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Name: Thomas Thurman
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Gentle Readers: harmless phantoms

Gentle Readers
a newsletter made for sharing
volume 1, number 20
25th August 2014: harmless phantoms
What I’ve been up to

It's been three months! This is the last issue of volume 1, and next week volume 2 begins: it'll be more of the same, except that I'm adding reviews of some of the children's books I've loved in my life. I'll be collecting the twenty issues of volume 1 together in a printed book, which I'll be emailing you about when it's ready.

This week has been busy but uneventful, which I wish was a less common mixture, but it was good to drop into Manchester during the Pride festival. I apologise for this issue being late: I had it all prepared, and then there was a server problem, and then I found I'd lost one of the sections completely, so it had to be rewritten. Never mind: you have it now!

A poem of mine


My talent (or my curse) is getting lost:
my routes are recondite and esoteric.
Perverted turns on every road I crossed
have dogged my feet from Dover up to Berwick.
My move to London only served to show
what fearful feast of foolishness was mine:
I lost my way from Tower Hill to Bow,
and rode the wrong way round the Circle Line.
In nameless London lanes I wandered then
whose tales belied my tattered A to Z,
and even now, in memory again
I plod despairing, Barking in my head,
still losing track of who and where I am,
silent, upon a street in Dagenham.

(Notes: the title is a reference to Keats's sonnet On First Looking into Chapman's Homer. "A to Z" is a standard book of London streetmaps.)


A picture
On-sweet bathroom

Something wonderful

In the poem above, I mentioned Berwick-upon-Tweed, or Berwick for short, which rhymes with Derek. Berwick is the most northerly town in England, two miles from the Scottish border. It stands at the mouth of the river Tweed, which divides Scotland from England in those parts, but Berwick is on the Scottish bank: for quite a bit of its history it was a very southerly town in Scotland instead. The town's football team still plays in the Scottish leagues instead of the English. Berwick has been in English hands since 1482, though given next month's referendum I'm not going to guess how long that will last.

As befits such a frontier town, it's impressively fortified, and the castle and ramparts are well worth seeing. But today I particularly wanted to tell you about the story of its war with Russia.

Fans of Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series, and anyone who had to learn The Charge of the Light Brigade at school, will remember the Crimean War, a conflict which remained an infamous example of pointless waste of life until at least 1914. Now, because Berwick had changed hands between England and Scotland several times, it was once the rule that legal documents would mention both countries as "England, Scotland, and Berwick-upon-Tweed" to be on the safe side. And the story goes that when Britain declared war on Russia in 1853, it was in the name of England, Scotland, and Berwick-upon-Tweed, but the peace treaty in 1856 forgot to include Berwick, so this small town remained technically at war with Russia for over a century.

In fact, the tale is untrue: Berwick wasn't mentioned in the declaration of war, as far as I know, though I admit I haven't been able to trace a copy-- can any of you do any better? But such is the power of story that in 1966, with the Cold War becoming ever more tense, the town council decided that something had to be done about the problem. So the London correspondent of Pravda, one Oleg Orestov, travelled the 350 miles up to Berwick for peace talks, so that everyone could be sure that Berwick was not at war with the USSR. The mayor told Mr Orestov, "Please tell the Russian people through your newspaper that they can sleep peacefully in their beds."

Something from someone else

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

All houses wherein men have lived and died
Are haunted houses. Through the open doors
The harmless phantoms on their errands glide,
With feet that make no sound upon the floors.

We meet them at the doorway, on the stair,
Along the passages they come and go,
Impalpable impressions on the air,
A sense of something moving to and fro.

There are more guests at table than the hosts
Invited; the illuminated hall
Is thronged with quiet, inoffensive ghosts,
As silent as the pictures on the wall.

Gentle Readers is published on Mondays and Thursdays, and I want you to share it. The archives are at , and so is a form to get on the mailing list. If you have anything to say or reply, or you want to be added or removed from the mailing list, I’m at and I’d love to hear from you. The newsletter is reader-supported; please pledge something if you can afford to, and please don't if you can't. Love and peace to you all.
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Syndicated 2014-08-30 13:44:45 from Monument

Not the ice bucket challenge

I spent like two hours making this. I'm sure there was some good reason for that.

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Syndicated 2014-08-27 00:24:13 from Monument

ice and elevation

My ankle and side are still painful, but it's nowhere near as bad now as the first few days after the accident. But this puts a metaphor into my head. When I was told to rest and elevate my ankle, I didn't: I grabbed a crutch and went on with my ordinary life as best I could. It was foolish, but staying still for that long made me very anxious. In hindsight, I see I should have iced and elevated, at least for a few days.

And here I am also trying to get over PTSD/anxiety things, and it seems I have the same problem there as well. So, what's the mental health equivalent of ice and elevation?

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Syndicated 2014-08-25 18:44:05 from Monument

gas/electric keys

(in answer to resonant 's question)

Some people in the UK get bills from their power company and pay in arrears. But people with bad credit, and tenants generally, aren't trusted to owe the power company money, so they have to pre-pay. In the old days the meter had a coin slot, and you'd put a shilling in and the power would come on for some number of hours. But the power company got fed up of sending people around to collect the money, so they came up with the key scheme. You have a physical object called the "key". When you want to prepay for something, you go to a newsagent's or similar, hand them some money and say e.g. "Please put £5 on this key". (The newsagent gets paid by the power company to do this; they don't take a cut of the amount directly.) Then you go back home and put the key in the meter, and the meter says "There is £5 on this key" and increases your prepayment balance by that amount.

For no reason I can discover, although our electricity and gas are supplied by the same company, the electricity key is a long folding strip of plastic containing an integrated circuit, but the gas key is an ISO/IEC 7810 card.

Prepaying for your gas and electricity in this way tends to be a lot more expensive than getting bills, but it's not easy to switch away from it.

Edit: Oh, this was behind the joke in "A Tall Story" :

Just as she’d finished knitting, the light in their room went out with a quiet click, and so did the lamp at the top of the tower. [...] "Don’t worry," said the lighthouse-keeper, though he looked a bit worried too. "It’s probably just that I need to put some more money in the meter. We’ll have it right as rain again in no time at all."

because it would be ridiculous to charge a lighthouse for electricity in this way.
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Syndicated 2014-08-24 17:30:26 (Updated 2014-08-24 17:34:30) from Monument


One of the minor annoyances I haven't mentioned before is that the letting agent switched us to a new gas company, who sent us a new meter key with a letter saying "This is so you don't have to deal with bad debts from former tenants." So I was not much amused to discover that the new key already had a debt of £73 on it. We phoned them, and they cancelled the debt, but it'll take a week to go through (because their computers are actually powered by gnomes or something). Until then, we get 10p of gas for every pound we put on the meter, because 90p goes towards the debt, and 10p of gas is not quite enough to run a bath. This wouldn't be as much of a problem if we had more spare cash at present, and if the weather wasn't starting to get cold.

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Syndicated 2014-08-24 12:54:16 from Monument

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