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Life’s a Game of Pinball
I would have been the witch doctor in a tribe,
The pinball that kicks away from the small black hole,
Disappears, then comes back for more.
I’m the ball which gets flipped and flapped, which dings and dongs.
Can you hear it?
Ding, sling, ping, dong!
Rumble, tumble, ping-ding-ring.
Ping! Ding, sling, ping, dong!
I’ve been fascinated by the relationship between Anais Nin and Henry Miller for two decades and wish, even if it only meant being Richard Osborne to their relationship, that I could have been their watching it unfold and hearing about it from each of them.
Is this what the celebrity tabloid press do fifty, sixty years on? At best there is commentary and interview, at worst the photographs that make it look sordid.
Can they be studied in an elective on American literature? Would it be just American? She was French/ Cuban.
She wrote about D.H.Lawrence, so I will write about her (or Henry) or both.
The relationship fascinates, how couples are the making of their work. As if taking a lover catalyses creativity.
Just pages into her first Journal I am marking down long tracts which I want to record and discuss.
What makes people despair is that they try to find a universal meaning to the whole of life, and then end up saying it is absurd, illogical, empty of meaning. There is not one big, cosmic meaning for all, there is only the meaning we each give to our life, an individual meaning, an individual plot, like an individual novel, a book for each person. To give as much meaning to one’s life as possible seems right to me. For example, I am not committed to any of the political movements which I find full of fanaticism and injustice, but in the face of each human being I act democratically and humanely. I give each human being his due. I disregard class and possessions. If it is the value of their spirit, of their human qualities, I pay my respect to, and to their needs as fast as I am able to fulfil them. If all of us acted in unison as I acted individually, there would be no wars and no poverty. I have made myself personally responsible for the fate of every human being who has come my way.’ (Anais Nin, Journals Vol 1)
If we see life as a novel then we deliberately set out to make it worthy of a novel.
If this novel is written on a daily basis as experiences unfold then surely the diarist goes out of their way to ensure that they experience and do things worthy of a novel?
Pepys is about to be serialised on BBC Radio.
The trailer justifies why a young person might keep a diary. Had millions been doing so in the 17th century would we be that interested in Pepys? Possibly, given that those blogs that are published are easily described as nefarious and sordid.
They take lovers, they are unfaithful to other halves, they go to places and do things they would never otherwise have done? Some would.
Is this the would-be artist’s struggle?
Is this what defines a frustrated creative?
The desire to express and share what they make of life and to have actions in their lives worth sharing.
I prefer to be the witch doctor in a tribe, the oddball.
From a diary entry of Saturday 17th October 1992. Thought over 19 years on.
I’ve been blogging since 1999.
In 2003 I went through a Norman Mailer phase.
I read everything and would post thoughts. Looking back at this diary and its 15,000+ pages I stumbled across a comment that is by all accounts from Norman Mailer himself in which I quote him regarding the writing process and how you live the life of a fictional character for many years. His comment suggests that it had been years since he had lived one of these characters and he thought it was about time he did so again.
I regret not picking up on this. His opinionated and sometimes rambling novels appeal to me as they often read like a diary: unedited stream of consciousness like Proust, Henry Miller, Haruki Murakami or Virginia Woolf.
I bought this in 2000 when I was thinking about an OU course. In February 2001 I signed up for the Masters in Open and Distance Education. We used First Class, it was loaded from a disk I think. Using a Mac might have been a problem, I was rarely online to follow the independent, spasmodic asynchronous threads.
Anyway, a decade later I am heading towards the finish line.
2001 wasn’t a good year for many of us … I did the first Tutor Marked Assignment TMAs but was made redundant a couple of months before the TMA would have been due and had by then decided that doing less for a couple of years rather than more would be a good idea.
Anyway … despite having successfully negotiated two modules and six-eight TMAs and a couple of End of Course Assignment ECAs I find myself turning to Chapter 10 of the above.
‘Writing essays and assignments’
I love the way the book is laid out. I reads like is was designed to be web friendly with short sentences and paragraphs and bullet points galore.
We may be floating around in cyberspace 12 years on from the last edition of this book (first edition 1970), but is remains relevant, not just for preparing for an ECA, but for writing at all.
