el acento de Cai

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Como complemento a la publicación más larga de hoy, aquí está mi canción de chirigota que debería haber terminado en 2001.

Cuplet: el acento de Cai

Soy inglé’, pero vivo en la Viña.
¿Como la plata? ¡No has visto mi cucina!
Primera vez, la ciudad me encantado,
Pronto lo supe — mi corazón e’ gaditano.
En Inglaterra aprendí ‘pañol muy bueno
Pero aquí se volvió — co’ un mal sueño!
Mi ca’tellano ‘tuvo bien, pero ¡lo siento!
¿Qué diablos le pasa a tu acento?
¿Perdoneme? Es difícil captar sentidos,
E’ tan rapido, y tu come’ los sonidos
En las tiendas nunca se que ‘toy comprando
Y la gente se ríe con mi fallando.
Dondequiera voy, ‘cucho la alegría
¡Estoy seguro que saben que yo quería!
No soy un burro, y no soy una cabra
Yo soy inglé’, yo ¡no entiendo … una palabraaaa!

and I even created an English version with roughly similar meaning…

In English: The Cádiz Accent

I am English, but I live here in la Viña.
Clean as the silver?! My kitchen you ain’t seen, yeah?
When I first came here, the old city worked its magic,
And soon I knew — my heart belongs to Cádiz.
Back home in London, I had learned a bit of Spanish —
When I got here all that knowledge seemed to vanish!
I thought my grasp of Castellano was quite decent
But what the hell is going on here with your accent?!
“What’d you say?!” It’s hard to know just what the sense is;
You speak so quickly — and you swallow half the letters.
In shops and bars I never quite know what I’m buying,
But the locals seem amused to see me trying.
Everywhere I go I hear their jolly laughter,
Though I’m sure the buggers know just what I’m after!
I’m not a ‘donkey’, and I’m not a ‘silly bird’,
I’m simply English —and don’t understand … a bloody word!

[La Viña — the vineyards — is the working class barrio I called home, and the epicentre of Carnaval, continuing the festivities to and beyond dawn, well after Ash Wednesday.
The street cleaning vehicles of Cádiz bear the legend “Cádiz: como la plata“, or like the silverware or the plate]

Cuplet, retrasado [el acento gaditano]

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Soy inglé’, pero vivo en la Viña.
¿Como la plata? ¡No has visto mi cucina!

In case you don’t already know, I lived in the Andalucian paradise of Cádiz in 2000 and a bit of 2001. You can read some (rather fanciful) accounts of it here; the forerunners of my blogging, as I learned to set up websites and mess around with links. Some found them highly amusing. Had I not fallen and broken my shoulder on Finchley Road on the way back after Yuletide (as the final entry explains), there would have been a great deal more.

In the latter days of my tenure, there took place the Carnaval de Cádiz, a week or so of chaos, cavalcades and costumes, that a fellow Brit there described as ‘a million people sharing a joke you’re not in on’.

I was at least able to document that, through an alcoholic haze.

One of the major features of the Gaditano carnival is the plethora of singing groups which apeear on every stage and street corner throughout the festivities (and in a good few places for the rest of the year). The mainstay of these is the chirigota, a group of about a dozen guys (though female chirigotas and even mixed teams are getting more common). The costumes are hilarious, the songs are largely satirical and bawdy (though one or two singing the sincere praises of the city and the province are pretty much compulsory in every team’s set). There’s a huge competition in the Gran Teatro Falla in the preceding weeks, and teams from each barrio will have spent much of the year deciding on their latest name and outfit Tampax Goyescas, the winners that year, have become a classic.

 

Anyway, I decided to write a song in the style (and accent) of the incomprehensible cuplets of the chirigotas (and choros and cuartetos and ilegales), about how, as a guiri (foreign Johnny), I struggled with an accent which seemed mainly to consist of leaving out most of the phonemes (the locals call the place Cai, ffs).

I got as far as the first and last couplets.

I vowed I would fill some sort of waffle in between to make a song of sorts one day.

That day was this week, twenty years later. Twenty years after this charming bastard stood on his rooftop by the ocean, resplendent in panama hat, white suit, co-respondent shoes and (plastic) cane.

So here we are, firstly in that Gaditano dialect which makes these songs incomprehensible to most Spaniards, let alone us incomers (on the other hand, if you can scrape through in Cai, it’s plain sailing in the rest of Spain).

