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Thursday, 26 December 2013

Literary Spectrometry

This has truly been the annus mirabilissimus at the EDSRF. In less than six months we had announced three astonishing innovations: the Sushing scale of celebrity; the Extensible Literary Mark-up Language (XLML); and Didactic Gradualism. And already we are announcing a fourth: literary spectrometry, a new science that will revolutionise the sale of literary fiction.
As cultured polymaths my readers will be au fait with the established forms of spectrometry: you will know especially, for example, how optical spectrometry may be used to identify the composition of materials by measuring the specific combinations of frequencies at which light is emitted, absorbed, or scattered, by the substance under observation. For me, the person who played such a major role in transforming the basic ideas of optical spectrometry to branches of physics such as reverse quantum dichotics, it was a natural instinct to extend the concept into other fields entirely, and even more natural that my chosen field should be literature.
The principles of literary spectrometry could not be more simple to understand, nor more awesome to appreciate. In brief, literary spectrometry reveals the nature of literary work by subjecting it to various forms of frequency analysis. The spectra that have so-far been experimentally investigated at the EDSRF include:

Word length, measured in characters.
Sentence length, measured in words.
Paragraph length, measured in words.
Chapter length, measured in words.

The examples below are the sentence length spectra of, respectively, War and Peace and The DaVinci Code. Note in the War and Peace spectrum the isolated spike at 18 words, which is virtually a fingerprint of the great Russian author, appearing to some extent in all his known works.

The preliminary findings are remarkable. They have shown a direct correlation between the quality of the written work and the characteristics of their spectra; and they have included correct predictions of the winners of all the major literary awards in 2013. Shortly we will be revealing the results of our most recent work, which has been to analyse the frequency of occurrence of certain figures of speech. Those results are pending peer review within the academic literary community, but the appropriate bribes and sweeteners have been  handed-over, so we hope to publish on this blog shortly. Keep watch.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

The Domestic Goddess

When I first heard of the public exposure of Nigella’s cocaine habit I must confess that I felt a pang of guilt, as it was I who had introduced her to the substance. Not physically, as a taker or pusher, you understand, but intellectually, as a chemist, neuropathologist, economist and social historian. We were seated together at a charity dinner, at which I had agreed to be the guest speaker, while she and Charles were hostess and host. She was a charming companion, in a simple sort of way, and evidently wired with an addictive bent, as she would root in her capacious handbag every few minutes to extract large lumps of chocolate from what I took to be a jumbo catering bar. It seemed a largely unconscious habit, as she fed the lumps into her mouth rather as an automaton might, and appeared unaware of her own compulsive actions until I questioned her about them.
‘Oh, God, sorry.’ She said. ‘Have I been doing it long?’

I thought I would let the brown smears around her mouth answer her question when she next faced a mirror, and instead I began to tell her about the source of chocolate-the cacao plant. I explained the history of its cultivation, that its seeds are naturally bitter and must fermented to produce cocao, and that chocolate was addictive owing to the presence of tri-glyptotheramides.
Evidently she harboured a misunderstanding that cocoa was also the source of cocaine, appearing to believe that cocaine itself was merely some purified and more intense form of white chocolate.  

Of course I put her right at once. I explained that the coca and cacao plants were quite distinct; that cocaine, or more properly benzoylmethylecgonine, acted as voltage-gated sodium channel blocker in the brain, thus priming the limbic reward pathway. I warned her that owing to these remarkable properties the substance was not to be sniffed at, but alas I fear she misinterpreted my words, and the rest you know.

Her addictive nature was revealed in other ways following our discussion. She imbibed wine in oceanic quantities, though with a surprising lack of discernment for a celebrity chef. When she saw me perusing the label of what I felt to be a rather pugnacious and combative claret she remarked that Charles had specially laid on her two favourite wines.

'Really?' I asked. 'Which are they?'

'Red and white.'

