘that’s sad’ or ‘that was funny’, like an audio description service for psychopaths), because it’s still culture, but with a qualifier of assumed familiarity. And if we’ve got a problem with that, then we should stop constantly watching reboots like some sort of robot. Robocop for example. Which is a robot, and was a reboot. And is a pop culture reference.
How funny.

 

Next time on the bandwagon, I listened closely to all of The Beatles’ back catalogue on Spotify to listen for hidden messages, and it turns out that Paul McCartney isn’t dead, but physical media is.

Private Practice

‘We talkin’ ‘bout practice’ – Allen Iverson, 2002.

I’m not sure I’ve ever understood the grammar of the phrase ‘practice makes perfect’. Although I have said and heard the phrase so many times through my life that I feel I’ve gradually improved my understanding of it enough to perfect the phrasing. ‘Practice makes perfection’ is more sensical. And it’s something I wholeheartedly believe.
Unfortunately, practice itself is unglamorous. A skill is impressive only after it has been honed, once all of the imperfections and hints of incompetence have been buffed away in private, unspoken torment. If the destination is Disneyland, the journey is just a necessary evil of monotony and pained anticipation; a car ride where you clench your fists and shut your eyes until you’ve tolerated enough progress to arrive.
A magic trick, for example, can look cool to watch, but dreadfully uncool are the endless hours of fumbling and dropping playing cards trying to conceal a move that lasts less than a second. This was something that I tried my sleight of hand at as a pre-teen, even then realising how embarrassing it was. Luckily I would keep a set of my sister’s underwear nearby to rapidly change into as a less controversial past-time for me to be caught in the midst of if one of my parents walked in. At least that didn’t involve the indignity of trying to better myself. I’m joking of course, I don’t even have a sister. To be honest I don’t know whose underwear it was.
Similarly, we all like to see a heart shape poured into our cappuccino foam, but we certainly don’t want to see the mad coffee-drills that baristas of a certain coffee chain have to endure every morning to get those heart shapes so lovingly uniform, as part of the ‘Zero to Nero’ scheme. Apparently for every one that’s not up to code, they have to snort a coffee bean whole, as some sort of sick perversion of the idea of waking up to the smell of coffee. It’s barbaric frankly, and as far as I know, entirely true.
Actually, if you consider masturbation a sort of ‘practice’ for sex, and there’s really no reason why you should, then it makes more sense that when someone walks in on you having sex, they feel embarrassed, but if someone catches you masturbating, you’re the one who gets asked to take your sister’s underwear off. Or whoever’s it is.

But for whatever reason, there seems to be something deeply shameful about practice, about the idea of actually working on a skill that you plan to display or utilise in the future. Does it maybe seem almost narcissistic, in that you’re spending your time on yourself, putting man hours into your own betterment? The practice of certain skills can definitely be seen as more worthy of one’s time, such as improving your ability to play a musical instrument, or getting really good at life-saving surgery, or learning which of your friends would most appreciate incessantly being tagged in dog videos on Facebook. These things are fine to be good at, and to be seen to be trying hard at; practicing a musical instrument has a generally accepted artistic merit, proficiency in which is enviable, but the aforementioned boring hard work that needs to be put in to reach that level is something that a lot of people aren’t prepared to face. Or indeed, they see the end product of someone banging out some heart-rending Chopin on one of those random pianos that get scattered around cities (ostensibly as a way to bring art and expression into a more public forum, but mostly it’s toddlers running up and smushing the keys with their palms, like a chimpanzee who’s just discovered mashed potato), and feel inspired to take up a instrument themselves. But then they become daunted by the apparent chasm between the first dipping of the toe into the musical pool, and the submerged depths of even a semi-decent amateur pianist.

It’s this mythologisation of natural born talent that feeds wrong-headed ideas of child prodigies, overnight successes and savantism, which in turn discourages extended periods of hard-work and practice, unless met with an unreasonably quick manifestation of proficiency and success. Ask any leader in their field how hard they worked to become good at something, and they won’t hesitate to expound on the hours and years spent grinding away in obscurity. Steve Martin, considered one of the greatest comedians of all time, believes he was born with no natural comedic talent, but worked tirelessly to develop his skill. If he had the viewpoint of most people, that you’re born to do something, or your career chooses you, then he would have simply decided that it wasn’t going to happen, and there’d be no ‘Steve Martin’ as we know him now. If someone had shown him a video of some Chinese 5-year-old beating a computer at chess, which I assume exists, then maybe, and god forbid, the movie Cheaper By The Dozen simply wouldn’t exist. Or they would have just got Robert De Niro or some shit.

