Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Failed Experiment

Come on! Spit it out! Ask the question! Don't be shy! - That's better, yes! - and it's a good question that you ask: Why indeed am I reading a book titled "How to Fossilise Your Hamster" ?
- No it's not because I want to fossilise a hamster (although there are a few people I would like to fossilise and the information might well come in handy) - but no, it's because I am also reading a book called "Western Philosophy An Anthology" and one needs to live a balanced life in all things doesn't one. Mahler and Beethoven need to be balanced by pop music. Plays by Chekhov need to be balanced by films like Mamma Mia. This little book provides a crucial counterpoint to my thick philosophical tome.
- The book enables you to solve experimentally all the fun questions that the book poses - It allows you to find out why shaken and stirred martinis taste different. It shows you how to find out why cooked dumplings float, while uncooked ones remain close to the bottom of the pot? and why newspaper has a preferential direction for tearing? - All the sorts of answers to questions you have spent your life dying to ask but have been too afraid to do so - The book has oodles of experiments that you can delight yourself with. As I flicked my way carelessly through the pages my eyes rested on something interesting. On page 60 under the title 'Apple fool' this question is posed.
"Is it true that you can fool yourself into believing you are eating something other than the food that's in your mouth?"
Hmmm, I thought, this is a question that has been torturing me for decades - The sleepless nights thinking about this crucial matter don't bear thinking about. So I put on my white laboratory coat, spread a few petrie dishes and test tubes around, lit a Bunson burner to create a scientific ambiance and got to work.
First I read the hypothesis - ".... most of what we call taste is actually flavour produced by the smell of food passing from our mouths into our nasal cavities where we detect it through our sense of smell, or olfaction. True taste is only the bitter, sweet, salt, sour, and umani (savoury) detected by the taste buds. Bite into a strawberry and your tongue only tells you that it is sweet, just as it would if it were chocolate. It's the odours rising through your throat to your nose that tell you that that particular sweetness is strawberry flavoured. If you remove the sense of smell or block those odours, or as in the experiment replace them with something else, you can confuse your senses of taste and smell."
Righto, I thought and got to work this morning at the kitchen table with one eye out for the postman (bad move folks) and I quickly gathered together the components of the experiment -
- a slice of apple
- half a pear
- my nose
- my mouth
When all these components had been collected and were standing to attention they were fully briefed as to what would happen and all their questions and concerns answered before I got on with the experiment.
I did this by holding the pear under my nose while eating the slice of apple - and according to the hypothesise I would realise "Despite the fact that you are eating apple, you'll think you are eating pear."
The apple was a lovely sweet 'Gala' apple and the pear was of some nameless variety, but crisp and sweet tasting. I placed the half of the pear (which I had cored) under my nose and began to eat the apple. I bit into the apple with my eyes closed carrying in my mind the scientists wondrous faith in the words of a proven hypothesis .. and tasted - well, a very, nice, sweet, APPLE! - The dissonance was similar to using your mates briefings on cool moves and words of sweet nothings - starting confident with eyes closed, puckering into space, and finding, well - space, and then on opening, seeing the girl with the bedroom eyes dancing with someone else!
At this point I could see that the hypothesis was as yet unproven. Holding my head without posing, but somewhat like Auguste Rodins 'The Thinker, ' I mused about my experimental method whilst muttering to no one in particular some cryptic scienific terms. " Fuck it, that didn't bloody work", I said.
I repeated the experiment, this time pushing my nose firmly into the hole vacated by the pears core. With this firmly wedged in place on my nose, both my hands were now free to stuff some sweet Gala apple in my mouth.
At this point and as the sweet dappled aroma of Gala apple filled my senses in defiance of the pear hanging on my nose I noticed that the postman was moving slowly away from the letterbox not 6 meters from where I was standing. He was riding one handed, smiling weakly, shaking his head and with one finger raised on his free hand, he was making slow pendulum movements not unlike a musical metronome or a full screen window wiper.
Dear reader, if you have the time and the raw intelligence of the scientist such as I, please repeat the experiment to confirm that I have indeed disproved this outrageous hypothesis. An hypothesis which carries the implication that you can make a raw turnip taste somewhat different by eating it with a piece of pizza stuffed up your nose!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Song of Wandering Aengus - W.B.Yeats

