Jonny Nexus

Writing, life, politics

Month: August 2009

Conversations With The Dog

From time to time, and especially when she’s just woken up, 4Paws seems to find herself in a biting/gnawing sort of mood. Her mouth opens wide, she emits a strange high-pitched yawn/whine/cry utterly unlike any other sound she ever makes, and then quickly starts gnawing away on whatever object might be within reaching distance: her bone toy, her blanket… a carelessly placed hand. At which point Jules usually shoves one of her own paws into her yawing mouth, telling her: “If you want to chew on something, chew on that!” (This usually produces a moments confused pause, before she resumes chewing on whichever of our body parts she was previously chewing on).

We’ve got family staying with us at the moment. Yesterday morning, 4Paws got up and wondered out of our bedroom and into the guest bedroom where my mother-in-law was sleeping. (Or at least presumably was sleeping until the dog decided to come and say hello). For a few minutes we heard absolutely nothing, and concluded that 4Paws had gone peacefully to sleep on the bed next door. And then…

Mother-in-law: [amused] Are you biting?

4Paws: Yahhhrraa yahhhrraa yarralllll….

That’ll be a yes then, right?

A Bus Called Bruce

I’ve spent some of the past week perusing a book on Brighton bus names given to me by the lovely Syleth after she read my confession last week of my new hobby of bus-spotting. It’s an interesting read, but one entry in particular caught my eye.

A bus called only “Bruce”.

What kind of person only has one name, you might ask? A dog, that’s who. Bruce was a Sussex Police dog who was summarily put down by the force after (in the words of the book) “he bit an offender’s ear”.  The case caused a huge public outcry, and in response, Brighton and Hove buses quickly named a bus after him.

It’s a pretty sad story. Sure, it’s great that they named a bus after Bruce, but that’s not much consolation for him – what with him being dead – nor the devastated family left behind by the decision. (The handler, his wife, and their two children). Beyond that, two thoughts occur to me.

Firstly, and I’m aware that I’m risking going a little bit Daily Mail here, it was an offender that he bit, after all. Someone engaged in a fight involving knives and bottles.

Secondly, even if you might conclude that this makes him unsuited for police work, does it therefore follow from there that death is the only option? After all, it’s now more than four months since a Metropolitan policeman launched a cowardly, vicious and totally unjustifiable attack on a man that may have caused the man’s subsequent death – and he’s yet to be charged with anything!

It’s seems to me that Bruce’s biggest crime wasn’t that he bit an offender’s ear.

It was that he walked on four paws.

Four legs might be good, but two legs is still clearly better. At least as far as Sussex police are concerned.

My Ailing iPhone

As I twittered earlier today, my iPhone appears to be intermittently failing. It doesn’t actually lock up, as the time keeps changing, but it has the following symptoms: applications either won’t open, or else open very slowly; it doesn’t make sounds, either when you phone it, or when the alarm goes off – although the alarm message appears on the screen and it does receive the phone calls; the side volume buttons don’t work; and if you go into the sounds section of settings, the volume slider control is disabled (i.e. you can’t set it) and shows volume as set to nil – even though it wasn’t.

I am aware that there is a standard checklist of questions that techie types go through when trying to troubleshoot problems with computers or computer devices:

1) Have you looked at or downloaded anything horrible?

2) Are you sure? We can go down the pub and have a chat over a drink if you’d rather your wife didn’t know about it…

3) Have you installed anything new?

4) Have you dropped it in or on something?

My answers to this are:

1) No.

2) We are talking specifically about my iPhone here, right?

3) Well I did upgrade the OS a few days ago, and a few days before that I installed (but haven’t used) the Facebook app, and a few days before that I installed the Shotgun Free app (a.k.a. the greatest app in the history of the world if you’re a bloke, or a bewilderingly pointless piece of software if you’re a woman).

4) No. Although we have had small children in the house, so who knows, and the dog did eat it a few weeks ago.

Any thoughts from those in the know? I bought it from an O2 shop not an AppleStore – can I still take it to an AppleStore to be looked at? (Unfortunately, I think my ProCare account has run out).

