The dilemma of “knowing”

We went out today.

My in-laws came over, and we went out for a walk. We had planned to wander around a country estate together, but ended up wandering around a big old house for a couple of hours then wandered home again.

Not just any big old house. The big old house where a British prime minister once lived – Benjamin Disraeli. We have visited the grounds in the past – and wandered for miles through the fields, hedgerows, and footpaths that weave around the estate. I had never been in the house though – not until today.

One half of the house was to be expected – filled with portraits of statesmen, politicians, and royalty. The other half of the house was far more interesting.

It turns out the manor house had been requisitioned in the war by the Royal Air Force, and all manner of secret goings-on went on within its walls. This was of course neatly erased from history at the end of the war – locked away, tidied up, and intentionally forgotten about.

In the UK we have a thing called the “Official Secrets Act” – kind of a “go straight to jail, do not pass go” set of rules.

The current owners of the house – and all modern historians – had no clue about the house’s true function during the war until 60 YEARS later, when an elderly man was wandering around with his grandchildren, and a guide overheard him telling them about his working there during the war.

A conversation was had – which led to further conversations – and further appeals for information from the public – and then the government. After much wrangling, provisions were made to release those involved from their obligations to the official secrets act, and the story was finally told.

During the war, the house had been filled with intelligence staff and artists. They had designed and hand-painted the maps used by bomber crews throughout the war to hit enemy targets – using special inks to be seen under red lights during night raids. The maps were sent to bomber command, and then shared with bomber crews up and down the country in utmost secrecy.

The thing I can’t get over? Nobody involved broke the secret for over 60 years. Not one leak (aside from the grandparent telling his grandchildren).

It reminds me of Bletchley Park – where a huge team worked on “Victory”, “Colossus”, and various other machines that came to be known as “computers”. Their inventors, designers, and manufacturers were kept secret for decades. Most of them had died by the time their contribution not only to the war, but to the rest of history was known. Without them the “computer” as we know it might have taken a lot longer to come into existence.

Modern retellings in Wikipedia, or hopeless movies such as “The Imitation Game” credit Alan Turing with rather a lot in terms of the breaking of Enigma, the creation of the machines, or the development of early computers. This was of course by design. Focus everybody on one person, so nobody even thinks to consider the rest of the huge team that he was a small part of.

It’s funny really. There’s an old saying that history is recorded by the victors. It’s only a version of history though – and while most people think it might be filled with propaganda, it may also hide all manner of knowledge from the general populace. We can only guess the reasons.

In modern history the easiest example might be the discovery of “little grey men”. Given the arguments that break out around the world every day about religion, belief, or whatever else – imagine what the reaction might be to learning either that we’re not alone, or that our various accepted beliefs, history, and understanding of pretty much everything might be wrong.

Perhaps it’s not always best to know everything.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I better go buy some tin-foil to fashion a new hat.


Tuning Out

I opened the word processor at 8:35 this morning, with every intention of writing a blog post before work started. One thing after another cropped up throughout the day to make sure no writing of any sort happened. Before I knew it, I was up to my ears in source code, meetings, and an endless stream of email.

I really need to take a step back. To slow down.

A good friend messaged me yesterday – that had not heard anything from me for some months – asking if we were still good – if they had done something wrong. I felt awful. While I’m busy tinkering with this and that, I often become consumed with whatever I’m doing, and submerge myself into it – often at the exclusion of anything and everything else. You must have noticed the blog posts becoming less frequent, right? Same reason.

Like I said – I need to take a step back. I need to reach out to those I know, and those I care about – and reassure them that they’re not forgotten – that we’re good – that I just got… distracted. For months.

An old work colleague emailed me yesterday, and sent some scanned photos of a party that happened many years ago – of myself and the girl I used to share an office with. I had forgotten how striking she was. It’s funny – when you know somebody well, you stop seeing them as others do – you see straight past how pretty they might be, and see the person that makes you smile – the person that’s shared worries with you – that you’ve partnered with on so many escapades.