........ And so continuing with my penchant for posting love poems that I really like [ if you like them, great; enjoy them and keep smiling - if you don't, tough, go suck a lemon (I mean that in a deeply caring way of course) ]...... I offer this well known favourite by W.B.Yeats

William Butler Yeats was both poet and playwright, a towering figure in 20th century literature in English, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923, a master of traditional verse forms and at the same time an idol of the modernist poets who followed him.
Yeats was always interested in mystical theories and images, the supernatural, the esoteric and the occult. As a young man, he studied the works of William Blake and Emmanuel Swedenborg, and was a member of the Theosophical Society and Golden Dawn. But his early poetry was modeled on Shelley and Spenser (e.g., his first published poem, “The Isle of Statues,” in The Dublin University Review) and drew on Irish folklore and mythology (as in his first full-length collection, The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems, 1889).


- W.B. Yeats

I WENT out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And someone called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.


Friday, June 12, 2009

A Ship Named 'Retirement' - Retirement (Part 1)

If you are a small yacht sailor there is a special magic about passing another yacht at sea. It is exciting to do so on a coastal passage for no other reason that compared to passing cars on a road, it is a rare event.

If you want to see a forest of masts, go to a yacht marina. If you want to see a cloud of sail, go watch any big harbour on an Anniversary regatta day or on a weekend yacht race day – but if you want to experience the magic of the close passing of two solitary yachts on a big ocean then you need to go for a sail up the coast or seaward to the outer islands.

The act of passing comes in three stages. First there is the triangle of white on a big horizon. The triangle comes and goes. Then the shape steadies, leaning into the afternoon on a warm breeze, hull down and approaching fast. As the two yachts approach each other the hazy details become clearer and sharper – the patient, long slow focus of the eyes lens now beholds its reward. The approaching vessel pitches and surges in the ocean swell as if in slow motion and then suddenly the eye is alerted to the movement of people as a sail is trimmed or a winch turned.

Then comes the long hesitation as the yachts are abreast of one another. There is the illusion that the movement of each has stopped briefly. It is as though they are suspended briefly in time - then suddenly the last stage as she flashes past in a cloud of white canvas and cascading white water. It is only then that the combined closing speeds of the two yachts is experienced fully – and in a blink of an eye, she is gone, moving slowly but steadily in the other direction.

Last week I resigned from my job of teaching. I have been teaching without a break of any real significance every year since 1974. Retirement has been on the horizon for a long time. This term I have not been teaching at all as I have taken a terms leave to deal with a number of issues and as a preparation of sorts for this transition to retirement.

I leave officially at the end of this term in about three weeks time. In the mean time I am sorting out all the retirement paperwork and other associated stuff. At this point the great hull of retirement is leaping off a wave right in front of me – it is the hesitation phase – she is close enough for me to read the name Retirement in big bold letters on her bow – and I am ready – I am barefooted now in my new cream canvas sailor trousers which I have been hand stitching for close on 35 years, bugger using a belt, I now tie them up sailor style with a long coloured silk scarf – the thousands of coloured threads remind me of all the poems I have read over the years – (the only repository of wisdom that ever made any sense to me). I have my trusty canvas swag with a few things in it – a compass that points north, but mainly metaphors of one sort or another – and I wear an old companion of mine, an old Mariners deep sea blue jersey. Its full of well darned holes to remind me of where I have been – and then as the two yachts momentarily stand still like the sun poised above the Earth at its mid day zenith - I throw my swag and jump!

Thursday, June 4, 2009


Two seemingly unrelated media items drew my attention over the last couple of weeks and made me think about an aspect of the structure of the personality as outlined by C.G.Jung. This aspect is one of the Archetypes called the Persona.

