Thursday 24 March 2022

Unless you broke a window

“It is usually best to admit mistakes when they occur, and to seek to restore honor”. Unless you just broke a window and a really large gentleman is threatening to beat you up. In that case, run!
- Uncle Iroh

I remember that as a child, it was always important to own up when you did something wrong. It was a good theory, but the practice was not so good.

I never was a big fan of using the toilet as a young child. It was a lot of faff that required breaking off the concentration of whatever I was doing at the time. It was prime for procrastination. Why go to the toilet now when I can go later? So I procrastinated. Why procrastinate tomorrow when I can procrastinate right now!? I procrastinated with vigour, right away, with exceeding great diligence.

But you know how it is. If you procrastinate this sort of thing once, you have to procrastinate it again five minutes later, and then again soon after that. Such procrastination requires increasing and more-intrusive concentration to sustain. A slight lapse of mental effort can be followed by instant regret, and a young child then needs help to clean up the mess.

Even after months of careful practice, a young lad can misjudge when he is no longer going to be able to sustain the necessary concentration.

On one occasion I remembered that my mum had told I should just tell her, and not try to hide it, so I told her.

In return for my frank forthrightness, I received a smack on the bottom. I wasn't impressed and reminded my mum what she told me. I wasn't convinced by her response though I could see the logic: "Well I would have smacked you twice if you hadn't told me!" 

Even the best parents have their off-days.

But the problem with owning up, is that if you don't do it right away, you also get in trouble for not owning up, with the inquisition: "Why didn't you own up?" and you have to own up to that if you can understand why you didn't.

The answer which I can articulate only now but which I knew instinctively then was: because I wanted to avoid the sort of inquisition you are now putting me to.

Yes, if you don't own up right away you are better off sticking to your story, and just don't do whatever it was next time. 

And then there is the time I actually broke the glass, of a picture, of Jesus, praying.

I broke it with a ball. I didn't commit the common-or-garden sin of playing with a ball in the house.

I simply had the ball in my hand. I was cross at something, something so trivial compared with the self-inflicted mental trauma which followed, that I can't remember what it was.

But whatever it was helped me justify expressing my annoyance by striking the picture on the wall with the ball in my hand. There!

And the glass cracked. And I was probably over the age of eight so I wasn't going to get any kind of free pass.

And no amount of pleas or entreaties, or vain promises to never be naughty again for the rest of my life persuaded Heavenly Father to mend the picture. He could do it if he wanted to. I suppose he didn't want to. Didn't he know what a bargain he was missing?

And so it stayed broken. And there I was! Ketched!

I don't think Heavenly Father had any difficulty fixing glass or getting as much glass as he wanted. 

I think what he wanted was for me to learn to trust my parents.

I think the kindest thing my parents did then was to fix the picture without the inquisition.

Friday 18 March 2022

The chocolate room

“Reality leaves a lot to the imagination.”
― John Lennon

As a young father I wanted to give my young children a real treat, something wondrous and amazing that they would never forget.

One Saturday lunchtime an idea came to mind and  I immediately announced it.

I would take them to the Cholocate Room.

Doubtless inspired by Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (book or movie, I couldn't be sure) it was full of all kinds of chocolate goodies that they could take.

They key was that they should be blindfolded, and I would take them the secret way and they would grab what they could.

And so it was.

They would be blindfolded, I carried them up and down the stairs, turned around, and again until as I imagined they did not know where they were, and then carried them down to the cellar where, while still blindfolded, they could choose whatever they wanted from the selection of chocolate that was , unbeknownst to them, continually held in front of their blindfolded face whichever way they turned.

It was a huge success. All the excitement of a real chocolate room but only needing a small stock of chocolate. All the benefit of having a secret passage in the house leading to somewhere wonderful without having to have the trouble of actually digging a secret passage, or laying out the wonderful place.

Except... I found that the wandering about with a blindfold did not confuse them as to where they were. They were smart kids, and with a sense of direction as well as a sense of the ambience of the rooms.

So what had happened? Did they imagine that they had actually been to an actual chocolate room? Or were they just imagining that they had to play along, for free chocolate?

We never went to the chocolate room again, despite multiple requests.

I want to, I long to, but if they don't actually believe that I can take them to an actual chocolate room, then what am I doing?

Am I running upstairs and downstairs as an excuse to give them free chocolate? 

If they want free chocolate, then they can find it in the cupboard.

I was looking to give them a sense of wonder and amazement. Is that what they thought they were doing for me?

Tuesday 1 March 2022

monotony and solitude

“The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind.”
Albert Einstein

  "I'm bored!" he says.

  "Agghh! Why are you bored? How can you be bored? I was never bored!" I think, but it isn't strictly true. When I was bored my mum always had jobs for me to do. So I learned not to be. "When I was a kid, I used to...." what did I used to do?
  "I used to make my own lego movies using a video camera and stop-motion animation."

I think that it was about four frames per second, with jolly street organ music forming the accompaniment to a lego man being run down on a crossing multiple times. Our sense of humour back that was more slapstick than dark, and being run over was the most we had to fear in life.

But we don't have a video camera... and we don't need one! We have a digital camera that takes jpeg images. Some of my misspent time on the computers taught me about the motion-jpeg video codec, so it's going to be pretty easy,

I teach the young complainant the basic principles of stop-motion animation. Keep the camera steady, move only a little bit, and have enough light. They can get a basic view of their work just by flipping through the photo history on the camera.

He sets to work with the camera and his lego pieces while I write a shell script to invoke mplayer and mencoder on a folder full of images. In the end we end up with a short script which processes the images in order based on the image name (which is a 4 digit serial number). 

But it gets tedious (that's a posh word for boredom without me having to resolve the contradiction of being bored during a period of intense creativity) having to copy a title frame ten or twenty times in order to make it show long enough for the audience to read, so we add the feature that the images can be renamed to contain extra data such as the number of frames to be shown for. We also allow symbolic links to a folder of images to allow re-use of some sections.

This is all used to produce a list of images (some repeated) to pass to mencoder to produce the final movie which is then combined with a sound track.

The images to form the movie (along with sub-folders and links) are stuffed into a top level project project folder, and the entire user interface consists of dragging the project folder onto a desktop icon shortcut for the main script, and out pops an image named after the project folder.

And what was the result? The boy was busy, creating animations for fun and entertainment. His younger siblings had their turn. Lego movies for home. Lego movies for talent contests, clay motion movies for course credit at Leeds College of Art, and through that exponential curve of interest so technique improved from a camera held steady against a fluffy carpet, through the use of a board, a tripod, additional lighting (to avoid shadows you know), and finally a shutter-release button on the end of a wire to avoid shaking the camera! So far we had come. It was he, of course, but I'm determined to claim some of the credit for I was there at the start, and it was my idea!

Any future cries of boredom (from any of them) were swiftly dealt with by threats of stop-motion animation. The work involved in creativity had become apparent. But they all resort to it from time to time, to stave off the boredom.