Monday, 27 March 2017

Early Riser

You may not have noticed because you're used to it but, in the morning, all the shadows point the wrong way. Obviously, I knew this was the case on a conceptual level. But being suddenly exposed to the horrific reality of this phenomenon five days a week is quite the shock. I suppose, in time, I will get used to it, too. Such is the way of things. With every new day that passes, the new becomes the everyday.  

My new job is a 45 minute commute on foot from my home. Everybody I tell this too says, "Get a bike!" But I'm not in that much of a hurry and it has long been an ambition of mine to listen to all 700 episodes of In Our Time that are available to download for free from the BBC website.

In Our Time is a radio programme about the history of ideas, so quite why it is called In Our Time, I have no idea. The premise is simple: Each week, Melvyn Bragg (memorably described by the comedian Hugh Dennis as "the man everyone wants on their pub quiz team") discusses a different topic with three academics. I figure I've got a couple of years worth of commutes covered.

Early mornings are okay provided you go to bed early. My Nana always told me that "Hours [of sleep] before midnight are worth double." It just goes to show how wise Nanas are.

The streets are surprisingly crowded at 8am. And I'm starting to recognise people that I pass at the same time every weekday. The coffee shop owner who always seems to be arranging pastries on the counter when I pass. The girl who vapes her way up Prince of Wales Road trailing the smell of blueberries. The secretary of Norwich Celtic Supporters Club who I know from the pub, but has yet to recognise me in my new disguise as an office commuter - cropped hair, tucked in shirt, sunglasses and noise-cancelling headphones.

I'll leave you with that anthem to early risers everywhere...


Friday, 24 February 2017

Threads and Bins

For the last twenty years, most of my wardrobe has consisted of promotional T-shirts that I get free from breweries. I have a couple of pairs of jeans or shorts in circulation depending on the season and for bar work I generally wore walking boots all year round. I also own a suit for christenings, weddings and funerals.

Basically, I have no clothes of the sort of mid-level formality I associate with the modern office worker. 

I am practising getting up early this week, so I went into the city in the morning to buy some clothes. Having not bought any clothes for the last couple of decades, I didn't really know where to go. I know that Primark is the cheapest, but I'm sure I read that all their shirts are made by children in Bangladeshi sweatshops, so I wandered into a shop called 'H and M' (The sign didn't seem to say what the letters stand for - Haberdashery and Something?)  and bought two shirts - one in olive green and one in burgundy. 

Clearly, I have an eye for colour. But I've been a bit worried about some of the other functions of my eyes - so while I was in the city, I nipped into Specsavers to have them tested.

I don't know when you last had your eyes tested, but there's a bit during the health check part when they shine the light in your eyes to check for tumours or something. Whilst this was happening I experienced a vision of the interior of my own eye - a coloured veiny web in green and red - the whole thing was a bit trippy. I said as much to the optometrist.

"That's perfectly normal that is exactly what I can see," he said.

My point was that it is not normal for me to have a vision of what the person next to me is looking at. I wanted some kind of explanation of the perceptual phenomenon - what was causing me to see the inside of my eye projected across my field of vision? But he didn't seem interested in explaining this to me. 

To be honest, he seemed a bit cross with me - apparently I kept giving contradictory answers about how blurry things were through various lenses. Also, when he was testing my right (bad) eye, he asked me if I could tell him what the letters were in the bottom of three rows. I told him I could tell him exactly what they were because he had just tested me on the same letters with my left (good) eye and I had committed them to memory. N O A H Z. I asked if I could have a new sequence of letters and he said no. 

All in all a successful morning. I own a pair of shirts and I will soon own a pair of glasses. I let the lady in the shop choose the frames, she seemed to know what she was talking about.


Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Time at the Bar, Thank You

I suppose you are all familiar with the old Westcountry saying: "Nobody goes to a bartender's funeral." I figure that it can be read in one of three ways.

  •  Bartenders are immortal. Much as we may want this to be true, it is not. If it were true - I imagine a lot more people would consider bartending as a career.
  •  Bartenders are unloved. Demonstrably false (or people are very good liars).
  •  Bartending is a job generally filled by younger persons who in most cases move on before they die.
I quit my bar job. This may seem like an odd thing for a philosopher poet bartender to do. There are some things I'll miss, I suppose:

  • Never having to start work before midday.
  • The comradery of tackling a particularly tricky cryptic crossword.
  • Having a cheeky pint towards the end of a shift.
  • Ringing a bell and shouting (only bartenders, town criers and lepers get to do this).
  • Reading the newspaper at work.
  • Chatting to randoms who are in town only briefly but are your best friend after five pints.
  • Getting Tommy to watch the bar while I go for a smoke.
  • Stealing the ham and Tuna sandwiches on pool night.

