The Final Mow

The old man next door has passed away (cancer). Apparently, for the last few days he was sleeping most of the time while holding his late wife’s photo in his hand. That’s that then. They were nice neighbours. We used to have nice conversations over the fence (me with him, not her). I remember him saying a few months ago that he was taking anti-depression tablets because of the loneliness. I can imagine the desolation of bereavement in old age. After the very last conversation I had with him, he said 'see you later', or something to that effect as per usual and raised his hand. As he moved from the bins toward the archway into the back garden—planning to mow the grass—I wondered about the wave of the hand. I started wondering if it was meant as a farewell. Did he think he might not speak to me again. Perhaps I was reading something into it that wasn’t there. He didn’t seem like he was three months from meeting his maker but I knew the cancer was advanced. Would that be the last time I ever spoke to him? I’ve been lucky in that I haven’t had that experience of wondering if I’m seeing someone for the last time before. It's an odd feeling, like an uncertain, questioning premonition. I briefly spied him three times after that. The last one was as he went from car to house on two crutches. No more talking though.

Password Manager or more correctly Life Manager

I keep having debates with myself about password managers. I've always had a mental block about 'single point of failure' even though the benefits are obviously massive. Yesterday I'd more or less talked myself into using one but then I read about their history of security breaches and flaws. Now I'm having some doubts. I suppose every piece of software ever made will have some issues. Nothing can ever be perfect. I'm more concerned with blatantly stupid security policies—Last Pass used to have the master password hard coded in the app and 1Password used to downgrade https to http by default in its internal browser—than with inadvertent bugs. So I'm wondering which one is the most sound. If it was more friendly, Keepass would probably be right for me (due to it keeping things local). I'm probably too much of a muggle for that system though. BitWarden seems promising but perhaps a bit clunky compared with the famous ones. I like that it has extensions for outlier web browsers (Brave, Vivaldi and Tor).

I wonder if there is anything that you can do to mitigate the 'single point of failure'. I always see two factor authentication as a liability because you're combining something you can forget with something you can lose. So it's single point of failure times two. I had a cunning idea: use several password managers and portion passwords out to them so if there's a catastrophe with one it only affects a portion of the things you log into. I like that idea in theory, but I suppose you'd have to be able to instantly remember which password manager to invoke for every log in. Tricky…and maybe the extensions would clash. You could use a different browser for each password manager…but it's getting complex now. Do I sound neurotic with all this? I don't think anxiety about putting your whole life in one basket is neurotic, but I need to work something out and get on with my digital life. I wonder if you can have duplicate second factors (2FA). If you can, then that would mean the single point of failure is mitigated and the loss—or breaking—of the second factor is probably alleviated. So if I was using my phone as a second factor and dropped it down a well…but had a Yubi Key with the same authentication on it…no worries, eh? Can you do that?

Warning: don’t listen to it

I was doing some food shopping for my mum and dad today because I’m now an unpaid fetcher. While I was driving, they played 'Mother of Mine' on the radio. I almost lost it. I had to pull over. I used willpower to force myself to not lose my composure fully because you can’t go into a shop with red eyes can you? So then I drove off again. There may have been a little rheum and a slight reddening but I’d not be at the shop for ten minutes so I’d look perfectly normal by then wouldn’t I? Mind you, I was still fighting the urge a little while the song continued. When it finished, the D.J. said 'we’re all a bit emotional in the studio here'. I defy anyone who has or has had a more or less kind and generous mother to not be moved by that song.

I used to hear the song from time to time when I was young and while I thought it was somewhat nice I don’t remember it moving me especially. I'm not sure what caused my reaction today because my mother and I were never that close and we’re not very similar either to be honest. As I listened to it I found myself thinking about how my mum had done so much for me for so so long. Mostly little things that are easy to take for granted probably, but it all adds up. So I think that was it. Perhaps also a recognition of her age and the beginnings of some fragility. If you’re young and your mother has many decades ahead of her, you probably have no reason to feel this kind of pathos, but eventually, some day, you might. Maybe there just comes a point in time when our mothers reach a certain age when something switches over inside of us and we start seeing them differently.