Cuplet: el acento de Cai

Soy inglé’, pero vivo en la Viña.
¿Como la plata? ¡No has visto mi cucina!
Primera vez, la ciudad me encantado,
Pronto lo supe — mi corazón e’ gaditano.
En Inglaterra aprendí ‘pañol muy bueno
Pero aquí se volvió — co’ un mal sueño!
Mi ca’tellano ‘tuvo bien, pero ¡lo siento!
¿Qué diablos le pasa a tu acento?
¿Perdoneme? Es difícil captar sentidos,
E’ tan rapido, y tu come’ los sonidos
En las tiendas nunca se que ‘toy comprando
Y la gente se ríe con mi fallando.
Dondequiera voy, ‘cucho la alegría
¡Estoy seguro que saben que yo quería!
No soy un burro, y no soy una cabra
Yo soy inglé’, yo ¡no entiendo … una palabraaaa!

and I even created an English version with roughly similar meaning…

In English: The Cádiz Accent

I am English, but I live here in la Viña.
Clean as the silver?! My kitchen you ain’t seen, yeah?
When I first came here, the old city worked its magic,
And soon I knew — my heart belongs to Cádiz.
Back home in London, I had learned a bit of Spanish —
When I got here all that knowledge seemed to vanish!
I thought my grasp of Castellano was quite decent
But what the hell is going on here with your accent?!
“What’d you say?!” It’s hard to know just what the sense is;
You speak so quickly — and you swallow half the letters.
In shops and bars I never quite know what I’m buying,
But the locals seem amused to see me trying.
Everywhere I go I hear their jolly laughter,
Though I’m sure the buggers know just what I’m after!
I’m not a ‘donkey’, and I’m not a ‘silly bird’,
I’m simply English —and don’t understand … a bloody word!

[La Viña — the vineyards — is the working class barrio I called home, and the epicentre of Carnaval, continuing the festivities to and beyond dawn, well after Ash Wednesday.
The street cleaning vehicles of Cádiz bear the legend “Cádiz: como la plata“, or like the silverware or the plate]

Better late than never, I guess.

A Visit from St Nicola — now in English!

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OK, I’m reasonably happy with this …

A Visit from St Nicola (Scots version)

‘Twas the night afore Christmas, but a’ through the toon,
No’ a creature was stirrin’ — we’d a’ been locked doon.
We’d tucked up the weans wi’ a smile and a song;
Ah, but we knew that they knew that somethin’ was wrong.
Their sanitised stockings were hung up wi’ care,
Wi’ the mince pies and carrots sat pointlessly there;
We’d asked a few pals roond, we’d meant tae ask more,
But they had to cry aff when we moved to Tier Four.
So we set oot some snacks and we poured oot some gin,
And settled oorsel’s for a quiet evenin’ in —
When suddenly through the front windae we heard
The jingle of bells — and a rather rude word.
I peered roond the curtains — and I could have sworn
That I saw Father Christmas hisself on oor lawn.
His sleigh in oor gateway was steevily wedged,
And Rudolph the Reindeer was stuck in oor hedge.
“Do ye need ony help?” I called oot fae the door,
But that only made Santa swear even more.
“I can manage, ye bastard; I’m magic, ye ken!
“But accidents will happen, noo and again.
“Och, I may as well hand ye yer gifts, while ye’re here,”
And he staggered towards me, a’ reekin’ o’ beer.
“It’s been a lang night, as I’m sure’s no surprise —
“So I’m trustin’ ye’ve whisky an’ no just mince pies!”
“Of course we have! But is it too much to ask,
“That before ye come in, ye could put on a mask?”
He grumbled, but, waving one hand in the air,
A glittering face mask materialised there —
But before he could cover his face wi’ the sheet,
Wi’ a bang and a flash he fell deid at ma feet.
And what should I see, at the edge of my land,
But Scotland’s First Minister, shotgun in hand.
“I’ve telt ye afore, Santa, a’ doon the street,
“Ye’ve visited mair than wan hoosehold the neet.
“While you’re spreadin’ cheer to each Ma, Pa and wean,
“I’m preventin’ the spreadin’ o’ Covid-Nineteen!
“It’s no a’ that guid gettin’ gifties the day,
“If you’re stuck in a hospital come Hogmanay.”
As she shouldered her gun and walked back to her car,
She looked over her shoulder and said, “Sorry, Pa.
“Help yersels to they parcels, but else dinna stress.
“We’ll send someone o’er to clear up the mess.
“I’m sorry to muck up yer Christmas yet more,
“But try tae enjoy yersels — Frank, get the door!”

