26/01/10 – 27/01/10

Ah, well it turns out that just because you plan business as usual it doesn’t mean that the usual business will make itself available to you. I pretty much spent Tuesday and most of today so far sleeping or sitting quietly with my own thoughts.

After I got home on Monday, physically and mentally fairly depleted, I made a couple of phone calls and left posts on Twitter and Facebook explaining the bare facts of what had happened. Then I had a short but uncommonly deep sleep. When I came to I had a dozen emails each of which went something along the lines of “Please will you not do that again.” And I have been feeling very emotional about that ever since.

Splendidly about half of the emailers realised that tragedy plus time equals comedy (I think the amount of time is usually years rather than an hour or two, but we’ll let that pass) and made jocular references to Alive, Piers Paul Read’s 1974 factual account of a plane crash in the Andes in which a Uruguayan rugby team managed to survive but only by resorting to cannibalism.

I haven’t read the book but I have seen Frank Marshall’s functional film adaptation of 1993. I feel like I’ve reminisced about this recently so forgive me if this is familiar, but Alive (the movie) gave me one of my defining multiplex experiences.

We had gone to see the film at the Edinburgh UCI on a Saturday morning and pretty much knew what we had let ourselves in for in terms of narrative. The story is, after all, quite well known. So we sat there and watched the plane crash, shockingly well done as I remember, and then there was the inevitable trajectory towards the cannibalism. When it happened I seem to recall that it was quite dainty. Ethan Hawke lifted a delicate forkful of buttock to his mouth and that was it.

The couple next to us though seemed to find a bit much. There was a muffled discussion between them and then they left their seats. Fair enough, I thought, it looked well-judged to me but I guess there is a massive taboo about anthropophagy. If they didn’t like it they were quite right to leave.

But I’d got it completely wrong, because they both returned about five minutes later loaded down with hotdogs, nachos and fizzy drinks. Man, I don’t know what the most socially acceptable response to depictions of cannibalism is, but surely it’s not hunger.

Whilst we were stuck in Glen Affric on Sunday night/Monday morning it would be melodramatic to say that I felt in danger of dying, but I was aware that the margins of survival had become much thinner. This was particularly the case immediately before we reached the bothy when we were trudging through rough snowy terrain in the dark.

I haven’t really had to confront my mortality seriously before, and I probably haven’t done it yet to be honest. There have been the same sort of usual near misses that everyone gets, and as I get older obviously I know more dead people. I think of my own theoretical extinction quite often, but it still seems pretty abstract.

I don’t imagine anything happens after you die. I have been thinking and reading about consciousness and the nature of identity in recent years, and nothing I have come across convinces me that consciousness is a special thing or even particularly that it exists.

When I was a kid I had an operation under general anaesthetic and I remember being struck at how completely absent “I” had been while it had been going on. Similarly when I was getting into trouble with alcohol abuse some years ago I would regularly find lacunae in my life. It’s similar to watching people in comas or suffering from Alzheimer’s I guess. You can measure the physical deterioration of the brain and see the personality disappear in proportion.

There hasn’t been a continuous “me” throughout my life and I don’t see any reason why there should be one after my death. That seems to be highly unlikely in fact. I think that what passes for self-awareness or consciousness is some trick of the bicameral brain I’ve got in my head. Two hemispheres interacting, that sort of thing. I can’t really back this up with anything though, and I am not trying to convert you to my point of view.

It hasn’t made my life pointless however, this acceptance of the brevity of existence. On the contrary it’s made me appreciate what I’ve got and has emphasised for me that the responsibility I have is to enjoy what I can without doing harm. My favourite cliché has become in recent years “Live and let live”.

It may well be that I’m wrong and that there are harps and clouds and angels and whatnot. I have seen absolutely zero evidence to support such a thing though. If I am wrong I’ll just have to cross that one when I get to it. I’m dismissive of the supernatural and particularly the people who try to explain or justify it. If we can experience a phenomenon then we can explain it in terms of other things, and that makes it natural in my book, whatever it is.

