If you flip a fair coin, you can be pretty certain it will come up heads, or tails. That's one of the way these things work, and indeed, has been one of a coin's two major functions for weeks now, if not longer.
Now say the coin was giant, phenomenally huge, and that you lived on it. Say you lived on the Queen, and say that there was some event in the past that was like tossing that coin. What could you say about that coin?
You could say it must have landed heads up. Because if it hadn't, you wouldn't be around to ask the question to. You would be squished.
As a doctor, I am often asked, Doctor Oddverse, why is tossing a coin like the existence of intelligent life in the universe?
Well, I say. I'm glad you asked that question.
Imagine the Big Bang as tossing a coin with a vast number of sides, and us as living on the one that looks most like the Queen. The fact that the coin landed with the Queen side up means just that - the coin landed with the Queen side up. It doesn't tell us anything about whether the coin is fair. It doesn't tell us how many faces the coin has - it might be one, it might be effectively infinite. It doesn't even tell us how many times the coin has been tossed before.
It doesn't tell us we're at the centre of the universe. It doesn't tell us there was a creator. It just tells us that we are here.
Thank you. Enjoy the smallness of existence.
They never warn you that in your forties, your eyebrows will take on a tufty life of their own, gradually but firmy reaching out with eyebrow tendrils, desperately trying to join up with their demonic cousins, the tufty ear hair.
No, they just tell you that mascara can make your eyelashes eighty seven times more alluring.
Who plucking cares?
The strangest thing just happened.
I was sitting at my desk, and I suddenly remembered my French teacher.
Not my first French teacher, the woman who introduced me to notre notre nos, votre votre vos, leur leur leur. She was quizzed by some of the class about where she was from. No, she wasn't English, no she wasn't French, Belgian, Swiss, South African, Swedish, Vietnamese, Sontaran, Inuit or Lett. I remember the way she stressed both syllables after they gave up. Scott-ish.
For my last three years of learning French, though, I was taught by the head of the department - another Scot, and one who had - well let's just say a certain resemblance to De Gaulle. This led to a string of unsubtle jokes and gestures and the drawing of unflattering profiles on jotters. I'd completely forgotten about him - even when I was re-reading l'Etranger a few weeks ago, he didn't cross my mind. It's a fantastic book, by the way. But I digress.
As I sat here, remembering this chap, a man probably younger then than I am now, I raised my hand to my nose, and recreated a gesture I haven't made in over twenty years. It brought back the smells of school, the feel of the space at the end of the Modern Languages corridor, the voice of a long-forgotten friend saying the name of the teacher, the warmth of summer light through the wire-reinforced shatter-proof glass, reflected off the cold marble floors. So much memory triggered from one small thought, and suddenly I feel like I'm seventeen again.
I went to school two miles away from where I sit as I type this. I've travelled the world, lived and worked on other continents. I've got some great memories, but it's odd how some are more potent than others, especially the ones that you think you've forgotten.
So there I was in one of those new fangled aeroplane things when suddenly I found myself peering over the shoulder of the gentleman in front of me.
Those readers outraged by the previous sentence should re-read it carefully as I very carefully spell checked the word "peering".
I happened to notice - because it was in huge letters - that a respectable journalist had chosen to write about Wives and Girlfriends, and to compare and contrast them with those brave women who, like my great grandmother's second best friend Tracey, chained themselves to the bottom step of a moving escalator in the name of universal suffrage.
On the one hand, I can hardly blame her, but on the other hand it would have been nice if she had commented first, then I could actually have bought a copy rather than having to pee over the shoulder of the handsome young man in front of me. I could have admired her skilful reworking of my basic treatise in more detail, and I could have framed the piece on my wall of plagiarism. Oh well.
Now, I know what many of my readers will think. Perhaps it was just a coincidence. Perhaps she and I are just keyed in to the same psychotic zeitgeist, and that these things are inevitable. As I peed over the shoulder in front of me, this did cross my mind. Perhaps none of our ideas are original, and they are all being fed to us by an invisible network of tiny message-breathing dragons. To be honest, that would explain a lot. Including the slight burning sensation in my right ear.
I have a friend who used to believe that her head was made of wood and that the woodworm did her thinking for her. Fortunately, at around the age of 18 she had her head replaced with a human one, and that has served her well since then. Still, this desire to understand how she worked did propel her on to greater things. She's now a neurosurgeon.
And if I read any of that in a paper the next time I pee over someone's shoulder, I'll know I'm on to something.
PS - Hi Mary! I know you're reading.
