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Quite interesting times - shadows of echoes of memories of songs — LiveJournal
Quite interesting times

On Saturday I travelled to Oxford with addedentry, to visit smallbeds and Kate, and to go (with them) to truecatachresis's flatwarming. Okay, that's only four people, but all the other people we met there can count as the fifth between them. No offence. I tried to introduce addedentry to cleanskies, but I barely know her myself, and wine made me misquote her username. Only by one letter, but the social damage was already done. I think addedentry would benefit from someone more popular than me to introduce him into exciting new social circles.


Since 1999 truecatachresis had been hanging on to a bagful of things which he believed to be mine, which I had apparently left when I moved out of our Marston-based seven-person student commune.
> inv
Your knapsack contains:

Unopened junk mail
Chinese-style folded paper wall-hanging
small ladies' wallet (new, empty)
alphabet fridge magnets
The junk mail was opened and mostly thrown away, the rest has accompanied me back to Cambridge. The wallet is, I am fairly sure, not mine; unless perhaps it was cheap or came free with something and I was tempted to keep it. It's possible. The wall-hanging features trees, or perhaps birds, and calligraphy; the lettering is so pictorial that you are tempted to try to read meaning into the shapes of the wildlife. There used to be another matching wall-hanging, blue where this one is red, each 99p from Booksale, both equivalent defence against the magnolia woodchip.

The fridge magnets used to say "FOOD TRANSFER PROTOCOL" where they held the takeaway pizza menus to the boiler, and "AXAXAXAS MLO" (with multiplication signs pressed into service against the deficiencies of ordinary English letter-distribution) across the top of the lesser of two fridges.


Saturday morning's shift at Oxfam was unremarkable, except for acquiring some Famous Five hardbacks which I can hopefully re-sell at a profit on eBay. Apart from that, the usual; books were moved from one area of the shop to another, and Roger demonstrated his peculiar gift for the excluded middle:
me: "What shall I price these [modern paperback novels] at?"
R: "Oh ... £4.99."
me: [surprised] "£4.99? They're a bit on the tatty side..."
R: "Well, throw them away, then."
I priced them at £2.99 in the end and put them on the shelves. No, before anybody whinges about Oxfam's prices, I don't actually think 3 quid is an unreasonable amount to give to charity in exchange for a book that would be 7 or 8 quid new and is only a bit worn on the outside from having been read before. Some people buy books because the shiny covers will set off their Ikea furniture nicely: Borders and Waterstones cater more than adequately to their needs. Other people buy books because all those funny black marks inside tell them something interesting.

Lingering in Oxford on Sunday afternoon allowed us to visit the QI Bookshop, which organises the books within its single circular room according to oblique thematic principles, rather like (not remotely coincidentally) the section headings in this post. It is a bookshop for browsing, and we browsed.


To the bewilderment of J-P and Kate, Owen and I took bongos to Ian's party, where three other sets of bongos were already plugged in to the Gamecube. Four-way Donkey Konga madness proved even more fun than the one- or two-way variants we'd already experienced, though I was a little concerned for the health of my bongos after watching one over-enthusiastic participant. (My plea for him to be a little more careful fell on deaf ears; it reminded me of why I normally play computer games selfishly, on my own, and why I refrain from lending many books: other people don't give a damn if they break things that don't belong to them.) When we weren't playing, we stopped for a moment to watch the four lines of rhythms and coloured patterns weaving in and out of each other like maypole dancers.

And it snowed this morning, because the seasons have their own rhythms. Nearly every year, snow in January comes as a total surprise -- completely out of the blue (or the grey) -- to the rail networks and the road-gritting lorries. It surprised me, but only because I hadn't realised it was that cold until my fingers went numb in the 3 minutes it took me to de-ice the car windscreen. Driving in the snow feels like playing some kind of space-based videogame; I pilot my small craft along the ribbon of tarmac and the snowflakes stream past like light, like years.


J-P and Kate have a tiny prism hanging on their window, which is caused to spin by a small solar-powered motor. It fills the room with rainbows, unlike Owen's mirrorball, which only fills the room with specks of light. Near the mirrorball these are small, focused, clear squares; further away they are more blurry, more indistinct, their light softer, their corners fading into the walls. Similarly, the rainbows vary from tiny nuggets of vivid, intense colour to vast, diffuse, swathes. Sometimes I saw a rainbow creep over a face or a hand while its owner was talking.

This morning I looked in the mirror and saw a person I did not know. Whether it was a trick of the light or a trick of the mind I don't know, but I have aged overnight, and my eyes are shadowed, and while my hairstyle makes me look slightly like Virginia Woolf (provided I don't open my mouth) this only serves to make me check my pockets for rocks.

