Monday, 31 December 2012

New Year's Eve

It's that time of year when everybody writes a review of the year gone by, so I won't. I find it all rather amusing, to be honest. Just because a 16th century Pope decided how our year would be marked, we all go along with it. It's convenient that we all use the same calendar, obviously, but the dates are all meaningless, particularly the New Year. Still, it's a good excuse for a party, so those of those who are out celebrating tonight, you have a jolly good time. I've got a sick husband so we will be staying in, and he'll be using his New Year's booze as medicine. It sort of works.

The thing about dates is that they are numbers. Like times, people get hung up on the numbers of dates. They got very hung up on 12/12/12, because they created a number pattern. But that only happened because we use the aforementioned calendar, and we have ten fingers. If we had 8 fingers, we'd almost certainly count in base 8, which would change everything. We'd go 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,10, and so on. 4 + 4 = 10. So the year 2012 would be 3734 instead, and instead of the 12th day or month, it'd be the 14th. 14/14/34 just doesn't have the same ring to it.

Obviously, we can't change the fact that if you have 3 of something, and you add 3 more, you have 6. It's what we call those amounts that is arbitrary. After all, your computer, which at its most basic level works in binary, KNOWS that 3 + 3 =6 is REALLY 11 + 11 = 110. When the numerologists come to town all computers are a 1.

The only numbers that really make sense are those that nature decides upon. Like 3 primary colours, from which all others are made. Or the Fibonacci sequence used to make snail shells and flowers. No matter what base you count in, or what you call them, these are solid and constant. Dates aren't. Dates are just mutually agreed upon markers so that we all arrive at the party on the right night.

Those of us who shrug at numbers are a constant annoyance to those who are very number-oriented, and vice versa. My husband is a number freak, and very time aware too. He is extremely good at estimating his arrival time, and usually knows what time of day it is without checking. But he frustrates himself by expecting me to have the same level of interest. I don't. If asked to guess the time I can be out by 3 or 4 hours. If I can see the Sun, I may be a bit closer, but indoors or on a cloudy day, not a chance. More to the point, I don't care. I'm doing this, I'm doing it now, I'm doing it at my speed, and that's that.

Sometimes he wants to know what time something happened. Not for any logical reason, but just so he can file it correctly in his little brain calendar. He'll phone me from work "What time did such and such happen?". I have no idea. What's more, I don't care. It happened. Yeah, it was today. If he's lucky I may be able to identify if it was morning or afternoon, but only if I stopped for lunch. And sometimes I eat lunch at 3pm, so........

I drive him crazy with this stuff. If I've arranged for visitors to come over, he expects me to know when they'll arrive. If I say "When they get here" he looks like he's in pain. It works both ways, obviously, I get quite irritated when questioned about when something is going to happen. Wait and see. I am NOT time-oriented.

This does not mean I'm always late. No. That's just rude. If I am expected to be somewhere at a given time, I'll do it. I was never late for work, never missed the bus, and I always get up on time, when required. I'm not an unreliable person. They just need slapping. It's inconsiderate. But if it doesn't matter when a thing happens, happens when it happens. I never see any point in creating a schedule for the sake of it.

So you're wondering, was I a dunce in mathematics at school? Not exactly. I passed. I managed to scrape by. I'm not stupid. But the lack of enthusiasm stopped me from doing really well. I probably could have done better, but it just didn't grab me. I liked geometry - patterns. Patterns are fun. I liked algebra, oddly. It was a puzzle. I like puzzles. But generally speaking, my enthusiasm was for other things, language, art, history, things I could use.  Things that inspired me. The left side of my brain was fully satisfied by rules of grammar, thank you very much.

There's no escaping dates, obviously. As I said, I've always loved history, and you have to know a fair few dates there, to keep things organized. But that's just a game of memory, the dates aren't the important thing. The people, and what they did were what mattered. A sequence of events is still a sequence of events even if nobody is counting. We have to keep count, we have to measure. Numbers are useful. I just like to keep them in perspective.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Other Lives, Other Ways

A few weeks ago, I promised I would let you know how I enjoyed the book I was reading. It was an odd impluse buy. I was watching an episode of QI, was curious about the name of one of the panel, just couldn't catch it right, went to look her up, and discovered she'd written a book. Now, I knew nothing about this lady, Shappi Khorsandi,  other than that she was a comedian, and certainly she was pleasantly amusing on the show. But the book description intrigued me, so I immediately bought it:

A Beginner's Guide to Acting English

The book describes the way in which young Khorsandi experiences England as a young girl. Her story commences with her attending nursery school, The Kings' International Nursery School, with her brother, Peyvand. Throughout the book, she explains the ways in which the Iranian language differs from English: "They called me ‘poppet’. Iranians said 'jaan' or 'azizam'." She also takes pride in how her father took English classes and was praised for his affinity with the written word. She also felt he was able to be more humorous in Farsi. Other themes include her experiences with English food and customs, the war between Iran and Iraq as well as the hostilities that she and her family encounter. For example, she often becomes labelled as a terrorist.

Well, it's quite a bit more than that - this doesn't do it justice at all. It's an absolutely wonderful read, actually. I am always fascinated by the story of the immigrant, being one myself, but I had such an easy ride of it. I didn't have to learn a new language, I was extremely welcome in my adopted homeland and was at no time discriminated against for being different. In fact in almost 20 years the hardest thing I've had to face is needing to spell the word STRAW on the phone to make myself understood. 

Shappi's story is very different indeed, and yet anyone can relate to her early school experience. It is as things change in Iran that we learn so much from her perspective. It is incredibly powerful. I cannot recommend it highly enough. If you have any interest in any aspect of what I've just described, are interested in recent history, are a people watcher - a student of the human condition, or simply love a good memoir, you need this one.