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It’s only eight o’clock and you’re already bored

August 8, 2015

That’s another one of my Pavlovian lyrics – you know, the ones that come straight to mind, with the accompanying music, the moment I hear a particular phrase. In this case the phrase is “eight o’clock”, brought to mind by seeing what the time is.

It’s a line from the Boomtown Rats brilliant hit Rat Trap, the story of a young boy (Billy) and girl (Judy), unfulfilled and frustrated against a backdrop of stifling home lives and gang violence. It actually takes place at eight o’clock in the evening, and certainly was not intended to convey the image of a middlish class, middlish aged Englishman sitting up in bed on a Saturday morning. And – sorry, Mr Geldof – I don’t think that it came too well from the reformed Boomtown Rats in 2013 when they played at a festival. Find the video and see if you agree. I’m afraid it made me rather sad.

But back in 1978 (I thought that was the date, and whoopidoo, I was right), when I was listening to the track, which was a raw and incisive statement truly expressive of the times, I don’t think I imagined myself sitting up in bed, tablet on lap, tapping away to millions around the world*.

Let’s face it: I didn’t imagine a number of things.

Getting older, for example, let alone doing so with a part of me still thrilling from the cultural excitement of that time.

Computers, let alone laptops. And tablets? I mean, tablets are big stone things with commandments on them, aren’t they. Or medicines with the texture of chalk and the taste of soap. Occasionally Horse Pills.

Blogging. Well, those of us whose understanding and learning is rooted in language probably find it harder than others to envisage something for which there isn’t a word (which there wasn’t, then). If you’d shown me a neologism then I would have been more interested in the word Neologism than the neologism itself**.

I thought this was usual, almost universal, even; but it turns out otherwise. For a long time I did not realise that words do not explain stuff to many people. Pictures do. As time went on, it became clear that I was in the minority at work: people wanted fewer words, not more, to grasp ideas. Presentations with images (infographics, to the modern you and me) and lots of white space seemed to be essential to many, whereas I always wanted the words.

Different styles of learning? Of course, but perhaps it is surprising that in the world where publishing and law meet – and where I spent a lot of time – the value of clear language didn’t hold sway over the need for pictures.

It’s worse than that, actually: it feeds the wholly pernicious notion that an idea is no good unless it can be reduced to a simple image. What’s next? The Supreme Court delivering its judgments as comic strips? Parliament legislating by Powerpoint? Harrumph.

Harrumph again. How did I get onto this? Well never mind.

I’ll just track back a paragraph or two, to the idea that I always want words, and retract the statement in one important respect.

do need words for intellectual understanding, but for emotional understanding I am led by the art. Whether I’m looking at a favourite picture (like the one here, bought along with the one at the top of this post, by Mrs simonsometimessays and me from an artist selling her paintings door-to-door), or listening to something beautiful, like Lou Harrison’s lovely Suite for Cello and Harp – I don’t need words, and I can never get bored.

An original on the sss wall. Bought from the artist.

An original on the sss wall. Bought from the artist.

* There’s one aspect of that that has still yet to come true. Guess which.

** That’s three occurrences of a keyword in one sentence – probably a cardinal sin for a blog; and no doubt compounded by a further repetition in order to link to the hypnotic Neologism by Nicholas van Orton***

*** Wow, a footnote to a footnote. That’s a new one for me. But I just needed to point out that this Nicholas van Orton has nothing to do with the character played by Michael Douglas in The Game, which in turn has nothing to do with Queen’s album The Game. How long could I carry this on for? Enough. But from that album give here’s one of the unusual tracks sung by Brian May rather than Freddie Mercury: Sail Away Sweet Sister.


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