It Was A Dark and Stormy Night

Gentle Reader

I feel that we cannot simply pen a line such as “the maid screamed” (on which our present chapter ends) without explaining a little of the literary heritage of this line. It is, in fact, a deliberate quotation from a childhood favourite. The original work is by one Charles Shultz, ventriloquised via a well known canine character, who started a novelette in the following manner:

“It was a dark and stormy night. Suddenly, a shot rang out! A door slammed. The maid screamed.”

This is in itself a literary nod to the famous, or possibly, infamous opening lines to the novel Paul Clifford:

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”

This is the work of one Edward Bulwer-Lytton, who should be very comfortable in these pages, being as he was a Victorian Novelist with a taste for the occult.

edward_bulwer_lyttonEdward Bulwer-Lytton, not Snoopy the Dog

In fact, this gentleman led a most interesting life, working as politician denounced by his own wife at the hustings, being offered (and refusing) the Greek throne and gifting us the phrase “the pen is mightier than the sword”.

Perhaps it is one of those ironies of fate that leads him to be remembered most of all for the clunky and meandering sentence above. He gives his name to an annual competition in its honour whereby literary wags attempt to parody the style of the thing. Those who find themselves at a loss of what to do this Sunday evening may care to peruse it.

The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest

 

 

 

Two for Joy

I have discovered this week that Oscar Wilde’s “Bunbury” was likely a portmanteau of Sunbury and Banbury, following a tryst Mr Wilde allegedly had in a location twixt those two towns.

That led me to muse on my own writing and the fact that, in a less dramatic way, I do something similar. For example, Pook and Clackprattle stay at luxury rooms in Manchester Britannia Hotel because I once spent a unpleasant week in a terrible room there.

I pursued the thought to its conclusion and wondered if writers always hide some aspects of their lives in plain view like this. How many secrets of an author’s life are wrapped up in the warp and weft of their narrative, visible only to themselves and blissfully overlooked by the reader.

On the topic of unsatisfactory hostelries, the Benthic Times recently found itself in a hotel that can best be described as “adequate”. In fact it was probably the epitome of adequate.

And although the general blankness of the place worked nicely as a canvas for the imagination, it wasn’t terribly aesthetically pleasing. We did spy, though, these intriguing light fittings. It was most unusual, as we were several miles from the coast. They function as proof that even in the darkest spots, often especially so, one can find something Benthic.

light cropped

 

Cat Got Them, Perchance?

As part of the relocation of The Benthic Times we have inherited this lovely ornate piece of fireplace paraphernalia.

fireplace sepia

I’m rather taken with it, but the writer in me can’t help wondering what happened to the original tongs…

“Reginald! Use the tongs to pinch it’s nose, those are toxic fumes spewing from them … oh my word! It breathes fire!”

 

Your Call is Important to Us

Extract from “Your Call is Important to Us: Towards a Socio-political Praxis of On-Hold Music by Dr Jeff Grunt.

It has been well documented in this treatise how poor cultural framing of “on-hold music” can induce cognitive dissonance in the intended audience. British users of Southern Rail’s helpline demonstrated this cross-wiring of outcome and intention quite clearly when 56% reported they were “quite distressed” or “very distressed” when hearing The Four Seasons by Vivaldi, apparently as it reminded them that British weather was more homogenous, located as it is in a generic “single season” paradigm of rain and wind.

What has been less well researched has been the kinetic-auditory impact of, for example, timbre and “note envelope” parameters. Anecdotally, a lower-quality under-developed timbre may induce a certain displeasure, but there has yet to be a wide-scale analysis of, for example, whether Beethoven’s Ninth is less likely to provoke negative-biased responses when played by a full orchestra rather than on a stylophone.

Teleharmonium1897_edited-1

Nevertheless, an early attempt at producing telephonic music may prove instructive, especially as to its demise. The “Telharmonium” (pictured above) was an early electronic instrument developed in the later Victorian era by a Thaddeus Cahil. Three versions were produced, the last weighing around 200 tons. The instrument itself would take up an entire room.  Thus, proving unwieldy to travel, the instrument was used primarily for telephone users to listen to music. However, despite the relative unavailability of recorded music at that time, the telharmonium was not a success. Notwithstanding the tremendous power consumption required, the fatal flaw seemed two-fold.

The first problem noted was that the basic sound, a sine wave, was “pure and clear”. Although there were options to modify this source, I contend that this purity, this perfection, may well have contrived to create displeasure. The sounds may have been unearthly or ethereal to the listener used to the more visceral sounds of a street urchin playing a violin. Secondly, there are also reports of cross-talk incidents, where conversations were interrupted by ghostly music. In all, by the early part of the 20th century, the instrument had lost favour and fell into disuse.

We can, I think, conclude clearly that here we have less a sociological issue than a timbral one. I shall be exploring this more thoroughly in the next chapter “Windpipes and their Role in Helpdesk Worker Abuse.”

(Dr Grunt is Lecture of Muzack at UMIST and is also author of “Elevation: The Use of Religious Music in Lifts” and “Liminal Exotica: Bossa Nova Rhythms and Hotel Lobbies”)

 

 

Souvenirs

When travelling abroad, it is of course necessary to procure some manner of souvenir. This has the effect of reminding one of the journey and allows one to share a little of the wonder of the holiday with friends. In that spirit, dear readers, now that we have returned from our sojourn in the sun, we present to you a little “something” we acquired on our way. We hope you like it as much as we do.

squid sepia