Archive for the ‘Books’ category

Look Into My Eyes… (2)

August 18, 2007

I hope that all you Edinburgh folk are enjoying the festival. And for you non-Edinburgh folk who have made the trip, but felt the urge to check the ‘Logues from a convenient internet cafe, welcome. And for those who don’t know what I’m talking about, my commiserations.

The Edinburgh festival is simply splendid. Although, having said that, it doesn’t really feel like a festival. It’s really just a three-week period when there is a more-than-average amount on at the theatre. But we love it, and so does everyone else, so there.

I availed myself of some particular delights last night. The first of which was the Robin Ince show Robin Ince Knew This Would Happen. A characteristically bizarre title for a comedy show, I thought. Of course, Robin Ince will be a familiar name to you, after his star turn in the first series of The Office. He played the (some would say pivotal) role of an unsuccessful job applicant. Last night, I thought he was regrettably so-so, but on the up-side, while standing in the queue to get in, I think I spotted Nicholas Parsons.

After the show, we stumbled across the road to the half-price ticket tent at the Princes Mall, and scooped a couple of tickets for Stef’s Sidesplitting Hypnosis.

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 I should explain that I’ve never been to a live hypnosis show before, and that some of the circles in which I move would frown on this sort of thing. In fact, when I was a student at St Andrews university, there was an act at the student union which involved the world’s only dog hypnotist. Which is to say that the dog did the hypnotising, not that some bloke thought it would be fun to hypnotise dogs rather than people. I’m not even sure that a dog could be hypnotised. It wouldn’t make for a good show, in my opinion. I doubt, for example, that a hypnotised canine could be persuaded to speak Chinese or do Michael Jackson moves, although I would pay good money to see it.

Incidently, I came across the Hypnodog again recently, as he was somehow implicated in Danny Wallace‘s rather enjoyable Yes Man

Where was I? Oh yes. This hypnotic dog show came to the student union, and I was interested in attending, but there was a little old lady outside wearing a sandwich board emblazoned with some message to the effect that hypnotism was the work of the devil, and should therefore be avoided at all costs. As it turned out, the same little old lady was possessed of dozens of similar sandwich boards (one for every conceivable occasion) and would always display herself prominently in each and every situation where people looked to be in danger of enjoying themselves. Still, she had our eternal destiny at heart, bless her.

In fear of being branded a minion of dark forces, I gave it a miss. But since then, I’ve realised that there is nothing sinister about hypnosis per se, and was keen to go and see it in action.

A moment’s hesitation denied me the chance of being hynotised personally, as the stage was quickly stormed by eager volunteers. However, the chap in charge held a little impromptu competition amongst audience members, where he gave away a copy of his hypnosis CD for weight loss to the person who could name his website address. In retrospect, it was pretty shameless of him, and I’m embarrassed to have won it. Not to say I won’t try it out though. I’ve got a bit of a paunch on the go at the moment.

I haven’t even got to the show itself yet, so do forgive me. There is more to say, but it will have to be said another day.

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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.

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.

Tintintastic

July 14, 2007

 tintin.jpgI always prick up my ears when Tintin is mentioned in the press. When I was a nipper, I was rather keen on him. Or rather, on the stories in which he featured. In fact, I seem to remember that Tintin books were much adored amongst my school chums. It was largely thanks to Tintin books that I barely read continuous prose until I was about 13.

Such was my love (i.e. enthusiasm) for Tintin, that I once went along to a school fancy dress party in the guise of my favourite Belgian boy reporter. Some feat, I hear you cry, since Tintin is actually rather normal in appearance. For a cartoon, anyway. His jaunty tuft of hair is the only thing that distinguishes him from just any Belgian boy reporter. That and the way he wears his trousers at half-mast with his socks pulled right up. Suffice to say, I attended the party looking just a leetle bit gay. If I might be allowed to use a stereotype.

