Sunday, 30 December 2007

Happy Winterval

The German origin of the modern Christmas tree. The Germans had quite a religious feeling for their Weihnachtsbaum, which in turn stemmed from the pagan ancestral worship of the trees of the wood.

"Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.

For the customs of the people [are] vain: for [one] cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.

They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.

They [are] upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go. Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also [is it] in them to do good."


^Yet another reminder against idolatry in Jeremiah 10:2-5 in the King James Version of the Bible. It was also the third Commandment if I remember correctly. But I believe it shouldn’t matter if you are a heathen.





It was a random quirk of my rota that I had a long period off over the Christmas season this year. So we had great moments simply spending time with loved ones and that was what mattered most. I was also most impressed to see the use of the Dyson airblade hand dryer at Gatwick airport and various London train station public toilets as I have been a long-term fan of the Dyson vacuum cleaner because it actually sucks.

But back on topic.

I have spent most of my life celebrating Christmas and I have many fond memories of them too. However I have stopped ritualising this hybrid pagan-Christian holiday years ago the moment I found out about its origins. I could not stand myself being a phoney so I stopped. It was really as simple as that and it’s no big deal. In fact I am more than happy to work over Christmas usually in shift swaps with colleagues as I know how much it means to many people.

I don’t mind at all if others celebrate it and I am not remotely offended so all this PC BS to ban religious symbols is nonsensical. It is often the Jews and Muslims who ask where have all the Christmas cheer gone? After all, you might be a pagan or a Christian (although a Christian should not celebrate Christmas and I know many Christians who don’t. Don’t kid yourselves about how much fun it is for it goes against many teachings of the Bible from the Old to the New Testaments). I find in fact that it is atheists, agnostics and those who are most uncomfortable with religion (and these include nominal Christians) that worship and celebrate the customs of Christmas with the most fervent zeal. When I kindly ask what exactly are they celebrating, it never ceases to amaze me how tongue-tied they become when such a blasphemous thought is introduced.

One has to be profoundly ignorant to be unaware of the numerous pagan customs shoe-horned into the supposed celebration of the ethnically Jewish Jesus’ (PBUH) birthday (why exactly do we give each other gifts if it is his birthday? Yes, it’s another pagan custom…go find out for yourself) or the mass crass commercialisation that has increasingly crept into it year on year. Okay, even if we accept it as a secular commercial holiday, it is still a deadweight loss under orthodox (ahem) microeconomic theory due to the massive surge in gift giving. And for the greenies out there, please consider the environmental impact of the clutter of waste, the millions of trees destroyed for the production of billions of cards and the purely pagan custom of setting up of a “Christmas tree”, the amount of electricity consumed by decorations bright enough to be seen from space or the carbon footprint from transportation of goods, people and junk. What I am saying is that there are greener ways to celebrate Christmas if you must.

Also, being fiscally responsible when you worship and sacrifice your moolah at the altar of the First High Church of Retail Therapy is a must. After all, you won’t be able to afford 72 virgins when you find yourself on the other side of existence called “spiralling debt”.

But surely when this does not amazingly happen (Christmas Day alone accounted for £84 million in online sales in the UK) is it appropriate and fair to place this under “Life & Style” sub-section “Women”? How sexist of the Times! Tsk. Tsk.

Other than that Christmas was great for me this year and I hope everyone else had a Merry Christmas and will have a happy and healthy 2008.

Cheers!

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Izzy Boo


I spent the weekend with my 2 year-old niece who is getting to be quite the chatterbox. Amazing sentences like “I’ve got a wedgie!” or announcing proudly in a full train carriage, “I’ve done a big poo!” were run of the mill.

We took her to the Shark Capital of Scotland at Deep Sea World at North Queensferry where she was fascinated by the piranhas, frogs and “ho, ho, ho”. It must have been the fourth Santa she had seen in two days and it’s not clear what she makes of him. She would stare at him timidly for minutes and then declare unanimously, “I want to go home!” Hmmmmmmmmmm. But it was the toys and stickers at the gift shop which would fascinate her more whilst I larked about with a hand held toy shark with movable jaws that bit her bottom making her laugh.

She absolutely loves playing hide-and-seek and we spent many fine minutes hiding in all the rooms, closets, curtains and cupboards at my place. She would loosely count to twenty and declare, “Ready or not, here I come!” accompanied by a devilishly cheeky face with narrowed eyes bent on mischief. She is so utterly adorable.

She thinks she is hidden. ROFL.

And wow, it snowed for the first time as soon as they got here!

She can negotiate. Eyeing and then grabbing a bag of Haribos, she would make her demands pretty clear, “Mommy, Daddy I want sweets!” Tantrums would be Plan B. Never fails. But then she is caring and readily shares the sweets with me freely without any prompting.

She loves to dance and every time a musical interlude she recognises is heard we would hold hands, do a little twirl and shake da booty.

She is very sharp and picks things up quickly after hearing or seeing things only once. She can sing some Christmas Carols in a semi-literate shy way with a huge smile on her face. And she LOVES reading books…or at least she pretends to since the only books at my place have words and no pictures. She would grab a whole pile off the shelves from my towering bookcases and ad lib stories to me in a delightful sing-song fashion.

At the Royal Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, she would literally drag me by the hand to take me see the world that is full of delights and try the various hands on exhibits in the science section. And this is the age where everything is questioned with a plaintive “Why?”

She makes the ordinary extraordinary.



Children are essentially a blank cheque for hope. That’s what they are.

Saturday, 1 December 2007

A Jew, Muslim, Christian, Atheist And A Vampyre…


…walked into a bar. Okay, okay…actually they are characters from the last few books I read. Well, along with tempting offers to the mind-numbing paradise that is digital satellite TV, I got yet another Official Warning in the post today from the TV Licensing Board threatening me that if I do not pay my annual TV Licence I could be slapped on the wrist, incarcerated with soap-dropping spotters or horror-of-horrors…forced to watch re-runs of TV reality shows ad nauseum.

Meh.

It’s been over 5 years 5 months since I’ve binned the dead metal. I refuse in principle to pay good money for being a passive consumer of commercial shit. Plus I don’t really have the time to watch shit (far more profitable to waste my time in front of the computer, of course). I’d rather see what I want, when I want (the internet and DVDs serve that purpose well enough for me). But I’ve also ended up reading more books, devouring at least one a week. Anyway…the last random few were…

Elizabeth Kostova’s “The Historian” (2005)


This book left me anaemic with horror. Horrified at how interminably boring it was.

First off, it’s pretty damn obvious that this is a labour of love for an author who adores history, genealogy, librarians and the legend of Dracula. I mean, that in theory should be a winning combination for me…especially when a character utters thus:

"It's my belief that the study of history should be our preparation for understanding the present, rather than escape from it." (p335)

Yup, pretty much the standard aphorism I do in fact utter but that was all the enjoyment I got I’m afraid because several things annoyed the hell out of me. The novel started off promisingly in a gothic way but vapidly descended in the most protracted way possible into a sappy love story between the standard atheistic dashing academic chap (why of course) and a beautiful atheistic intelligent jaded woman (you don’t say!) using a hybrid attempt of crosses and a touch of Islam to fight off the undead. C’MON! Maybe it's because I am a cynical bastard but there were a lot of suspiciously fortuitous happenstance and serendipity used to drive the narrative from point A to point B plus gratuitous doses of rose tinted idealism between the interactions of human characters that I found utterly unbelievable. They were also convenient walking-talking-encyclopaedias of history, furniture and what-have-you, to the point they all conversed in the same bland way…even Vlad Dracula himself, who just seemed so emasculated and wooden when we finally meet him (who incidentally is the titular “Historian”…to the in-joke of him actually having a copy of Bram Stoker’s Dracula in his own library…*winces*). Seriously, a trimming of the fat here and there and a stake through its heart would have made a more taut novel. Bite me.

