Friday, June 01, 2012

My Fringe 2012 picks

I'll get the plug over with first: my play In a Handbag, Darkly premieres on this year's Edinburgh Fringe. It's a farcical revisit to Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, running from 13 to 25 August (not Sunday) at theSpace on North Bridge, it's on page 287 of the Fringe programme, and tickets are already selling through edfringe.com - though I get slightly more money if you hold out for a short time and buy through the venue when they launch their own programme and booking system.

Looking through the Fringe programme, here are some of the first things that stood out to me. I can't guarantee they'll all be good - in fact, it's very likely that one or more of them will be awful. Some of them I circled earlier, began typing up here, and then thought "No, it'll probably be terrible." I also, sadly, can't guarantee I'll even get to all of them. I happen to be more than usually hard up, what with having put on a show and all; some of that money will come back in ticket sales, but almost all of that will have to be spent straight away. So most of the shows I actually go and see will be either free, cheap, or on at the same venue group as my own show. I'll get to these if I feel I can, though.



The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. All the blurb gives away is that it's about Steve Jobs and sweatshop workers. I am mystified by the fact that Apple has so successfully marketed itself to artsy alternative types (Ubuntu, people! The free software industry is probably the greatest contemporary example of all that noncapitalist alternative economics stuff actually working), so it'll be nice if this turns out to be something that shows Jobs' work a bit less kindly.

Bound, except for the title, which makes it sound like something that would have the words "deliciously dark" in the blurb (it hasn't.) In boxcar-riding hobos, the author has found that rare treasure: a subject matter that is both high-concept-cool in the same was as ninjas and pirates and zombies, and not overdone yet. If it goes well, expect at least five hobo plays on next year's Fringe. 

Ne'er the Twain, set at the time that Leith became officially part of Edinburgh, in a house that had the divide between the two towns running through its living room. Ingenious premise, and it's nice to see something really local in the programme.

The Picture of Dorian Gray - a musical adaptation. Of the nine other Wilde plays this year (I'm seriously thinking of organising a croquet tournament), this is the one I most want to see.

Quantum Battlestar Deep-Space Voyage Tardis Wars, except for the title (the first two words would have been fine.) I've yet to see sci-fi that works on stage, but I'd really like to, and refusing to take it seriously is a good place to start.


I'm also going to list a few things that scream "DO NOT SEE THIS PLAY" at me when I see them in the listings. I won't name the shows, but if your own one is here you'll probably recognise it.

"Set in a dingy inner-city flat." If I wanted a dingy flat, I'd stay at home.

Exclamation marks. As the Guardian Style guide says Scott Fitzgerald said, it's like laughing at your own jokes.

Swearwords with asterisks for vowels. I'm aware that the Fringe programme compilers do this for you, and I don't know if they even ask your permission, but the effect is the reverse of what you were going for by swearing. You've been instantly transformed from someone who isn't afraid of swearing (hardly a big fucking deal in the first place) into someone who files the edges off their own teeth. And even if you are a trembling self-censor, what good is this supposed to do? Do you think the children can't guess what the missing letters are?

"Rollercoaster ride." Seriously?

Plays about a group of people putting on a play. You are saying "I want to put on a play, even though I have no thoughts other than wanting to put on a play."

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Wildehouse

My short piece Wildehouse will be performed at A Friend of a Friend Theatre's First Drafts, an evening of new writing, at the Charing Cross Theatre, London, on Sunday 22 January.

Samuel Wildehouse is up to his immaculately cravatted neck in it this time and no mistake! There's been a mix-up with an engagement ring and a poodle, his Aunt Lucretia is on the warpath, and his parasitic lifestyle will inevitably drive the proletariat to revolution. Can his indefatigable butler Rinehart get him out of this one? A short piece parodying Edwardian drawing-room comedy and considering whether it's really funny any more now that Edwardian drawing-room comedians are back in political power.

(A full-length play based along somewhat similar lines, In a Handbag, Darkly, will show on the Edinburgh Fringe 2012 if I can get the funds together. Eccentric millionaires are welcome to email me.)

Thursday, November 03, 2011

The Big Rock Candy Mountains

One evening as the sun went down
A hobo he came hiking,
He said, I just escaped a place
That was not to my liking;
It's a burnin', stinkin' hellhole with
No governmental groundin',
So I turned to flee; I'm a refugee
From the Big Rock Candy Mountains.