To use a more up front example, this is my thirty-fourth blog post, and I’ve been writing it on and off for almost two years. That is a tangible way in which I have continued to practice a particular skill, however useless. Feel free to go back and read my first blog, see whether it’s shit, see whether I’ve even got better. You could at least assume that by now I would have worked out how to consistently end a blog post in a satisfying way, perhaps with a summarising statement about the chosen topic. Maybe something like ‘the obscuring of effort behind displays of aptitude is something that continues to feed an expectation of quick results and short-term dedication, before losing interest and logging on to Facebook to share a meme about how the only time you felt really alive was when you demonstrated a card trick to some classmates in year 5, but for some reason, despite having never put any effort into anything since, nothing else has ever quite measured up to that feeling of pride and acceptance. Must be because you weren’t born special.’

Well, I could certainly try to summarise the topic in that way, but instead I’ll just say that more than perfection, practice makes realistic expectations of a life lived through a prism of hard work paying off. And Cheaper By The Dozen 2.

Next time on the bandwagon, I found a frog on the pavement outside my house, and instead of kissing it in the hopes of turning it into Prince Charming, should I play the song ‘Kiss’ to it, in the hopes of turning it into Prince?

Counter Intelligence

Have you read Flowers for Algernon? I have, because I’m really clever. Actually that’s not my point, my point is that the book tries to question the idea that ‘ignorance is bliss’. The main character is intellectually below average, takes a drug that makes him clever, and then is forced to stop taking it, knowing he will turn back into his original self. It also involves a mouse who takes the drug too but luckily doesn’t suffer the same level of emotional turmoil. If this sounds familiar, it’s because Eddie Murphy’s The Nutty Professor used the ‘lab mouse foreshadowing’ idea in the same way, but with a hamster. Clever.
Anyway, it might be my favourite book, because it questions the idea of intelligence, and what makes a person happy in relation to that. At least I think that’s what it’s about. It certainly could be, but what if I’ve totally misinterpreted it? What if it’s actually about how mice are harbingers of misery, or it’s about the virtues of animal testing? What if, try as I might to ingest interesting art, I just don’t get it? It’s not hard to read works of the literary canon, it’s just time-consuming. What’s hard is understanding its intention, interpreting it in a way that speaks to you. I don’t want to turn into one of those people having an unironic ‘Great Gatsby’ party, celebrating the aesthetic of that era, totally oblivious that the book is about the pointlessness of shallow artifice. I want to be one of those people who has an accurate ‘Great Gatsby’ party, where someone ends up dead in a swimming pool. I think that’s what Michael Barrymore was going for.

I do wonder if society now is as anti-intellectual as it used to seem when I was at school. Back then, to know things was considered shit, and to try was pathetic. So imagine being in an environment of learning, the awful combination of trying to know things. I really hope this has changed since, because I persevered with the whole trying to know fad when all it got me was mild bullying leading to lifelong self-doubt. But without that need for approval caused by bullying, maybe we wouldn’t have this blog, or me trying to do stand-up, or a podcast, or make everyone I meet like me, or me needing constant reinforcement from friends, or a pervading sense of dread lingering over every moment that I’m not bettering myself intellectually or creatively. So you know, is anti-intellectual bullying really so bad?
It didn’t help that people thought I was more intelligent than I was, due to the perceived correlation between intelligence and social ineptitude. So because I had so few friends, people assumed I must know pi to one hundred places, or the difference between a simile and a metaphor (actually I did, I just remember that a simile is like a metaphor, and a metaphor is). Surely I couldn’t just be bad at making friends and be only mildly intelligent? What would be the point? Cool and stupid, or alone and clever. That’s the rule.

