More Blogs about Buildings and Food

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In which Ken and I spend a week looking at buildings and eating food. Yeah, we went into museums, but that’s really not why we came.

Ken has won at blogging this holiday, and that’s a fact. Over the week he’s blogged about our first encounter with an arancino in Oranges aren’t the only meat, about how we have fabricated an entire cultural history of Palermo based only on talking to each other in A backstory for all of Palermo and our eventual sit down encounter with cake in Winding streets and churches and finally cake. I, on the other hand have posted a couple of photos on friendface and have saved up so many photos I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHERE TO BEGIN.

These students didn’t know that I was from the home of rioting since 1982, but they did a little welcome protest for me. Bless them.

The people from the internet were very keen that we should have cake, but it took us a few days to get around to it.

Ken giving ‘our’ dog some sausage skin.

We watched this dog from our window. He seems to spend his day herding traffic. After enjoying the sausage skin and saying hello to us some guys were pushing a van to get it started and he hared off to ‘help’.

This morning’s weather.

We slept like nuns in our little skinny beds.

The room was nice. And the people looking after us were kind but not in our faces. It was an easygoing scenario.

There was some sort of cooking going on behind this scruffy exterior.

The guy saw me taking a photo and waved and got his friend/brother to get in for another shot, but this one was better, so.. sorry friend/brother, you didn’t make the cut.

These trees are not good for making tree lined avenues. Rogue trees.

I think I read about these trees in Kew magazine years ago. Some city, not Palermo, I think, since they don’t seem to go in for avenues here, decided to use these to line a street. The thing is those ropey tendrils come down from the branches and then take root and grow into trees, so the trees just colonize the space over time. Not good municipal planting.

The puppet museum had a full set of Punch and Judy puppets.

It was the least tempting museum for me, but actually I liked it the best. I don’t suppose anyone comes to Palermo to go to museums, but we felt we should.

A couple of holy fellas.

Ken’s last day we stopped in a tailor’s and had an impromptu jam.

I would have walked past here, but Ken saw the instruments and went in. They made us welcome and we had the best time. And the most interaction we’d had all week with local people. Here’s a piece of advice for you – musicians make good travelling companions. Ken brought his uke out a lot, and played to various people, but even without it, music brought us together.

The guy eating biscotti taught Ken a choon.

Simon, the guy in the red jacket, said it was a ‘magic moment’ which it was. He asked if we had an electronic address, which we did. Hopefully he emails and I can send him the link to this post.

Ken leaves in a couple of hours, then I will have 24 hours on my own before my flight home.

Violence, Sleep, and Cake

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It has been some time since my last confession, but let me tell you now, there’s no news like no news, and I’ve got no news. Not really.

I made a tumblr this morning elaine4queen.tumblr.com/day/2013/11/25 in which I, possibly rather redundantly, reblogged every post I’ve put in the End Of. tumblr so far. Weeeelll… it’s World Day Against Violence Against Women so why not?

It’s a small man…

It is the flimsiest of coincidences that I post an Italian poster here… but here’s a segue – BECAUSE IF YOU DIDN’T KNOW ALREADY IT’S THREE SLEEPS TO PALERMO! And by sheer magic, kismet, what have you, I have already put my foot in it by announcing on facebook that I am going to Italy. NO! I am going to Sicily! Quite different, apparently. Also, by sheer spooky coincidence, apparently Palermo is the city of CAKE. This is not entirely good news, but I’ll take it. And I will also take yoga pants in order to forgive what may occur to my waist.

In the meantime I have become a fan of and facebook friend of one Phil Lucas who, it turns out doesn’t just make amusing internetty things and daft fake council notifications around Brighton but does some sort of stand up/spoken word. So he is MY PEOPLE even though we have no fb friends in common and I probably came across as a crazy stalker lady when I friended him. This is modern life. Or postmodern life, if you prefer. I don’t because I think postmodernism is a massive hoax.

From the webbery of Phil Lucas

So, I’m quite the schmoozer, considering how seldom I leave the house. I’ve also friended up one Graham Duff, who I do have fb friends in common with, which makes me feel slightly less like a mad fawning fan, although, of course, I am, and that’s not how we met (we haven’t met IRL yet). He wrote Ideal, starring Johnny Vegas, about a small time drug dealer in Salford. Forget Breaking Bad, this is the real deal.