After three nights of insomnia caused by the noise of our neighbours tonight is still, too still. Nothing to distract, no distant chorus of car alarms, no wailing of neighbours, no aria of mating cats, not even the whine of the fridge.
I could be alone in the universe. The last man on earth, connected to nothing. My mind is cartwheeling from one inconsequentiality to the next - there's nothing in particular that's keeping me awake but everything in general. So there's nothing I can blame, nothing that I can say "this is the thing that I must tackle if I am to sleep".
Mr Twinky can't sleep either. It's not just me.
This is dead time.
We need less sleep as we get older. Margaret Thatcher, depending on which source you read, only slept for four or five hours a night when she was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. She used to cat nap during the day, though, sleeping during Prime Minister's Question Time, on her private jet, and while Dennis Healey was being savaged by dead sheep.
Now, of course, she sleeps for twenty-three hours a day, and in the one remaining hour she eats soup through a straw and watches the lovely Carol Vorderman on Countdown.
Insomnia hits me more as I get older, and the more it hits me the less it bothers me. It's a fact of aging, like the grey hair at the temples, the expression lines and the lessening of the body's flexibility. It's happening often enough not to worry me any more when it happens, but not often enough that I've got a good routine for coping with it yet.
It's late, and I've been awake for an hour. Only three more before I go to work.
This time tomorrow, I'll be getting up for a flight. Bet I can sleep then, oh yes.
We've got workmen in.
So far today, we've had the guy wit the shaved head who went up the ladder and reached for the roof, and we've now got the older bloke with his skinny teenage apprentice who are doing things that I'm quite sure Mr Twinky wouldn't approve of. Skinny teenage apprentice has a lovely ring.
I've been complimented on our flat, which is always nice, and I've been asked possibly the strangest question of the day.
"Do you have a toilet I can use?"
Apprentice boy can't be more than 19. He can't remember what it was like when not everybody had a bathroom, seriously, he can't. So it's a very odd question. Not "can I use your toilet?" or "where's your toilet?", but a question that rather succinctly combines both, but comes across as strangely archaic.
I suspect that it's an example of memories from a past life emerging as a result of a post-reincarnation trauma. That'll be it, for sure.
The skinny git has got his dirty paws all over our nice clean paintwork. I'll be at it with a damp cloth later, just you wait and see.
So there I was, undermining the idea of family again...
Every generation has a responsibility to its children, to make them better equipped to deal with the complex cock-up of a world that we leave behind them. But they fuck you up, your Mum and Dad. As a group, society propogates its prejudices down through generations and they evolve and mutate and take on a life of their own. A feud over property can lead to war thousands of years later. This is profoundly sad, tragic and inevitable.
We should be better than that. We should embrace our differences. We should not demonise what we fear, rather we should try to understand it. We should not preach hate to our children, nor should we fill them with cruel compassion. The greatest gift we can give the next generation is an open mind and the chance to live in a world where it is self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain unalienable Rights, and that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.
Too much to ask? Yup.
I'm sitting on a beach in Bali. The sun's gone down, and there's a slight breeze. The hotel has laid on traditional entertainment. A story told in dance, with the dancers all wearing masks.
The story is as much about the masks as it is about the characters they depict. At its frenetic peak, the dancers are whirling around, passing masks from one to each other, becoming different characters. In a sense, though, the masks are the character - the dancer is just the body that it is being carried by. And then the masks are discarded, and the dancers laugh, frown, and emote. The abandonment of masks liberates them.
In life, we all wear disguises. We protect ourselves (whatever we mean by "self" here) behind a painted facade that we build. I'm doing it now, crafting a mask with my words. You're seeing what I want you to see. That's the way with every other blog I've ever read, no matter how much the writer may try to deny it. It's no coincidence that the image that accompanies my personal entries here is a mask with three faces.
Tangenting here. Recently I've caught a bit of BBC2's Spy, and read an interview with Matt Lucas where he spoke about coming out. Being gay, and being secretive about it, can be a bit like being a superhero. It's something special about you that only you know, and keeping that secret is exciting and can be exhilarating. Telling people is scary and big. Except so often, it's not. It's only exciting to you. Other people take it in their stride.
One of my least attractive traits is my need to compartmentalise my life. To keep little parts of my life secret from people in the other parts of my life. I don't like it. I have to fight to break it down. And it's never a big thing when it happens, and the response is always the same. "Why didn't you tell me before?" It would have been so much easier just to be open and honest in the first place.