(For the record, my favourite Vampyre novel of all time, besides Bram Stoker’s "Dracula" (1897), is the much under-rated Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s "Carmilla" (1872). The 19th century Irish seriously knew how to wield the gothic pen.

For the study of Vampyre lore in literature, Christopher Frayling’s “Vampyres: Lord Byron to Count Dracula” (1992) comes highly recommended by moi.)

Sam Bourne’s “The Last Testament” (2007)


Another Da Vinci Code wannabe that actually has a good McGuffin looted from the Iraqi National Museum during the war in 2003 that may change the Middle East conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians. It’s the same formulaic religious history thriller in bite sized chapters ending with useless non-suspenseful mini-cliff-hangers, a hot intelligent ballsy lapsed-Catholic babe© and a handsome macho yet sensitive Jewish man© (yes, they do bang each other) in a race against time to locate…well, read it to find out what it is.

But having found out what it is, any Tom, Dick and Ahmed can guess the uncontroversial pedestrian ending. It’s undemanding pulp fiction full of clichéd cardboard characters for people who know jack-shit about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Abrahamic religions. Which means it should sell.

Justin Cartwright’s “The Song Before It Is Sung” (2007)


This is a moving well-crafted piece of work that is elegant, morally and intellectually engaging and poetically elegiac. I would rate Cartwright amongst the best of contemporary British writers and this book was simply a delightful find. By the use of differently named characters, it’s essentially a fictionalised historical story of the relationship between Isaiah Berlin, the Jewish Oxford philosopher, and Adam von Trott, the German aristocrat who had been a Rhodes scholar in Oxford, and a token card carrying Nazi but true German patriot who plotted to assassinate Adolf Hitler at the “Wolf’s Lair” in 1944. The book’s narrator, a dreamy Conrad Senior, having been bequeathed various personal documents, becomes obsessed about finding out the past (and the location of the only surviving film of the German patriot’s eventual execution ironically filmed by a Jewish cameraman still living in present day Berlin) to the detriment of his relationship with an emotionally frigid unsympathetic lover who cheats on him.

The history is essentially iffy but ignoring that one stain, the novel’s delving into the larger questions of fate, friendship, and the contrast between talk and action as exemplified by the two main characters was masterful.

Shimon Ballas’ “Outcast” (English translation from Hebrew 2007)


This is a rare little gem from a contemporary Israeli writer originally from Iraq. Admittedly this review was what got me interested:

" . . . reveals more about modern Iraq than nearly all Americans put together know, and Ballas creates one of the most relevant, most important characters in contemporary fiction." – Booklist, Starred Review

Ouch. That was a bit harsh hyperbole heaped on the Americans (even though it might be true…heh). It’s a fictionalised historical memoir of Haroun Sassoon (based on the real figure of Ahmad Nissim Soussa), an Arab Iraqi Jew who embraced Islam in the 1930s and his personal interactions with family and friends set against the tumultuous background of Iraqi politics. Now talk about a Pandora’s box of issues.

I loved the insights the narrator made on himself, people, religion and politics. The depressing narrative sometimes rambles a bit and goes off into seemingly unpromising tangents but it does tap into issues of identity, loyalty and family dynamics as it does so…a scene where the narrator stands in front of the cross of the grave of his wife with his Jewish son and Muslim daughter pretty much sums up the poignancy of his life. This book could probably benefit with a timeline of Iraqi history for the general reader since even with my paltry knowledge I felt it was hard to follow.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Take Turns



This is the popular right brain vs left brain test

Look at the picture. If you see the dancer turning clockwise, you use more of the right side of your brain. If you see the dancer turning anti-clockwise, you use more of the left side of your brain.

Most of us would see the dancer turning anti-clockwise and if you focus you can also change direction of the dancer.

LEFT BRAIN FUNCTIONS

uses logic
detail oriented
facts rule
words and language
present and past
math and science
can comprehend
knowing
acknowledges
order/pattern perception
knows object name
reality based
forms strategies
practical
safe

RIGHT BRAIN FUNCTIONS

uses feeling
"big picture" oriented
imagination rules
symbols and images
present and future
philosophy & religion
can "get it" (i.e. meaning)
believes
appreciates
spatial perception
knows object function
fantasy based
presents possibilities
impetuous
risk taking


What do I see?

I find this is yet more proof my brain is not like 99% of the population.

At first glance, I’m thinking….heyyyyyyyy hot heavenly honey. Okay, seriously. On second glance, I see the nubile nymphet nipples turning clockwise (hmmmmmmm imaginative fantasy based right brain for me then). But I can also make the pretty pirouetting princess pivot anti-clockwise. In fact I can literally make the lithe lap-dancing lassie loop any way I want instantly. I can force the fetching fit filly flip-flop back and forth by fluctuating the graceful glamorous girl clockwise and anti-clockwise alternately at Will without the captivating contoured chick ever circumvolve a full 360 degrees.

That to me is out-right proof that one can alter their perception at Will – but only if one wants to.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Lions For Lambs


The film was more intellectually engaging than say, The Kingdom or Rendition (but that is not saying much) yet still came across as trite…but then again Redford was deft enough to realize not to delve too deeply on the issues regarding what motivates us as individuals and on the “War on Terror”, vast topics that tends to polarise (or…paralyse) people, lest it might just alienate the movie going American public whose Friday night entertainment peaks at the level of Bee Movie…or whose general knowledge seemingly regresses to primary school level as one gets older

The tryptich plot, if you can call it that, does not actually visually intersect but is made to intertwine like a braid by the audience’s mental participation of digesting and assimilating the staccato questions and conundrums thrown out like pretzels to the movie-goers (now…don’t choke on ‘em).


Charming Senator Irving (played by everyone’s favourite alien, Tom Cruise) announces exclusively a “new strategy” on the “War on Terror” to the veteran but seemingly naive reporter Janine Roth (Meryl Streep) as a favour, delivering neo-con sound-bites without offering any evidence and blithely admitting “past mistakes” but then goes on repeating more new ones.

Two model soldiers (played by Michael Peña and Derek Luke) who fought the much tougher war of gettin’ outta the ghetto and into higher education are shown to be lionised examples of American patriotism, honour and conviction by having volunteered to fight the war implemented by baa-aaa-ad lambs but end up just being cannon fodder.

Then you have the privileged slacker but very bright student (Andrew Garfield) being given a one-on-one sanctimonious dressing down by a Californian Professor of Political Science (Redford) in order to motivate him to…translate his apathy into action that…THIS WAR IS A TRAGIC WASTE OF HUMAN LIFE. Oh shit…I just gave away the entire plot and message.


It’s sneakily anti-Bush but plays out fairly balanced no matter what side of the political divide you happen to be in…if your whole idea of politics is from a Western centric POV. All we see are American faces. We (might) care for the American faces. We (maybe) cheer for the American faces. We (I sincerely doubt) cry for the American faces. The Afghans are reduced to mere mutterings in the snow and moving black dots on a screen…to be blown to bits by American military hardware like the hapless dime-a-dozen commie bastard Vietcong in Rambo First Blood Part II. I mean who cares on how the policies of the “War on Terror” impacts on others because as Senator Cruise explicitly states, it is the USA that has been attacked! And oh yeah, this film is hardly going to be a box-office draw in Kabul or Tehran.

‘Liberal’ has somehow become a dirty word in American politics and I doubt Redford’s friends see much capital gain from this lite-film (check out the Celebrity Liberal (or Celiberal) Whine Rack and List!) but to be fair, as director and actor, he has done a reasonable job of avoiding the highly tempting route of providing answers but chooses instead to simply rehash the questions that many are now openly asking and is thus a useful catalyst for stoking the fires of debate and discourse before we all return to our comfortable cloistered existence.

