Thursday, May 28, 2009

Paolo Nutini - Pop Music from Scotland

Just when I thought I'd irredeemably lost contact with what people under 20 are listening to, I focussed on Paolo Nutini, a 19 year old Scottish pop singer.

And was caught by his introspective, contemplative and self-absorbed music - somewhat folk in style and seductive in his Marlon Brando mumbling delivery that (curiously) seems to amplify the meanings of the words.

He's charting platinum at the moment ... and I particularly like 'Last Request'. Which is beautiful for the text as much as the music.

Hope you like it guys.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Socially Constructed Medicines

Lloyd's Cocaine Toothache Drops (c1885)

Part of the folk-law you pick up as a teenager, and often at university if you go, is that Coca Cola originally and up to 1906 contained small (I guess) amounts of cocaine - no surprises it gave a nice little lift to your day!

And, like probably most of us, I knew that cocaine and opium had been systematically included as ingredients in the large-scale manufacture of medicines since the C18 (and of course probably long before the industrial revolution). One medicine that jumped out at me in late C18 and early C19 novels is as the opium-based laudanum, used as a painkiller.

But I was not aware of the spectrum of uses to which these remedies were put - till today when I was browsing the website of the Addiction Research Unit at the Department of Psychology, University of Buffalo.

Cocaine was used in three distinct ways.

Firstly, as a topical anesthetic such in toothache powders (above) and sore throat lozenges ...

A Belguim Pharmacy's Throat Lozenge (c1900)

... as a catarrh medicine for relieving head and chest congestion - and in this context even for sea sickness, as claimed by Bullard and Shedd for their coca wine ...

Bullard and Shedd, Coca Wine

... and as a medicinal 'tonic' with numerous and wide-ranging benefits ....

With such products attracting rather august endorsement, like this one by Pope Leo XIII ...

Opium and heroin were even more widely used than cocaine in medicines.

As well as being useful in the treatment of dysentery and the relief of pain, these were given for sleeplessness and restlessness, even in children ...

Mrs. Winslow's Soothing Syrup (1887)

... for asthma ...

... and even for coughs ...

While not wanting to get bogged down in a tedious debate about why certain substances are constructed at particular times as 'medicines' and at others as 'drugs', it's just interesting to observe that these categories are not as absolute and fixed as we would like have to have them.

Soon they'll be telling us the smoking and alcohol are not beneficial for our health!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Bailey Does His Special Thing on 'Letterman'

Now this is very sweet and (for me at least) very funny - so we'll have no 'Comments' about the 'low' nature of my sense of humour!

It involves the canine Bailey and his unnamed (Chris Evans-ish) side-kick ...

Here we go then ...

Okay, nice 'Comments' are now required!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Yet Another (Small) Dose of Levity


Self-deprecation is the best form of antidote!

Check Your General Intelligence

To test your general I Q, answer the five questions below.

Try to answer each spontaneously - and then check the answers below.

So here we go ...

[1] You are participating in a race. You overtake the second person. What position are you then in?

[2] What's your position if you overtake the last position?

Take 1000 and add 40to it. Now add another 1000. Now add 30.Add another 1000. Now add 20. Now add another 1000. Now add 10. What is the total?

[4] M
ary's father has five daughters - Nana, Nene, Nini, Nono and (what's the name of the fifth daughter)?

[5] A mute person goes into a shop and wants to buy a toothbrush. By Imitating the action of brushing his teeth, he successfully indicates to the shopkeeper what he wants and the purchase is done. Next a blind person comes into the shop - he wants a pair of sunglasses. How does he indicate this to the shopkeeper?

Answers to questions ...
  1. Not the first position - if you overtake the second person, you are the new second placer.
  2. Not the second last person - there's no position from which to overtake the last position!
  3. The answer is not 5000 - it's 4100. Check with a calculator.
  4. Not Nunu. Mary!
  5. He asks - he's not mute!
How's your self-esteem going?

Friday, May 22, 2009

E M Forster (1879-1970) - Triumph over The Self

There are few people who really influence your life and in major ways.

For me, E M Forster was one, and perhaps the most important.

And I acknowledge this to myself each time I re-read one his novels or the P N Furness biography 'E M Forster: A Life' or 'Selected Letters of E M Forster' edited with Mary Lago.

I think the real base of my deep deep admiration is that the author fought through, and overcame to a such great extent, extraordinary personal inadequacies. He was cripplingly shy, overly-sensitive to a degree that was pathological, and tyrannically dominated all his life by his mother Lily. The cloyingly prim and intellectually restricted middle-class Weybridge society of his childhood and youth, and being gay in the last part of the C19 didn't help matters.

What inspired/inspires me was Forster's ability to see outside his small self into a larger world and take the steps needed to make a bigger life than would ever have been expected.

A powerful intellect and Cambridge University helped.

Forster at the time of being a student at Cambridge University

But then and most importantly Forster enlarged himself and his outlook by traveling and working in Egypt and India.

Forster in Mahratta turban

Forster (5th from left) in the courtyard of the Palace of Dewas with the Maharaja (3rd from left) - Forster worked as the Maharaja's secretary

And by over-coming extreme reticence and apprehension when chance offers itself - as in his meeting with an Egyptian tram ticket collector in Alexandria - Mohammed el Adl. This (first real) sexual encounter developed into a relationship which bridged cultural and class barriers - without being patronising. And such was Forster's sense of personal loyalty that he kept in touch with and helped Mohammed till the Egyptian's early death.

