Newfoundlands on Fairlop Waters

About 15 Newfoundlands and one other big dog, whose face looked as if it was slipping off its skull and who had a leaf suspended from two thick strings of viscous drool which had joined together 6 inches under its chin, were training to rescue drowning people in Fairlop Waters this afternoon. You could hear the barking from miles away, and smell them at 40 paces. And they were beautiful, black ones and chocolate ones, big ones and enormous ones, watching events from their thick rope pickets with their fuzzy kinky fur drying in the extraordinarily warm late October sun.

How to and how not to ask people to turn their music down

Three times in the past week I’ve asked people to keep their music down. Before that was a debacle one too-early Sunday morning where I nearly spontaneously combusted with rage. Walked onto a Central Line carriage with Matt which was empty apart from one man with his phone on. I heard it as soon as I got on and I know he saw me looking pissed off – why not? I didn’t bother sitting down, I walked up to him and asked him if he had headphones, to which he replied that he didn’t, to which I replied could he please turn it off. He made a lot of flimsy arguments why he shouldn’t which I was able to respond to fairly calmly until this: “You didn’t even sit down and get comfortable, you walked up to me because you were looking for a fight”. For several moments after that I was screaming like a banshee. I make a polite and reasonable request, he says no, I persist and suddenly I’m looking for a fight? I think he was taken aback by how violently I was spitting feathers, and although he did start to sound quite hurt there was no way he was going to back down. Matt told him to shut up and leave it, and told me we had to change carriages.

On the way back from Birmingham I stuck my fingers in my ears to avoid getting upset about two twittering teenagers in the seats behind me. It was the quiet carriage of a Virgin Pendolino but they were giggling together and I didn’t have the heart (after all, I do have a heart). But when the student next to me put on his ipod loud enough for me to hear the words I plastered on a smile, gestured to the Quiet Carriage window sticker with my pencil (for helping me interact with One Dimensional Man) and asked if he could turn it down, which he did without complaint.

The next time I did it was last Friday coming home early for my D&A appointment (another debacle). Two rather imposing men got onto my carriage where I was trying to read and understand One Dimensional Man, and their phone was on. They sat down opposite me and I asked them nicely. The one holding the phone was poised between doing it and not, so I said (always works for me), “This is a respectful request”, and he turned it off. His friend who was older was very pissed off with me. They were both black, English and bedreaded and the debate we had turned a bit political and I was accused of being somebody who wanted to control them. Stupid fuck made all kinds of irrelevant points like how I could put up with the sound of the train (it rattles like shit) but not the less-loud sound of his music. And he asked me why I was reading on the train – I actually had to spell it out that some people spend a large part of their life unavoidably riding tube trains and that they should be able to do so as peacefully as possible. I tried to explain that it was a matter of what noise needs to happen on tubes – like the noise of the train, or people having a conversation (which may or may not annoy me but which I would always stand up for their right to do) – and the noise that doesn’t – like people imposing their music on other people (or praying to themselves, or drumming and tapping, but I didn’t mention those because I know I’m a bit hypersensitive). The other one was smiling the whole while very amused and indulgent. Until he found out I wasn’t a student at which point all my arguments he’d accepted before went out of the window. They got off at Redbridge – his parting shot was “You’re reading for personal gain. I’m playing my stereo for personal gain”. Idiot. Incomparable.

The third time was last night on our way to see Township Stories. Same scenario as the first time. My speech was:

Me: “I don’t want to listen to your music – do you have any headphones you could use?”

Him: Blank stare down the carriage

Me: The carriage was empty before but now you’re sharing it. I don’t want to listen to your music. Would you mind either using your headphones or turning it off?

Him: I don’t have any headphones.

Me: Well then could you turn it off?

Him: No, I can turn it down.

Me: Look, I don’t want to hear it and I don’t think I should have to hear it. I can’t make you turn it off, but I’m asking you as nicely as I know how to turn it off. Up to you.

And I went back to my book and he turned it down so low I couldn’t hear it any more. I looked in his direction about a stop later and he had it pressed up to his ear and was looking at me. I mouthed “Thank you” and hope he saw it.

I don’t know why some people think it’s OK to pollute the environment other people are forced to share with them – whether that be with their food wrappers, their nailclippings and nosepickings, or their noise. I wish I could let it wash over me but instead I get waves of upset and indignation which can only be alleviated by confronting them.

Update May 2013: these days the main problem is leaky earphones, in which case I tap people on the arm and say, ‘That’s too loud for me’, and 4 our of 5 times they turn it down. I also ask people to turn off their system sounds if they have them on – many tend to be cowed by the technical term ‘system sounds’. I think it should be unacceptable to have your ringer or alerts on in public places, let alone your keystrokes. A more recent phenomenon is parents giving their children their phone to play with an app with the sound on, which is completely out of order. It’s just a matter of time before I stop putting up with this aggravation. I want Transport for London to take this whole issue of avoidable noise pollution forward.

Update August 2019: this basically is not a problem any more. Today hyper-sensitivity is recognised and better accommodated. Headphones are designed not to leak, and most people turn their system sounds off. Because it seems almost everyone finds this stuff to some extent annoying. There’s also some evidence that the degree of annoyance is age-related, with older people more affected. Current problem is far, far worse though. . I give it another year before knuckle cracking rightly becomes viewed as a horrible thing to inflict on the vicinity.