“The word persona originally denoted a mask worn by an actor which enabled him to portray a specific role in a play. In Jungian psychology, the persona archetype serves a similar purpose. It enables one to portray a character that is not necessarily his own. The persona is the mask or façade one exhibits publicly, with the intention of presenting a favourable impression so that society will accept him. It might also be called the ‘conformity’ archetype.”

Most of us are involved with one of our many personas when we are working. This is where we wear our persona of the teacher, the doctor, the carpenter, the nurse etc, etc. The persona is the basis of community life and the numerous roles we play are necessary for survival as it allows us to get along with other people and play predictable roles.

A person may have more than one mask. At home we may wear a different mask than we wear at work. We may put on a third mask when we go out to play golf or socialize with friends. Collectively however all of our masks constitute our persona – we merely conform in different ways in different situations.

The two unrelated media items reminded me that sometimes when playing the roles we play and wearing the masks we sometimes wear; emotions can break through that are at variance with the current persona and say something very honest about what we are feeling and who perhaps we really are.

The first item was a photograph in the New Zealand Herald newspaper a couple of weeks ago. The photograph (above) shows an Afghani mother with her child at the local hospital after 90 Afghan children were rushed to hospital, many who were unconscious and vomiting after a gas attack on their school.
“It was the third such attack against a girls school in Afghanistan in as many weeks, raising fears that the Taliban are resorting to increasingly vicious methods to terrorize young women out of education.”
When I looked at this photograph something drew my attention. If you look closely at the mothers light blue burqa on her right hand side next to the burqas viewing screen, you can see that the cloth is wet with tears. Despite the cultural imperative to wear this burqa which creates a collective persona of anonymity, the mothers true individual feelings and concerns seep through. You cannot but feel sympathy for her and for all Afghani girls struggling to obtain an education.

The second media item featured the ex Rugby All Black and now New Zealand television personality Marc Ellis. Ellis has been and is involved with a number of television shows. The persona he projects in all these shows is the persona of - the lad, the larrikin, the good Kiwi blokey bloke and the clown. The language that drives this persona is one of banter, jokes, putdowns, competitive challenges and good old fashioned blarney. All of this is well mixed with a mischievous macho ethos. Often this persona verges on a caricature of itself.

A couple of weeks ago in a new show called “How The Other Half Live” Ellis goes pig hunting with a tough group of pig hunters. Helter skelter through the bush they go with guns and a pack of pig dogs. Marc Ellis seems to be in his element, full of bravura and involvement right up to point of the kill. At the point where the dogs have the large boar surrounded and the lads go in to ‘stick’ the pig, (‘stick’ being a euphemism for slitting the pigs’ throat) Ellis turns away – “I don’t think I can watch it being killed” he says laughing in a slightly nervous manner. Later after having bodily carried the pig out of the bush, he sits astride his horse with the dead pig lying across the front of the saddle.
“Well, this has been fun” he says, “But I actually like animals a lot and I don’t like seeing them get hurt.” He says this with a slight quiver of the lips and a vulnerable hesitancy in his face - for a few seconds the carefree blokey mask disappears. He is clearly upset and reveals himself as being, at heart, an animal lover. As he revealed this unexpected side to himself I had a vision of a younger Ellis of say 10 or 12 years old holding and stroking his pet rabbit, cat or guinea pig – It was an endearing moment and this revelation was for me the best audience connection in the whole blokey caricature of a TV show. Something at variance with his persona had broken through and revealed an aspect of his true character from within the caricature .

Sometimes from the depths of our being the way we really feel seeps out - like tears through a burqa or like the quiver on the lips of a reluctant pig hunter.

Sometimes what we reveal about ourselves is as wild and yahooingly free as a bungy jump from the Skippers Canyon bridge in Central Otago - sometimes its like blood seeping through the thick bandage of a deep wound – but when it happens, we reveal something of our true selves, our humanity beneath the Persona - and that knowledge is like a knife.