identity

Think on: Does any cheese complement a tomato?

The UK’s popular, and probably populist, newspaper, The Sun, states, following a poll of its readers, that a fraction above 62% of them would vote Leave if there was a second referendum on Brexit. Quelle surprise, as they may say in Brussels.

Polls are silly and I don’t like them, so much so that I might respond to any in a mischievous and inconsistent way just to subvert them. Am I alone in this? Let’s take a poll….

Seriously, I wondered if any of our other esteemed papers had instigated their own agenda driven readers’ polls. I didn’t find any but stumbled across a YouGov analysis of different paperstypical reader. It was all pretty banal until I read,

“A Daily Mail reader enjoys eating cheese and tomato sandwiches…”

Now I’m not saying reverse logic can apply and that knowing your character traits can point you towards the appropriate newspaper but, really, is there any way I can pick up the Daily Mail knowing this?

In my world, sliced tomatoes have no business between two slices of bread anymore than say a sliced lemon does (by all means try one and let me know). But then with cheese?!

I know, I know, the pairing of Cheese and tomato, have history – but how on Earth did that happen?

As usual, answers on a postcard, please, as we used to say….


YouGov Poll on UK newspaper readerships (via The Guardian) – old news

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Looking Back: The Hour Glass

The longer he lived, the more his life took on the metaphor of an hour glass, its sand slipping away, quickening, now greater below than above. Unlike the glass, there’s no way of resetting life.

He saw his moments, those grains, as equal, not one larger than another. The highs and lows, the same now: irrelevant. Somewhere beneath the pile lay his childhood, a happy time only he knew. He imagined that when the last grain had dropped, the family would pack it away amongst his other miscellanies. Until a time when it’s rediscovered and its meaning completely forgotten.

(99 words)


Written for the Carrot Ranch Literary Community Flash Fiction Challenge Prompt.

“In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a character who looks back. It can be a metaphorical reflection or a glance in the rear-view mirror. Who is looking back, and why? Go where the prompt leads.”

An hour glass can be considered in different ways. Someone may see it as a metaphor for life, another may see it objectively, a device to measure an hour by utilising gravity, some may see it as just an anachronistic curiosity.

Similarly it could be said for a fictional story, I suppose. An element of autobiography, an observation of another’s view, a simple play around with a common trope. Perhaps all of these and more.

There isn’t a glass large enough to hold all the grains of our imagination. Still, once it’s gone, it’s gone. Write it all down.

Memory

Identity At The Mercy Of Memory

We link hands. All those different
people who were once me, our hands
joined like a continuum of
memory across one existence.
But I sense we are not all one.
The small boy, distant at the far
end of our line is holding the hand
of someone I can’t quite see.
Whose hand he, in turn, is holding,
I can’t tell, though likely it’s the blond-haired
baby caught in a photograph,
long since extricated and
eliminated from the continuum.
Catching the eyes of a man in
the middle, and the glance says it all:
what have we to communicate?


Writing as a metaphor for the creation of consciousness and memory must also require a metaphorical palimpsest: memories partially erased and over written by revised ones, similar perhaps not the same. Therefore memories become vaguer each time they are opened; each time they are opened, they cannot help being renewed, fiddled with, embellished, altered. In the digital age, they may metaphorically be seen as a “lossy format”, diminishing in quality with each subsequent saving.

Discounting the paradoxes, do you ever imagine being a time traveller seeking out your earlier versions? We might easily recognise our physical appearance with the aid of photographic evidence – without this evidence it might be close to impossible – but how much of the person under the surface would we know, relying only on memory as evidence? I think I would be shocked and disappointed. It would play havoc with the sense of self-identity.

A chain, or a linking of hands, I chose as a metaphor of a person’s life. It assumes it’s linear along with time but I think that is too simple. A memory isn’t linear like a chain, passing information from hand to hand. I imagine it’s more like a scattering chaos of bits and bobs, less like a Shakespeare, more like a Jackson Pollock. But that was probably much harder to write about.


Written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge – Week #61

Prompt:

“In the immensity of consciousness, a light appears — a tiny point which moves rapidly and traces shapes, thoughts, and feelings, like a pen writing on paper. And the ink which leaves a trace is memory. You are that tiny point and by your movement the world is ever re-created.”

(Sri Nisargadatta, I Am That)

image by Fré Sonneveld via Unsplash.com

Mirrors

The funniest thing I found out about Mirrors is that their inventor was Justus von Liebig. Lie Big! It’s disappointing that all mirror manufacturers aren’t obliged under law to have “Lie Big” engraved across the top of their mirrors.

