From the album ‘Serfs Up!’ (2019)
From the album ‘Serfs Up!’ (2019)
Yeah, I’m learning to code, rapidly nearing the big four-zero. If that seems a daft combination, that’s because it is. But don’t laugh, and I’m certainly not. It’s hard, man. I’m still getting to grips with what integers, strings, floats, Boolean, loops, and if statements are, how and when to assign values, use the break, continue and exception handling functions, and the general syntax and indentations. And I had other questions – just what the fuck is a Json file? That I even know what these terms mean now is progress, and only a month in I find myself more engaged and invested in learning Python than I initially suspected.
The older I get, the more episodes of portentous self-reflection I experience, and so I’ve been questioning whether my motivations for learning to code are benign, or oriented by a professional cynicism. As with any kind of motivation, its true genesis is a confluence of pragmatism, vanity and hedonism.
The first motivation that comes to mind is financial – I’ve paid £230 for a yearly subscription to Pluralsight. So I’ve got get my money’s worth. Despite the incentive of trying not to waste money (a pet peeve of mine), it would be preferable if learning to code was generated by curiosity or passion in the subject. It only piqued my intrigue when I discovered that various software related professions; be it web development and internet security, to name two, are projected to suffer from a shortage of skilled labour.
Let’s all agree as to why that is: despite the geek chic phenotype becoming a fashion statement for hypters, the reality beyond the Big Bang Theory is grim. You’re sitting in front of a computer screen for hours. No matter what you’re doing, even if that task is elaborate and requires a specific level of expertise, it often feels mentally and physically dismal, especially if you’re doing something repetitive. Learning to code and understand it is one thing, but how many people have the ingenuity to develop applications and processes that are unique or valuable, or have a job in the industry that continuously requires creative thinking to problem solve?
Despite its potential to enhance my job prospects (yet another financial incentive), the biggest benefit from learning to code didn’t fully reveal itself until I started – it will require adding another daily discipline to my routine. All of us, even the most undisciplined, have a discipline of some kind. Often this is habitual, or necessitated by the impracticalities of the contemporary socio-economic matrix, say, ‘okay, I’m dogshit tired and I fucking hate my job, but I have to get up now and go to work so I can pay the mortgage’. Others are motivated by vanity. In my case I can at least say this one is constructive, I cycle thirty kilometres a day because being thin never goes out of fashion luvvies. That it keeps me healthy is just a bonus.
Anecdotally most coders say their incentive for learning was to solve a processing or computing related problem they had. I don’t have one. So I’m looking for it to solve a mini existential crisis. As it diminishes the dreadful realisation lingers, like a lengthening shadow, that time’s finite. It’s created a sense of urgency to manage my time better. Recently I find myself exasperated at my failure to do so; before I know it I’ve wasted several hours watching YouTube videos, leaving the telly on in the background, half-watching sport, whilst playing Sporcle quizzes or randomly browsing the net. Sometimes this ‘faffing about’ accumulates knowledge, but, if this is me relaxing, the scenario’s repetitiveness and my inability to focus recreationally feels complacent. Let’s call this ennui with a middle class standard of living, whose artifice is wholly maintained by technological innovation and its perpetual ability to distract us.
Add it all together – the expense incurred, the need to improve my job prospects with a new (potentially in demand) skill and the newly found desire not to waste any more time of my waning existence, and perhaps, just perhaps, I might find a smidge more fulfilment from learning to code. We’re really talking about is a neat bit of psychological deception. If I’m forcing myself to focus learning something new, I know it’ll eat into my recreation time, so I’ll be motivated to be as efficient with both as possible.
At the very least saying I can code in (eventually, hopefully) a few languages looks good on a CV. It’s certainly better than the usual self-aggrandising quote your attributes with bulletpoints, trying to sex up the menial jobs you’ve done, or using a verbose idiom that essentially says: I can read, write and count, have two arms and legs, a functioning brain, and just too prove it I’ll make a sign saying “will work for food if you give me an interview”.
I’m only at the start of this process, but I’ve never felt more ambitious yet simultaneously clueless. C’est la vie.
From the album ‘Brilliant Trees’ (1984)
My temper has always been problematic. While it caused the accident, the real damage was done by every decision I made in its wake. This meant the accident could not be perceived as anything other than maliciously premeditated.
