I’m surprised that in the relentless attempt to persuade the ‘Answers from Genesis’ lot – who believe that the earth was created in six days, 6,000 years ago etc. – that they’re talking bollocks, more is not made of the whale.
I dare say most people are aware that whales, dolphins etc. are warm-blooded, air-breathing mammals and not fish, but I wonder how many know that they evolved from four-legged land-living animals. The whale’s nearest land-based relative is the hippopotamus, unlikely as it may seem, and an excellent indication that this is what happened, is preserved in whale skeletons.
This can easily be seen in the Natural History Museum. They have removed the iconic ‘Dippy’ – the skeleton of a diplodocus – from the main hall and replaced it with a skeleton of a blue whale. About two thirds of the way down the spine from the head are two tiny triangular bones, separate but adjacent to the spine. They are all that is left of the pelvis, which being the hinge point of the hind limbs has all but melted away over the millennia. Apparently though, some species of whale do still retain rudimentary hind limbs.
It is a perfect demonstration that evolution really does exist.
I’ll admit that in my despair following this country’s disastrous vote to exit the European Union, I never, ever, dreamed that two years on, we would find ourselves in the mess we are currently in.
We have a weak prime minister, and a government without a majority hopelessly split as to how to proceed, with senior cabinet ministers briefing against each other. Our European partners must be rapidly running out of patience.
As I predicted in a post shortly after the vote, the question of Northern Ireland and the border with The Republic is a circle that just cannot be squared.
Now, I hear that a report on a potential deal for trade with the USA post-Europe, based on contact with insiders in that country ‘in the know’, claims that such a deal, if it ever gets agreed, would leave us in a far worse state than we are at present.
There is more and more talk of us ‘crashing out’ of the European Union, reverting to WTO rules. ‘A bad deal is far worse than no deal’ it is said. I just cannot imagine the queues of lorries at Dover and Calais that would result. And what happens to the Irish border then?
If there is a person out there with the leadership qualities able to get us out of this mess, now is the time for him or her to come forward. Even in the darkest days of Thatcher, or Blair over the invasion of Iraq, I was never as depressed about politics in this country as I am now.
I love the Detectorists. For anyone unaware, it is a TV programme about a couple of unlikely misfits, united in their commitment to using metal detectors to find lost treasure in the Essex and Suffolk countryside. It perfectly encapsulates that particularly English eccentricity that can be both charming, infuriating and quite crazy.
But I have to confess an agenda. The main protagonist, Andy – played by the excellent Mackenzie Crook, who writes and directs the series – has a wife, and she is played by Rachael Stirling. Rachael Stirling has a voice of pure liquid velvet, a contralto brimming with barely contained fun and, well, sexuality.
She is, of course, the daughter of Diana Rigg, who appears in the series as her mother. I remember Diana Rigg in the early 1970s on the London Stage in Ronald Millar’s Abelard and Heloise. Peter Abelard was a famous mediaeval philosopher who seduced one of his pupils – Heloise – and paid for it, literally, with his vitals. But the play was brilliant and had a scene when Abelard, played by Keith Michell, and Heloise walk on to the stage from either side completely naked. It was not, I promise, the reason I went to see the play, but it was a memorable moment; Diana Rigg was breathtakingly beautiful.
Well, ok, but you cannot expunge these memories.
Last night I watched the 1964 film Dr Strangelove again. In those uncertain times, the subtitle: ‘How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb’ was so apposite, just two years after the Cuba Missile Crisis, that somehow it was comforting.
Now of course, it all seems to be starting up again. No sooner do the North Koreans appear to be coming to their senses, than we have neo-aggressive Russians and a lunatic in the White House determined to scupper the Iran deal with the prospect of conflict between Iran and Israel.
The prospect of nuclear war is too terrifying even to contemplate, but somehow Dr Strangelove, with its dark humour, makes it bearable. Astonishing that a film that came out more than 50 years ago is still so watchable and undated. I remember paying ten shillings at the time – a considerable amount then – to see it at a cinema in Shaftsbury Avenue.
The film is superbly cast and brilliantly directed by Stanley Kubrick. Acting honours must go to Peter Sellers, George C Scott and Slim Pickens. But for me, what made last night’s viewing infinitely more enjoyable, was to see the excellent Peter Bull as the Russian ambassador, unable to control his mirth, as Peter Sellers as Stangelove struggles in his wheelchair with his black-gloved right arm which refuses to obey him. All eyes, of course, are on Sellers’ hilarious performance, but I’ll bet if Kubrick had seen Peter Bull struggling not to laugh, he would have reshot the scene as he was known to do many times.
After a very helpful telephone call from an Amazon help desk, and doing exactly what I was instructed, here we are back in the same loop, talking to Alexa. And the buggers have the effrontery to send me an email asking me to rate how they did! If there was any alternative ...
Update 6 May...
In the interests of accuracy, I have to report that the 'problem' was actually my fault. In fact the very nice lady on the help desk telephoned 'Alexa' on my behalf, and revealed the solution to the problem. Which is now solved. None of which, for a moment, excuses Amazon's behaviour in suspending my sellers' account without telling me!
I have probably defended Amazon in the past on the basis that a) it is an excellent, cheap and efficient source of books and b) it allows me to sell my own books through it, also relatively cheaply and easily.