Things My Dog Has Taught Me

Lesson One: Stick Up For Yourself

If you come into the living room and find that the small, but potentially vicious dog that your mummy and daddy have invited to come and stay has decided to steal your bed…

…don’t get mad, get even. Steal his bed!

Even if it is way too small for you.

Lesson Two: Never Give Up When Faced With A Challenge

When faced with what seems like an insurmountable challenge, such as trying to squeeze yourself into a bed that’s clearly way too small for you, it’s easy to become dispirited and give up. But if you try, and try, and squeeze and struggle, you might just overcome that challenge…

…and somehow cram yourself into that bed that’s way too small for you.

Living Beside The Sea

Since moving to Brighton I’ve insisted that at some point during the summer I would go into the sea. I didn’t expect to enjoy it. After all, this is the British sea we’re talking about, notorious for being freezing cold even on one of our somewhat rare hot days. But I saw it as a rite of passage that someone who lives in Brighton should go through; I didn’t want to be that man who lives for years by the sea without ever going in.

Yesterday, a group of us – me, Jules and @4pawsnexus, plus a friend of Jules who’s staying with us and her daughters – set off for an afternoon on the beach. I’d put on my swimming shorts, determined that this would be the day where I’d lose my “Brighton Beach virginity”. The sun was shining, 4Paws was displaying the intensity she always does when you get her on her beach, and the sea was…

Breath-stealingly cold.

But you know what? If you just stay in, and especially if you get yourself submerged right down to your neck, you get used to it within about a minute, and then it’s really nice. I loved it so much I went back in twice more, and then again today.

This isn’t a rite of passage you do the once, just so you never have to do it again. This is a really nice way to spend an afternoon. And of course, if you live by the beach you can round the afternoon with a barbecue, using your handy-dandy BBQ-in-a=bucket.

There is just one problem though. Brighton has a pebble beach. That’s fine when you’re in, because the water takes 95% of your weight, allowing your toes to dance across the pebbles. But it’s bloody painful on the way in and out: although on the plus-side, it does encourage you to not linger on the way in, but to instead get right in and submerged up to your neck – anything to take the weight off your screaming soles.

And getting out’s even worse, because it’s a pretty steep beach with a fierce undertow. In the end, I could only figure out one way in which I could get back out and up the beach to my towel without experiencing extreme pain.

I’ve gotta get me some Crocs.

Because backwards on your arse is no-way to make your way out of the sea and up a beach. (And no, I don’t have a picture of that).

If I Were A Child…

I read an article in the Guardian the other day about the introduction of CCTV cameras that got me thinking.

In March this year, Sam Goodman, 18, walked out of his politics lesson to protest against four CCTV cameras that had been installed overnight in the classroom. He was joined by all but one of his classmates. Goodman says his school, an Essex comprehensive, told the class that the cameras had not been switched on yet, and that when they were, they’d be used for teacher training purposes only.

A few weeks later, Goodman says students discovered that the recording system was in a cupboard in the classroom and that the microphones were in fact on. Goodman and his friends promptly switched them off.

Rest of article…

Now in general, I’d agree with young Mr Goodman. I find the erosion of civil liberties in the UK worrying. I value my privacy. And if you were to ask me how I’d would feel were my boss to put CCTV inside the office where I work, my answer would be that I’d be horrified, and that frankly, I find the idea that such a thing might happen inconceivable.

But then there are many other things that I’d find similarly inconceivable.

I would find it inconceivable were I to walk into the kitchen at work and be punched hard in the face, without any cause or provocation, by one of my fellow co-workers while a number of other fellow co-workers laughed and applauded.

I would find it inconceivable if the situation at my work was such that I was fearful of going to places such as the computer room, where I would be on my own, because other co-workers were liable to take advantage of that, and assault me.

I would find it inconceivable if items were regularly stolen from my backpack, if ever I were unwise enough to allow it out of my sight, if only for a few seconds.

And of course, if any or all of these were happening, I would find it inconceivable if, were I to report it to my bosses, the perpetrators were not (assuming compelling evidence existed) immediately sacked for gross misconduct and reported to the police.