And of course there’s the video version on YouTube, where I commit further atrocities with a ‘Scots’ accent …

But for those less comfortable with my mangled version of Scots, and for whom the final reference to Janey Godley’s brilliant ‘Frank, get the door’ is meaningless, there is now a Sassenach version (though still set in Scotland and with a few Scotticisms, like ‘weans’ for ‘kids’ …

A Visit from St Nicola

‘Twas the night before Christmas, but all through the town,
Not a creature was stirring — we’d all been locked down.
We’d tucked up the kids with a smile and a song;
Ah, but we knew that they knew that something was wrong.
Their sanitised stockings were hung up with care,
With the mince pies and carrots sat pointlessly there;
We’d asked a few pals round, we’d meant to ask more,
But they had to cry off when we moved to Tier Four.
So we set out some snacks and we poured out some gin,
And settled ourselves for a quiet evening in —
When suddenly through the front window we heard
The jingle of bells — and a rather rude word.
I peered round the curtains — and I could have sworn
That I saw Father Christmas himself on our lawn.
His sleigh in our gateway was solidly wedged,
And Rudolph the Reindeer was stuck in our hedge.
“Do you need any help?” I called out from the door,
But that only made Santa swear even more.
“I can manage, ye bastard; I’m magic, ye ken!
“But accidents will happen, now and again.
“But I may as well hand you yer gifts, while you’re here,”
And he staggered towards me, all reeking of beer.
“It’s been a long night, as I’m sure’s no surprise —
“So I’m trusting you’ve whisky and not just mince pies!”
“Of course we have! But is it too much to ask,
“That before you come in, you could put on a mask?”
He grumbled, but, waving one hand in the air,
A glittering face mask materialised there —
But before he could cover his face with the sheet,
With a bang and a flash, he fell dead at my feet!
And what should I see, at the edge of my land,
But Scotland’s First Minister, shotgun in hand.
“Och, Santa, I warned you, it just isn’t right,
“You’ve visited more than one household tonight.
“While you’re spreading cheer to each Ma, Pa and wean,
“I’m preventing the spreading of Covid-Nineteen!
“It’s not all that good getting gifts on the day,
“If you’re stuck in a hospital come Hogmanay.”
As she shouldered her gun and walked back to her car,
She looked over her shoulder and said, “Sorry, Pa.
“Help yourselves to those parcels, but else don’t you stress.
“We’ll send someone over to clear up the mess.
“Try to have a good Christmas and Happy New Year!”
So we went to the garden with wonder and fear,
But those extra gifts dispelled most of our doubts —
And reindeer’s delicious with roasties and sprouts!

A Visit from St Nicola

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 ‘Twas the night afore Christmas, but a’ through the toon,
No’ a creature was stirrin’ — we’d a’ been locked doon.
We’d tucked up the weans wi’ a smile and a song;
Ah, but we knew that they knew that somethin’ was wrong.
Their sanitised stockings were hung up wi’ care,
Wi’ the mince pies and whisky sat pointlessly there;
We’d asked a few pals roond, we’d meant tae ask more,
But they had to cry aff when we moved to Tier Four.
So we set oot some snacks and we poured oot some gin,
And settled oorsel’s for a quiet night in —
When suddenly through the front windae we heard
The jingle of bells — and a rather rude word.
I peered roond the curtains — and I could have sworn
That I saw Father Christmas himself on oor lawn.
His sleigh in oor gateway was steevily wedged,
And Rudolph the Reindeer was stuck in oor hedge.
“Do ye need ony help?” I called out fae the door,
But that only got Santa swearing some more.
“I can manage, ye bastard; I’m magic, ye ken!
“But accidents will happen, noo and again.
“But I may as well hand ye yer gifts, while ye’re here,”
And he staggered towards me, a’ reekin’ o’ beer.
“It’s been a lang night, as I’m sure’s no surprise —
“So I’m trustin’ ye’ve whisky an’ no just mince pies!”
“Of course we have! But, is it too much to ask,
“That before ye come in ye could put on a mask?”
He grumbled, but, waving one hand in the air,
A glittering face mask materialised there —
But before he could cover his face wi’ the sheet,
Wi’ a bang and a flash he fell deid at ma feet.
And who should I see, at the edge of ma land,
But Scotland’s First Minister, shotgun in hand.
“I’ve telt ye afore, Santa, a’ doon the street,
“Ye’ve visited mair than wan hoosehold the neet.
“While you’re spreadin’ cheer to each Ma, Pa and wean,
“I’m preventin’ the spreadin’ o’ Covid-Nineteen!
“It’s no a’ that guid gettin’ gifties the day,
“If you’re stuck in a hospital come Hogmanay.”
As she shouldered her gun and walked back to her car,
She looked over her shoulder and said, “Sorry, Pa.
“Help yersels to yon parcels, but else dinna stress.
“We’ll send someone o’er to clear up the mess.
“I’m sorry to muck up yer Christmas yet more,
“But try tae enjoy yersels — Frank, get the door!”

First draft; or maybe it’ll do.

Blockhead

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I hate blocks, me.