JISC Capital and Learner Experience Calls

Misery. I went to the Town Meeting to be briefed about how to bid for the current funding. I was supposed to go to sessions on Virtual Research Environments and on E-Learning. I spent the day before the Town Meeting at the e-Framework workshop where I briefed myself on JISC’s domain mapping efforts. Am I being too prejudiced when I think that this is anathema to most of the academics where I work? Even if they make time to have it explained to them, they won’t have the time to map what they are doing onto the framework. Will they? We’ll see.

Well, when I say “We’ll see”, I don’t mean me. Because I had a subsequent meeting with the Pro Warden Learning, the Head of IT and my immediate boss where they snookered all my ideas and talk themselves out of any they might have hatched. Which made the three other meetings I’d arranged and convened a waste of time. No not true actually. I met 2 blokes from a centre at the interface of psychology and computing. One of them already has a 50% share in a £2.2m grant from the EPSRC to work on a multi-site project to come up with new ways of searching media (e.g. not just artist / title but also e.g. waltz, oboe, mood, season, &tc) and to achieve this he’s setting up a Virtual Research Environment. And studing it, to which end he’s going to be bidding for a bit of the capital himself. Good. The other bloke I’m going to meet is the 2nd in command of Sociology, whose brains I hope to pick about methodology. So all in all this has galvanised me into coming out of my hole where I have self-consciously hidden for some time now waiting to be asked for assistance …
In that spirit, I’ll be meeting a bloke from Design who’ll show me round there. There are people in Design who have funding to create software with no purpose in mind. Pure speculative research and development. Should be interesting.

I also went to the ePed Experts group meeting which was friendly and interesting as always. I might bid for some of the Learner Experience money instead. Maybe to do with new inequalities.

Anonymous gift

About 2 months ago, a package containing Rodinsky’s Room by Rachel Lichtenstein and Iain Sinclair was delivered to me at my office, in an old envelope whose last addressee was somebody in the Library.

I have this book already. And I was so fascinated by the story of David Rodinsky, whose abandoned bedsit existed untouched for years above the Princelet Street synagogue, that went to hear Rachel Lichtenstein at Stamford Hill library back in 2000 or 2001. So it’s a well-chosen gift – but from whom?

It’s exhilarating to receive a well-chosen book for a gift.

Did I already post this one?

Prayer Before Birth, Louis MacNeice

I am not yet born; O hear me.
Let not the bloodsucking bat or the rat or the stoat or the
club-footed ghoul come near me.

I am not yet born, console me.
I fear that the human race may with tall walls wall me,
with strong drugs dope me, with wise lies lure me,
on black racks rack me, in blood-baths roll me.

I am not yet born; provide me
With water to dandle me, grass to grow for me, trees to talk
to me, sky to sing to me, birds and a white light
in the back of my mind to guide me.

I am not yet born; forgive me
For the sins that in me the world shall commit, my words
when they speak me, my thoughts when they think me,
my treason engendered by traitors beyond me,
my life when they murder by means of my
hands, my death when they live me.

I am not yet born; rehearse me
In the parts I must play and the cues I must take when
old men lecture me, bureaucrats hector me, mountains
frown at me, lovers laugh at me, the white
waves call me to folly and the desert calls
me to doom and the beggar refuses
my gift and my children curse me.

I am not yet born; O hear me,
Let not the man who is beast or who thinks he is God
come near me.

I am not yet born; O fill me
With strength against those who would freeze my
humanity, would dragoon me into a lethal automaton,
would make me a cog in a machine, a thing with
one face, a thing, and against all those
who would dissipate my entirety, would
blow me like thistledown hither and
thither or hither and thither
like water held in the
hands would spill me.

Let them not make me a stone and let them not spill me.
Otherwise kill me.

Spoke too soon

How peculiar. At my local branch meeting, the vote went against a proposal not to boycott Israeli academics. And against sending our articulate, open, hard-working, transparent anti-boycott campaigner to Congress. What the fuck? And why did people vote that way, when the contra-boycott arguments are the better ones – as shown in last week’s debate which leaned away from a boycott.
Maybe because the delegates who got convincingly elected – call them Daisy and Jim – are existing exec members and ‘deserve’ to go. Maybe because we come across as agenda hijackers, who throw around words like ‘mandate’, have a covert mission to stifle debate and need to be put in their place. Or because members feel mutinous about the boycott-as-antisemitism argument, or irritated by the volume of fuss about an innocent little boycott. Or (hopefully) because the would-be boycotters had recruited people to vote in allegiance. We’d better hope that this is the result of better organisation. Or because we look as if we’re opposed to the exec. Or because everybody can see how everyone else is voting. Or because Jim – who spoke against the motion – came across as a plucky underdog staunchly defending another underdog. Or maybe because members have short memories and have forgotten what happened last year when this had to go an extraordinary meeting before it was overturned. Or because they have a distaste for what they perceive to be a storm in a teacup. Or maybe because they will take any opportunity to punish Israel for Lebanon and the separation fence. Or maybe because there’s a good climate for antisemitism. Maybe because they want to silence David personally. Maybe because they agreed with Jim’s point that debate should remain open. Maybe I wasn’t chatty or detailed enough in proposing Dave (which was on the fucking hop for God’s sake). Maybe Daisy and Jim are better known for their good union work.

Only two of those reasons are directly antisemitic – i.e. in favour of a boycott. The rest are to do with voting against things or in denial of things. Don’t know where that leaves us – I’d be inclined to propose a motion again when we see the whites of the new boycott’s eyes. But maybe there are other ways using our special powers. Joke 😦