I find all those things inconceivable now, but when I was at school they were far from inconceivable- in fact, they occurred on a weekly if not monthly basis. I still feel particular dislike for one Mr Owen, who regularly chose to take an extra ten minutes or so to drink his tea in the staff-room at break time when he was supposed to be in his classroom teaching me English. At break-times I could hide from the bullies; but at the end of break I was forced to line up with them in the darkened dead-end corridor that led to his classroom, just on the off-chance that he might turn up on time. And when he inevitably did not do so, I would be tormented and occasionally assaulted.

If I’d been asked then if I would have liked CCTV cameras installed in that darkened, dead-end corridor, would I have said yes?

Damn right I would!

If I had to explain in one sentence why my life as an adult is so much happier than my life as a child was, it’s because the people my life now dictates I spend time with aren’t allowed to hit me. That probably sounds very sad, but it’s true. People often say that children deserve the same rights as adults, but if that was the case then anyone who (beyond any reasonable doubt) assaulted a child at school would be immediately and permanently expelled. And I know from bitter experience that this isn’t what happens, when that other person is also a child, which of course it nearly always is. (I’m not saying it should, mind, just that we shouldn’t kid ourselves that – CCTV aside – we’re applying the same rules to children as we apply to ourselves).

So I don’t know how I feel about this. But when we discuss the high-flying philosophical aspects of this issues, let’s not forget the poor bastards going through what will be by far the worst period of their life.

A Confession…

I generally try to avoid branding other peoples’ hobbies as weird, or geeky, or socially embarrassing. After all, if someone enjoys something, and it doesn’t harm anyone else, then why the hell shouldn’t they spend their time and money doing it? We live in a society where people are too quick to cast judgement on anything deemed to be outside of normal, “adult” behaviour, and I think that’s a sad thing. And of course, I also need to always bear one critical fact in mind, were I too to criticise someone for they way they choose to spend their time.

I play Dungeons & Dragons.

That said, I’ve always thought bus-spotters are weird. I mean, I get plane-spotting. Planes are cool, sleek, powerful marvels of engineering that connect us to exotic locations. And I can see the attraction of train-spotting, because I think trains are pretty damn cool too. But buses? I mean… they’re buses. What’s to spot?

And then I moved to Brighton, where they name their buses after people who’ve: a) made a strong contribution to the area; and b) have died. Yes, some years after starting in 1999 they changed their policy to say that you now have to be deceased, which does rather reduce the attractiveness of getting your own bus as an aspirational goal. (I’ve always said that if I get to have one twentieth of the career that Terry Pratchett’s had I’d be very happy, and since he got a knighthood I was thinking I could dream of getting a bus, until I found out you had to be dead. Oh well.)

Anyway, It’s a simple idea… and an addictive one. I now look up at every bus that goes by to see what it’s called, and to see if I’ve seen it before. Then I’ll go home and tell my wife that I saw Dame Anita Roddick and Ralph Vaughan Williams and she’ll nod politely, no doubt as excited at the news as I am!

Going by memory, based on the above list, and some others I’m sure I recall I’ve also seen: Lord Fulton of Falmer, Jimmy Edwards, Sir William Nicholson, Helen Boyle, Millicent Fawcett, Jack Jenkins, Dame Clara Butt, Jack Howe, Rev Frederick Robertson, King Charles II, Captain Nicholas Tettersell, Prince Regent, Dr Richard Russell, Martha Gunn, Phoebe Hessel, Henry Allingham, Sir Charles Barry, Magnus Volk, Thomas Kemp, Lord Olivier, Lord Cohen, Max Miller, Queen Adelaide, C B Fry, Sir Jack Hobbs, Cecil Pashley, Caroline of Brunswick, Queen Charlotte, Captain Frederick Collins, Trevor Mann, Sake Dean Mahomed, Dame Anna Neagle, Sir Richard Sackville, Thomas Tilling, James Williamson, John Wisden, Sir Rowland Hill, Frankie Howerd, and Thomas Harrington, plus of course, lots more that I’ve now forgotten.

Which gets me thinking. According to the first page I linked to above, the bus company sell a booklet listing all the bus names for just £5. If I bought it, I could tick the buses off as I saw them…

A New Games Shop In Brighton

When we moved to Brighton, I said there were just two things that it was lacking: an Apple Store and a games shop. Well a couple of weeks ago I found out by chance that a new AppleStore was opening in the Churchill Centre that Saturday. (I went to the opening. It was pretty cool).

