General Incompetence: Series 2

General Incompetence: Series 2

‘Modelling’, now there’s a word to conjure with. Call me old-fashioned, but didn’t it used to mean beautiful people sashaying up and down a catwalk, or small toddlers mashing plasticine into what is supposed to be a cat or a frog? But those days are long gone. ‘Modelling’ now means basically spending a lot of time and money and Big Brains predicting the bleedin’ obvious. (Pace, scientists everywhere.)

A huge problem

For instance, I should have thought even a primary school child, given the right information, could conclude that Virus + people = problem… Or bigger problem, or absolutely huge problem. Those incomprehensible graphs that we saw on the BBC on Saturday – that were cut off at the margins, so they could have been depicting Marcus Rashford’s goal-scoring average last season for all I know – compared a variety of different models (not of the Gigi Hadid variety obviously) and all… Pay attention, because this is most uncommon… came to THE SAME CONCLUSION. Which, at the risk of being boring, amounts to: Virus + people = Huge problem. The aforementioned bleedin’ obvious.

 Covid Modelling

 

Ed Ball’s salsa

I’m not a Luddite. I love my computer and my phone – mostly. My life as a writer has been greatly enhanced by whatever algorithm it is that facilitates how I write/edit/rewrite my books – not being a pen and ink or carbon paper/typewriter-ribbon sort of girl. And my phone has gone from being sneered at to an annoyingly essential in my life. But algorithms are not people – thank goodness. So, how much scientists can mimic human behaviour with an algorithm obviously hangs on a good few variables: the quality of the data, the interpretation, the design of the model, the size of the Big Brain etc. One false move and the result is as scary as Ed Balls’s salsa. ‘We’re all going to die,’ Or, conversely, ‘Calm down, dear, it’s only a commercial.’

Ed Balls

Endangered species

On Saturday, the model scientists came down definitively on the side of the ‘We’re all going to die’ scenario. But I, for one, will do everything in my power to resist this conclusion. I hope you will too. It would be so sad to see a world reduced to algorithms and models (not Gigi, as previously stated), the human race relegated to a graph on a dodgy government slide show. So, cheers to the human race, virus-ridden but preferably not extinct.

More from Hilary’s weekly ramblings

Stand in line please

Stand in line please

Us Brits pride ourselves in being the best queuers in the world, don’t we? We know the drill. We form an orderly line when required, politely declaring, ‘Please, you were first’. Often resulting in a back and forth of ‘No, you go. No, you’, which must seem utterly baffling to people not familiar with the genre. There’s no scrum or pushing and shoving and shouting to get to the front that we see in other parts of the world, at which we shake our heads. We’re not like that, we murmur smugly.

Wait…

However, all is not sweetness and light in the British queue in these taxing times. Because our polite, you-go-first system has never been so tested. Most of us, in living memory, are lucky enough not to have had to stand in line for a supermarket or pub, a café or restaurant, a coffee, a school pick-up etc. No more can we think to ourselves, I’ll just nip in and grab a latte/child/pint of milk, on the way home.
We haven’t resorted to scrums yet – the loo paper/pasta/baked bean fiasco was mercifully short-lived. All, on the surface, is orderly still. It’s the simmering anxiety beneath the surface that’s new.

 Cornwall

 

Fishy business

We were in Cornwall recently. There is this wonderful fish café near a harbour. It’s famous. But it doesn’t take bookings at the moment. So for most of the day, there is a long queue snaking back over the small bridge that overlooks the café. We all stand there watching the proceedings intently. ‘They’re on coffee,’ I mutter eagerly, nodding my head surreptitiously towards a table outside. But a moment later the waiter brings them another two glasses of wine. It surprises me that the diners aren’t put off their fish supper by the collectively hostile queue-stare drilling into their heads, willing them to hurry the f*** up and get the bill. At this precise minute, we all resent the diners and the people waiting in front of us as if they’ve stolen our car-parking space.

    fishy business

    Suddenly a trendy couple rock up – cool, urban, clearly only in Cornwall because Santorini has closed its doors this year. They go boldly up to the maitre d’ and start having an intimate, whispered conversation. Are they… are they actually trying to queue-barge? The line stiffens, all eyes fixed on this entitled pair who clearly think it’s their god given right to dispense with the plebeian process of the queue. We hold our breath. There is polite laughter, the maitre d’ nods. NO! But staunch fellow that he turns out to be, he manages to hold firm. The couple look disgruntled, surprised their privilege didn’t work this time, and reluctantly waft away. By the time it’s our turn, it’s started to drizzle. But we don’t care. Wet chips and diluted wine is just fine by us.

    I have faith that The Great British Queue will survive. We won’t lose our nerve and descend into chaos. But we’re being sorely tested. And it can’t be good for us, this regular anxiety-provoking uncertainty of waiting in line.

    More from Hilary’s weekly ramblings

    Old? Moi?

    Old? Moi?

    Getting older (note, older, not old, pls) is a royal pain. Although better than the alternative, perhaps. Much of it is a confidence thing. Some a physical thing. Or a memory thing. Anyway, I’ve identified five standards I hope to maintain even when I’m as old as the indomitable Captain Tom.

    1. Doing my own feet. Which means bending and reaching my toes for a sustained period. It’s way better to get a proper pedicure, of course, but I must be able to trim them myself. The whole shiny red polish thing can be tricky, but a neutral shade that doesn’t show the wobbles is fine with me.

    feet 

    1. No groaning or grunting when I sit down or get up from a chair, or in and out of the car. Such a tell. And with arthritic knees and dodgy hips, I understand the impulse. But resist, resist! Similarly, no muttering under my breath as I go about my business. No idea why this is an old person’s trait, but it is.

