Archive for July 2007

It’s Vanished!

July 27, 2007

Wednesday was a momentous day for me. ‘Twas the day, against all odds, that I submitted my thesis. So, those of you who have always wondered ‘just what is the role of self-efficacy, locus of control and intellectual ability in guided self-help for depression, anxiety and stress’ need only make your way to this 96-page tome.

The final print took place on Tuesday. Inevitably, having printed the required three copies, I found a mistake on page 6 which, when rectified, threw the entire document out of kilter. But we got there in the end, at the sad expense of a few good-sized trees.

Wednesday took me, stumbling and deranged, into the bindery of the Edinburgh University library. The route to the bindery takes one through the basement, where every piece of electrical equipment that has ever been under the auspices of the university is discarded at the end of its tenure. There are mountains of monitors, computers, and all sorts of gubbins lying about. There are probably one or two moldering academics in there as well, somewhere. When you get a few layers down.

Those who have been following my hapless course into the world of magic would be most impressed, in that I managed to pull off an impressive trick without being aware of it. Let me tell you about it in the style of a instructional magic book:

The effect: the performer prints three copies of a 96 page thesis, and places each in an A4 envelope. These he places in his bag and takes home. The following day, he selects a spectator from the university bindery. The envelopes are then removed from the bag, and the three copies of the thesis placed on a flat surface in full view of the spectator. The front page of one of the copies is seen to be missing. The bag is shown to be empty. The performer should direct the spectator to make an extra photocopy of the missing page through the use of some finely judged-patter. The performer then leaves to submit two copies of the thesis, which are chosen at random by a further spectator in the clinical psychology administration office. The performer later discovers the missing front page at the back of the copy he has retained in his possession.
The method: I have absolutely no idea.

Anyway, despite a few hiccups, it’s in. I have decided not to look at it again until the deadline in a week’s time. I don’t want to notice some mistake I could have changed if I’d had the time.

Let the good times commence.

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Going Blind

July 23, 2007

Hello, cherubs.

Not much to report today. I’m approaching crunch time re. the thesis, but then you know all about that. Let’s move past that, if we can.

I was having a very industrious day yesterday. Some of this industry was directed at four key texts in the art of magic, all of which are now within my sweaty grasp. Things are not progressing at the frenetic pace we were all expecting, but they are progressing nonetheless. The past week has been spent trying out a few bits and bobs, but also trying to plan a trajectory. I have even downloaded (I kid ye not) some study guides. Whenever did play appear so much like work?

Anyway, when I wasn’t fumbling around with that, I was putting up a blind in the one-time-study-now-room-designated-for-baby. I’m told that babies don’t confine their sleep/wake patterns into two conveniently compartmentalised segments like the rest of us, so steps had to be taken in order that they might be fooled into a nocturnal mood simply by the lowering of a blind, when the occasion called for it. 

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Anyway, it was all installed after some assorted hacking and banging. Afterwards, I thought I’d unfurl the instructions to see how well I’d done. Quite well, as it turned out. But not so well that a bright child might utterly mistake day for night. There’s still a bit of light coming in the sides, you see. Not to worry, though.

To finish on a light note, I was tickled by the instructions for this blind. They were written with an ebullience you don’t often associate with rather mundane window coverings. It’s opening words were:

‘Congratulations! You have purchased a fine window covering.’

I was momentarily regretful that we do not have a household policy of keeping a bottle of champagne on ice at all times, in the event of an unforeseen cause of celebration such as this. But I did feel rather proud of my noteworthy purchasing achievement.

The follow-up remark was almost as good:

‘It should provide years of enjoyment’.

Now, enjoyment is something I never expected to get from a window-blind. Pure, unexceptional, light-occluding functionality, perhaps, but not enjoyment. How does one enjoy a blind? Am I using it in entirely the wrong way? Is is really the manufacturer’s expectation that I should wake up every morning for the foreseeable future and wonder what blind-related delights might be in store for me? There I was expecting to more-or-less forget about it once it was up. Wrongly, it turns out.

