December 8th, 2003


Little lights

Worked my first Sunday shift at the Carlton yesterday.

It was interesting to see the pub full of different drinks: my perception of the people is filtered through my awareness of what they're ordering. Thursday and Friday nights have been primarily cask ales (in the lounge bar) and lager, bitter, and cider (in the main bar), with a smattering of soft drinks on both sides. Sunday, by contrast, saw the lounge bar mostly full of soft drinks and chocolate ice-creams, while the main bar was cask ales, glasses of white wine, brandy and sodas, and (a new one for me) bitter and light. I was mostly working in the main bar, and at one point I realised hardly anybody had ordered anything except "the same" for over an hour. The men sat at the bar and bantered with each other and with me; the couples sat quietly at tables.

One gentleman kept returning to the bar for a pint and a half of Flowers -- the pint for himself (in his own ancient Folk Festival tankard, kept for him under the bar); the half for his wife. She never came to the bar herself, and as far as I saw she barely spoke; she just silently drank her half-pints, her head slowly falling further forward onto her chest as she apparently fell asleep over her beer.

Terri made a point of warning me that if the "youngsters" came in they'd probably be ordering Dr Peppers. "Do we sell Dr Pepper?" I asked, surprised, as I hadn't noticed the cans in the fridge. She explained that a "Dr Pepper" consists of a half-and-half mixture of lager and coke, with a shot of Amaretto. Apparently it tastes just like the real Dr Pepper. I'm glad to say nobody actually ordered one of these travesties.

Of course, the pub was also full of Sunday roasts; by halfway through the afternoon I never wanted to see another roast potato or another pool of gravy again. However, by the time it came to eat my own roast dinner (a perk of working the Sunday lunchtime shift!) I was so hungry I could have eaten a horse; and besides, Jethro's cooking was as marvellous as ever, from tender lamb and tasty cauliflower to Yorkshire puddings with just the right mixture of crispyness and sponginess.

* * *

On my way to the pub the sun had been brightly shining, and my head had been full of smiles and kisses from Saturday afternoon, and everything had suddenly seemed more hopeful. I thought the afternoon would make me lose that feeling, because I have to put the daydreams out of my head in order to keep track of bar work; but when I left the pub (by then it was dark outside) I still felt quietly happy inside, and all the smiles were still there where I'd left them.

* * *

This morning I woke up with a start at 7:30am, then fell asleep again and dreamed about being late for work. Collapse )

Normally being-late-for-work dreams leave me feeling scratchy all morning. Now I feel shattered, but somehow still calm inside. The lights in the dream were so beautiful.
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Things that annoy me, part n

This week, two apparently conflicting things have been annoying me.

1. It annoys me when people linguistic standards for granted; particularly, when they take for granted that there's a "correct" way to spell/pronounce/punctuate which is completely independent from actual usage. Yes, there has to be some kind of consensus, and yes, usage which obscures meaning could be described as "wrong" in one sense (at least, if you believe that the purpose of language is to facilitate communication), but on the other hand meanings and "standards" shift and change like the sands in the desert. It's inevitable. (I suppose it's also inevitable that people will argue over these things while they're in a transitional period, but I don't have to like it.)

2. It annoys me when people object to native pronunciations of foreign names on the grounds that it's somehow "pretentious", and that it's absurd to be so "precious" about foreign pronunciations when there's a perfectly good English equivalent. This may, at a glance, seem contradictory to the above peeve -- after all, if there's no one "correct" way to pronounce something, what does it matter? Well, ultimately, it doesn't matter very much so long as people know what each other is talking about -- if (and this is a big "if") people don't attach any personal/emotional importance to the words for things. In reality, of course, they do; I'm sure I don't need to point out examples, or well-known Shibboleths. However, the way I see it is that if somebody tells me how to pronounce their name, or the name of something pertaining to themself or their culture, it's only common courtesy to follow their pronunciation.

The problem is, I get irritated, but then I don't really want to have the whole argument -- what I want people to do is to think, rather than just assuming and not examining the implications of their assumptions. I suppose this is terribly hypocritical of me; after all, I certainly need my thoughts prodding on occasion. But it does irk me that I keep getting into arguments about variations on these two themes, and I find myself wondering why they keep coming up.

At least in part, the underlying issues seem to be:

a) "It doesn't matter; you know what I mean."

Predictably, I'd dispute this, at least to an extent. On an everyday basis, yes, we have to take some things as read, otherwise we'd probably eventually lose all confidence in language as a medium of communication, and would have to resort to carrying things around with us and pointing at them. However, I don't think that necessary day-to-day detachment means that it doesn't matter -- it may not matter all the time, but I think it matters that we realise that it might matter. The way we use language affects the way others see us, the way they act towards us, and ultimately the way we think. And if the way we think doesn't matter, then I'd like to know what does matter.