     

    1. Shoulders back! Walking all bent up is a sure sign of looking old. Not good. Now, seeing as I’m so tall, I’ve tended to stoop since I was about 15, but it’s got to stop. Currently implementing exercises to stretch my pecs and strengthen my lats before it’s too late.

     

    1. Not checking my travel tickets Sounds like a small thing, but I know perfectly well when the train/plane/ferry is, I’ve looked a million times. Then I’ll run just one more itty-bitty check to see that I’ve got it right. Of course, it’s perfectly possible, being a nervous traveller, that I’ve been doing this all my life. But even if I have, I’m going to try and restrain the urge now it’s beginning to look like an old lady thing.

     

    1. Resorting to Google when I can’t instantly recall something. This is handy, I know, but what’s it doing to my potentially demented brain? Conversations in our house sometimes go like this:

    ‘You know that actress… the one in the film we saw last week on Netflix… or was it Sky?’

    ‘Which film?’

    ‘The courtroom drama… a remake of that seventies series… you know the one.’

    Long silence. The answers are there, on the tip of my tongue. But neither of us can remember the name of the actress, the title of the film or the seventies original, or even the platform we saw it on. Then one click… and all is revealed.

    Google Things

    But All Is Not Lost.

    Stay alert! is my motto du jour – despite its dodgy associations. Look at Captain Tom: coherent, upright and determined at 100. Or, of course, there is an alternative stance. I could decide not to give a damn, like Rhett – my favourite character from a now-unmentionable movie – and just sink into bent, muttering, dithering, foggy old age. Not.

    To sleep… no chance to dream

    To sleep… no chance to dream

    My trusty little alarm clock sits idle. Gone are the days when our schedule frequently required us to be up and doing, catching trains or going places. Even getting up a bit earlier for a much-needed appointment to fix something – hair, muscles, eyes, car – seems a bit extreme. I’m slightly dreading the expectations that’ll come with the world getting back on the proverbial horse.

    Not that I’ve had a wink of sleep for days now. Our bedroom is lovely and warm – such a boon most of the year, but hell this last week. I lie there in the stilly watches of the night – like everyone else I’m sure – not knowing what to do with myself I’m so hot and cross. I feel almost panicky, as if I want to climb out of my skin. Getting up does no good, there’s no breeze to stand in at the window. I think I’ve got a poor thermostat. Don can stride about – or sleep, dammit! – in 30°C heat or -5° and not be too bothered. I’m either freezing or boiling or worried I’m about to be either or both.

     

    Knickers in the freezer

    Although someone did suggest knickers in the freezer – next to the crumpets and the frozen peas but they are clean, I promise.

    I’m just not sure my bum is the hottest part of my body – !!! – and it would be of only passing benefit anyway. I suppose I could have put the frozen knickers on my head – although worrying consequences might ensue should anyone see me like this, obviously. Another ploy is splashing water over your face and neck, but this has clear disadvantages in that you drip all over the place. Fans just move the sizzling air round the room faster.

    The only solution I’ve found is to sit or lie very, very still. Not move a muscle. Just give up. No cooking or cleaning or socialising (exhausting and everyone’s ratty) or writing – fingers slide off the mouse, brain fogged – or anything that might agitate your ecosystem. And wait for it to pass.

     

    Cool, cool water

    Unless, of course, you’re lucky enough to be somewhere traditionally hot like France –  maybe France is a bad choice right now, but you get the gist – and there’s a pool/sea and aircon and the general feeling that siestas and supper at nine, al fresco, are the order of the day. Oh, for a waft of aircon! I reckon we should get more organised in this country, pdq. These baking summers ain’t going away any time soon.

    Where have all the toilets gone… long time passing…

    Where have all the toilets gone… long time passing…

    We went on a recce at the weekend, for locations for my next book. The wind was howling and the rain tipping down. Perfect conditions for standing on a cliff/vast stretch of empty beach and taking photos with my hair whipping across my eyes, rain soaking my jeans. In fact, it played well for the story I’m telling, the miserable day lending a sinister quality to the place, which will come in handy as a backdrop for the house on the cliffs I’m inventing.

    Anyway, things were going pretty well, I was excited by what I was seeing. But trips away from home these days, especially to this rather isolated spot, have major inconveniences, if you’ll excuse the imminent pun. Because there were no conveniences. Something you’d never have given a thought to back in that rosy past when everyday aspects of our lives were so thoughtless and casual.

    But, here I was, beachside, and buying a cup of coffee – more on that later – at a food truck positioned by the side of the road, and I needed to pee. ‘Where,’ I asked the person cooking sausages to put in buns, ‘is the nearest toilet?’ Waving a hand vaguely to the east, she replied, ‘Oh, about a mile that way, I hope you’re not walking!’ Bloody good thing we weren’t.

    Relief!

    Off we drove along the coast, clutching said coffee, getting a bit more desperate with every passing minute. Could we find the damn place? No. There was no one about to ask, obviously, on such a filthy day, as we scanned every building for some sign of relief. Finally, hidden behind a hedge in need of trimming, we found it, only the disabled area open. Phew! No wonder everyone is peeing in peoples’ front gardens in recreation spots this summer. We were that close!

     

    Coffee to die for

    So, back to the coffee. When we finally had the peace of mind to drink it, it was absolutely delicious. The best cup of coffee I’ve had in years. Decades, perhaps. It was cold brewed, apparently. I didn’t know that was even a thing, but apparently – as further research has revealed – it removes around 67% of acidity from the brew, makes it more mellow. You soak grounds in cold water, store it in the fridge, then use the concentrate to make hot or cold coffee. There’s simple equipment you can buy – more research needed. But has anyone out there tried it? Love to hear if you have.