Sunday, 25 December 2011

The Void

Well, it appears to be Christmas day.  So, in an interruption to our scheduled programming, and in celebration of that most precious of Christmas traditions - Christmas Eve In The Pub With Your Old School Mates - I hereby bring you this short post.  Well, it's shorter than the last one.

A year or two ago I first encountered The Void, and it terrified me.  I wasn't expecting it, I didn't know how to react to it, I didn't even know how to react to not knowing how to react to it.  Time stood still, blood stopped flowing, my blink reflex froze, real photos stopped getting Photo-shopped - the world, in short, turned upside-down.  The Void was staring at me; I couldn't even see where to stare back.

If you have not yet encountered The Void, you can't know how unsettling it is.  Or what it is.  So I will tell you.

It is Very Unsettling.
It is What You See When Google Does Not Have The Answer.

I forget what the circumstances were when I first crossed imaginary swords with The Void.  It was some mundane query, something work-related, some inauspicious situation which I thought was well within the beaten track.  Something new to me but - I was sure - old to the internet.  Something Google would solve instantly.  So I googled it... and, for the first time, was forced to confront the hideous truth that Google Does Not Know Everything.  Where I was expecting solutions, I found nothing.  No results.  The Void.

Being as this is a Christian Blog and all, now should probably be the point where I say something about how the Bible has all the answers.  (It doesn't.  Computers - the things wot I mostly work with - are barely mentioned.  It has the answers to the really important questions, of course - maybe I'll talk about this in a Void II post some time in the future.)

Anyway, I'm not going there today.  (Besides, Google has the Bible at its disposal, in multiple translations - try - so anything the Bible knows, Google knows.)  No, where I'm actually going is this:

What happens when you can't even google the question in the first place?

The Void is terrifying enough as an answer, but at least you've been able to ask the question.  What happens when you can't even begin to ask the question?

According to Douglas Adams, you construct an even bigger computer to find out what the question to the answer is, etc. etc, but my chosen approach is to write a self-indulgent blog-post, which you know is mainly going to be read by your friends, in the hopes that they will provide you with the answer instead.

So, if you are not too busy mulling wine and storing mince-pies in your cheeks, here is the un-googlable-question that I suddenly, desperately, want an answer to:

At some point, probably around twenty years ago, I, and everyone in my English class, had to read a book.  I do not remember the name of the book.  I do not remember the author of the book.  I don't remember what the front cover looked like, or how many pages there were, or how it ended, or how it began, or what the 'ecky-thump it was about.  I don't even remember who our English teacher was at the time, though it might have been Miss Howe, who was in a band and who liked the song that went "Somewhere down the crazy river".

The only thing about the book that I can remember is the following - and you will see why it is impossible to Google - and why my school-friends in the pub this evening thought I must be making the whole thing up.  (Bear in mind that we were young teenagers when we had to read this):

Here goes.  There was a female character, who I think may have been called Beth.  At some point in the story, she had to climb a cliff, or a mountain, or something steep and rocky.  In the course of climbing this rocky thing, she lost her clothes.  They got ripped, you see, on the steep, rocky, sharp thing she was climbing.  There was some mention of her losing her underwear, but of clinging on to her pants as a talisman.  It may have been the first time I heard the word 'talisman'.  At the top of the steep, rocky, sharp, Benny-Hill-esque climby thing, she met some sort of Knight Templar, or Saint, or Monk, or Something Mythical, who should have killed her for her Nakedness but didn't, because of her Innocence.  Or some-such.  She told all this in flash-back to her brother, or friend, or male protagonist of some sort, and she had a line that was something like "I think I'm actually quite pretty".

I remember this scene fairly vividly, not (I hope) because it involved a female character getting naked, but because I had the singular embarrassment of being picked from the class to read the passage out loud.  I remember the horror, at my delicate stage of adolescence,  of having to say the word "bra" in front of a mixed class, and I remember the titters of my school-mates when I had to say "I think I'm actually quite pretty".  The worst thing was that I knew the line was coming, because I'd read ahead the previous night.  The instant I was asked to read that day, I knew I was doomed.

I remember nothing else about the book.

As I say, the friends who I discussed this with in the pub tonight think the whole thing was a product of my sick adolescent mind.  But I know I didn't make this up.  And I don't even know how to begin asking Google this crucial question:

What was the book?

Can anyone help?  Did anyone else have to read this?  This question has been eating away at me for decades, and every time I try to ask someone the only answer I get is a raised eyebrow and a look that says "Either you are making this up or your English teacher was somewhere down the crazy river."


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