And how I ended up facebook friending the writer of this is that I met the person Tanya is based on! She IS called Tanya, but she stresses she DOES NOT do shoplifting. Even more amazing is that we met at all, since she is possibly even more hermitty than I am, but that’s the UNIVERSE and it’s mysterious ways, yo!

Of Beds and Bedrooms

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Being somewhat criptastic. Or spoony. Disabled? Certainly I have the dread Invisible Illness. I have spent the past couple of months in bed. I have also spent this morning, in a short window of relative wellness writing to my MP and encouraging others to do so too, on the subject of the reviled Bedroom Tax. For those who don’t know about this it’s a measure apparently designed to help families move into under occupied public housing -which seems fair, right? The way it works is by docking Housing Benefit for low income or non working people so that they can’t afford to live in their homes. This has had two main effects that I can see – first of all, claimants who have what is designated as a ‘spare room’ are pushed to move into private rented accommodation at whatever cost and inconvenience that entails only to have to claim a much higher rent for less space. The second thing is that this affects families with disabled members disproportionately, since they often have extra room for various reasons (storing equipment, quiet area for Autistic kid, bedroom for someone who might otherwise share a bedroom but can’t because of illness) and their home is often specially adapted for disabilities (ramp, grab rails, non slip flooring). I am not personally affected by this ‘bedroom tax’ but as a disabled person of some description I have been affected by other measures this Govt has taken in it’s war against the poor and disadvantaged, and I don’t like it.

I can’t bring myself to write a straight political post, it’s not in me. And there are plenty out there who are doing so anyway (here and in more detail here. If you are in the UK and your MP voted against repealing this punitive and pointless legislation or, maybe even worse in a way, if they were Labour and they failed to bother voting then do please write to your MP here. It’s the work of moments, really easy, and if there is ever going to be any point in voting for these lazy half wits again we need to remind them who’s actually boss. WE ARE.

The bedroom tax debate full list of Labour non-voters, all 47 of them:
Diane Abbott, MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington
Debbie Abrahams, MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth
Bob Ainsworth, MP Coventry North East
Douglas Alexander, MP for Paisley & Renfrewshire South
Jonathan Ashworth, MP for Leicester South
Ed Balls, MP for Morley and Outwood Clp
Hugh Bayley, MP for York Central
David Blunkett, MP for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough
Gordon Brown, MP for Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath
Chris Bryant, MP for Rhondda
Ann Coffey, MP for Stockport
Huw Irranca Davies, MP for Ogmore
Geraint Davies, MP for Swansea West
Gloria De Piero, MP for Ashfield
Jim Dobbin, MP for Heywood and Middleton
Frank Dobson, MP for Holborn and St Pancras
Brian Donohoe, MP for Central Ayrshire
Frank Doran, MP for Aberdeen North
Clive Efford, MP for Eltham
Frank Field, MP for Birkenhead
Paul Flynn, MP for Newport West
Mike Gapes, MP for Ilford South
David Hamilton, MP for Midlothian
Margaret Hodge, MP for Barking
George Howarth, MP for Knowsley
Lindsay Hoyle, MP for Chorley
Siân James, MP for Swansea East
Alan Johnson, MP for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle
Tessa Jowell, MP for Dulwich and West Norwood
Gerald Kaufman, MP for Manchester, Gorton
David Lammy, MP for Tottenham
Ian Lucas, MP for Wrexham
Siobhain McDonagh, MP for Mitcham and Morden
Alan Meale, MP for Gateshead
Meg Munn, MP for Sheffeild, Heeley
Jim Murphy, MP for East Renfrewshire
Pamela Nash, MP for Airdrie and Shotts
Dawn Primarolo, MP for Bristol South
Joan Ruddock, MP for Lewisham, Deptoford
Anas Sarwar, MP for Glasgow Central
John Spellar, MP for Warley
Gerry Sutcliffe, MP for Bradford South
Chuka Umunna, MP for Streatham
Joan Walley, MP for Stoke-on-Trent North
Dave Watts, MP for St Helens North
Alan Whitehead, MP for Southampton, Test
Shaun Woodward, MP for Se Hellens South and Whiston

