Smokey the Magnificent

Failing the Turing Test since 1986


1. I am once again With Pig. Yay, I say in bleak and bitter tones which make it sound like I’m anti-pigs. This is not at all the case. Very pro-pigs. Go pigs, I say. Go this pig, even, specifically. I’m just anti-pregnancy; at any rate for myself.

Because I kinda suck at it. Do I glow? I do not. Do I thrill with the wonder of feeling a tiny being kicking in my stomach? No, I poke it grumpily and tell it to hush up because I’m trying to sleep. Do I wear cute maternity tunics and ballet flats? No; I think “This time, I shall sew myself an awesome maternity wardrobe!” and then I get bedridden for months with mysterious fatigue and end up wearing unzipped jeans and Helpdesk Man’s shirts, which is even less appealing than it sounds. Plus, heartburn. And pelvic girdle pain. And food aversions. And nausea. And dizziness. And so forth. Every time I have waxed with pig I have told myself soberly that I know I don’t like pregnancy, and that I’m not going into this with rose-tinted glasses, and that I’ll just grit my teeth and get through it; and then every time it’s significantly more miserable and dragging and unpleasant than I had remembered. Have I mentioned that I dislike pregnancy?

But I do like babies, so there it is. I suffer in silence… as you see. And actually, it hasn’t been all bad. As long as I’m horizontal and eat with the monotonous regularity of a cow, I feel fine. So I’ve gotten through a lot of books. Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers, LM Montgomery, an award-winning book called ‘Never Let Me Go’ which is basically The Island, only good; Sugar, a Bittersweet History, which gives a view of slavery intriguingly different from the America-and-cotton narrative – I’d never read much about England’s abolitionist movement before; and a novel by Muriel Sparks, who I always thought was contemporary – it sounds modern, dunnit? – but was actually born in 1918 and wrote a thoroughly weird book in which the main character figures out halfway through that she’s fictional. Heady stuff. Also a bit of Terry Pratchett, because one can’t be literary all the time.

The pigs are very pleased about the impending mini-pig. Miles keeps hopping onto the bed while I’m asleep and demanding I uncover the baby so he can give it kisses and hongis, drive toy cars on it, tickle it and, somewhat worryingly, eat it and spit back out again. Repeatedly. He’s an odd wee chap. Rowan is a sweetie, but has gradually abandoned her “I’ll love it whatever it is” policy in favour of “Make sure it’s a girl!”, which might cause problems…

2. Did you know there’s a conspiracy theory that the Titanic never actually sank, because she was switched at the last minute for her sister ship the Olympic and sunk deliberately for insurance purposes? I had no idea, and I’m very fond of conspiracy theories. I discovered this one last night while I was idly watching YouTube documentaries about the Titanic – something I have only been able to do of recent years, now that antidepressants have blunted the edge of my underwater-looming-objects phobia. And a good thing too, because it’s fascinating. There was this awesome interview from the 1950s with a bunch of survivors, and a recentish – 2001, maybe? – interview with a very old woman who’d been seven when the ship sank. She insisted the band had indeed played ‘Nearer My God To Thee”, and mentioned that several months after the sinking she was in a church service, heard the opening bars of the hymn and ran out in a panic having flashbacks. That has the ring of truth to it, don’t you think? And she said she’d always insisted the ship broke in two before it sank, which was at least partly confirmed in 1985, so she seems to have had her wits about her. (She said the Californian came jolly close, too: far closer than nineteen miles. Very strange, that whole thing.)

3. A few nights ago I was feeling bleugh (see Point 1) and Helpdesk Man was out with the car, so I ordered in pizza. This was harder than it sounds: there are three pizza-delivery places in town and two of them refused to deliver to us because of our remote country location, which is ridiculous: we’re only seven minutes away from one of the outlets! Also, how come pizza delivery became a thing but not, say, burger delivery or kebab delivery? Seems arbitrary. Anyhoo, I finally found a place which was willing to cross Bat Country in order to succour a starving pregnant female, and an impressively short time later, up rocked the pizza in arms of a sturdy maiden who was, and I stress this, Kiwi. Not from a high-rise in Tokyo or a remote Inuit outpost, as far as accents go, anyway.

I opened the door and she was staring agog at Carol. Carol is our White Orpington, and she is pretty sizeable. People have been known to comment. But this girl looked like she’d just seen the ghost of John Lennon, and as I said “Hi” she blurted out “Is that a chicken? That’s HUGE! I’ve never seen a chicken before!”

Suppressing the urge to say “Dude, really?” I smiled and explained that Carol was in fact an unusually large specimen, and that most chickens were of a more temperate size; and to prove my point, Calibri and Zapfino wandered round the side of the house in search of food. (We name our chickens after obscure fonts; long story. It made more sense when we had Wingdings and Arial and Lucida, but the dog et ’em.)

