Quark, Strangeness and Charm

2 Conversations

The ramblings of the last sane me

Just what exactly is 'normal'? I consider the word, when applied to me by others, to express the following meaning: A set of rules created by people who have chosen a type of lifestyle that is 'safe'. And if any act of mine does not fit into that set of rules then I am not 'normal'. It is a set of rules created by people who are afraid to live life in order to try and control those who want to live. I mean, what is normal behaviour for a thirty-six-year-old male with an open mind, odd sense of humour and coffee, chocolate and adrenaline addictions? Did I mention diabetes as well?

As a teenager, I did aerobatics in a Royal Air Force Chipmunk trainer, fired .303 and 7.62 mm rifles to marksman standard and never served in Her Majesty's armed forces. I've got standing-up/falling-down drunk, climbed most of the peaks in the Lake District and Pennines, driven all sorts of cars from Nissan Micras to Ferraris and most horsepowers in between. Last year, I finally got around to learning how to ride a motorbike properly. The previous year I did a tandem skydive for a laugh. Now that is a serious mega rush that I really must get around to repeating.

Nicaraguan coffee slow roasted for maximum taste....

For five years I was the best wheel builder in the West Midlands and also a mighty fine bicycle mechanic.

Plain chocolate ... did I mention cinnamon danish pastries?

I will never be a world-class downhill mountain biker or cross country racer, but within my rather sad limited abilities I love the rush of riding through the country and pitting my abilities against the terrain and getting away with it. Or falling off, which hurts, but as the T-shirt says, 'wounds heal — glory is forever'.

Black Nicaraguan coffee with plain chocolate....

What is the attraction of going out on a bicycle and getting covered in mud and gods alone know what else, with the potential for extreme physical harm as an added but always present bonus to the inattentive — plus all the usual side effects such as cramps, hypoglycaemia and exhaustion?

Black Nicaraguan coffee with a cinnamon danish followed by plain chocolate....

This is a question that I feel I can answer, but only from my own perspective. It is the adrenaline rush of getting away with a last-minute manoeuvre, of surviving a trail that you think may get the better of you. The endorphin rush at the end of the ride when you are chatting with your mates and other riders in the local café generates a feeling of kinship. By the time we go our separate ways it is sometimes with a hint of sadness, but always with a strong sense of camaraderie. Just get out and ride — it's not just something to do on a sunny Sunday afternoon. In truth, some of the best rides I have been on have taken place in the winter, occasionally in the pouring rain, but always in good company. Thanks, lads.

With the aid of a mountain bike I have successfully put myself in hospital, or at least in the accident and emergency ward, on several occasions. The list of damages caused by wanton recklessness includes having a 30mm-long thorn removed from my left arm with the aid of a local anaesthetic and a surprised doctor. He was surprised because I wanted to watch him take it out. It also inclues four or five concussions, a torn Achilles tendon, what led to a carpal tunnel decompression, torn cartilage on the top of my left hip (more surgery) and more cuts, grazes and bruises than I can actually recall anymore. And I do this for fun?! So what do I do with this wealth of riding expertise (as if!)? Why do I go out and buy a motorbike that I use more than my car? Just so you know, I love driving. Now driving comes in second place to riding. Riding a motorbike on British roads requires total and undivided concentration. There is exactly no time at all to think about anything other than what is going on around you, which means that if something is playing on your mind, the best thing to do is get on your bike and ride. 'But why?' I hear you thinking. Well, by the time you park up and take off your helmet, gloves and everything else, your subconscious has had time to deal with whatever it is that is causing you stress and as a result the answer, while not always the one you want, is ready for you to inspect at your coffee-drinking leisure.