This was in 1835. Before then, reflections weren’t that great; probably good enough to tell if your hat was straight but not enough to notice that pimple growing on your nose. Folk had to make do with polished metal plates, the richer had acolytes, servants or slaves to burnish a satisfying reflection for their master. It was a wise slave who didn’t polish too well for their ageing mistress. No, you are truly the fairest in the kingdom, ma’am – if only this tin plate had more shine, you could see for yourself.

How long until the mirror is obsolete due to this error? Has anyone tried putting on mascara or lipstick, or brushing their teeth looking at an iPad, or other tablet, using its camera app? I might try this out as an experiment tonight; the teeth business, I mean – I never wear mascara to bed.

The obvious big lie, I trust, when looking at yourself in a mirror, is that it isn’t you you’re seeing; it’s a mirror image. We get so used to the mirror image, it can be a shock seeing yourself as others do. This could be why many people hate seeing themselves close up in photographs. They don’t recognise themselves, their personal identity is called into question.

The second big lie is how we look at ourselves in mirrors. Not as others would look at us, as we look at others, that is taking in the whole of their face in one go. Instead, we nearly always pick on a single part of our face and study it intently. The consequence of this can be that we notice flaws which are unnoticeable to any other person but to us seem hugely evident. The mirror persuades us we are just an enormous nose, a sagging chin, the guy with one eye lower than the other. We are monsters, and we have the mirror to thank for that.

It is said, the Vampire has no reflection. Strangely enough, neither do people born between five minutes to eleven and five past on the night of the 29th February. It’s uncanny. No, wait, it’s just another big lie.


For Reena’s Exploration Challenge – Week #53 – Mirrors

Spark!

When it comes down to it, what are we but a bag of animated chemicals and a bunch of unreliable memories?

I remember watching an episode of Batman on telly – at least I think it was – where one of his arch enemies – The Penguin, perhaps – had a ray gun which extracted the water from any person it hit, leaving behind a neat, conical pile of dry dust. Holy desiccation!, exclaimed Robin, possibly.

Much, much later, I read a piece by the late writer A.A. Gill. He compared a living person with the rocks around him remarking how the only difference between the rocks and the man being that mysterious “spark of life”. Whatever that is.

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein gave his creation the “spark of life” by a knowledge of chemistry and by some secret means, though in its popular retelling, the spark often comes from an electrical charge; with a zap, the big bag of chemicals comes to life.

About twenty seven years before the publication of Frankenstein, Luigi Galvi published his own serious work on bioelectromagnetics explaining how muscles work by electrical pulses directed along neurones. Today, there is the study of neuroscience, investigating which parts of the brain light up with different thought processes and emotions. Synapses firing amongst the mysterious “grey matter”. From this, it has been theorised that long term memory is established through these electrical pulses whilst we are in deep sleep, or NREM (non rapid eye movement) sleep, and the poorer the quality of sleep, the more unreliable these memories are made.

Our bag of chemicals is replaced throughout our life; we literally are not the same body we were eight years ago, rather we are like the Ship of Theseus. Our identity, therefore, may rely on our memories, however unreliable these may become. Of course, in the long run, all our chemistry is recycled; dust to dust. And the memories, without the essential sparks, dies too. Or does it?

Is there a hard copy stored within the body, able to be shared before the chemistry degenerates? What would the product of all the accumulated experiences be, if we compared memory against memory? I have no idea, but it better not fall into the hands of AI, that’s for sure!


Written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge Week 43

Precious time

What am I doing, going back to work?!

On Monday, I start a new contract I accepted, now with a tinge of regret. I’m convinced the work gene is not part of my DNA. By “work” I mean employment, job, “9 to 5”. I can work in the sense of doing stuff, just not routinely for other people.

Also, I don’t think I’m much of a specialist. Thanks, partly to the economist and philosopher, Adam Smith’s Division of Labour, the modern industrialised world runs on a specialist economy: we are obliged to choose a field of expertise early on and within its narrow confines pursue something resembling a career. With enthusiasm and ambition. While this is arguably great for the economy, for the individual I feel it is disastrous: polymaths are rare and the interesting and usefulness of jacks-of-all-trades has all but diminished. Isn’t it telling that, in motivational speak, we hear phrases like “pushing the boundaries” and “thinking outside the box”? Isn’t it ridiculously ironic?

I console myself that it is a short contract and I am doing my sums to get a better handle on my finances, to see whether I need to work, and if I do, how little I can get away with. Money is essential but time is more precious.


Adam Smith (1723 – 1790)

Division of labour

Accents

We stayed overnight at a small hotel, Grym’s Dyke, on the outskirts of North West London, near the area where I grew up. It’s an interesting Victorian gothic building, once the home of Lord Gilbert, of Gilbert & Sullivan fame.