Monday, 12 November 2007

It Is Impossible



Damn. I am still riding on adrenaline.

Just shy of midnight, 50 year-old Mr X walked in complaining of central burning chest pain for the past hour and a half rather than attend work as a taxi-driver on the night shift. I was at the fag end of seeing another patient documenting the notes and wanting some nourishment but had this chap’s ECG placed in front of my I-want-to-go-to-the-loo face for a quick opinion. The nurses are great at their job. Hmmmmm…1 mm ST elevation on V1 and an indeterminate rise on V2 with a very mild ST depression on the lateral leads. Riiiiiiight…I said he needed to be urgently seen next.

I rushed into the cubicle. He looked comfortable sitting on the trolley chatting away and his vital signs were all normal. I introduced myself. Tell me all about it I said. He had been on a proton pump inhibitor for years. He thought it was indigestion and had self-medicated with Rennies with some improvement in symptoms. The pain was almost completely gone. Well so far so good I thought. But closer probing with my rapid fire questioning in the next minute revealed that the pain had involved his left arm associated with very slight dyspnoea and brief sweatiness. Uh oh. That sounded cardiac rather than dyspepsia. And he was a known hypertensive. And a heavy smoker. And his father died in his 40s with a myocardial infarction. As far as I am concerned, that was good enough for me. We needed to get him out of the examination cubicle and move him to the resuscitation bay now.

Cardiac monitor lines were immediately unplugged. Trolley and patient rolled into Resus Bay 1. He looked absolutely fine, non-plussed and slightly amused at the fuss. Oxygen. IV access. Bloods. Sats monitor. Chests leads, BP, pulse, temp and BM. Aspirin and clopidrogrel stat. IV morphine and metoclopramide and GTN. The pain was completely gone now. Wahayy! Can we have a repeat ECG? Yes. It was completely normal. Straight-forward. So it was unstable angina +/- dyspepsia. Whatever. He needed to come in for a M.I. screen. I even weighed him myself to calculate the correct dalteparin dose. You MUST stop smoking I said. I’ve tried and I can’t – it’s impossible he said. Uhhhhhm, sure.

Instead of the regular on-call medical team, I instinctively called the on-call coronary care unit doc…that happened to be at another hospital. God knows why for it was purely a visceral instinct. They had one bed left in reserve only for a thrombolysable MI but another bed for assessment. Sure, he said, we can probably take him but could I fax the ECGs over first? He will call me back and let me know with a final answer. Sure. The ECGs were faxed over. Then the chest pain came back with a vengeance. I gave another IV bolus of morphine. The pain settled completely within minutes. Cool. Can we have another repeat ECG? Yes.

This time there was >2mm ST elevation on leads V1 and V2. Shite…this was a frank MI. I quickly checked that he had no contra-indication to thrombolysis. The call from CCU came back…I interrupted and said we now have a thrombolysable MI so you guys can actually take him. Despite being pain free, the morphine was likely masking the pain. We both agreed that he should be thrombolysed tout de suite.

And then he started gurgling and went into cardiac arrest right in front of me as I was on the phone.

“Uhmmmm…he’s just gone off so I’ll call you back okay?” I put the phone down. The crash team was called. Everyone and their dog ran to the resus bay. WTF. It was ventricular fibrillation. The first shock was delivered after I tried to hop, skip and untangle myself from all the bloody wires. His body convulsed violently with the shock. His face turned a ghastly blue. Chest compressions and bag mask ventilation was resumed. A second shock was delivered at the second cycle. Then the rhythm changed…yaaaaargh. Still no palpable cardiac output. Probable pulseless electrical activity or low cardiac output. Continue CPR and IV adrenaline. Then the rhythm changed to VF. Right…charge, clear, check and shock! Whump…his body convulsed violently. CPR was resumed and intubation attempted. And then a sinus rhythm appeared and he was self-ventilating. Bloody hell. Poised with the prepared tenecteplase in her hand the medical team member asked Was there a contra-indication to thrombolysis? No, I said. He had the green light for it. And the IV bolus was given.

And then he went into VF and a fourth shock was delivered. CPR was resumed. Then he suddenly struggled, sat bolt upright and spat out the Guedel airway. Everyone around him took a step back, with him and us looking at each other collectively with a massive WTF-is-going-on on all our faces.

He wondered out loud if someone could please contact his workplace.

Errrrrrrr. We all looked at each other and collectively spontaneously laughed as the intense tension of the last few minutes just vapourised. Phew.

Repeat ECG showed a massive antero-lateral MI across all chest leads. Arterial blood gas showed only a very mild acidosis. He needed a CCU but should he undertake the long journey to the regional specialist hospital where rescue angioplasty was available should the tenecteplase not achieve reperfusion? After a phone call with the cardiac specialist it was settled that the ECG should be repeated at 90 minutes post thrombolysis. If no improvement occurred by then, then IV tirofiban should be commenced and the patient transferred for emergency coronary angioplasty. Everyone and their dog dispersed to their usual work places.

Mr X was sat upright talking, comfortable, pain free and he was…alive. His concerned work mate came in to chat and joke with him. I went away and resumed whatever I was originally doing after the documentation was completed.

Then the crash team alarm bell was activated. Bloody hell. Whaaaaat now? Reperfusion arrhythmia?

Everyone and their dog ran to the resus bay. Mr. X looked fine and dandy. Mr. X’s concerned work mate lay collapsed on the floor like a star fish. Apparently he gurgled, went pale, unconscious and fell backwards off from the stool he was sitting on…but was now awake whilst a nurse held his legs up. It looked like a vasovagal syncope…a simple faint. A formal examination and check ECG supported that.

Mr. X’s family arrived and came round, chatted and joked with him. At 90 minutes the repeat ECG showed complete resolution of the MI for him. Absolutely amazing. I told him if he had originally chosen to go to work he would have definitely died tonight.

Transfer arrangements were formalized with the ambulance crew and receiving CCU. He thanked me as he realised how close to death he was.

"Look, you MUST stop smoking okay?"

“I already gave up an hour and a half ago!” he said.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Strange Meeting


"I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
I knew you in this dark; for so you frowned
Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.
I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.
Let us sleep now . . ."

- Wilfred Edward Salter Owen 1918

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Depeche Mode - Enjoy The Silence




The whole synthesizer approach sounds horribly dated yet it gives Enjoy the Silence that undeniable charm as the best example of its genre with its beautiful melodies and concise lyrics that never tires my ears no matter how many times I listen.

Simply one of the best songs ever written by a British group


Words like violence

Break the silence

Come crashing in

Into my little world

Painful to me

Pierce right through me

Can't you understand

Oh my little girl

All I ever wanted

All I ever needed is here in my arms

Words are very unnecessary

They can only do harm

Vows are spoken

To be Broken

Feelings are intense

Words are trivial

Pleasures remain

So does the pain

Words are meaningless

And forgettable

All I ever wanted

All I ever needed is here in my arms

Words are very unnecessary

They can only do harm

All I ever wanted

All I ever needed is here in my arms

Words are very unnecessary

They can only do harm

All I ever wanted

All I ever needed is here in my arms

Words are very unnecessary

They can only do harm

Enjoy the silence

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Down In Dundee And Dad


I just got back from Dundee…it tends to be a place I usually rapidly pass by but I liked it at first impressions from up close…it has a noticeably high student population with its two large universities, a rich cultural and scientific patina which I have yet to imbibe, and the city is negotiable on foot with a pedestrianised city centre and the usual shopping trappings to cater to the most essential needs of the inane modern lifestyle. It also seems to be randomly peppered with cemeteries but I think the city just gradually grew around them over time, rather than have the burial places erased away for development.