But now, I feel like I am trapped in a Kafkaesque nightmare where the same things keep happening over and over again. It started two days ago, when I noticed that my book Murder in the Red Barnshows on the Amazon listing as “Currently unavailable, we don’t know when or if this item will be back in stock.” Hmm. I check my inventory status on Amazon, plenty of stock… Hmm. After about half an hour I manage to navigate through the tortuous system that is the Amazon “help” procedure, and send them an appropriate message. Twelve hours later, the answer comes back, the account has been suspended because I have not validated my bank account – the account where funds from sales via Amazon are sent.
Except that getting that information took three messages from me and three from Amazon; each one was from a different person, thanking me for taking the time to contact them and wishing me a wonderful day. I have pointed out to them that I have never had this request from them, and it seems rather strange commercial practise to suspend my account when someone at Amazon has not only forgotten to send me a message, but has failed to warn me of the impending suspension of my account.
And this morning, the same message is repeated. I suspect I am in contact with a Siri or Alexa…
Considerably more than a year ago, I contacted those nice people at the Oxford English Dictionary to point out to them that one of their definitions of a word in common and regular use was hopelessly out of date. It did not include the definition understood by 99% of the population. The word in question, ‘Inferno’, interested me because of its association with Hell, and its generally understood definition as ‘A large fire, dangerously out of control’. For further (if somewhat tedious) detail, see my blog post: http://www.mirlibooks.com/blog/life-imitates-art-hell-and-the-oxford-english-dictionary
After 16 months, and around half a dozen emails to the OED, I have finally received a personalized acknowledgement thanking me for my trouble and interest, but pointing out, nevertheless, that they are all very busy there and not to expect an update any time soon.
Now I’ll admit to being a tad old fashioned, but is it really more important to incorporate that cretinous word (and activity) ‘Selfie’ into the venerable OED, than to ensure that words in common parlance are properly defined.
One explanation for the loooong time apparently needed to update this word – inferno = large fire, out of control, dates at least from the 1930s and probably well before – is that Time Dilation, that curious phenomenon resulting from Special and General Relativity, is in full effect at Oxford. Einstein’s General Relativity requires that clocks close to intense gravity fields, run slow. Thus the GPS system, used by almost everyone these days, has to have the accurate clocks on its satellites adjusted by a relativistic factor to those on Earth, because the latter are closer to the Earth’s gravitational mass and run slower than those in space.
I postulate a new theory of Social General Relativity: the offices of the Oxford English Dictionary, situated as they are so close to the intellectual mass of all of those academics at the University of Oxford, are unaware that their clocks have been considerably slowed down. This is due to the weight of all of that learning. Naturally then, it will take them far longer than normal mortals – in our un-slowed time frames – to achieve anything.
I cannot account for this unconscionable time discrepancy in any other way.
I have just seen My Generation, a film on the so-called swinging sixties in London, narrated by the excellent Michael Caine, with a live Q&A session with Sir Michael from the National Film Theatre afterwards. The director, David Batty, did a superlative job. There have been many attempts to portray that period, but this film succeeded where so many have failed. Apparently, it received an eight-minute standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival. The audience in the cinema where I watched a live streaming applauded when the film was over.
For me, aged twenty in 1965, there were so many resonances. Perhaps the most poignant was the music playing over the introduction, Thunderclap Newman's Something in the Air, written, played and sung by my old mate Speedy Keen.
In late '65, Speedy and I were sharing a seedy room in a hooker's hotel in Modena in northern Italy. We were earning just enough from the band to pay for bed and board. My Generation, The Who's new record, had just come out, and somehow we got hold of a copy of it and attempted to play it at our gigs. Speedy was a seriously good drummer, but I never realized his potential as a songwriter. It is a tribute to his ability that Something in the Air has become a classic. He would have loved this film.
(Originally posted on Facebook)
I have re-jigged this website again following comments from a number of correspondents. I think it looks better and less cluttered, and is somewhat easier to navigate through.
A visit yesterday to the Special Collections Library at University College London, was enlivened by an unexpected event.
UCL was established in 1826, embracing students of any race or religion – Oxford and Cambridge, the only other universities in England at the time, required students to be members of the Church of England. One of the founders of UCL, Henry Brougham, was inspired by the philosopher Jeremy Bentham’s principle of utilitarianism – ‘The greatest happiness for the greatest number of people’. Bentham, who died in 1832, had left instructions that after his death, his body was to be anatomized and preserved, padded with straw and cloth, as an ‘auto-icon’. It finally ended up at UCL and was put on display after the second world war where it can be seen today, although being in a wooden cabinet, it can only be viewed when the cabinet is unlocked – which it wasn’t yesterday.
The head, however, although preserved, was deemed too grotesque for display and a wax image – complete with Bentham’s own hair – was substituted. I have seen the auto-icon on a number of occasions, but have never seen the head. Until yesterday. It is currently on display in the Octagon Gallery at UCL. It is no worse I suppose, than one of the mummies at the British Museum, and at least its erstwhile owner wished it to be displayed for public gaze – which the mummies certainly never did.
Welcome to the Mirli Books blog written by Peter Maggs