Aromatics of Desire

Pheromones are the lineal ancestors of hormones as EO Wilson says. These chemical signals have several outstanding advantages. Small amounts can produce a signal that lasts for hours. They are energetically cheap to manufacture and can be broadcast quite readily. At one extreme they can cover barely a few millimetres. At the other extreme they…

Icelandic Sagas- ways of living and dying

I don’t know whether you know about Nkisi nkodi. It is a Kongo nailed figure, a container or statue of forces directed at an end. It is one of the most potent figures of African art. The nails are hammered into the wood whilst ritual curses are spoken. Each object may have dozens of these…

Wub, swibble & pizzled- neologisms and meaning

  I've cycled to Quarteira from Vilamoura, distance of just under 5 miles. It's a very warm morning. The sun is a strong even searing midday brightness glistening and bouncing off the sea. Even I with my dark eyes, have to squint. This is November but it could easily be midsummer.   The restaurants are…

Variegation, difference and other matters

It is now decidedly Autumn. The leaves are about all turned or already fallen off their branches. The pavements have that irritating layer of sodden, rotting leaves. Our back garden has the wonderful show of brown and reddish yellow, of mustard and red pepper, of berries and the yet to be plucked speckled apples. It…

Winter Blues: I begin to discern the profile of my death

  Oliver Sacks has just revealed that he has terminal cancer. This sad news from the voice of humane medicine put me in mind of Marguerite Yourcenar’s Memoirs of Hadrian, an account of the last days of a great man, looking back and forwards, in a letter to Marcus Aurelius.     The letter opens…

Pirandello and social reality

What is reality? How are we to know what is ‘real’ and what is merely imaginary? Pirandello (1867-1936) dealt with these matters in his drama. In Henry IV, he created a character, Henry IV, who was deluded. He falsely believed that he was Henry IV. His father, Marquis Charles Di Nolli, employed a number of…

Pan(ic)demic

  What is terror? Is it that flash of white phosphorescent light that started in the innards and exploded soundlessly? First, a seizure quickened the pulse and the muscles of the heart, and then it dried the mouth, propelling every sinew, every nerve of the four limbs into a rush of running. It is definitely…