Whenever I come across something moving like the above song, I ask myself 'is it just sentimentality, or is there something truly meaningful in it?' For many many years I misunderstood the definition of the word sentimental. I’d never looked it up. I thought I knew what it meant. I thought it just applied to the stirring of certain emotions. I think it was about a dozen years ago when something someone said about sentimentality prompted me to look it up. In the dictionary I used I was surprised to see that the main definition said that the emotions in question were being aroused in an exaggerated or self-indulgent way. I used to sometimes say that I had a fairly high tolerance for sentimentality, but now I was seeing the word in a more negative light. Some dictionaries don’t use the negative sense as the main definition so take it as you wish. Was Neil Reid just being mawkish? Did he sit down and try to manipulate people's emotions so they'd rush to buy a record? The track was after all released at perhaps the tail end of the sentimental period of popular music. In the forties, fifties, sixties and seventies, maudlin songs were very common. There were songs about dead dogs: Old Shep and Old Tige. There were songs about orphans left out in the cold. Songs about men riddled with remorse because they’d killed someone while drink driving. Songs about widows called Honey and their trees. False sentiments are heard sometimes. But I can’t second guess Neil Reid. He may have written his song in a fit of genuine tenderness. It’s lyrics are ordinary; they don’t suggest anything remarkable. But 'Mother of Mine' may be one of those gestalt creations where the product is greater than the sum of its individually analysed parts. You certainly get atmosphere. The fellow's tender voice alone is primed to stir us up. Atmosphere has an intelligence and a depth all of its own. It’s not to be sniffed at. Except when it makes you cry of course.

I think the selfless, motherly giving of lots of kindness and aid and alms over a lot of years (even just in the passive way of just being present) added to a perception that she is reaching—hopefully very gradually—the end of her term is what brings out the feelings.

Just Natural Sensibilities








It's more than a decade ago that I was awakened one morning by a scratching sound making itself known from the vicinity of the wall vent above my pillow. Given that not too long before that, there had been rats in the space between downstairs and upstairs, I was a bit spooked. The rat sound was more of a 'padding about' sound…and thankfully, was quickly dealt with by the semi-detached next-door-neighbours (which is where the thick-tailed ones were getting in from). The scratching near the bedroom vent seemed more like a bird because there was a bit of tapping or pecking as well. After a pretty long period of waiting to see if the creature would find its way back out, it was clear that it wouldn't. The inner wall vent was an early post-war, integrated cement thing. My brother said I'd have to break it open to let the bird into my room. I gave him a dirty look. Ruin the formed vent? And let out into my bedroom what might be a bird but might just possibly be a giant man-eating, sewer rat? A mutant rat could gnaw my neck and give me Weils disease and I'd die a horrible death. Or it might do for my jugular and all my blood would spurt out up to the ceiling and I'd die in a few minutes.

Well I didn't have much choice did I? …and it definitely sounded like an over curious—and now rather worried bird. I easily picked a hole in the fairly soft cement grill and a bird popped her head out. Hello my little titmouse!

Except she wasn't a titmouse. She was a brown female Blackbird. She jumped in and flapped about without purpose. A mini chase ensued around my bedroom. The most bedroom action I'd seen in a long time. When she—scared—made for a dark corner, my brother threw a T-shirt over her to calm her and took her downstairs and let her out. A council man came and had a look at the bargeboard. He shrugged and said he couldn't see any place a bird could possibly get in and therefore he couldn't fix anything. For a while, I was a teensy bit nervous that I'd have birds coming in above my head while I was in bed…at least until the vent was fixed. But they never did come in again and I forgot about it.