Not long ago I was commenting on twitter about novel coronavirus. I started to write a tweet comparing the RNA based cv19 to something like adenoviri, which are DNA based, to contrast the rates and natures of mutation. Then I thought, ‘sod that; I’ll never get it all in a tweet’, and decided to switch to comparing the ‘antigen drift’ typical of flu viruses, that makes a new vaccine necessary for each wave, which most folks know about to some extent.

Trouble was, I left the ‘RNA’ bit in, and was rapidly picked up, quite rightly, by a number of twits. Rightly but also rudely, especially by the folks on the thread who were arguing for ‘herd immunity’, which is what I was questioning originally.

[To add a bit of detail I was saying that if a vaccine was possible, it might need regular re-application, as although coronaviruses often mutate in less volatile fashion, immune systems are less prone to providing lasting immunity. I’d been discussing this with a veterinary friend only days before and she spoke of the repeated doses which have to be given to livestock for some cv, just before their young are due.]

But I was ‘talking out my arse’, as flu is also an RNA virus. Quite right, and though I hadn’t actually stated that it wasn’t, the wording implied I might have thought so. But right doesn’t need aggressive or rude — just point out I made a mistake guys. At least the one who responded to my correction by asking if I was ‘just lying’ before, became more friendly when I said it was not a lie but lazy editing (tweeting on a phone from bed when dozing is never a good idea, even for Donald J Trump), and said I’d delete the offending tweet.
But what got me was the bloke who responded by saying, “Don’t make me block you!” as if this was some terrifying threat. Our paths had never crossed before, obviously neither was going to follow the other’s account, so there’s little chance he’d have seen anything of mine again (or that I’d give a shit about his posts); mostly I tweet what I’m eating, so unless he was desperate to see a picture of my Korean bibimbap, who gives a flying fuck?

 

What is it with all this blocking and reporting these days? As I said a couple of weeks ago, folks can call each other all sorts of nasty names and hint, without foundation, at all forms of turpitude and though many such tweets remain in the public domain, it is possible to report them and have stuff removed. And trolls do exist whose only delight (or in some cases paid job) is to hassle certain twits repeatedly and nastily, so blocking does have its place. But I have seen quite reasonably worded posts, on both ‘my’ side of an argument and the wrong one responded to with the simple and simpletonian, ‘blocked and reported’. And I often say, when people ask why I am taking the trouble to argue the case against an obvious trollbot, it’s not for their benefit I attempt to apply reason, but for that of any passing rational person (just in case any exist in the twittersphere), who might fall for their bile-filled rhetoric.

OK, folks like me are beating our heads against a very rough-cast brick wall, but I’m assured that will make it feel all the nicer when we stop.

But that’s not the only blockage bugging me today. No, my drains are fine for now, thanks for asking, and my bowels reasonably so too.

What got me was coming into WordPress to do my weekly waffle, to keep them writing muscles flexed and all that, as explained way back when in March 2013. And it appears that I now have to enter my shit in block format. The old line editor has gone and the new, trendy, block method of building web pages rules.

I hate blocks. I don’t even like cascading bloody style sheets (though I can see their value on a large, corporate, site. But it’s all bland homogenisation, from where I sit. Were I setting up a site for your business, I’d use them throughout, to give a nice, uniformity and a ‘house-style’. You want to sell stuff or services, not amuse potential customers with intellectual games and fripperies. I get that.

And to be fair, I don’t hate blocks per se. Once in a while I have struggled with nested tables in HTML, to create a page which would have cried out for a block arrangement. But I want to use them as and when, not as a default.

Oh, I can use the ‘classic’ look, apparently. So I evoke that, but it doesn’t give me the classic editor, oh no, still a blocky page with huge, partially-sighted or child-friendly clumps of words. Nah, I have other things to do. I’m behind with setting up (using Squarespace and its ruddy blocks) the 2020 Scottish Portrait Awards, ready for the exhibition launch, online if not in the paint. To be honest, it never seemed to have the intended effect of getting me churning out novels anyway.

And where the fuck is the option to add hashtags and categories? I don’t doubt it’s there, but I can’t be arsed to spend hours ploughing through help screens. Bloody hell, it shows you once you try to publish.
[Hah! I’ve found my way to the ‘classic’ editor, in an attempt to assign this shit to a category. Still think I’m looking at a good excuse to stop. I don’t think there’ll be much wailing and gnashing of teeth throughout the land.]

So fuck you, WordPress (or should that be ‘thank you’ for freeing me from this weekly pointlessness?). This will be my last blog on here, at least for a while (if you follow me you’ll know if I ever change my mind). I might go back to putting stuff on Lucidity Ltd, and of course you can follow me on twitter (@dailowe).

