Thursday, 30 September 2010

Lock up your compost

Our village is a mercifully quiet backwater, and untoward events are rare, but things may be changing.

First we had the invasion of the atheists, and now we've had burglars. It started several weeks ago when the local Garden Centre had its perimeter wires cut one night, so obviously a planned professional job, and they took (wait for it)......several bags of compost!

The following week a man was disturbed one evening trying to break into one of our neighbour's garden sheds and he escaped over the back fence. Nothing was lost, but we wondered why ten sheep were in our garden the next day. It was because he had also cut our wire fence and the electric fence, ready for a quick get-away across the fields. If he hadn't been disturbed he might have got away with several empty plant-pots as well as a half empty bag of compost!

I thought this was all quite amusing until he came to our shed the following week in broad daylight and nicked a hedge-cutter and a strimmer. Ah well, that's what insurance is for. And the blonde lady police-person was rather attractive. But now I'm having to spend hours marking things and reinforcing doors and fitting extra bolts etc. Its worse than the grouting.

All this has given them something to talk about in the pub.

My favourite comment so far came when the old fellow in the corner emptied his glass, wiped his mouth and said "Ah, things bain't what they were! Oi remember the time when oi could go into town wi' two quid, and oi could come home wi' a 'alfpound of butter, a pot o' jam, pound o' bacon, forty cigarettes, an ounce o' baccy, and a box o' chocolates, couldn't do that now.....too many bloody security cameras".

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Do looks count?

Where did it all go wrong? My career as a television star, I mean.

I realized there was an image problem with my role in the televised thalidomide debate (Sept.27, Baying for Blood), as the audience were so obviously keen to lynch me and burn the studio down, but I didn't at first see why a personable young man like myself shouldn't eventually have a lucrative TV career, perhaps having cosy chats on a couch with, say, Felicity Kendall or Fiona Bruce (except she was still at school then). Move over Colin Firth (although he was also a schoolboy at that time). OK then, Erroll Flyn.

I should have known there was a problem with my image following my first televised appearance in about 1968. My Professor had been asked to make a programme about various forms of hair loss, and so I, as the bright young spark and general dogsbody of the Department, had been asked to gather together suitable patients and demonstrate the various features of their different diseases in the clinic, whilst my Professor spoke about the science of hair follicles from the studio.

This was clearly my big chance. At that time several doctors like Charles Fletcher had already become famous for presenting medical documentaries, and I could clearly see the potential for scientific stardom ahead. Think Howard Winston, Richard Dawkins, Brian Cox and many others in more recent years. I knew I was to be the star of the show because the crew had been following me around and filming me for days on end, from every conceivable angle, distant and close-up, as I dropped my pearls of medical wisdom. I knew that I just had to demonstrate my avuncular bedside manner, keep my good profile to the camera, exhibit my occasional shafts of wit, and I'd be made for life.

In those days television was not available in all households, and my mother had invited several neighbours in to watch her son, the famous doctor and television star, astound the world.

The great day came. The titles rolled, the programme was introduced, my Professor did his talking head bit and then the patients were introduced one by one. Then we had close-ups of their various bald patches, with an occasional glimpse of a hand (mine) parting the hair to show the distinctive 'exclamation mark' hairs or the scaly patches or the blue scars or whatever. This was accompanied by the voice-over of some twit with a dreadful monotonous whining Northern accent who thankfully never appeared on-screen. Unfortunately that was me!

Well, at least my mother's neighbours saw what my hands looked like.

To paraphrase Ali-G, "Is it cos I'se ugly?".

Monday, 27 September 2010

Baying for blood

I began my debate with the vicar (The Big Debate) by saying that I was reminded of the story of Daniel in the lion's den, but it wouldn't be clear until question-time whether I or the vicar was to play the part of Daniel. I needn't have worried. There were only pussy-cats in the audience and the vicar and I were as friendly as a couple of Milibands. How long their brotherly love will persist is, however, debatable.

I had been nervous at the outset, since I was going to be critical of the Papal Edicts on birth-control, abortion etc. (remember that "Truth from a Divine Source is infallible") and I knew that Pontiffs have a bad reputation with regard to the punishment of heretics. Fortunately there were more pontificators than fire-brands in the audience.

Pontifex is a funny word isn't it? Nothing to do, it seems, with little flat black liquorice cakes made in Yorkshire. It seems that in Ancient Rome a pontifex was a member of a college of priests that had control of religion, their chief being known as the Pontiff. To be pontifical is thus to be pompously dogmatic, and a pontifical mass is nothing to do with a lorry load of Pomfret-cakes but it is a mass celebrated by a bishop wearing his full vestments. And you all know that the Latin pons, means 'a bridge', and facere means 'to build', hence the Pontiff is a bridge-builder, although I incline towards the alternative philological derivation of the old Umbrian word puntis meaning 'stupid bastard'.

Speaking of scary debates though, nothing was worse than my acceptance of a flattering invitation to take part in a televised debate in Birmingham on the modern use of the notorious drug thalidomide. Its use in women of child-bearing age had of course been banned many years previously but I and a few other dermatologists had found it useful to treat several uncommon diseases in men or post-menopausal women. Behcet's disease, for example causes painful vaginal ulceration, strokes and other complications, and it is potentially fatal as well as extremely painful. At that time (mid-1980s) no other treatment, even including large doses of steroids, was helpful for Behcet's disease.

Having had make-up applied and been briefly introduced to the television presenter, I was led to my chair on the front row of the audience, where I was somewhat dismayed to see that the majority of the audience was composed of young adults with vestigial arms and/or legs. In my naivete I'd assumed I was going to talk about my research with a group of doctors and sufferers from Behcet's disease or leprosy.

Too late, the cameras rolled and I realized I was the only doctor present, and my role was to represent all the 'power-crazed, immoral, greedy, drug-firm scientists' who had caused the thalidomide tragedy in the first place, and far worse, I was a doctor and I was still prescribing it. In vain did I try to explain that the thalidomide disaster had happened in 1962, when I was still a junior medical student, and it had only recently been re-introduced under special licence for dermatology consultants to use as a last resort, and only for men or post-menopausal women, and only when no other treatment had worked, and the drug was only to be given to responsible patients who could keep it in a locked cabinet.

One female patient with Behcet's disease spoke in my support saying thalidomide had "given her back her life". We were both lucky to escape with our lives. The howling and baying for our blood would have put a Jerry Springer audience to shame. 'Armless they were not.