There is a point to this interlude, honest.

The girl in the photos used to roll her eyes at my submergent behaviour (is that a real word?) – and often commented that I disappeared in plain sight when something interested me. I could shut off everybody in a noisy room and focus on whatever I was doing – it drove some people nuts. I always likened it to having music on in the background – when you’re concentrating you just kind of tune it out. I tune the world out.


Perhaps I need to start tuning the world back in from time to time.


Music and Memory

I think somebody broke the temperature control knob on the sun this week. We’re into day three of temperatures that I can only describe as “hotter than balls”. It’s a strange description, isn’t it – and yet one that people commonly use.

Rather than the origin of “hotter than balls” being at all sexual, I suspect it’s a corollary of “cold enough to freeze a brass monkey’s balls off” – a reference to cannons and cannon balls that dates back to the Napoleonic wars.

I’m writing this during five minutes break from work. Spotify is playing Wilson Phillips at the moment – part of some kind of happy summer playlist. I was at college when Wilson Phillips first arrived – I bought several of their albums.

I used to have quite the music collection. Somewhere around here there are some photos of my apartment, and the towering CD racks that dominated the living room. We sold all of our CDs a few years ago – the last vestige we have of “owning” music is a motley collection of vinyl albums – mostly owned by my other half before we met. At Christmas or on birthdays I buy her another album – which causes endless derision from the kids.

Christopher Cross is singing now. He reminds me of an old friend – and nights spent walking through Frankfurt after work, listening to music together across the vast reaches of the internet – sharing playlists – curating thoughts and dreams.

Isn’t it amazing how music connects with memories. I remember walking through the Christmas market in Frankfurt like it was yesterday. I wonder if I’ll ever travel with work again – I haven’t so much as got on a train let alone a plane for work since the pandemic happened. My world throughout the week is the junk room at home.


Half Past My Bedtime

When my middle daughter was about four years old, she loved talking. She still loves talking. She would often know what she wanted to say, but the exact choice of words would get away from her.

Late on an evening she would ask “is it half past my bedtime?”

It’s half past my bedtime now. The clock ticked past midnight some time ago. I’m sitting in the dark of the junk room (my office) tapping away at the keyboard for the first time in several days. I’ve thought about sitting down to write something several times, but one thing after another side-tracked me.

The term “side-tracked” must have something to do with railroads, I imagine. It’s quite a good analogy really – if you think about the universe always moving forwards, no paths ever lead back. Making good decisions would therefore seem to be that much more important – and yet I don’t tend to worry too much.

It’s that whole “putting one foot in front of the other” thing, isn’t it.

That’s not to say that I don’t wonder about paths not taken. Or paths that might still be taken. During quiet moments I sometimes wonder how the people I have come to know along the way are doing.

We all live busy lives. We lose touch with each other. Friendships that were once close become more distant. They are never forgotten though. In a strange sort of way, I suppose I am the product of everybody I have known – shaped by the crossing of our paths.


It’s getting late.

Time for bed.

It’s “half past my bedtime”, after all.



Today was the first of my “staycation”. Nine days away from work. I’m not entirely sure what I’m going to fill those days with, given that we can’t really afford to go anywhere or do anything, but I’m sure the universe will figure out something that needs doing each day, and results in returning to work without really feeling like I’ve had a break.

It’s funny how that happens.

Everything feels so detached at the moment. I find myself rarely setting foot in Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. “Social” feels like such a lie. I suppose if I’m honest, I’m really not a very “social” animal at all. I used to think I was. I would share thoughts about things as they occurred to me. Share photos. Words. These days I find myself hesitating over anything and everything.

Having an opinion has become poisonous. Any firmly held view can be demonised by a vocal minority, and suddenly you’re fire fighting perceived judgements that haven’t happened.

I can’t help feeling it’s easier to keep quiet than volunteer much of anything to anybody any more.