I like lines like this,’ After we’ve read, heard and talked about a topic, our minds are awash with ideas, impressions and chunks of information. But we never really get to grips with this experience until we try to write down our own version of it. Making notes is of some help, of course. But there is nothing like the writing of an essay to make us question our ideas, weigh up our impressions, sort out what information is relevant and what is not – and, above all, come up with a reasoned viewpoint on the topic that we can feel it our own’. (Rowntree. 1999:170)
- I will be probing
- I will develop a critical argument
- I will start tonight and write 500 words a night over six nights, then revist/redraft and pull it all together.
- I will have the evidence
- I will have the references in place
- I will plan, weigh up and select from the work that I have done (and that has been done in my tutor group)
- These will back up whatever themes or viewpoints or arguments I am putting forward
- I WILL write and outline and stick to it
- I will not become blind to better approaches that suggest themselves (which happened for one ECA and had me heading towards a 40 mark)
- And I will ‘write like I talk’ (which is what I’ve always done)
This site had the right idea 11 1/2 years ago.
Has everyone else been copying? A decade ago this was a novel way of doing things, where you all joined in, read each other’s stuff.
It is striking that so much of this has the attitude of Web 2.0 an expression that was coined until 2001 or 2002.
In this community pairing up with a designer was de riguer. There wasn’t the expectation that someone would have the mindset and desire both to write and design. This form of participation has been lost with the development of free templates picked from galleries. You don’t have a relationship with the designer for a start … discussing what you would like and their suggesting what they can do.
And most profoundly of all, and better than anything I’ve come across since, you create and control your ‘buddy list’ and learn who, most importantly, is posting on a regular basis. Bird of a Feather do flock together … the most important criteria of all is that those who write want to be with others who write.
You learn to spend as much time reading and commenting on the diaries of others. You also learn to respond when they post, which you can do here.
I thought I was doing well to reach 10,000 entries. There are some who have 20,000. A group I established had some ground rules: minimum entry 1,000 words. This was to distinguish us from those who thought keeping a blog was about posting a single line.
Web 2.0 in 1999?
It has the hallmarks.
The profound shift we writers had to make was to stop posting copyright notices on every word we posted. How often I’ve been plagiarised is another matter. Posting story ideas … then not writing the story may be daft.
Join. Still free. Still there. Still loads of fun. Inventive. Open. Extraordinary.
And one of the few orginal online diary platforms around. Live Journal and Word Press followed some years after.
I find reflection spiralling out of control into an extra-terrestrial maelstrom of thought that has nothing to do with the ‘job at hand.’
At the macro level reflection for me is on the scale, and of equal significance to Douglas Adams and ‘The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ and the Meaning of Life and Everything.’
I find reflection spiralling out of control into an extra-terrestrial maelstrom of thought that has nothing to do with the ‘job at hand.’
At the micro level, the job at hand is a tiny part (10%) of a TMA in a unit, of a module of an OU Course.
My mindset has to be of a myopic jeweller with some gems and a gold band.
I don’t mean to trivialise it. On the contrary. I worry how in my life reflection has never imposed itself. I see, I feel, I do. If I reflect it is to look in a mirror and accept what I see, not try to change it.
Reflection has been hijacked by educational institutions. Don’t have time to mark a student’s work, get them to mark it themselves … and then judge their ability to reflect on what they have done.
I think you can take from this that I don’t value reflection as a tool to assess a student. As a tool to gauge a person’s position, as a coach or facilitator to build on that person’s personal view of themselves – brilliant. But to give it a mark, pants.
Given that for the seventh or eighth time in the last two decades I have been advised that I am skewed towards action and visualisation I have to wonder how I can, or do, generate this amount of verbiage.
I am transcribing a dialogue between characters. I have a scene in my mind’s eyes as I type. I even see people, from the OU course, tutors, others … friends, as if attending a garden party.
For me reflection has to be, as it has been taken twenty years to engrain itself, the kind of introspection, sharing and reflection, fictionalisation and admonition, of Anais Nin, Henry Miller, Virginia Woolf and Proust. I favour, absolutely, the indulgence of a Proustian ‘Involuntary Rush’ and its relevance to the person in this state. Serendipity. Where is there space for it if we are shunted down a dead track, into a Waste Land.