Other things, I'll be glad to see the back of:

  • 2am finishes.
  • Finding someone has already done the crossword before my shift starts.
  • The smell of the glasswasher.
  • People who say "How much?" and pretend that they are not going to pay when you tell them the price of their pint. This happens at least twice an hour and these people make the same joke every time they order a drink! And their friends always think it is the funniest joke they've ever heard. 
  • Sport - I am the Chinese Room of sports conversation. I just repeat things I don't understand that other people have said. If you accidentally find yourself watching the Six Nations on Saturday, try saying: "England have got nothing after the third phase."
  • Making the ham and tuna sandwiches on pool night.  

Finnginn - philosopher poet bartender. I developed this blog as an outlet for these three facets of my personality. I suppose the question is: does Finnginn still serve a purpose now that he no longer serves a pint? 

I'm not much of a one for existential crises. I think we'll just keep the Finnginn nom-de-plume going on the flimsy premise that I can still think like a bartender even if I'm not actually being paid minimum wage to act like one anymore.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Mr Popper's Pensées

It may seem, at first glance, that Margaret Thatcher and I have little in common - what with her being a deceased former Conservative Prime Minister of the United Kingdom widely held responsible for the demolition of the Welfare State and me being a part-time bartender with anarcho-syndicalist sympathies who talks to his cactus - however, I was alarmed to discover recently that Maggie and I have the same favourite philosopher: step forward, Karl Popper.

I've written about Popper here before - you probably read the account of how I used Conjecture and Refutation to find the cause of a mysterious noise in my flat back in 2013 and thought that I had exhausted my Popper material. But I have a couple more things to say.

Karl Popper is held up as one of the great defenders of Liberal Democracy. This is chiefly the legacy of a book he wrote in New Zealand during the Second World War (he was an Austrian of some Jewish descent, so continental Europe was not a place that he could stick around in at that time). The Open Society and its Enemies is a pretty zippy title for a work of political philosophy. No wonder it has sold better than its sequel, The Poverty of Historicism.

The citizens of open societies are permitted (even encouraged) to ask questions about the best way of doing things in a kind of rolling debate that prioritises pragmatism over dogmatism. Closed societies, by contrast, limit the questions that may be asked. Primitive closed societies achieve this by Taboo. The governments of advanced closed societies enact policies based on the dogma of their particular utopian vision and debate and criticism is discouraged or even punished.

Popper's big contribution to the philosophy of science is his Principle of Falsification. He offers a solution to the problem of demarcation - how do you differentiate science from pseudoscience? - by defining science as a process that:

  1.  Offers up theories that can be falsified.
  2.  Vigorously attempts to falsify those theories.
  3.  Abandons those theories that are found to be false. 

My copy of The Open Society and Its Enemies is on Kindle,
so here's a picture of The Logic of Scientific Discovery

There is a link between Popper's political philosophy and his work in the philosophy of science. An open society should approach a problem like a scientist. If an approach is found not to work, it should be abandoned in favour of a different one.

The problem with this is what to use as your benchmark of success or failure of a policy. In a truly open society, this is up for discussion as well. Obviously, here in the UK - from Thatcher, through the New Labour years to the present Brexit fiasco - the benchmark for policy adjustment has been and will be set by neoliberal ideology not open discussion. More's the pity.

A major critic of Karl Popper's work in the Philosophy of Science was Thomas Kuhn. In his slim and eminently readable The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Kuhn pointed out accurately that the work that scientists do bears little relation to science as Popper defines it. I have never understood why this is considered a criticism of Popper and not of scientists. In my view, Popper's major theses in his scientific and political work could be considered normatively - he can be read as describing how things should be not how things are.

The United States inaugurates its new President on Friday. By Popper's standards, the USA is a pretty open society. The american people can question its government's decisions and protest its actions. The press is independent of government and can be critical of power (except corporate power, obviously, you don't bite the hand that feeds you). Let's hope that the open nature of American society will enable its people to keep tabs on their new leader and mitigate some potential disasters that might ensue from his team's environmental and nuclear policies.      

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Limoncello Reminiscences

One of the first times I got drunk was on limoncello - the liqueur that Italians make from their annual glut of lemons - I was on a school trip to Italy, age 14, and we discovered that the Italian shopkeepers had no qualms about selling souvenir bottles of the strong (about 20% ABV) sweet alcoholic drink to teenagers. We smuggled the bottles back to the hotel room.