I sometimes wonder if I’m the only person that has realised the truth behind the various influencers and mouthpieces that dominate online discourse – that their deliberately mansplained lectures are designed more to cause reaction than to evoke empathy, or understanding.

Perhaps I should try harder to remember that the vocal self-proclaimed majority of the social internet are not only a small minority of the largely silent online whole, but an almost immeasurably small fraction of the wider world.


Midnight is my Friend

Here I am again, sitting in front of the computer in the dead of night, only too aware that I haven’t posted for several days. The world just seems to be getting away from me at the moment – I’m not sure if I’m just trying to be involved in too many things, or if I’m not pedalling fast enough.

I can’t help reminding myself of a message I’ve seen written by several friends recently – that it’s ok not to chase your own tail – that it’s ok to say no – that there is value in slowing down.

There are so many things I want to do though. I end up laughing at myself – I have always been my own worst enemy.

Last night we went out to a fund-raiser at the infant school where my other half works – propping up the “staff table”. It was supposed to be a quiz, but involved little or no knowledge. One of the rounds involved identifying the flavour of jelly beans. On the way home I opined that this is the future – whether we like it or not. Generations are coming through where the majority seem to have have no knowledge about anything much in the world. If they haven’t seen something on Facebook, Tiktok, or their friends haven’t texted them about it, they have no clue. The traditional subjects – history, geography, science, nature, art – you may as well be asking them to write out the equations of motion.

One particular table at the fund raiser stunned us by leaving a considerable amount of rubbish, empty bottles and food wrappers strewn across their table and the floor when they left. Because of course we were there to clean up after them. What is it with some people thinking the rest of the world is there to serve them? How conceited are they?

While walking home – furious with the many small slights that had mounted up throughout the night – I had to remind myself that none of it really mattered. Less than half a world away, a catastrophe is being discovered – with evidence that the retreating army of a superpower have massacred civilians en-masse.

I will admit that in recent weeks I’ve wondered what the point of it all is – this life thing – when you could be cut down tomorrow. Why do we strive, hope, dream, or even attempt to build when a hostile adversary can invade, kill, and destroy with wanton abandon? How do soldiers of any army reconcile their actions? How do they live with what they have done? Can people really be conditioned to such an extent that they become machines without conscience ? Sadly experience of conflict around the world seems to tell me they can.

Suddenly the method I use to get from one day to the next seems like a good one – putting one foot in front of the other. When the world seems a little too big, and a little too loud, concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other works well. It gets me from today to tomorrow – and tomorrow it will get me to the next day.

The real trick is finding somebody to walk alongside while finding my way from today to tomorrow. I’m lucky enough to count several such people in my sort-of-secret group of far flung friends on the internet. We might not message each other every day, but when we do, the world becomes a little bit smaller, and a little bit easier to survive.


Tilting at Windmills

I planned to write a blog post late yesterday evening, but somehow it didn’t happen. That seems to be the story of my life at the moment.

If nothing else, this week has succeeded in detaching me from the mass media. I’ve become increasingly aware that modern journalism isn’t so much about reporting a story – it’s about attracting attention to grift advertising revenue – and if that means repeating the same story everybody else is reporting in order to syphon off a few eyeballs, well so be it. Don’t even get me started with the legion of “nothing new to report” stories that regurgitate an entire story before adding one new sentence – teased in the byline – in the final paragraph.

It feels to me like “the news” has become some sort of strange placebo. I read a fascinating article on the VICE website a few days ago, that likened celebrity news to the stories of the greek gods – where we interpret their actions to make sense of our own – with everybody having a take on everything.

I guess at the heart of all of this is a dislike of being told what to think – who to believe – what to believe in, even. I have my own mind. I have eyeballs, ears, and a brain. I can watch, listen, and read. I can make my own mind up.