My dad had a seizure on Saturday, the second in about 15 years. The last time it happened he was mowing the lawn on a hot summer's day, and said that the last thing he remembered seeing was sunlight coming through the fence in sharp flashes. He's been tested and tested for epilepsy, but all the ECGs have returned negative, though apparently there's a history of epilepsy in the family. This time he claims it was just that he was dehydrated and full of adrenalin as he started broadcasting his new radio show, titled "If she's eclectic...". He says he's fine now, and he's probably right, though I swear he'll be saying that at his own funeral. Still, I wouldn't want to stop him living in order to keep him alive.

This morning's snow has melted, and the sky has finally brightened. Don't tell me this picture is beautiful, don't tell me it makes you ache, don't tell me it makes you remember, for I'll have no sympathy; just for once I would like to see something that didn't mean anything. The sun flashes its beams through the trees. Every picture has its shadows, and it has some source of light.

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perdita_fysh From: perdita_fysh Date: January 24th, 2005 02:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
How much are you after for the Famous Five hardbacks and which ones are they? (Not that I have any hb currently, but I've been thinking of collecting them)
j4 From: j4 Date: January 24th, 2005 03:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
Being a mercenary little badger, I'm after as much as I can get -- hence eBay. ;-) No idea how much they're worth, though, really, particularly since they don't have dustjackets & they're not in brilliant condition (though not bad).

I'll check titles and dates tonight, anyway, and let you know which ones they are ... will also check pricelists and see what the going rate is!
j4 From: j4 Date: January 24th, 2005 06:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
Okay, the books are:

First editions?
Five on a Secret Trail (first published 1956)
Five Go to Billycock Hill (first published 1957)
Five Fall Into Adventure (first printed 1950)

I think these are first editions, as the only date they give is the "first published" date & this accords with lists on the web of what was published when...

Definitely not first editions
Five on a Treasure Island (9th impression, 1952)
Five Run Away Together (7th impression, 1953)
Five Go Off in a Caravan (8th impression, 1954)
Five on Kirrin Island Again (8th impression, 1954)
Five Go to Smuggler's Top (8th impression, 1954)

All 8 books lack dustjackets and are in far from mint (though also far from bad) condition. I'm hopeless at describing the condition of books, I'm afraid; I can take a photo if you want to see. Do you think you'd be interested? What sort of price would you expect to pay for them? (If I eBay them, would you bid? ;-)
addedentry From: addedentry Date: January 24th, 2005 04:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
So would reading Five People You Meet In Heaven be worth the time? (I imagine the QI Bookshop introducing a class for 'celery books' the act of reading which which whom uses up more intellectual calories than it provides.)

Or would its simple message be merely a foil for my modish pessimism, its artless warmth inaccessible to a petrified heart undeserving of the trust and positivity I mock? (Have I answered my own question?)
j4 From: j4 Date: January 24th, 2005 06:09 pm (UTC) (Link)

celerybral reading

Is your question merely a rhetorical flourish, a substrate for self-observation? Will any answer I give merely be used to bolster your pre-formed opinion?
dorianegray From: dorianegray Date: January 24th, 2005 07:57 pm (UTC) (Link)
IIRC (and my brother and my best friend are both epileptic, so I know a little about the condition), epilepsy is not a heritable condition; it's caused by damage to the brain (often, but not always, at birth). So it is not reasonable to think that your father might have epilepsy just because one or more other people in the family have.

I'm glad to hear that, whatever caused his seizure, he's okay now.
j4 From: j4 Date: January 24th, 2005 09:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well, I wouldn't have assumed that he had epilepsy just because other people in the family have had; it was the combination of that and him having fits! When I went to look at what the NHS website had to say (while trying to find out about other possible causes for seizures) it suggested that it could run in families but usually didn't, so, um, that's not very conclusive... (And I didn't have the whooping cough vaccine because the doctors said that it was a bad idea if there was a history of epilepsy in the family! But that was 20-odd years ago, so maybe they thought it was hereditary then but that's been discredited now... Whooping cough wasn't so bad, anyway, it was having it at the same time as chicken pox that sucked.)

