Time and Underpants (or What Is It All About?)

To be typed into a search engine one day: Why do people insist on asking search engines questions they can’t possibly answer?

As long-time readers will be aware, search-terms fascinate me. There is a tendency for them to be either eccentric, banal, or both. Here, for instance, is a recent example:

what was the european novel about?

I can’t help thinking that this particular web-surfer has unrealistically high expectations. Like any tool, the internet will help you get a job done. It may provide the nails for you to build a cabinet – what it won’t do is assemble the cabinet all on its own.

Having said that, I am a kindly soul in a kindly mood, so here – for your immediate edification – is a brief answer to the question above:

Apes, abstinence, adventure, amorality, baguettes, bathos, bathrobes, Belgium, coiffure, coffee, combat, death, delinquents, delicatessens, eugenics, eternity, equivocation, France, farce, families, gigolos, Germany, glamour, hagiography, hesitation, heretics, Iceland, indoctrination, infants, jam, jounalism, jurisdiction, kissing, kleptomania, knives, light, life, love, machinery, masculinity, marmalade, nihilism, nostalgia, nouveau riche, old wives tales, oligopoly, onanism, paradise, pretence, politics, quarrels, quarantine, quattrocentro, rats, relics, retribution, sex, Scandanavia, seafaring, tea, testoterone, time, underpants, unification, uprooting, valuation, variation, vegetables, women, weaponry, weakness, xenophobia, xylophones, x-rays, yesterday, yogurt, Yugoslavia (former federal republic of), Zionism, zoophytes and zealots.

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Google Knows Your Grandmother

It’s been some time, I fancy, since I last lowered my hairless hand into the lucky dip of search terms (last september, as it turns out). One would expect a sea of strangeness waiting to engulf me – and one would be right, for strangeness is certainly never far away when it comes to search terms. The world is simply jam-packed full of people typing peculiar things into search engines, only to arrive, for one reason or another, at my battered old door. Today I have picked just four of the many weird and wonderful lines I found lurking on my search term list. Trust me when I say that there were many more.

The first is ‘it becomes difficult not to fall in love with death’: an unsurprisingly mournful statement – one which must have led, I imagine, to one of the many articles on everybody’s favourite miser Pyetr Turgidovsky. But who might have written this, and what exactly were they looking for? Consolation? Like-minded nihilists? Or is it the title of an early Turgidovsky short story?

The aim of our second searcher seems more obvious. One doesn’t type ‘bapless burger’ unless one is, well, after a bapless burger. The question remains (and it is, I think, one of the big questions of our age): why is one after a bapless burger? To what extent would a recipe for a bapless burger differ from a regular burger recipe, save the absence of the bap? And how did this phrase link to my website? (is this, too, a title of a short story by the young Turgidovsky; the bapless burger being a symbol of his empty adolescent life perhaps?)

From the profane to the sacred. ‘Sunday of last judgement simplified’ is our third term (and here’s the article, I fancy, towards which it led). Now this one moves my mind in all sorts of ways. People do yearn for simplicity, and who am I to roadblock their highway of desires? Having said that, the Last Judgement (one of those strange historical things that is nonetheless yet to happen) is one of those things that, I would say, tends to resist simplicity. Here is someone, however, who clearly wishes to have the whole thing not only cut down to size, but timetabled. Maybe their Sundays tend to be busy, and they’d rather the Last Judgement didn’t encroach too heavily. Would it be possible to be judged after lunch, since I was planning to invite the vicar? How long do you reckon the judgement will take? Will there be toilet breaks?

Talking of last things: ‘conclusion on my grandmother’ is our last term (this the destination, I presume). Yet another case, it seems, of using the internet to seek the answers to purely personal questions. Someone is perplexed by the behaviour of a grandparent. They seek elucidation. Options abound. They could use their own mind. They could ask the help of other people: family, friends or professional counsellors. Or they could, of course, just see what google says. Google knows your grandmother like nobody does. This, as we well know, is nothing short of a fact.

Common Knowledge

‘It is common knowledge, but it bears repeating. No one alive will ever be remotely qualified to talk about death. What we need is someone with real experience. What we get is a series of pointless stabs in the dark. It’s like asking an embryo to teach you to ride an elephant’ (Koira Jupczek)

Death is the Envelope…

‘Death is the envelope that seals the letter of life. You live when alive, but your “life” comes into force only when you are dead. Death is the last brush-mark; the one that makes the painting what it is. Without this last mark, the work is but a mess of untidy lines: random strokes of swirling, glutinous paint. Death lets your life really live. Death should not, therefore, be treated lightly.’ (Koira Jupczek)

Symptoms of The End

Weighing up the benefits of free speech and the free ravings of unhinged lunatics, the Russian authorities have once again exercised their right to quash creativity as only they know how.