As the night was warm – a thunderstorm followed – I’d kept the window open. Down in the grounds, some guests could be heard talking, and their voices sounded strange yet familiar. I didn’t know them from Adam but then I realised it was their accents I was drawn to. It was my accent.

I don’t think we’re ever too aware of the accent in our speech, a way of speaking which is acquired from growing up in a certain region. Even after moving away, to a different region amongst people with a profoundly different accent, it’s not yourself who sounds peculiar. Yet, we’ve lived in the South West of England for 25 years now, and though there are some noticably stronger and unmistakable local voices, mostly accents here go unnoticed.

To clearly recognise your own tonal patterns of speech in others is, to say the least, weird at first, but again, it was slightly reassuring and comforting. I’m sure it must have something in the basis of identity and even, perhaps, in the sense of the Welsh, hiraeth, loosely though possibly not accurately translated as an ineffable nostalgia for a time passed.

Toads

Philip Larkin said a successful poem goes through three stages: the idea for it, the writing of it, and the understanding of it by the reader. If the last doesn’t happen, the first two may as well have not taken place. One of his best known poems is Toads. As you know, toad is his metaphor for work, a thing which “squats” on life and constrains it; it’s a burden any member of society feels obliged to carry throughout most of our adulthood.

I look around the office now and wonder, are there many people who still think this way, do they connect with Larkin’s notion of the toad? Are we all career-bots now?


One Toad

Of the many, varied and often curious accolades, labels and presumptuous sobriquets folk have bestowed on me, “survivor” is one that I really like. Not that I’ve ever escaped some awful tragedy, like my ship sinking, and lived to tell the tale. Nothing so bad as that. It’s simply about getting through the nonsense of life’s work experience without too much distress and effort. I know this may seem odd to the career minded folk out there, and these days it seems to me to be a vast sea of career-minded eager-beavers, ladder and greasy pole climbers, though I’m sure there are still a few ones like me, bobbing along behind the bigger waves.

“Survivor” happened in the earlier days when it was normal to leave the workplace with colleagues and have lunch in a pub. I was introduced to a new face, an old lag actually and another freelancer, and he called me “a fellow survivor”. I’ve since added it to the list; ducker-diver-skiver-survivor. In jest, I might add, a silly characterisation. Sometimes I envy people who seem made for work, and careers; I know I wasn’t. Yet, somehow, I’ve managed to get through, and almost to the end.


Two Toad

I feel like I’m Pincher Martin clinging to the rock. My Career not being in the sense of a kind of useful personal development or any sort of deliberate and meaningful direction, really just a survival of one of life’s longer chapters: work experience.

It brings a stagnation of mind, stifles imagination and subverts real intellectual stimulation. We are more than our jobs, at least we should be, but employment doesn’t permit this to be.


Three Toad

I remember a story I heard once about the Irish footballing genius, George Best. (You’ll forgive my narrative licence in its telling, I trust?) He played for Manchester United, as you know, and the story takes place during a team tactics meeting the day before a big match, given by the manager, Matt Busby. He addressed each player individually, explaining to each in some detail what was expected of them on the day: I need you to mark this man throughout; I want you up the wing at every opportunity; I want you to dominate the centre, etc. etc.

He went around each member of the team except George Best and then called an end to the meeting. George, perplexed, spoke up and asked, “What do you want me to do, boss?

Busby turned back around and said, “You, George? I just need you to go out and enjoy yourself“.

I’m not relating to George Best – especially not with my two left feet – and, post-football, his life was desperate, but I like the idea of people being made for work and others being made for play, and each achieving something good to look back on.


Four Toad

It’s funny to me how the word Career has these two different meanings.

The obvious meaning these days is relating to work and means a determined course, a chosen path, of qualifications and experience, leading to some notion of specialised expertise.

The second is to be out of control, to veer this way and that, to be at the mercy of external and sometimes extraneous forces.


No Toad

I can taste the end now, like the sheen of honey left on a spoon, and the salty tang in the air on approaching the sea on that first day away. Good, proper, wholesome and individual life.

Thinking about…

Our Names

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

(Romeo and Juliet)

One of the worst things – or best things? – you might have to do is share a name with someone more famous than you. You will forever be subordinate to that person in a Google search.

Luckily, this hasn’t applied to me yet.

Whilst at college, a tutor of senior years once complimented me on my unusual and (likely, he thought) unique moniker. He is the only person I know to have done that. At the time I would have been happier with an ordinary, ubiquitous, well-used alternative. The only thing which stopped me was arriving at what it should be instead of what it is. Yeah, names are important.