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Friday, 30 March 2012

Do Angels get bored?

Neat wings, but not biblical.

I was pondering on Angels whilst drying myself after my early morning swim. Not the seraphim and cherubim, but the common and garden Guardian Angel that stands behind our respective shoulders.

The thought came from nowhere, though that’s not strictly true. I’d seen ten minutes of a Sunday programme where this very nice lady said she’d seen her first guardian angel as a child and has continued to see them ever since. She caused some flickers of interest and unease when she assured the audience that she could see each of their guardian angels, and continued to extol their virtues and how indebted we are to them.

So the thought came from somewhere, but why think of it now? Had my forty five lengths triggered a neural impulse, or was my own guardian angel just plain bored and bent on mischief? Reminding me it was there? Did it feel undervalued?

I dry with a large white towel. I start with my back, pulling it back and forth diagonally from shoulder to buttock, changing direction with a brisk twirl to the other shoulder before attacking the small of my back. That’s a horizontal movement. The arms come next, then my front with particular attention to buttocks and groin. Then it’s the legs, calves and shins, in front and behind, leaving the toes till last. The whole process takes about fifteen minutes from shower to leaving the changing room dressed.

And my question is this: What is my guardian angel doing during moments like these? What is it doing for much of my mundane and boring life, those long tracts of time - eating, sleeping or, as we do everyday, operating on automatic?

Raphael and Gabriel do the important stuff, like appearing at crucial moments with crucial messages. But what do they do in those great tracts of time in between?

And Guardian Angels: Listening to those interminable pub conversations; shopping trips, Zumba classes, line dancing, squash, drying in between the toes. Even the angels of Jagger and Richards, Bill Gates and Obama must find it heavy going after a time. Not withstanding being privy to their innermost thoughts…it must tire…after a time. When all is said and done, the famous are like all of us: tossers at heart.

So does a Guardian Angel get bored? It is one of the great mysteries of life.

And how do Guardian Angels propagate to keep in line with population growth?

Friday, 23 March 2012

Humphrey Bogart and the Fruit fly

It’s nice to know we’re so closely related to the fruit fly – men at least. Why is that? Why do all these experiments focus on the hapless male, in this case the drunken hapless male? I’m talking about alcohol and tricks played on male fruit flies.

These men in white coats put male fruit flies in close proximity to female fruit flies. So far so good.

Party time.

The bad news is the male fruit flies grossly outnumbered the female fruit flies – (Can’t you just hear those scientists snickering?) – and thus revealed the abject folly of prohibition. The rejected males sought solace in drink, alcohol being the next best thing to sex.

Fruit flies self medicate as do mice, rats and monkeys that are subject to isolation, bullying or aggression.

It suggests that aspects of the brain’s reward system have changed little since we crawled from the primordial ooze, in particular those brain chemicals linked to addiction.

It seems to me the obvious way to solve this problem is to ensure that everyone has a regulated amount of sex on a daily basis, which would ensure that no one was isolated and everyone would be too blissfully content to bully or fight.

Dr. Markus Heilig, the clinical director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, sees thing differently. Though not involved in the research he argues that the findings supported new ways of treating alcohol dependence. He is urging researchers to investigate ‘several compounds aimed at blunting alcohol urges.’ In other words don’t solve the problem, mask it with drugs.

And what a tragedy that would be – losing the dark lyricism of an alcohol culture. One day, far in the future, the humble fruit fly might have its own Casablanca:

Play it once, Sam. For old times' sake.

Here's looking at you, kid.

Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.

What is your nationality? I'm a drunkard.

Meanwhile we shall be taking prozac.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Lost in a screen

‘Living in the material world’ is sometimes seen as a bad thing, but at least it’s three dimensional. When I walk the streets of London (not my night-job) I’m forever swerving from side to side trying to avoid intense men and women staring at smart-phones and iPads, lost in a screen.

Once upon a time I’d make a conscious effort to avoid a man or woman talking loudly in the street to an invisible companion. Now I’m surrounded by them. There’s no escape. It’s me that’s become odd: Nobby-no-mates - sans earpiece and cell-phone – a sad little man with day dreams for company. Sometimes nothing. Dead space in the head. Wonderful.

One day they’ll come looking for me. Soon it’ll be the silent pedestrian that people steer clear of. Why are they silent? No friends? What’s wrong with them? We’ll be rounded up like stray dogs by well meaning social workers and forcibly taught the wonders of mobile technology.

Google have gone a stage further with their planned launch of Google eyeglasses. When I was young, children with glasses were called ‘goggle-eyes’. A term of abuse. Presumably Google-eyes’ will carry more chic.

These glasses will project entertainment and data straight to the eye and will appeal to, amongst others, Gamers who can conquer whole universes as they walk. It will be a weird balletic dance as both they and I attempt to dodge and swerve in random synch.

Google-glasses will stream information about any given building or object you are interested in; they will have Sat Nav. They will also have the potential for facial recognition. Yes, I know we are quite capable of doing that by ourselves – if we know someone to begin with. This is the augmented kind – streaming the face to a database that will then stream back everything that is known about that person. Bit like Facebook in your face. I imagine you could have premium services for the congenital nosey – or prospective employers.

Bump into someone into a pub and the glasses will be able to tell you the guy is a psychopath - before he lands you one in the stomach. Meeting someone for the very first time and the glasses will be able to tell you how many friends you share in common.

Or you could both just take them off and let the glasses commune in peace. Have a pint.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Thoughts on Prince Bishops of Wurzburg and Benjamin Zephania

There is a room in the V&A which is magic. There are many spaces there that are magic. But this room is the one largely devoted to Medieval carving and sculpture. My favourite was this.

