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Sunday, 27 January 2013

Deuced difficult

"I guess Andy Murray must be the best British tennis player ever," I say, as Susan and I watch him playing Djokovic in the Australian Open.

"What about those players of yesteryear they're always on about, like Fred Perry?" she asks.

"They make those guys up," I tell her. "Perry was actually an American explorer, who claimed to be the first man to get to the North Pole, though he probably didn't."

"So how come you get all these Fred Perry T-shirts at tennis tournaments then?" she asks. 

"Dunno. Maybe it's thermal gear for Arctic explorers and they're heading out on an expedition after the game."

"You're talking bollocks again, aren't you?" she says, patting my arm.

"No, but I might be confused. I've started four-limb independence at the drumming. When each of your arms and legs is learning a different beat, it doesn't leave many brain cells for intelligent chat. It's what computer geeks call a processor-intensive activity."

"Is that why most drummers look like morons?" she wonders. "They don't have any spare brain cells to close their mouths or wipe drool off their chins?"

"No that's 40 years of loud music, exotic substances and unsavoury blow-jobs in dark alleyways. Most of their brain cells are dead now. They're drumming on body memory. It's different at the start. Here, let me demonstrate basic four-limb independence and you'll see what I mean."

"I don't want to see what you mean," she says. "I'm trying to watch Andy Murray getting gubbed in a hot country, far far away."

"Won't take a moment," I insist, tapping the floor in the basic rock rhythm. "See, your left foot plays the quarter notes on the high-hat, while your right bangs the bass drum on notes 1 and 3.

"Meanwhile your left hand hits the snare on beats 2 and 4 and your right is playing eighth notes on whatever you fancy - ride cymbal, high-hat, tom-tom."

"Or in your case right knee?" she says.

"Or indeed right knee if that's all you've got."

"I don't need to practice four-limb independence," she says, standing up and starting to move rhythmically. "I'm a natural. Look, I've got it already."

"I think you'll find that's the hokey-cokey," I tell her.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Catty comments

My sister gets annoyed with science. Well not so much science. More me.

"Why do you ask so many questions?" she says. "Why don't you just believe me when I tell you things? It's offensive."

"No it's not," I say. "It's not about you. If people tell me stuff, I want to know where they got it from and what the evidence is. It's because I'm a scientist and a journalist."

"It's because you're a pain in the neck," she tells me.

So last night, when we were watching a second-rate romcom called A Good Year (Russell Crowe should stick to parts where he sweats, grunts and hits people) and she made a comment about her cat, I tried to tread carefully.

"I don't know if he thinks he's a small person or I'm a big cat," she says, as he nuzzles her hand and purrs on her knee.

"What makes you think he thinks anything?" I venture. "He's a cat. They're not known for ontological reflection."

"See that's just like you," she bridles. "Of course he thinks. Anybody with a pet will tell you that.”

“Doesn’t mean they’re right,” I say. “Majority opinion often isn’t. One thing modern science has shown is that reality is counter-intuitive.”

“One thing you’ve shown is you don’t know much,” she says, wielding an exasperated remote control and muting an advert on steam-cleaners that I particularly wanted to watch. 

“Animals can tell what you’re talking about,” she continues. “They sense your feelings. They get scared, excited, happy and sad. They’re like wee people with fur.”

“Ha ha,” I start to laugh but cut it off fast when her face tells me it wasn’t a joke.

“Don’t you think we just project our own thoughts and feelings onto our pets?” I ask.

“No,” she says.

“Don’t you realise it’s very hard to know what’s going on inside an animal’s brain?" I ask.

“No,” she says.

“Have you had enough of this conversation?” I ask.

“Yes,” she says.

“Fair enough," I say. "I’ll talk to the cat. What are your thoughts, puss, on the government obsession with austerity, which evidence shows is exactly the wrong thing to do in a recession?”

The cat stares at me for a moment then stands up, turns around and arches his back, giving me a long, close look at his behind.

I think he's trying to tell me something.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Fault lines

My younger son is a never-ending source of sideways slants on the human condition, which range from deeply profound through intriguing but speculative to gibberish he doesn't even believe himself.

Thing is you never know which you've just heard until you've spent half an hour looking at it from all angles, which could easily be half an hour you'll never get back again.

The latest throwaway remark to jolt my complacency came while I was driving him to Kilmarnock, the Ayrshire town that first published another great Scots iconoclast.

"I blame you hippies," he tells me, à propos of nothing.

"For what?" I ask.

"You name it," he replies. "Teenage pregnancy, autism, bird flu, climate change, the expansion of the universe, the economic collapse of the western world."

"All caused by hippies?" I ask, pulling into a gap in the slow lane to let a big Merc three feet from my back bumper glide effortlessly past.

"Every one of them," he says. "Think about it. Most of our problems are caused by repressive, authoritarian individuals and the systems they create to exploit the rest of us and keep us in line."

"True," I say. "But that's exactly the people the hippies despised."

"Precisely," he says. "So it made them try harder. Until then they'd had it easy. Nobody questioned them. Then you long-haired lovers came along and they got worried. If everybody made peace not war, they'd be out in the cold.

“So the last 50 years of lurching to the right have been a reaction to a bunch of unwashed idiots letting it all hang out in muddy fields,” I say.

“Correct,” he replies, ignoring the sarcasm.  

“Well it’s a theory. But let me ask you something. Why did you say ‘you hippies’? Doesn’t the half-inch hair, the suave suit and the cultured conversation suggest to your unobservant eye that I am not and never have been a hippy?”

“Not now," he replies. "But you can’t fool me. You were out there with the other beards and kaftans, long before I was born, swaying in the sunshine, tripping on acid and skipping through the daisies like a big daft girl.”

He pauses for breath and the swish of the windscreen wipers fills the momentary silence. None of the responses that come to mind seem adequate to counter the calumny. He takes my silence for agreement and delivers the final verdict.

“It’s all your fault,” he says.