Wall of sound – a different way of doing family things

Mark’s parents came to visit this weekend. When I was away working, Mark agreed that they should come over, and just before noon yesterday their car stopped outside our door.

As Mark’s dad is used to doing, he beeped the horn twice to let us know they had arrived. After the usual flurry of hugs and exchanges of plastic bags with goods they’d brought for us, they parked themselves in the sofa in the living room, and Mark’s mum ordered my Auntie to come over by phone.

Full house then, and not the quiet recuperation I had expected. Dogs, cat, parents, relatives, and us two. Our house isn’t big, so it fills up quickly, and the sound level settle somewhere between loud and cacophonous. Mark and I are quiet with each other. Normal voices, spoken at normal voices, delivered over a breakfast table or when we’re piled in the sofa together in the evening watching the telly.

When Mark’s parents are here, that all goes away. People talk constantly, and over each other. Mark’s dad and mum talk on parallel tracks, at the same time, and then you have Mark trying to get a word in. Somehow they can hear each other, and start to comment on something that’s been said earlier. This is a most curious ability. It has always impressed me. How you can deliver a monologue and listen to someone else’s monologue at the same time, and then remember it later.

Sometime between Mark’s mum ringing Auntie to have her come over and three o’clock, Mark started on dinner. The Beef Burgundy for two that he had planned to compensate me for the computer troubles earlier became a thing for five people, with enough for refilling. A riot of wines from my little stash plopped down. Spanish Rioja mixed with Italian Chianti and a Beaujolais.

Back when I lived in my Auntie’s cellar, we used to do this every week. Back then, Mark’s parents lived in this house. We lived over with Auntie. Everyone was just a stroll away, and the Sunday meet-ups was a thing. I used to miss them because they were this controlled form of chaos.

Our house was even smaller back then: just a living room and a kitchen rolled into one, a sleeping alcove, and a bathroom. We have much more space now, but it still feels small. It still feels like we’re sitting in each others’ laps when we all meet up. And it’s still a good feeling.

This family intimacy is not something we ever had in my family. Dad and mum are quiet people. Efficient and minimalist in a way. Dinners were – everyone grab a plate and then go back to what we were doing before. With a plate of food beside us. Communication is functional and utilitarian, to convey a meaning and a message. Not this ambling, unstructured, aimless wall of sound. Maybe I like this noise because I never had it, and it’s still a new thing. In between Mark and I can go back into the negotiated life-pattern we’re used to now, with the quiet, the closeness, the silences. The fusion of what he grew up with and what I grew up with, reduced to two essentially quiet people.

Auntie has a back-problem, and was a wreck when she came – but she came. She didn’t give excuses. I think she gets lonely over in her big old house. We don’t engage her as much as we should, do we? We could invite her over more than we do. We’re really socially inept in our side of the family, aren’t we? We live on in silence, ignoring each other because we don’t want to intrude on people’s spaces. Then something like this happens, and we love it, and we want to do more of it, but tomorrow we’ll be back into the rut of things.

We will not ring a family member over, because we’ll think they don’t have the time or the need or even the desire to interrupt their solitary existences to see us. “They’re probably busy with important things. Mustn’t interrupt.”

Division of labour in computer troubles leaves me like a Zombie in the morning

Screenshot of Mac OS X El Capitan

I finally have my work Mac up and running properly and have moved right in. Got the latest offering of OS X on it too. This is the second Mac in two days I’ve ‘fixed’.

Division of labour is a key part of any relationship. Some things one does jointly, like keeping the house tidy. Other things one does apart – so Mark tends to do the cooking and house maintenance, and I do the computers and the computer network.

Sources of conflict arise from trying to do what the other does best. While I do cook and things, cooking is clearly Mark’s domain. He has the last word, and I nod along and do what he says. Computers and the computer network is my little fiefdom, and generally it’s how I want it. Even when it comes to what is technically his computer, the Mac.

Yesterday when I came home he didn’t tell me he had screwed up his Mac. As I can piece together what happened: he wanted to do a clean install of his Windows partition, so he loaded Linux from a USB to get access to the best partition manager in the world – GParted. Except, instead of formatting his Windows, he REMOVED his partitions. All of his partitions.

For those of you not versed in the tech vernacular, a partition is a piece, a segment, of a physical hard-disk that pretends it’s a separate hard-disk. That way you can split a huge HDD into several parts that will look like separate HDDs to the underlying system. One can put Windows on one partition, Max OS X on another, and so on. The system will treat them as different HDDs and boot from one, depending on what one wants. One manages partition with a partition manager software, of which GParted is the best I’ve come across. To work on that level, I have a USB drive with a Linux install that I just boot up. Which Mark unfortunately knows about…

Now the Mac can easily accomodate two operating systems with Bootcamp or Parallels. But we haven’t done it that way, because I got my hands a little dirtier. I put the windows install on a separate partition. Mostly because that’s how I’m used to doing things in the Windows and Linux world.

Then again, and Mac-users won’t like this, the Linux and the Mac world is awfully blurred. There is a concept called POSIX-compliance. Operating systems that are POSIX-compliant are Unix certified. Any operating system which is POSIX-compliant is a Unix-clone. Max OS X is officially so. Apple have paid for certification. Linux is unofficially POSIX-compliant in that they follow the standards, but the Linux offerings can’t afford the hefty fees for certification. So, when I get under the hood of both the Mac and Linux, an awful lot is the same.

Apple is one of the most closed environments imaginable, in that one needs Apple’s permission to do anything with the operating system. However, sometimes I suspect that maybe porting Linux software over to the Mac wouldn’t be an insurmountable problem considering both are Unix-clones. That said, I’m not a programmer, so I may be utterly up a tree about this. People do seem to have problems making Mac ports of software.

Anyway, I sat until around midnight fixing Mark’s foray into the computer world. For most things he’s all right doing so, and he can do whatever he wants with his own computer as long as he doesn’t damage the network I’ve carefully built. And I’d be grateful if he didn’t screw up his Mac, because he’ll be all doe-eyed and ask me to fix it. And I could never refuse him when he’s all doe-eyed and huggy. I can’t even be properly agry with him.

He has promised to cook me an excellent dinner this weekend in thanks. The whole ‘waking up feeling like a zombie because I had to fix his shit’ says I want a bloody feast, and a bloody good snog, as a reward. Now, it’s finally weekend, and I’m going to go home, and I’m going to sleep for two days. I’ll have to schedule all that in between.