Unless I’ve been blocked and reported, of course. Farewell, friends.

You Lost Me At ‘Baby Shoes’

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A hundred years ago, when your defatigable blogger and his ex-wife-to-be were both students, the only ways to communicate across distances, like the sides of their Nottingham-York-Manchester triangle, were carrier pigeon, post, and telephone. And remember the last two were what might now be referred to as snailmail and landlines.

Being without benefit of columbidae and only able to use said phones in boxes situated in the Students’ Unions, much of our discourse was carried on in writing, posted regularly, though not in quantities that would furnish an epistolatory novel in the time of Richardson. But a certain volume was expected. Even by the standards of the time, Yours Truly was a compulsive correspondent. At one point, having written to all the friends and family I could think of, I actually picked a random name out of the Greater Manchester phone book and sent them an anonymous and chatty letter. I didn’t give my own name and address, and it began (if memory serves) “You don’t know me, but I’m in a letter-writing mood and have run out of people to write to.”

To this day I occasionally wonder how they reacted, and how soon it completely left their mind.

The thing is, that I was often severely reprimanded by my belovéd, should any letter be shorter than four sides of well-filled eight by ten. Even if she or I were due to take the transpennine train for a weekend of rumpy and, in a very real sense, pumpy, a few days later, a copious amount of waffle was expected. Even mothers and other friends might reply to a single sheet with, is that all you have to tell me?

(as an aside, the dear but sarky mater would react to any extended hiatus by sending a letter addressed To whomsoever finds this letter, and beginning: Do you have any information as to the health or whereabouts of a Mr David Lowe, my long-lost son …)

How things have changed.

My last dear heart, still so painfully missed, would reply to any e-mail of more than one short paragraph with a plaintive question as to why I had to go on at such length.

The abbreviation (appropriately) ubiquitously used to express such impatience is TLDRToo Long, Didn’t Read. It’s now an accepted dismissal, even of short stories, so I wonder how many goodreads reviews consist of just those four letters. Sorry Victor, sorry Lev Nikolayevich, those books of yours are far too long, can you give us a one-page synopsis? Actually half a page would be better.
Summarize Proust indeed.

Now, I don’t deny prolixity is one of my traits, and I know there are times when wallowing in the sounds of words is not helpful to communication (though at some times it’s essential to put one’s idea across). But I can’t be happy about this glorification of the attenuated attention span.

Having said that, who am I to blow against the wind (as Paul Simon says in that rather wordy song of his)?

This post is far too long already. Laters.

 

*Title: there is an unsubstantiated legend that Ernest Hemingway once proved he could write a story in just six words  — For sale: baby shoes, never worn.
Bletherskite!

 

The Suspense is Killing Me

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When your humble blogger appeared on tv game show, Tipping Point, the witty intellectuals who follow the show on Twitter were quick to put up screen shots of him, along with insulting comments (as they do about most contenders, to be fair), including suggestions that I collect porn and should be kept away from small children for sexual reasons.

OK, I took it in good humour [humor] and gave as good as I got, replying to the claim that I have two terabytes of porn on my hard drive, with a simple, “Three!”

These accusations still sit on the twitter stream, without sanction and potentially harmful to me if seen and taken out of context by the ‘wrong’ sort of people (after all if a pædiatrician‘s home can be targeted by the ignorant…).

But my twitter account has just been suspended, and all because I tweeted,
Mrs Gladys Weems of 24 Acacia Avenue, Trowbridge in Wiltshire”.

This apparently breaches their rule that I should not give out personal information, without the express permission of the person involved.

Trouble is, Mrs Gladys Weems of 24 Acacia Avenue, Trowbridge in Wiltshire doesn’t exist. In fact Acacia Avenue, Trowbridge in Wiltshire doesn’t exist either, which can be easily verified.

Mrs Gladys Weems of 24 Acacia Avenue, Trowbridge in Wiltshire is simply the name which I have used for decades now, in response to any rhetorical question, such as Who says you can’t have chips [fries] with every meal? or Who cares where Boris Johnson goes for the weekend? and so on.

In a similar vein of smartarsery [smartassery], I always used to carry a piece of string, six and a half inches in length, to produce, with a triumphant cry of Six and a half inches! when anyone said, How long is a piece of string?

Not big and not particularly clever, I admit, but I have used the response, Mrs Gladys Weems of 24 Acacia Avenue, Trowbridge in Wiltshire many, many times on Twitter and other antisocial media platforms for ages, with nary an issue.

The rule about giving out details is perfectly understandable, even on a site which happily tolerates downright lies, hate speech and random accusations of gross turpitude, but still this sudden suspension wracks me with questions, that the bland responses to appeals (we have reviewed and still say you’re in breach) do nothing to clear up.