I’m sure that there “are” things that are unobservable to us with our three spatial dimensions (and one time one, though we can’t move freely along that one), but precisely because they are unobservable it is pointless speculating about them.

Edwin A. Abbott’s brilliant book Flatland (1884) is really helpful with this. In it a two dimensional creature from Flatland is briefly shown the three dimensional universe. When he returns home he tries vainly to explain to his fellow Flatlanders the concept of a direction which is “up, but not North”. They can’t get it.

People who try to explain, codify, justify or “channel” the supernatural are, in my experience, charlatans who are after something for themselves. Usually sex or money. Of course I would say that. I was brought up in a religion whose priests have a long sorry history of the central accumulation of vast wealth and accidentally getting their penises trapped in altar boys.

***

 

Part of my grounding process was to visit HMV on Tuesday afternoon and buy a bunch of DVDs and Blu-rays from the redoubtable Record Shop Andy and Barbara Button. And what amazing folk they are. HMV shopping in other towns can be (and this is not necessarily a bad thing) a samey sort of experience. Same stuff in the same order. This is not quite the case in the Inverness branch. There is always something quirky for the jaded aesthete such as myself, and I think this is largely due to Andy and Barbara’s influence.

I am sure they will correct me if I am incorrect.

Barbara has been the model for many twentieth century icons, most notably Barbara Windsor, Barbarella Queen of the Galaxy and Jaime Sommers the Bionic Woman (who I think was originally going to be called Barbara Sommers). Her powers are awe-inspiring, but the most impressive of all is her power of Andy-wrangling.

It has been remarked by someone cleverer and funnier than me that Andy is the most likely of my friends to end up the subject of a newspaper article whose headline contains the word “RAMPAGE!!!!” He’s like the Cloverfield monster if the Cloverfield monster knew kung-fu. Nice lad though.

They sold me some great stuff, the most immediately accessible of which is Mesrine Parts 1 and 2 on Blu-ray. This was a great couple of nights out at the cinema last year and I’m anticipating much fun with it on the sofa shortly.

I have some misgivings about the process of putting real-life criminals on pedestals. Partly I think because there’s a potentially wonky morality at work, but mostly it’s because we British are so bad at it.

In Mesrine Vincent Gallo brilliantly plays the French robber and murderer as a complicatedly-motivated person of depth and substance. The style is a completely successful evocation of the seventies thrillers The French Connection and Serpico. They are highly accomplished and enjoyable movies. The British equivalent films were stilted affairs with Phil Collins as a Great Train Robber and the Spandau Ballet boys playing the Krays.

Ah, eighties pop stars. Is there anything you can’t do?

There was a pile of horror stuff in my purchases too and then, with some reluctance, the first series of Mad Men. Am I really going to like that? It doesn’t seem probable, but people of taste and refinement keep telling me I will.

4 comments on “26/01/10 – 27/01/10

  1. The last time I was in New York I (and indeed my life journey partner Barbara Button) visited an exhibition called “Bodies”. It was essentially a rip off of the infamous Gunther Von Hagens “Bodyworks” exhibitions of plastinated dead people but with a much less sinister vibe about it. It’s that hat, he really shouldn’t wear it. Anyway, and here comes the relevant part, throughout the exhibition looking at all the perfectly preserved muscles, limbs, organs and so on I suddenly realised that I was hungry. Ravenously hungry and craving roast chicken. There was something about the sight of the sinews and tendons that was reminiscent of roast chicken and by crikey it made me hungry. Not that I would eat a person, just that the sight of all that meat obviously tripped the right sensors in my brain. Just thought I’d share that with you.

  2. Re: British true crime movies
    Let’s not forget McVicar with Roger Daltry. See, ’70s pop stars could do them too

    • That’s a very good call Calum. Why didn’t I think of McVicar?

      Now all we need is some evidence that George Formby once played Jack the Ripper and our argument will take shape.

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