Public absolution is beyond me now. Forever more I’ll be defined by the sniggering infamy that follows politicians felled by sleaze. I’ll be that fella, that nutter, that weirdo who did that squalidly inexplicable thing. I can’t offer this as a defence, but somewhere in my recesses safe from formality and normality, I can admit why I did it. Having never been an impulsive or creative person, the liberation of killing, though accidental, freed me to convert a strange impulse into physical reality. The best art and scientific discovery is often inadvertent, spontaneous or borne of challenging circumstances. For someone without an aptitude for either discipline, and with little experience of the latter, being able to live unencumbered by my paucity of invention and bravery, if only for a short time, was precious.
Owning a pet appears burdensome. Dog owners spend an inordinate amount of time and money walking it, grooming it and taking it to the vet. Pet ownership validates domestic contentment or to fill an emotional void; usually as a tragic surrogate for a spouse, or a test run of one’s parenting credentials. If we can look after a dog, well, why not? Cats are lower maintenance. Bear, the neighbour’s cat, so named because of longish brown fur, was certainly avaricious. I’m convinced he was aware of my routines; when I turned on the heating, at what time I ate, and the day I usually did my grocery shopping. He was always ready to take advantage of my decadences.
During winter I have a lie in on Saturday and Sunday. My boiler is timed to come on at 10am. In a tawdry life with few luxuries and indulgences, this is one. Whenever this weekend routine gets interrupted I become irritable. Being woken by a delivery driver just to receive an Amazon delivery for the neighbours (not Bear’s owners, it should be noted) is an interruption. Seeing a letterbox stuffed full of junk mail fuels my growing disdain at the prospect of more me time being wasted. The open front door allowing heat to bellow out, and the biting January air replacing it, confirms the ruination of my comfort. Self-serving and selfish thoughts these may be, but I’m not inconsiderate, I could’ve just ignored the doorbell.
The unusual size to weight ratio of the package momentarily confounded me. I placed it on the side table. Turning back towards the door, still in a fit of impatience, I stubbed my toe. My slippers offered meagre protection from the impact. I slammed the door with an excessive fury. A ring of Bear’s neck and his choked yelp were overwhelmed by the door’s reverberation.
Bear lay there, his flaccid neck slumped over the threshold, tongue protruding with an inelegant twist. It cannot be. How? Self-preservation replaced shock’s momentary paralysis and I lifted his languid body, ironically lying him down gently on top of the delivery package. I scanned the street intently, a car passing was the only sign of life. There didn’t appear to be any witnesses.
Logistics are essential when your disposal of a dead cat is excessively ostentatious and meticulous. By cutting up the cadaver into sections, and using two different methods of disposal, I was creating an unsolvable puzzle. Fred West was just lazy.
The first step was to remove the bird-warning collar. Its rattle was certainly effective, too much so. Little doubt the walls weren’t thick enough to blunt it’s irritating jangle, not when Susie, Bear’s owner, may be listening out for it with a vigilant desperation. After placing it on the mantelpiece I moved Bear’s corpse to the kitchen.
Carving up Bear wasn’t as grotesque as I envisioned. I expected projectile spray, but the blood oozed steadily for only a few seconds. It only took two hacks with a slightly blunt meat cleaver to remove Bear’s head. I held his severed head level with mine and stared into his eyes, his tongue had reverted to its favourite post-mortem pose, sagging outside of his mouth, which augmented a facial expression that suggested extreme intoxication, not decapitation. This face off pose was a childish sequence, it unsettled me, as it was the kind of sordid indulgence that psychopaths or primitive animals enjoy, such as a cat pawing at a twitching mouse whose neck it’s just broken.
After removing Bear’s limbs, right at the point of readying myself to remove his tail, arm cocked, I stopped, finally realising the utter insanity of my endeavours. But having come this far, it was too late to stop now. Life experience is essential, and even if I’d never willingly share this with anyone else, unless placed under duress, I’d carry myself with the confidence that comes from knowing I got away with butchering a household pet that I’d killed accidentally.
Cleaning the chopping board under the tap removed the blood, but I needed something to wrap Bear’s head and other appendages in. Biodegradable kitchen paper was just the ticket. That left his body, which I skinned sloppily after watching a few YouTube instruction videos. It should be noted that said YouTube videos were of animals that are commonly kept for slaughter in this country.
I decided the make stew out of Bear’s body. To start, I removed his innards and put them in a blender. They smelled revolting. I placed the paste down the toilet and flushed it three or four times. The remaining flesh on Bear’s carcass was removed from the bones, which were cleaned under the tap and placed in the plastic bag with his head, pelt and limbs.