Although I wouldn’t classify intelligence as necessarily knowing things, it’s wanting to know things. It’s a curiosity, a thirst for knowledge which obviously leads to taking on interesting information. I like to learn new words for example, and to use them wherever possible in conversation or written text, to practice using them in their proper context, to avoid sesquipedalianisms. Unfortunately, this can lead to me appearing pretentious, as in the previous sentence. I was recently on a date with someone who, after hearing me use the word ‘egregious’ took it upon herself to refer to me as ‘Mr Dictionary’, which to me just sounded like an underdeveloped Countdown mascot. “What’s Mr. Dictionary up to this week Rachel?”
“Well it looks like he’s just added a new word: Yolo!”
“Oh well, off to the furnace with him.”
I’m not condemning her for not knowing the word, but rather for making me the butt of the joke for knowing the word. I should have responded by saying, “Mr Dictionary? Well first of all, aardvark. Secondly, you do know that the dictionary wasn’t named after the person who invented it?” But I just tried to ignore it, while making a mental note to ridicule any aptitude she showed in any area for the rest of evening. Supposedly everyone has some unique skill.

Einstein famously said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” In fact, Einstein said it so famously, that people don’t seem to care that he never even said it. That’s how much of a genius Einstein was. And in fact, if you judge Einstein by his ability to come up with a pithy bon-mot, to the extent that you attribute him with quotes he never said, he will live his whole life believing that he is a wit, when in fact all he is, is a genius. And frankly that should be good enough.
Also, I like the idea that you could communicate to the fish your judgment of its tree-climbing abilities and that it would take that criticism so harshly as to change its self-image. Presumably within the quote, the royal ‘you’ is Aquaman.

So maybe my genius comes in the form of desperately trying to improve myself, instead of actually utilising any of the skills or ideas I try to acquire. I liked Flowers for Algernon. Maybe for the wrong reasons, and maybe that doesn’t matter. At least I’m trying, I’m curious. And wrong as it might seem, I’m suspicious of people that aren’t. Maybe in her own way, my date was trying to sniff out pretension, thinking that I was using the word to impress or intimidate her, which would be a worthwhile condemnation.

By the end of the date, I was desperate to deliver a witty retort to her dictionary remark. But she hadn’t brought up anything up in particular for me to gently mock, so, I decided to depart by confusingly calling her ‘Miss Ellaneous’.
Maybe this is why Mr. Dictionary’s still on the shelf.

 

Next time on the bandwagon, the transient new extreme sport sweeping the nation, bungee scuba.

The People vs The People

People. They’re everywhere. Up in the sky or buried underground. Walking around a garden centre or running through a water fountain. Inside diving bells or outside semi-digested food. In fact, in some large cities you’re never more than zero feet away from a person, and it turns out it’s you. Terrifying.

An old friend of mine used to express her frustration at long queues or slow-moving crowds by exclaiming ‘Ugh! People!’ with a sort of browbeaten inflection as though this was typical behaviour that she was once again the victim of. As though she was annoyed at the whole concept of peoplehood based solely on the actions of these individuals. I would politely tell her that she herself was people, to which she would wryly remind me that she was not; she was a person. I would then explain, with a hopefully well-communicated level of sarcasm that, no she wasn’t, because she was a woman. We don’t talk anymore.

If I find myself disagreeing with or being confused by a large group of people, or an individual, I try to put myself into their mindset, in the hope of realising that if I was doing what they are, I’d probably understand. For example, some people naturally walk slowly, that’s fine. Some people like to wait until they’re at the front of a queue before they decide to even consider what sort of coffee to get, that’s… I mean that’s… whatever… I guess. Some people like to practice the Ferber method a.k.a graduated extinction with their child in a public place, where they let the child ‘cry it out’, so they can learn to self-soothe. And it seems that no matter how many other customers I’ve cajoled into a sort of class-action complaint, it’s close to impossible to get them ejected from Waterstones.
It’s not always easy to sympathise. In fact, just as I sat down to write this in a public place, a stranger sat down next to me (I won’t say what her gender was, nor try to put a number on her advanced age, lest I come across as discriminatory) and proceeded to manically and feverishly devour the loudest packet of crisps I have ever encountered outside of some very niche ASMR videos. She was eating them with the hysterical aggression you usually only see in movies where a teenage runaway is given their first proper meal in months. As she snuffled down her Kettle Chips, I found it difficult to put myself in her position to understand her urgency, and only struggled to concentrate on this excellent blog, hoping that when she’d finished, she wouldn’t start on a bag of pork scratchings or a sachet of popping candy. She made a comment to no-one in particular about the changeable weather, perhaps hoping I would acknowledge it, or chip in. But I ignored her, staring at my screen with the intensity of someone taking a BuzzFeed quiz entitled ‘How Long Can You Stop Blinking For Before People Start To Worry?’ I know I should feel guilty about being rude, but actually it’s pretty typical behaviour for me. In the end I was just pleased that I was behaving consistently on brand, and considered myself to be the Daniel Day-Lewis of method acting my own personality.