Then, a couple of days ago, I happened to walk through a shopping arcade that’s less than five minutes from my house, but which I would normally never walk through, and found that a new games shop called Wargames Heaven is shortly opening in Brighton. (It’s currently being fitted out).

It’s like the Universe is air-dropping in everything I need.

I don’t know much yet, other than what is on the posters on the windows and the little extra at the website for the existing on-line operation (it started on-line, and is now going bricks-n-mortar). But while it’s clear from the name that it will strongly focus on wargames, it’s equally clear from the posters that it will also cover the wider hobby gaming market, including RPGs. Which as an RPGer, albeit one who’s done a few board wargames in his time, is very good to hear.

And given that when I lived in Hounslow my nearest games shops were either an hour’s tube journey away in Central London, or fifty minute’s drive away in Aldershot, it will be very cool to have an FLGS less than five minutes walk away.

For those who are in and around Brighton, or who might be visiting one day, the shop’s located in Imperial Arcade, which is a tiny arcade off Western Road, just opposite the Churchill Square shopping centre. I’m going to drop a line to the guy behind it, whose name – which I just looked up on the website – turns out to be… Guy, and will post more details here as and when I have them.

Finally, there’s some interesting information about why and how Wargames Heaven came to be set up on the about page of the website.

1st October Is Dog Freedom Day!

Brighton is a wonderful place to live, but it does have a darker side. Not everyone is equal, and not everyone is welcome. Freedoms the rest of us take for granted – the right to roam where we will – are not enjoyed by all of us.

Yes. I’m talking about dogs being banned from the beach. Now I know what some people are going to day. Dogs aren’t people, and they don’t pay taxes. Well kids don’t pay taxes either, and I don’t see them being banned. And of course, there’s the other obvious complaint: that dogs will leave poo all over the beach. Now for a start, my dog doesn’t poo on the beach. In fact, she has some weird complex about pooing or weeing anywhere other than our house’s small, paved back yard – but that’s a separate issue that we’re working through, together, as a family. But the key point is that it’s not dogs who leave poo on the beach, it’s moronic, selfish owners – who are unlikely to obey no dogs signs, anyway.

It’s not all bad. There is one (small) section of beach where @4pawsnexus is allowed to get her paws wet. (Metaphorically speaking – she’s not sure what to make of the sea and makes sure to keep at least a few inches away from it). But we have to walk quite a way along the beach to get there, and she finds it really hard to get her doggy brain around the fact that she’s allowed on this one bit of beach but not all the others.

It doesn’t help that she’s illiterate, of course. And did I mention that she’s obsessed with the beach? (I have no idea why. When you let her on the beach she heads straight down to the foreshore like an Exocet, then turns her back on the sea, totally ignoring it, and instead waits for you to start throwing pebbles either side of her, which she watches, but makes no attempt to catch.)

Anyhow, we’ve now settled into a nice routine when we go for a walk along the esplanade that lies between Hove Lawns and the beach. (If you’re asking why we don’t walk along Hove Lawns instead, I’d remind you about the obsessed with the beach bit).

As we walk, 4Paws will sprint ahead to the next gap in the railings leading to a set of steps or ramp down onto the beach. She will pause to check that I’m following her, then scamper on down. A few seconds later she will pop back up, check that I’m still heading her way, then disappear down again. I will then walk past, point out to her that it’s not a dog beach, and then at some point when she realises I’m not coming down, she’ll scamper back up, sprint past me to the next beach entrance, to continue a process that we’ll carry out all the way to Dog Beach.

I did use to shout at her to not go onto the beach, but that just played out in exactly the same way as now with one specific and undignified difference: I looked like that man who has no control over his dog whatsoever. Which isn’t true. She’s a really well behaved dog and always comes back when you call her.

Just as long as there isn’t a beach nearby.

But I guess I should be happy that the council have given us one little stretch of beach, although it would be nice if they could perhaps just give us one tiny little bit more, perhaps a little bit closer to the centre of Brighton? Pretty please?

Oh well. Roll on Dog Freedom Day.

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