Sunday, February 27, 2022

tha must be caracas

So, do you want to know my Wordle score? I absolutely know that you don't, and as it happens that's just as well, as I've never played it, though if you hang out on Twitter as much as I do it sometimes seems as if that puts me in a pretty small minority. I do have a couple of related anecdotes to share, though.

Firstly, while I've never played Wordle - and note that I have no particular animus towards it, it just doesn't spark my interest - I have played Master Mind, the game of which it is a sort of lexical variant, many times, including quite a lot recently as we bought Nia quite a nice Jaques wooden edition of it a year or two ago (around the same time as we acquired the Genius Square). Materials-wise that is a significant upgrade to the cheap-looking grey plastic of the old edition we had when we were kids; what that edition did have in its favour, though, was the classic exterior box design featuring the supercilious-looking Bond villain guy and his exotic younger lady friend. Do what you will behind your flimsy plastic screen, puny adversary, the picture seemed to say - four different colours, some tricksy red-blue-blue-red shit or just something literally mental like four greens - this guy will have anticipated it already, and when it's his go, despite you clearly seeing him putting two reds and two yellows in, when you have exhausted your hilariously gauche guesses his combination will be revealed to be something like a lotus flower atop a koi carp, a snail crawling along the edge of a straight razor or the faint odour of kumquats. And, moreover, having intellectually humiliated you, he will then leave you to contemplate your disgrace while he heads off to the boudoir for some eye-wateringly athletic tantric sex with his lady friend. 

What I had not realised until one of my Facebook friends casually mentioned it in passing a few weeks ago was that there was a deluxe version of the game with eight colours and five peg-holes (the standard edition has six and four respectively), whose box design featured a similar set-up but with a different, slightly older-looking, seated beardy guy and a similarly exotic lady who appeared to be Indian. You can make up your own "different lady"/"extra hole" jokes if you must; I want no part of it. Anyway, this edition came out in 1975 (the original dates back to 1971) so it's not new, but I was blissfully unaware of it (and, by implication, that I was playing an easier version of the game like some sort of dim-witted child) for over forty-five years. Oh well, never mind.

The other Wordle variant - a successor openly based on it this time, or at least aping its name and scoring graphics - is the amusing Worldle, based around silhouette maps of countries that you have to guess, with escalating scores based on your guess's physical proximity to the correct answer, rather than something more nebulous and coding-intensive like size or shape resemblance. There's a hard-to-hit sweet spot here between too easy (New Zealand came up the other day and I reckon over 99% of people would have got it in one) and too hard (tiny archipelagic nations are inherently very difficult and I failed to get anywhere near the Cape Verde Islands a couple of weeks ago), but occasionally you get one that sparks genuine interest - I spent six guesses fruitlessly circling the Balkans a week or so ago without landing on Serbia. When you do recognise one it's interesting to try to pinpoint what makes it distinctive - in the case of the one below it's the little teardrop-shaped inlet at the top left. If you spend as long looking at maps for fun as I do you'll recognise Lake Maracaibo (technically a narrow-necked brackish tidal bay rather than a lake); all you have to do then is remember which country it's in. As you can see below, I had a choice of two and guessed wrong the first time. Annoyingly, if I'd looked back at this recent-ish post I would have got it, as Venezuela features there as part of an imaginary straight-line journey from and to Brazil.

One other distinctive thing about Venezuela is the south-pointing protrusion in the middle at the bottom. I'm sure you don't need me to, but let me point you to the map here, and the prominent inclusion of North Yorkshire in particular. Now I'll grant you it doesn't have a ruddy great big lake on the north-west corner, but apart from that it's the spitting image, right down to the pendulous dangly bit in the middle. 

Just as with the Sakhalin/Eday thing there is a bit of a difference in scale - notwithstanding North Yorkshire being the largest county in England, Venezuela (the 32nd largest country in the world) is just under 114 times larger by area. While North Yorkshire's southern panhandle contains the city of York and the amusingly-named Sherburn-in-Elmet (previously featured in the amusing placenames list here), Venezuela's is occupied by the the state of Amazonas, lots of wilderness and very few people. 

Wednesday, February 09, 2022

we blog again

It's been a scarcely-believable fourteen years since this post about odd sporting clichรฉs, so it's probably about time we set our stall out early doors, gave it 110% and left everything out on the pitch to try and come away with a result at the end of the day by doing another one.

