Quark, Strangeness and Charm - Part 5

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The ramblings of the last sane me.

When I was a kid I loved programs like Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet. The stories were great: rescues and battling evil in a future that used fantastic vehicles and where anything was possible. Recently I saw on television a computer-generated version of Captain Scarlet and while it was good, it just wasn't the same as the rugged indestructible Captain I remember. Now I know that the newer version is technically superior and that the characters walk and move like humans, but there was something real about the old version, even though you could see the strings controlling the puppets, that made it seem more believable and more compelling than the new one. But even though I feel this way about the new series, I think that it is great that the stories have been revived and shown to a whole new generation. Let them enjoy the thrills as the evil mysterons try to destroy the Angel Interceptors and Spectrum's sky base; let them wonder what dastardly deed the wicked Captain Black is going to commit in order to bring our world to ruin. And how will our hero, the mysterious Captain Scarlet, thwart these attempts and still live to report back for next week's episode?

Gerry Anderson never made any real money from his creations and yet his name is now synonymous with these science-fiction heroes and villains. His legacy to science fiction entertainment will live on for many more years because of his foresight and seemingly endless imagination. I would love to be able to write stories like his or Harry Harrison's, but I can't. I know this because I have tried off and on for years. They all start well enough, but instead of building the plot to a grand finale, they all seem to lose momentum at about the quarter mark and then get put aside and forgotten. From time to time, I even tried writing horror/thriller-type stories. But again, they always ran out of steam before halfway. I threw them all away ages ago now, but sometimes I wonder whether if had I kept them I would have been able to make them work. Probably not — once the thread of a tale has been lost or gets too complicated it seems impossible to me to pull it back from a lack-lustre fate.

The thing is that I read books as often as I can, from dark tales of the supernatural (thanks to Stephen King) to tales of fantasy worlds where wizards and trolls live (thanks in part to Terry Pratchett). And yet for all this reading of fiction, I still cannot write my own piece. To be able to write like these and many others do is a great talent akin to that of a great painter or sculptor, because they have the great gift to be able to create worlds and dimensions within our heads. We read their words and form images in our minds of how they would look and feel or even taste and smell. It must be strange to know that the thoughts and images you put down on paper can have such a wide-ranging impact on society, when all you are doing is writing down an idea you had while brushing your teeth.

Alcohol. Interesting stuff, really. In its purest form it is a colourless, odourless liquid. Add the flavouring of your choice, drink it and eventually fall over if you drink too much. You can even sterilise things with it, although strangely if you drink too much of it, instead of having pearly-white teeth you end up with no teeth at all!

Mixing with friends while consuming it can lead to both hugely entertaining days/nights and massively embarrassing ones. At a certain point of consumption, laughter is almost impossible to avoid and this is usually a good time to slow down intake or stop entirely. This is because, as a rule anyway, after the laughing comes melancholy and there is little more depressing than a room full of people trying to cheer themselves up again. From time to time, it can even lead to violence and bloodshed, which is stupidity at its highest level. People, including myself, start a fight for no reason and suddenly the cause becomes the thing which is most important. Alcohol and arguments do not mix. Alcohol and laughing do.

But having a drink does not necessarily mean that you have to get drunk — you know the feeling, I am sure. It has been a long day at work and you are feeling as if the whole company is sitting on your shoulders and all you want to do is unwind a little, so you open a bottle of your personal favourite and have a drink. And sometimes that one drink is all you need to recover from the day. It just allows you to relax and settle down for a pleasant evening doing something you enjoy. As long as it does not involve driving there really are no limits, apart from flying — but you get my meaning. Other times it seems as if there is not enough booze in the world to help recover from whatever the day has thrown at you and it is at these times when having some sort of hobby can be of great benefit. Indulging in that activity is probably more relaxing than alcohol, although you would look a bit silly walking into a pub and ordering a pair of knitting needles and a big ball of wool.

Sometimes a drink is used to steady the nerves. Again, if you have more than one it can have the opposite effect and totally unbalance the nerves. For some reason, this is known as 'Dutch courage'. Now, I know a few Dutch people and I have got to say they are good, kind, straightforward folks who will tell you what they think without having to have a drink first. So personally, anyway, I think this particular phrase is utter nonsense.

How is it possible that bees can fly?

According to all principals of aerodynamics, there is no physical way that they should be able to leave the ground, let alone buzz around from flower to flower collecting pollen and returning to the hive. They are suited to flying the same way an elephant is. They are the wrong shape. Their wings are far too small. And they need to lose weight. But has anybody ever bothered to try and explain this to the bees? I am sure that on some level bees are far more intelligent than us humans, because they have heard of gravity but think it only applies to when they are stood on a blossom or re-entering the hive. The rest of the time it is of no use whatsoever to them, so they ignore it and it ignores them.

I wonder what Sir Isaac Newton would make of them, especially after all the work he put in when he was developing his theory of gravity, although he was helped by a friendly apple tree that obviously thought that the poor man needed a helping hand (or apple) to set him on the road to writing his theory. But surely the tree already knew about bees and the fact that they were taking the mickey out of Newton before the poor bloke even got started. Which means that trees are far more intelligent than we give them credit for and also have a quite wicked sense of humour. For instance, I am fairly sure that if we humans stood around for a couple of hundred years quietly observing the world we would become far more intelligent than we currently are. But in addition, we would see just how funny life is. Why rush? What is the desperate panic in aid of? Does it allow us more time to enjoy our hobbies or the nicer things in life which enjoy?

No, it gives us more time to run around like headless chickens, piling ever more pressure upon ourselves. Then, when we reach a point where we can no longer cope with the daily routines, our brains and bodies say 'no more!' and then we go to see a doctor who diagnoses stress and tells us to take a couple of weeks off work. So we follow the doctor's orders and after a couple of weeks we feel better, strong enough to return to work.

And the whole stupid self-destructive cycle starts again.

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Fairly obvious, I think. The answer is the cockerel. But did the hen look at him after and say 'Is that it? Well, I'm glad you enjoyed yourself!'

Then the next thing you know, there is a bunch of over-excited philosophers hanging around asking silly questions. But did the hen listen to those people and think to herself 'Don't look at me, I only laid the damn thing. It was no fun for me at all!' On the other hand, though, it did keep a number of out-of-work philosophical deadbeats occupied for years to come, arguing a point of little interest to anybody else. Almost makes you feel sorry for the hen. Almost. Most of us enjoy a good chicken dinner at some point though, don't we? Especially with roast potatoes, vegetables and gravy.

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