I’d better dash for now, but I’ll keep you updated. Particularly with regard to my enjoyable adventures with a blackout blind.

All Change

July 21, 2007

trans2.jpgNow, if I could just rally my senses, I might be able to fire off a quick opinion about Transformers. Mrs H and I are about to embark on a (possibly apocalyptic) visit to the Mamas and Papas shop in Craigleith, so time is of the essence.

It’s a bit weird going to the cinema in the middle of the night. For one thing, you tend to rub shoulders with those who look like they don’t usually see the light of day. And as would be expected for a movie such as the above, there was a delightful masculine skew in the audience demographic. There was, of course, the odd girlfriend / wife in evidence, but few looked as if they really wanted to be there. They were out of their depth, the poor things.

An amusing preface to the film, for me, was that my viewing companion was ejected at the very beginning. Apparently, when cinemas display posters of long-anticipated upcoming attractions, this is not to be interpreted as an invitation to help yourself to said posters. This my friend learned, to his cost. ‘Look but don’t touch’ would be my tip for any potentially light-fingered cinema-goers. 

So. The film. Truth be told, it fell just ever-so-slightly shy of what I was expecting, which is to say I found it a little disappointing. Of course, there were plenty of visual treats, but a lot of them felt a little bit familiar. Maybe I’m getting too old, but I find myself quite unable to make sense of overblown, hyperkinetic action scenes. Picture the scenario: you’ve got a gaggle of robots, each very large, ripping chunks out of each other within a small urban space. It sounds good on paper. But filmakers have this habit of filming such sequences in such a way that they’ll zoom right into the thick of the action, so that you feel like you’re right there. This is all very well, but it becomes hard to appreciate what’s actually happening. All you have is a vague impression of lots of metal flying in all directions, making lots of noise. Have you ever had to watch a video of a relative’s holiday? You know the sort of thing: camera all over the place, zoomed in up to the hilt and flitting from person to person in a manner more likely to induce nausea than a sense of coherent narrative? Well, Transformers was a bit like that in parts, and sometimes about as much fun.

I won’t spoil the plot for you, mostly because I am slightly hazy about it myself. I might have slept through a little bit in the middle. For example, I’d be grateful to know what became of John Turturro’s character. Did he just disappear, or did he meet some variety of grisly end while I was getting some shut-eye? The perils of late-night cinema, people. Suffice it to say that it involved robots (some good, some bad), a handful of humans, um, a box that did something or other, a pair of glasses. I think eBay was involved somehow. Probably best you see it for yourself really.

For me, it was no more than a notch above average. But perhaps repeated viewing would reveal more than (initially) meets the eye.

Hallows Be Its Name

July 20, 2007

Greetings, brethren.

For a nigh-unimaginable number of people, it’s a very special day today. This day, the 20th of July 2007 AD has been dubbed ‘the last golden day of ignorance’. Everyone get ready. We are about to turn a page.

The page in question, of course, is the front cover of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the seventh instalment in J. K. Rowling’s record-breaking series. I assume it’s a record-breaking series, although I am at a loss to cite the latest Guiness tome chapter and verse. Let’s take it as a given.

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You’ll have noticed that a degree of fuss has been made over these books. None of it by me, I might add. I’ve not read any of them myself. Which, some might argue, makes me a trifle underqualified to hold forth about them. I did see films one and two, though, which is something. The first one I loathed. But I thought I’d give the second one a go. The second one I loathed.

I found it difficult to get excited about the world’s favourite boy wizard. I am all but alone, it seems. In Britain, one in every forty households has pre-ordered a copy of Hallows. In Morningside, home of J. K. Rowling and veritable hotbed of Pottermania, it is one in every nineteen. Remember, of course, that these figures represent only those would-be readers who have chosen to receive their book in the post. It tells us nothing of the scores who will this evening be crowding into Waterstones to get their greedy little hands on a copy, nor of those more sensible folk who intend to pick up a copy over the next couple of weeks, just whenever they get the chance.

