Sunday, June 24, 2012

Words fail

Because I was spending a fair portion of each day sitting in a chair feeding Max, we hit upon the idea of buying an iPad to enable me to read the news, answer emails, and play games; I'd been a bit sneery about the idea of iPads and couldn't see the point of them, but now I am a total convert. When Max grows up he will be completely au fait with the idea of touchscreen operation - it will probably be old hat by the time he's 5 - but it's still a wonderful novelty to me: close your fingers, or sweep the screen, and everything is available to you. Although I dislike the glacial speed of typing on a touchscreen keyboard, and there are some other slightly irksome features of the interface, it's about as good as a small portable device could be, and I find myself irritably swiping in vain now at the screen of my Kindle, which at the time of purchase, barely 12 months ago, had seemed like such a miracle.

Apple's refusal to enable Flash on its mobile devices has, indirectly, led to a strange brush with the bottom half of the internet. I can't play (Flash-powered) Facebook Scrabble on the iPad, and have had to fall back on its predecessor, once called Scrabulous back in those early Facebook days, and now forced to call itself Lexulous and make some significant changes to the gameplay, including the provision of eight letters, not seven, which at once makes the game easier and necessitates a bigger board. Just as you can with Scrabble, you can play with random, more-or-less-anonymous strangers and if you wish, leave comments for them. In hundreds of games of Scrabble, my messages from them were never much more controversial than the occasional "Good luck" or "Good evening from Auckland". 20 or so games in to Lexulous, I've encountered perplexing, albeit very different, remarks from two opponents. The first one began with a torrent of personal abuse aimed at me. At me personally, because he'd seen my picture, and thought it might be... funny? or provocative? to heap abuse on me. Maybe he was deploying  abuse to make me quit and thus to take the win; maybe he was just very angry for some reason. The abuse was racist, so he wasn't the sharpest tile on the board. I wondered whether to respond, decided against it, got more abuse, maintained a dignified silence, and got my revenge by winning the game.

That was pretty vile, but manageable; the second was just plain creepy, although in hindsight our exchange was also quite funny:

Creep: Did you see my invite?
Me: No, Lexulous can be a bit funny like that, messages don't get through.
Creep: I asked for players who wanted to have a naughty side bet on the outcome of the game.
Me: [Silence as I try to work out how to get out of this gracefully]
Creep: So, are you up for it?
Me: No thanks.
Creep: [Quits game in fit of pique and takes the loss]

Friday, June 08, 2012

England's dreaming

In 1977 I was chosen to be a flower girl for the annual village gala. This was always considered an honour (though I was probably quite randomly selected from the small pool of 8 year old girls in the village) but in the year of the Queen's Silver Jubilee, it was supposedly particularly special, although the day itself was the same as any other gala day in a small Scottish village: wearing pretty dresses (green with white hearts) made by our mothers, two of us followed the impossibly beautiful, sophisticated 12 year old Gala Queen solemnly, with a trademark halting step, as we travelled the tiny distance from the village's west to the east, first on the back of a lorry waving at handfuls of people on pavements, before ascending to a makeshift stage for the "coronation" ceremony.

There were "teas" and a disappointing gala bag with a stale pie; there was a welly throwing competition, and livestock on display; I don't remember much else except the crisp feel of new dress against my neck, and sitting ceremoniously in place for a long time, and clutching my commemorative giant 25p Jubilee coin, which lived for years thereafter in a tiny flowery purse on the basis that it might one day be worth something. An increasingly decrepit Jubilee mug sat on our cup shelf for years, guiltily preferred by me to my mum's hand-thrown cups on the basis that it was shop- bought.

I was only dimly aware of the Queen and the meaning of royalty; it was only later, during the eighties, that I developed a proper sense of outrage at the inequity of inherited position and the parasites who take advantage of it. But 1977 was a year in which there was at least a semblance of objection to the status quo; in Scotland, celebrations would always have been more muted, but for right-minded adolescents the Queen was a target figure, someone to be mocked and ridiculed, and possibly the most memorable punk record of all, God Save The Queen, was released as a reaction to the farrago of the Silver Jubilee. "You ain't no human being", "there is no future in England's dreaming"; these words may have been written by the much older Malcolm McLaren but snarled by Johnny Rotten, he seems to speak for a disaffected generation.

I have to declare a lack of interest; as an eight year old, if I had any awareness of punk, it seemed frightening and discordant. But it's hard not to long for the nihilistic clarity of a hyper-sarcastic "we mean it, ma'am" in the face of the outpouring of sycophancy that has been evident, even from afar, on the occasion of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.