I mean what a face.

I’ve seen living, breathing people less alive than this man Rudolf II von Scherenberg (c. 1401 – 1495) Stare at it and you see more than a face, you can imagine his soul. But it takes courage to stare at him too long. He makes you feel like a peasant. This is real art, not the idealized templates you see in classical busts. Genius or craftsman, the artist responsible is decribed further down.

There was another example of wonderful detail: a large carving of Count Ekkehard of Naumburg. Again what struck me was the meticulous attention to detail – even down to the frown lines on his forehead. I was unable to capture this on the camera so googled and discovered another example that says it all: Uta von Naumburg who died in 1046.

Who can doubt that this is an accurate reproduction of a real life woman, someone still so alive that when Umberto Eco was asked what woman from European art he would most like to spend an evening with he answered without hesitation, “In first place, ahead of all others, with Uta von Naumburg.”

And I agree.

Which is creepy because Walt Disney used her as the model for the beautiful but sinister queen in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” So what does that tell you about my taste in women?

Everyone has heard of Michelangelo. Few people have heard of Riemenschneider, perhaps because his name sounds like a sneeze. It’s a shame because Riemenschneider was brilliant, and his fate is a warning. In his day he achieved both wealth and fame and between 1520 and 1524 was Mayor of Wurzburg. Having carved that splendid tribute to a former Prince Bishop of Wurzburg - Rudolf II von Scherenberg - the ageing artist must have thought he was being justly rewarded.

His nemesis came in the form of the Peasant’s war in Germany when, perhaps to escape fire and destruction, he and the council made an alliance with the peasants. Watching, was Konrad von Thungen, Prince-Bishop of Wurzburg who overlooked the city from his castle. 8000 peasants were massacred by the Prince Bishop and his allies and the entire city council and Riemennschneider were imprisoned and tortured. Both of his hands were broken, and after he was eventually released his creative career was over.

Tilman Riemennschneider was a genius in the wrong place at the wrong time.
No one should ever be too scared to voice their opinion – whether it be right, wrong, or downright foolish. And no one should impose their views on another. We don’t break hands in his country but we do verge on the Orwellian in inhibiting free speech.

This guy here, from a late medieval carving clearly had no trouble in making his point.

Which leads me on to my last random thought.

Is there such a thing as ‘negative racism’. I pondered the issue as I watched ‘The Big Arguments’ on TV with my Sunday bagel and coffee. They were talking about something called ‘British identity’ and a corpulent northerner said something absurd about how you couldn’t be ‘British’ if you didn’t support constitutional monarchy. It was plainly wrong, I mean wasn’t Oliver Cromwell called ‘God’s own Englishman’? But he had expressed his opinion and was then, immediately sneered at by the preposterous Benjamin Zephaniah.

Corpulent Northerner wasn’t having it. He pointed a finger. ‘Listen Sunshine…’. He got no further. Chicken Licken day arrived with force. The sky fell down with an almighty crash. The furious, Zephaniah accused the luckless northerner of being racist and demanded an instant apology, and I swilled coffee and bagel round my mouth wondering what on earth was going on.

‘Sunshine’ is a northern term. I was called sunshine, sometimes affectionately by female bus drivers (When I’m in a nursing home they’ll call me ‘darling’.) I have been called ‘Sunshine’ in a semi threatening way, more usually in mock irritation. I’ve used the same phrase to my children on occasion: ‘just you listen to me, sunshine!’ Though they never do. The point is I am not black, nor are they. We retain our northern pallor.

I object to words being re-categorised on a whim, and I wondered whether Zephaniah had got confused with the now archaic ‘shine’ as a derogatory term, or was just feeling in a bullying mood. Either way, the BBC apologised to him but not corpulent northern man, and it seems to me that I can, for the moment, continue to use the term ‘sunshine’ to all and sundry unless Benjamin Zephaniah is in range, or until that, too, is added to the stock of words we may no longer use.

What would Tilman Riemennschneider have thought of it? What indeed would have the Prince Bishop of Wurzburg, Rudolf II von Scherenber have said?

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Spiders in the toilets

My daughter took me to the Victoria and Albert Museum last week – a treasure house and not to be missed by anyone visiting London for the first time. Where else could you have a cup of coffee or enjoy a meal for £6 in such lavish splendour?

The toilets are something else.

I was most perturbed to see a spider directly over the hole where I was meant to piss. I waited. It didn’t move. Carefully I aimed, at the same time discreetly looking to left and right to see if my companion pissers, too, had a spider. Being short-sighted I couldn’t see without drawing attention to myself and leading to some very wrong conclusions. Meanwhile I pondered the moral question – to aim for the spider – like some kind of video game; or to carefully navigate my pee so as to miss it. Small things like this stress me out and I stood there for a time unable to do anything. My fellow pissers, more cavalier or desperate had been and gone, leaving me alone.

And I discovered they, too, had a spider.

Every piss-pot in the room had a spider. I investigated each one.

WTF as experienced bloggers say.

I get it. We men cannot be trusted to aim for a two inch diameter hole with splash-back surrounds. We need help. Aim for the spider. Or focus on missing it. Are men so incapable they can’t simply piss in a hole?

And why spiders? Are they so hateful? Why not butterflies, Blue Admirals, baby rabbits, kittens, an eye, politicians…or is spiderism acceptable and every other ‘ism’ not?

Women, for obvious reasons don’t have the same problem, so their toilet are all together different. Not for them the demoralised spider. Look and weep

And no, I didn’t take this photograph, but I would have loved to have had a good look round.

Sorry for the rant.

Part Two of the Victoria and Albert coming up next week, sans spiders and toilets