I go with Kolb and Cowan, their cycles and spirals. I favour the hurricane, the tornado over the spinning top. Which is what this is, spinning a top through a set of questions: what happened? What next? So what?! And then, I suppose, not a lot, or a lot, you defend your position, you stick, you retreat or move forward. Is this reflection.
Stopped by a Police Motorcycle on the A1 South of Gateshead my mother turned to her children and said, ‘cry,’ look uspet.’ And in due course, the traffic cop, seing three miserable children and a harassed Mum let her off the speeding fine.
Was that micro reflection on her behalf? Is this a Proustian ‘involuntary rush’ on mine.
Where lies this in education? Everywhere, especially in education social networking, which I have hated and now smile at. Reflecting on the whiffs of conversation I dared pick up as my daughter typed into Facebook with the speed of criminal law court copyist. The bulk of what her generation are learning is being done this way – socialising, homework, the entire mess of life a 21st century melange which says to me the OU is not right to say I am wrong, when I may be proved right and ‘they’ haven’t a clue.
I suggested to someone today that I would like to do one MA after another, five years a time, ’til the day I day. The OU can have my money and my mind. This is a little boy in a sweet shop.
Next up History of Art … with the OU, while doing an MA in Fine Art.
Then a return to History, 1066 to the Restoration for starters. Or Modern or Contemporary History? I fancy the First World War and have trunks (literally) a libary of books and other resources and artifacts on that one.
Geography, and all that it embraces.
English Literature and creative writing.
And French, once I’ve mastered the written language.
and kite surfing, and paragliding …
In your dreams mate, in your dreams.
Which are my ‘Twelve Books that changed the world?
Help me decide.
According to Melvyn Bragg the Twelve Books that Changed the World ( BBC TV Series) are those that follow – then I give you mine. And then you can offer yours !
Melvyn Bragg deliberately limited himself to British books
- ‘Principia Mathematica’ by Issac Newton (1687)
- ‘Married Love’ by Marie Stopes (1918)
- ‘Magna Carta’ by Members of the English Ruling Classes (1215)
- ‘Book of Rules of Association Football’ by a group of Former English Public School Men (Etonian’s I believe) (1863)
- ‘On the Origin of Species’ by Charles Darwin (1859)
- ‘On the Abolition of the Slave Trade’ by William Wilberforce in Parliament, immediately printed in several version (1789)
- ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman’ by Mary Wollstonecraft (1792)
- ‘Experimental Researches in Electricity’ by Michael Faraday (3 volumes, 1839, 1844, 1859)
- ‘Paten Specification for Arkwright’s Spinning Machine’ by Richard Arkwright (1769)
- ‘The King James Bible’ by William Tyndale and 54 scholars appointed by the King (1611)
- ‘An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations’ by Adam Smith (1776)
- ‘The First Folio’ by William Shakespeare (1623)
I don’t see me reading any of these, though I made read Melvyn Braggs book available from Sunday Times books 0870 165 8585 for £17.99.
A week later the Observer has an article with the crash title ‘Writing to Bragg about’ with a ridiculously posed shot of the aging TV presenter, LWT Million wannabe novelist author man. (It costs 99p less from the Observer).
As a reader at the Bodleian Library (I renewed my reader’s ticket) I could walk in next week, find a seat and order each of these books, in turn, from the shelves. I dare say there’d be a cue as I might not be the only person indulging myself in this way – going to the original sources, always better than taking it second hand, and preferably done BEFORE reading Bragg’s book, rather than afterwards. ‘ ‘Eh lad, there’s an academic in ye struggling te get out.’
I don’t see anything from the 21st century which surprises me; although only a few years in, in matters of fact and science in particular, much has moved on.
Something on warfare, 21st century politics or Global Warming?
Or medicine, on genetics?
On electronics or Information Technology?
On the bursting of the Web in 2001?
At least here we’re invited to make up our own list of a dozen books and to email in our choices with our reasons.
I’m likely to read ‘Twelve Books’ though I’m unlikely to read any of the books themselves. They read like a list for Oxford & Cambridge hopefuls, pack this lot in between Jan and the exams in June and you would have been able add a fourth A’ Level in the form an A Level in General Studies. I took a fourth A Level in Art. I got a B. I wasn’t going to push it by attempting a fifth A Level in General Studies.
