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February 2009
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Funny little aside: an 18th century nursery rhyme

Here's a wonderful link to a bunch of illustrations from various children's' books over time. It's to celebrate an exhibition curated by the great and deserved God of children's' literature in the UK, Mr Michael Rosen*. In case you're pushed for time, here's a nursery rhyme which I'm presuming predates the 18th century, but was published in what looks like a brilliant little volume:

Piss a bed

Piss a bed
Piss a bed
Barley Butt
Your bum is so heavy
You can't get up

That is the best thing I've read in aaaages. It says so much about what makes all children laugh (and remember who could read in the 18th century, it certainly wasn't working class children), and what would continue to make children laugh today. Of course though, in today's prissy terms it's no more acceptable than the Old Mother Hubbard verse when she goes to the ale house and brings home some booze!

I'm going to have to show this to Nora. She'll laugh her head off.

...Just try saying those last two lines like a cocky little American kid. "Yo' butt is so heavy, you can' git up!"

*Not only is Rosen responsible for "We're Going On A Bear Hunt" which is a bona fide gorgeous classic for young children, but he wrote a booked called "The Sad Book" directed at young children, about how he felt when his son died. It's so brutally honest, I cannot actually read it. Even thinking about the fact that it exists is making my view of this keyboard somewhat watery. It's a stunning, wonderful thing and must be of enormous benefit to kids who suffer the confusion of early bereavement.
Plus, he's just the loveliest bloke.

Mystery illness

I'm giving in and going to the Docs in the morning. Not for depression (mysterious slight rise in optimism for no apparent reason) but because *something* happened at the weekend, is continuing to have consequences now and isn't going away.

I don't know how much of this is psychosomatic. It could be - it's all so weird, I could be attributing all kinds of aches and pains to it but in the interests of completeness, here's what happened:

  • Sunday morning, Nora says "Your legs are all red", and they were. All over my legs and, somewhat surprisingly, it turned out also my arms - red, itchy bumps on top of red skin that looked like I'd... I don't know. Been wind chaffed all over. After some discussion, I had an anti-histamine tablet just in case, and things *seemed* to die down a little
  • But the redness has not gone at all. Here's what it's like - as if there was some kind of all over blood... pffft. Movement? Almost like the fallout from a mini-explosion, and that started it - the blood that came to the surface - well, you know - visible under the skin, on the weekend didn't go, it just went brown and is presumably in the process of being reabsorbed. Here's the thing though, the skin around the brown speckles is still red.
  • Where the sudden event showed visible redness and itchiness, my skin is also swollen - ankles, feet, my wrists, fingers... I can barely get my rings off
  • I felt quite nauseous around the time it happened but that's worn off thank goodness
  • Here's the really horrible bit. Bone ache. Everything aches. It's horrible. Most horrible is my shoulders, neck and wrists / fingers. clenching my right hand feels puffy and painful (and it's still red). Typing is painful. My ankles and back are also hurting. Almost like some internal switch was pulled and I got arthritis all over overnight.

What The Hell? Uh? I can't help but think that I had some kind of reaction to something. Maybe I should still take antihistamines. Who knows? It is extremely strange looking down at one's legs and seeing them read and covered in tiny brown freckles, as if you've been out in the sun too long.

It's all very annoying, whatever it is.

Update re: illness:

Went to an NHS drop in centre and the GP there confirmed I'd had some sort of autoimmune response to something. I've got to go to my GP to get a blood test form in order that I can go back to the same hospital the walk in centre is (!) and get the tests. Needless to say, at present I can't get a Doctor's appt for love nor money.

I neglected to say yesterday how swollen my ankles, wrists and hands were. My fingers looked like flobbity uncooked Walls Sausages! I was getting a little neruos that I was so swollen I couldn't get my rings off. Today, after a prescribed antihistamine I'm a lot less swollen, my bones still ache though and I keep getting pins and needles / numbness in my fingers, particularly using the mouse rest. It's definitely on the way down. Phew.

Egos, analysts and modern day fallout

Right. So.

Jeremiah Owyang is a 'Senior Analyst' at Forrester. I've been following him on Twitter as an experiment to see whether or not I can put up with industry pundits bleating on about their latest opinion. Ans: I came to the conclusion the day before yesterday to transfer him in to my Social Bloglines category and Un-follow. ultimately, RSS is way better for absorbing the few interesting things amongst the constant 140 character waffle.

Anyway, so Jeremy has a lot of followers. A Lot. He's also been at SXSW, going to lots of parties and telling all his followers, over and over, how seriously brands are taking social now and how he went to tea with some brand and he's been interviewing some other brand who really wanted to know about social and... er... yawn. As you can tell, i'm a bit bored with him, but then I don't really use Twitter as an industry tool and can only handle a small number of people blethering at me at regular half hour times Tweetdeck intervals during the day. And those are people I really, really like, for the most part.

Jeremiah has been hearing from several of his sources that something's 'going down' at the social applications company, Mzinga (hello guys). I have to wave my hand here and say that the company I work for is a client of Mzinga's, primarily through me. So when Jeremy tweets a dangerous sounding, public message: "I'm getting more information that Mzinga is having financial difficulties. They need to brief me immediately" my ears obviously prick up. Huh? My lovely 3rd party, who are in all respects completely nice? Wassup?