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains,
There's a land of devastation,
Where the handouts grow on bushes,
Causin' monetary inflation;
Where the boxcars all are empty
And there's shortages of goods;
And the birds and bees in the cigarette trees
All cough and wheeze with the lung disease
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains.

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains
You never change your socks,
And little streams of alcyhol
Come a-tricklin' down the rocks,
So the fish all die of poisonin'
And the wadin' birds all starve;
With the whole food chain bein' interlinked
There's a bunch of critters that are near extinct
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains.

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains
All the railroad bulls are blind,
So they fall out of the carriages
And get mangled on the line;
The bulldogs all have rubber teeth,
And the hens lay soft-boiled eggs,
And the air is rent by the whinin' sounds
Of the scalded chicks and the hungry hounds
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains.

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains
All the jails are made of tin,
And you can walk right out of them
As soon as you are in,
So there ain't no workin' justice,
And the mob controls the streets,
And you live in dread of bein' woke in bed
By a murderous crook bashin' in your head
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains.

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains
The economy's kaput;
There's famine, death and poverty
And a plague of athlete's foot;
The folks are gittin' mighty mad,
And they want someone to blame,
But they don't know who; there's a great to-do;
There's scapegoatism and riots too;
It'll probably end in a Fascist coup,
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains.

There's civil war and worse in store
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Genesis

It's pretty clear at the beginning that heaven is literally, physically up. The sky has windows in it which God can open to make it rain.

After the two conflicting creation stories, most of Genesis is boring genealogies, who went down to where, who smote whom, and a lot of gratuitous going-in-unto. The intolerance and violence don't surprise me - Noah's flood and Sodom and Gomorrah deserve a mention, but you know those stories already. What took me by surprise was the sheer volume of deceit. It's first nature for these characters to lie to each other at every opportunity. For example, one piece of advice that you might take to heart, if you thought that this book was any kind of moral example, is: if you're a man travelling with your wife, and you're afraid the locals might kill you and force her into sex slavery, tell them she's your sister. Then they'll force her into sex slavery without killing you, and you can relax. This happens three times, I think.

Chapters 37 to 45 are an interesting enough story, although not one with any discernible moral unless it's "If you know there's a famine coming, make sure you stockpile food so you can hold everyone to ransom for it." I can't read this bit without hearing the songs from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat.

Other highlights:
  • Jacob extorts his hairy brother Esau's birthright from him by threatening to withhold food when Esau is starving to death. He later deceives their father by covering himself in goatskin to dress up as Esau (that's how hairy he is.) God seems to be fooled as well. Much later in the bible, Esau is condemned for selling his birthright so cheaply.

  • Jacob meets a man on the road, and they decide to wrestle all night. This appears to be consensual, so it's probably one of the few morally unobjectionable bits so far. The man turns out to be God. In a surprise result, Jacob whoops His candy ass. But the match was probably pre-scripted anyway.

  • Some of Jacob's sons sell their sister Dinah to the ruler of some province or other on the condition that he orders all the men to be circumcised. Shortly afterwards, while the men are clutching themselves in agony, the sons nip in and massacre them - apparently in vengeance for the ruler dishonouring them by treating their sister like a harlot. Dinah's voice is totally unheard in all this.

Monday, March 07, 2011

The Innertube Map

The Bike Station, a volunteer-run organisation of good people who recycle bicycles and promote cycling in Edinburgh, have launched a London Underground-style map of the Edinburgh bike paths: the Innertube Map. Have a look at the PDF; it's very slickly designed.

Their website invites feedback, so here's mine.
  • "Innertube" is a clever name, and I hope it catches on as a nickname for the bike path network itself. I will start using it two sentences from now.

  • It's pretty. If it's possible, I'd really like to see this displayed at entrances to the Innertube.

  • The FAQ on the website hints that this was argued to death in the planning stage, but the inclusion and exclusion of short on-road connections between paths - sometimes keyed on the map, sometimes left out - doesn't follow much logic. In particular, a section of Seafield Road, a busy, fumy road used for goods lorries running between the city bypass and Leith docks, is keyed as part of the Leith-Portobello route. At the other side of the map, Roseburn Place, a short, relatively quiet street with cycle lanes and advance stoplines, is just part of the whitespace. It's a pity there's a gap at Roseburn Place, because in reality it is the only piece of route you have to share with motorists to get from the Leith Shore to Glasgow.

