Gaz Facts #1 – Cheese is actually made of nightmares.

nightmarecheese2

It’s a little known fact* that the myth ‘cheese gives you nightmares’ is actually a mistranslation of the very origins of cheese itself: cheese is made of nightmares! Or rather, the concept of cheese originated from a nightmare.

Think about it. At some point in the ancient past, in the ‘pre-cheese’ dark ages, someone, somewhere, must have looked at a quantity of rotting milk and thought to themselves ‘hmm, those lumpy bits look nice’.

Who else but an individual plagued by nightmarish visions and motivations would have succumb to such an urge? I imagine a primitive dairy farmer, tossing in his straw bed, beads of sweat running down his furrowed brow as images of naked, toasted bread, danced behind his tired eyes, mocking him and shrieking for a delicious topping of some sort.

But where would he find such a thing? It literally didn’t yet exist. Perhaps he experimented with other mouldy produce before hitting on the all important milk-factor. How different our favourite snack would be now if that farmer had instead reached into a vat of rotting fish carcasses. But no! Thankfully he was prompted by the nocturnal whisperings of demonic muses to try and eat a mass of congealing cow’s lactic fluid.

And thank God he did! It’s delicious.

 

*This is not a fact. From a whole two minutes researching this on the internet, no one really knows how cheese was discovered, but was likely cured naturally from bacteria on cows teats and has been dated back over 7500 in Europe from remnants of rudimentary cheese straining equipment.

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From it all.

Well I’m back from a fantastic week spent in the South West in a quiet cottage, nestled in a peninsular on the River Dart in the small and quaint village of Dittisham (that I was reliably informed is pronounced ‘Ditsum’ by the locals).

It’s nice to remove oneself from ‘real life’ every once in a while, why else would we go on holiday? But in this case, thanks to the steep, rolling, 3G-blocking Devonshire hills and an opportune breakdown of the only hard-line internet connection for the entire week we were staying there, I not only ‘got away from it all’, for most of the time I got away from it all.

I got away from my near obsessive checking of the BBC news website, as if in the hour since the last time I looked world peace will have broken out. I got away from my frequent and often pointless flicking through Facebook and Twitter, as if I expect any news from my friends and family that is noteworthy not to be announced in any other way. I got away from checking my book pages, as if I will be become an overnight success purely by my powers of near-constant monitoring of sales ranks. I got away from checking and deleting the raft of meaningless emails that, despite several mailing list culls, continue to surge through like a relentless tide and deposit digital flotsam and jetsam in my inbox. I got away from fact-checking and adorning my conversations with Google.

I say I got away from it: when we made our frequent trips to the nearby towns, such as the wonderful Estuary of Dartmouth and Kingswear (two towns separated by the mouth of the River Dart, conjoined by an amazing ferry system for vehicles and pedestrians alike as in the photo below), I have to admit I occasionally had my eyes on the signal to see if I could get a few updates here and there. Thankfully, despite myself, this rarely happened either. Now and again I would receive the header subjects of a bunch of emails with no actual message, but I found that was enough, adept as I have become at recognising spam, waffle and marketing from a milliseconds glance.

There was still television however, but this didn’t feature much at all. Most mornings I was up before 8am, ready for fishing or rowing or whatever activity was planned that day, only to find my two younger brothers (9 and 12) already up and watching repeats of ‘Golden Balls’ or ‘Pointless’ on the ‘Challenge’ channel while the adults slumbered into being. I could deal with that. At that age I would have filled the room with the screeching madness of American cartoons about transforming robots or something (it’ll never catch on). On an evening after a long day doing stuff and things, the news may have come on for a quick check of the weather, which had the sometimes unfortunate effect of meaning we caught the odd news segment here and there.

One particularly striking example was when the BBC went all ‘Minority Report’ and had somehow managed to surround Sir Cliff Richard’s house with reporters and helicopters prior to the police turning up to search it. As the sensationalist report was beamed into my eyes, I thought to myself, ‘is this a bit weird? Or am I so used to reading the news I’ve forgotten how weird it is to actually watch it’. No. It turns out it was a bit weird, and the BBC are being investigated (or at least questioned) for having seemingly blackmailed the police into allowing them access to the raid in return for not jeopardising the investigation with the details they received via some shady leak. Responsible public news broadcaster? Hmm…

So it seems you can’t always get away from it all. I still had a moment of despair at the mechanisms of mass communication that exist in this country, but thanks to the lack of internet, it only lasted about as long as they news item itself, and then it was gone! I wasn’t able to check back on updates or furiously research Google for opinion pieces and alternative news streams. I just let it slide away as I thought about getting my next beer, watching the Perseids meteor shower in the none light-polluted clear night sky, and thinking about catching fish the next morning (I didn’t catch any fish, but it was fun anyway. Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, give me a fishing rod and everyone will starve. I’d go for the fish option if I were you).

Now I am back, and yes, I have fallen into old patterns again, I admit. But I hope that by writing this down and hypocritically posting it on the internet in the hope that other people may read it, I am at least reminding others and my future self that it is possible to switch off every once in a while. All you need is to go somewhere beautiful in the countryside where there is no responsibilities, internet or phone signal whether you like it or not, despite your best efforts. Simple really, why didn’t I think of it before?

 

Dartsmouth 2

Dartmouth from the car ferry. Yes, that’s a car, on a ferry platform, being towed across the water. Very cool.

