Monday, 27 June 2011

Journeys are the midwives of thought

'Journeys are the midwives of thought. Few places are more conducive to internal conversations than a moving plane, ship or train. There is an almost quaint correlation between what is in front of our eyes and the thoughts we are able to have in our heads: large thoughts at times requiring large views, new thoughts new places. Introspective reflections which are liable to stall are helped along by the flow of the landscape. The mind may be reluctant to think properly when thinking is all it is supposed to do. The task can be as paralysing as having to tell a joke or mimic an accent on demand. Thinking improves when parts of the mind are given other tasks, are charged with listening to music or following a line of trees. The music or the view distracts for a time that nervous, censorious, practical part of the mind which is inclined to shut down when it notices something difficult emerging in consciousness and which runs scared of memories, longings, introspective or original ideas and prefers instead the administrative and the impersonal.
Of all modes of transport, the train is perhaps the best aid to thought: the views have none of the potential monotony of those on a ship or plane, they move fast enough for us not to get exasperated but slowly enough to allow us to identify objects.'

This is a much cited excerpt from Alain de Botton's 'The Art of Travel'. However, he seems to completely miss the place and importance of buses in doing everything described above in a more leisurely and relaxed fashion.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Three-legged Stripper


I came across this picture on the web some years ago and filed it away. Having found it again, I did a search for 'Three Legged Stripper' and found the link. Apparently, the dancer goes by the stage name of 'Cloudy Day'. Her third leg is real and results from her having a parasitic twin. There are other better known and more marked instances of this condition. Rudy Santos is the longest surviving such case and more recently there is the case of Lakshmi Tatma. Lakshmi has gone on to have her parasitic twin removed. She was twice the subject of a British television programme on Channel 4 - before and after surgery. More details images of this procedure can be found at the Daily Mail.

I don't know what your immediate reaction to 'Cloudy Day' might be. One of my first thoughts was to wonder whether the extra leg was a left or right one. The developing embryo only makes left and right legs - there is no genetic information that produces 'middle legs'. I once saw the skeleton of a sheep which had an extra leg. It even had a rudimentary ball-and-socket joint at the mid-point of the front of its pelvis (the symphysis pubis)  As you can see, Cloudy Day's has an extra right leg.

Friday, 17 June 2011

On Being Dyslexic

I am a dyslexic. As such I fall under the label of having a disability - at least in the eyes of British employment legislation. In a meeting of disabled staff some time ago, I remember saying:

"I wasn't disabled before I came here. It's the nature of the work that disables me."

The job I originally came to do has had considerable changes imposed upon it since I first arrived. Instead of being primarily a lecturer who is also engaged in research, I now have, like all my colleagues, a heavy burden of administration. Paperwork, form-filling and record keeping are not strong points of mine. They do not suit my condition or the way I am. Those of my colleagues without dyslexia struggle and often make a mess of what they are supposed to be able to do. What hope is there for the likes of me? We have certain skills and abilities that boring admin. can so easily quench.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Le Nu Provencal

Nu provencal - Willy Ronis 1949

This is a copy of a postcard I bought many years ago. I think I got it in Bristol. A few years ago, I was in a photography gallery over a bookshop in Charing Cross Road, London and got talking to the attendant. Somehow we got onto talking about this picture. It's a famous image called Le Nu Provencal (1949) by Willy Ronis. It transpired that the attendant had a print of it in his storeroom and asked me whether I would like to see it. Of course, I did. So we went downstairs, out through the bookshop and into a storeroom behind a door which opened onto the street next to the shop. There leaning against the wall was a framed print (perhaps a 16" x 20") of the above. I took a close look. What was immediately noticeable was that there was a gouge across the middle of the image. The surface of the print wasn't broken but it was a distraction nonetheless even behind the glass. I was then told that this was worth £25,000 - but that I could have it for only £20,000. I chose not to buy it. After all, I already had a copy, albeit as a postcard which I seem to remember cost about 9p.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Collect for Purity

Almighty God,
unto whom all hearts be open,
all desires known,
and from whom no secrets are hid;
Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit,
that we may perfectly love thee,
and worthily magnify thy holy Name;
through Christ our Lord. Amen.

This is another beautiful collect taken from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. It is used during service of Holy Communion. It is generally known as the 'Collect for Purity'. For any Christian believer, it is a prayer that might be used at other times.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Vulture Captures Seagull



© John Baker

This image was taken by an old friend from way back in my undergraduate days at Surrey University - John 'Vulture' Baker. We recently renewed our friendship via Facebook. John often posts images to Facebook. He is a fine photographer and I always like looking at what he has taken. I particularly liked this recent image, the seagull having been caught with its wings down and at such an angle that one can see its face clearly.

John's nickname was 'Vulture'. It's how I shall always remember him. How he got that nickname is another story.