Everyone’s waxing lyrical about Harry Potter at the moment. Our new PM thinks that J. K. Rowling has ‘done more for literacy around the world than any single human being’. Even those responsible for medical audit at the John Radcliffe have entered into the spirit of things. They’ve published the finding that, on average, accidents involving children are far fewer on Harry Potter release dates than on other weekend dates. So they’re all for it, obviously.

I’ve been having a little sniff around all the conspiratorial Potter waffle on the internet. I’ve been particularly enjoying all the leak-anxiety that seems to be floating about. You see, when you’ve got all these books lying about waiting to be delivered, it’s all too tempting for people to take a quick peak. There are all sorts of stories about plot secrets from previous books being leaked prior to the release dates. But the message from the true fans is clear: ‘seriously, we’re almost there guys’. At least Potter fans have got each other to keep them on the straight and narrow.

Anyway, enough of this tosh. Suffice it to say I won’t be attending any Potter launch parties tonight. Largely because I’ll be enjoying the Transformers premiere down at the Ocean Terminal (which, coincidently, starts at the exact moment Hallows is officially released). Stick that in your cauldron and boil it.

Don’t worry. There’ll be a spoiler-laden review to follow shortly.

The Key

July 18, 2007

xray.jpgDid I mention that I wanted to become a magician? Apologies if I over-egged it a little bit. I think it would be closer to the truth to say that I wish to learn a few tricks with which I might amuse people when I run out of conversation. And to that end, it’s going quite well, thank you. None of my ‘key texts’ have arrived yet. Although, it gives me a thrill to buy things from Amazon for which they charge you a sourcing fee. They probably need to travel to far-away places to obtain them from ancient men in little shops down dark alleys. Or maybe they’re just tucked away at the very back of the store-room.

Either way, even without the literature, I’m cracking on apace. Wee Gorbals was kind enough to equip me with my first trick, which is a good start. I’ve also been trying a bit of coin magic, which I’ve been testing on Mrs H. She is a very obliging audience, and is never too shy to cry out ‘I can see it in your other hand’.

I’ve been thinking about where all this enthusiasm came from, and have concluded that it probably goes back much earlier than the last couple of years. Several incidents have come to mind, only one of which I’ll talk about today, if you don’t mind. I’ve got a thesis to submit in a couple of weeks, and should probably be getting on with it.

But let me tell you about the first magic trick I was ever witness to. My family were entertaining (?) another family with whom they were quite friendly, and their son said he wanted to show me something. I was probably about six, he was probably about 16, but to my eye might as well have been as ancient as Yoda. He produced a front door key, which he placed in his palm and pressed against my chest. Then he took his hand away, and it was gone.

Put yourself in my shoes, if you’d be so gracious. The possibility (now obvious) that he had surreptitiously transferred the key into his other hand did not occur to me. I was left with the perception (not to mention a slowly-dawning horror) that the key was inside my chest. I asked if this was indeed so, and he confirmed it (perhaps underestimating the extent of my aforementioned horror). And then, to cap it all, he said ‘here, feel it’.

And I touched the place where it had seemingly gone in. There are ribs there, I know, but I was certain that I could feel the key as well. There was no question (in my mind) that it was well and truly there.

Perhaps sensing my alarm, he executed an additional bit of flim-flam and appeared to produce the key from my back. It had gone right through.

I was still horrified, but my mind was reeling for another reason. As I’d grown up, I’d been working hard to put together some coherent opinions about how the world works. One of the maxims I had hitherto settled on was that a physical object (e.g. a key) could not pass through another physical object (e.g. me). At least, not without leaving some trace of its passage. And yet, it had happened. Although my thoughts were not articulated as such (c’mon, I was only six), I had the distinct feeling that I was going to have to rethink things.

And then there were the possibilities. Was this something I could learn to do as well? Imagine what you could do with a power like that. You could, well, pass things through other things till you were blue in the face. This was going to turn the world upside down.