The girl, who had other pizzas to deliver in her insulated bag, seemed disinclined to leave and kept staring and exclaiming. She wanted to know if they were tame; they’re not, exactly, but they are greedy, so I gave her a corn nugget to feed Carol. She stooped down cautiously and held it out; Carol attached it with the crazed bloodlust of a ravening wolverine, pecking the nugget out of the girl’s hand and causing her to whoop and skip backwards in delighted fright. Even then she wouldn’t leave, but asked in a hushed whisper “Do they lay eggs?” I told her that they did, but that it was sometimes hard to find them because the hens free-ranged and hid clutches of eggs in funny places. Her eyes were like saucers. In the end I politely said goodbye, partly out of pity for the customers whose pizza was rapidly cooling, and partly because I wanted to eat dinner. She walked back to the car with the air of one who has discovered a unicorn in a shopping mall. I’m not sure if the encounter was heartwarming or just kinda sad. How can you not have seen a chicken? In New Zealand?? Still, she was kind of a sweetie.

4. Did you know that the term ‘drawing room’ comes from ‘withdrawing room’? It was the room to which ladies withdrew after dinner while the man had their brandy and cigars or belched or discussed politics too racy for womanly ears. One of the many things I have learned while reading books in bed. Also, ‘living room’ is a term invented in opposition to ‘dying’. The parlour used to be a formal, seldom-used room which was strongly associated with having one’s loved ones laid out in it. When funeral homes became a thing and people got the bright idea of actually inhabiting their parlours and making them casual places of relaxation, the term ‘living room’ was invented to emphasise the shift – the room was now for the living, not the dead. Nifty, no?

Also, if you’re ever bored, look up secret locking-boxes, aka puzzle-boxes, on YouTube. Great fun. I’d buy one for Helpdesk Man for Christmas, but they’re heinously expensive, as are codexes; plus, whatever you put inside them is bound to be a letdown, innit? If he were a woman I could put some fabulously expensive piece of jewelry inside, at least I could if I hadn’t spent all my money on the box; but for a chap? A bit of choccie? A cigar? A Swiss Army Knife? A sonnet on the glories of his manly chin?

  1. Trish

    Right, off to watch that immediately. That would be awfully cavalier and cruel though, wouldn’t it. Also, as it happens, I did know about drawing rooms, but not living rooms. I prefer to lounge )

  2. Trish

    Ooh, doesn’t look good, does it :/ Flippin’ ‘eck.

  3. smokering

    Hang on, what are you looking up?

  4. Trish

    Hokay. This morning (and this afternoon, because I am shattered) I watched one, and then another better conspiramentaries about the Titanic on YouTube. Wasn’t satisfied by the first one, but the second one had lots more details in it, and, frankly, on balance, it seems plausible that it was all jacked up. I mean, if you are going to do something shonky, you are going to leave behind a trail of things that need covering up, right. For me the clincher is the lettering on the hull, because, um, fraud, rivets, and seawater, well nature is going to win, isn’t it? Well, that and the only cargo of the Californian being jumpers and blankets. It looks like they didn’t actually intend for any lives to be lost, but mischance had other ideas 🙁 The tangled web.

  5. smokering

    Er, you might want to watch a few of the debunking-the-conspiracy documentaries as well, just to balance things out…

  6. smokering

    OK, so I watched one of the conspiracy-theory documentaries (sort of; it turned out to agree that the evidence was against the conspiracy theory, but it was called ‘TItanic: The Ship That Never Sank’, so how was I to know?)

    Yeah, I don’t buy it. The straight vs curved wheelhouse thing is pretty damning, and all the evidence suggested in that documentary, at least, can basically be explained away. Plus, we know that the Californian DID see Titanic’s rockets – they were reported to the captain. There is a mystery there, in that the captain didn’t seem to think that a ship setting off rockets at night in berg-infested waters might possibly be a reason to go investigate – but that mystery only compounds if the captain was actually expecting a crash. I mean, you’re expecting a crash, you see distress rockets… of course you’re going to put two and two together.

    Plus, Titanic had an enclosed promenade deck where Olympic didn’t. Plus, the documentary stated that the ‘only reason’ the lifeboats were launched half-empty was that they didn’t think they’d need them. But again, that doesn’t make sense to me. Even if they were expecting to be rescued promptly, the captain would have known there was going to be an investigation and scrutiny from the press and survivors – sinking a brand-new unsinkable ship, even without loss of life, is going to raise eyebrows. So he ought to have been particularly careful about appearing to be a scrupulous captain who did everything right.