Friday, 20 December 2013

Ronnie Biggs

It is only a while ago that my chance meeting with Pope Francis caused me to write of the role that coincidence has played in my extraordinarily rich and eventful life, and already the death of Ronnie Biggs, on the very day he was due to arrive as my house guest, has furnished another example. Virtually none of the Western languages- English included- has a word meaning a coincidence of coincidences, while almost all Eastern languages do; doubtless that reflects a fundamental difference in prevailing philosophical outlook between the two hemispheres.
Ronnie I first met in 1970 when he consulted my opinion on a superficial dermal degradation that had arisen from a cosmetic surgical procedure he had endured some years earlier to affect a change to his appearance with a view to reducing the risk of recognition and capture. The consultation was a casual one at my apartments in Rio, and coincided with a regular weekly poker school which I held with some old German acquaintances. Ronnie fancied himself as a player, and inevitably he became part of the little group that met every Thursday for a high-stakes gamble. I gained the impression that he enjoyed the rush of adrenaline afforded by the games, which had been progressively more absent from the rest of his life as the risk of arrest had become more remote. For my part the sessions were a pleasant, light distraction from my intellectual labours.
In spite of his colossal gains from the train robbery, and the money his notoriety earned him through the rest of his life, Ronnie died penniless. I suspect that to be in part the result of a run of bad luck in his poker games with me, a run that went on for some time. About 43 years, I recall.
The popular press has today picked up on the coincidence between the timing of poor Ronnie's demise and his intended visit to my Mayfair home, where we had planned to be installed comfortably for the premier of  the  widely-heralded BBC dramatization of the Great Train Robbery. Some have suggested that the excitement of the impending spectacular might have been too much for Ronnie's enfeebled spirit. I can appreciate the rationale for such views; after all, it is not every day that a person has the opportunity to be my guest for an evening's TV.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Nelson Mandela

I have been musing today on the many ironies that attended the recently-curtailed life of my old friend and cell-mate Nelson Mandela. Take, for instance, his name: in the Xhosa language it means 'almond from a small town in Lancashire', yet he hated almonds and supported Yorkshire at cricket. Of such manifold mysteries is life made.
Many were the contented hours that Nelson and I spent debating ethics, politics and philosophy while incarcerated at Robben Island, he for treason, and I awaiting trial for entirely unproven charges of tax evasion, fraud, copyright infringement, money laundering, acting as a trustee for a charitable trust while disqualified from trustee-ship, dealing with intent to defraud, unauthorised currency exchange, and pyramid selling. Ours was a synergistic relationship: from me Nelson learned principles of justice, fairness, tolerance, forgiveness, and the importance of devoting ones life and abilities to the benefit of ones fellow man; while from him I learned the ancient Mpondo strategy game of Khohalai, which is played with pebbles, and how to avoid being caught by the screws with smuggled tobacco. It was sad for me, when the charges against me evaporated, to have to leave our haven, which, owing to our mutually fulfilling companionship, had felt more like a retreat than a prison. Years later he declared that he, too, felt cheated by my departure; particularly since I quite forgot to return his deposit for a rather natty pyramid in Machu Picchu, which for some reason I thought I owned at the time. That's prison for you- does your head in.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Performance Coach of the Year

One of the many sources of satisfaction with which I have been blessed has been the sight of my old students and mentees achieving measures of success that would have been unattainable without my guidance. Putin, Obama, Pope Francis, Higgs, Jobs, Bacon... their names will be as familiar to you as my own. And it is pleasing to see my recent students, who have yet to attain the fame of their predecessors,  boosted into the world upon trajectories full of promise. Only this week, at a gala dinner in Mayfair, I had the satisfaction of applauding Warren Gatland as he stepped-up to receive the Performance Coach of the Year award, publically benefitting from my background role as the coaches' coach.
The glittering evening had another pleasant aspect, as I spent much of it in the charming company of the Beckhams, whose generosity and persistence at a charity auction had earned them seats at my table. Understandably, when the formalities had been completed, and I had taken too much of the superb claret, I confess I rather hogged the conversation at the table, giving David my insights into the vital role of the coach. In my defence it must be said that I was egged on by his nods, smiles, and encouraging interjections.
That's brilliant, he said to my observation that the role of the coach was a paradoxical one, bringing the team together, but at the same time giving each player enough personal space. Yeah dead right, he concurred with a nod or two, when I mentioned that all players come with baggage, and the coach needs to be able to cope with it. I've known both types in my time, was his comment when I appraised the spectrum from the austere, Spartan coach to the warm and welcoming. For sure, he affirmed, when I said that a good coach could carry a team all the way to a cup final. And so on.
Realising that I had indeed been making more than my fair share of the conversation, I asked David if there was one coach that stood out in his unmatched experience as a footballer. His answer was immediate and decisive. A Neoplan Starliner that took him to a game at Fulham in 2004. It had GameBoy consoles in the back of every seat. Magic.