Why has Mrs Gladys Weems of 24 Acacia Avenue, Trowbridge in Wiltshire suddenly become unacceptable after all these years? Has someone complained or has the algorithm that checks been updated?

How does one indicate that one is posting a made-up person or name, to avoid suspension? Must all such jocularity fall victim to the new puritanism?

Were there a real person called Mrs Gladys Weems (of 24 Acacia Avenue, Trowbridge in Wiltshire or elsewhere), how would twitter know I didn’t have the aforementioned express permission to use her details? How could I log that I do, so I can once again and with confidence and impunity post the name of Mrs Gladys Weems of 24 Acacia Avenue, Trowbridge in Wiltshire?

If all they look for is a name and address, would one get suspended for a tweet saying Mr Sherlock Holmes of 221b Baker Street in That London?

It’s not a hill I wish to die on, so I will delete the tweet and get back to tweeting what I’m eating, as well as wielding the shining and good-humoured [good-humored] sword of truth among the haters and nutters on political and philosophical as well as gameshow battlegrounds.

If it must be so that I lay her to rest, a memorial service will be held for Mrs Gladys Weems once covid restrictions are relaxed. Please send floral tributes to 24 Acacia Avenue, Trowbridge in Wiltshire, marked –

if undelivered, please forward to
Twitter Headquarters
20 Air Street, That London

What are the Odds? [IV]

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Last week I was wittering on about having a number of dice that represent our chances of getting cancer — or indeed any illness, including Covid-19. The more dice, the more frequent the throws, the higher the chances of throwing the fateful number of sixes.

Just as one can choose to keep the number of those dice down, one is usually trying to manipulate the odds in life, in all sorts of areas. Skilled backgammon players will play apparently risky moves, as they try to place pieces such that few of the possible throws will benefit their opponent, and a wider range of the following throws will be to their advantage (giving the less experienced the uncanny but erroneous feeling that Lady Luck is not at all fond of them); likewise, we can take steps to minimise the chances of getting or spreading an infection, while keeping the levels of annoyance or inconvenience as low as we can.

In the case of our friend the coronavirus, we apply things we know, we check various sources about the latest scientific knowledge, and we make our moves based on that and what our fellow players (other people) are doing.

[Note that the conspiracy nutter’s do your research, sheeple! is not the same thing; that means, watch some fruitcake’s video ranting for an hour or more, with a few cherry-picked fact thrown in, but don’t then check alternative sources or actual scientific papers that might refute it.]

Firstly, load up the fact that it is a virus that first takes hold in the ACE receptors of the nasal passages, that it is carried in droplets, even aerosol sized, that we can pick it up off surfaces, some of which it lives on for a few days, etc etc, and that the larger the initial viral load, the worse we are likely to get hit. And of course that the older or sicker we are, the more likely it is that the outcome will be bad — though remembering we still know too little about the long term effects on those who seem for now to be unaffected or to recover fully. This all tells us what sort of quantities the covid dice come in and where to find them. So now we can take steps to tweak those odds.

Given the experience and outcomes in communities like, say, the Japanese, who wear masks habitually (and have done, especially in times of flu or other contagions, since the devastation of the 1919 pandemic), as well as the evidence and research regarding droplet and aerosol spread, it seems undeniable that wearing a mask, even a simple double-cloth one, will reduce my chances of catching it should it be in the air around me, will at least reduce the load I take in at any given time, and more importantly will reduce considerably the chances of me spreading it should I be infected but symptomless. And wearing a mask is no big deal, surely. It’s nicer not having to bother, of course it is, but once you get used to it, even a speccy-four-eyes like me can almost forget it’s there. On the other hand, in not-too-crowded places out in the open, it may not be worth the effort. Especially in windy places like Scotland.

Given our knowledge of the structure of viri, particularly that fragile fatty coating (and being aware that they start dying off as soon as they get out into the big bad world), it also seems obvious that making sure I wash my hands with lashings of soap when I get home and before I touch anything else, will reduce the number of the little bastards I bring into the flat. Again, a minor inconvenience, and one even a slob like me realises would be correct practice anyway. With many of life’s little nasties, particularly bacteria, I’m one of those who thinks you gotta meet a few to beat a few. But when the contagion could lead to much nastitude (two people of my acquaintance have died of Covid-19, both a little younger than me), and we still don’t know whether survivors will have lasting immunity, I think I’d like to chuck as many of those wee dice away as I can, if all it takes is a wash.