I also believe that thinking about thinking matters. If we don't think about where our language, our meanings, our notions of "correctness" come from, then we're basing a lot of our beliefs on unexamined thought, probably to the extent that we don't even realise they are beliefs. Personally this makes me extremely uneasy. I don't want to have beliefs -- particularly beliefs which might result in a sense of my "rightness" and other people's "wrongness" -- which are based on anything I haven't thoroughly examined and worked through.

b) "English is my language too, so I'm right."

Well, yes, to an extent, this is true. The problem is, it's often expressed so as to be quite clear that it means "So I'm right and you're not." People often don't like relativism to cut both ways.

That aside, however, the issue with language is not so much what is "right", but why someone believes it to be right, and whether in fact they've thought about it at all, or whether they merely "know" something's right "because they've been told so". Again, yes, there's a line which has to be drawn where we agree to abide by a consensus, otherwise we disappear into chaos; but I think it matters that we should be aware that a line is being drawn.

Perhaps this is a personal thing, and I think it goes a long way beyond the context under discussion. Basically, though, I'd rather be wrong for the right reasons than right for the wrong reasons. I'd rather be consistent; I'd rather think and act with integrity (and risk being "wrong") than blindly accept things without questioning and examining them. If I work things through for myself, I may make the wrong decision; but if I act without awareness of my motives and without remaining true to myself I don't believe that I can ever make the right decision except by chance.

Of course, I hope that sometimes I make the right decision for the right reasons. But who is the arbiter of rightness?
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I don't like spam!

... but by and large I just shrug and delete it, even though recently the sheer volume of the stuff has been truly incredible.

But today, on a whim, I went to look at the website for one of those Natwest scams. The mail claimed to be from, and the text of the message was as follows:

Dear Valued Customer,

- Our new security system will help you to avoid frequently fraud transactions and to keep your investments in safety.

- Due to technical update we recommend you to reactivate your account.

Click on the link below to login and begin using your updated NatWest account.

To log into your account, please visit the NatWest Online Banking

If you have questions about your online statement, please send us a Bank Mail or call us at 0846 600 2323 (outside the UK dial +44 247 686 2063).

We appreciate your business. It's truly our pleasure to serve you.

NatWest Customer Care

This email is for notification only. To contact us, please log into your account and send a Bank Mail.

Now, to me it's perfectly obvious that this isn't kosher. For one thing, the peculiar translationese ("will help you to avoid frequently fraud transactions and to keep your investments in safety"?) isn't at all what I'd expect from an official Natwest email. For another thing, I've never heard of a "Bank Mail"; it sounds like a scammy invention. (I'm sure people will now tell me that it's a perfectly legit term and has a very specific meaning!) But the real clincher is that I haven't had an account with Natwest for over 7 years now.

Nonetheless, I went to have a look at the site out of curiosity, and it's really quite impressive -- the site pointed to in the email looks just like the Natwest online banking login page. And indeed, is the Natwest OB page. So, as the TV show asks, "How do they do that?"

Well, that's when sion_a pointed me at the source:

To log into your account, please visit the NatWest Online Banking

Weird linebreak, yeah, but so what? Well, after that "" comes an eternity of whitespace, followed by this:

Ah-HA. Suddenly it becomes a lot clearer (not that I know exactly what they're doing, but at least it tells me how one page can be a stinking great bear-trap and another apparently-identical page can be the genuine article).

This is a really, really dirty trick. I can't help but be impressed at the deviousness, but at the same time it's horrifying to think of how many people are likely to be taken in by this kind of thing. Oh, I know, it's probably old news by now (and indeed the IP address in the clever-hacky-stuff above is unpingable, suggesting that this one's already been nailed) but it's still a scary thought -- not least because even if this particular scam has been stopped, there's nothing to stop other people doing the same thing again, only more cleverly. And even without the added cleverness, there will always be new people to fall for the same old tricks...
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    spammed out

Whose word is it anyway?

From imc and bopeepsheep:

What words or phrases are there which you use (or used to use) but wouldn't be widely understood? They may be dialect words which are peculiar to the region in which you live, or they may have been coined by your family or friends. Existing English words count, if they have a special meaning when used by your family.

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Well, there goes my inner calm

Was looking forward to spending the evening preparing for tomorrow morning's interview in a timely fashion, having a happy relaxing rest-of-evening, and getting a much-needed early night. I suppose I could still more or less manage the last of those if I go to bed now.