On that trip, we climbed Mount Vesuvius and explored the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum, we saw the Colosseum and took a tour of the Catacombs of Rome, we took a ferry across the bay of Naples and visited the island of Capri. But if you asked me what I remember most, twenty years later, it would be the taste of limoncello, the boldness that drinking it engendered and the hedgehog notepaper on which Sarah-who-sat-behind-me-in-Science replied politely and negatively to my bold and poetic request for a date.

Limoncello has crept into my life once or twice since then. Notably, on a trip to the Peak District in 2013, where five friends and I depleted the entire limoncello stock of a small Derbyshire village pub. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but the following day, I felt too ill to embark on a tour of the world's largest Blue John mine which I had been rather looking forward to. 

It occurred to me (as these whims sometimes do - see also the time I made some face-powder for my Sister-in-Law) that it might be a good idea to make some Limoncello for my Mother-in-Law for Xmas. Limoncello is made by soaking lemon peel in ethanol for months then adding a tonne of sugar to make it palatable.

I wanted to use Trump Vodka as my base spirit but, would you believe it? The President-Elect's brand was discontinued in 2011. Luckily, I was able to source a bottle of Putinoff.

Premium vodka.
I was in a hurry (it was the week before Xmas) and I didn't have months to soak the lemon peel. Pro tip: if you ever need to make vodka taste of lemons in a hurry, you can just soak some wedges of lemon in the vodka in your fridge for a couple of days.

Job done.
The final step is to make a sugar syrup and mix everything together with some lemon zest.

The zest of one lemon.
Just make sure the jar or bottle you use is properly sealed, because you wouldn't want your limoncello to, for example, leak all over everybody else's Secret Santa presents. That would be bad. Your wife would probably tell you off or something.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

The Kitty Delusion

When a large group of people go out drinking together, it is sometimes suggested that a kitty - a shared moneypot - is a sensible and fair way to pay for drinks. Prima Facie, this may seem like a good idea. Almost a socialist idea. Let's all share our money! This is what bartenders call "the kitty delusion" and outbreaks of it are pretty common at this time of year. 

Before agreeing to pay into a kitty, ask yourself these questions:

  • Who's holding the kitty?
Remember, far from being a fair pooling of resources, the kitty is essentially a way that alcoholics fund their excess and bully others into drinking at their pace.

  • Does he drink faster than me?
Those who have paid into a kitty are forced to go at the speed of the lead drinker. Slower drinkers are faced with downing or abandoning their drinks.

  • Are his drinks more expensive than mine?
Chances are that he is getting himself a double vodka and red bull for every pint of bitter you order. 

  • Does he like shots?
Shots are a terrible way to get drunk. I like watching the faces people pull after drinking them. Faces of horror and disgust at what they have just done to themselves. In particular, cheap tequila is so horrible and disgusting that the only way to hide the taste and stop your stomach from hurling the vileness back out again is to trick your taste buds with salt and lime. 18 Jaeger bombs please, barkeep. Small wonder the kitty needs topping up again.

Time to top up the kitty.

Let me give you the bartender's perspective. Remember, all a bartender wants to do is serve everybody as quickly as possible and get back to solving the cryptic crossword. The most efficient size of group to serve is about four. Large groups - twenty or more - pose a problem. The person holding the kitty won't think to ask anyone what they want before coming to the bar. He will order his own drink first, drink it while everybody else shouts over each other to get their order in, then get himself another at the end of the round. People will inexplicably wander off to play the fruit machine mid-order. The bartender will be blamed for any missing or incorrect drinks in a round that has been produced more by a miracle of inductive reasoning than response to instruction. When the bartender tells the kitty-holder the price of the round, the latter will exclaim "How much!?" in the time-honoured fashion, while his friends laugh sycophantically and secretly wish that they had thought of making the hilarious joke of pretending to be shocked at the price of a round of drinks!    

If you are going out for a drink with a big group this Christmas, don't succumb to the kitty delusion. Find two or three people in the crowd that you like and who drink at about the same pace as you and take it in turns to buy each other drinks. You might even find that you enjoy yourself. 

Feeling festive? Read previous Finnginn Xmas blogs hereherehere and here.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Young Farmers Balls

I promised you a poem. I thought I would try something inspired by the Westcountry. I was aiming for William Barnes but it came out a bit Wurzels.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Westcountry dialect: "droi zoider" is an alcoholic drink made from apples; "on the scrump" is the act of drinking droi zoider over a period of hours or days and "zummer" is a great time of the year to go on the scrump. The Young Farmers are an unimaginatively named social society and their balls are enormous: the highlights of the social calendar in agricultural communities.

This is the story of a young Westcountry lass who longs to join her older brother and his friends on the scrump and what happens when she does. 

