Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Under the Influence

During a failed attempt to create some space in my wardrobe this afternoon, I was confronted with some of my less judicious internet purchases - all bought under the influence of alcohol.

I don't mean to sound like a candidate for the Betty Ford Clinic. I'm not a heavy drinker, but I do enjoy a couple of glasses of wine in the evening and that, it seems, is all it takes to undo years of education and experience.

Here are some recent examples:

1. An insect in amber:

There is something wonderful about an insect in amber. It is the immediacy of it. We aren't looking at the fossilised remains of a creature; we are looking at the thing itself, trapped tens of millions of years ago in the resin of a tree. It makes my head hurt.

During one of these moments of wonder, aided by a particularly nice glass of Pouilly Fume, I ordered an insect in amber on eBay. Sadly, it turned out to be a particularly dull specimen - more of a speck really - in a piece of amber that is smaller than the nail of my little finger. A huge disappointment.

2. A boxed set of 'The West Wing':

I'm sure it's wonderful. I like political dramas and really enjoyed Borgen, which is supposed to be a Danish version of The West Wing, but unless my children are sent to boarding school or I find a job on an oil rig, I don't know when I'm going to have time to watch all 59 seasons.

Why did I order something that I can't watch?

3. A meteorite:

Like the insect in amber, there is something awe-inspiring about holding a lump of rock that has travelled through space, but once again, it's very small. Is it even a meteorite? Sometimes I wonder if it's just a bit of molten metal that's fallen on the floor in some obscure foundry in a former part of the Soviet Union. How can I tell?

4. An archery lesson:

Two years ago I visited a medieval fair and saw an archery stall. I decided to have a go and, to everyone's surprise, scored one bullseye after another. At last, a sport I was good at!

When Groupon sent an email offering a 75-minute archery lesson for under £20, it seemed like the best idea in the world. But in the cold light of day, I found myself thinking "Oh, I suppose I'd better have that archery lesson. I hope it doesn't rain".

Still, at least I'll have a defence against the marauding gangs in the post-apocalyptic world.

5. The complete works of Webern:

I like the idea of Webern. He reacted against the fin de siecle culture of the years leading up to 1914, rejecting the opulent, inflated late-romanticism of the time in favour of a new discipline. His music was uncompromisingly austere, with increasingly shorter compositions for ever-smaller ensembles of musicians (sadly, this process of compression came to a premature end when Webern was accidentally shot by a GI in 1945).

Unfortunately, I just can't listen to it.

I think I must have liked the idea of conquering the complete works of Webern when I ordered the boxed set, but in the cold light of day it wasn't such a good idea.

I like difficult music. I can quite happily listen to this, but not Webern.

6. A Queen Elizabeth I sixpence:

I'd always thought that a coin this old would be impossibly expensive. When I discovered that they were actually very affordable, I couldn't resist the temptation to own something that had passed through so many hands. But it was an impulse.

I'm not against being online under the influence of alcohol - this blog is largely a product of those second glasses of wine - but after exploring the depths of my wardrobe, I think that there's a strong case for ensuring that all transactional websites emulate the high street, closing their virtual doors at 5.30pm.


Rog said...

Thanks for justifying our policy of finishing all our eBay auctions between 9.00pm and 9.30pm. Mind you, If you watched the West Wing you wouldn't have time to make online evening purchases.

Mrs Jones said...

Now what you have here - with the amber, meteorite and sixpence - is the beginnings of a good old Cabinet of Curiosities, and there's nothing wrong with that. It's how the concept of museums began in the first place - people would collect stuff that interested them, put them in proper cabinets and showed them to other interested people. A fine tradition.

lucy joy said...

Drunken internet shopping beats drunken textin/emailing/ social networking, no matter how poor the selection of 'presents for me' are.
I blame "1-click" shopping for the majority of my questionable purchases.
It's that realisation, hey, I'm an adult! If I want to buy something, I can, nobody will shout at me.
There seems to be a recurring theme with your purchases, seems like you're after that Needful Things effect.
You've probably bought some great things too, under the influence. Beats being in a pub and deciding to buy everyone a drink! (yes, guilty as charged).

The Poet Laura-eate said...

And not a THING to wear! What a strange wardrobe.

Steerforth said...