  • An advantage of not connecting the lines up is that this way, the map shows the Innertube's potential. If the funding and the will were in place, a few hundred yards more dedicated cycleway is all it would take to make the Innertube into a proper inner circle of motor-free routes. I won't hold my breath, but it's nice to think about.

  • Can we stop calling bike paths "traffic-free"? Cyclists are traffic, and so are pedestrians.

  • Like so many cycle maps, it has a footnote to the effect of "Please cycle with respect." I've never once seen "Please drive with respect" printed on a map aimed at car drivers. In fact, my AA road atlas lists locations of speed cameras and has a page of tips on how to break traffic laws without being caught, in order to help motorists drive as disrespectfully and recklessly as possible. This isn't an ordinary double standard; it's a reverse standard - I don't think the Bike Station became part of it on purpose, but I hope they'll reconsider this for future prints. Pointing out the fact that paths are shared with pedestrians is fine.

  • Which brings me to my main cautionary point. The Innertube is cool, but it's not the only route available to cyclists in Edinburgh. For still most journeys, the far more useful routes are the roads. Some of the promotion of this map - not the promotion by the Bike Station themselves, but by a news story or two that I've seen about it - is focusing on the dangers of road cycling, and how splendid it is that we can all ride our bikes on the bike paths and be safe and happy. Bike paths are cool - they're green, fun and friendly, and it is a plus that you don't have to be constantly thinking about who might kill you. But we have to be very careful about how they are promoted, or more people will just end up getting irritated at cyclists continuing to ride on the grown-ups' roads. It's a damaging and cycle-discouraging myth that bicycles are dangerous, and too often, the false need to create cycle facilities threatens to make the myth true. I don't want Edinburgh turning into bloody Doncaster.
Good on the Bike Station for putting together this map. I will continue to take the Innertube to work on days when I'm not in a hurry. I hope the map does its job of promoting the bike paths, gets more people cycling, and that it will be even better in future prints.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Breakfast

Too common a sight in the dim morning light
Are the workers, poured into their suits,
Downing caffeine-free cola and bars of granola
While hasting along their commutes.
The earliest meal is, to them, no big deal.
They are wrong! It should merit a feast!
A good breakfast-platter is no joking matter –
It sets one apart from a beast!

To begin, there must be a fresh kettle of tea
(Ideally Ceylon or Darjeeling),
And a grapefruit, segmented, and slightly fermented
To expedite easier peeling.
The ham should be fried for five minutes each side
Over flames that are hotter than hellish;
And the egg must be poached on a thick slice of toast
Spread with Marmite and gentleman's relish.

The mushrooms, sauté in a crisp Chardonnay
(Which, of course, you have chilled in the freezer);
The tomatoes, you oil and then gradually boil
In a warm Scandinavian geyser.
The best marmalade is Italian-made
(The Spaniards' attempt is horrific);
You should charter a clipper to angle for kipper
Around the south-central Pacific.

The finest hash-brown can be bought in a town
Only half a day's trek from Khartoum,
And the bubble-and-squeak should be smoked for a week
In the treacherous fires of Mount Doom!
Get some iron to smelt from the Asteroid Belt
To fashion your own frying-pan,
And the sausages must – here's the crux, nub or thrust –
Be as gristly and cheap as they can.

When you fit this cuisine in your waking routine,
You will find that it helps you to function
Through the toils of the day; and, with practice, you may
Even finish in time for your luncheon.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Chess automaton

Charles Babbage, in his autobiography Passages From the Life of a Philosopher, wrote that he had considered building a chess automaton to show off as a fundraiser for his Analytical Engine project.

It seems that he offhandedly invented what is now known as a minimax algorithm, and designed an automaton of a cockerel and a lamb playing noughts-and-crosses, which was sadly never built. He concluded that, as chess is really just a slightly more complicated version of tic-tac-toe: "Allowing one hundred moves on each side for the longest game at chess, I found that the combinations involved in the Analytical Engine enormously surpassed any required, even by the game of chess."