You see, stereotypes are what seem to have landed Tintin in trouble recently. Apparently, the Commission for Racial Equality received a tip-off from a Borders Bookshop customer in London, who had been innocently leafing through a copy of Tintin in the Congo. Now, I’ve not read it (it was quite hard to get hold of when I was younger) but apparently it portrays the Congolese as ‘savage natives’ who ‘look like monkeys and talk like imbeciles’. According to the CRE, Borders could not justify the peddling of such racist material, which should be pulled from the shelves and made available to the public only ‘in a museum, with a big sign saying “old-fashioned, racist claptrap”’. I think they were quite upset about it.

I quite understand that material like this will (or, at least, should) leave a nasty taste in the mouth now, but isn’t it an accurate depiction of attitudes and prejudices at the time (1920) in which it was written? OK, it’s probably not a good idea not to give it to children, but surely adults could make up their own mind? A blanket ban on everything that might cause offence to someone doesn’t seem like the way to go. And isn’t it more valuable to expose children to this type of propoganda, and explain to them why these views aren’t acceptable now?

In the meantime, we probably shouldn’t tell the CRE about Tintin’s sidekick, Chang Chong-Chen…

Big Brotha

June 23, 2007

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 ‘Afternoon, honkies.

Hope you’re all well today. I wonder whether you might help me to resolve a confusion that has arisen in my mind of late. It’s been festering for quite a while. Not quite keeping me up at night or anything, but festering nonetheless.

I’m sure you’re not watching Big Brother at the moment. I’m not either. I used to be quite into it, back in its fifth iteration, but the novelty (such as it still retained on the 5th time around the track) has now vanished entirely. There’s something about watching roomfuls of people shouting at the same time that just doesn’t do it for me anymore. Which is sad, in a way.

Anyway, just because I’m not tuning in anymore doesn’t mean that I won’t give my tuppence worth when events in the BB house leak over into the news. Which they did, you will recall. Said events happened some time ago now, but are as yet unaddressed ‘Logueswise.

Before we begin in earnest, an experiment. I’d like you to think of the most offensive word you can. Got it? Don’t tell me what it is. Probably best not to say it out loud at all, actually.

As you grew up, you’ll have noticed that swear-words are arranged in an unspoken hierarchy. To the chagrin of the devout, religious swear-words tend to be quite near the bottom. Scatalogical ones come next, followed by the sexual ones at the top of the heap. The structure of this hierarchy has always intrigued me. Give a group of people some swear-words, and they’ll usually rank them in a similar order of offensiveness (seriously, try it) but how did this ever come to pass? Who decides what’s offensive and what isn’t? Let’s think (as I’m sure we all do) about a certain enjoyable interpersonal activity. Why should one word for it be OK, whilst the use of another would lead to a swift ejection from any polite gathering?

The most offensive word I can think of is an anatomical reference. This anatomical portion, in itself, is not offensive (to me). Nor are the four letters that make up the word. I use them all the time. However, there is just something about seeing them altogether in the correct order that seems puts the wind up folks. Maybe that’s why people in Scunthorpe have a chip on their shoulder. When I was growing up, my friend told me that this word could never be broadcast on television, in any circumstances. I’m not sure where he was getting his information from, but it was clearly false.

Anyway, let’s get to the point. You’ll recall that a certain word passed the lips of art student and Big Brother contestant Emily Parr. The word was considered so offensive that not only did the addressees need to reflect upon the exchange into the wee hours, but poor old (racist?) Emily was booted out.

I think we all know the word I’m talking about here. That’s right. En eye gee gee ee argh.

Personally, I was surprised by the reaction that this utterance provoked. The sheer level of offence was staggering. I know that Big Brother has been known to turn a blind eye to the odd bit of racism in the past, and is obviously wanting to be seen as taking a firm stance now. But was all the furore justified? This is where I’m confused, and would welcome your thoughts. 

This word is everywhere. Watch Pulp Fiction. It is used by both black and white characters, to refer to both black and white characters. It is used to address people, and in conversation about people. I just choose this film as an example, as I’m sure there are loads of others. What about Amazing Grace? Can a word like this be used if it is being used in a historical context? I don’t see people campaigning for either film to be pulled from the shelves.