    From what I’ve read (which is a fair bit, Titanic’s been a mild recent obsession of mind) the reason for the poor filling of the lifeboats was twofold: his ‘women and children first’ order was ambiguous (as he seemed to be in a state of shock and wasn’t captaining very well at all), and was interpreted by one of the two crewmen responsible for filling the boats as ‘women and children ONLY’; and secondly, the order to evacuate was given so badly and vaguely, and people were so convinced there was nothing to worry about, that there weren’t that many people up on deck until the lifeboats had all been launched. It was only when the ship was quite close to sinking that people swarmed up on deck, and by that time the lifeboats were too afraid to come back, lest they be pulled under by the suction when the ship went down.

    Besides, they brought the captain out of retirement for Titanic’s maiden voyage. I can see why he’d do that for the honour and glory of sailing the greatest ship in the world; but why would he do it in order to ruin his own reputation, with at least a chance of dying, by sinking a brand-new ship, to save money for a company for whom he no longer worked?

    That said, you should come over and watch ‘A Night to Remember’ with me some time. Or indeed ‘Titanic’ itself, which I resisted watching for many years, but now reluctantly admit is kind of awesome, mostly for its sheer historical geekery.

  7. Trish

    Crikey. Nope. I’m a Titanic conspiracist (?) from here on out. The only thing is that I would like to see half of the documents with my own eyes. And I can’t ever watch Titanic again now. I find this new story much more gripping, and more moving too. I like a good plotline, and I don’t much like Kate Winslet.

  8. smokering

    But the wheelhouse, dude! How do you explain the wheelhouse?

    It is a good story, I admit. Conspiracy theories generally are. But the thing is, Titanic has such rich, awesome, tragic stories anyway. John Jacob Astor farewelling his pregnant wife… Violet Jessop… “The Unsinkable” Molly Brown… Nearer, My God, To Thee… the Strausses… the boots found in situ on the ocean floor… the mystery of the Californian… the heroism of the Carpathia… the triumph of the Marconi system… the third-class passengers being locked beneath… the musical ‘lucky pig’… Guggenheim donning his evening dress to die like a gentleman, and refusing a place in the lifeboat because his coloured valet would not have been allowed to join him…. the unbroken dishes at the bottom of the sea… the moonless, eerily still night that allowed the iceberg to hide until it was too late… the usually-marginalised female testimonies at the investigation, necessitated by the comparative lack of male survivors… the row of commemorative plaques sunk by various Titanic expeditions, laid across the front of the wheelhouse… the watch that was found on the wreck and returned to the victim’s daughter, decades after he died… It seems somehow disrespectful to the real human tragedy to superimpose a Dan Brown plot on it all. (Unless it’s true, of course… but it ain’t. The ship at the bottom of the ocean IS the Titanic. Its pieces are labelled with the Titanic’s designation, 401; the wheelhouse is straight rather than curved; and a piece of hull has been recovered which has a porthole configuration only found on Titanic.)

  9. Trish

    I just like the other idea better. I consciously make the decision to. Actually, I have always (including the film) found people’s fascination with the whole thing macabre. Same as for WWII combat films. Like, I can’t watch Schindler’s List or Saving Private Ryan over again. I know, I know, Titanic the film is about Jack and Rose, but the whole re-enactment of the sinking in it just freaks me out. Real people went through that, as you say. I suppose I like the theory, whether it is wrong or not, because I like the narrative of it better. In the theory, there isn’t just tragedy, there’s mischance, and shadiness, and I just find the narrative potential in those things to be a more compelling basis for a story. There’s no law against it. People twist history in fiction all the time. I just found a story I like better than an accepted truth, and way better than the film. Purely personal perversity 🙂

  10. smokering

    I suppose it is a bit macabre. Pompeii tourism, too. But then I am kind of macabre and I find ’em fascinating. :p WW2 combat films, not so much – Schindler’s List made me feel guilty because it managed to be both horrific and also really boring, and I never got around to watching Saving Private Ryan. I am fascinated by the domestic side of WW2 – the rationing and laws about lapel depths and so on – and I like Paul Brickhill and Corrie ten Boom as much as anyone, but the combat stuff never really interested me.

    There is something about slightly mysterious and large-scale disasters, though, innit? I don’t think it’s all about prurient rubbernecking to be fascinated by them. They raise philosophical questions and illustrate the bests and worsts of human behavior and bring the past closer and all that jazz.

    On the other hand, there’s the ‘Titanic Experience’ dinner theatre we saw in California next to Medieval Times. So maybe prurient rubbernecking isn’t entirely out of the question…

  11. Krissy

    Yay new pig! Congratulations. 🙂

    Why are puzzle boxes so expensive there? I see them frequently at craft fairs here and they don’t cost that much. Well, in range for a jewelry box.

  12. Smokering

    Really? Huh. Well, bear in mind a lot of things are expensive here. I bought some eyeliner in the US which I found later in a NZ store for four times the price. We are kinda tucked away in a nowhere corner of the globe. :p