That tweet, and a couple around it are symptomatic of the social pressure that Twitter subtly places on those who place themselves in the public sphere as commentators. Jeremiah, in common with other people I read, really wants to up his public profile, and thinks he can do that with Twitter. He creates another tweet, with a URL to a blog post about the Mzinga 'story': "New blog post. expect changes at Mzinga...@KristiGrisgby you're right let's avoid rumours".

Splutter... cough, I'm sorry? Let's avoid rumours?

What Jeremiah really wants, whilst he is in the hubub of SXSW, mixing with the technorati and feeling all-important-like, is to scoop one of the stories of the conference (I am guessing). He's not a journalist, and as the chair of Mzinga points out in the comments to his post, Mzinga has paid Forrester for consultancy in the past. Why on earth did he use a public forum to post what essentially are private queries on the back of unsubstantiated rumours?

And that's a really good question, looking at the heart of the industry from a human perspective. Does Twitter, with the possibility of its 'fan club' type culture (where one person can imagine they command the interest of tens of thousands of followers) actively work subconsciously on one's ego to make foot/mouth situations like this almost inevitable? It's instantaneous, and short of instantly deleting the post, you're stuck with what you've written once it starts being ReTweeted.

I've noticed people I follow who have marginally 'industry' blogs announce on Twitter that they've written a new blog post, the second after they've posted it. Are we all dutifully supposed to click on the mini-URL and troop off to read their opinion, before trooping back? I find that a fascinating behaviour. I would ask - why? Surely everyone who wants to read your blog subscribes to it? Why do we need to be told? Is your opinion so very, very important?!

The end situation then is a large slew of people with varying degrees of self importance announcing to the Twitterverse that they have Spoken and Pronounced Judgement! Ayeesh, give us a break.

It's all wrapped up in that same circle jerk type behaviour that we see in the industry and which - of course! I'm doing right now, commenting on it (will I announce this post on Twitter? What do you think...). I have a secret weapon though which is that I know no one reads this, so I can say whatever I like. Heh.

Anyway, it's fascinating what's happening to poor old Owyang. He's tweeted his own bed, and interestingly, he's letting all the comments (which are roundly slagging him off for being a rumour monger) stay up. I would hazard a guess he's feeling somewhat chastened having made such a public mistake. I hope he doesn't do that analysts thing, and turn this in to some kind of analytical learning experience nonsense, trying to salvage himself by coming out on top. Nope. No. I'm sorry. he cocked up. His actions might do genuine damage to a company, and rightly, in this market, many, many people either with interests or without, have balled him out.

I sincerely can't help but feel sorry for him. It's all so horribly watchable though.

Aha! An update, given that the west coast started waking up. Mr Owyang has posted an unequivocal apology.

Not a good week

Not a good week.

I have the sense that articulating these things helps to overcome them. I'm having a really difficult time swimming in the middle of a fairly heavy downturn. I've achieved almost nothing all week, and the reasons for the downturn came at me from about 7 different directions - some huge (the anniversary of my Father's death... fairly unavoidable, as a big, motherload of numbing, poleaxing rubbishness, that one) and others, maybe the 'tipping point' helpers, the little, niggly, stupid, self centred and rather ridiculous reasons all just ganged up on me and once and decided to all start shoving at the same time. It didn't take long before I lost my balance.

In the full, black swamp wallowing of depression, an act which is uniquely selfish but unstoppable, the little child that's inside every adult wants to flop down, refuse to move forward and just cry it all out. The desperate cry for a hug from Mummy is replaced with a keening sense of a loss of intimacy and a welter of feelings of loneliness. I don't mean physical intimacy, I mean regular face to face contact with a handful of people with whom one shares an unspoken bond. With whom you can be entirely yourself. I can mostly cope with not seeing my friends that much, but once I'm headed swampward, the loss of their physical selves in my life threatens to suck out my lifeblood, Dementer-like (the only really good idea JK Rowling had in the whole of the HP books, I think).

Every so often on here I ponder going to the Doc's about chemicals, and although I can count this swamp visit in days on one hand (it started on Monday), I have a concern that there's something underlying this that simply will not go away. Perhaps it actually is time to accept that there's too much riding on my shoulders at the moment. Some of it I've made up, and some of it is the very real pressure of having to earn for the family. There's no point denying that the pressures of the family itself are also playing their part. A loss of intimacy amongst my contemporaries is almost entirely down to not going out. Although I never begrudge the kids because they are entirely amazing and brilliant, it is a self deceiving con trick to try to pretend that the changes that have come because of family have not fundamentally  changed my opportunities in many ways. The 'trick' is in recognising it, not ignoring it, but working around those restrictions. A trick which is elusive in the middle of a swamp.

Meanwhile, one very practical upshot of being depressed is a sense of having achieved almost nothing at work since monday, despite having a lot to do. If I can quote Rex from Toy Story: "Now I have guilt!".

Forcing myself to do small, achievable tasks this morning in the hope that small fireworks might light up the dank sky a little and help to illuminate the way out.