The same goes for music: isn’t this term common currency in certain genres such as rap? I was having a little look at The African American Registry, in which I found an interesting article about the history of this word. It talks about the increasing popularity of the word amongst young, urban black people, who use it as a pally way to greet each other (apparently). I seem to recall it popping up in a Michael Jackson song at some point in his extensive, accomplished canon. Is it OK for Michael to say it because he’s black? Of course, he’d be the first one to claim that it don’t matter if you’re black or white. Not if you’re thinking about being his baby, that is.

Let’s be clear: I don’t have very strong views about this. I have no particular urge to be allowed to use the word, in the same way that I don’t really wish to make regular use of words like quadragintesimal or galactophagist. They are of no use to me. But I do wonder:

If this word is so offensive, how can it be allowed to appear in films, music and books, but not on Big Brother? And does it stop being offensive when it is used by a black person to greet a black friend, or a white person to greet a white friend? If so, would it be OK for a white person to use it to greet a black friend? I wouldn’t mind if a black friend used it to address me, although I do not presume to speak for all those of paler complexion.

Sorry for the ramble. Best just not say it at all until we get all this sorted out.

What are the Chances?

June 8, 2007

 

And those bizarre, one-in-a-million coincidences that seem impossible to explain are going to happen somewhere, to someone. Occasionally they’ll happen to you.

Derren Brown, Tricks of the Mind

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28

I’m not just talking about my wife, I’m talking about my life! I can’t seem to get that through to you! I’m not just talking about one person, I’m talking about everybody! I’m talking about form, I’m talking about content, I’m talking about inter-relationships! I’m talking about God, the devil, hell, heaven! Do you understand, Finally?

Harding, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Greetings.

I anticipate that this post may be slightly longer than the average, so please bear with me. I’m not sure whether a point will become apparent as I write. At present, the point seems to hang slightly beyond the reach of my fumbling articulation. However, if it all ends up in a chaotic mess, then, well, maybe that’s important in itself.

Recently, I’ve been reading Tricks of the Mind by bearded mentalist Derren Brown. I’ve just finished it. It’s a fascinating, not to mention challenging, read. I was reading it on the bus home from work on Monday, and he was talking about the nature of coincidence. His thesis, essentially, is that coincidences are really just those chance events which stick in the memory and are ascribed greater significance than other chance events.

 This struck a chord with me: earlier that day, two (and only two) new patients had been referred to me, from separate sources. A quick perusal of their respective addresses revealed that they were next-door neighbours. This sort of thing tends to make one look twice. On one level, it seems remarkable. But of course, it isn’t any less likely than any other two addresses appearing on the respective referral forms. It’s just that the latter scenario would never make it into a blog post.

You see, stuff is happening all the time. Most of it is unremarkable. That which happens to be remarkable is remembered at the expense of that which isn’t. Therefore, we over-estimate the frequency of the remarkable, forgetting that nothing, like something, happens everywhere. As I sat there on the bus, I started thinking about whether Derren Brown had the right idea.

As I write, I seem to recall putting together a post on this very subject. What caused me to put finger to keyboard in that instance? The fact that every single one of my patients turned up that day, the first ‘full house’ in over a year. It hasn’t happened again since, until today. What a coincidence.

Anyway, I hopped off the bus at Lothian Road and made my way down to the Exchange to catch the next one. And as I was on my way, a cursory pat of my various pockets revealed that I was walletless. After a repeated check of all possible pockets, pouches and orifices, I realised that it might still be on the bus from which I had recently alighted.

I took a moment to set my face into the expression of steely determination which seems to benefit the sprinter, and took off. I eventually caught up with it at the Mound. I was very pleased with myself. I staggered on board, taking a moment to explain my predicament to the driver via the medium of flailing hand gestures and assorted panting. Truth be told, I rather expected that having managed to catch the bus again, the wallet would still be on it. It’s quite hard to explain, but I almost felt like having negotiated half the length of Princes Street, it was only right that it should be there. That I was somehow entitled to find it, and that this was the way it would all work out. Naturally, it wasn’t there.