In the early days, I confess, I was wary of masking. And, for the same reasons, I still think there should be a caveat, with that and with washing. Just sticking your hands under a tap (faucet) and rubbing them together with a bit of soap would not be acceptable for a surgeon, nor should it be for us. Similarly, putting a mask over nose and mouth, only to fiddle with it incessantly, causing the possibly virus-laden fingers to come into even more contact with eyes, mouth and nose than usual, could cause more harm than good (to that extent at least, Trump is not totally wrong). So if we really want to reduce the odds, to beat Grim Reaper Bookmakers Inc, rather than playing into their hands by giving ourselves a false feeling of security (like my Dad’s old ‘law of averages’), we gotta do the thorough wash, fingernails and all, and learn to be mindful of not touching faces and how we wear and handle them there masks.

But we don’t need to get paranoid or neurotic about it. People in the media pointing out the simple fact that we have a highly virulent and potentially deadly thing going round aren’t scare-mongering, any more than road safety people are when they point out that being hit by a speeding vehicle can be very unpleasant. I’m not terrified into being careful about how I cross the street, I just like to keep those odds low by looking and all that shit.

[Incidentally it bugs me when people say you’re more likely to be killed crossing the street than … The statistics for folks being run over, include all the drunks, the nutters, the runners-for-buses and so on; the actual odds of a careful pedestrian being knocked down, much less killed, are far lower — not zero, I grant you, but not all that high. OK, moan over]

Another idea, no doubt put out there by the forces of nastiness, is folks saying, If masks stop it, why the washing thing? And if washing stops it, why do we need masks? Well, the gambler’s approach answers that, for those who might just be taken in by it. And some do seem to be, even letting it be used as an argument to ‘prove’ that the whole thing is a hoax; well, I think Ralph and David will be glad to hear that they aren’t actually dead, and maybe all the millions of people, like my paramedic and doctor friends, who have been keeping up the pretence, would be relieved to stand down. But if you think of masks, washing, distancing and all the rest as simply ways to keep the odds down to whatever level is comfortable for you, it makes sense that all measures have a contribution to make. I mean, why do we need brakes, seat belts and airbags, if each of them prevents traffic injury? Proves that nobody really gets killed on the road. Which is nice to know.

Now, I am aware that I am in a privileged position, albeit in a higher risk age-group. I have few friends, no partner, no offspring and what there is of my family live quite a way off, South of the Border, down Nottingham way. More importantly, I am not just a miserable old git, but a retired miserable old git; no job to worry about, a just-about-managing state pension and rent relief; so all this means none of the stresses of furlough, job loss or going to an office full of coughing party animals on crowded public transport (normally I actually miss travelling on the London Underground — less so these days). I do sympathise with more ‘normal’ folk, very much, but to me, that just makes it even more important to keep those dice down.

A final comment about odds. The whole thing can be kinda paradoxical. Until recently at least, here in Scotland and in other currently less blighted countries, the odds that anyone I pass in the street or in the supermarket actually has the virus secreted about their person is extremely low. And if we go about our lives assuming this to be the case, not bothering or being assiduous with distancing, masking and washing etc, it could quite rapidly (see earlier blogs and any number of antisocial media posts on exponential maths) escalate until everybody has it. But if we assume that everybody has it, it will continue to be the case that hardly anybody does.  Maybe it’s grasping that simple but contradictory fact that most people have trouble with. And that could be chucking dice at us, hand over feckin’ fist.

Stay healthy, people — if ye can.

 

 

What are the odds? [III]

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On a number of occasions throughout my life, the world of sport has been troubled by match-fixing scandals. I remember when the Liverpool goalkeeper, Bruce Grobbelaar was accused of taking part in such activities for a betting syndicate. He was later cleared, but so many people seemed baffled. How can the goalie guarantee to change the result of a game (without making his cheating utterly obvious)? Even if he doesn’t quite reach a ball that he could have stopped, there are 21 other guys out there doing their stuff and ten of them might be pumping balls into the net at the other end, thwarting any desire to throw the game.

The point is that one man’s activities can’t guarantee any given result but they will change the odds. The change may only be slight, but consider this: when the bookies are offering ten to one on a certain outcome, it means they estimate the odds to be somewhat shorter than that, and set their price based on that calculation. the idea is to make themselves a profit but keep the bet tempting. Fine calculations made by highly experienced people allow them to avoid the poverty that my Grandfather would have taken as his cue to ‘take up gambling’. The professional gambler is always looking for the times when those calculations may be slightly out; and the crooked syndicate is always looking for ways to create that discrepancy. And over a period of time, a number of matches, that one man, allowing maybe one goal in every few games, can tweak those odds, so that unscrupulous people, betting, remember, thousands of pounds on each game, will come up with a sizeable — and illegal — profit.

OK, you’ve got the message now that your geeky blogger is fascinated by chance and probability and chaos and all that shit, so how does that apply to life, particularly in the area of health?

