The everyday blog of Richard Bartle.

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11:52am on Wednesday, 15th August, 2018:

To Town


I went into the centre of Galway this morning. It's quite pretty. It would probably have been prettier if I'd gone later, as the streets wouldn't be strewn with delivery lorries, but it was still quite nice; touristy, but not too touristy.

There's a marked contrast between buildings that have seen the benefit of recent investment and those that haven't. Some are smart and swanky, but others are a bit dilapidated. The smart ones may also be disapidated, but have stone cladding to disguise the fact; Some are definitely new builds, though. The cathedral looked relatively modern (construction began in 1958), so I didn't spend the €2 it required as a donation to enter. It's built on the site of the old prison, which explains why the river running next to it is called the Gaol River.

As usual in small countries that want to assert their nationhood, half the signs are in not-English (the top half, in Ireland's case). This makes them twice the size of regular signage, and so even more intrusive. One of the main attractions of Ireland to overseas investors (apart from the very low corporation tax rate) is the fact that the locals speak English, so I hope they don't overdo it. If the government were to require that professionals migrating to the country had some competence in the Irish language, that would limit the number of international staff willing to come here. Then again, if EU freedom of movement regulations ever became a problem, it could be a useful tactic.

The IEEE GEM conference opens at 3:30pm this afternoon; my keynote is at 4:30. I expect most attendees won't have arrived by then, with tomorrow and Friday being the main days, so I won't be entirely shocked if my audience consists of the conference organisers and some tumbleweed. Still, I got a free trip to Galway out of it, so I'm not complaining.

Here's an unreconscructed pastry shop in the town centre.


10:15pm on Tuesday, 14th August, 2018:



Well, I made it to Galway. I arrived an hour before my bus was due to leave (having left time for delays), but was able to use my ticket on an earlier bus. I was on that bus for three hours and ten minutes, having not realised that "non-stop to Galway" meant "non-stop to Galway except for that one stop in Dublin city centre that adds 40 minutes to the journey". I still got into Galway earlier than if I'd waited an hour, though, despite the fact that Galway's traffic lights only let two vehicles through at once before changing to red.

The Ireland I saw from the bus window was largely green fields, trees and scrubland. The land seemed to be used mainly for cattle rather than for crops (when it was used at all). It was, as I said, mainly green: it's basically called "the Emerald Isle" because of all the rain that Ireland gets.

Galway is the fourth-largest city in Ireland, but still smaller than Colchester. I was nevertheless pleased to be able to take a taxi to the hotel, because the university (which is enormous) is some way from the town centre. The hotel I'm in is very swanky  — my bed is bigger than some bedrooms I've stayed in in other hotels — and there's a wonderful brass domed ceiling in the entrance hall that makes every word spoken beneath it echo in a wonderfully metallic way. It has fairly quick free Internet, too, hence this post.

I have tomorrow morning free, as the workshop I was going to run didn't get enough sign-ups. If the rain isn't too heavy, I may go exploring. If it is, though, I could be cranking up Steam and installing some games on my laptop...


11:33am on Tuesday, 14th August, 2018:



I'm at Stansted Airport at the moment, waiting for my flight to Dublin. I'm speaking tomorrow at the IEEE GEM conference being held at the University of Galway, located (unsurprisingly) in Galway.

Galway is not easy to get to from Essex. I can fly out from either Stansted or Southend. Galway has an airport that closed some years ago, so the choice to fly in is either Shannon or Dublin. Shannon entails hiring a car and driving for 90 minutes, which is expensive. Dublin entails either taking a bus to Dublin city centre and then a train to Galway, or taking a bus from Dublin airport to Galway. According to the people at Galway University, the bus to Dublin takes 90 minutes before even getting to the train, because of the traffic; it's actually quicker to take the bus to Galway direct from the airport.

