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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

Denmark

 

 

  

 

 

In the seventies I spent some time travelling around Denmark visiting geographically diverse relatives but in a couple of days there was no time to repeat that, so this was to be a quick trip to two places that I remembered as standing out in 1970's: Copenhagen and Roskilde.

An increasing number of Danes are my progressively distant cousins by virtue of my great aunt marrying a Dane, thus contributing my mother's grandparent's DNA to the extended family in Denmark.  As a result, these Danes are my children's cousins too.

Denmark is a relatively small but wealthy country in which people share a common language and thus similar values, like an enthusiasm for subsidising wind power and shunning nuclear energy, except as an import from Germany, Sweden and France. 

They also like all things cultural and historical and to judge by the museums and cultural activities many take pride in the Danish Vikings who were amongst those who contributed to my aforementioned DNA, way back.  My Danish great uncle liked to listen to Geordies on the buses in Newcastle speaking Tyneside, as he discovered many words in common with Danish thanks to those Danes who had settled in the Tyne valley.

Nevertheless, compared to Australia or the US or even many other European countries, Denmark is remarkably monocultural. A social scientist I listened to last year made the point that the sense of community, that a single language and culture confers, creates a sense of extended family.  This allows the Scandinavian countries to maintain very generous social welfare, supported by some of the highest tax rates in the world, yet to be sufficiently productive and hence consumptive per capita, to maintain among the highest material standards of living in the world. 

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Fiction, Recollections & News

The Cloud

 

 

 

 

 Chapter 1 - The Party

 

 

 

This morning Miranda had an inspiration - real candles!  We'll have real candles - made from real beeswax and scented with real bergamot for my final party as a celebration of my life and my death. This brief candle indeed!

In other circumstances she would be turning 60 next birthday.  With her classic figure, clear skin and dark lustrous hair, by the standards of last century she looks half her age, barely thirty, the result of a good education; modern scientific and medical knowledge; a healthy diet and lifestyle and the elimination of inherited diseases before the ban on such medical interventions. 

It's ironical that except as a result of accidents, skiing, rock climbing, paragliding and so on, Miranda's seldom had need of a doctor.  She's a beneficiary of (once legal) genetic selection and unlike some people she's never had to resort to an illegal back-yard operation to extend her life. 

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Opinions and Philosophy

In Defence of Secrecy

 

 

Julian Assange is in the news again. 

I have commented on his theories and his worries before.

I know no more than you do about his worries; except to say that in his shoes I would be worried too.  

But I take issue with his unqualified crusade to reveal the World’s secrets.  I disagree that secrets are always a bad thing.

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