Anyway, he's okay now, sure, but I can't help worrying that next time he'll be driving when it happens... :-/
dorianegray From: dorianegray Date: January 24th, 2005 10:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
I don't know if it's only for diagnosed epileptics, but there is a Rule that you may not drive unless you have not had any seizures in the previous two years. You may want to check into this, because it may well not be only for diagnosed epileptics, and could come bite your father on the rear if it's the case for everyone.
j4 From: j4 Date: January 24th, 2005 10:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
The decision about driving gets referred to the DVLA, who make a decision based on the doctor's advice. Last time my dad had a seizure he was banned from driving for a year; he reckons it'll probably be the same this time. Two of the things in 15 years (or thereabouts, I can't remember exactly when the last one was) is a pretty low hit rate, but it also means it's unpredictable -- it's not frequent enough to establish a pattern really.
jvvw From: jvvw Date: January 24th, 2005 08:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
I don't understand the pricing in my local Oxfam bookshop - novels that as you say would cost me say eight pounds to buy new will only cost a pound (though to be honest I do use it pretty much like a library and just return the books after I've read them) and then a book on some software which is five years old will cost fifteen pounds. I'm really puzzled as to who would spend over a tenner on a book on the version of Flash or Dreamweaver three or four behind the current one. But I guess somebody must :-)

j4 From: j4 Date: January 24th, 2005 10:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
I don't understand the pricing in my local Oxfam bookshop

Well, it's done by volunteers. They may or may not know anything about the subject they're pricing. Usually the bookshops try to get people who know something about the field to price the books, but that's not always possible.

I do the Computing section, and while it's something I know a little about, I have no idea what the going rate is for books on, for example, functional programming, or whether anybody actually buys books on Linux when a lot of the information is available online. When I agreed to do the Computing section I was told that this meant I'd be doing the Maths as well, because "it's all the same thing". My protests fell on deaf ears. So I do my best, on the grounds that it's better than nothing. There's nobody to do the Business/Management/Economics section at the moment, so sometimes I end up doing that as well. Okay, I worked in an MBA college library for 7 months, but that was 6 years ago, and to be honest I know very little about the area. So again, I just do my best, and try to keep an eye on what sells; personally I tend to err on the side of underpricing, on the grounds that a book sitting on the shelf priced at £9.99 doesn't actually earn Oxfam any money, whereas a book selling for £5.99 does. But there are almost certainly cases where I'm pricing things at more than they're worth. Or less.

If you think your local Oxfam doesn't know what it's doing, use your expertise to help them. I'm guessing you don't have time to actually do shifts as a volunteer, but with computing you could probably give them some useful general guidelines about how soon books on applications etc. go out of date, or which versions of things are no longer useful -- and they'll probably appreciate it.

I'm really puzzled as to who would spend over a tenner on a book on the version of Flash or Dreamweaver three or four behind the current one. But I guess somebody must.

Not necessarily. It's Oxfam policy to 'cull' the books every few weeks, so that things don't just sit on the shelves indefinitely; so while things appear and disappear, it doesn't always mean they sell. Some things that don't sell get thrown away, but most gets passed on to other Oxfam shops.
jvvw From: jvvw Date: January 25th, 2005 09:27 am (UTC) (Link)
I'd worried that this was just my stinginess rather than a pricer's ignorance. Do you think it'd be treading on someone's toes to offer to help? Maybe there are in fact lots of people out there who'd pay more than I would do for books on old software.

I was almost tempted the other day when I saw a book on e-learning using some ancient version of dreamweaver to go up to the counter and ask if I could buy it for a few quid rather than the fifteen quid written in it, as I really couldn't imagine anyone buying it for that amount. But I decided that would be too cheeky.
j4 From: j4 Date: January 25th, 2005 09:43 am (UTC) (Link)
Do you think it'd be treading on someone's toes to offer to help?

I wouldn't have thought so -- they rely on volunteers to keep running at all! Though I suppose if they already have somebody pricing that section who claims they're an expert it might be awkward.

On the other hand if they tell you they know what they're doing and they don't need your help, well, then at least you won't have to waste any more time on them.

Maybe there are in fact lots of people out there who'd pay more than I would do for books on old software.

I suspect it's ignorance rather than insider knowledge. On the other hand, we throw away all the books on old versions of Dreamweaver etc., so if they're really selling them for 15 quid, we should be sending them on to them! Which Oxfam is this?

As for asking the person at the till if you can buy the book for a few quid instead of the price in it... I don't think it's too cheeky (at least, we get people doing it all the time), but they're likely to be a volunteer too, so probably don't have the authority to change the prices.

Not that I'm an authority on any of this either.
despotliz From: despotliz Date: January 25th, 2005 12:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
*waves* I wandered over from Ian's journal.

I tried in vain to explain on Saturday evening that you don't have to slap the bongos as hard as you possibly can, and that you can in fact just tap them lightly and it still responds, but they didn't seem to get the hang of not using them like *actual* drums. Nintendo seem to have made the bongo controllers to be pretty much indestructible, luckily.
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