Cat stew, I decided, would partially follow the recipe of beef stew. Here only a couple of potatoes that were starting to go slightly green, one onion, water and a few table spoons of flour were placed in the slow cooker with the meat. This would be left for a few hours, while I disposed of Bear’s other bits. Upon returning home the stew would then be discarded. My intention was for it to have the appearance of one of those inedible ready meals that I’d (smartly) rejected.
It was now just after two in the afternoon, so I wanted to bury Bear’s remains while it was still light. I grabbed the plastic bag filled with Bear’s bits and went out to the shed to find the hand trowel. On way I was accosted by Susie. She hadn’t seen him since Thursday night, and was starting to become concerned. She asked when I‘d last seen him. That I was able to lie with a composed spontaneity surprised me, especially as I was holding bits of Bear in a plastic bag whilst talking to her. By promising to keep an eye out for Bear, Susie, too pre-occupied for our usual small talk routine, wandered to another of Bear’s regular haunts – the next door down.
On the drive to the burial plot I considered a Ballard-esque surrealist, post-modern hypothesis – what cat might taste of? Would it be similar to beef? Hare? Venison? Said intrigue was terminated emphatically when I arrived at the country park. As soon as I opened the bag of Bear to double check that I’d put all of his bits in there I nearly dry heaved. Thankfully the heavily wooded area I enjoyed from a scout trip here during my formative years was still there. It was the back of three, so I decided to get on with digging the grave. While the ground wasn’t frozen the soil was stiff. The extra effort combined with three layers of clothing meant that I started to break sweat. After twenty minutes I put my foot in the hole, the depth was knee high. Deep enough for some cat bits, surely? For some reason I adopted gentleness when handling Bear’s remains, and they were placed gently in their correct anatomical formation. Looking at it from above, with a bloody pelt superimposing the bones, this reconstruction was as puerile as it was pointless.
As it was almost dark, I quickly scooped the earth back over Bear’s remains, compacted it down, before grabbing some leaves and twigs to subterfuge the disturbed earth. Upon returning home I checked the Bear stew. Thankfully it smelled bland, I dumped it in the bin, and as the bin was nearly full took it to the communal one. I placed all the implements used to cook and carve up Bear in the dishwasher. Had a bath, then ordered a mushroom and red pepper Pizza. What a waste of a Saturday.
Sunday. Day two, Bear AB – that’s my acronym for ‘After Bear’. In the evening Susie was calling out Bear’s name forlornly. I watched her through a gap between the blind and window frame. Her body shape combined with her attire – gorilla slippers, hair tied up in a yellow towel and wearing a tiger onesie – made her she look like a octogenarian garden gnome that was impervious to taste. Suddenly an anxious nausea hit me. I’d been utterly dreading it’s arrival. Why couldn’t I have killed Bear in an accidental fashion that was plausible? Say reversing over him in the driveway? I’d feel genuinely remorseful and I could show contrition. People would understand, perhaps even sympathise with my plight.
I should’ve known this would be the day where I’d get the fear. Last night I had a vivid dream about a TV series called ‘Dogs on Death Row’. It was a perverted inversion of Animal Hospital with Rolf Harris acting as the presenter and executioner in front of a live studio audience of fringe Daily Mail reading gammon who moonlight as Noncewatch contributors. Rolf was wearing a blood splatter coloured t-shirt adorned with a picture of Bear’s severed head. When I woke I was drenched in sweat, surely similar to how I imagine Rolf felt at the prospect of facing his first day in gen-pop.
Monday afternoon, on the bus home from work there was a poster of a missing person. Perhaps Susie will just assume that something normal caused Bear’s downfall – he was hit by a car, and as cats tend to do, went somewhere private to die. You see posters and leaflets searching for missing pets all the time. People have even taken to Facebook and Twitter for help. It’s not unusual. And just how many of these pets get found? It made me wonder if what occurred on Saturday was a through the looking glass experience, and that these freak accidents caused more pet deaths than we assume.
That evening I had an omelette for tea. Eating meat, well red meat, has lost its appeal. Hopefully my appetite for it will return soon. Later, there was a knock at the door, opening it revealed a forlorn Susie.
Susie asked if I’d seen Bear. Then she requested to come inside and call Bear’s name, just in case he was hiding somewhere. Naturally I granted her request, to not do so could be construed as guarded and arouse suspicion. She terminated in the living room after an un-invasive sweep of the house. Her shoulders had reverted to a slumped state. I consoled her with the usual trite offerings we feel comfortable saying in said circumstances; he’ll be fine, he’ll turn up eventually, etc. She had one final call of Bear’s name, then she spotted it. His fucking collar! I forgot. Fuck! What am I going to do? More to the point, what is she going to do?