But the mask is comforting. The mask is something we know, that we can rely on. It looks solid, but it's hollow.
If you drop the mask, people can see your face.
My sister lives in a grown up house. Semi-detached, in a cul-de-sac, with a garage and a porch. She has two small children, and a third on the way. She's suitably scared that her house is a grown up house, but the fact of the matter is that she's a grown up.
I only noticed this a few months ago, although I suspect it's been happening over a long time now. It wasn't something that she turned on when she had children, although it's something I see manifested mainly in the way that she deals with them. And I don't see it all the time. Sometimes she's still a teenager shining through. But mainly, she's a grown up. A couple of years younger than me, but she beat me to being a grown up.
Apparently, people are growing up later these days. Thirty is the new twenty-five. Forty is the new thirty. Sixty is the new Forty-five. All means very little. I've got a theory. Actually, I've got two theories but the other one is about bunnies. My theory about that point when people who are legally adults turn in to people who actually have some responsibility and maturity. I used to think it's all a matter of perspective. I thought it was a matter of sitting down and making an active decision to behave that way. But it's not that. Or not entirely.
We don't simply choose to grow up. Nobody really wants to grow up. Our circumstances thrust it on us. And we can accept that responsibility, as those who came before us accepted theirs, or we can fight against it, and appear on Channel Four having our life audited, or go on daytime television and explain that the system has let us down.
It can't simply be a responsibility thing, can it? Is it that easy to define? And where does that leave me?
Perhaps it means that in order to grow up, I have to buy a cat.
Last summer, Mr Twinky and I spent a day marching around the streets of Cambridge, into as many colleges as possible, and peering into chapels left, right and centre. We did as much architecture as we could, both ancient and modern.
It was odd to go back.
I've been back before, needless to say, but for college events, or to meet people. I associate it with crowds and cliques, with balls and concerts, study and socialising. But not tourism.
Viewed in this light, everything was the same and different. Joshua Taylor is now Borders. The Arts Cinema seems to have vanished. The colleges remain the same, however, trapped in a Merchant Ivory moment, perhaps?
They say that the first time you 'make love' should be special, because you will remember it for the rest of your life. In practice, it's usually clumsy because you really don't know what you're doing. Was it special for you?
Part of my history, Zip, has gone. This was the bar in Hong Kong where I used to go in my wildest period (1999), mainly as a place to meet new friends whose names weren't really important. Mr Twinky and I first saw each other in Zip (although we didn't talk to each other). Famous for not having a sign, this is a complete falsehood. It did have a sign, just not a very big one. The last I heard, Zip planned to expand. Instead, it seems, it has been unfastened.
I got an e-mail from Richard that reminded me about my friend Calum. Calum was the first person that I met on-line that I then went on to meet in real life. I turned up on his doorstep in Norwich one November evening, freezing, and walked in to find that there was a family crisis going on. I was perturbed. I was very perturbed, in fact. But I let it all gloss over me, and I had a good time.
At this stage I knew that Calum was ill, but I didn't know what it was. I only found out a couple of months later when he told me about the combination therapy and I looked up the names of the drugs on the internet. At the time, I was very ignorant about treatment for HIV. I still am, and intend to keep it that way. But I digress.
Having met Calum on-line, I proceeded to not repeat the practice for a while. I did keep in touch with Calum, although he kept having to go in to hospital. That was a bit of a wrench for me, since I had no real way of staying in touch with him while he didn't have his computer.
Fast forward to April, and he cajoled me in to a trip to Alton Towers (against his doctor's advice). He got in free in his wheelchair, I got a discount as a 'carer' for the day. It was a laugh, I remember. I went home happy, and thrilled, and didn't hear from Calum again.
I assumed the worse. I was wrong, though. He reappeared on-line in August, having been in hospital for most of the time between. He came across as very tired, and I was able to say goodbye to him properly.
This tore me apart at the time, but from where I am now, I can see it for what it was - a strong, if unusual, friendship and one that will stay with me for a long time to come.
What colour is antimatter? I'm sure that of itself, it has no particular colour - I have no idea what colour an electron is so I would have no idea what colour a positron would be. But built up in to pure elements... that would be another matter. Gold, for instance, is golden. Kind of obviously. What colour would anti-gold be? Metallic blue? It probably depends on the circumstances of the observer. Air is transparent - would anti-air be opaque? Or would anti-air be opaque to people, but transparent to anti-people, due to the anti-photons? I seriously doubt that I care.
Tomorrow's acheivement will be getting a wee pumpkin into the internet exploder address bar.