I worked briefly at Ninewells Hospital the last few days in my time off, more as a fact-finding mission for myself to see how another place operates. It’s not the largest hospital I’ve been to but with it’s expansive multi-storey layout, the place felt like an interior of an aircraft carrier when trying to negotiate my way through the labyrinthine corners, stairs and long corridors, nimbly dodging staff, students, trolleys and vehicles in a hive of industrious activity. I was amazed at the number of people whom I randomly bumped into who have seen me or think they’ve met me or know people who know me (!) I didn’t have time to meet up with Reem but she promised to cook me some food the next time I drop by…plus she’s tempting me further with green tea. How can I refuse an offer like that???

Halloween at Edinburgh tonight was awash with randy Roman centurions, not-so-little Red Riding Hoods, pasty pirates, card-board cowboys, naughty nurses, dastardly doctors and other similar ghoulies and ghosties. And twats, you may be dressed like that guy with a big “S” on his chest and tanked up with alcohol, but please look carefully both ways before crossing the busy road or you’ll end up in Scotland’s busiest A+E department covered in a different type of red and blue.

I’m not feeling too good atm. With my lack of internet access at times for days and my mobile being off when at work, I only just literally got news my Dad has been hospitalised with massive bleeding. It doesn’t help that I know the differential diagnosis inside out. And I was due to see him next month. It’s eerie that for some inexplicable reason at the same time I couldn’t sleep last night and I lost my house keys – something that has never happened to me.

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Youth Is Wasted On The Young

I need to find me one of these for Halloween

I’m currently sipping my astringent jasmine green tea all warm and cuddled as the winter season starts to settle in. I’ve found meself a clinically neat tea-house to feed my green tea addiction even though the prices are twice that of Aberdeen (bah!). It’s becoming a seasonal habit of mine…dark winter nights means an emo-leaning towards moody classical music and warm pots of green tea...sound and taste being the two senses strongly associated with memory for me (my sense of smell is not as powerful as the other two)…after all, winter time in the UK can get fucking boring when soulful reflection can surprisingly be a major activity, as waking up and coming back from work means hardly being greeted by the DNA destroying rays from our friendly yellow ball of gas in the sky.

Ahhhhh, green tea and no sun – just some of the secrets to my disarmingly youthful appearance. Yes, I genuinely confound people. First, after having long ago shaved my oh-so-cool moustache (on the advice of a girl…err, I concede she was actually right) people now think I am much younger than I am actually…from, “Soooo….what are you studying now?” (uhmmm, I’m waaayyyyy past post-graduate)…to the classic…“Can I see some I.D. please?” (uhmm, not only do I not drink, I often treat these drunk and/or assaulted fuckers much younger than I, thank-you-very-much)…to the extraordinary…“Are you old enough to watch this DVD?” (paying for a copy of “Léon” at the till – one of my all time favourite films I can near quote verbatim)…to being flirted by teenage girls young enough to be my daughters. It’s so Nabokovian. I don’t mind though as people younger than me collapse with acute myocardial infarction and it’s me ending up treating them.

And then I open my mouth and from a few choice words they rapidly realise I’m not fresh out of kindergarten...“Sorry, what does that mean?” (NB to self: desist enunciating archaic iambic pentameters)…

but then I get the second confounding classic, “…that accent…it’s not Scottish…where do you come from…which part of England…it’s so region-less”…to the improbable but already occurring several times, “South Africa? Australia?” (NB to self: WTF??!?).

Nobody guesses correctly I’m from Hong Kong. Not even people from Hong Kong. Not even when I am in Hong Kong. And then their mandibles plunge when this “gweilo” reply in Cantonese. And eyeballs extrude, expand and explode when they hear me colourfully swear in Cantonese.

Then thirdly, the inevitable…“What are you?”…and some inexplicably, for lack of an imagination, settle on something that may just cover it:… ie. ----> “Are you…American?” (Oh the ignominy)

Well, I’m Eurasian if you must know, the next stage in human evolution…


So seriously, how does one go someway in maximising their chances of staying youthful and healthy? Of course where you live and other environmental factors can have a huge impact – poverty, pollution, poor sanitation, crime, ignorance, gamma radiation and inane reality TV shows can really be harmful. But reflecting on my habits the following Ten Commandments is what I actually do and may go some way to explain my Peter Pan appearance:

1) Do NOT smoke.

2) Do NOT consume alcohol.

3) Enjoy life but don’t purposefully spend unnecessary amounts of excessive time in the sun.

4) Plenty of water. Or green tea (heh).

5) Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables – there are onions, garlic, tomatoes, carrots, ginger, pulses, cereals, apples, bananas and EXTRA virgin (heh) olive oil and vinegar somewhere in my diet everyday. Oh yes, I eat rice everyday too – potatoes can do as well (I neeeeeed my fuel). Consume lean meat and oily fish. Limit amount of red meat. I allow myself copious amounts of chocolate (gotta treat yourself every once in awhile) but other than that I generally avoid junk food.

(This is not for everyone since for some their genetic make up can’t handle it but I drink lots of whole fat milk (never with green tea) and consume cheeses every bloody day and it’s the high calcium intake that is one of the reasons that keeps me thin. I also eat chillies everyday but that is just a “me” thing of loving spicy food – it’s not for everyone)

6) Hygiene – brush your bloody teeth at least twice a day, wash yourself etc. It’s bloody common sense.

7) Exercise and stretch regularly. Some yoga it or tai-chi it or martial arts it. Whatever works for you. I just walk briskly (I’m %^&*£)£ late for work) at least one hour every day. Occasionally I'm even known to jog. As a bonus, performing salah five times a day, every day actually exercises every joint in the body.

8) Get enough sleep.

9) Be spiritually content (that is totally different and separate from being happy but if you are happy too, then lucky you). Have at least one passion in life (not just mere interest although that is a start!). Exercise, challenge and stimulate the mind mentally with cerebral gymnastics. Be interested in family and people. Love and be loved. Where possible, avoid negative souls who tend to bring out the worst in people. Basically, try to %^&*£)£ minimise stress.

10) The rest is random genetic lottery.

Monday, 22 October 2007

My Overused Quotes


Chance observation in town the other day:

A man started to cross the road at a zebra crossing and the blonde woman with him followed rapidly behind. The cars and trucks all lined up at the edge of the zebra-crossing were revving their impatient engines and suddenly started to accelerate as per traffic light instructions. Caught off guard and realizing his miscalculation, the chap decided it was safer to back track before being squashed to smithereens. The blonde also had no choice but to retreat with the bloke. She was sooo annoyed.

He purposefully cracked a joke to his mates that the difference between him and her is that he at least always looked where he was going and that she did not and just follows blindly. Laughing ensued. She said nothing and fumed.



I saw the whole thing.


This is what ACTUALLY happened:

The chap did NOT look where he was going when he crossed the road. He just assumed the whole world would revolve around him regardless. This time he did make a mistake until it was almost too late and had no choice but to retreat or risk being seriously hurt.

The woman DID look where she was going before crossing the road. She realised her chap ahead of her was taking a huge risk as she hesitated to join him at first. But she DID choose to join da man eventually…because well, God knows why.

When the mistake became inevitable, both of them had no choice but to retreat.

In order for him to divert attention away from his own stupidity, he chose to crack a joke in front of other males at the expense of the woman to salvage his brittle tumescent ego and sacrosanct pride. She knew the joke wasn’t true but in order to say so, she would have had to admit to her own stupidity of making a bad judgement call of following a stupid man.


Although it can be viewed as a one-off joke about the eternal battle of the sexes, I had a sneaking suspicion that this was a recurrent pattern in their particular interactions when viewing their unspoken body language, which made me think if they will ever learn. This naturally made me think of Santayana’s famous quote:


I actually first came across Santayana in Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” (yet another fellow admirer of history and a song written after a conversation with Sean Lennon) and then again in Dachau, outside Munich when I visited the first German concentration camp opened by the Nazis, where his famous quote displayed prominently at the end of the museum held particular poignancy. It’s a quote I am guilty of using frequently since. The other one I use often is:

“The like stick with the like”

This all goes through my brain in a matter of seconds and then I go off on another cerebral tangent…and another…and another. Frequently when people see me pondering and asks me to explain what I am thinking I find it easier to just say….“Oh…nothing much” than to go off on an exhaustive spiel. Heh.