My interest in any subjects beyond art, history, english, geography and sex were myopic in my teens.
Melvyn Bragg has made his selection the way a writer would – it is both personal and contained. What would a panel of worthies come up with? or a TV vote? A right joke. My choice These books, Melvyn Bragg adds, do not need to make a good read to be on his list. Who after all is going to ready Michael Faraday’s three volumes of ‘Experimental Researches in Electricity’ ? I think he is wrong here – the influence was outside the book, if the book could not be read or was not widely read.
The book was a mere expression of an idea that had a better life beyond its pages.
My twelve books that changed the world … that is, until it becomes the twelve or more books that have had an impact on me. Not very academic. But this is a blog after all.
1. ‘Rights of Man’ by Thomas Paine, (Part I in 1791, Part II in 1792)
Written by a man who lived here in Lewes, became a local councillor, complained a lot about the local landed gentry and then ran off to America where he joined in enthusiastically to have the ‘colony’ seek independence from Britain and a parliamentary democracy that had a monarch as the head of state. Still relevant today. I’m all for a Republic. The Monarchy needs to go.
2. ‘Utopia’ by Thomas Moore (c 1515)
A must read during my History A’ Levels, or the Oxbridge Exams. Interesting Sci-fi – the first ‘Brave New World.’ Insightful. We’re clever people us humans, when we thin, then get it down.
3. ‘The Prince’ by Nicolo Machiavelli (1513)
Another must read. Probably on some A’ level reading list, which is when I read it. Explains the word ‘Machiavellian.’ How many of those do we know? I’ve not much of any of the following, just read about them and a bit of each: Arthur C Clarke A prodigious writer of fact and fiction
4. The Manual for the Vickers MKII machine gun. (c1910)
This given to all members of the Machine Gun Corps. I have my grandfather’s copy. He was selected for what was ‘nicknamed’ the suicide squad in 1915, then saw action in Arras, on the Somme, at Passchendale and Ypres. He must have been considered good with the weapon, he said he never saw any of the thousands of Germans he must have killed – spraying bullets was his trade. It was ticket into the Royal Flying Corps where he would continue to fire a Vicker’s Machine Gun, this time through the propeller blades of a Bristol fighter. What a weapon, what a book – how they put their stamp on the 20th century and history and many millions lives. A piece of English History or on English History? Churchill?
5. Eden by Tim Smit (2001)
How to get something done in this country against the odds and especially against the obstructive councillors and characters in our councils whose response fed by activists in minority groups is generally ‘ no you can’t.’
6. French Country Cooking by Elizabeth David (1987)
Gorgeous, a great read, wonderful to cook. A piece of mid 20th century history too.
The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins (1999)
Something Historical by Neil Ferguson
Good non-fiction reads I’d recommend though would be: These are not only a must read. They are books you should keep if you enjoy, sprawl with notes and share with others. They may not have defined the world we now live in, but the help explain it. When an OXford undergraduate he wrote something called ‘The Labours of hercules Sprout’ which we shot as a film … on video. 90 mins. I should know, I was the cameraman.
7. The Hite Report by Shere Hite (1982)
Informative, red with a voracious appetite by men and women and super fun to put into practice! There’s nothing a studied harder or with more gusto, or shared around (or for whom I bought copies) than this gem, this bible for those who are new to sex (or just thinking about it a lot, which is what I did when I first got my hands on this one age 15 or 16).
8. Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller (1934)
And Capricorn, and Plexus, Nexus and Sexus. A good male read, not a wank … not porn or erotica, just a man and his stiffy.
9. Henry and June : from a Journal of Love
+ the Unexpurgated Diary of Anaïs Nin, 1931-1932
The film Henry & June introduced me to this pair when I was living in Paris. I bought Tropic of Cancer, and Anais Nin’s erotica. Then I started to read the diaries. All of them. Then everything Henry Miller had written … and their correspondence, as well as biographies.
10. What’s Going on in there? How the brain and mind develop in the First Five Years of Life by Lise Elliot Ph.D (September 2000)
Because all parents want to know, and this is intelligent and fact-based, written by a neurosurgeon but not a science text. No parent should be tempted by the popular twaddle that publishers try to make them real. Babies are creatures, extraordinary vehicles of potential. They should be understood.