So that's why I had no worries about standing in front of assorted vicars and telling them there is no God. In my opinion.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

The Big Debate

Well, the Big Event (Debate in Village Hall- 'Did Man Make God') has come and gone; no blood was shed and everybody escaped unharmed and happy. We had no idea how many people would turn up, and the population of our village is only about 300 but in the end we had a congregation of 60. The Vicar was pleased since he normally addresses a congregation of about 15 people.

The debate was good-humoured and sensible, since the audience included a number of philosophers, biochemists, headmasters and assorted clerics, as well as the regular church-goers and some village agnostics who normally keep quiet.

The two most aggressive arguments from the audience came from the opposing ends of the spectrum of views.

The religious aggression came from a man said that in his view there can be no such thing as an atheist, as you can't prove there is no God, and moreover all the most wicked people like Ghengis Khan, Hitler and Stalin were all atheists. Hmm! Just run that past me again. On second thoughts, don't.

The aggression from the atheist end came from a man who began by asking the vicar if he believed his personal God is All-Powerful and Benevolent. The vicar sensed a trap, and tried to avoid the issue by saying it depends on what you mean by All-Powerful and Benevolent. I sympathized with the vicar, as I am very familiar with that sensation of intellectual unease, having been questioned in court by barristers when I have acted as an expert medical witness. They have a nasty habit of asking you a string of simple questions with easy and perfectly obvious answers,and having led you round the houses in this way, they introduce a string of different but devious questions, before pointing out that you now appear to be contradicting what you said earlier. The vicar could see that this line was going to lead to difficult questions about cruelty in Nature, human suffering etc. and tried to side-step, but his tormentor wouldn't let go, until he had to admit that of course God is All-Powerful but He doesn't have to be all the time, so sometimes He isn't and of course He is Benevolent, but He doesn't have to be all the time and sometimes He seems not to be. To us humans, who don't understand. The atheist agreed he didn't understand the vicar, which was understandable.

I think I emerged relatively unscathed, unless you count being compared to Hitler and Ghengis Khan as a slight scathe. I did have an awkward time afterwards though, when the debate was over. Three young Catholic ladies approached me and asked for my medical opinion about miracles. I assured them that in 50 years of medical practice I had never seen any recovery that could be described as truly miraculous. St. Winifride, for example, in Wales had her head chopped off and it reattached itself simply by prayer. Today's miracles are more akin to the American pastor who prayed to the long-dead Cardinal Newman for relief from his back pain, and after an operation which is known to relieve back-pain, the back-pain disappeared, so now Newman can be beatified and is well on his way to Sainthood. The three young Catholic ladies seemed surprised at my lack of medical experience since all 3 of them had personally witnessed unrelated miracles.

As the vicar and I both know, you win some, you lose some!

Our debate did make people think though, and it does seem to have bonded the village. We both recommend it.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

A new approach to infertility

Knowing of my impending discussion with the Vicar, some of my friends have kindly been sending me 'suitable' jokes.

The Catholics always seem to be fair game,since the Pope's Edicts are founded on the idea that 'Truth from a Divine Source is Infallible' and so birth control is wicked. Ha,ha,ha!

Be that as it may, Father Donelly met Mary O'Connell, whose wedding he had sanctified some two years earlier. He wondered why there had been no babies, and asked whether there was a problem. "I couldn't say father, but we're doing the right thing and no babies have appeared yet" (You can do your own Irish accent).

"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that Mary, my child, but I'm visiting Our Holy Father in Rome next week and I shall light a candle for you"

Eight years went by and Father Donelly met Mary again, surrounded by her ten sceaming kids (two sets of twins and six singletons).

"Are these all yours?" asked his Reverence. "They are that. Father".

"Marvellous, I must congratulate your husband, is he around?". "He is not, Father, he's gone to Rome to blow the f*cking candle out"

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Reigning cats and dogs

Since my mind is currently filled with matters theological, this seems as good a time as any to tell you how God made Dog.

It seems that Adam and Eve were lonely and were being their usual whingeing, complaining human selves (see 'Sick Notes' by G.P. Dr Tony Copperfield, yesterday's Post), so God said "I will create a companion for you, and regardless of how selfish or childish or unlovable you may be, this companion will always love you as I do, and will always accept your many faults".

And so God created Dog, a reflection of his own name.

After a while an Angel came to God and said, "Lord, Adam and Eve have become filled with pride. They believe they are worthy of adoration, because Dog worships them".

And so God decided to create another companion for them, to remind them of their limitations. He wished to teach them that although Dog seemed to worship them, because they appeared Omnipotent and Omniscient (they often answered his prayers when he begged for a biscuit, they could open doors, and they punished him when he chewed expensive handbags), they were not in fact God.

And God created Cat.

And when Adam and Eve gazed into the eyes of Cat, they recognized that they were not the Supreme Beings on Earth.

And God was pleased.

And Dog wagged his tail.

And Cat didn't give a shit one way or the other.

Just a little reminder of the well-known fact that Dogs have owners and Cats have staff.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Sick Notes

Still on a medical note, let me recommend a new book by a chum of mine, who writes under the pseudonym of Dr. Tony Copperfield (Sick Notes- True Stories from the Front Lines of Medicine, pub. Monday Books, 2010, ISBN 978-1-906308-14-8).

This really tells it like it is from the G.P.s viewpoint, and though 'Dr. Copperfield' comes across as a really cynical character, it strikes me as being very true to life as well as very amusing. Read this and you'll understand why GPs sometimes seem less than perfect. If you're thinking of becoming a medical student, then don't read this. You will immediately switch your University application to a less demanding and pleasanter course such as 'Waste Disposal with Dancing' (currently being offered by Northampton University; I'm thinking of going for that one myself, I can picture myself pirouetting down the middle of a hospital ward in my leotard, carrying the bedpans above my head).

A few examples from the B,C,D section Dr. Copperfield's glossary of medical acronyms (MedSpeak) will give you the flavour of the thing:

BAPS: British Association of Plastic Surgeons (How naive are they?)
BJGP: British Journal of General Practice. A monthly publication where GPs who wear sports jackets without irony pontificate about 'holistic care' and the patient's 'inner journey'.
CBT: Clot in a bow tie-a derogatory term for hospital consultant, used by angry GPs. Very angry GPs sometimes resort to the alternative, c**t in a bow tie.
CME: Continuing Medical Education. The requirement for doctors to attend promotional lectures while eating curry or stale vol-au-vents, both sponsored by the manufacturer of a new wonder drug, in the name of education.
DBI: Dirt bag index. A rough and ready estimation of the number of hours since a patient's last bath or shower calculated by multiplying the number of tattoos by the number of missing teeth.
DKDC: Don't know don't care. There comes a point, usually at the end of a 25-minute consultation with a heartsink patient about their peculiar aches and pains and their funny turns, when the doctor realizes that he doesn't know what's causing them and has frankly given up trying to make sense of the story. A prescription for vitamin tablets often follows.