Well bugger me, it just occurred again this Sunday morning. Another bird in the wall. Like the last time, I gave this little flapper an hour or two to see if it could find its way back out. It couldn't. There is obviously something about that space behind the eaves that affords ingress but not egress. Like a fish trap, but for birds. How strange, how Lovecraftian. This time, the inner vent is a flat metal plate with slidable slats (which were shut). Anyhow, when I went back to check a final time, the two bottom nails on the vent had been popped out and the bottom part of the vent was slightly out from the wall. The little rascal had managed to force its way into my room and make an escape through the window. There were also forensic particles of wall plaster on the end of my bed adding to the Great Escape evidence . So I didn't get to physically see the bird this time. Was it another Blackbird? A Starling? A Bullfinch? Guesswork. The vent slats were open, suggesting birdy had somehow slid them back for a look-see before going for the brute force approach. Actually, those stubby nails into the mortar were always crap; that vent was never very secure. An Aphid could have sprung it. I'm just glad this rude intrusion happens less than once per decade.


Over the last few years I've watched lots and lots of old, black and white British films. I was going to say 'so you don't have to' but I imagine very few people would be remotely interested in them anyway. There is a channel over here in Blighty called Talking Pictures TV which tends to broadcast mainly British films from the forties, fifties and sixties and a few from the seventies and thirties and even the odd early eighties one. It shows a minority of old American films too, and there have been two or three Australian ones. Why am I doing this? Well, because modern mainstream films are unsatisfying, that’s why. Lets catalogue the ways in which they undernourish (at least for me):

1) They’re all American. More or less. There’s nothing wrong with American films. Some of my favourites are American. I’m just bored of the foreign monoculture. TPTV is a bit of an antidote to that.2) They’re bland. The industry has been financialised. They constantly iterate the same film series and are frit of anything unusual. They know Epic Film pt.6 will probably make profits. Perhaps the industry was always financialised but it's certainly getting better at it. They also pander to their typical repeat customers, who, judging by all the animations, superheroes and things being blown up are quite young. The old films can be bland too but they don't have that plastic cosmetic look.3) They have that plastic cosmetic look. You know, the women look like they've been extruded out of a machine and the men are unrealistically sleek and cool. I like craggy characters. I also like the crumbling, Victorian, industrial townscapes of films like 'A Kind of Loving'. I like some grit.4) They are becoming more and more political. I thought artists should make films, not commissars. The moral code in earlier films could be preachy too, but with much more self-doubt and with lots of holes in it. The films I cite aren't exactly paragons of traditionalist thinking. They're often socially concious and directed by liberal thinkers. I think the post-war period represents an interesting point of equalibium between the old attitudes and the new attitudes. You see both represented fairly equally in some films of the era…before social radicalism then became dominant.

So are the old black and white British films I’m watching really good? No, they’re crap! Honestly, they’re nearly all rubbish, or just rather boring at any rate. Lets be honest, Britian was never one of the great domains of cinematic production. A lot of them are unremarkable portrayals of coppers chasing gangsters or they are tedious conveyor belt comedies. The British rarely approached films with the artistic seriousness of the French or the proper populism of the Americans. The class system got in the way. We had stuffy old gents ensuring that British films represented their concerns (not subversive working class people) and mirrored their experiences (obeying fags in public schools or fighting thuggees in India). It sounds like I'm contradicting myself on the politics and morals in the films of the time. No, it's just that the old and new thinking—and old and new filmmakers—overlapped for a long time. Even when the class system was very faded, British filmmakers seemed a bit lost. They couldn't bring themselves to adopt either the French way or the American way. Some Merchant Ivory films were reasonable and there was Mike Leigh, but most of it was rather boilerplate. So you have to get through a lot of chaff when you watch these things. I don't recommend others take this up as a habit, for you'd soon lose the will to live. Such a tiny proportion of them are good.