It seems quite common to claim to have a general hatred for other people. In an indiscriminate way I mean, not like racism. Although, racism’s doing well too. A lot of social media posts and memes seem to be concerned with the idea of not enjoying crowds, or socialising, in a way that might even diminish genuine feelings of agoraphobia or social anxiety, like I just did in the above paragraph. If I was to over-analyse, I might bullshit that it was as a result of social media and digital interaction creating a real-world interpersonal dissonance, or as a response to the distasteful populist movements going on such as Brexit, and Trump, as a way to distant oneself from the idea of a mob mentality. But I think it’s basically been going on longer than that. It’s just another way to feel distinct. Like choosing to sit alone in a coffee shop writing a blog, imagining that one day in the future when you’re a famous comedian, people will revisit the blog and go: “See, he was always going to be successful. Just look at the quality of his writing. He even used the word ‘dissonance’.”
I certainly understand an attitude of wariness to populist thought. We all remember that zeitgeist-penetrating scene in Men in Black where Will Smith asks Tommy Lee Jones why they have to keep aliens a secret, since people are smart and deserve the truth. Jones responds by saying that, “A person is smart. People are dumb.” And he’s right. Just look at what happens when big groups of people get together and lose their sense of self, or right and wrong. You have protests turning into aimless country-wide riots back in 2011. You have a nation voting for someone who openly took the piss out of a disabled guy to a crowd of laughing supporters. And you have Ed Sheeran concerts.

Distancing yourself from adhering to popular ideas which have traction just because of their prevalence and popularity can be healthy. But similarly, every individual is ‘people’. No single person likes being in the queue that they created, but everyone blames everyone else for it. Remember, if you’re not part of the solution, then that’s probably okay, no-one’s perfect. You’ve got your own thing going on and I respect that. Give my love to Ashley and the kids.

The loud crisp-eating woman has gone now. Maybe I was too judgmental about her abhorrent behaviour. If you see her, tell her I’m sorry, and that she’s right, the weather is crazy.

Next time on the bandwagon – I amalgamate two of Stephen King’s best works: On Writing and Carrie, to create a new bawdy comedy-horror, Carrie On Writing. Expect telekinesis, puberty anxiety, and lots of veiled knob gags.

Misfortune and Glory

Did you know some people consider it bad luck to walk over three drains? Or whatever those sort of large grey squares in the pavement are that usually come in twos or threes; could be drains, could be vertical graves. If you’ve ever been walking with someone who considers three drains to be unlucky, and they shove you out of the way so neither of you walks onto an oncoming drain triplet, then it really is your duty to demonstrate to them that real bad luck comes as a results of forcing your beliefs on others, or shoving. Perhaps trip them over, or slap them promptly across the chops, before whipping out a pre-bought scratch card and scratching it off in front of them. If you do this with enough people, eventually you’ll scratch off a winner, no matter how small the prize. If they really are moronically superstitious, you should then be able to convince them that for you, slapping them, or tripping them, or punting them in the coccyx (dealer’s choice) is empirically lucky for you. If in any subsequent situation where you stand to gain based purely on statistical likelihood, they should either offer up a part of their body for you to thump, or prioritise their own safety over their mental sickness. Either outcome should be pretty satisfying.