Read the book.You'll learn a lot from it. It reminded me of the horror of front-line medicine, especially the DBI and the DKDC. You're not a real doctor until you've been called to certify death in a tramp brought into casualty and as you wrinkle your nose, open the layers of clothing and lean over the cold body to listen to the heart, you feel the fleas climbing up your arm to find a better host. Or been called to a house at 3 am to see a woman who is groaning in a locked toilet because she is constipated and hasn't 'been' for 24 hours.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

When to use Allo.

The Pope's visit and my ongoing brush with religion has perhaps led me to neglect my secular duty to give you the 'Doctor's View' of a recent interesting medical advance.

It seems that a small dose of the anti-depressant drug Prozac has been shown to prevent pre-menstrual tension (PMT). I wonder why that should remind me of yesterday's Post, entitled the Big Fight? The sex hormone progesterone increases just before menstruation and this decreases the level of another steroid hormone called allopregnanolone (known as Allo)which has a soothing effect and makes people feel calm. Prozac (fluoxetine) raises the level of Allo in the blood stream and thus decreases the symptoms of PMT. This might be another of those drugs, such as Ritaline for hyperactive kids, or Rohypnol-alcohol cocktails for young women, which benefit other people rather than the person taking the drug.

On a lighter note, a study by UCLA Dept. of Psychiatry has shown that the type of man which a woman finds attractive can depend on where she is in her menstrual cycle. For example, in mid-cycle, when she is ovulating, she is likely to be attracted by large, powerful men with rugged and masculine features. However just before menstruation or during the menopause, she prefers a small man with duct tape over his mouth, a kitchen-knife lodged in his chest and a hot poker up his arse.

It should not be necessary to point out that this new use of the word Allo to refer to a calming hormone should not be confused with other uses of the word, as in the phrase "'Allo sailor" and "Aloe Vera" which can occasionally lead to embarrassment in either sex.

This confusion might account for the sad tale of the policeman who came home early one day and found his wife in bed with three sailors. "'Allo, 'allo, 'allo!" he said flexing his knees and twirling his truncheon in accordance with the guidelines given in the Pantomime Police Handbook. His wife merely gave him a little wave and a coy smile and said "Aren't you going to say Hullo to me, darling?"

Saturday, 18 September 2010

The Big Fight

I may be a bit busy for the next few days.

The size of the congregation in our local church has apparently been decreasing steadily in recent years, and so our Vicar, a very pleasant and open-minded man, has suggested that we might have a public debate in the Village Hall next Saturday evening with the title 'Did Man Make God?'. I think his idea is that he normally 'preaches to the converted' (the elderly converted at that), and a few younger floating voters might drift back into the pews if they think about things properly.

The Hawking book and the visit of the Pope have occupied the media considerably in the last few weeks, and so religious faith is quite a 'sexy' subject all of a sudden. We're expecting a fair number of assorted clergy, fundamentalists and humanists to turn up as well as a few uncommitted blood-thirsty locals who like watching intellectual punch-ups, so I'll have to get into shape.

My debate with the vicar will I'm sure, be fine, as I've had several long and interesting discussions with him and we both enjoy our little jousts, but I'm not at all sure about the questions I'll get from some of the local 'muscular Christians'.

I had a warm-up bout with one of them recently, and he said to me "If everybody thought like you, everybody in the world would think like Hitler". He couldn't see anything offensive with what he'd implied, so I liberated my inner infant and said "And if everybody thought like you, everybody in the world would think like the members of the Spanish Inquisition". You can see it's not going to be high-powered philosophy!

The next day he sent me with a copy of the Church Times, with an article headed "Why Hawking is not far from God" written by Keith Ward, an Oxford Professor of Theology who was formerly a philosopher who taught Logic. Keith Ward now claims that Hawking believes the Universe came from Nothing, which apparently shows Ward that there is a God. God give me strength!

If ever you're feeling apathetic and want to get incensed, try Ward's book "Why there almost certainly is a God". The cover claims its a "devastating critique" of Dawkins. You can have my copy!

One of my medical friends recently sent me an E-mail about Cardinal Newman's beatification (many doctors are querying the medical miracle, relief of back pain by prayer to Newman) and said that rather than see Newman beatified, he would like to see the Pope atheistified. I know I really shouldn't, but I'm afraid I was compelled to point out that Catholic priests are all anti-atheist, so that would make the Pope a consultant anatheist- "Just count to 5 and then you'll feel this little prick and....".

I just can't resist them. They give me so much pleasure and it does no real harm (the cheap jibes that is, what did you think I meant?).

This medical reference and religious irreverance was highly relevant because my friend, who generally speaks in code, implied that he might have a bowel cancer which will have to be removed shortly, but as he said, a semi-colon will be better than a full stop. I couldn't resist asking him if he had to keep 'dashing', and if so, how hyphen?

Friday, 17 September 2010

High jinks in the high hurdles.

To support my hypothesis that old age is not for wimps, I recently had an unpleasant experience.

It so happened that my wife had been very unfortunate with a frisky underground car park. One of the concrete pillars had unexpectedly leapt out at her and crashed into the front near-side wing. Probably attracted by the chatter of her female passenger who'd just bought a super top in a sale.

The man at the Auto-Body-Repair Shop said he'd lend me a courtesy car, and so he did. It was quite a nice car in some ways, apart from the rattles, the rust and the black smoke, but it was very small and had a ridiculously low bucket seat, the type that has a 6 inch ledge all round your thighs. With great difficulty I managed to manouevre myself into this ground-level driving seat, with my legs sticking horizontally forward into the well. I drove off, noticing as I did so that the car wouldn't go into second gear, and shortly afterwards, that the petrol gauge registered zero.

I pulled onto the next garage forecourt, parking close to the pump and another car then pulled up close behind me almost immediately, and since there was already a car immediately in front of me I was completely boxed in.

I managed to open the door slightly and tried to manouevre my right leg out through the space, but I've had a knee replacement and my leg only bends to 90 degrees. At this stage, I got cramp in my right thigh. Eventually, after considerable excrutiation, I managed to get that leg back into the car and realized I'd have to manouevre my bum out of the bucket seat and push it way over to the left into the passenger seat so I could get then straighten both legs on the driver's seat, lean backwards and push them both out together through the narrow gap, hoping the body would then follow naturally, limbo-style.

This was not easy. Particularly when I felt a sharp pain in the aforementiond bum and remembered that this was an old car with one of those long metal parking brakes that sticks up vertically. Being incredibly brave and stoical I merely grimaced and carried on straightening the right leg. At this point being in the 'high hurdles' position, I developed severe cramp in the left leg, causing a convulsive jerk which moved my body weight into just the right position for the hand-brake to change its position from buttock to orifice.

