The tug boats moved in close to the cruise ship, one at the back and one towards the front. Struck me to wonder whether there would be a person at the back of the cruise ship (and the front, but we couldn’t see the front so easily) who would throw a rope to the tug boat, or was the presence of the tug boats just a health-and-safety thing - cruise ships can get themselves back out of harbour these days, thank you - or was the whole thing done by some clever technological method that didn’t require an actual person to throw an actual rope (cable?).
Harnessing the power of technology to harness the power of tugboats. But my smartphone didn’t know the answer, and while I was consulting it, an actual rope (cable?) had appeared in the air between the stern tugboat and the cruise ship. So that was me done with that question until the next cruise ship. Why do I take my smartphone with me in the early mornings? I’d find out so much more if I just watched the world around me. Or, you know, ask somebody. Although I wouldn’t be able to watch the little blue dot on the Maps app, taking its own walk. I grow fond of that dot.
The cruise ship and its attendant tugs didn’t go at the top of the hour but shortly afterwards - inhabitants of that world think of tides more readily than clocks, I guess - and the next three things that happened in my life were (1) an ancient VW camper van with that rattly engine sound struggling to get out of a parking space, then (2) a youngish-woman having a remarkably animated conversation with - nobody? nothing? - driving past me at speed, and then (3) my smartphone pinging to announce the arrival of my daily Tarot reading. Ah, that’s the real reason I take my smartphone in the mornings. To find out as early as possible what the Tarot has to say about the day ahead.
“Save those creative, foot-loose and fancy-free activities for another day and focus on the nuts and bolts,” was my message from the folk at astrology.com. Although it took a moment to find that out, because the message itself jumps around the screen while the ads and pictures drop into place. “Enjoy 12 weeks of The Economist for £12. Plus free limited edition Moleskine notebook,” might have been the reading for the day, although the card itself - wait, just downloading, here it comes - was The Pope, which probably tallies better with Don’t Be Creative than with Spend Twelve Weeks Reading The Economist.
Although twelve is a number with a certain power, come to think of it, and if you sat an actual pope down in an armchair and started a word-association game with “twelve”, you wouldn’t be short of answers. So maybe the Tarot does want me to subscribe to The Economist. I had the Death card a few weeks back, I remember, and that also came with a recommendation to read The Economist. Subscribe, I mean. For twelve weeks. Or do those good people (making an assumption of virtue here, but why not?) at astrology.com want me to start posting about economic issues? This is all some kind of nudge from the astrologists?
Or are we looking at an odd demographic quirk here? The ad that really works with the daily Tarot reading is the ad for The Economist? I get a certain amount of economic forecasting into my inbox, and while I don’t like it as much as I like my daily Tarot reading, I do read it in much the same spirit.
I know two things about economic forecasting: while it’s intended to be a best guess, nobody expects it to be correct (ignore a forecaster who seems to believe she knows what the future will bring); any forecasting is better than no forecasting because we need a direction of travel. Forecasters talk about what “could” happen, and because they’ve read the entrails - sorry, crunched the numbers - it’s not an objection that they’ve never been right before.
Take those two into account, and you begin to understand why we have sober-suited gentlemen who were demonstrably wrong last time being taken seriously this time. Sooner or later, anybody who comes out with any kind of a firm statement about what the future holds is going to be proved wrong - it’s always a news story (in the old sense of the word “news”) if an old forecast turns out to have been accurate. The human-nature part of this is that we go on believing the modern-day shamans as long as they look the part.
If you are an elderly gentleman with a penchant for wearing white, who travels with an entourage of elderly gentlemen with a penchant for wearing red, we will listen to your views on … trying to think of an example here … how to treat pregnant young women - no, I can’t bear it - how to treat young children in the care of celibate elderly men and women - no. Let’s go with a less painful example. If you’re a banker in a position of influence, we will listen to you talk about the doom that awaits us if we [insert glaringly obvious example here] even if the doom that awaited us last time you hit the headlines never happened.