11. Mother Tongue. The English Language by Bill Bryson (1991)
Amazing. Insightful. Sell it to the world.
12. A short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (2004)
Had I read this in my teens, had it been available in my teens, I may have read Natural Sciences at Cambridge and followed a different, more academic and cerebral career. Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable Roget’s Thesaurus
The Human Brain by Robert Winston
Alistair Cooke by Biography A history book?
‘Read everything you can until you can hear the people speak.
My mother bought much of what I need on my modern history reading list pre-Oxford and sent it out. Nothing stirred me, otherwise I may have been more keen to stick with history Tocqueville, in French. Gibbon on the Rise & Fall of the Trigan Empire … or should that read Roman Empire?
Can’t think what else.
The geography reading list was equally turgid; I should have thought hard about either subject earlier in at Oxford and swapped out. An art book? A geography book? Pre-teens did I read at all if it wasn’t a school text book? I draw, I didn’t write. I looked at pictures, I didn’t read. I had a collection of from the TV series by Nigel Calder, such as ‘The Weather Machine’ and ‘The New Ice Age.’
There was the ABC of Space by Peter Fairly
How Things Work parts I & II
From my godparents, ‘How things works I’ for one birthday and ‘How things work II’ for the next.
The Chambers Dictionary of English
Something from my father which I had asked for, more to please him than for the amount I would use it, though I still have it and will at times still prefer this over Dictionary.com on the Internet.
How to Ski was a book from the Sunday Times
We took on our first ski trip, when I was 13. I broke my leg, so I hadn’t really anything about common sense. But what young teenager ever has common sense.
Designing Web Usability by Jakob Nielsen (2000)
Still practical, if dull. Writing for the web and its lay-out needs to follow some simple rules if it is to be readable and scannable.
Hidden France by Richard Binns (1982)
12. Detecting Lies & Deceit. The psychology of lying and the implications for professional practice. Aldert Vrij (2001)
There are too many deceitful liars in the world. Read this to get a handle on who they might be, how you might or might not get away with lying, whether it matters and whether it does and knowing the difference. We should all be honest liars.
And some others I’ve thought of
‘Ogilvy on Advertising’ by David Ogilvy (1999)
The men who created modern advertising, aiming for hearts, not just minds.
Or ‘How to become an Advertising Man’ by James Webb Young (1963)
Given to all graduate trainees of advertising agency JWT.
The Beatles Song Book by John Lennon & Paul McCartney
Iconic Art, a band that changed the nature of modern popular music, a book that so many wannabe guitarist, lyricists, pianists and buskers must buy and browse through. But which one?
Go. Off the top of your head. Give me twelve.
Elaborately Cautious Language
’In every day life we cheerfully use language as a blunt instrument for cudgelling our way through the cut and thrust of events around us. However, in academic writing language is meant to be used more like a scalpel, cutting precisely between closely related arguments, so that they can be prised apart and analysed in detail.’ Northridge (1990:29)
An academic text is not a narrative – it is an argument.
An academic text aims to be unemotional, detached and logical.
Whilst I can understand applying this to a TMA or ECA, this is surely not the required or desired approach in what is called a Blog? And for writing in a forum, should we reference everything? It doesn’t half interrupt the flow of ideas. If talking over coffee or a glass of wine would we cite references we knowingly made? The lines distinguishing the spoken word to text or TXT or blogging and messaging are blurred if not broken.
Manage Feelings 2.6 Northridge (1990:31)
Find ways of:
* building upon your enthusiasms
* avoiding sinking into despair
* making the topic interesting
* accepting specialist language
* accepting academic text styles
* constructing valid criticisms
My preferred approach to reaching:
* while travelling (trains, planes, ferries and yachts)
Though surely not
* in bed
* on the kitchen table in the middle of the night
* in the pub
* on holiday
(though this can be exactly what I do/have done)
* a room of my own
(married life, children and a modest home have left me with a cluttered shed or lock-up garage packed with the contents of our last house – we moved three years ago).
Approaches to Reading
Skim paragraph ahead, then read more slowly using the ‘mile stones’ to guide you.
Skimming – about the text
Reading – follow the argument
Lighting skim – very fast.