Am I going to keep it up? Is it worth it? For me…and only for me, it is still worth it. Put it this way, if I hadn’t got into this 'hobby' I may never have seen 'The Naked Civil Servent', a brilliant film about one of the stately homos of England. This film enlightens me on the previous life of gay people in Britain and it has a delightful patina of dishevelled empire, old British grubbiness you won't see anywhere else. And would I have got around to seeing 'A Taste of Honey' which reminded me of long forgotten idioms I once knew but which had got buried at the bottom of my brain. ‘Oh the big ship sails on the alley alley oh, the alley alley oh, the alley alley oh’. Or the grittily cynical 'Look Back in Anger'? No neat, telegraphed happy ending there. These are all nine-out-of-ten films.


As an addendum of sorts, I should mention that the channel I'm watching shows a lot of old public information shorts and wartime propaganda shorts. Seeing these—along with reading some history and watching some documentaries—has made me realise just how socialistic Britain's civil service, local government and technocratic bureaucracy could be even that early. A type of scene I've seen several times in these short films is one where a local bureaucrat puffs on a smoky pipe, assesses the town about him and then proclaims 'We can't continue like this. When we win this war, we can't go back to this squalor. We can't ask people to toil and struggle, to have their wills bent to this immense cause for freedom as they have these last years, and then ask them to settle back into a life of dirt, poverty and disease. We must tear all this down [sweep of the arm at the old brick buildings and cobbled streets] and build a new and better world fit for new men and new women.' I am paraphrasing from memory. This could be expanded upon with stuff about Uncle Joe and stuff about poor journalism and stuff about concrete buidlings but I ought to stop.

Oh, addendum 2: I almost forgot, TPTV even show old television series. Most forgettable, but a couple were good. 'Callan' is a very cynical seventies spy series with Edward Woodward as the assasin for the British secret services who hates what he's doing but whose boss refuses to let go of him. 'For the Love of Ada' is a seventies sitcom about two bereaved pensioners starting a relationship and getting married. It's very close to being my favourite British sitcom ever…and I'd never even heard of it before.

E-mail: the good, the bad and the ugly

I’ve never worked in an office, so I don’t have personal experience, but from what I’ve heard people say, email seems to be the ruination of many a psyche or project or office. Someone talking recently about a government department over here said that when emails are received, people spend more time analysing who has been CCed, than on the content of the email. If I ever run my own company, I’ll give employees the time to concentrate and allow them to clock-off properly. Email is great. It’s not email's fault that people use it to abuse colleagues and underlings. When someone sends an email dripping with unwarranted stress factors, I imagine it’s like a drone strike; it’s done remotely, so there’s probably not much need to feel bad about adding another straw on the donkey's back, figuratively speaking. Hopefully, some companies will start seeing where email is good and where it’s bad and use it judiciously.

This gets me thinking about my favourite ever use of email, namely the email list. I’m not talking about lists that just send you newsletters or information updates. I’m talking about email discussion lists. They used to be a thing. I’m not sure they still are; you never hear of them. A few months ago. I was feeling nostalgic for email lists and went looking for some on tinternet. I found zilch; not a sniff. Once upon an olden time, I was on a computer-related list, and a writing-related list…and oh yeah… I was on a haiku list too. What I remember liking about this method of discourse was the simplicity and openness. Getting on an email list required you to just jump through one low easy hoop, a hoop you were already used to using. Contrastingly, signing up to web forums, web apps, mobile apps etc. tends to require more hoops to jump through or higher hoops. And each insists on being different, which always slows you down. And these 'hoop' issues continue after sign-up. You have to mentally juggle them all. It’s cognitive load. I suppose I miss the lack of complexity. I sometimes wonder why web forums won out over email discussion lists. Mind you, web forums are pretty old hat these days too. If the whole World gets funnelled into using the same two or three apps, which seems to be what’s happening, then that reduces complexity, but not in a healthy way.

(it was 's post about email anxiety that started me on the above)