Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Et in Cascadia ego

I think I may have missed a trick in my writing career (by the way, am I the only one for whom the word 'career', in whatever context, summons up images of cars crashing through Armco, exploding at the bottom of ravines?).

You see, I've always used my real name on my work.  I haven't really had a strategy on the subject, neither hiding behind a nom de plume or choosing a different byline for each genre I write in, nor shouting my name over and over and over on social media until it becomes ingrained in our psyche like Starbucks or the Zika virus.  It's not a sexy name, but it is solid, and - in today's world importantly - unusual enough to be searchable without being unnecessarily outré or bizarre.  (I wonder if the other Robert Bagnalls Google me?  I do them.)

What I didn't bargain on was it being unpronounceable.

One of my happy, go-to memories, alongside the time a colleague mangled the alternative spellings 'disc' and 'disk' and sent out an all-points email asking if anybody knew what her 'hard dick capacity' was (completely true - and hi, Jane, if you're reading this), is standing in Waterstones on Oxford Street when two women strode through, one saying to the other, "Of course, it's pronounced 'Trollope-aye'."

You could feel everybody else in the store clench and mutter "TRO-LUP" as one.

In the same way, I didn't think it was possible to mangle my dour Staffordshire surname - BAG, as in sack, NUL, as in 'and void' - but I'm indebted to JS Arquin of the Overcast for flagging up potential future problems with the brand by making a bit of a car crash (there's that image again) of it in the recording of my story The Trouble with Vacations as Overcast 54.  I was asked to provide advice on tricky to pronounce words, but I didn't think there was one so close to home.

Perhaps, like Josef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski, I should consider changing my moniker to something a bit more monosyllabic.  Something easier on the brain.

But, in every other respect the podcast is an outstanding job, with exactly the right balance of pathos and absurdity that I could have wished for.  And, without wishing to pat myself on the back too much,  I've written enough bilge to recognise the story as being a half decent little tale.

But, of course, I'm far too close to the subject to judge.  So please, please head over to Overcast 54, settle back for twenty minutes or so, and leave a review.  It really does matter to grass roots publishers who are trying to provide a varied literary diet.

Yours sincerely,

Joe Doe

Or maybe VJ Smith.  How about Michael Carmichael?  'Cheddar' George Albertine?  Arthur C Clarke?  Oh, hold on, I think that one's taken...

Thursday, 4 May 2017

The dress

I've been taken by the return of the 2015 internet meme that was 'The Dress' thanks to research by NYU's Pascal Wallisch.  What Wallisch posits is that how we see the dress comes down to your circadian rhythms, with owls seeing the dark colours and larks the light.  I haven't read enough to know whether one causes the other, they share a common cause, or it's just some inexplicable correlation.

Whilst a sample size of four is about as far from statistically significant as I am from the Moon, I found it curious that the theory works perfectly within our family.  We have two owls and two larks and, on this, we conform to type perfectly.  I'm an uber-lark, often up before 6am, whilst the good lady wife is 100% owl.  I don't even get brought a cup of tea on my birthday.  To me I cannot comprehend how the dress could ever be blue and black, which is as she sees it.  Likewise, she finds my view baffling.

Letting my mind wander around and over the issue, it struck me that the whole thing is akin to handedness.  Curiously, we're also split down the middle with left-handed owls and right-handed larks in our family, but with an even gender and generational mix in each camp. Handedness is, itself, a mystery well worth exploring in its own right, the fact that only a small but stable proportion of people in general are southpaws being especially resistant to explanation.  Those for whom the dress - or is it The Dress - is black and blue are also in the minority, even if the proportions differ.

So, what, I wondered, could account for people being larks or owls?  What could the evolutionary benefit be?  I've been doing a lot of thinking on this subject, which is not, lest we forget, the same as doing science.  And the conclusion I've drawn is that it all comes down to hunting.

Think about it.  You want mastodon and chips for dinner.  They're big sods, not easily taken down.  You want everything on your side.  What are you going to use?

Low sun.

Yep, you want to be coming out of the sun at that shaggy behemoth with your sharpened stick, animal pelt and big smile.  You want to maximise your odds, maximise the chances of eating tonight.  Because those that eat get to live, and those that live get to reproduce.

Which leads to populations of larks and owls, with the mad dogs and Englishmen who go out in the midday sun getting trampled due to their lack of tactical advantage.

I offer this baseless supposition up in the hope that I'll be able to refer to it in future years when some researcher, having put in decades of donkey work, comes up with this self-same idea, albeit founded on an evidence base of admirable solidity and detail.  Unlike his or hers, my approach isn't science, but it is prescience, and it's that that'll get my name, not theirs, on the theory.