Mohammed el Adl, Alexandria, Egypt

I sometimes wonder how my own life would have been if I hadn't encounter E M Forster. And determined to embrace opportunities thrown up by chance and make larger things happen.

I probably wouldn't have delayed going to university to travel through Europe, the Middle East and Asia for an extraordinary 4 years.

Or gone to live and work in China for a year at Beda (Beijing University). And broadcast on CCTV.

Or unexpectedly extended our month traveling in 2003 to nearly seven.

Or ... or ... or ... .

What an absolutely wonderful legacy - just for one person!

Have you guys had any 'guiding forces' in your lives?

Friday, May 15, 2009

A Ghost in the Machine

When they finished filming a car advertisement in the UK recently, the film editor noticed something moving along the side of the car, like a ghostly white mist. He then found out that a person had been killed a year earlier in that exact same spot.

The ad was never put on TV because of the unexplained ghostly phenomenon.

Watch the front end of the car as it clears the trees in the middle of the screen and you'll see the white mist crossing in front of the car then following it along the road.

Is it a ghost, or is it simply mist?

What do you think?

:> ... Sorry

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Another Inspirational Audition - Andrew Johnston

13 year old Andrew Johnston auditioned for Season 2 of 'Britain's Got Talent' in Carlisle.

He chose to sing 'Pie Jesu' from Andre Lloyd Webber.

And pretty much brought the house down.

Not being emotionally constipated, I'll confess I had a tear in my eye at the end. So there! Not just the hard-hearted sex beast with super big grunt ... that you had grown to love and cherish.

So now we'll have to build our relationship on an entirely different and more complex foundation!

PS Andrew went on to win the whole competition!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Lure of a Varied Diet

I must say I sometimes like to be surprised by what arrives on the dinner table. Life can be just too predictable.

I think this leopard has the same idea - just sick of impala impala impala.

And so for something completely different ...

... in the semi-aquatic line ...

Now, would you classify this ...

... as take-away?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Weedy Sea Dragons in Australia

Just been watching a program on a creature living in my own backyard, so to speak - the weedy sea dragon.

What totally got my attention was it's amazingly iridescent and varied coloration ...

These weedy dragons are found mainly in temperate waters off South Australia, Western Australia and New South Wales.

Living in kelp-covered reefs - so it's not rocket science to understand how their plant-like bodies evolved!

They are obviously related to sea horses but the males, instead of hatching young in a pouch, keep the eggs fixed to the underside of their tails.

Surprisingly, well, to me, they grow to a whopping 46 cms in length ...

After a gazillion 'Animal Planet' docos, it's great to realize there's still more things out there to dazzle and amaze!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Things NOT On The Regret List - Mogul Miniature Paintings

You know sometimes when you travel and see something and you decide not to buy for any number of sensible reasons: 'I'll see better ones later', 'It'd be such a hassle to have to carry it round for the rest of the trip', 'It's too expensive'. Does any of this ring a bell?

So with this in the back of my mind, we bought a number of Mughal paintings in Pushkar in Rajasthan at the beginning of a long-ish trip ... through India, Nepal and Thailand.

Pushkar is one of the five sacred dhams or pilgrimages for Hindus and, like Udaipur, is situated beside a lake fringed with ghats where bodies are cremated on funeral pyres at the water's edge.

Though the fame of the town for tourists is as much for it's annual Mela or Camel Fair.

Pushkar Annual Camel Fair or Mela 2006 (Not my photo)

Mughal painting developed in the C16 in India, in part from Persian miniatures - with its subjects usually being scenes of court and domestic life ...

... journeys ...

... royal processions ...

... battle or hunting scenes ...

... and portraits of courtiers ...

... where the detail can be so neurotic that it hardly seems to diminish with closer ...

... and closer inspection ...

Doing a hair count on the beard is possible - but of course would probably get you committed!

Clicking on the two paintings of the two courtier images enlarges them to a degree that you can really admire the extraordinary detail and refinement I've been talking about.

Sadly, there's not enough space to display all the works we bought - so I do a rotation thing - but curiously there's a lot of favoritism for the courtiers!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Lilies Lurking With Intent Round the House

A few minutes ago, I happened to notice these cut stargazer lilies - just itching to have their photo taken ... for the blog, of all things!

So of course I obliged.

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Gentle Art of Body Modification

You know those (hopefully few) times in your life when realize you're much more conservative than you ever imagined.

Body modification can be one of those times ...

... though curiously enough (well, for me) this guy's split tongue seems strangely erotic (!?) - so maybe I'm not as hopelessly mainstream as I imagined.

There are more possibilities here than you might first imagine, like 'clapping' (is that what's going on here?) ...

Of course more body modification means you widen your repertoire. But be warned that loud, prolonged and uncontrollable screaming may result from unsupervised watching of this next video.

If this seems all a bit ho hum or old hat, maybe you might consider some complementary tooth modification ...

But remember, when you're trying to silence someone whose modification has been modified in this way ...

... the expression 'zip it up' takes on a whole new meaning.

Would you believe B. M. is so common place now it's even a Wikopedia item -