Thinking time

I went to the post office at lunch time. Lots of other people did too, so it was quite busy.

For the last few years, this post office has had a fancy queuing system (though it now no longer seems to require a dedicated member of staff to explain the self service options, which is progress of a kind). I took my ticket and prepared to wait.

King Canute was buried at sea

King Canute is famous for thinking that by his royal command, he could hold back the incoming tide. King Canute is famous for demonstrating the limitations of even royal power by showing that he could not hold back the incoming tide. His attempt to show humility and the limits of power became a story of […]

Time for Sir Humphrey to retire

Just before Easter, I spent a couple of nights staying in a rather nice hotel. As it turned out, the fact that I can dimly remember watching Fawlty Towers many years ago proved to be of no help at all to me in understanding what was going on or how to navigate its processes. I can’t […]

Turning on the tap of affordance

The semiotics of plumbing is a slightly unlikely topic, but having not long ago discussed the affordance of soap dispensing, I now turn to the tricky question of how to turn on a tap. There follows a ludicrously detailed description of an utterly trivial process. If that prospect does not fill your heart with joy, […]

Systemic distortion

We all know too much. What each of us knows too much about is very distinctive, but it’s a safe bet that we all know too much about something. When other people, who know that thing less than we do, attempt to describe it or to understand it for themselves, they get it wrong, not […]


Translation is an extraordinary process. It is holding on to the essence of a thing while stripping away everything which expresses that essence and replacing it with a different language or a different form. Having pulled off this remarkable feat, the fate of the translator is then to be ignored: the integrity of the original […]