The first or the most prominent idea that has bounced around in the cavernous void I call a brain, is an analogy for that much-feared family of diseases known as cancers. We know that all occur when a cell of some type ‘goes wrong’ and becomes an immortal rogue, making multiple copies but refusing to die off. We know that certain lifestyle choices can make this more or less likely to happen. We most of us understand that other things like simply getting older can increase the chances too. The apparent increase in cancers is, at least in part, accounted for by the fact that more of us live long enough to have a go at it.

On the other hand, we are prone to letting anecdotal evidence bias us against understanding the real risk. We’ve probably all met someone who told us their grandfather smoked two million cigarettes a day, drank beer like a very thirsty and alcoholic fish, and ate ‘four fish suppers’ every evening (that’s ‘four bloody large portions of fish and chips’, for readers outside Scotland), and lived to be a very lively hundred and thirty-seven.

That’s because, as has been said in previous posts, we do not have an intuitive understanding of how probabilities work. Far more heavy smokers will, like my grandfather, have been carried off by lung cancer, despite having given up in his fifties, and even the fit granddad of legend will probably have started many a day coughing his lungs up too.

I can’t recall how or when the dice metaphor came to me, but basically it is as follows:

On the day of your birth, you are given a large(ish) quantity of dice. The bog-standard, six-sided chaps. Every day, you throw all these dice; if they all come up six, you have got cancer.

For the sake of the general metaphor, we can ignore things like the difference between developing one or just a few cancer cells (which we probably do often, only to have our immune system kick them out), and a cancer actually taking hold and getting on with the business of growing. And the exact number of dice would have to be worked out by medical statisticians. Just to put the idea across, let’s call it fifty dice, all of which need to be sixes for you to have a diagnosable cancer, that needs but may not be fully cured by treatment.

Now it’s obvious that the chances of throwing fifty sixes on fifty dice are pretty remote (roughly one in 800,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, if you care), so it won’t be something that needs to worry the new-born you. Needing a go at the milk bar or a change of clothing in the nether regions will probably take up most of your worrying time, and so it should. There’s plenty of time to develop more complex neuroses later.

The thing is though, that as life goes on, you keep being handed more dice. Simply getting older (especially in later life) is enough to give you a few more each year, but certain habits and occasions, like, indeed, smoking, or simply living in certain environments, with pollution, background radiation, and so on and so forth, will cause you to get more dice on your birthdays than folks with other habits or in other settings. Every few cigarettes or slices of smoked meat, there’s another of those damned cubes. Ingesting polonium particles due to having annoyed some politician somewhere, comes with a dumper truck full of the things, but most events and activities will add but a few. Yet they still mount up.

So each year, the number of dice you have to throw will get bigger, but here’s the thing — you still only have to throw fifty sixes to be stricken. Now I cannot be arsed to calculate any sort of tables or graphs to tell you what the actual chances are of throwing fifty (or more) sixes on x dice, and I’m sure you can’t either, but you’ll get the picture, I’m sure. Once you’re lugging around three hundred or more dice, the possibility of getting that tragic number could be a real cause for alarm. Of course, any gambler knows that the odds can be beaten and old Ned can indeed keep chucking six hundred smoking-related cubes onto the green baize table without ever quite clocking up the fateful minimum, but many others will be cashing in their chips at St Peter’s window while he does so.

But there is good news yet to hear, though the decent inn of death waits to welcome us, one and all — you can give some of those dice back. Just by quitting the coffin nails, my Grandpapa was reducing his stock little by little for a decade or two. By healthy eating and exercise, you can reduce the number that get added and even undo some earlier damage.

And there’s an important rub. Do you want to, and if so how badly? As one who is allergic to exercise and indeed most physical effort, I know I’m getting a few extra dice, but then I also know I don’t get the bonus set that ever having smoked would have won me. Among other mitigating circumstances, your honour, I do prepare a reasonably healthy diet from fresh ingredients most days. It’s all about balance. I can make an informed decision, however much I might regret it when that fatal fifty finally comes up and I feel its physical effects. But that decision seems so much simpler when we are young and throwing so few bones each year, the analogy’s equivalent of the perceived immortality of the young.

Like all analogies, I know this one isn’t a tight fit. But as a vague idea, giving me a picture to play with, the chance to think, ooh, that’s tempting but is it worth a handful of extra dice?, it has coloured (though maybe not had any beneficial influence on) my lifestyle decisions. As a miserable bastard, I have no real desire to prolong my life, I can’t deny that, but there are nicer ways of departing than those that a set of sixes can lead to, and that is also a factor for consideration.

 

So what of the current pandemic?

Next week, compadres.