The thing that worries me most is that so many people seem to be so happy to be told what to think, like, do, trust, or believe. It’s not just the news – it’s everything that gets marketed at us – lifestyle, religion, culture, food, health, fitness – everybody seems to have a take on everything. Everybody has “alternative facts”.

I’ll stop ranting now.

Perhaps another coffee will distract me for long enough that I won’t write “oh, and ANOTHER thing”…


I Can’t Even

I read a newspaper headline yesterday parroting the words of a fringe “scientist” that the human race was well on it’s way towards extinction. I didn’t pay the article much attention, given that it was published in a newspaper that’s famous for it’s end-of-world bias (a few flakes of snow generally herald the arrival of the next ice age in their breathless reporting).

I’m not so sure they’re that far off the mark any more.

In the past 48 hours I’ve had to deal with somebody gaslighting a group of people, seen my words taken out of context, and then woke up this morning to Will Smith punching Chris Rock – which caused the world and it’s dog to weigh in on social media with their take on it.

All the drama has made me realise how much of a chip I now have on my shoulder about the way people present their opinions. It seems lots of active users of social platforms project from the point of view that everybody else must share their views – and if they do not, then they are wrong. This is all fine, and you can largely take no notice of their foaming invective – until you know they are wrong.

I remember an XKCD cartoon some time ago of somebody hunched over their computer in the early hours of the morning – being asked if they were coming to bed. They answer something along the lines of “I just have to respond to this person on the internet – because they are wrong”.

I haven’t just noticed this in social media – it goes on in all walks of life – politics, religion, peer groups – all sorts of things. It almost seems there is an unwritten contract that friendship or inclusion is predicated by shared views – no matter how twisted, fraudulent, or invented those views might be.


Quite enough for a Monday morning. I need to get on with some work. These thoughts have been burning a hole in my head all night though – so better to get them out. Feel free to ignore 🙂


On the Train

This journey came about a little over a week ago when my father was admitted to hospital – my brother travelled down from the north to stay with them this week – I’m taking over for the next week – doing chores, cooking meals, making cups of tea, listening to stories, and helping in any way I can.

Fingers crossed, the journey has been uneventful so far. Trains have been on time, and connections have been as predicted. The journey would have been swift if not for engineering works along the way necessitating a “replacement bus service” for an hour of the route. I still have that hurdle to come – in an hour or so.

At Reading station I found myself with half an hour between trains so sought out a quiet waiting room – partially filled with people quietly reading books or with their noses buried in phones. They were all socially distanced, and all wearing face masks. That story changed when a train full of travelling football fans arrived that had been drinking all morning (I encountered them at 9:30am). None of them had face masks, and many of them were already drunk. Several of those I encountered were carrying plastic bags full of beer bottles. It doesn’t paint a great picture of football, does it.

It’s at times like these I’m glad my daughters play rugby. That said, our youngest received tickets for Christmas to watch England Ladies play later in the year – thankfully the experience of visiting their games is nothing like watching the mens team. The stadium will be filled with families, and few if any armies of neanderthal lunatics.

I still have an hour to go on this part of the journey. I packed the Kindle, the Fire tablet, and a paper book. I will not get bored. I’ve been reading “The Circle” by Dave Eggers recently – that was made into a truly awful movie with Tom Hanks and Emma Watson a few years ago. The book is a LOT better than the movie so far. I’ve also got the follow-up book “The Every” to read. If you’ve not heard of them, go search them out – just don’t watch the movie.

If I get through both books I also have “Snowcrash” waiting in the wings. I started reading it last summer but didn’t get very far – my main recollection was that the author tried far too hard in the first few chapters, but then settled down into a readable story. I hate it when writers do that – try to appear clever, or wordy, or impenetrably “hip”. They invariably let the mask slip after a while and their true voice, or style comes through, but it’s terrible hard going until you get through their attempt to piss the highest.

Anyway. This post has gone on for far too long already. I’ll attempt to post this in a few minutes via the sporadic mobile internet connections the train is hurtling through.

Wish me luck!