Here’s what Lib Dem MPs did on Labour’s motion to abolish the #bedroomtax

Absent

ALEXANDER, Danny, Mr
BIRTWISTLE, Gordon, Mr
BROOKE, Annette, Ms
CABLE, Vince, Mr
CLEGG, Nick
CROCKART, Mike
FEATHERSTONE, Lynne, Ms
HUPPERT, Julian, Mr
KENNEDY, Charles, Rt Hon
LAWS, David, Mr
LEECH, John, Mr
LLOYD, Stephen, Mr
MULHOLLAND, Greg, Mr
REID, Alan, Mr
SANDERS, Adrian, Mr
SWALES, Ian, Mr
TEATHER, Sarah, Ms
THORNTON, Mike, Mr
WARD, David, Mr
WILLIAMS, Mark, Mr
WILLIAMS, Roger, Mr
WRIGHT, Simon, Mr

Aye (voted with Labour)

FARRON, Tim, Mr
GEORGE, Andrew, Mr

No

BAKER, Norman, Mr
BEITH, Alan, Rt Hon
BRAKE, Tom
BROWNE, Jeremy, Mr
BRUCE, Malcolm, Rt Hon
BURSTOW, Paul, Mr
BURT, Lorely, Ms
CAMPBELL, Menzies, Rt Hon
CARMICHAEL, Alistair, Mr
DAVEY, Edward, Mr
FOSTER, Don, Mr
GILBERT, Stephen, Mr
HAMES, Duncan, Mr
HARVEY, Nick, Mr
HEATH, David, Mr
HEMMING, John, Mr
HORWOOD, Martin, Mr
HUGHES, Simon, Mr
HUNTER, Mark, Mr
LAMB, Norman, Mr
MOORE, Michael, Mr
MUNT, Tessa, Ms
PUGH, John, Mr
ROGERSON, Dan, Mr
RUSSELL, Bob, Mr
SMITH, Robert, Sir
STUNELL, Andrew, Mr
SWINSON, Jo, Ms
THURSO, John, Mr
WEBB, Steve
WILLIAMS, Stephen, Mr

Teller: Noes
Liberal Democrat WILLOTT, Jenny

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Now then. Back to the world of me and mine. What’s weird about getting a bit better is that it doesn’t necessarily make a person feel  better. When I first got ill, or should I say when I crashed so hard I could no longer ignore the multiple systems failures occurring around my body and mind, it was really very very bad. I lost all sense of who I was – I’d forged my identity through work and socializing, like many do. I wasn’t in a relationship, didn’t have my dog, was just totally incapacitated. Actually, at first I felt a bit scared, but my brain was really foggy so I didn’t really feel much at all for weeks and weeks, running into months. Also, one of my major things was some really weird stuff going on in my back which had been giving me referred pain – so, in fact, my migraines were at a peep. I was mainly a vegetable. After a few months I took a little job backstage at the Shaftesbury Theatre with the idea that if I was used to working every day over the summer I could go back to teaching that September without too much trouble. Unfortunately, because of one thing and another, a shitty doctor, a prescription med that made me go quite mental, for a start, I missed that moment, and also couldn’t continue with the theatre work either. Between inappropriate care and medication and the continuation and exacerbation of various symptoms I actually got worse. The brain fog faded somewhat, and the back pain was less incapacitating, but the migraines got worse. A lot worse. 16+ a month is the definition of chronic, and I was starting migraines during migraines, and was lucky if I got a handful of days a month not in writhing pain. This went on for several years. A few months ago I started getting Botox treatment, and it is helping a bit. What it does is make a bit of distance between trigger and pain which in turn helps the triptans to work. I am still taking as many most of the time, but I had quite decent breaks in the summer, so when the weather hit, I actually took it pretty badly. I’d got used to being able to write, and Pattern Recognition went down well at October’s Have A Word. And they asked me back for March, so I started writing a second piece. Then the pain and the brain fog and the usual crap kicked in, but I’d had this taste of being normal and I’d liked it. Some of you who know me on facebook saw that I was really beside myself on Monday, because I had a really massive unmanageable day of pain – absolutely nothing by comparison to the endless days and nights I used to get, but now I’m not used to it, and it frightens me half to death. It’s like although the medication is all about giving me a higher pain threshold I actually have a lower tolerance to it when it comes.