I suddenly remembered my student days, when a man with a sheepish smile would occasionally be brought into Casualty with his Willy stuck in a milking machine. Well accidents happen, don't they?

So there I was, stuck in this death-trap in an unusual yoga position, with severe cramp in both legs and a hand-brake trying to make its way up my Jacksie, thinking, "They'll have to send for the fire-brigade to cut me free, this is not going to look good in Casualty!"

But that kind of a day is normal for old people.

A friend of mine woke up recently and his wife said "Don't touch me, I'm dead".
"How do you know?" asked the husband. "Well I can't feel any pains", she said.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Playing at grannies and grandads.

I've just returned from Derbyshire where I attended a School Reunion, sixty years on since our first day at Grammar School. It was a bit disappointing at first because none of my friends had attended; they'd all sent their grandparents along in their place.

After that disappointment, things improved considerably and I was very pleased to be told by one of the tastier grannies that she'd fancied me something rotten when I was 16, but nothing had happened. Now she bloody tells me!

To be fair, I was a bit slow in these matters and I expect it was my own fault that I didn't notice the dropped glove or whatever it was she was prepared to drop for me. I was busy mending my bicycle most of the time, or running round ploughed fields training for the cross-country team, and anyway I recall that I was definitely saving myself for Marilyn Monroe, who was at that time wasting her assets on an elderly playwright called Arthur Miller, who obviously wouldn't be around for very long, since he was over 35.

Although I do distinctly remember a film where Brigitte Bardot, in a tent, stripped to her bra and panties and climbed into a sleeping bag to join her boyfriend. I think she'd have been in with a chance. I recall discussing this scene with a mate and we agreed the lucky boy-friend's excitement would have been 'intents' (geddit? We were like that in those days).

So, what an opportunity I missed! Though the would-be-girl-friend-turned-granny reassured me that actually she and all her friends were virgins when they left school. There was no Pill in those days, and decent boys who 'got girls into trouble' had to marry hurriedly, leave school and start work in the steel mill or down a coal mine ('darn t'pit', in our dialect).

The type of frank conversation we had is one of the few advantages of old age, since you can both now have a laugh about it with none of the embarrassment, guilt or toe-curling humiliation that was such a regular and inevitable part of our adolescence.

Another advantage of reaching retirement age is that you can have a glass of wine at lunch time followed by a lovely snooze.

Apart from that its all downhill.

Now for the hard part

I'm still droning on about publication today.

How times change! As a completely unknown Assistant Lecturer at the University of Edinburgh in 1969 I had an idea for a book. So I wrote a short letter to E. & S. Livingstone (who later became Churchill-Livingstone, who became Longman, who begat Pearson and then I lost count) with my idea. A week later the secretary to the Managing Director, Mr. Henderson, rang me and asked if I could possibly find time to be Mr. Henderson's luncheon guest at a smart Edinburgh restaurant. You bet I could, even if only for the meal! In those days Assistant Lecturers earned half of nothing and drug firms didn't provide doctors with posh meals. So we had a pleasant meal with a bit of a chat and a bottle of wine and he offered me a contract. Two days later the written contract arrived in the post, I signed, job done.

A shrewd decision Mr. Henderson! Over the next 30 years they made a lot of money from my books.

But here and now, having written a book which several publishers have rejected, you eventually decide that at this rate death will precede fame, and having opted for self-publication, you will then have three choices:

1. Find a couple of printers who will give you quotations for however many copies you choose to fill your garage with. This is relatively painless providing you have the soft-ware and computer skills to prepare the manuscript in PDF format and know how to fit it on the chosen page-size of your book. If you can't do this yourself, you'll find a young person who can (usually for a price). Scientific photographs and diagrams can be tricky for all sorts of reasons, but novelists don't need to worry about that.
If you need an ISBN number you'll have to pay £111 for a batch of 10 numbers from Nielsen's, even though you only need one number. Without an ISBN number most bookshops will refuse to stock your book and it won't be listed by so how will you ever market it? But then you'll be a publisher and you'll have to register your business with the tax man and give a copy to the British Library.

2. Sign up with a print-to-order firm such as Lulu (search the Internet and read the small print). This has the great advantage that there often no capital outlay, and you can order as few copies as you like, but it has the the great disadvantage that each copy costs much more to produce, so sending out review copies or giving copies to all your friends and relatives becomes expensive. They will also, on request, provide you with an ISBN but this puts the price up again, and this will also give them certain legal rights with regard to subsequent editions, foreign translations etc.

3. Find a vanity publisher who will do all the work for you (maybe even edit or ghost-write it if necessary) and will then produce a few copies for an astronomical fee. This is the recommended route for multi-millionaires, or those writers who cannot write.

Option one sounds good, but there is a surprising amount of leg-work involved, and printer's questions to be answered, but if you persevere it happens, and every 20 years or so somebody self-publishes a book and makes a good profit. Every week somebody self-publishes a book and makes a loss. However it is quite exciting when the delivery-van arrives and the large cartons containing stacks of your tome are unpacked. And your Mum is thrilled.

So far so good. The writing of a book is great fun. The work involved in the manuscript preparation, printing and binding is interesting but time-consuming and there's a lot to learn and many mistakes to be made. The marketing however is murder.

Read the Writers' Year-Book, they'll tell you. Count the number of friends you have, count the number of work-colleagues, count the near neighbours, count the people whose book you bought because you once met them, add them up, divide by two, add five and that's the number of copies you can more or less guarantee to sell.If you're a blogger you might add the number of your 'followers'. Apart from that its a lottery!

Monday, 13 September 2010

Beauty hints

Tomorrow, children, I shall tell you how to self-publish your pearls of wisdom and live happily ever after, but it's a big subject and today the sun is shining and there are many apples to be picked (about a ton so far as I can see) and fences to be painted (about 300 yards of them).

But first, while we are on the subject of the difficulty of getting your work published, allow me a brief rant.

Why do the Editors of prestigious daily newspapers continually publish such drivel in the Health and Beauty sections of the weekend supplements? On 12th. Sept. for example, the Sunday Telegraph had the following question on page 77 of their 'Stella' magazine.

"I had a facial recently and was told that I had a lot of water retention in my face. I had noticed that my face had been looking very puffy of late and my cheekbones seem to have become a lot less pronounced. Is there anything I can do to prevent it?"