Quicker it might be, but it's still two and a half hours. Fortunately, movie depictions of public transport in Ireland are not correct and I won't be sitting next to either a nun or a man with a crate of live chickens on his lap. Unfortunately, depictions of the countryside are not correct either — I've been told there's a 20% chance of its NOT raining. Whether I get to see any scenery or not on the way is therefore dependent on whether I'm on the 20% or the 80% side of the equation.

Security at Stansted has been tightened up, probably because of the crash outside Westminster this morning. I had to submit to a padding-down of my left calf by a border security officer (I've no idea why). Someone just ahead of me had a table tennis bat taken off him on the grounds that it could be snapped the right way to fashion a crude, plywood dagger.

Hmm, only now do I realise I have a two-inch blade and a small pair of scissors in the utility card I keep in my jacket. I had one before that I took through airport security six times before it was confiscated in Copenhagen (by a border officer who helpfully showed me how to turn it into a punch knife). My replacement one has made it through Stansted's security, but if Dublin's takes offence to it I'll need a third.

Urr, I wish I hadn't eaten that family pack of Minstrels while I was stuck in traffic trying to get onto the A12 this morning...


4:15pm on Monday, 13th August, 2018:



I've just finished reading The Worm Ouroboros, a book by E. R. Eddison first published in 1922.

I read it because it's an example of a paracosm — a detailed, self-contained, fictional universe — with a high fantasy setting that predates high fantasy as a genre. It was written before the works of Tolkien (who was an admirer), and there isn't anything else quite like it out there.

Hmm. Well I'm glad I read it, because the story itself and its characters are pretty good. The world it describes is very well realised, too, but suffers from rather too much detail. When a character is about to make a speech at a critical moment, I don't want to know what gemstones are embedded in her dress nor where the trees that are the source of the incense perfuming her hair are grown. There's a time and a place for this, and crucial plot points are neither.

The main problem with it is that it's written in cod Shakespearian English. While this does allow for some wonderful use of metaphor that might seem out of place had it been written in modern English, it does become very wearing very quickly. Eddison uses it consistently throughout, which is an admirable achievement, but he didn't really need to do so. Indeed, he really needed not to do so.

The opening to the book is also odd. It starts off with someone going off to have a dream, which is inspired by the planet Mercury. The dream begins, and that's the last that we hear of it. The story kicks in and that's that. I suppose, given that there was no great tradition of stories set in paracosms at the time, that Eddison may have considered it a necessity to introduce his readers to the notion that what was being told was set in an invented world, but nowadays it seems a strange device; I'd rather he'd played it straight.

The story concerns the war between the countries of Witchland (the bad guys) and Demonland (the good guys). Other lands include Impland, Pixyland and Goblinland. The peoples of these lands are humanoid, and although they have some differences (it's mentioned that demons have horns and goblins have tails) these are no more relevant than the names of peaks or rivers. The plot is like a medieval romance, throwing together quests and battles until in the end the quest is to battle. Interestingly, several major battles are described only after the event by survivors, which is refreshing; this happens a lot in stage plays (so you don't have to have a hundred actors on horseback), but in film and prestige TV shows these days it's all CGI action that starts to drag after a while and becomes more and more ludicrous as the director tries to make each battle more thrilling than the last. Having a mix of battles and reports of battles works quite well, introducing as it does the possibility of some character development in the relating of the news. Also refereshing is the possibility that important characters can be killed without any fuss at all.

The novel doesn't come with a map. I don't know if Eddison drew one, but I didn't find myself wondering where places were at any point. My greatest confusion was caused by similarity in the names of three of the main Witchland characters: Corinius, Corsus and Corund. I could have done without that.

Overall, I'm glad I read the book, but gladder that I read Tolkien first. If I'd come across The Worm Ouroborus in my teens when thinking about world design, I might have been side-tracked by character design instead. As it is, I didn't like many of the protagonists in The Lord of the Rings and the only persistent character in the Conan books is unidimensional, so I wasn't distracted.