Rog - I've done the same thing on eBay, making sure that my auctions end when the buyer is feeling a little more 'relaxed'. It works, doesn't it.

Mrs Jones - You've just given me permission to buy more things. Every gentleman should have a Cabinet of Curiosities.

Lucy - 1-click is evil. I ended up with two of the same thing because my finger twitched, but I also have just one of many things that I don't need and will probably never watch.

The last time I bought everyone in the pub a drink was in Wales, when I was 21. I woke up the next morning and realised that I had no money and my rail ticket home wasn't valid for two days. After 60 hours without food (plus a hangover for the first 12), I learned my lesson.

Steerforth said...

Laura - I've just read your blog post, which was curiously also about alcohol. I shall feel self-conscious about ordering a pint next time we meet!

Re: clothes. My wardrobe is custom-built, with extra room for interesting things.

MikeP said...

Yet again you've struck a chord...my most recent equivalent is a rather hefty bet on Holland to win the Eurovision Song Contest at 100/1. Take a listen - I don't see how it can lose, but clearly the bookies disagree.

1, 3 and 6 are fine things that take up no space at all and can be safely chucked in a drawer (or left in the wardrobe of curiosities) until you or your children rediscover them. Be careful, though - my father had a Roman coin that was so fragile I thought it would be interesting to see if it bent, and it did. Snapped in half, in fact.

3 and 5: I have a rationalisation process for things like this, which is along the lines of, they're there if I need them, you never know. Perhaps someone will arrive on my doorstep hysterical from a car accident who can only be calmed down by playing them Das Augenlicht, that sort of thing. If that doesn't convince, there's always Music Magpie, which is my new hobby at the moment.

Can't help you with 4. A lot of people have a hot air balloon ride tucked away somewhere...

zmkc said...

I agree completely with Mrs Jones and I also think the things you've chosen to buy when drinking prove you're a very good egg, (speaking of which, why don't you open a bottle and take a look at the range of carved emus' eggs I'm letting go for a ridiculously low sum)

Steerforth said...

zmck - Emus' eggs? (Thinks - "Hmmm, they'd fit nicely on the shelf next to the ammonite...")

Mike - The Eurovision Song Contest is never predicatable is it? Gone are the days when the catchiest song to have "Bim Bam Bom" in the chorus would be a surefire winner. These days it's all about ancient emnities and allegiances: Greece and Cyprus always vote for each other, but never Turkey; Norway, Sweden and Denmark have a Nordic love-in; Israel gives Germany null points; all the Turks in Germany vote for Turkey; France votes for Belgium if their song's in French that year. Everyone hates Britain.

I love the idea of playing 'Das Augenlicht' to a distressed victim of a car accident.

James Russell said...

We had a bit of a phase years ago of going to real auctions - which are more fun than eBay and should never be attended under the influence. Talk about one-click shopping - an ill-timed flailing of the arm can get you a set of 14 mismatched dining chairs or a whole bookcase of unwanted tomes.

We once bought a whole box of knick-knacks and doodads for a reason I can't remember - everything in that large box, from the handbell to the ugly brass candlesticks and the mermaid glued to a stone - is still adrift in the house.

I do love the idea of buying an old sixpence because it ought to be really expensive but isn't. A great mind at work there, I think!

Sarah said...

I would have been tempted by your selections of ancient stuff too. The idea of owing things are so oooollldd is just beyond tempting.

However, I give in to temptation most easily when Pierrette comes to the house with 5 Ikea bags stuffed full of second-hand clothes at silly prices...

I love being an adult and having the freedom to make unreasonable and optimistic purchases.

Little Nell said...

I’ve found I develop a complaint called ‘fat finger’ if I try and carry out any normal operation on the computer when I’ve had a couple of glasses of red. This becomes much worse on the iPad, when I have ‘deleted' instead of ‘publishing' comments. So far I’ve managed to resist the urge to edit a blogpost under the influence - those edit, publish, view buttons are far too close together for suffererers of ‘fat finger’.

Séamas Poncán said...

All cool things. Sometimes I wonder why I have to have something. I have a couple of wooly mammoth hairs. Why do I need that? But they are cool.
As for Webern, and I'm not being ironic, you need to listen to it in small concentrated doses. Not background music, and not the whole set at once!
Your post inspired me to listen to Genesis "I know what I like (in your wardrobe)" :-)

Annabel (gaskella) said...