The Nutritional Therapist, Melanie Brown, said:
"It might be that you are a bit dehydrated, which encourages water retention. Try drinking two litres of water a day and cut out caffeine, alcohol and salty processed foods"

Call me a pompous old silly-billy, but that is the most stupid answer I have heard for a long time. Naomi Campbell could have done better. Or Wayne Rooney.

Not only is it twaddle, its dangerous twaddle. The lady might for example be retaining water because she had the nephrotic syndrome (a form of kidney failure). Two litres of water a day might then push her into heart failure and if she kept it up without further medical advice, because the 'dehydration'(facial swelling) was getting more severe, she could die.

There are at least another 10 or so causes of facial swelling, most trivial, some severe. Ask any dermatologist.

I've written to Editors about similar loony advice on many occasions, asking for a correction, pointing out that I am a Professor of Dermatology, I've done research on that particular subject and I've written chapters on it for medical textbooks. Have I ever had a reply or even an acknowledgement? No.

I apologize if this sounds sexist, but even intelligent and educated women sometimes seem to become gullible fools whenever they are given advice about beauty products.

If I tell somebody that I've noticed that their petrol tank is overflowing and petrol is leaking out on the road, they're quite sensible. They'll switch the pump off. But if I tell them that I'm a Nutritional Therapist and therefore they should try putting in another two litres because their car needs more petrol, my invaluable advice will immediately be worth publishing, for a fee, in a major newspaper.

I enrolled for some private language tuition once, and the obese lady who was teaching me kept having to break off to go into her kitchen to fetch more drinking water. She said this was because, being divorced, she was trying to get back into shape. To help her to achieve this laudable goal she had been told by her 'personal fitness trainer' who visited her at home, that she must avoid salt and drink 8 pints of cold water every day. I explained to her that the total blood volume is about 8 pints, and in a cool climate with no vigorous exercise, you only need 2 or 3 pints of fluid daily (tea, coffee, fruit juice, whatever). Any extra and you just pee it out. Fat doesn't normally come out in urine.

So did she take my advice and stop trying to kill herself by over-hydration and hyponatraemia. No. She hadn't paid £50 an hour for it you see.

Try again, and again, and...

Ali's 'Comment' of 11.9.2010 requesting information about my book sales reminds me that in fact I have had 40 years' experience of the publishing industry, and since the 'blogosphere' seems to be well-provided with J.K. Rowling 'wannabees', a few comments about my books might be of general interest.

My first book, a medical textbook (Aids to Postgraduate Medicine), was published in 1970, and the first year's royalty provided enough cash to buy a Citroen Dyane car, a sort of sewing machine on 4 wheels. Before that I had travelled to work on a bicycle for several years and had then saved up to buy a clapped-out van for £105. Often I was late for work as I'd had to push the van. So the Citroen (£600)was a big improvement and I decided I liked this author lark.

Over the next 30 years or so I wrote 6 successful textbooks, 2 of which each sold about 10,000 copies each year for 20 years, went into 6 editions and were translated into several languages. I also edited 3 editions of a multi-author 4-volume textbook, and for 5 years I edited an international medical journal. I must have sold over half a million copies of my medical books over the years. By the end of my career medical publishers would regularly approach me and ask me if I'd kindly write a textbook for them.

So 10 years after retirement, I thought I'd have no trouble publishing a book on an important general subject. Wrong! You start all over again with a completely different set of publishers who have never heard of you.

So I too became a JK Rowling look-alike, except for my appearance. I refer of course to the mental anguish of being a rejected author. I struggled for a year to write the best book I could and then couldn't find a publisher. You'd think 'God' would be a bigger name than 'Harry Potter', but no dice, even though my book, like hers, deals with miracles and metaphysics as well as theoretical physics and prayers, not to mention aliens, psychology, nuns, priests and altruistic animals (no owls delivering letters though).

And in addition my book had one important new idea, namely that God exists only in the human mind, and the reason that so many hundreds of gods have been invented by so many people in so many different cultures for so many millennia (Prehistoric Bushmen, Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Israelites, Scandinavians, Aboriginal Australians, Native Americans, Inuit, West Coast weirdos etc) is because religion has survival value in Darwinian evolutionary terms. The study of the evolution of human behaviour (evolutionary psychology) explains why this is, and shows that apes become altruistic for biological rather than spiritual reasons.

Nobody seemed to care.

If you are an unkown would-be author, the 'Writers and Artists Yearbook' published annually will help you to discover who is likely to care about you the least. It also has very helpful articles from 'failed' authors such as J K Rowling who detail their agonizing route to the summit. And if you still don't believe there's stiff competition, go into Waterstone's and look around.

In my experience, publishers are of three types. The vast majority won't even look at manuscripts unless they are submitted to them by a literary agent. Its worth a trying to get a literary agent, but they are not interested in big ideas about atheism unless your name is Dawkins or Hawking. I suspect that some of them aren't even interested in literature, despite the job-title. They are interested in making money from established best-selling authors, or in finding the next young J.K. Rowling, who will then make them a million a year for the next 10 years. (Could it be YOU????). Elderly people writing about science, even with jokes, don't interest them. They will reply to you, .....eventually. In some cases after 6 months,..... when repeatedly prodded. And the answer will be NO, sometimes gracious, sometimes curt, but still NO.

The second type of publisher will deign to receive a manuscript from A.N. Unknown, but will return it unopened within 48 hours, apologizing that your book doesn't quite fit their list.

The third type keeps your book for 3 to 6 months and then returns it saying that it's very interesting and well-written and they would have been interested last year, but there are rather a lot of books on cosmology and popular science and evolutionary psychology in press at the moment, and what with the recession and all, they couldn't guarantee to make a decent profit, but don't give up, why don't you try another publisher?

Meanwhile science is marching on and if you wait much longer the book will need revising. I don't think either Jane Austen or Barbara Cartland had that trouble. Blushes and bosoms are fairly durable topics, and they either suffuse delicate cheeks or heave, as the case may be, in much the same way from one millennium to the next. Okay, they might tend to sag a bit in individual cases as the years go by, but their influence as movers and shakers is less than that of the Large Hadron Collider when it comes to making the earth move. In some ways.

So after a disappointing year or so, you think "Stuff it, I'll publish it myself". I know several 'niche' writers (medical historians for example) who publish their own books and triple their annual royalties, so they make six peanuts p.a. instead of two. But they get the satisfaction of seeing their book in print rapidly, choosing the cover design and the retail price, there's no agent or publishing house taking his cut, and the taxman considers the profit and loss accounts for a small business in a different way to an author's royalty. Husbands or wives can be employed in various tasks for a reasonable stipend for example, and you will obviously need store-rooms and delivery vehicles and computers and stationery and staff parties and the use of your imagination.

