Wednesday, September 28, 2011

ROBOT DEATH TANK: Gerald and Marjorie

"Gerald. We need to talk."

"Marjorie!" He turned and switched on the kitchen light. "I thought you'd be in bed."

"This can't go on Gerald. You come in late, you leave before the children get up, you're in the office all weekend and on top of that you go on business trips. We never talk. I never see you. We never see you."

"It's late. I'm tired. You're tired. Can this wait until the morning?"

"When you have a breakfast meeting to go to?"

"Hush darling. Hush. We're... it's just a bad patch. We'll get through it. I'll make it up..."

"Mummy Mummy!" cried a voice.

"Bobby? What are you... go back to bed."

"No Mummy! Look! ROBOT DEATH TANK!"

Looking out the window they could see ROBOT DEATH TANK. They fled.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

The Perils of Fictive Relatives

Who is your relative and what that relationship means differs between cultures (and sub-cultures). But there are always rules, and with all rules there are exceptions. The typical one in English-speaking cultures is an adult who is not a relative by blood or marriage who is referred to as Aunt or Uncle[1].

Anthropologists refer to this as fictive kinship. I've done a bit of this, most recently when I decided that my uncle's partner was my aunt. Nice and neat, right? Anyway this has opened a new can of worms, as does this mean I've just gained a veritable hatload of fictive cousins, some of which I've never met? More relatives! Or just people related to my aunt? I don't know.

[1] Godparents get this quite a bit.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Space Oddity

Comics Alliance has put up a comic of David Bowie's Space Oddity drawn as a childens book here. It has the music as well. I suggest going there, playing the song and reading the comic. Do it! It's good. And will only use upp 5 minutes of your valuable time.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Choose Your Own Napoleonic War

From my abortive run through the online version of the Lone Wolf books it's clear that hyperlinks were what gamebooks were groping towards. However in an age of sexy graphics, first person shooters and really stupid plots, does anyone really want a text based adventure with limited choices? Other than me, obviously.

Enter Choice of Games who make this very type of game and allow you to play them on their website. My favourite of their games is Choice of Broadsides in which you begin as a midshipman in the Royal Navy of Albion locked in a death grapple with Republican Gaul. Essentially this is the French Revolutionary/Napoleonic war and you get to be Hornblower, or Aubrey or Bolitho. At the start you make some choices about your background - will you have plenty of influence to smooth your career, be a brilliant sailor or a highly skilled swordsman who closes at every opportunity. If you're smart and play to your strengths you may rise swiftly through the ranks, but if, for example, you're rubbish at gunnery and keep trying to engage the enemy from long range you'll undoubtedly lose. The game is fairly forgiving, at least up until the climactic battle, but victories lead to early promotion and probably make you more attractive to the opposite sex whilst on shore.

I say you start as a midshipman but the game is designed to be as inclusive as possible, so an early question says:

This game is set in a fictional world, similar to our own but with some differences.

For example, perhaps the ships are crewed by women. You are a young and gallant officer, but are you a young gentleman or a young lady?

and if you're a midshipwoman it replies:

The place for a man is domestic, rearing the children and making a pleasant home for his wife. We put men up on a pedestal so that they do not need to face the hardships that women are more constitutionally suited to bear.

This begins as hilariously straightfaced, but as you go on the gender-swapped regency world highlights some of the strangeness.

All in all I enjoyed this. It has some replay value - I did pretty well as a highly skilled officer with little influence or charm, then turned around and made a big hash of things as the son of a peer with immense charm who always got away with things. I only wish we had an opposite rival, so the poor but brilliant officer would be one step behind the influential guy, and a player with connections would be annoyed that some unworthy oik who happened to be a good sailor kept hogging the glory. There are a couple of good characters, although the common sailors are generally undistinguished.

Play This: If you want to have an amusing hour or two being a literary naval officer and like the whole gamebook thing.
Don't Play This: If the Napoleonic wars aren't your thing, or think that choose your own adventure is stupid.
Also: Choice of Games has three (or four) other games: Choice of Dragon, Choice of Vampire, and Choice of Romance and it's sequel Choice of Intrigue.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

What Do They have Against Hampton Wick Anyway?

"Who is in charge of updating Cockney Rhyming Slang?" was Stan's question. With outdated references such as syrup of figs[1] (although someone's grandmother apparently swore by it) for wig, Ruby Murray[2] for curry and even Alan Whickers for knickers, sometimes Rhyming Slang seems to be from my grandparents' generation. But it's part of a living dialect and does get updated. It's a good question, which I will now fail to answer several times.

1. No one

It just happens. One day flares are referred to as Lionels. The next, some bloke becomes Prime Minister and they're Tonys. Popular things that rhyme are obvious and just get made up all over the place. Because they're obvious everyone who uses the slang figures it out and picks it up. End of story.

This version of events ignores several factors, including why it's known as Cockney rhyming slang.

2. The population within the sound of the Bow Bells

The traditional definition of a Cockney is someone born within sound of the Bow Bells of St Mary-le-Bow[3]. More usually it refers to working class East End Londoners, who speak with a distinctive accent and feature rhyming slang.

Under either definition Rhyming slang begins in East London, presumably in the pubs and workplaces. There, the classic cheeky cockneys with their cliched wit and eye for the main chance while away the hours trying out new slang on each other, always trying to keep their dialect one step more confusing to those not so blessed as to be born in London.

A problem with this is the interconnectedness of modern life. In earlier times many references obvious to Cockneys would be obscure to outsiders (and vice versa). Many modern slang words reference events and people that are nationally and internationally famous, so rhyming slang is not so much obscure as an affection. Of course this may have always been the case. However with the rise of working class cool over the last 50 years, it's an affection that has spread beyond it's origins, which is why this site allows you to rate slang as classic, modern and "mockney".

(The pub theory does help to explain why there are so many rhyming slang words and phrase for urination.)

3. Mockneys and Estuary English

As a nice boy brought up in a secure and comfortable middle class family in a small town in the home counties, I obviously attempted to ape working class urban speech as much as possible. London being the closest metropolis my accent is probably closest to Estuary English. As might be expected, when I lived in London I picked up quite a bit of cockney slang[4] making me that most despicable of creatures, the Mockney.

The traditional East End Working Class roots of rhyming slang acknowledged, modern versions acquire their references from popular culture. Those of us who have grown up speaking a cockney influenced language and are equally part of the popular culture make up our own slang terms. In addition, Cockney culture is now part of popular culture (and arguably has been since Dickens, and certainly from My Fair Lady) with one of the most watched TV programs being Eastenders.

But wait! Am I really arguing that rhyming slang is being invented on television, like here from the 1 minute mark? I've clearly gone a bit Pete Tong.

4.All of the above, maybe

I may know more than when I started, but I'm at least as ignorant of the actual answer when I started. Like many things in language and popular culture, even if you can identify a particular starting point, the way it spreads and how it becomes accepted is unclear. So Stan, if you want to update rhyming slang I guess you'll have to get on your Dick Van Dyke and have a go yourself.

[1] A laxative, still available but out of fashion.
[2] A famous singer of the 50s. Here she is singing a Johnny Cash song, which kind of surprised me when I discovered it. It turns out this was when Cash's career was taking off and Murray's was slowly declining. Also, it was still the period when the song was as important as the particular recording, so British and Irish singers would often pick up American songs (and vice versa) and make them part of their act.
[3] Referenced in the nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons
[4] Also some Mancunian leading to such horrific constructs as "Let's have a butchers, our kid".