Friday, 12 October 2007

Eid Mubarak

Satellite image of Earth from space

“He created the heavens and the earth in true proportions. He coils the night upon the day and He coils the day upon the night. He committed the sun and the moon, each running for a finite period. Absolutely, He is the Almighty, the Forgiving.” (Qu’ran 39:5)

"Thou causest the night to merge into the day, and thou causest the day to merge into the night" (Qu’ran 3:27)

"It is God Who alternates the Night and the Day: verily in these things is an instructive example for those who have vision" (Qu’ran 24:44)

"And a sign for them (human beings) is the night. We strip it of the day and they are in darkness." (Qu’ran 36:37)


Thanks to Reem and Rana for the Ramadan greetings and the homemade card, and Mohammed for iftar with his wonderful family. Ramadan always goes by soooo fast and it’s such a refreshing month spiritually. In many ways it’s better than Eid.

And ooooh, Christmas reminders on the importance of retail therapy were already up and running since August. Better hurry or you will miss out on the world biggest religion!: consumerism.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Good Grief!


I don’t normally read Newsweek but I chanced across an interesting interview of Charles Schulz’s biographer, David Michaelis, offering insights on the life of the phenomenaly succcesful Peanuts comic strip creator.

I love reading biographies. Biographies can be potentially unfair (for the subject and reader unlike) as it is still only a point of view as the subject of the biographer is often at the mercy of the memories of others and varied documents, and the incentive, insight and skill of the biographer in being able to get beneath the skin of the subject. Still, when a timeline is constructed and various sources collated, biographies can afford tremendous insight into the lives and times of others that may allow readers to know the person (only in some ways) better than the person may know themselves.

If the charcater of Charlie Brown is anything to go by, I don’t think anyone should be remotely surprised that the author was a sensitive, anxiety filled, lonely, insecure soul. Authors and artists draw on what they personally know. The enduring popularity of Peanuts touched millions around the world because it expresed much of the human condition.

Reiterating what I had posted in an earlier entry, Charles Schulz sounded typical of the kind of person who refused to change, prefering to remain in their own bubble and happy (ironically) being depressed. Despite being married and surrounded by five children, he constantly mentioned in interviews how he remained lonely, and was emotionally distant, with nagging self-doubts of whether he was loved.

“On his honeymoon [with his first wife, Joyce Halverson, in 1951], he said to Joyce, “I don’t think I can ever be happy.” It wasn’t so much a prediction as a choice.”

Fancy expressing that sentiment, of all times, on your honeymoon! And that was exactly correct – a choice. It’s a perceptual framework. Some people, no matter how much blessings may be bestowed on them can never be happy, making their life a self-fulfilling prophecy, and unwittingly causing discomfort on those immediately around them. He was happy (perhaps “comfortable” is a better word) remaining depressed, even though it made him…errr, depressed.

''Everything has to end,'' Schulz once said. ''This is my excuse for existence. No one else will touch it.'' In November 1999 he was hospitalized for colon cancer and started chemotherapy. On 14th December he announced that his strip would end. But thoughts of death had long since seeped into his strip. ''After you've died, do you get to come back?'' Linus once asked Charlie Brown. He replied, ''If they stamp your hand.''

Donna Mae Johnson, the (real) Little Red Haired Girl who broke Charlie Brown and Schulz heart said, “I'd like to see Charlie Brown kick that football, and if he gets the little red-haired girl, that's fine with me", Donna said around the time Schulz announced his retirement in 1999.

As far as I am aware that never specifically happened. It would go against Schulz’s nature; a nature he refuses to change and break out of for it can take a lot of courage and time to open up at a personal level. His comics was the closest he came to do doing so, which gave pleasure to millions.

One may not be able to change the past, but one can certainly learn from it and live for the future.

''You can't create humour out of happiness,'' Mr. Schulz said in his 1980 book, ''Charlie Brown, Snoopy and Me.''


Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Suffer Little Children To Come Unto Me

Walking to work yesterday before my shift started a curious thing happened to me.

I saw an adorable blonde little girl near a very busy traffic roundabout looking rather forlorn. She flagged my attention and I approached her wondering what the matter was. Cars and trucks thundered past us. She had a significant amount of glistening green snot hanging from one nostril in this cold morning but otherwise neat in her school uniform with her tiny school bag. She diffidently expressed that she wanted someone to help her cross the busy roads so that she could attend her school nearby. I was taken aback. This was just shy of 09:15 and there were no other school children and the lollipop lady had long gone. Where’s your mummy or daddy? He is dead she said sadly. He died choking on a pizza. And mummy told me to go to school. She is sleeping at home. This little girl had made it as far as she could go. She was only 4 years old.

After explaining to her that she shouldn’t really be talking to strangers and that her mother should have been with her, I accompanied and navigated her across the roads explaining how traffic lights worked. She became grateful that finally there was help and started to talk in that animated way 4 year olds do. It was just only another 5 minutes walk to her primary school but it might as well have been another universe to her. I escorted her across the empty concrete playground towards the main entrance. She was safely taken in by two members of the teaching staff. I showed them my ID and explained whom I was. I explained I was rather disturbed at this highly irregular set of circumstances and pressed home that this should be investigated and that she must be looked after. They readily agreed to look into the matter.

It was that she was so vulnerable and utterly lovely that it hurt me to see her like that. What the hell was wrong with mother for leaving her own little daughter unsupervised like that? I genuinely feared for her that some other unscrupulous stranger could have easily taken advantage of her if I hadn’t chanced across her.

I had no legal obligation as she was not my patient but ethically and morally I found I could not ignore her plight. I had to be sure she was safe. Once at work it was luckily only a simple matter of knocking a nearby office door of the Child Protection Services and a quick word to get the ball rolling. I have seen too many vulnerable children at risk before and I know if you miss that one window of opportunity to intervene, they could come to serious harm or even be dead the next time. Phone calls were made and the child quickly identified and the school authorities and social services contacted. It turned out it was the right thing to do. Father had indeed died recently and there were bereavement issues at home that I won’t go into.

Oh yes, it’s been über busy for me as usual. I aced the European Paediatric Life Support course in Edinburgh last week (98%). It was an excellent gentle introduction to the management of potential and actual life threatening conditions for children using logical and well-tested principals (there was a DVD too!). Bravo for the faculty for taking the time to share with us candidates their skills and experience. Now I want to up the ante and complete the Advanced Paediatric Life Support course next (!)

Talking about abducted children, and with the Madeleine McCann case still making the media rounds, this has reminded me of Ian McEwan’s novel, The Child in Time (winner of the Whitbread Prize), a remarkable examination of one man’s grief and coping of his faltering marriage after the abduction of his 3 year old daughter one busy Saturday morning. Again, the psychological inhabiting of the non-linearity of Time is a major theme where the past, present and future criss-cross each other. I liked how the emotional pay back of the novel’s ending was pitched at just the right level considering the rather melancholic tone of the whole work. There is an interesting side story of his friend Charles’ descent into manic-depression. The devastating analysis of his plight by Charles’ wife Thelma near the end of the novel was dead on what I would have said.

Anyway, knowing the fickleness and nastiness of the media and human nature, I was fascinated right from the very start of Madeleine McCann’s disappearance in guessing how long the publicity engine would last. Regardless of all the inherent privileges Madeleine’s parents already possess, I think they have done remarkably well in harnessing whatever resources they could access in order to locate their missing daughter.