In fact you might say: we go again. Right? I mean, you might say that, if it were not an extremely weird way of saying anything. But nonetheless this is the current phrase of choice in the sporting world, on Twitter in particular. The usual usage is in the wake of a sporting setback, to denote perseverance, undauntedness and a determination to redouble efforts, learn from adversity, come back stronger, once more unto the breach, this is SPARTA, all that sort of horseshit. Here's England prop Ellis Genge in the wake of their Calcutta Cup defeat last weekend:

Note that Genge cashes in "not to be" as well, another standard lament in the event of getting your arse handed to you in a sporting context. Here's Liverpool and England footballer Jordan Henderson in similar defiant post-ignominious-defeat mood:

In fact the phrase seems to be deeply embedded in the culture at Liverpool FC as they make liberal use of it at all levels of the club. It's not just Liverpool, to be fair, and it's not just football either - here are some from rugby, cricket and motor racing.

The interesting question here is: when did this start happening? My impression is that it's relatively recently, but it's hard to tell by just Googling stuff, not least because you have to sift out all the stuff that features the string "here we go again", which is also very common and conveys a completely different meaning. 

Sunday, February 06, 2022

the last book I read

Master Georgie by Beryl Bainbridge.

That's Mr., or perhaps even Dr., George Hardy to you - man of many talents, principally photographer and surgeon, occasionally even combining those two talents for experimental purposes. Obviously you can't wield a scalpel expertly with one hand and do some sort of selfie with the other hand, particularly not with one of those early cameras with the massive concertina lens and the hood and the explosive magnesium flash powder. So George has a photographic assistant, Pompey Jones, that he makes use of on certain occasions; Pompey being indebted to George for patching him up after a fire-eating accident.

We may as well meet the rest of the supporting cast of characters while we're here - there's Dr. Potter, husband of George's sister Beatrice, and then there's George's adoptive sister Myrtle, taken in by the Hardy family in Liverpool slightly accidentally at the age of three and intended to be shipped on to an orphanage, something that never quite happened. Myrtle has always looked up to George with a sort of puppyish devotion and has made herself useful to him in many ways, most notably at the age of twelve helping him to deal discreetly with the death of George's father - old Mr. Hardy having expired in rather inopportune circumstances during the physical act of coitus with a tuppeny-ha'penny prostitute in her foetid lodgings. Clearly this will not do, not least in terms of breaking the news to Mrs. Hardy, so some discreet shuffling around of remains is in order.

There are some odd episodes while the cast of characters remains in and around Liverpool - a bizarre episode where Pompey Jones is dragged along to a secret location to photograph George performing a cataract operation on an ancient ape, and further oddness where Pompey habitually sneaks into the Hardy residence in the early hours and moves various items of furniture around to see if anyone will notice. Eventually someone does notice, and unfortunately it's George's young wife Annie, who is spooked by an unexpected encounter with a tiger-skin rug and has a miscarriage.

We then jump forward four years and George, Myrtle, Pompey and Dr. Potter are on their way from Liverpool to Constantinople with the intention of bringing George's combined surgery and photography skills to bear in the bloody ghastly theatre of the Crimean War. Beatrice and Annie come along initially but it soon becomes apparent that this is no place for ladies and they return home; Myrtle is made of sterner stuff (and in any case would never abandon George) and stays. 

George makes himself useful assisting with the steady stream of casualties, and since some of them have been hit by cannonballs you can imagine there's a bit of stitching up and making good to be done. Pompey is working as a war photographer and Dr. Potter and Myrtle are making themselves useful where they can. War is not a tidy process with clear boundaries between participants and observers, though, and the party find themselves drawn into the conflict more and more directly, until eventually they are right in the middle being shot at and having severed limbs flying past their ears. 

This is the third novel from what one might think of as the second half of Bainbridge's career where her novels had a real-world historical setting; both its predecessors in that genre (The Birthday Boys and Every Man For Himself) having featured on this blog. Master Georgie is probably a slightly more oblique treatment of actual historical events than either of those two (I suppose in the case of The Birthday Boys that's partly because the characters are actual people who actually lived - and, shortly afterwards, died) and some aspects are slightly frustratingly oblique and allusive. The obvious example of this is that while it's obvious that George has occasionally struggled with repressed homosexuality, and that furthermore something slightly untoward has been going on between George and Myrtle (i.e. they've been fucking), most of the reviews take it as a given that Myrtle is actually the mother of George's children, something that I'm not convinced you could be sure of from reading the actual text. 

It's tremendously sly and clever, of course, and as the previous paragraph suggests makes some demands of the reader. It's perhaps a book that you admire for its craft and cleverness rather than engaging with the characters at a visceral level or being genuinely invested in the matter of whether they live or die among the flying cannonballs and gobbets of pulverised limb-flesh. Nevertheless Master Georgie was nominated for the Booker Prize in 1998 (the winner that year was Ian McEwan's Amsterdam, generally accepted as being his worst novel). Bainbridge was famously nominated for the Booker five times (in 1973, 1974, 1990, 1996 and 1998) but never won.