Contrarian that I am, I try to subvert superstition wherever possible since it annoys me so much. My life is a constant stream of smashing mirrors with open umbrellas under indoor ladders, while screaming Macbeth at all the pennies I never pick up. My mum would always refuse to cross on the stairs when I was younger, but this was her superstition, not mine, so any stand off between us at opposite ends of the staircase would last a mere second before I started to proceed. Or I would feign concession, waiting until she was halfway, and then proceeding, forcing her to retreat with the confused irascibility of a customer leaving DFS without a discount.
My favourite superstitions have always been brought up my nan, who has so many by which she lives, every daily activity seems to have potential bad luck attached to it. Her life must be a constant obstacle course of old wives tales, preventing her from turning on the television if her socks match her hair, or only changing gears while driving if the clock is on an even number of minutes. Her last pet was a white dog, which if you ask me, is a pretty transparent attempt to ensure that the only thing crossing her path is the exact opposite of a black cat.

The most confusing thing is that some people see luck as governing all things, with every event open to be interpreted as having an objective value of luckiness, in the sense that it could be a reflection of how lucky that person is. You’ll often hear people say ‘knowing my luck’ followed by a sort of example of sod’s (or Murphy’s) law. Such as: “Oh I hear you got a great deal on your new car?” “Yeah I did, but knowing my luck, it’ll probably breakdown the moment I get onto a motorway.”
Or: “Wait, you mean you just found that bag of drugs on the floor? For free?”
“Yeah, but knowing my luck it’s probably one of those drugs that comes with the weight of the deaths of the thousands of people for whom the drug industry is destroying their country. Honestly I have the worst luck. Probably.”
This can also be seen as a weird perversion of egotism disguised as humility, in that these idiots think that it’s endearing to speculate on worst-case scenarios of their life, fabricating unfortunate but more interesting alternate versions of future events. They insist that something unique might always happen to them, but with a negative bent supposed to temper it. Instead of them walking uneventfully home from work, they’ll surely encounter a statistical anomaly, such as bumping into an old friend, or tripping over the body of Jimmy Hoffa, but turned around so it’s less positive and therefore less self-centred, so the old friend is an ex who makes the meeting really awkward, or the only reason you found Jimmy Hoffa is because it turns out you killed him. It’s like a humblebrag, but the brag is replaced by solipsism. ‘This event was so unfortunate, because it happened to me and I’m so unlucky. If it had happened to anyone else, it would have been normal. Oh gosh aren’t I such a cosmic klutz?’

Additionally, luck can be seen as an unstoppable, inexplicably omnipresent force, like gravity, or Deliveroo. It’s a less obviously culturally-appropriated and selfish form of karma; some unseen value that influences our future outside of physical cause and effect. It’s pretty hard to think of it as distinct from religion, since there’s not much difference in a confusing religious rite performed to receive cosmic favour, and blowing an eyelash to wish for world peace, or for crisps to somehow be good for you.
Perhaps I should spread word of a new universal force, in the realm of karma, or fate. A force like luck, but that has no consistent causal link. So one occasion of you being shat on by a bird, could result in you running out of salt for dinner, and the next occasion could bring your toilet to life. I call this force ‘Croip’, and it could seriously impact your life. Don’t touch that dog! You might be causing a toxic gas leak in Honduras! Thinking of holding that door open for a colleague? Better not, in case it results in hundreds of spiders kicking you in your sleep. But it could equally cause an ice-cream sluice to appear in your shed, so perhaps you should. Croip doesn’t know what’s good or what’s bad. If you believe in karma, then maybe you believe that you found that tenner on the floor because you didn’t masturbate this morning, or that when you dropped your phone and it landed on your shoe, so the screen didn’t break, that was because you put the toilet seat down out of consideration for your female housemate?
What must you then think of people who suffer from terrible diseases? You must consequently assume cancer victims are also on the receiving end of karma. Wait, do you think that they deserve to have cancer? Jesus Christ. You fucking monster. At least with the Croip system it might be as a result of something good they did, because it’s all entirely random. So they could be a wonderful person. Or people in positions of power, or high political office might be there because of horrible things they’ve done, God forbid. But that can’t be right. Karma is just, yes? And everything is just.

Just shit, knowing my luck.

Next time on the bandwagon, it turns out that ‘Tim Goodings’ was a nom de plume this whole time, and I reveal my real celebrity identity. Hint: I didn’t not write Carrie. Or didn’t I?