I am surprised the lactic acidosis of media fatigue in the UK has not developed to toxic levels but snipping at the peripheries from other parties and media abroad have also been on-going, with criticisms and gossips fuelled by personal and institutional politics, attention seeking, frustration, boredom, idleness and jealousy at the excessive attention bestowed on this one child. Of course, a child that means the world to its parents, just like the multitude of other missing children to their parents around the world.

Reportage had veered from the positive to downright nasty. Nevertheless, the worst that can happen for Madeleine’s parents in their quest to locate their missing daughter is that she would be forgotten. To not know is already pure torture and although there is a significant chance Madeleine is dead, I still think the correct course is to never give up hope. To forget someone you loved is to spiritually bury and live a life bereft of beauty.


“Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see” ~ John W. Whitehead, The Stealing of America, 1983

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Alcohol Anonymous

Yet another case of alcohol abuse

Alcohol is the single most destructive drug in the world – not so much an opinion as plain simple fact, causing more morbidity and mortality than any other substance used by humans - COMBINED. Tobacco does not even come close. It does not register with most people because of the simple matter of perception, stubbornness and the need to satiate our pleasures regardless – alcohol is “legal” and “socially acceptable” in most places of the world and hey presto! It must ergo be okay. Alcohol is a toxin and has to be broken down by the body in order for it to be excreted. Without even beginning to touch on the long list of diseases it directly causes and contributes, alcohol reaches in indirect ways on societies and individuals that tobacco can barely begin to match – such as direct and indirect causes of accidents, family and relationship conflicts in subtle and overt ways, days lost from work and other employment issues, compounding and causes of psychiatric issues, legal issues and crime, effects on children…abuse – sexual, emotional, spiritual, physical, psychological….reproductive…

There are benefits to drinking alcohol too. It’s use as a social lubricant (it’s entertaining!), delivers great taste (in some cases), a multi-billion ££$$ industry, impetus for great art and some medicinal benefits had been touted. Uhm. That’s it. On the great balance sheet of life, the negatives of alcohol outweigh the positives by a long shot. That is the objective stance using any criteria one cares to choose. I mean, without alcohol, how WOULD we possibly entertain ourselves? How would we ever get great TASTE again? How would the economy SURVIVE? How could we ever harness our creative juices to BEGET great art? I mean, how would we attain great HEALTH? Surely the mind boggles. But we humans are subjective illogical stuborn sensual creatures and cannot deny ourselves pleasure. So we pay the price even if it is incredibly steep. Except the fact we can’t afford it doesn’t factor into our ways of thinking.

Seeing the umpteenth head injury, road traffic accident, broken limb, psychiatric breakdown, acopia, rape, and death usually dulls your senses but things can get a little colourful and entertaining like when a guy last week volcanically exploded into an ^($&*% argument with the floor and went nuclear on the A+E staff necessitating security, police, cuffs and sedation. Just another ho hum Saturday night. Yes, I am pissed off, NOT pissed! Huge difference! Oh yes, if it wasn’t for alcohol, I wouldn’t be gainfully employed too! How the hell can I forget that??

Cheers!

"They ask you about intoxicants and gambling: say, 'In them there is a gross sin, and some benefits for the people. But their sinfulness far outweighs their benefit.'" Qur'an 2:219

Monday, 10 September 2007

Atonement

Getting my internet access set up at my new place apparently can vary anywhere from 48hours to a month...and then it may take a week...but no, it might actually be 15 working days now...according to my helpful broadband helpline that is only available between 7am and 11pm even though it said it was a 24 hour helpline on the start up package...and then, oooops! "Sorry...for some reason we haven't even started to alter the details on our database" even after I have informed them of my change of address and telephone number days ago. Twats (!) Anyway, finding other things to do I made my way towards St Andrews this weekend but fate instead directed me towards Edinburgh.

Whislt there, I made a beeline for just one film I was looking forward to in the past few weeks. The one thing I appreciate about the UGC site at Edinburgh is that although it is a multiplex, each screen is as commodious as the good 'ol fashioned large single screen cinemas of old. Ahhhhh, how I miss them.

The first word that escaped from my lips after imbibing Director Joe Wright's Pride and Prejudice in 2005 was "Bravo!", a project I felt was always in danger of being eclipsed by the superb BBC adaptation in 1995. But in Ian McEwan's Atonement, Wright has achieved the impossible again but also exceeding beyond expectations. Let me categorically state that this is the best British film of 2007. Nay, it is the best film of 2007.

Ian McEwan is a writer who is infatuated with words like "clarity" and "precision" and isn't shy in using such words and employing its meanings. When reading his books, I feel a conscious awareness on his part that every sentence has been carefully constructed to create a whole larger than the sum of its parts, much like a painter has an expert command of a brush. And here is it's visual equivalent to compliment a masterful work.

The film opens in an idyllic Merchant Ivory-esque England of 1935, where Robbie Turner (played by everybody's current favourite Scottish actor James McAvoy), from the wrong side of the social tracks to his posh totty amour of Cecillia Tallis (Keira Knightley in superb form) becomes falsely accused of rape due to a potent mixture of an unfortunate set of circumstances and the embroidered imaginations of the naive and cosetted adolescent younger sister of Cecilia, Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan in a towering performance that exceeds her petite frame, and the elder Romola Garai, in an understated and more difficult role). The rest of the film examines the rippling effect of the curtailment of life long happiness from that one fateful devastating day on the lives of its protagonists from multiple perspectives stretching from WWII to the present day.


It's one of those rare films where everything falls beautifully into place. Joe Wright clearly understands the vocabulary of film. The direction is measured and well-paced, the cinematography aesthetically seducing, the actors well cast and the acting masterly.

Three things in addition stand out. First, that arresting green dress worn by Keira Knightley is a character in itself. Secondly, the astonishing jaw-dropping continuous tracking shot of the retreating British Expeditionary Forces on the beaches of Dunkirk is simply the scene of the year. I just couldn't help scrutinising the background trying to spot someome or something making a major boo-boo as the shot went on for something like 5 continuous minutes.

And finally, the score. In particular the clickety-clack of the typewriter merging imperceptibly with the piano work, where the tinkling of the ivories imbued the film with a sense of inevitable dread, even though it was a bit overdone at times. Although cliched, the poignant use of Debussy's Clair de Lune at the one juncture or La Boheme's "O soave fanciulla, o dolce viso", where the interchanging male and female voices voiced the thoughts of Robbie and Cecillia, was just oh-so-perfect.

The longing glances, the unspoken passions, the wells of hurt and the depths of shame you would expect from such a book are all there to be savoured like fine wine on film. Atonement manages to balance the difficult task of a happy and sad ending which suits my temperament fine.

If this film does not get a nomination for best picture at the Oscars, then Hollywood can go forth and multiply.

10 out of 10.

Sunday, 2 September 2007

STD (Synesthesia, Time And Depression)


There is something few people know about me. I am a synesthete. Sometimes my involuntary prodigious memory freaks people out only because I manage to spatially or temporally associate things via my other senses. I am a very visual person – I need to see things (part of my voracious appetite in travelling is that I must see the places I visit so that I can build a mental map of the world in my mind’s eye). I have a limited degree of a photographic memory, can “see” music and “see” taste (really) but my forte comes with history where I can literally spatially orientate time in a visual sense. For example, a “year” is a three dimensional map in my mind’s eye.

When I hear Mozart, Beethoven, Guns N’Roses or KT Tunstall,…I don’t just “hear” the music, I can “see” the music. For example, Mozart’s first movement of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik is “alive” with broiling reds. And the colour and form changes as the music changes. The recall is further aided by me having some form of audio memory too. When I want to recall a piece of music I “see” it first and then the “audio” memory instantly comes back. This is perhaps one reason why I am more a “movie” person than a “book” person. But even with my own imagined worlds, my creativity in my mind’s eye far exceeds any film I have seen.