It is an extremely long walk from the Lothian Road to where I live. You’ll remember the day I lost my bus card, and the consternation it caused? This time, I didn’t have the luxury of paying with money instead. All my cards, money and a little bit of my soul were in the wallet, see? 

Anyway, I began to trudge home. Knowing how long it was going to take, and imagining the usurper of my wallet was already making extravagant purchases on Amazon with my debit card, I thought: ‘wouldn’t it be excellent to find a pound on the ground, with which I could get a bus home?’. I prayed that I would find one, but find one I did not. It seems you just can’t get a coincidence when you really need one.

An hour-and-a-half later, I was home. Once I cancelled all my cards (enlisting the help of Mrs H whenever I was told I ‘didn’t have the authority’), I made a mental list of everything that would need to be sorted out if the wallet didn’t materialise. While I was doing so, Mrs H told me that she’d received a text from Arnold Clark (our mechanic of choice) reminding her that the car was due a service. Apparently, the text arrived as she was driving past that very branch of Arnold Clark on the way home from work.

Anyway, the next day, I got an email from the bank. Someone had handed the wallet in. I phoned the receptionist at the bank, who said that I could pop in to collect it at my convenience. So I did. And when I got there, I was greeted by a familiar face. The receptionist and I, it turned out, share the same bus back from work every day.

Now, all this is very strange. At the same time as I am pondering the nature of ‘coincidences’, they seem to be happening all the time. Is it just because I’m looking out for and remembering them? And if there really has been an increase in ‘coincidences’ (conjunctions of events that seem meaningful to me) what does that mean? Of all the people thinking these sort of thoughts, at least one of us is likely to perceive an increase in these ‘coincidences’ at the same time. Perhaps that’s what’s happened to me.

Or is Someone trying to tell me something?

Knowing Where We Stand

April 21, 2007

As part of my commitment to you, constant reader, I intend to recommend reading material from time to time. May I get straight down to it with my favourite novel of all time?

If you were to end up on a desert island, which five novels would you want to be there with you? I would go with Stephen King’s The Stand, and just use the other four to get a good fire going.

stand.jpgNot everyone likes The Stand. I seem to recall that I first read it after pinching a copy from Jamie (I think that he, in turn, pinched it from his mum). I recall that he thought so little of it that he didn’t want it back. Those who know him will know that this sort of generosity is quite out of character. There is also the tale (recounted by the author in the preface to the Complete and Uncut! edition) that a certain reviewer would pass his days standing in bookshops exhorting customers not to buy it.

Don’t be taken in by such nincompoopery. The Stand is brilliant. How else could it romp to victory as the 53rd most popular book of all time in the BBC Big Read? And to think I didn’t cast a single vote.

Comparisons have been made to Lord of the Rings, and to be sure, there are similarities between the two books. There are also differences: The Stand is interesting, and stuff happens.

The plot’s simple: an accident at a germ warfare facility results in the decimation of human race. A lucky few find themselves immune to plague, and try to rebuild a semblance of community in Colorado, under the watchful eye of devout centenarian Mother Abigail. But over in the West, the enigmatic Randall Flagg is also gathering his forces, probably with a view to ruling the world. So, it falls to the God fearin’ folk in the East to pop over and tell him to pack it in.

No doubt it’s an easy read, and some would dismiss it as ‘pop’. But I would argue that the accessibility of The Stand is one of its strengths. It trips along at a pleasant pace, but is over all too soon. Still, one can always read it again. It’s a shame it was never adapted for the cinema. I am still holding out hopes for a full-scale epic trilogy, rather than the somewhat toothless TV mini-series it eventually became.

I think I’ll read it again. Knowing my luck, the third time will reveal it as a load of old tosh, and these ebullient burblings will return to haunt me.

Oh well.