I typically ‘light skim’ the last chapters of a Stephen King novel, as the plot becomes ludicrous yet I feel an obligation to have glanced across the page in case at some stage sanity returns (it never does). Though the story will reach a resolution.
Intensive Study – very slow
Something new, something I don’t understand. Something I need to understand or want to understand. But never the small print of a bank overdraft facility. Probably the diaries of Anais Nin and the novels of Henry Miller. Probably the history of WWI, as I need to glean info from it for my own writing. And of course the books and papers I read for H807 (Innovations in E-Learning) and will read for H808 (The eLearning Professional).
Is it making me think?
Am I getting a better grasp of the subject?
‘The underlying purpose of reading is to develop your thoughts; to weave new ideas and information into the understanding you already have and to give new angles to your thinking.’ Northridge, (1990:34)
My reading speed, 300 wpm? i.e. far to quick, but is a page a minute that fast? it does depend of course on the writing style and my familiarity or otherwise with the concepts.
The purpose of reading = ‘rethinking’ Northridge, (1990:34)
I like that ‘re-thinking.’ So building on what you now already, whether or not you think you know much at all … or know a great deal.
* To develop your thoughts
* To weave new ideas and information into the understanding you already have
* To give new angles to your thinking
The point of reading:
‘The point of reading is to be able to understand what you read and to be able to get back the ideas at some future point when you need them again.’ Northridge, (1990:38)
The point of taking notes:
‘Taking notes forces you to think; to ‘grapple’ with the ideas in the text as you read them, because you have to decide what to write down and how to say it.’ Northridge, (1990:44)
I don’t grapple at the note taking stage, I find it more mundane than that, I do desire a tussle at some stage, which is why I can find the manner in which we engage asynchronously (its nature) somewhat tame. I don’t recommend debating online either, or getting into an argument (or even a heavy discussion) … when in Elluminate, messaging or anything else.
This is why the face-to-face tutorial at least, fellow students over a beer in the MCR or in a formal debating chamber ideas gain a voice, that becomes your Word, and your Voice.
How many seek solace in the journals of a woman in France in the 1930’s?
I’ve fallen in love with Anais Nin and Henry Miller and wish, even if it only meant being Richard Osborne to their relationship, that I could be with them watching it all unfold.
I’m over £100 into Anais Nin and can’t think where my desire to know her and Henry will end. Only when own and have read all her diaries, all her fictions and erotica, all her letters too … and as much from Henry Miller.
Just pages into her first Journal I am making long notes which I want to record and discuss. Take this for example
‘What makes people despair is that they try to find a universal meaning to the whole of life, and then end up saying it is absurd, illogical, empty of meaning. There is not one big, cosmic meaning for all, there is only the meaning we each give to our life, an individual meaning, an individual plot, like an individual novel, a book for each person. To give as much meaning to one’s life as possible seems right to me. For example, I am not committed to any of the political movements which I find full of fanaticism and injustice, but in the face of each human being I act democratically and humanly. I give each human being his due. I disregard class and possessions. If it is the value of their spirit, of their human qualities, I pay my respect to, and to their needs as fast as I am able to fulfil them. If all of us acted in unison as I acted individually, there would be no wars and no poverty. I have made myself personally responsible for the fate of every human being who has come my way.’ (Anais Nin, Journals Vol 1)
And if we see life as a novel then we deliberately set out to make it worthy of a novel, and if this novel is dull written on a day to day basis as experiences unfold then surely the diarist goes out of their way to ensure that they experience and do things worthy of a novel?
They take lovers, they are unfaithful to other halves, they feign homosexuality got to places and do things they would never otherwise have done?
Such a belief sustained and enriched much of my teenage experience; I should write about it. Most people make no attempt to seek any ‘meaning to life’ let alone ‘universal meaning to the whole life’ most people are blessed with far more mundane and more easily satisfied demands that give them the right car, the right house, the right number of kids and the right number of brain cells to keep it all in suitable perspective.
Some of us struggle in our minds.
This is the artist’s struggle.
How to keep the tide of middle class mediocrity from drowning out all exclamations.
I would have been the witch doctor in a tribe, the oddball. What makes us? What in this assembly of DNA creates this? Why me? Why me to be the pinball which refuses to sink? The ball which gets flipped and flapped, which dings and dongs. This game of pin-ball into which I was shot.