And there's always the possibility that your book on 'A historical survey of methods of administering clysters' will then become an airport best-seller and all the profit will be yours. My own book entitled 'Six Hundred Miseries-the seventeenth century womb' (no kidding, it was published by RCOG, London, 2005, ISBN no.1-904752-13-6) almost made it, and I have high hopes for my planned sequel 'The Wombless of Wimbledon -a D.I.Y. guide to hysterectomy'...OK that was a joke, but there are precedents. Ever heard of Virginia Woolf's 'Womb with a View'? Or Hemingway's 'For Womb the Bell Tolls'?

I'll tell you tomorrow how to self-publish.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Waiting for Godot

Really tired now. Just come back from a 3 hour book-signing at Waterstone's.

Sounds great, doesn't it? The reality though is rather different.

First of all it took weeks and weeks to arrange; an appointment with the manager to discuss the book, then fill in these forms, then wait for approval from head office, wait a bit longer, ring up once a week for 4 weeks until head office had deigned to respond, then choose a suitable Saturday morning, but no dice... "I'm afraid somebody important is coming that week" (Nigella? Who She?), and the next (SAS Hero) So choose today. Lug very heavy box of new books from home to shop, no parking nearby, so arrive in a muck-sweat and exhausted. Need not have hurried as nothing happens for a long time.

Sit at small table with pile of books and wait. Smile at customers as they pass by my table. Make eye-contact. Feel very like Rowan Atkinson playing the part of a pillock.

Wait some more. Walk round store, return to table, sit down, yawn, make more eye-contact. No takers. You could see the punters thinking 'Uh oh! Elderly gentleman selling book with God in the title, may be dangerous religous fanatic or other unsavoury character so best avoided' "Rachel come away from that table darling".

At last, a young man takes an interest in my book. He's going to University soon to read Philosophy. Intelligent conversation ensues, hurrah! But he's only browsing today as he has no money. Takes the details anyway.

Than another young man takes an interest. His father is a vicar and would, it seems, be very interested in my views. If only he were here.

Then two middle-aged ladies appear from nowhere, pick up the book and buy a copy each, just like that, no questions asked.

Then another lady appears to be fascinated by the title. "Is it about Dogs?" "Not really, its more about Gods" I say. "Oh, what a pity" she says,and walks off.

By this time I am sincerely wishing that religious protesters had threatened to fire-bomb the building and exterminate me if I turned up for a book signing, so then I would have been safely at home, relaxing and drinking coffee, a la Tony Blair.

Maybe I should ask the manager for a copy of the Koran and ceremonially burn it?

Finally a young man with long hair and a badge proclaiming 'I love (heart-shape) furry' stood nearby for a while, then plucked up courage to approach me and ask me what I thought about animals and their spirituality.

"Well that's a very interesting question and my book does discuss it" I said, so then he told in some considerable detail that he has great empathy with animals and in fact they talk to him, and even wild animals that nobody can train become docile in his presence, and a robin once fluttered nearby until he followed it to its nest and its mate was hurt and the robin was asking for his help, but unfortunately the lady robin was beyond help, which he managed to convey to the male robin with body-language, and another time he was in a cage with a sea-eagle which could tear barbed wire apart with its talons and ripped men to shreds and when I woke up it was half an hour later and he was still there with yet another empathetic animal anecdote. Then we moved onto the question of previous civilizations and nuclear wars before the time of Christ and his extensive research on the subject of radio-active ruined cities. Next we had space-fiction adventures as described in the Bible (rocket-ships, jet-planes etc.) Finally, Hallelujah, we moved onto the reason for our little discussion which was his ambition to become a writer. He has written nine science fiction novels so far (the first when he should have been working for GCSE), all with very, very complicated and interlocking plots, but he doesn't want to approach a publisher until the plot cycle has burnt itself out. Let me know if you're interested.

Oh, and if you ever think about publishing an important book about religion ....don't.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Never hesitate to do a favour for a friend, or a bathroom tap.

My wife is pleased with the progress I'm making with my Domestic Gods course. I de-stoned some plums only yesterday while she was out shopping. And cooked them! And I thought to take them off the Aga hot-plate after the plums had boiled over and covered the surface in bubbling, brown, smelly goo. Not immediately of course because the computer isn't in the kitchen and it takes a while for smells to travel. And its not a bad smell first. It was a tad unpleasant by the time the smoke-alarm went off though, I must admit.

She's so pleased with my work in the kitchen that in return she's offered to take on some of the DIY jobs about the house, grouting and stuff, man's work really. I don't like to over-load her, but if it makes her happy, what can one do?

I'm not sure, but I think her sudden interest in DIY might be because I bought a 50kg. bag of ready-mixed mortar the other day and I took it out of the car boot and put it down for a few minutes while I got my keys out. I must have left it on the door-step and it seems the idiot mortar-manufacturer had put it in a paper-bag which isn't waterproof, so that when it rained in the night, the mortar set solid, still in the bag on the door-step. I'd forgotten all about it until the next morning.

I didn't know she'd fall over it, did I?

They're only bruises.

I'm not sure I should be encouraging her to get involved in this DIY thing though. My neighbour, the one with the lovely old house and the beautiful young wife, is good at DIY. He was re-hanging their bathroom door the other day and he decided he needed a new hinge, so since his wife was just going into town to do some shopping he asked her to call at the hardware shop and pick up a new hinge.
In the hardware shop she asked the price of a set of beautiful bathroom taps which caught her eye. The assistant said "I'm afraid those taps are very expensive because they're plated in real gold. They price is £2,500". "Oh dear", she replied, downcast, "That's way out of my price range".
So the man went into the storeroom to get the hinges, and as he went he said over his shoulder "Do you wanna screw for the hinge?"
She hesitated for a moment and then shouted back, "No, but I will for the taps".


'Oh Lord, My cup overfloweth....,' as the well-endowed nun said when her bra shrank.

Does that look right to you?

(I was hoping to insert at this point a tasteful picture of a well-endowed nun bustin' out all over, so that 'Legend-in-his-own-lunchtime' could smirk and say "Looks okay to me!" but as with my search for the flatulent nuns of a previous Post (Dead sheep and Green Energy, July 2nd. and ensuing Comments) you can't always find just the right nuns when you most need 'em).

Never mind, it was the 'shrank' I was doubtful about. I've spoken (speaked? spake?) a lot of English in my time but past participles still puzzle me. Come to that, quite a lot of things about my past puzzle me, and that would include participants and my principles as well as my participles. But 'shrank' worries me. Okay, ships sink and that ship sank, just as pigs stink and that pig stank, but philosophers think they don't thank, which is as I thought, so shrank should be shrought. (Quite the little poet this morning, aren't I? Those banana skins must be stronger than I thought). But when you think about it, if you think before you fight, then you thought before you fought, so why didn't you thank before you fank? And as for men who wink, .....let's not allow things to get out of hand. The whole thing is fraught, it stinks, I think.