Alternatively I can sometimes taste sight. When I say someone looks sweet, there are moments where it’s not just a literary expression. If you are a non-synesthete you won’t get what the hell I am talking about.

It’s like having a natural perfect pitch.

I have known about this “condition” for a long time but I don’t talk about it much….I feel almost like one of those X-men entities. It’s prevalence can be anywhere from 1 in 23 to 1 in 20,000. Apparently it runs strongly in families and I was surprised through my genealogy research that my 5th cousins (who incidentally are artists and musicians) in Australia also have this ability to see music. And we are separated by over 250 years of history.

With the subject of history, for me it is far from a “boring” subject of mere names and dates. If that were the case, then HELL YES, it would be as dull as ditchwater. But no. History, for which the analyses of events is not only in itself incredibly fascinating, to me is not just based in linear time since Time to me is not just linear. Since from my earliest childhood, I had been fascinated with the concept of Time. Hell, my favouritist bestest story back then from the age of five and still now is H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine. In my teens I grasped Einstein’s concept of time slowing relatively for the traveller when speeds approaching that of light is encountered…or the possibility of time going backwards at speeds beyond that of light (which I understand is impossible with objects containing mass….that is why “it” will…disappear…from this world where such things can not exist…and “re-appear” once the “speed” reaches sub-light levels). Paradoxes in Time Travel will happen if Time is viewed simply as linear. As to why we do in fact seem to travel in time in a linear forward fashion I am not entirely sure – perhaps it is the path of least resistance from a mechanistic point of view in an existence with mass and space. I don’t profess to know the nitty gritty physics – however I can juggle concepts easily.


I have also inherently understood that “death” is but a moment…everyone is alive (some “where” or “when” for lack of a better phrase but this is totally separate from a belief in the afterlife). And the study of history to me is most indeed relevant to the “now” as well as the “future” in terms of lessons that could be learned and applied. Plus I believe everything is “pre-determined” (the concept is understood if Time is not viewed as just simply linear from a human perspective) BUT at the same time I am not “fatalistic” for within the human perspective, one has the power to “change” relative to oneself, even though that “change” was already…uhm, “pre-determined” from a more macroscopic God like perspective. Time is relative (and that is an absolute statement…ba dum dum ching).

As a synesthete I view Time in a grand panoramic scale altered spatially in a visual sense. Actual Time is infinite possibilities (“backwards”, “sideways”, “forwards”). Which path we “choose” is up to “us” even though it is “pre-determined” (I am just going to side-step the whole discussion about “Free Will” here but essentially neither is totally wrong). I don’t adhere to the doomed variety of “there-is-no-point-to-it” fatalism and obviously I can’t view the “future” (uhm…actually that is not entirely true too but long story). This weird combination means I inherently have a dislike for fatalistic people or overly optimistic people. Although they are at opposite ends of the same spectrum, both groups are really in massive denial. There are understandable reasons for such individuals to adopt such coping mechanisms, even if such coping mechanisms are inhibiting or even harming them. It is their very denial that allows them to function in their own self-constructed world that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Anyone who has dealt with manic-depressed people will have an inkling of their own logic they function in. They are not entirely “wrong” in their reality construct but I eventually leave them alone if they don’t want to venture outside their own bubble for they have a very limited capacity for growth. Fear and ignorance essentially shackles them to familiarly for change frightens them. Simply put, they are happy being depressed.

The flip side with this though is that whether something happened “20 years ago” or “20 seconds” ago can be totally irrelevant to me – they are both fresh to me since Time is not just linear. Hence I never, ever forget the “colour” of the memory. Hence because of this, I prefer to focus on the positives and not the negatives since I am acutely aware of both.

Makes one think what “Reality” or “Truth” really is.

Saturday, 1 September 2007

September Surprise

"What’s the difference between Iraq and Vietnam? Hmmm....Bush knew how to get out of Vietnam"

Errr….when even the Daily Torygraph…uhm…I mean the conservative Daily Telegraph, with the majority of it’s readers being Tory supporters, run a front page news story on the top British military brass US ally launching a vitriolic attack against the US administration’s policy on the handling of the Iraq debacle, the candle is clearly burnt at both ends. Of course he can afford to do it in exclusive serials from his memoirs…it’s only near retiring or retiring folk who can afford to let loose the cannons of the depth of feelings….especially when you have an upcoming book to promote and sell. General Sir Mike, who believed in the “legality” of the war and still erroneously believes that even more troops would have done the job good and proper no doubt can sleep soundly at night knowing that in convenient hindsight it wasn’t any of his fault.

Lets pause and take a wild guess now that it’s the first of September as to what Bush is going to do next after his so called glorious “surge” earlier this year. Will he stubbornly ignore everyone yet again with more excuses and press on with this military foray or is he going to stubbornly ignore everyone yet again with more excuses and press on with this military foray?

Friday, 31 August 2007

1408


I have been reading Stephen King for the past two decades and I don’t think I know of any other contemporary author whose works have been translated to the medium of film as many times as his. Most of the adaptations have been average save for an exceptional few, of which The Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me comes to mind (incidentally both stories from the same book Different Seasons).

Although considerably expanded, this latest King adaptation of 1408, about a cynical author who spends a night in a haunted hotel room, manages to keep to the spirit of the slender tale of the same name in Everything’s Eventual, a collection of uneven short stories that failed to scale the same delicious heights of Skeleton Crew since it offered many rehashed familiar fiction from King’s previous works and that of others.


And this is no exception: haunted hotels have been done with The Shining and this stripped down version distils into just one “evil fucking room” (a tongue-in-cheek line which made me laugh out loud as it was clearly tailored specifically for Samuel L. Jackson who played the small but significant role as the hotel proprietor. I half expected him to go...I’ve absolutely positively have HAD it with this motherfucking room in this motherfucking hotel!!!).

Directed by Mikael Håfstrom, the film eschews gore and delivers in spades the psychological tension the moment the disbelieving victim barges his way into the Dolphin Hotel. The excellently cast John Cusack plays the jaded hack Mike Enslin whose own haunted past becomes unhinged in a game of psychological wits with the diabolical room in question. Although some clichés of horror films, from bleeding walls, ominous music and a Twilight Zone-esque ending may cheapen it somewhat, Cusack does very well to keep the audience entertained in this taut tale since the only two actors in the film were essentially him and the room.

Watching his cock-eyed sureness rapidly degenerate in front of the audience’s eyes with pulse quickening moments punctuated by occasional understandable human humour, it’s an actors’ piece through and through delivered via the horrors of the mind. From authors as varied as King and Vonnegut who recognise the art of short stories as like a quick affair and that of the novel like that of a marriage, this piece is one definite quick kiss in the dark delight.

Saturday, 18 August 2007

Generation Debt

The Monkey House in Aberdeen with its labyrinthine route to the toilets, average food and girls with thong-baring-above-jeans backsides. Luverrely.

It’s been a very busy month for me so far…starting a new job with a pay rise, involved in a murder inquiry, Aberdeen becoming more and more like a weekend retreat, assuming a more responsible role at work, teaching the wonderful new batch of juniors the ropes, hunting for new accommodation and moving, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, hunkering down for more professional exams and courses, and the inevitable reading, drinks and eating loads (!)

It’s been a delicate balance but I’m well on track with my financial and professional targets I’ve set myself. I love Aberdeen but because of my new job I will be moving away from this oil capital of Europe, which is now the most expensive city to live in Scotland.

The long evening gaze down Union Street from Castlegate, Aberdeen with the Mercat Cross, built in 1686, in the foreground.