Nobody Died

When I first got ill I did have a friend who berated me for having time off, and who tried to persuade me that I should use this strategy or that to get back in the game, but at that time it was impossible anyway, and what I needed to do was to rest. I moved house and learned more about pain management and meditation. Eventually, having become effectively housebound I got a dog. You didn’t know I had a dog? Here’s my dog.

She likes yoghurt, and then, for desert, she likes the carton.

I also acquired a boyfriend, no mean feat when you never really leave the house, and haven’t socialized live for several years. Then I moved house again. The first move was a transfer – my HA accepted I needed to move on health grounds, and I was grateful at first, but then after 8 years I found I wanted something else, and the tech for swapping within public housing had evolved. (Years ago you could swap, but you had to go to the council offices and look at lists – no pictures, no real details, just lists of people usually desperate to get out of whatever version of hell they were living in – nobody at that time moved just because they wanted to.) Now, of course, it’s all online. You can upload pictures, you can set up some limited search parameters, and you can swap not just because you  have to for work reasons, or because you hate your neighbours, but because you want a change of scene or a different kind of home or locale. It’s quite civilized really. I wanted somewhere quieter, and I got it. But what I wasn’t expecting was to totally fall through the floor physically. I became unutterably ill after the move. Maybe this is why I am so sympathetic towards people being forced out of their homes. I elected to move, the new place was better for me, I could afford the move, I had no dependants, but even so, the upshot was that I became extra ill on top of my ‘normal’ level of illness, and I had to ask my boyfriend to look after me, look after the dog, do everything, basically. After a few months of spiralling out of control with inadequate health care – zero continuity except for my neuro, and a lot of difficulty getting any comprehension of what my problems and needs were I finally thought “fuck it” and attempted suicide.

As you might imagine, this took some getting over as well. With a massive bolster of psych drugs and a bit of  attention to the physical side of things I got a bit better. I started having the Botox treatment, and began managing a small kind of sustainability of daily routine in my life. If I didn’t have financial support from my family I wouldn’t have managed any of this – and bear in mind both my parents are elderly and pensioners, so taking £500 a quarter for Botox is something that can’t go on forever, but I’m hoping a year’s uninterrupted use will have some overall effect.

So yeah. Yesterday’s vote. Very bad news. Moving house is recognized as being up there with divorce and bereavement in terms of stress, and I only had my own illness to contend with, and I didn’t have financial issues or children to deal with and I did have support. Imagine any number of permutations where you have extra stress on you and you’re being forced to move out of accommodation that does work for you into accommodation you will never be able to afford on your own, might be less easy to get to work from, you might have to have your kids change schools, you, your partner or your kids might have sickness or disability issues that can’t hope to be addressed in private accommodation and you have a glimpse of why the Bedroom Tax has got so far under my skin.

A Woman of a Certain Rage

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So much to tell you. Not that anything has happened in ‘real life’, since now is very much the winter of my discontent, as it is every year for about 9 months. This needs to be addressed at some point, it’s just not sustainable. But it can’t happen this year, I just have to stay where I am and tough it out. Ill as I am right now, I’m not as bad as I have been, and as I am, here, in my pain and unending uselessness, it amazes me I have survived it at all, year on year on year.

Whatever has happened lately has been what’s happened online.  Over on facebook I’ve become involved in a fundraising event, and made a tumblr site End Of. There’s going to be a proper website very soon, but I got the tumblr up and running within four days of the original idea, and while it is, as Terri might say, ‘quick and dirty’ people seem to like it, and it’s somewhere to collate stuff and put info for the meantime. On the facebook page I got trolled by someone who said tumblr was the Betamax of the online world. I suddenly felt terribly protective of tumblr! Poor tumblr, what have they ever done wrong?

I made this to prompt someone else into doing a ‘proper’ design, or just inspire people to make their own and share pictures of them ‘in the wild’. Only afterwards did I realise I’d done the graphic on a ‘wife beater’.

Anyway, I had to stop engaging with the crazy because s/he was clearly only going to feed off any responses. In a discussion afterwards I was describing myself as a ‘woman of a certain age’ to someone else on the team, and NEARLY wrote RAGE instead.

While I find it fairly easy not to get involved in other people’s anger issues, I’ve got my own to deal with. Again, sort of IRL and sort of not… almost from the get-go anger has been a major topic in my therapy. I say I am irritated by someone, therapist suggests I am angry. I wonder if it can be true that I am so out of touch with my feelings I need someone else to tell me what they are?