(May I just point out to my more pedantic friends that fraught can in fact be a verb, though obsolete; it's means to carry or tote, as you do freight. If that gave you a fright, I'm afraid you might be frightened .... or affrighted?....or afraught? ....or affrank?).

But I confesss I digress, as one is wont to do after the banana skins.

The reason for my good humour is that I have had a letter published in the Telegraph (Mon. Sept 6th. p.23). The current interest in religion, cosmology and the origin of the Universe (Stephen Hawking, John Gribbin and all that) had prompted John Capel to write to the Telegraph to imply that God must exist because spontaneous faith is as old as mankind. I was able to point out smugly that this is in fact an argument against religion, for the many worshippers of so many different gods in so many cultures for so many millennia can't all be correct. A small triumph, but better than finding a penny when you've lost sixpence.

Mind you, to prevent an outbreak of cock-a-hoopery, the Western Gazette, based in Yeovil, recently gave my own God-book a write-up ..... about 4 cm of very narrow column-width, most of which was taken up with describing the work of the National Eczema Society (and only published in the Crewkerne edition). On the next page they devoted 9cm. of the same column-width to a police raid on a house in Yeovil in which nobody was at home, no crime had been committed and they found no drugs.

So much for the burning questions of our age and my fight to liberate the world from the shackles of religious dogma.

Damned with faint praise

When I spoke about lunatics in California the other day (Is anybody out there?) I did not of course intend to slight the worthy citizens of the good old U.S.of A.

Even if I had so intended I couldn't possibly compete with the American comedian Rich Hall (he's the one that scowls lugubriously at everyone in the TV quiz show Q.I.). In his book 'Things Snowball' (ISBN 0349115109) he describes the denizens of Las Vegas (whom he earlier calls "fish-faced fossils") in these terms:-

'To walk the teeming pavements of this town is to battle a tide of slack-jawed human rodentia: a never-ending parade of grifters, drifters, alcoholics, hookers, scam artists, Prairie scum and California detritus, clutching their plastic cups of slot nickels, staring in bovine awe at the monuments of stucco and neon built for their Neanderthal amusement. Men in backwards-worn baseball caps, belt-buckles the size of bin lids, half-buried beneath cascading beer guts. Jiggly-arsed women with permanently toasted tumbleweeds of hair, frizzed out, teased up, bedecked in gold rope, their protoplasmic corpulent manatee-shaped bodies sheathed in shell suits...', and so on.

Gee-whiz, I'd love to hear him describe people he didn't like very much.

The fly-leaf of his book says that he now resides in London. I should think that's very wise.

Buy his book, we don't want to lose him.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Bloody awesome.

My friend Mike cannot really be described as a religious person but he is clearly intrigued by my recent explanation of (he calls them rants about) the finer points of the Creation of the Universes because he's sent me an account of the Australian Creation story, which I had failed to mention. I'd expected it to be about Aboriginal Songlines and Dreamtime and Giant Serpents but there's more to it than that.

In the beginning,it seems, on the First Day of Creation, God created Day and Night. The Day was for footy matches and barbeques and going to the beach, and the Night was for going prawning and sleeping; and God saw that it was good.

On the Second Day God created the oceans for surfing and swimming; and God saw that it was good.

On the Third Day God created the Earth, to bring forth plants and provide food, and malt and hops for beer, and wood for barbeques; and God saw that it was good.

On the Fourth Day God created animals to provide chops, sausages, steak and prawns for barbeques; and God saw that it was good.

On the Fifth Day God created a Bloke to go to the footy,enjoy the beach, drink the beer and eat the meat and prawns at the barbie; and God saw that it was good.

On the Sixth Day God saw the Bloke was a bit lonely and needed a soulmate to share his pleasures on the beach and around the barbie. So God created Mates and they were all good Blokes; and God saw that it was good.

On the Seventh Day God looked around at the twinkling barbie fires on the beach. He heard the gentle roar of the surf, the hiss of the opening beer cans and the raucous laughter of the Blokes. He smelled the aroma of the grilled chops and the sizzling prawns and he saw that it was good,...BUT He saw that the Blokes were too tired to clean up. So God created Sheilas, to clean up the barbie, to bear and look after the children, to wash, to cook, to sew and to do the shopping, and then God saw that it was not just good, it was Bloody Awesome!


The Magnificent Seven

I had another of my blinding insights this morning. I used to get them nearly every weekend, but they don't seem to come so often since I came off the red wine.

It's all to do with this blooming Windows 7 computer.

You see, when I was a lad we used to have a thing called a wireless, something of a misnomer since it didn't work without a wire which went from the back into an electric socket. You quickly learnt though that the 'wireless' bit referred to the magic radio-waves that came through the ether into your wireless set. It was best not to think too deeply about the ether, but our science teacher said it had no real substance to it and was everywhere (rather like Nick Clegg nowadays, the Leader of the Liberal Party). Later on we learnt much more about these things and we realized that there is no such thing as the ether (ditto the Liberal Party?). How the heck the radio waves get here is still a complete mystery to me but I have slowly learnt to live with it.

Anyway a bright young chap like me quickly fathomed that a wireless has 3 knobs on the front. There was the ON/OFF knob, the TUNING knob and the VOLUME knob, all of which worked every time, resulting in predictable satisfaction and happiness as we sat in a family group listening to 'Dick Barton Special Agent' or 'The Goons'.

As I became adolescent and entered adult life, things gradually became much more complicated. The wireless became a radio and radios started having timers and alarms, and bass and treble controls, stereo, woofers, tweeters, and a place to stick your tapes in a slot, but I persevered. Eventually I more or less understood what most of the controls did and I usually got some sort of gratification if I persevered long enough.

Then late in my life came computers, and I more or less gave up. They sometimes do what you want, but more often they don't, and they tend to cause tremendous frustration and annoyance.

'So where's the blinding insight in that?' you may reasonably ask.

Well I realize now that my gradual understanding and mastery of the new-fangled wireless of my youth, followed by my long and increasing bewilderment about the ever-more complicated electronic gizmos and computers, exactly reflects my experience of the female sex.

It happens to any adolescent lad when he discovers girls. He thinks he understands them but they tend to get more and more complicated as time goes by. When you first get a girl-friend, one your friends who has already got one will explain that there are fairly obvious knobs on the front, which you must twiddle to try to get whatever gratification you're looking for. I don't think I need to pursue this analogy much further but we all know that slots to take your CDs come at a later stage.