Needless to say, I was a bit disappointed when I found out how it was done. I think my mother coerced him into revealing the secret, perhaps so that I would go back to sleeping at night. But I’ll probably never forget that feeling that this was something incredibly out of the ordinary, and that I was somehow witness to something that would make me re-evaluate everything that’d gone before.

And now and again, I’ve wondered what it might be like to be able to treat others to a similar experience. I might even try to perfect ‘key through the body’ for old time’s sake.

Royal Rumble

July 17, 2007

You’ll have heard the news about the BBC’s latest gaffe? No? Let me outline it in brief. The Beeb are in trouble, because they took some footage of the Queen, edited it in such a way as to suggest that she’d stormed out of a photo-shoot with Annie Leibowitz, then put it on telly.

What amused me about the story is that gaffe like this is unlikely to happen by accident. Therefore, somebody somewhere consciously decided that it would be a good idea to mis-splice the sequence of events in order to convey an undoutedly more interesting, but nonetheless totally different story to that which actually took place. The most bizarre aspect of it all, of course, is that the relevant person or persons did not feel that this was at all dubious (or, presumably, they wouldn’t have done it).

What worries me is that they probably only got found out because the Queen happened to see the trailer. This sort of thing is potentially happening all the time. I wonder how much of what we see on TV has undergone a similar sexing up, and passes through our critical filter and is assimilated into our worldview without setting off any warning alarms?

If incidents like this tell us anything, it’s probably that we should be cautious in believing anything we’re told on TV. That’s because those in the television business are less concerned about the accuracy of your knowledge than with trying to get you to watch their programmes. They would rather entertain you than keep you accurately in the know. If you’re entertained, you’ll come back for more, providing a welcome boost for ratings and salaries. If you’re merely in the know, you’ll likely as not change the channel. Or even stop watching television and go outside. This is why Open University is only ever on at a time when no one watches television. It would never survive alongside more entertaining programmes on the other channels. Sad but true, chum.

Our scepticism about TV should probably extend to other media as well. Newspapers, for example, would sooner tell you something sensational than true. Faked photographs of war crimes in Abu Ghraib? Stick ‘em on the front page! Oops, I’ve been sacked.

Sigh. We can’t rely on TV, newspapers, or anything else to keep us properly informed. There seem to be three options available to us: 1) live a life of total ignorance, 2) believe most of what you’re told, with the caveat that it might all be false, or 3) rely solely on The Hutchison Monologues to keep you up to date. At least with the latter option, you’ll not come across anything misleading about the Queen.

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A Kind of Magic

July 16, 2007

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Let me tell about some things that have happened to me in the last couple of years.

  1. When we were staying in Swiss hotel, and despite counter-urgings from every fibre of my being, I attended a magic show.
  2. I started watching Derren Brown programs, and read his book
  3. I saw The Prestige
  4. And to cap it all off, I accidently stumbled into Hoyles on the Oxford High Street, with a view to looking at their exquisite chess sets and their rather diverting line in toys to test the mental capabilities.

It turns out that this little visit was the straw that broke the camel’s back. As ill-conceived as it sounds, I have decided to become a magician.

Don’t panic, readers. I’m not thinking of a career change at this stage of the game. Why don’t we start out by thinking of it as a pleasurable pastime; a sideline, if you will? We’ll see how we get on. It might be, of course, that I prove to be an interminable cackhand and will end up abandoning it. But I hope not.

So. The first step is to learn how to do it. All the websites seem to say that ‘earnest study’ is required, which immediately sounds the alarm bells. However, I’ve gone ahead and ordered a few books on various aspects of magic. Whether, via their contents, I can learn anything half-decent remains to be seen. Oh, and as a dedicated student of magic, I should probably refer to these sources as ‘key texts’ rather than simply ‘books’. Important to set the tone from the outset, I think.

Naturally, I will chart my progress via the medium of regularly-updated Monologues. Which is to say that this may be the last you hear of it. But I really do hope not. Of course, if it does take off, it’ll mean that my tombstone will have to be slightly larger to accommodate my new accolade:

Here lies Hutchison
Philanthropist
Psychologist
Illusionist

Now that really would be magic.