Friday, February 2, 2018 

Bill, Babies and Big Air

No Complaints #137

I’ve spent most of this week living in the past — to be specific, the early 1970s, because I have become obsessed with Watergate-era politics thanks to the Slow Burn podcast (more on this below, and in my Tuesday members-only newsletter, read it here, and sign up now, thanks very much). If you need me, I’ll be hunting down this shirt so that in future I can look as much like Mary McCarthy as possible:

Things to read

“As former soldiers re-established themselves as civilians, swearing became normalised, but it was only acceptable when used by men and addressed to men. The story of the Littlehampton libels reveals the extent to which British society at this time clung to certain beliefs about women and language. One of these prejudices, fiercely held, was that a ‘respectable’ woman was incapable of allowing a dirty word to sully her mouth. Another was that women who did swear were beyond the pale, and therefore capable of anything. The tenacity of these prejudices within the legal system would allow Edith Swan to send multiple poison pen letters to her neighbours over a period of three years and contrive to have a less ‘respectable’ woman – Rose Gooding – twice sent to jail for crimes of which she was entirely innocent.”

I don’t know why I hadn’t heard of the “Littlehampton libels” case from the 1930s before (my school history syllabus was just Tudors, plague, Tudors, Roman Britain, Tudors, Soviet Russia, rinse and repeat) but now I want to know everything about it. Email to Pocket.

“I was addicted to my smartphone. And if you think that sounds dramatic, I also think you’re addicted to yours. This isn’t just my suspicion – it’s supported by evidence. On average, we check our phones (not just for the time, but by accessing our home screens) around 47 times a day (18- to 24-year-olds do it 82 times). We typically spend over four hours per day on our phones, which equates to 56 full days a year. Thirty-eight per cent of British people think they use their smartphones too much, 79 per cent of us check apps before going to sleep and over half of us look at our phones within the first waking hour of every day. Dr David Greenfield, an American psychiatry professor specialising in technology addiction, has developed a simple test for identifying smartphone compulsion (sample question: ‘Do you seem to lose track of time when on your smartphone?’. I mean, duh) and, as I read my own damning results, I realised I knew not a single person who’d pass unashamed.”

I’m no anti-internet moralist (I generally think the use of it is a good thing and to be encouraged, within reasonable limits!) but I am a bit worried now that it might be melting my brain slightly. Email to Pocket.

“These fleet companies make their money delivering the cars, caring for them, and maintaining relationships with journalists. Increasingly, they offer services such as assistance with putting on events or logistics. The sense I get is that the journalists are like gasoline at a service station in that it’s a necessity to get the business but generally the least profitable part of it. Some get a flat fee for deliveries (though they don’t like this) and some get paid over a certain milage. An ideal trip for a fleet company who isn’t getting a flat fee is delivering a car a few hundred miles because the profit on that trip becomes higher.”

I have never been offered a “press car” but I am strangely compelled by the life cycle of these freebie vehicles. Email to Pocket.

“It was nearly 7 p.m. by the time we got home that night. We had hoped to get home earlier but it turns out that being discharged from a hospital is rarely in the patient’s hands — there was paperwork to fill out, a lactation class to attend, a terrifying video on the dangers of shaking a baby to watch, a wheelchair to wait for—new mothers, no matter how they’re feeling, are not allowed to pick up their baby and simply walk out of the labor and delivery floor — they must wait for a wheelchair and an orderly to wheel them, like a sick person, out of the hospital grounds. But the minute you’re out of the hospital, no more wheelchairs, no more nurses, no more doctors, no more medical support or advice — you’re on your own. Get off the wheelchair and figure this out. The hospital no longer cares.”

Gently lovely writing about what it’s like to bring your baby home and spend your first night as a parent. Email to Pocket.

“By far the strangest and worst, however, of these ‘general snowboarding’ deaths are what safety authorities refer to as Non-Avalanche-Related Snow Immersion Death. Narsid is when a ‘rider falls into an area of deep unconsolidated snow and becomes immobilized and suffocates’. This is also referred to as a ‘tree-well immersion accident’, because such areas of deep loose powder are often found around big trees. If you go into one deep enough, you are lost. You can’t breathe or move. The powder entombs you. With that in mind, imagine hitting one off a sizable jump. You soar into the air, and it’s a great moment. You’re smiling, because you’re going to glide out of there as if you just hopped off the lift. Instead, when you land, you vanish.”

John Jeremiah Sullivan? Writing about snowboarding, a sport I neither know nor care about? Of course I want to devour every word. Email to Pocket.


Things to listen to

Since my Tuesday podcast newsletter reached a few more people, I’ve been getting some great recommendations in my inbox. The ones I’ve enjoyed so far are Mismatch, which features stories of people who don’t quite get on or fit in, Imaginary Advice, which I can’t really describe, and Whatever Happened to Pizza at McDonald’s, which, well, it’s obvious from the title.

Plus: Here’s a piece I wrote for the New Statesman about the political resonances of Slow Burn.


Things to watch

I dare you not to cry during this.

Will they or won’t they? I HAVE TO KNOW, FOR SOME REASON.

Why can Bill Gates do this? I feel like there’s a longread in that question.

Compulsory medieval thingamabob

“Can I play you one of my songs? I’m very influenced by Death Cab for Cutie.”

The guest gif

Extremely relatable.