As for the next paracosm book I look at, I've long had a copy of Austin Tappan Wright's Islandia on my bookshelf that I've still yet to read. I'm reluctant to start, though, in case it goes the same way as Gormenghast (that is, downhill).

Maybe I'll try some early fantasy instead. Lord Dunsany seems to have a way with words...


4:10pm on Sunday, 12th August, 2018:



A book for budding Noahs.

I'd have thought that overwriting the title of the book with an image would be an error that was highlighted at graphic designer school, but apparently not.


8:50am on Saturday, 11th August, 2018:



I bought some toaster tongs off Amazon today.

As a related product, it recommended hair tongs.

Either Amazon's AI needs some work, or what my grandma said about toast making your hair curl is true.


5:05pm on Friday, 10th August, 2018:



We were in York today. This helpful information was on the side of one of the churches there:

I wonder how many more years it's going to have that "It's" instead of "Its" on it; probably several hundred. Also, that "ST." should be "ST" as it's a contraction, not an abbreviation.

I don't know who educates these churches, but they don't do a very good job of it.


6:58pm on Thursday, 9th August, 2018:



This was on the table at Downtown, where we stopped for lunch on the A1 today.

Yes, Downtown is the kind of place where a book like that would be signed.


3:30pm on Wednesday, 8th August, 2018:



It looks as if whoever designed this sign at the tip really enjoyed themself:

They could have made the car look more like a BMW, though.


11:01am on Tuesday, 7th August, 2018:

But No Cigar


This shop in Colchester might not have been open at 9:45 this morning, but it was, well, see for yourself:


3:23pm on Monday, 6th August, 2018:



This face, left where I removed a speaker from the wall, may have been smiling yesterday morning. He wasn't once I pulled his eyes out with a pair of long-nosed pliers and my wife painted over him with undercoat, though.

Our front room remains in the state of disarray it has enjoyed for a couple of months now, while my wife's master plan for making it look contemporary grinds its way to completion. So far, we've had a new fireplace installed, the ceiling and two walls replastered and the radiators taken away. At noon today, council workers came and carted off a sideboard and a bureau (which they just threw in the back of their crusher — so much for recycling). Maybe two weeks from now, my wife will paint the room, then she might get someone in to install new skirting boards, then we'll need a patch of floor where there used to be a hearth boarded up, and by then she may have decided what replacement radiators to get installed. After that, then it'll be time for a new carpet. I don't know what she's planning on doing to replace the sideboard and bureau but that'll need sorting, too, as we currently have what used to be in them lying around in boxes. Finally, she'll have to determine where to put the TV — a question that has been dogging her for the five or ten years it took for her to decide that the room needed redecorating.

I said yesterday that it still won't be finished by Christmas. My wife seemed to think this amusing, but I don't know whether that's because she expects it to be done well before then or more like sometime around Easter.


12:24pm on Sunday, 5th August, 2018:

All Present and Incorrect


I typed the word "contemporaneous" into Google to see if it meant what I thought it meant (annoyingly, it did), and Google helpfully provided this little definition in its own little box to the right of its findings.

Yes, that's all very interesting, but the image doesn't really match the text.


9:54am on Sunday, 5th August, 2018:

Miles Away


I think it's probably safe to throw this out now.

The 1988/89 one can go, too.


10:52am on Saturday, 4th August, 2018:



The Essex County Standard has hit on a new way to encourage people to read its news reports.


8:45am on Friday, 3rd August, 2018:

Lost in Translation


This is attached to the front of a letter I bought dating from around the start of the Paris Commune. I've zoomed in somewhat: the original is only 8mm high.

I can make out some of it: "Cette lettre est datie, depard 20 mars 1871 — la Commune n'éclata que la 18 mars. ?? le timbre est de ?? ?? il cependant est ?? ligne."

I don't suppose there's anyone out there with the ability to read tiny Victorian handwriting in French, is there?


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Copyright © 2018 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).