Love it - Getting stocking that cabinet of curiousities. I have a spare ammonite (small but very, very old!) I could contribute...

Canadian Chickadee said...

I hope you're keeping all these finds. Their main purpose is not education but to puzzle one's offspring -- or at least that's what most of the odds and ends my father saved did for me!! :0)

(I hope the comment moderation works today. Lately, I've had to do it three or four times to get one which goes through, which explains the multiple comments on a couple of blogs I follow. Sorry, peeps!)

Steerforth said...

James - I think the success of Groupon is founded on that basis - selling people things they didn't want, but buy because they're surprised that they can afford them. It's the road to ruin!

Sarah - Yes, I like it too. Prudence is no fun and after a childhood of largely not having the things I wanted, adulthood seemed too good to be true.

Nell - You should see me trying to type an email on a smartphone - all of these devices seem to be designed for children's hands.

Séamus - That's a great song. I have to hide my penchant for early Genesis because they've been tainted by the Phil Collins years, but I love the 12-minute tracks with absurd lyrics and long instrumental sections.

Annabel - Thanks. Fortunately, I have no shortage of ammonites from years spent on Charmouth beach, doing my bit to destroy the cliff face. I love the pyritised ones that look as if they've been touched by King Midas. Beautiful.

Chickadee - I used to love looking at my dad's random collection of objects, many of which had fallen from the sky during the Blitz. His proudest possession was a piece of shrapnel that almost killed him in 1942, missing his head by a whisker. However, 60 years later, the shrapnel almost completed its mission, when my two-year-old son picked it up and went to drop it on his grandfather's head!

Jim Murdoch said...

The first time I heard Webern was probably about 1974 when my music teacher kindly leant me her own complete boxed set of LPs. I was far too young for him then but have persisted with him ever since. I don’t like being beaten and every now and then I’ll stick his Passacaglia on or his Symphony. I really liked the brevity of his writing. Such a refreshing change to the long Romantic symphonies which I have taken a long time to appreciate with the sole exception of Beethoven’s but then they are exceptional. I’ve always had a soft spot for composers whose entire musical output can fit on two or three CDs, people like Ruggles and Varèse. I imagine my teacher loaned me her LPs because I was trying to write music using the twelve tone technique; it is not easy let me tell you and hats off to composers like Berg who—I’m thinking of his beautiful Violin Concerto—actually made it work.

Bonnie the Bookish Nurse said...

Love the meteorite!

Thomas Hogglestock said...

I feel the same way about Webern. And I think I found it the funniest of your purchases because it is the one I would be most likely to fall for. (The story about the GI leads to some black humor...maybe he was a music lover...)

Steerforth said...

Jim - Yes, Berg's Violin Concerto is a triumph over the limitations of serialism and I agree, Webern is a breath of fresh air after the late romantics (I find it very hard to listen to Mahler these days, but loved him in my teens).

But I prefer tonal music that uses serial techniques to broaden its palette, (e.g the opening section of Hilding Rosenberg's 3rd Symphony, which is here: http://youtu.be/uAsq0uxmsW4) rather than the full-blown thing, which feels too limiting.

Good old music teachers! I had some wonderful ones and could have happily carried on going to music lessons for the rest of my life, perfecting my cadences and improving my counterpoint. Everything I've done since has been a let-down.

Steerforth said...

Thomas - I might have shot Schoenberg if I'd had the chance - just before he'd devised such a counter-intuitive (but sadly influential) system of composition.

I would also have robbed Sibelius of the completed score of his 8th Symphony before he'd had the chance to burn it.

Séamas Poncán said...

Just for the curiousity of it, you may like to know that I've got a Master's degree in musical composition, so I lived and breathed this stuff for years. Yeah, I'm the guy in a cubicle now...
I will always remember something special about learning about Webern for the first time. We used to have to take listening exams where we could identify the composer of things. Someone asked my friend how to tell the difference between Webern and someone else like Babbit or Boulez, I forget which, and my friend answered "Webern is the one that sounds like music." And that's how I got it right on the exam - it's absolutely true. Lots of people have moved 12 notes around. Only very few have written music. Webern was a master, as were Berg and Shoenberg. They always wrote music.