‘Symptoms of The End’ was a website, posing as an aid to people who think that google might have better things to say about a chesty cough than a fully qualified doctor. The site invited visitors to list their symptoms, with the promise of making a ‘full and confidential diagnosis’ at the end. Unfortunately, the only diagnosis it ever made was ‘you will die soon’. Thus it was programmed: to remind us all of our own mortality – and to make fun of the various symptoms that lead, inevitably, to the same old end.

It wasn’t a subtle site, and shouldn’t have posed a risk to anyone with half a brain. Sadly there are a lot of people with a severe lack of grey matter, which explains why the authorities stepped it to quell this ‘highly irresponsible, inaccurate and dangerous site’. Inaccurate, you ask? Surely the death sentence passed on every visitor, whilst a little dramatic, ultimately leaned on the side of truth? It seems not.

The reason I mention this is not because I find it, in itself, a peculiarly fascinating state of affairs. Rather it is because I couldn’t help noticing that it all took place rather close to the supposed home of a certain Pyetr Turgidovsky – everybody’s favourite Russian nihilist.

So far as I know Turgidovsky has never been one for computers. The sort of person who likes to daub himself in dung probably isn’t going to go in for technology in a big way. Nevertheless, one can’t help but have a sneaking suspicion of his involvement with this project. The words at the heart of it – ‘you are going to die soon’ – appear throughout his fiction: one could almost say that they were his ‘catchphrase’.

Had Turgidovsky had a hand in this, however, one can be sure that he didn’t programme the site to automatically offer these words as every diagnosis. No. Turgidovsky would have taken great pleasure in writing out every one himself, one after the other: the same six words, ad infinitum. He’s just that sort of man. He really cares about not caring.

Death and All His Fakeries

Some will have struggled to suppress a yawn when reading the contents of my last post. ‘Oh goodness me,’ they might have murmured, post-yawn: ‘Not another fake death conspiracy. Is there anything more tedious?’

Not that I was offering any new information or anything. In fact, the article to which I provided a link (written, I must stress, by Carl Stensson – not by myself) is a few years old now. And, though I am almost certain that his word can be trusted when it comes to Lucas de Boer, I will happily join the ever expanding queue of mockers aiming small packets of scorn at his claim that Van Gogh faked his own death. Not that I’ve looked into the case all that deeply, but the fact remains that I’ve yet to hear any convincing evidence from Stensson, beyond his statement that the old Dutch man to whom he was introduced as a child looked ‘just as anyone might imagine Van Gogh to look at the age of ninety-one’. Quite frankly, it could have been any old mad Dutchman sitting on that deckchair.

As to the tedious nature of death-related conspiracies, I am once again keen to concur. I once knew a man who was convinced that death in itself was a conspiracy – and that people were simply being shipped off to Australia, or possibly the moon. Suffice it to say, he could be tiresome company, until one day someone shipped him off – to where I’m not quite sure.

There are, of course, two sides to the death fakery issue. There are those who, like Lucas de Boer, are alive but pretend to be dead. Then there are those, like Paul McCartney (he says, grasping at a passing butterfly of lies) who are dead but pretend to be alive. Interestingly, Underneath the Bunker was once subject to the latter sort of hoax, whereby we were systemically flooded with e-mails, letters and phone-calls informing us of the death of Constantin Doyez, the great Viennese scholar of Spanish literature. Seeing it as our duty to announce this sad fact to the world, we did so, only to find out (from the mouth of the man himself) that said scholar was still alive.

No sooner did we clear the mess up then it happened again. Someone, somewhere, was strangely obsessed with leaking the news of the death of someone who, as far as the world could tell, continued to feed greedily on the fruits of life. Could it be Doyez himself? It seems unlikely: he has always seemed, to me at least, the retiring type; highly if not insufferably publicity-shy. Indeed, he appears to have found the situation increasingly unpleasant, despite the glowing obituaries we always gave him. He once went so far, in fact, as to suggest that the ‘almost constant and stressful news of my death was directly responsible for sending my mother to an early grave’ – a weird thing to say, perhaps, when you consider the fact that his mother has yet to pop the proverbial clogs.