Although it has one of the oldest and most distinguished universities in the United Kingdom it makes me wonder how students here and the rest of the country these days are coping financially. Gosh, I remember my fabulous student digs in the highest risk area for insurance in the whole of the UK (heh) in good ‘ol Liverpool. It was the kind of place where our neighbours a few doors away got robbed or you’d imagine a chalked outline of a body lying outside your front door. A place where I shared the spacious paper-thin walled attic with my roommate Andrew with icicles INSIDE my room in winter, and all of us hunkering down in the living room (or Geoff’s room) for the warmth of the heaters! Seriously, even though we were skint, it was the truly special company that made it fun times, fun times.

With record numbers of students going deeper into the red, the future prospects of nurturing investments and getting onto the property ladder recede even further for many – and this is supposedly the brightest and most able cream of society. What about the “other” growing significant unambitious ill-educated masses who are becoming more disarticulated from society by genuine poverty…where up to three continuous generations consider unemployment the norm, surviving on cheap booze, cigarettes and junk food, worshiping reality TV Z-list celebrities and unwittingly spend more than they get from handouts? Where poor health, sorry education, drug abuse and petty crime are rampant? It’s a dangerous massive-in-denial existence at a societal level. Something is going to give in the very near future. What kind of future does that hold with stratospheric house prices, rising cost of living and mounting interest rates? Is it that surprising that the numbers declared bankrupt or slipping into insolvency in the UK rises year on year?

Even though it was published almost a decade ago (and it's been that long since I perused it), this remains a must read book into the politcs of poverty in the United Kingdom.

I have been fortunate to have the support of a loving family and the brains and hard work to earn a scholarship. This allowed me to enjoy travelling many a time in my student days. But I have also been disciplined and responsible and never been in debt. Seeing more and more people struggle, I have always resolved to avoid negative, unambitious, shallow, selfish or passionless people and to use my God given brain and talents to do the best to help myself, and others I love and care.

Monday, 30 July 2007

Art Or History Or Science


I made a quick visit to Dunfermline to see some familiar faces (glad to hear everyone is doing well), made some provisional plans for Fringe festival meet ups and to get to grips with the upcoming rota and the following week’s induction course. I am definitely moving away from Aberdeen in the next few weeks but the thought of packing is enough to exhaust me (!). Afterwards I made a beeline for Dunfermline Abbey, its vast refectory and Palace to admire the masonry and moss covered graves. It seems I can never quite let go of my inherent interest in history.


I was amazed to hear that my aunt randomly bumped into my old art teacher in a seaside resort who after retirement now runs the place in San Fernando, La Union in the Philippines. He instantly remembered me as one of his more able students and all my public displays back in my halcyon days in Hong Kong. Oh…I wonder what a different life I would have had if I pursued art instead of science…

Sunday, 29 July 2007

Homer's Odyssey A D'Ohnut!


This is really a film for young ones rather than the more discerning veteran Simpsons fan of intelligent irreverent comedy and black humour we have all come to love since its inception in 1990 (I still remember watching the early Simpsons on the Tracey Ullman show back in 1987!!!!). The movie felt like 4 regular TV episodes stitched together (which wasn’t a totally bad thing considering the consistently high calibre of the show over 18 years but it did sag somewhat in the middle and towards the fag end of the film) with a number of weak side plot lines petering out. I felt the environmental storyline alone was not sustainable for a full 87 minutes…and opportunities to expand other characters’ stories or to give the movie a bigger bang with biting satire was curiously and diffidently left out altogether. Several scenes referred to or revisited previous episodes, so long time fans will appreciate the gags better than those who have not watched the series faithfully. But even though the gag rate was good enough at times to match Airplane! with a few laugh out loud moments, the better TV episodes were more biting in its social satire. Still, the effort was commendable given the impossibly high expectations…and at least it was a relief from watching yet another computer generated penguin dancing in front of our retinas.

If you are interested, wait for the end credits to hear what Maggie utters. Better yet, wait for the DVD when all the deleted scenes (enough to fill at least another two hours) gets compiled by Matt Groening.

Saturday, 28 July 2007

Fury - Salman Rushdie


Unfortunately when the name Salman Rushdie is brought up, controversy is not always far behind ever since “that” episode of The Satanic Verses (which was actually hard to digest and frankly, boring). I remembered the riots in Dhaka, Bangladesh when I landed there in 1989…and I almost bumped into the man himself in Cologne, Germany in the summer of 1993, seeing him looking over his shoulder in fear for his life. Being a highly educated and intelligent man from a Muslim household, he certainly knew there would be trouble for his shit-stirring but I guess even he did not expect such a violent paroxysm from parts of the Muslim world. Back then (and still now) I thought all the brouhaha of death threats and book burnings were OTT hate-mongering and showed the behaviour of certain Muslims in a very bad light.

The recent controversy surrounding the knighthood of Salman Rushdie is an exercise in irony deficiency in some quarters of the Muslim world. It’s immature to blame and threaten Salman Rushdie with renewed threats of death – he did not ask for the “honour”. Nor should one blame the Queen or then Prime Minister, Tony Blair – they did not choose him but they are certainly free to agree or disagree on who are suitable candidates. Suitable candidates are actually put forward by a cabinet committee and one can legitimately argue that such awards may have a political element to it. For example, what can be construed as worthy of debate is whether the quality of Rushdie’s literary works merit a knighthood when there are other talented authors out there, like Ian McEwan. So why him now? For those who find his knighthood award an insult, perhaps they should take note the awarding of a knighthood in 2005 to Iqbal Sacranie, who then served as the General Secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain. He famously did not retract his statement in interviews conducted as late as 2006 that Salman Rushdie deserved to die, despite the fatwa now being officially retracted. This merely shows that the British establishment can award knighthoods regardless of candidates’ religious or personal persuasions. Nor should critics of the Muslim world fail to forget that the late Dr Zaki Badawi, a well-respected Islamic scholar, publicly offered sanctuary to Salman Rushdie. That plus the fact that most Muslims don’t really give a hoot about Rushdie’s knighthood is hardly newsworthy of course.

Nevertheless, I chose to read Fury from a casual wandering in the library simply due to its short title and slim volume. Based for the large part in the cusp of the Third Millenium New York (a city that “boiled with money”), the story arc concerned Malik Solanka, a 55 year-old academic and passionate doll maker born in Bombay, educated in King’s College, Cambridge and who, despairing the infighting that plagued the academic world and his own insecurities, decided to leave his wife and son in London for a new life in the USA where he ultimately gave birth to a huge show business franchise from a doll called “Little Brain” and getting entangled unwittingly with beautiful women who may yet turn out to be poisoned chalices. As he gets assaulted by despairing phone-calls from his wife and heart rending pleas from his four year old son Asmaan to return, he has to deal with a troublesome simpleton Polish housekeeper and a no-nonsense anti-Semitic plumber amidst an on-going sensationalist serial murders of the privileged daughters of Americana.

It’s a love story. It’s a who-dunnit story. It’s a soul-searching story. It’s also mighty tempting to make out that Malik is Salman’s alter-ego as the reader is taken on a whirlwind furious journey of the protagonist’s thoughts in the body of the narrative where I noticed women in the story were invariably projected as terrifyingly distant beautiful trophies laced with poisonous stings (the allusion to mythological Furies could not be clearer). The tone veers between melancholic tragedy and farcical comedy, between hyperrealism and deft surrealism. The multiple layers of meanings are intellectually stimulating in an accessible way and the dextrous word-play yields surprising delights to the eye and mind.

Salman Rushdie is undeniably a very gifted writer but somehow comes across as a pretentious author with his penchant to name-dropping, allusions to mythologies and pop-cultural and literary references, which he overshoots occasionally (the fact he needed to “explain” a reference to one of my favourite stories by W.W. Jacobs, is to me an overshoot). The ending in a fictional South Pacific Third World country was rather melodramatic and odd, but he makes very excellent insights into human relationships, in particular the questions most people think about but rarely openly ask, particularly concerning marriage and separation.

I think, yes, on the strength of this novella, I would definitely return for further readings of his works.