This is a rather, er, hopeful assessment by Mr Babbage: the number of possible paths through a (more typical) 40-move game of chess has since been calculated at something like 10120. This is so mindbogglingly, amazingly, really, really big that not only is there not enough brass in the universe to construct the cogwheel memory for such a system; there isn't enough space in the universe to store it; and operating this way it would take over 1095 years to calculate the first move.* Babbage's blinding optimism, inventive genius, and crucial fundamental simple error here are striking, but what else might we expect from the founder of computer programming?

The computation problem has since been fudged in a number of ways, and the space problem solved by messing around with electrons, and you can now buy a cheap handheld chess robot for a few pounds. One of these turned up in a charity shop down the road, but unfortunately it looked like this.

I decided to rehouse it in a hollowed-out book. The book is a shabbying 1925 copy of Chess Strategy by Edward Lasker. I'm loth to destroy books, but it wasn't worth anything, it didn't seem I was ever going to read it, and it's on Gutenberg if I ever decide to.

Masking the covers off with a binliner:


The edges of the exposed pages are covered with a few layers of cheap PVA glue, and left to dry under some weight:


Cutting out the cavity with a Stanley knife:


And we're through!


The gizmo is a snug fit:


It is then sprayed brass colour, and covered by a blank page with a window. A couple of gears are supposed to create the illusion that there's a bigger mechanism in there. New labels from the buttons are made blackmail-style from words and letters taken from the scrap pages. You can't read them, because I've drunk too much tea to hold a camera steady.


Same goes for the mini chessboard, with blu-tac backed pieces, cut from the various diagrams throughout the book, which will go on the left-hand page opposite the game window.
http://rdouglasjohnson.com/misc/chesswork-mini-set.jpg


The result
Closed:


Open:


And, finally, enrapt in a battle of wits with a worthy opponent:


Ninja sometimes comes and pushes the pieces around the board when I'm playing, but of course she won't do it for the camera.

____
* Assuming Babbage memory can store a chess position in about one cubic foot, and the Engine can perform one to ten calculations per second.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Play-a-Day #2: Uniforms

See also Rachel, who is doing a similar NonNaNoWriMo thing with composing pieces of music.

(A box arrives.)

RAYBURN: Oh boy, our brand new Starfleet uniforms!

(The three open the box and rummage in it, and pull out shirts with the Starfleet insignia.)

DARNELL: Mine's blue!

TOMLINSON: Mine's yellow!

RAYBURN: Mine's red!

(DARNELL and TOMLINSON cough uneasily, and sidestep away from RAYBURN.)

RAYBURN: Oh, very good. Top notch observational comedy there, guys. This hasn't been done to death for forty years, at all.

TOMLINSON: You mean three hundred and forty years?

RAYBURN: It's superstitious nonsense, anyhow. All that stuff about the guy in the red shirt dying first.

DARNELL: You know what they say, Rayburn. There's no smoke without crazy rubber lizardmen slaughtering disposable supporting characters.

RAYBURN: There are 42 deaths in the original series. Only 25 of those people were wearing red at the time. And two of those were just boilersuits. That's barely half! It's not enough data to go on.

TOMLINSON: We're not saying you're dead for sure. We're just saying... maybe it's time to get your affairs in order. Write a will, absolve yourself with as many religions as possible, that sort of thing.

DARNELL: Run up a few debts. Phone some relatives you hate, make 'em say things they'll regret forever.

RAYBURN: (Snaps fingers) Montgomery Scott. Scotty wears a red shirt, and he survived three television series, eight films, a guest appearance in Next Generation and edited in to a time-travel DS9. He wasn't even the first of the actors to die.

DARNELL: Just... take care on your landing missions. Especially if you wind up with three main cast members who start talking to you as if they've suddenly known you for ages.

TOMLINSON: You weren't the Captain's best friend at the Academy, were you?

RAYBURN: I don't think so.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Play-a-Day #1: The Underworld

This month, instead of National Novel Writing Month, I'm going to attempt to write a (very) short play every day, some of which I might extend later.

* * * * *

(A disused bar in New York. LOUIE, an elderly, but still formiddable-looking man, dressed in a trenchcoat and fedora, sits comfortably like he owns the place. Slow jazz plays from a jukebox. He goes behind the bar and helps himself to a whisky, then sits down.

