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The fellow sitting beside me slammed his book closed and sat looking pensive. 

The bus was approaching Cremorne junction.  I like the M30.  It starts where I get on so I’m assured of a seat and it goes all the way to Sydenham in the inner West, past Sydney University.  Part of the trip is particularly scenic, approaching and crossing the Harbour Bridge.  We’d be in The City soon.

My fellow passenger sat there just staring blankly into space.  I was intrigued.   So I asked what he had been reading that evoked such deep thought.  He smiled broadly, aroused from his reverie.  “Oh it’s just Inferno the latest Dan Brown,” he said.   

“So what did you think?” I asked. 

“Well I’m a writer and all of us want to be read," he replied.  "Eleven weeks at the top of the New York Times Best Seller list, outselling everything else several times over during that period speaks for itself.  He's got a bankable name, even if this book is not his best.”

“He’s a great read on a plane,” I said.  “The only problem for me when I was flying just after Inferno came out was that it was only in hard cover. Too heavy and bulky.  So I didn’t buy it.  But I’ve read it since.  A borrowed copy.  Brown got no royalty from me this time.”

“What did you think of it?” he asked.

“Well I’m getting a bit sick of the paperchase/scavenger hunt formula. It’s getting quite difficult for him to sustain the reader’s credulity when Langdon is so blatantly being led from city to city by a mastermind who stays just one step ahead of being foiled.  And why wouldn’t Langdon be asking, as I was, about the point of leaving the clues, all involving his detailed knowledge of Dante’s Inferno?”

“Yes," he agreed. "About half way through I began wondering how the writer could explain why someone would deliberately lay a trail that if followed fast enough would apparently lead to their master-plan failing.  The plot resolution turns out to be that the trail has been laid posthumously by the mastermind simply to let his enemies discover that he has already succeeded.  But it’s a resolution that suddenly renders all the scrambling about that went before futile.” 

“A classical deus ex machina, an unexpected resolution provided by the gods, in this case Brown” I agreed.

“But like his other books the story is filled out with all sorts of esoteric research and locational trivia,” I added.  “Like some spy novels his books are becoming travelogues.  I’ve been to, and even have photographs of, a number of the locations in the book, including St Michaels in Venice, most of the buildings in Florence as well as the Basilica Cistern and Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.” 

He looked surprised.

Feeling that I had been caught immodestly providing my own travelogue I cut short the list and continued:  “More than his previous novels, with more elaborate sub-plots, Inferno reinforced my view that most Brown plots are simply elaborate scavenger hunts.”

“Pursuing the blood of Christ or an errant priest using antimatter to secure the Papacy or secret Masonic knowledge or a ring engraved with a cryptographic key, the paperchase plot seems to have become a leitmotif in his work.”

“Did you go to all those places after the books came out?  Are you a Dan Brown follower?” he asked. 

“No of course not!  I have other reasons to visit Washington DC, Westminster Abby, St Peters or the Louvre.  It’s just that in the past ten years, since the kids got their own homes, we’ve tried to get overseas once or twice a year.  And Dan’s pretty well been following us about.”  I joked. 

“But I have to confess that when we were in Scotland recently we did go to see the Roslyn Chapel outside of Edinburgh that features in both the Da Vinci Code and the film.  Of course the following day we spent several hours on the Royal Yacht Britannia touring and having lunch.  So I’m expecting to see that as a location in a future Dan Brown novel.”

At that point the bus reached Wynyard Park and my companion rose to get off. 

“Happy writing!” I said as he moved to the door.  “Do you have a name?”  

“Dan Brown,” he replied.

It’s a common name I suppose.

 

 

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Travel

Ireland

 

 

 

 

In October 2018 we travelled to Ireland. Later we would go on to England (the south coast and London) before travelling overland (and underwater) by rail to Belgium and then on to Berlin to visit our grandchildren there. 

The island of Ireland is not very big, about a quarter as large again as Tasmania, with a population not much bigger than Sydney (4.75 million in the Republic of Ireland with another 1.85 million in Northern Ireland).  So it's mainly rural and not very densely populated. 

It was unusually warm for October in Europe, including Germany, and Ireland is a very pleasant part of the world, not unlike Tasmania, and in many ways familiar, due to a shared language and culture.

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Fiction, Recollections & News

The Meaning of Death

 

 

 

 

 

 

'I was recently restored to life after being dead for several hours' 

The truth of this statement depends on the changing and surprisingly imprecise meaning of the word: 'dead'. 

Until the middle of last century a medical person may well have declared me dead.  I was definitely dead by the rules of the day.  I lacked most of the essential 'vital signs' of a living person and the technology that sustained me in their absence was not yet perfected. 

I was no longer breathing; I had no heartbeat; I was limp and unconscious; and I failed to respond to stimuli, like being cut open (as in a post mortem examination) and having my heart sliced into.  Until the middle of the 20th century the next course would have been to call an undertaker; say some comforting words then dispose of my corpse: perhaps at sea if I was travelling (that might be nice); or it in a box in the ground; or by feeding my low-ash coffin into a furnace then collect the dust to deposit or scatter somewhere.

But today we set little store by a pulse or breathing as arbiters of life.  No more listening for a heartbeat or holding a feather to the nose. Now we need to know about the state of the brain and central nervous system.  According to the BMA: '{death} is generally taken to mean the irreversible loss of capacity for consciousness combined with the irreversible loss of capacity to breathe'.  In other words, returning from death depends on the potential of our brain and central nervous system to recover from whatever trauma or disease assails us.

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Opinions and Philosophy

How does electricity work?

 

 

 

The electrically literate may find this somewhat simplified article redundant; or possibly amusing. They should check out Wikipedia for any gaps in their knowledge.

But I hope this will help those for whom Wikipedia is a bit too complicated and/or detailed.


All cartoons from The New Yorker - 1925 to 2004

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