Saturday, 5 June 2010

Poking Time with a Stick

It was a pleasant afternoon sitting in the shade leaning against the wall of an old dusty building. It was a very long time ago, in a land that has had many names, and supported many civilisations with as many languages. You'd probably recognise it best as Iraq.

I was writing in a clay tablet with a stylus. It was careful and painstaking work. I was really missing the spelling checker, but less so the grammar checker and automatic humour inserter, but anyhow these wouldn't have been invented until some 50 centuries later.

Once I'd finished writing, my old friend Indigo Roth would pop the tablet into an oven and give it a good baking. I'd just finished one, he'd put it into the oven and, in return, got a freshly baked one out and laid it gently into the sand where he read it. When he'd finished, he smacked a corner off the tablet with a rock and proceeded to pound the bit he'd broken off into the dust.

"If you don't like what I'm writing, you could just tell me," I said, with my spare stylus in my mouth. It made grinning difficult.

"Nothing wrong with it at all. It's just it started to make sense. It's much better with the corner removed."

"Yes, yes, you're right. If it makes sense we'll loose the whole point of the day."

The day had started ordinarily enough. Roth had banged on the door of my shed. Then the other one. Then finally the shed I was actually in. Feet resting on piles of books, laying back in battered old armchairs we sat and chewed the cud and some of Roth's most excellent coffee. He'd been boiling this batch since last Monday week.

Roth was annoyed. "I'm annoyed," he said.

"Are you?"

He nodded, "Very."


"I wrote a blog entry."

"It happens."

"And I got a comment."

"Nope, never happened to me."

"From a pedant. Of the worst kind. He said I had broken a grammar rule in my entry."

He went on to explain the rule of past participle post wrangling. He did much gesticulating. I chewed coffee.

Then we got serious. The time machine crackled into life. Fortunately it does allow some travel in space as well as time, or it'd be one hell of a long walk at the other end. Or we'd have to get the time machine onto a plane as hand luggage, and you know how fussy they are about things with wires and particle accelerators. Any excuse and they'd think we were terrorists.

The deal was he'd write for the morning and I'd bake the tablets and proof read. In the afternoon we'd swap. Time went quickly and soon the afternoon was over.

Clutching the clay tablets under our arms we went into the local library and carefully arranged the tablets on the recently returned tablets shelf. The Sumerian lending library service was fantastic and the fines were very reasonable for late returns.

"So do you think that'll do it?"

"You know how it is. Cause and effect. Ancient Sumerian feeds other languages, then so on through time. Cause and effect."

"That'll teach the pedant. No more past participle post wrangling," said Roth, grinning widely, "and the Squiddrel will be in ancient mythology."

"Do you think your coffee will have set completely, or can we have a cup when we get back?"


  1. Damn that Indigo... I hate it when part of the tablet gets broken off. I don't care if it makes more sense that way... that's usually where the real dirt on Indigo is located.

  2. Geez! Are you telling me that my years of Ancient Egytpian and Sumerian studies (language included) have been in vain? That you guys have tampered with it all? That all I used to know isn't so anymore? How very dare you..... :D

  3. NIcely rounded - I love the thought of Sumerians having a tablet library service... which 5000 years later has come full circle with books now available on Kindles & Ipads :)

    Lovely tale :)

  4. Well damn, this was I was going to blog about. It'll have to be an off-the-cuff pile of tosh again, then! We should try sending the squiddrel itself back in time. I think it'd give the T-Rex a run for its money.

  5. Forget the tablets.

    Sounds like you all need some serious coffee help.

    It's called Starbucks. Go there. And be happy.


  6. @Catlady - I've always thought breaking off a corner of the tablet is like turning down the corner of a page. Bad style.

    @RA - Sorry about that, but most of your Ancient Egytpian and Sumerian studies still apply. Just watch out for the bits with rocket ships - that was us.

    @Eolist - Do you really come to this blog for enlightenment?

    @Robbie - Sumerians library system was fantastic. No silence rules either.

    @Indigo - We had some problems with the Squiddrel and Velceraptors. Maybe it'll play nicer with a T-Rex. Bloody Velceraptors have small bones that kept catching in the Squiddrel's throat.

    @Quirky - Starbucks has nothing on Roth Coffee. Roth Coffee causes smiles by the miles and occasionally stuck open eyelids.

  7. Hah! The Squiddrel in mythology! I can just imagine it. You should make some cave drawings and totem poles to go with it! THAT'd confuse them archeologists! I'd like to see them figure out the mystery of the ancient, world-wide cult of the Arboreal Cephalopod!


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