MICKY, a teenager dressed in a sleeveless T-shirt and baggy pants, enters with a ridiculous handkerchief tied round his head.)


LOUIE: Micky, see! Did you remember to get milk and whack the Margolani Brothers?

MICKY: No, Uncle Don Louie “The Nose” Cardicci. But I did buy this ridiculous handkerchief to tie around my head.

LOUIE: You did what? Now look here, right? You're gonna follow the family business, see? And the family business is gangsterin', see? An' in this business, you don't put nothin' on your head but a good I-talian fedora. Gatsby's on Fifth'll sort you out with somet'n. Won't make you pay for it, neither. Not unless they want to wake up sleepin' with the fishes!

MICKY: You haven't kept up with the times, Uncle Louie. Gangsters these days don't wear fedoras. Why, if I turned up in the hood with one of those on, my friends or 'homies' would hold me in high ridicule. I shouldn't be surprised if one of them popped a cap in my ass.

LOUIE: Michelangelo Vito Eminem Cardicci! Ain't I raised you right? In this game, we don't “pop no caps in no asses”, see? We occasionally “whack” folks, or “take 'em out”, or “check 'em in to the cement suite at the Hotel Hudson”, stuff like that. You kill someone, you got to have the respect to do it with a proper metaphor, see!

MICKY: Whatevs, grandpa. I'm off to listen to some rap music.

(MICKY exits with a silly walk.)

LOUIE: I only hope it's just a phase.

(A bat flies in the window, and turns into COUNT TYRANSKI.)

TYRANSKI: Excusink me, Mister Don Louie?

LOUIE: Hey, who wants to know?

TYRANKSI: My name is Count Tyranski. I am a wampire!

LOUIE: Look here, Batman! Any wampire takes another step closer to my neck, I might get wiolent, see?

TYRANSKI: You misunderstand my intent, Don. I come here from Transylwania because you and I, we havink similar problems. Ve can maybe helpink each other, yes?

LOUIE: Better make this good. I got two qualified goons waitin', and they bore easily.

TYRANSKI: Qualified goons? You have exams for them?

LOUIE: Yeah, qualified. If you can spell your name right on the answer paper, you fail, see?

TYRANSKI: I come to you, great Don Leader of Gangsters, because I know your problems. I know gangsters dyink out. I know vord is beink now used by younk scallavags in hooded tops, who vould not know a Tommy-gun if they findink one in their bottle of 40.

LOUIE: Well, I guess maybe Micky's right. I ain't kept up with the times.

TYRANSKI: That is vhere I can helpink! Not keepink up vith times is vhat wampirink is all about. Or... it should be. But ve are sufferink now. Havink similar problems to gangsters. Younk wampires now know nothink! It is all these new books, telewision programmes, wideo games. Wampire kids these days don't vant to live in castles, they move to American high schools. Give up all the bitink and turnink into bats and havink only wague psychic powers of some kind. Not even speakink in eastern European accents!

LOUIE: I seen those programmes. Sulky teenagers in leather jackets, right? Not an evening cape between 'em. Maybe you an' me are in a similar fix, Your Countship.

TYRANSKI: Our powers grow veak. But if ve vere to pull our empires together...

LOUIE: ...the Vampire Mafia!

TYRANSKI: Yes! Ha ha ha!

(Lightning flashes. Music plays. TYRANSKI and LOUIE do a dance-twirl which somehow ends with TYRANSKI wearing the fedora and LOUIE the vampire's cape. The couple burst into song.)

LOUIE: You can tell us by our fangs
And by our packs of Cuban smokes,
And our Thompson sub-machine guns
Folded in our opera-cloaks.

TYRANSKI: You can tell us by our evening dress
And jaunty trilby hats;
And our habit, vhen ve're cornered,
Of transmorphink into bats.

LOUIE: If you cross us, then we'll whack you,
And then feast on your remains,
And you'll wake up in the river,
With an empty set of veins.

TYRANSKI: Ve'll remorselessly extinguish
Anybody in our path
TOGETHER: And the only way to kill us
Is a garlic concrete bath!