Two books

A weird little BBC News story today, "Poll reveals UK's Reading Secrets" (terrible headline). It suggests that "1984" and "Dreams from my Father" are two books that people lie most about having read. Which is a bit odd, since I finished 1984 recently, and am currently reading Dreams...etc.

I hadn't read 1984 since I was at school, and listen - do not lie about reading it. READ IT. It is stunning. The language is blunt and to the point. And here's the thing - it hasn't aged a day. Orwell eschews any 'posh' language, and absolutely everything that is in any way slangish, or culturally 'of the moment', so the story is presented straightforwardly, in an urgent, driving sort of way. Christ, it has so many knowing layers - it, as the intro suggested, is a flawed vision if one looks at it purely as a futuristic novel, but of course, it was never that. He wrote it whilst he knew he was dying. He was fighting to get the thing out of his head. It's a vast political and social critique and it's as relevant today as it was when he wrote it. I cannot recommend it highly enough, and I'm telling you, it will colour your own social critique in not so subtle ways afterward.

"Dreams from my Father" meanwhile is fascinating. I've read various bits and pieces of African-American literature from Zora Neale Hurston through Chester Himes and the post-sixties feminist authors, Morrison and Walker. I remember describing reading Chester Himes as shocking, but necessary. Like having a large sticking plaster ripped from your brain. He's a stunning, urgent, bitter, almost vicious writer who really wanted to punch his readers in the face. contextually, it's not difficult to see why: the post war industrial experience, pre-1960's - there's a huge correlation with this period of time pushing forward the cause of women's rights too, ie: it was a shitty, awful time for women and for black men, back from the war, where there was at least a semblance of equality. I've read a couple of Himes' books and I'd strongly recommend them. Obama's biography recalls much more though a very different mind set coming from the post sixties experience, obviously. He's a great writer -so much so that I'd love to see him try a novel some time. Having only read black American women, from more recent times, it's incredibly useful to see a moderate, thoughtful masculine voice examining the recent black American experience. He comes across as you'd expect, but more so, to be honest. thoughtful, and also very good at letting other people take the limelight for his successes. He constantly talks up the various strong women he comes across in the book - as if his actions and his energy come as a direct result of his interactions with them. Early in the book, he doesn't explicitly address young American black men with regard to the missing fathers question, but he spends thoughtful sections discussing the effect that a confused young man, dealing with the loss of a day to day standard to live by, the confusion of identity, and the ease with which youngsters can conceal their psychological woes under layers of dope and other drugs (which he did, too, for a time) - it's all there. He has a message. I've already bought this book for my Mum to read, not because I'm an excessive Obama cheerleader *exactly* (although I'm a fan of him personally, I want to judge his presidency on his successes) but because it's a compelling story through a classically melting pot-American stew of experiences.

The recurring 'ghost' of his Father, whether at that time living or Dead is interesting and very truthful. I'll tell you what really impresses me, you know. He has a strong, open understanding of his own motivations, and his own personality fuck ups. And he shares them. He is remarkably honest and that really suits a 21st century outlook. We haven't got time for ceremony, bullshit and hidden agendas right now - let it all be out in the open, and let's get on with positive change.

I wish he hadn't backed Bush's decision to keep the Guantanamo information secret though. National security my ass.

Anyway. Books. I don't read enough of them, I read these. Now you read them and stop lying and pretending you did. If you do that. Which... er... why?

Dora The Explorer grows up: depressingly familiar territory

We don't watch a lot of TV in the house, and given that we solely have free Freeview options available, we've never actually seen Dora the Explorer. I've never had a problem with the marketed support products though. Nora's name is obviously amusingly similar, she had a nice pair of Dora trousers (light brown! Shock!) and some fun Elton John-esque sunglasses. The odd thing like a drawing book or magazine gives the impression that she's a good toddler role model type thing, as well as, shock news, being non-caucasian in appearance, and delivering the odd Spanish word into the vocabulary (obviously of more import in the States than in the UK). Her... you know.. name seems to sum up an outward, questioning, positive and action oriented .. you know... Schick. Right?

Anyway. So Mattel et al have gotten together and realised that they needed to expand the brand, to absorb the parental push dollars available to those within the Tweeny bracket, and here' the press release:

Dora grows up!


"The brand captures girls’ existing love of Dora and marries it with the fashion doll play and online experiences older girls enjoy."

Maximising that shareholder value, eh? See those $$'s rolling in whilst you help to shut those doors a little tighter! Because presenting her as outward looking and forward thinking just wouldn't be as profitable, would it. (I can hear the voice of Bill Hicks urging me onward to make this criticism ever more visceral in its approach).

I really hope you guys are proud of the regressive, unadventurous and banal way that you're bringing your product in to the 21st century.

The word "dickheads" unfortunately springs to mind.

James' new name

James' baby/toddler nickname, at the times when he's being a cheeky, sweet little monkey who obviously needs rasberries on the tummy and tickling has been "choppo" (I have no idea). The other day, James spoke about this:

-I'm not a Choppo!, He said with mock indignance
-Well what are you then?
-I am a Pompo!

Pompo it is, then.