By bblfish on Jun 18, 2008
Sixteen years ago, as I was studying philosophy in London on an empty budget, very close to living on the streets - off Kings Road, it is true, as I had decided that if I had to live in extreme poverty I would do so with style - I had one of these weird conversations around a fire with an Irish unemployed actor, and a number of other fellow travelers of fate. Reminded of the great Edinborough theater festival I decided on the spot I was going to go there. For some reason the actor I was talking to decided that I was not going to go. This surprised me somewhat. So I restated my desire to go. He doubted the seriousness of it again. How could he tell me what I was going to do, I blurted out. I had decided to go, so I would. I might have no money to go there, but I had no money to be here, so what was the difference? I had no serious appointments here, so what would stop me? "You just won't", he stubbornly affirmed. Angered by sheer nerve of his remark, but keeping my cool, I decided to come to a compromise with him. I would go but would fail twice to get there, I affirmed. The third attempt would be successful. The compromise was strange enough, that everyone around the fire nodded, and he had to accept.
Months passed and towards end of July 1992 I was reminded of the start of the festival. This was lucky as at the time I did not have any seriously way of taking notes or reminding myself of a date. Pieces of paper could all too easily get lost. And I did not have enough appointments to justify having an agenda, and if I did I could easily have missed looking at it. This was before the World Wide Web. Before internet cafes. Before widely available email. Before I even could afford a computer. All we had were libraries at the time and newspapers for sources of information. TVs also existed of course, but you had to know when to look, which was a whole skill in itself. And of course the type of TV we had access to was probably a black and white 13 inch set with poor reception. As far as books were concerned, I was reading Gareth Evans' The Varieties of Reference, and it was not there that I was going to find purely accidental information I needed.
So reminded of the start of the theater season, I decided to immediately get on my way. Early next morning, I walked to the train station bought myself a ticket with the little money I had, stepped on the train and was on my way. 45 minutes later I discovered that this was not the train to Edinburgh I was on, but some other one. So I got off in a rush and took the next train back to London. This time I made absolutely sure I was on the right train. I asked a number of people, sat down, and prepared to enjoy the journey. The train started and ran for a while. I was on my way! Then the train stopped, and turned back. Some engineering problem it seems. We had to take another train. Life is weird like that.
So as I stepped onto the third train I was reminded of my compromise many months before. I knew in my heart then that I was going to get there now. And off the train went. I had a mini magnetic go set, and taught a girl this oldest of all games along the way.
Of course arriving in Edinburgh I had absolutely no place to stay. Organizing a trip with the minimal budget I had would have been impossible at the time, and I certainly could not have afforded to rent anything there. Prices during the theater season were sky high. Many locals rent out their flats for the season, and use it to finance their holidays in warmer climates. I can't remember at what time I arrived, and how I would have slept the first night there. Perhaps on a bench somewhere, as usual...
The next morning I walked passed the film festival section. I entered and watched a couple of very nice young creators shorts. There was a session on a new digital projection technique called High Definition, which I attended. The quality of the image we were told was equivalent to that of film, after a film had been projected a few times. New film might be better, but it soon accumulates scratches, which digital film does not. And indeed if the speaker had not told me that the film we had just seen had been projected digitally I would not have known better. Pointing to the huge projector in the room he then explained in more detail what technology it required in layman's terms. I had no money. But I was sold. My first TV would be High Definition or nothing. As an undergraduate I had agreed with my conversation buddy Mark Pitt, that watching films at anything less than the quality they were designed for was sacrilege. Films shown on TV clearly were just shadows of their real self.
So to finish the Edinburgh story, that afternoon I got to speak to an attendee of the festival. Having told him that I just arrived from London, and questioning him about the difficulty of finding lodgings - I had seen some flats where thirty or so people were staying together, reeking of the sweet smell of decomposing garbage and unwashed socks - he agreed with me. His wife had not at all liked the apartment they had found initially he told me, so they had moved to another one. And now they did not know what to do with the original one, which they could not give back. I suggested I could look after it for them. He accepted, gave me the keys, and that is how I spent a whole festival season in a clean apartment, with a nice view all to myself.
16 years later, after the explosion of the internet onto the global scene, after DVDs came and never really quite worked, after the world wide web frenzy, and the dot com bust, after web2, after a High definition formats war, finally High Definition Television and their television sets have come to be affordable and worth investing it - another proof that innovation happens slowly. So for father's day my parents bought a High definition 40 inch flat panel screen, and I convinced them to replace the broken DVD drive with a new Blu-ray reader. We brought it back home, installed it, and watched Planet Earth ("Un Jour sur terre" in French) an extraordinary documentary about life on earth, with gorgeous scenes such as that of the Polar Bear, which starts with a close up of him walking on ice, the camera zooming back slowly, revealing the beauty of all the shades of polar snow, revealing the blue water through the cracking sheets of ice, revealing the many sheets of cracked ice separating slowly, the polar bear now just a spot on one of them, in one stunning image of the melting polar cap under the blue rays of the fading summer sun.