 

 

 

Beware the peddlers of success & knowledge.

I’ve found a funny thing happens when you join the world of blogging. As with all social network sites, you start to get (quite quickly) a number of other users marking your post as a ‘favourite’ or ‘following’ your profile. This is, for the most part, quite a nice thing, especially when you get the friendly little email pop up in your inbox to say:

“Chaos Monkey thinks your blog is great! Why not check them out too?”

And so, I click on the profile, happy to reciprocate the interest that Mr Chaos Monkey has shown in my work with a quick look at his profile and latest article. Now, a lot of the time, the blogs I’m greeted with seem to be the usual content of social/political commentary, reviews, opinions, life-style tips and so on. But every now and again I will get something like:

“Chaos Monkey – How to be a success, time and time again… 3 easy steps!”

Often these articles will give advice on how to ‘optimise’ your blog, using ‘SEO’ techniques, foster good ‘time-management’ and how to spot and capitalise on ‘trends’… that kind of guff. They may even add advice on monetizing your blog with advertising partners, or by writing articles for certain websites on a range of popular subjects.

The thought struck me that these people who purport to offer the key to success by writing blogs, and only write blogs about success, must in themselves, either have been successful at something else in the past, or just be liars. To highlight this we can place the conversation in a real-world setting – say a motorway service station pre-internet days. I am casually walking from my car through the bleak concrete park towards the oblong tomb of over-priced sustenance, when a man with slick, gelled-back hair, wearing a ‘trust-me’ suit approaches…

Peddler:               Hey you!

Me:                        Me?!

Peddler:               Yes you! Do you want to know the secret to success?

Me:                        Who wouldn’t want to know the secret of success?

Peddler:               Exactly! Well, I can tell you the secret of success…

Me:                        How did you come by such knowledge?

Peddler:               Because I’m successful!

Me:                        What at?

Peddler:               Telling people  how to be successful.

Me:                        Is that it?

Peddler:               Erm… yes.

Me:                        Go away.

At least that is how I imagine it would run in the real world if indeed the success peddler was trading off the pyramid scheme of ‘selling success’. We’ve all heard it before I’m sure – there used to be (and probably still is) a postal scam, which digitized to e-bay eventually, whereby you blind ‘buy’ a package that tells you how to earn £x thousands of pounds, and when it arrives, it simply tells you to advertise and sell a package that will earn you £x thousands of pounds to other people. And thus the circle of bullshit is complete, and we can all go to the farm and smell like the animals.

But this new blog version of the scheme works slightly differently. It is costing me nothing but time when I stumble upon their ‘secrets to success’, but they are getting revenue from various other sources. My click, my precious click, is paying for them to fill the worlds servers with pointless articles. The world’s supply of bullet points, *asterisks* and CAPITAL LETTERS – not to mention EXCLAMATION MARKS!!! – is being depleted by such scammy scamsters.

And they are just one ingredient of this bitter word-soup that sloshes around our ankles in the digital bowl and is quickly rising. The other is the likes of the ‘e-how’ article. I hope for your sake, dear reader, you have never found yourself in the throes of some important research, trying desperately to find out some important info about your chosen profession, and all you can find is 200-500 word articles written by people who have no idea about the subject, clogging up your search engine like claggy gump oil. They do this for a living. There are numerous adverts that can be found that go something along the lines of:

“Do you know jack-shit about anything? Can you just about send the signals from your brain to your fingers to make them move over a keyboard and construct basic sentences? Can you read other websites and produce inferior copies of the information they contain? Then this is the job for you! For up to 0.0000015p a word you can make your living today writing for http://www.pointlesswebsitethatjustclogsuptheinternet.com!” (hint – Don’t try and follow that link… I’m pretty sure it doesn’t exist. Though it really should!)

Back at the pre-internet motorway service station again, I notice a man by the dead grey steps on my way out, he has a sign with the legend… “Ask me anything!”. I am intrigued. I approach, clutching my obscenely over-priced toasty and sucking on an Amber roll-up…

Me:                        Anything?

Peddler2:            Absolutely!

Me:                        I want to know a good average word count for different age group categories in children’s literature…

Peddler2:            Certainly! One moment!

The peddler dashes into the service station, he heads straight for WH Smiths. He comes back with a children’s book about a dragon who is sad or something… He spends the next twenty minutes counting the words…

Peddler2:            Approximately 2000 words!

Me:                        But that’s just one book. I could have done that myself.

Peddler2:            That will be £50 please.

Me:                        Go away. Actually, don’t worry about it. I’ll go away. This is a weird service station.

And so, that’s what great swathes of the internet are, a soulless service station full of weirdo’s who don’t really know much about anything, but are willing to stand there pretending they do, on the off-chance that they will catch you unawares. Of course, no money needs change hands, that is provided now by the advertisers on our behalf. It is as if the internet is constructed on top of some dark and mysterious catacombs that contain a terrible word-hungry beast who demands that 10% of all content sacrifices any meaning or substance. In return for this sacrifice, the peddlers are allowed to live, but they must leave their soul as a deposit, and in their endeavours, they must gather small bits of our life-force with every pointless ‘life tip’ and ‘how to’ article that we stumble blindly onto…

Beware the peddlers of success and knowledge, for they have neither, but they will feed on yours.