In other news, Hyperbole and a Half has been so quiet not because she’s been in a depressive impasse but because she’s been writing & drawing a book. I stupidly got my mum an e-reader last year and I’ve cut off my nose to spite my face because books were the obvious and usual gift idea for her, easy and appreciated. Now she’s gone all virtual it’s really hard to think of what to get her, so this was great festive timing on the part of H&1/2 because it’s a book you could only enjoy on an e-reader if you had full colour. And another good thing is that since my mum is phobic about the internet it will come as an entirely new thing to her. (Though, as well as favourites from her blog, there are new stories as well, so us devotees have something to read before we pack them up as Xmas presents).

Actressy friend, Clare Cathcart is going to be in this play which is so exciting. It’s on for ages and it’s in London so I can probably go to see it, even though there aren’t matinees, so I will have to time myself well to manage it, AND it’s been directed by Kathy Burke who is a total genius. I miss her being on telly, but she says she likes directing better, which is fair enough.

Mind you, my friend Ian is having a house warming tonight, and I’m blogging right now to distract myself from quite severe pain, so even though it’s quite near and I really want to go, the chances are against it.

Again. Need to get myself out of this country for these months in the future.

MASSIVE EFFING BORKDOM.

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Quickly, before I go, here’s a tumblr collection I made the other day for you elaine4queen.tumblr.com/day/2013/10/30

Il cane innocente, Il giovane Montalbano, e mi sento male

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In ‘my life as a Hanna Barbera cartoon, the dog known as Ms Roberta “Poppet” Bobs stole my sausages the other day while I was answering the door.

piccolo cane innocente

Other dogs have a good line in looking guilty even if it’s just that they are skilled actors, but Pops just looked at the plate in my hand, hypnotised by her own pleasure, while I was telling her off, transparently thinking “Those were good, are there any more?”

She understands when it is in her interest to do so. Ten used to talk about perambulating the animal, but I think she’s sussed that one out, so it’s lucky I’ve become entrenched in The Young Montalbano so now we have a spot of Italian to spice up our linguistic feints.

I have tried watching Montalbano before, with The Snack Thief which I found slow and boring, and not about sausages at all. Whether it is the young handsome actor in the prequel or to do with the writing or the directing I don’t know, but whatever the reason or cunning combination thereof, I am really enjoying this series. I now believe I should be living in Sicily, and a quick glance at the weather forecasts tell me that I am right.

What is less appealing is that the town which plays Vigàta is apparently notorious for crimes against dogs, and for there being a lot of street dogs, for want of a pound. I saw a picture when I looked it up for daydreaming purposes which would curdle your blood. So, mixed reviews, there.

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In other not unrelated news, I have been abed for a lot of the week. Ten’s been away so I’ve had to do what I’ve had to do, but I’ve rather run aground and today he is doing everything and I am most grateful. While I am unfaithful to him with Salvo he is dealing with the piccolo cane and the shopping and so on. I am so very sluggish and have been absolutely tanking the triptans. I only hope that today’s turn of the full moon sees off this current malaise, because I’m at a terribly low ebb, unable to get on with the writing project, and generally feeling crappy. So, sorry for lack of posts, but this is the reality of life in the hermitage right now.

What is nice is that Ellis has invited me to Have A Word again in March. Lets hope that I am well enough to write something by then… There’s another thing on, in April, again in Brighton, which is probably going to be called END OF, perhaps with some other words appended. It was only cooked up a couple of nights ago by Julie Burchill, and is going to be a fund raiser for a domestic violence charity. The spots are only 3-5 minutes, and I think perhaps it’s not for me, but I am glad to be in on it, it’s a great project. However, I also intend to get up to Scotland in the in just springtime, and I dare say I will need to be realistic about the wellness to travel ratio that I can cope with outside of the high days of June – August. I really do need to work out how to get somewhere warmer for a bit.