(Dance routine.)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Hamlet and Aunts and Butlers

It seems the site that used to host my games Hamlet and Aunts and Butlers has fallen over again, so they are now at www.rdouglasjohnson.com. I'm in the process of moving all my various bits and pieces to that site.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Publishedness

Stitched Up is now available as an e-Script from Stagescripts (they also manage the performance rights, and a free preview script is available.) A paper script will follow.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Fringe is over

The Edinburgh Fringe run of Stitched Up went very nicely, picking up large audiences after we realised the trick of sending James Bober out flyering as Sherlock Holmes to get some brand-recognition from last year.

We got some nice reviews:

Fest magazine called us broadly appealing though unashamedly intellectual, and gave us four stars.

Edinburgh Screenworks called us completely ridiculous, and gave us four stars.

The new Twitter-based reviewer FringeBiscuit, which publishes reviews the right size to read a lot of at once, gave us: Light and witty deconstruction of Frankenstein, with a carefully clever script. Guaranteed giggles. 4/5.

The Fringe site has changed its site so that audience reviews are now closed to most people - to submit one, you need to have bought a ticket through the Fringe website, which few people do because buying them directly from the venue is more convenient for all sorts of reasons and gives a better deal to the performers. The Fringe Office have changed this ostensibly to stop performers writing their own reviews, but that sucks. It's invariably obvious when that's happening, and if other shows don't want to play fair, so what? Reading audience feedback is one of the most enjoyable rewards of putting on a show, and there's now almost none to read. We had some kind Twitter and blog mentions though.

After the last performance, one of the cast managed to totally steal the limelight by proposing to his girlfriend on stage.

I'm in negotiation with some publishers about the script and rights handling.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Stitched Up

After Broken Holmes did so well last year, we are back this year with Stitched Up", my take on Frankenstein, directed by James Bober. We've had this four-star review already, which calls us "shamelessly intellectual" among other nice things, and some publishers want to meet me for coffee this afternoon. Apart from writing it, I didn't have much to do with the actual production work this time, so it was an absolute joy to see it suddenly come to life on the first night. Stitched Up runs every day except Sunday until 28 August at The Space @ Venue 45, Jeffrey Street (off High Street).

And sorry about the lack of blog. In the past year I have also been held prisoner in a bicycle shop, been exiled for two months in Poland due to bureaucracy, and got married.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The first nerd

Some facts which turned up in the autobiography of Charles Babbage, the Victorian mathematician and inventor who designed and partially built a Turing-complete mechanical computer eighty years before the birth of Turing.

1. As a young schoolboy, Babbage was told the story of a man who sold his soul to the Devil. It occurred to him that the part about the man becoming rich and powerful in his lifetime was a matter of verifiable historical record, but the part about him being damned for eternity could only be conjecture. Accordingly, young Charles attempted to summon the Devil in his school common-room, but was unsuccessful.

2. The first computer error message was "Wrong tabular number."

3. In later life, Babbage claimed to have had a telepathic communication from a piece of Gloucester cheese, which revealed a great deal about the nature and origins of the universe. Unfortunately Babbage deemed the revelation unreliable because a piece of cheese has obviously no real understanding of the universe.

4. Babbage was asked "If you put the wrong numbers into the Engine, will the right answers come out?" twice, both times by Members of Parliament.

5. Babbage took several shiny steel buttons with him everywhere he travelled, but pretended there was only one and that he treasured it greatly, so he could swap it for things.

6. Explaining the Analytical Engine to an audience, Babbage told of how, when it wanted a logarithm to use in its calculations, it would stop, ring a bell, wait for the number to be punched in by the operator, check the logarithm was correct, and then continue. Somebody asked, if it had to check the logarithm was correct anyway, couldn't it just calculate it instead of stopping work to ask for it? Babbage expertly fielded the question: "That is far too simple to explain at present, but if you stop by my workshop in a few days I shall have prepared you an answer."

7. Babbage's use of 'want' in the above may be the first implied attribution of consciousness to a machine, the Engine being the first machine sufficiently complex for it.

8. The child Babbage was shown a miniature clockwork dancer, called "The Silver Lady", at a street exhibition. Much later, he found it in a junk shop, bought it, restored the mechanism, and dressed it in a different outfit each day.

9. Babbage invented the pilot or cow-catcher for steam locomotives.

10. Babbage mentions Ada Lovelace only once in passing in his autobiography, though other sources indicate it was Lovelace who first realised the true capabilities of the Engine.


At the risk of jinxing it, my next farce will probably be about him and Lovelace.