'Ot Zummers

When I was a young girl, my brother would go
With all the Young Farmers to the Dorchester Show
They’d sit sippin’ zoider and judgin’ the hens
An’ the cows an’ the bullocks in the sheepdoggin’ pens.
As I grew up older, I begged to take part
But he said, “You are too young, not ready sweetheart
For ‘ot zummers, droi zoider and Young Farmers’ balls.
A zummer without balls ain’t no fun at all!
When you’re ready to scrump, we will give you the call...”
‘Ot zummers, droi zoider and Young Farmers’ balls.

One night, the Young Farmers a prank went to play
They rolled in molasses, then rolled in the hay.
The rumpus awoke me, I looked out and saw:
Ten men runnin’ bare-arsed and covered in straw.
When I asked my brother to explain all the fuss
He said, “Soon you’ll be ready to come out with us
For ‘ot zummers, droi zoider and and Young Farmers’ balls.
A zummer without balls ain’t no fun at all!
When you’re ready to scrump, we will give you the call...”
‘Ot zummers, droi zoider and Young Farmers’ balls.

My brother, he taught me the ways of the farm;
I looked up to him and he kept me from harm.
But they other young farmers, I wanted to know.
Like that old zinderella: to the ball I would go
An’ sit sippin’ zoider and dance through the night.
I knew I was ready: the timin’ was right
For ‘ot zummers, droi zoider and Young Farmers’ balls.
A zummer without balls ain’t no fun at all!
I was ready to scrump, just awaiting the call...
‘Ot zummers, droi zoider and Young Farmers’ balls.

I sat for an hour on a bale made of straw
A-watchin’ the dancin’, I liked what I saw.
Just when I thought I ‘ad missed my last chance,
Young Billy approached me an’ asked me to dance.
He waltzed me around somewhat inexpertly,
An’ offered to show me, if I’d like to see,
More ‘ot zummers, droi zoider and Young Farmers’ balls.
For a zummer without balls ain’t no fun at all!
With him holdin' me close, I could feel it an’ all...
‘Ot zummers, droi zoider and Young Farmers’ balls.

The hour it grew late, and my face it grew red
Young Billy leaned closer and ‘ere’s what ‘e said:
“Meet me at midnight, t’will be just thee and me
And I have a treat you’ll be wantin’ to see.”
When I told my brother this plan in the rough
He told me: “Young lady, you ‘ave ‘ad enough
Of ‘ot zummers, droi zoider and Young Farmers’ balls.
‘Tis definitely time f‘you to ‘ead ‘ome to bed  
This ball be your first ball, what’s gone to yer ‘ead...
Is ‘ot zummers, droi zoider and Young Farmers’ Balls.”

The years they went by and the zummer’s stayed ‘ot
Young Billy ‘e taught me what my brother could not.
When the ‘eat of the zummer is getting too much
When that tankard of zoider gets too ‘ot to touch
An’ the zoider inside ‘er is too ‘ot to sup
A jump in the sheep dip will perk you right up!
‘Ot zummers, droi zoider and Young Farmers’ balls.
A zummer with no balls ain't no fun at all!
When we're out on the scrump, come and give us a call...
‘Ot zummers, droi zoider and Young Farmers' balls.

But there will come a time now in every man’s life
When he’s settled to workin’ and taken a wife.
Well the dreams of ‘is youngself, they never quite left
But the toilin’ and children has left him bereft
He’ll still sip a zoider, still sing the old songs
But you’ll see in his eyes, just how much he longs
For ‘ot zummers, droi zoider and Young Farmers’ balls
For a zummer without balls ain’t no fun at all!
When you’re ready to scrump, we will give you a call...   
‘Ot zummers, droi zoider and Young Farmers’ balls.

My brother grew old and swapped days in the fields
For spreadsheets of data revealing crop yields.
I moved to the city, got a teachin’ degree
An’ now I train kids for their GCSE.
When the work gets me down, I can still reminisce
But it hurts me to think of just how much I miss
Those ‘ot zummers, droi zoider and Young Farmers’ balls
A zummer without balls ain’t no fun at all!
If you fancy a scrump, you can give me a call...
‘Ot zummers, droi zoider and Young Farmers' balls.

Old Billy is married and works all the day
A-haulin’ the straw: no more rolls in the hay.
The zummer’s are colder, the world it ‘as changed
And from what’s replaced it we all feel estranged.
On a Zaturday night, we will drink like they fish
For we knows it’s all gone now, but we can only wish
For ‘ot zummers, droi zoider and Young Farmers balls
These zummers without balls ain't no fun at all...
‘Ot zummers, droi zoider and Young Farmers’ balls.
‘Ot zummers, droi zoider and Young Farmers’ balls.