We need convincing leaders more than we need convincing leadership, is that it? We need that nudge to think about the consequences of what we’re doing, even if, in real life, with the help of social media, we skip the thinking and cut straight to panic mode? I’m beginning to suspect that the biggest split in British politics, can’t speak about anywhere else, is the split between people who have seen through all that, and those who still take it seriously. Not left/right, which is so twentieth century, nor leave/remain, which is so 2016. But “Oh no! A politician seeking attention has said that if we wake up tomorrow morning the country will collapse!” against “Has he? I wish those people would shut up and leave us in peace.”
The phrase “silent majority” comes to us from US political history. It’s self-explanatory, and I think there’s one here. If I could think of a current political issue on which, let’s say, the “vocal minority”, turbo-charged by a media hungry for an easy story, just won’t stop boring on and in the process convincing itself that it knows best - I’d be looking for the size of the “You’re not listening to me and you’re not even trying to understand me so I’m going to vote against you” vote. Expecting it to be big.
Anyway, never mind all that. I have nuts-and-bolts stuff to get done, and never mind how I know that. Scientists? Astrologers? Tarot-card readers? Looking at the state of my desk, any economist or politician would tell me the same thing.
Some gadget not a million miles from here, I forget which, has the words In Search of Excellence prominently displayed in all the places where my generation would have put, say, Instructions, or perhaps Warranty Information. My old laptop would play back recorded interviews on something called Windows Media Player. I do the exact-same thing in the exact-same way on my new laptop, except that the utility that turns itself on to handle the task is called Groove Music.
That’s fine. Funny, even. I like the distance between who they think I am and who I am. All that Big Data I must have generated since buying this laptop. All that technology, all that commercially driven analysis, all that “don’t switch off or even touch me; I’ve decided without consulting you to spend ten minutes showing you a blue screen while I update myself”. All that, and they still think I’m a Groove Music person and not a “can’t wait any longer; writing down my idea in my old Moleskine notebook” person.
Technology’s taking over like cars took over, but in that analogy, we’re still driving Model T Fords. The world we’ve made doesn’t really “get” any of us, does it?
I like “touch wood” as an expression, by the way, but “for my sins” is better. Not quite as common, but I was once told by a cameraman wearing headphones that he was filming (about to film; there was time for a chat) an address given by a Seattle-based technology guru (who had written the book on the innovation of the day) “for my sins”.
He was there with his camera and his black t-shirt and his headband and all his gear - for his sins? I could tell you what the guru said - I could go into my standard rant about cutting-edge technologists who derive their, ah, conference bookability from the existence of an old-fashioned printed book - except that I can’t take either of those roads because I spent the whole talk wondering what the cameraman’s sins might have been.
And let’s postulate some kind of outside-life committee of elders calculating the exact next-life consequence of every one of a lifetime’s sins. If we can work with the word “sins”. Wasn’t there some debate over cardinal versus venial and who gets to decide what counts as a sin? Of course, there would have been, but let’s stick with the question of what I did in old-time Constantinople to be writing this now.
Consequences of every thought, word and deed, perhaps. What did that cameraman do, to be pointing his camera at an individual coming out with yet another life-changing, fortune-making (not necessarily in that order) app? Who came up with [I can’t think of another example; my sins must be catching up with me] and who’s she going to be next as a result? I’m uneasy now, about eating that third Shredded Wheat.
This is a long way from turning on the radio while the kettle boils and ripping open Shredded Wheat packaging while listening to an earnest discussion offfffffffffffff - sorry, I blacked out for a moment. You know what they were talking about. You could recite it word for word, although don’t try that while driving. Somewhat more soporific than singing along to a favourite song. And anyway, I’m writing this not about Brrrrrr - but to argue for mindfulness as a response to strangeness.
The world is routinely strange. It’s strangely wonderful. Leaving a friend’s apartment yesterday, after tea and Tunnock’s Tea Cakes, I looked at the view of the Moor from her door (I must have done something careless back in 1582, to make that rhyme so jarringly) - I looked at the view of the Moor in Falmouth from just outside her front entrance; at the trees, the buildings, the green slopes, the concrete - and all of a sudden I thought: we are the invasive species.
That stopped me.