Pattern Recognition at Have A Word (full text)

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HAVE A WORD – October 2013

Here we are at Have A Word… L to R Peter Daniels, who read an epic porny poem of yesteryear and yo ho ho and a bottle of rum, Ellis Collins, the promoter and envisioneer of HAW, Grégoire Aubert, who MEMORISED and delivered Judy Garland’s diary tapes, ME, and Alice Purnell, who had everyone in fits with her self depreciating humour – she even described the OBE medal she was wearing as a ‘badge’.
The photograph was taken by John McCullough, with Peter’s camera, as he pointed out to me, so obvs the camera gets top billing – well done camera, with your evil mechanical eye – where did I gain those ten years and mattress front? I’m much younger and skinnier in my mind’s eye.

and here is the text of my piece… (recorded version coming soon)

Pattern Recognition

Cayce Pollard is the dashing heroine of William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition. Cayce is allergic to branding. This means that she has an unpleasant physical reaction to the sight of logos. So, she has filed the branding off the button on her jeans, and unpicked the labels. The stronger the logo, the stronger her repulsion.

Cayce, I wish that my ailments, like yours, were a kind of superpower. People pay good money to go to design school to refine and learn visual skills. But you cut through all that. You are hired, for good money, because when you see a new design you know whether it’s good or not. Not because you have training or aptitude, not even because you have “good taste” or what might be described, vaguely as an ‘eye’ – but because you are allergic. Your employers simply expose you to prospective stylings and watch for a reaction.

Cayce is a “cool hunter”. This sounds old fashioned in 2003, by the time Gibson is writing and is definitely a term with a use-by date. So why use it? The book isn’t set in the future, it’s sci fi credentials are more of a ‘what if’. Science  fiction writers, have lots of rules about what ‘can’ happen in any given scenario so it’s enough to give her this ‘allergy’ and bizarre occupation and let the story roll. ‘Cool hunter’ in Gibson’s hands is a kind of linguistic branding. He’s not here to sell us cool hunting.

Like Cayce, I snip off labels, but that’s because they make me itch. Labels, washing instructions, sometimes even stitching. But it’s true, nevertheless, I don’t like to advertise a brand. And I do have a keen eye. As we all do, when we are sensitised. It can be taught, but it’s also in our genes.

It only takes a short while, for example, when picking blackberries, to not only recognize the best ones by eye, but also by touch. Those small ones may be black enough but their skin is too taut, they haven’t matured, they are going to taste bitter. They take a little more effort to pick, too, being recalcitrant to leave the vine until their incubation is complete. Very voluptuous ones come away with the softest sigh and often leak quietly onto your fingers, but although they are sweet they don’t keep at all and if you make the mistake of putting them in with the rest of that day’s pickings the whole crop becomes sticky and muddy. Best to eat them as you go along. Blackberries’ blood shows red on your fingers but wipe those fingers on your clothes at your own risk – the brackish black will stain forever, marking the tale of your feverish wipings between pickings and gobblings.

In my sick bed I listen to Pattern Recognition, the BBC’s adaptation of the novel, being read by Lorelei King. Fiction is the simplest iteration of gender reassignment – Gibson writes from a female protagonist’s POV, King reads it out – as a woman. The naturalness, to the ear is seamless, a sleight of hand. The spoken word is only one iteration from the page and it fires your aptitude for pattern recognition just as well, and the ability for you to visualise – here I am a woman, here I am a man, here I am a well person… here I am an action hero.

Karl Marx says “Every schoolboy knows” that any culture contains within itself the information for reproduction. As in the petri dish so in society. We recognize a pattern, we reproduce a pattern, we are the pattern. Spatially or over time, From ‘how to get up in the morning’ to ‘how to run a society’ from how to conform to a subculture to how to scramble eggs. From bacteria to computer programming. We recognize, we reproduce. All intelligence involves pattern recognition – from monkeys to machines.

I reproduce the conditions of being myself as I am now. What is stopping me from stepping out of this body and having another life entirely. Nothing indeed, if I step into fiction.

Early September the last gasp of blackberries struggled to the fore between their picked or rotted siblings. Only a couple of miles away, further out of London, the season was just beginning, the berries still green. The second week in September I was in Brighton, and though there were some manky berries on the vine, there were plenty of ripe ones, and some still red raw unripe. The end of the season looms, and much like the Marks and Spencers sale – a lot of dingey items you’re sure were never in the shop before hanging sadly, rail after rail, frumpy and saggy, unappealing to touch or eye.