But you'd think after a lifetime of experience, you'd have got the hang of things, wouldn't you? But the internal workings will remain forever a mystery. Windows 7 is really, really complicated and there's no instruction book. It seems to have its own agenda, it rarely does exactly what you want, it often causes frustration, even annoyance, but there's no chance you'll ever understand it because it has an unfathomable mind of its own and by God its clever. Need I say more?

I'd better go now and do some grouting before I get into trouble.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Out of the mouths of babes....

In my last two Posts I covered 'Domestic Gods' and discussed 'Creation and Gods', so I thought we could now tackle some deeper theological thoughts. Those of you still young enough to remember as far back as June 2010 will recall that my first Post was a 'Letter to God', which I was pleased with at the time, but I have just bought a small book for 30p from a Charity Shop entitled 'Children's Letters to God' (edited by Marshall and Hample)and I now realize I am a complete novice at putting God on the spot. Try these as a random sample:-

Dear God, Can you show me how to get paint off? Howard.

Dear God, I would like all the bad things to stop. Debbie.

Dear God, I lost my glove again and I'm going to get heck unless somebody sticks up for me. Will you? Martha.

Dear God, My father is mean. Please get him not to be. But don't hurt him. Martin

Dear God, My father can never get a fire started. Could you make a burning bush in our yard? Sherry

Dear God, O.K. I kept my half of the deal. Where's the bike? Bert.

Dear God, My father is very smart. Maybe he could help you? Margo.

Dear God, Are boys better than girls? I know you are one but try to be fair, Sylvia.

My personal favourite though, as a would-be writer looking for tips to producing a best-seller, is:

Dear God, I read your book and I like it. Where do you get your ideas? John.

There are dozens of them, all good, with lots of funny illustrations and I strongly recommend you to buy the book......a snip at 30p. Or I'll sell you my copy for 20p.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Have the aliens come?

There was the most amazing article in the staid, God-fearing, right-wing old Daily Telegraph on August 31st. p. 25 . The author, John Gribbin, is a respected scientist with a Cambridge Ph.D. in astronomy and he is an author and editor who has worked for two of the most prestigious scientific journals, Nature and New Scientist.

The startling idea he has promoted is to do with Black Holes, those mysterious things in deep space which suck things in and then possibly transport them to another region of space and time or even to another Universe. There's a big one in the centre of most galaxies and they are constantly sucking in huge objects like stars which are never seen again, at least not by us. Critics of expensive physics research have said that the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva which produces highly energetic particle acceleration could create a man-made Black Hole that could suck in our world, which would thus effectively disappear, but people who understand such things say this could not happen, as such a tiny manufactured Black Hole would be too small to suck in an atom,let alone the Earth.

So far, so well known (especially if you've read my book), but Gribbin now points out that gravity has negative energy and so matter can literally arise from nothing at all, and therefore no energy would be needed to form a Universe. It seems likely that this happened at the Big Bang which formed our own Universe. In other words our Universe popped into being at the other end of a Black Hole which existed in a galaxy in another Universe.

It's been thought for some time, for complex mathematical reasons we won't go into, that there might be multiple Universes which either follow on from each other or are present simultaneously, and that new Universes might be in the process of being created all the time. Nobody knows how many there might be, but there could be an infinite number, in which case all possible events could happen on one or other of them, and the development of many different forms of intelligent life would be inevitable on many planets in many Universes.

Gribbins claims that if a human intelligence can produce a small Black Hole in a laboratory, it is theoretically possible that with a bit more time, a bit more power, and a bit more knowledge and intelligence, humans or their descendants might one day be able to make a Black Hole large enough to spawn a new Universe. Alan Guth of M.I.T. has investigated this possibility and concluded that the laws of physics do, in principle, make it possible.

In my book 'Why Man Made Gods and Dogs' (order from I took Richard Dawkins' atheist views in his book 'The God Delusion' one stage further by explaining how gods are psychologically manufactured by humans as an inevitable product of the evolution of the human intellect, because belief in the supernatural has survival value. Gribbins is now suggesting that our entire Universe could have been kick-started into life by some alien intellect which might have been only slightly in advance of the human.

The theologians will be rubbing their hands in glee. Maybe Dawkins and I will now have to write another book admitting that the Earth could indeed be part of a Universe that was created by a superior intellect to ours, and the laws of physics and chemistry being what they are, we could perhaps even be built along similar biochemical lines, even in the same image! Now where have I heard that before?

Even more worrying is the question of why should those aliens want to do such a thing? Perhaps to try to escape from their own Universe which is becoming uninhabitable? Scary isn't it!!

Unless of course the alien intelligence is God Himself who came through the Black Hole and is now everywhere, as most theologians would aver. And a right mess he's making of it!

Or did Satan come through the Hole with Him? I think I can feel a science fiction book coming on. I must go and lie down.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

I like a challenge.

When our daughter and her family came to stay with us last week, my son-in-law and I were as helpful about the house as we usually are. So close are we to being Domestic Gods that my wife and my daughter have signed the pair of us up for an advanced course in Domestic Goddery. I've seen the programme and it looks quite good actually.

It takes the form a series of evening classes and is run by an organization called WIC (Women in charge). They're limiting the classes to a maximum of 8 participants owing to the complexity and difficulty of the course.

The subjects which will be covered, according to the brochure, are:

1. How to fill ice-cube trays: A step-by-step guide with a slide presentation.

2. Toilet rolls- Where do they come from, or do they grow on the holders?: A round-table discussion.

3. Differences between the laundry basket and the floor: Initial practise with models and graphics and later with a real basket.

4. Dirty dishes and coffee cups- do they levitate and fly into the dishwasher by themselves? Debate among a panel of experts.

5. Finding things- how to look in the right place without turning the house upside down, yelling, swearing and blaming other people.

6. Empty milk and orange juice cartons - Part 1: Do they belong in the fridge?
Part 2. Should one ever notify a competent authority if a carton is ever found to be empty?
Group discussion and role play.

7. Health watch - Will bringing her flowers for her birthday or anniversary damage your health?

8. Is it genetically possible for a real man to sit quietly whilst she reverses into a tight parking space? Breathing techniques during driving simulation.

9. The ideal shopping companion.
Part 1. What is patience?- A psychologist explains, with meditation and relaxation exercises.
Part 2. Appropriate and inappropriate comments in a variety of situations.

10. How to remember important dates. Bring a calendar and a pencil.

I think I shall learn a lot from it, even though I've already had some experience; I did a beginner's course where I learnt that a woman's place is in the kitchen and a man's place is in the wrong.