Please feel free to eat Danish pastries while considering this. No, not the coffee, but the joy of having the back of your brain actively working instead of just filing the day's events and giving you weird dreams. Having refilled my coffee mug and accidentally opened a bag of cookies, a thought has occurred. Caffeine, in the right quantity, can reproduce a similar buzz to adrenaline, but it falls just a little way short. The missing part is the feeling of being out of control of ninety
per cent of what is happening but fighting like a berserker to retain the last ten. And later, when the adrenaline has subsided, the body releases another great chemical into the blood which induces a fantastic feeling of euphoria and peace. I refer to endorphins. The easiest way to describe the feeling is 'Did I just do that and survive? Yes. Wow. Cool. Maybe tomorrow I'll do it again, but then I might leave it till next week and just sit here for now feeling all nice and mellow.'

Have you ever noticed how certain songs or albums can shift the balance of your moods? Using myself as an example, I am a metalhead. My all-time favourite band is Motorhead, closely followed by AC/DC. Then the list becomes longer, with occasional trips into blues. My point is that when I am in a good mood I listen to Motorhead because it buoys up my good mood. If I am feeling down and want to pick myself up I listen to Lemmy and the boys at work and it lifts me up. AC/DC also have this effect, although they aren't quite the same in terms of style or even tempo. Listening to Metallica or Motorhead while driving is not a good thing, though, and this is because of two side effects. You will relax too much and drive badly, or you will get carried away with the music and drive too fast and badly.

The Foo Fighters, because there is a lot of foo in the world and it needs fighting, are good mellow driving music, but fun enough to jump around to. Disturbed: excellent jumping-up-and-down music and yet dangerous to drive to. Gwen Stefani: yes please, with a side order of coffee — good music, too, either on her own or with No Doubt. Hawkwind — now there is a truly odd band and yet there are times when nothing else will quite fit the way those guys play. As their album says, Quark, Strangeness and Charm. Sums up that band quite nicely, you know. Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Otis Rush, Chuck Berry, Elmore James, Ray Charles, Howlin' Wolf, Robert Johnson, BB King ... now, if you want ground-breaking blues
musicians, listen to these guys and be in awe. These guys are where rock-and-roll started and they were still packing in an audience after some so-called big rock acts had withered away.

Music can be used to express so many emotions and yet the two that seem to try and make a grab for all the songs are sadness and happiness. If I ever get around to making a will, the only demand I am going to make about my funeral is that they play Overkill by Motorhead or Locomotive. Linkin Park: there is a band who seem to be the logical result of what Anthrax and Public Enemy started when they worked together and created the track 'Bring the Noize'. With that one experimental track they created a subtle shift in the rock world which meant that rap music could be accepted into rock without anyone thinking it didn't belong. Aerosmith are now synonymous with Run DMC, which is great because you get rock fans going to rap gigs and vice versa. Music unites very different groups of the world's population than I'd have thought possible.

I've just finished reading a book called Silver Screen by Justina Robson that I picked up in the local library. It's all about artificial Intelligence and nanotechnology and whether or not a machine can become 'alive' in the human sense. If a machine is capable of rational thought and is aware of both itself and its surroundings, does it become a living, thinking creature or does it become a threat to humanity because it can control other machines around it and affect the lives of people it comes into contact with? Does this lead to the question of if we mistreat a toaster one day it will get its revenge? Should we fear the day technology advances so far that it can think for itself? For me, the answer to the first question is very simple. Read the handbook and the problem will never arise in the first place. To the second question, why be afraid of something that can help us grow and evolve as a species? (Unless, of course, it decides we are the biggest threat to ourselves and solves that problem in one big bang.)

The big bang. I have a small problem with this theory of the creation of the universe and the problem is quite simple. If nothing existed before, what actually went bang and what caused it to go bang? I mean, something needed to explode, didn't it? And what was the detonator? This means something existed before that no longer exists now, because it went bang. Who or what pressed the button? Is there somewhere a ghost drifting around thinking, 'Yeah, they were right. I am really sorry I ever pressed that button'? Or do we believe in a God? Was this creature really bored when it created humans, or does it have a really twisted sense of humour? I mean, let's be fair. Humans are on the brink of disaster from the moment we get out of bed.


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