Attuning to choosing something ‘just right’ is something even a very small child or an amateur can do very quickly, like learning to cook pasta ‘al dente’ though this is to the eye and the finger rather than to the tooth. Our bodies reproduce one skill another way – I learned to touch type – my fingers spider across the keyboard as if each one of them had an eye. I move quickly between the bushes, not like the weekend pickers, out to amass enough to bake with or freeze or share with a large family, I only want a handful a day for my porridge. I’m looking for that perfect ripeness. All the while learning to avoid the thorns and their bullying friends the nettles. But thorn and sting avoidance has less to do with pattern recognition than the picking itself does; that is to say, choosing berries. Recognizing patterns. This discernment allows us to prefer one brand over another because we are, and have been for generations, well adapted to refinement in and of itself.

Technically, pattern recognition is about any manifestation of phenomena – both in nature and in culture. Pattern recognition refers to something called ‘machine learning’ which is why it’s no leap to having your own robot secretary deciding which emails are really for you and which are spam, and which can inform your provider with tailored ads or your government about any nefarious plans you may have to take a set of tweezers onto an aeroplane. I find the Wikipedia entry on pattern recognition almost entirely unintelligible. It’s nice when a novel gives you the sensation you understand something important about a subject, I think. It feels effortless, like all good design.

Artificial Intelligence is based on pattern and recognition of pattern. Like the loom, there is only one story underneath, the one of zeros and ones.. and ALL. THIS. STUFF. comes out of it! In living colour! Incredible! Even ‘Nothing’ can’t reproduce itself without completion and with that completion comes the notion of ‘one’ and therefore ‘other’. Straight away there are two units and the basis for a pattern. As every knitter knows.

I can’t live with patterned wallpaper any more than I can bear textiles with writing on them. Even in a foreign or imaginary language, my eyes scroll over and over trying to make sense. I’m the same with repeated patterns. There’s something about the sense of demand that bothers me – less a ‘leading’ of the eye and more of an insistent repetitive tug. My brother visited China and tells me westerners often suffer headaches from their stymied search for meaning in the signage around them. Welcome to my world, you travellers – at least you’ve got a ticket home to the safety of non headache world.

My car broke down and I abandoned it. I got ill. I stopped working. I got a dog. Clothes had to change their function. No longer did I have a giant motorized handbag come winter coat which I could slip out of in heels and office clothes. Now I had three or more outings a day with dog. I got her on Christmas Eve 2009. Happily, I had already acquired a repulsive but warm ski jacket from TK MAXX. It was cheap, it was super warm. I don’t ski, but guess what? Those hyper mobile arms for the skiing are also good for throwing a ball. WIN. However, when the zip finally properly broke I was relieved to get rid of the offending garment, printed in purple and gold onto taupe, with it’s indelible mud stain from pocketing grubby balls, and went considerably upmarket with a Helly Hensen parka. It’s a nice coat, and I don’t pocket balls any more, so it’s stayed nice. What I did discover though, was that because of the initials, HH, Helly Hensen clothing is worn by neo Nazis in Germany. This worried me, because what if I visited Germany in the winter, in my coat,  who’s to say I wouldn’t be read as a neo Nazi? Apart from probably having no corroborating visual clues – but what do I know, as a foreigner?

Although the point was probably irrelevant it still bothered me, and a friend suggested getting rid of the logo – which was when I realized how VERY branded this coat was. I don’t wear clothes which have their branding writ large, but this thing has it’s branding writ many. Every. Button. Counting… 1,2, only three different bits of branding on the inside of the coat, and my hands and eyes surmise 8 on the outside. 11. On. one. coat. ELEVEN. Quite subtly done, but still, I am a walking billboard for a fashion item while suffering what is known in the medical trade as an ‘invisible illness’. The juxtaposition between what is apparent and what is not is enmiserating. I wish. I had. stigmata.

On the last day of September I took the dog round the Paddock. The blackberries were almost entirely gone. There was the odd jewel high up away from the main bush, where the beads of dead fruit were desiccated, tiny and dulled. Their neighbours, the mounts from which glistening fatted fruit had been successfully plucked were similarly shriveled. Indeed, entire branches were dying back, brown leaved and frail, the sap having entirely retreated, while the non fruit-bearing branches were still vivid and green.

Having not lost the weight I’d intended to, I’d grudgingly bought a new pair of larger than I’d like trousers, the makers of which saw fit to add a small stitched label to the waistband declaring, in white embroidered letters on black “A true feeling of Authenticity”. I find myself a black felt pen and scribble the lettering out, feeling a little.. queasy.

It really happened