Archive for January, 2010

Creative Networks review. Martin Parr, Leeds College of Art

Friday, January 29th, 2010

Picture this; you’ve gone to see one of your favourite bands perform at a concert. The band come on stage and then ask you, the audience, which type of show you want to see. Do you want to hear:

a) the bands back catalogue of old favourites (um, obviously),
b) only their most recent work without any favourites, or
c) a set of them covering obscure songs recorded by other less well known artists?

Then they ask for a show of hands.

This is what Martin Parr, a celebrated British photographer did to his audience on this evening. He said he had never done this before and now let me tell you why he will probably never do it again.

When I go to see a performance of whatever art form, I expect to see what I have been ’sold’ via the publicity (I should mention that this was a free event). If the publicity doesn’t specify exactly what the content will be, I expect the performer to give me their best shot, not their second (or third) best shot. I also don’t expect to have to start making last minute choices about which show I want to see when I am not familiar with the content of the other choices, especially in these enervating times of option fatigue.

The reason for this debacle was clearly highlighted in the phrasing of one of the choices that Mr Parr offered the audience. He asked if we wanted to hear his usual, boring story about how he got here, or…etc.

This is the age old curse of the populist performer; he is bored with doing the same old thing time after time but his loyal and/or novice audience expect to hear the stuff that made him popular in the first place. Mr Parr forgot that this was his problem, not ours, but he chose to foist it upon us that evening anyway.

What followed was akin to a deleted scene from a Mr Bean film. Steve Smith, the loquacious host of the event, attempted to impose some kind of structure to this process of selection. A show of hands was asked for and the usual, boring, option got the least votes (ironically Mr Parr later went on to talk about propaganda and he clearly understands the power of emotive words to influence an outcome or opinion). I voted for the boring option.

The other two options were evenly split and couldn’t be differentiated in a swift glance and so we had the ludicrous moment of Steve Smith asking for another show of hands and him carefully counting them (this in a packed lecture theatre of over two hundred people). Eventually, a tiny majority was decided upon and the choice was made – a satisfactory outcome for a less bored Mr Parr and for one third of the audience, but immediately you had two thirds of the losing voters feeling aggrieved that they are not going to get what they came for. Not a good start.

So, the winning option – a selection of other peoples work that he had in his collection – was duly commenced (why do we still have to see a computer desktop and hovering mouse on the screen before the show starts when surely, the technology exists to make a seamless transition?). Thus, we had slides of tea trays with photographs on them and also a lot of old postcards illustrating news events.

For an experienced photographer, Mr Parr seems to make some fundamental errors. He showed a picture of an American party bag of snacks housed in a glass cabinet. What he found so surreal about this image was that the bag was over a metre tall in reality. Unfortunately, there was nothing else in the picture that could give it a sense of scale and so we had to imagine what an ordinary looking snack packet would look like one metre tall. If I have to imagine, I don’t really need a photograph.

He also showed pictures of clocks he had collected from around the world which had photographs of famous people on the clock faces. He showed one that had Saddam Hussein smiling warmly from behind the arms of the clock. This raised a huge laugh from the audience. I’m afraid I cannot explain why this was, unless it was the desired effect of the West’s own powerful propaganda, conditioning people to laugh at and deride the vanquished evil ogre that once threatened our happy land. It could have been a private ironic prank by Mr Parr however, as he also showed Russian photography books from the Stalinist era that their owners were legally obliged to ‘amend’ as the famous people they depicted were liquidated and erased from history. This did not get a laugh.

Eventually we got to see some of Mr Parr’s own work, a series of images which depicted the idle rich enjoying themselves at parties and race meetings all over the world. These unflattering images evoked the work of Diane Arbus, the American photographer who is famous for depicting societies misfits with a dispassionate eye.

Mr Parr then explained some of his philosophical musings about photography and how it was being used to tell lies and to spread propaganda. For example, why do we only photograph our children in formal, happy poses, he asked, and not when they are crying or angry? I once asked this myself about comedy clubs; why don’t we have similar clubs who’s specific intention is to get the audience weeping instead (insert the name of whichever football club is on a losing streak here and claim that we do indeed have them already)?

And actually, I do video my kids having tantrums. I use the footage as ammunition when I want to counter their assertions that they are always well behaved and they ask, can we now have that expensive present please?

The presentation came alive  for me at this point because he was asking some serious and revealing questions about society and ourselves. It was such a pity that he restricted them to the last five minutes of his presentation. Given a choice, I would have voted to have the entire presentation devoted to them, but then, that wasn’t one of his offered options.

Eugenics is alive and well!

Monday, January 25th, 2010

There was a programme about dogs the other day (BBC Horizon programme, The Secret Life of the Dog) which asserted that all the breeds we have today are descended from the grey wolf. The programme then described various experiments which demonstrated how it is possible to get from a grey wolf to a dachshund, for example. The answer is eugenics. And one ongoing experiment in Siberia highlighted the possibilities of eugenics by using a parallel species – the silver fox.

A batch of foxes were bred in captivity and the individuals who demonstrated the least aggression were selected for the subsequent breeding stock. This process was repeated for many generations until the aggression was bred out of them. Eventually something fascinating happened; the foxes became as tame as domesticated dogs but also developed striking differences to their wild cousins. For example, their fur colour changed dramatically and varied enormously within the domesticated breed. For some reason the normal constraints of species design were loosened and allowed the foxes to develop into different breeds with marked characteristics.

In a different experiment in Hungary they attempted to rear first generation grey wolves in a domesticated environment alongside domesticated dogs. Whilst the wolves were in the juvenile phase of development they just about managed with a domesticated environment but as soon as they started to mature they became uncontrollable (for a domestic setting) and had to be returned to a captive pack of wolves.

My point is this. Like it or not, we are the products of a subtle eugenics programme. The industrialised system we have is not the evolutionary default setting for ‘wild’ humans. We have been selectively bred to encourage certain characteristics. For example, the entrepreneur is a breed of pit bull dog which aggressively attacks and kills competition, the merchants and brokers are a breed which take bets on the outcome of any dog fight, and society as a whole is a breed of easily trained, passive and obedient working dog.

You are also more likely to partner with someone from the social circle (for social circle read, breed) that you inhabit and thus produce offspring that is likely to have those dominant characteristics of that social circle. Once the process has been set in motion it is self perpetuating and greater extremes of each breed will be encouraged (imagine what the best basketball team will look like in the future), so if your system is designed badly to begin with, ridiculous looking and practically ‘useless’ breeds will appear.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not blaming anyone. There is no mad scientist in control. We just do what we are bred to do – the grey wolf in the domestic setting could easily point to the behaviour of the animals in the domestic setting and claim that it is unnatural and therefore its behaviour is more acceptable than that of the domestic animals.

If I pursue this analogy to any sort of conclusion then I would surmise that the breeding programme cannot be altered from within the programme, it is simply too big for any individual breed to have an impact. The actual breeding programme itself has to stop and our love of particular characteristics within breeds must be given up, otherwise we are in danger of producing such specialised breeds, for example the dachshund/multinational, that we are unable to adapt to the slightest change in circumstances.

Leeds Salon: Human Genes and animal rights

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

Jeremy Taylor spoke at this event last night, largely to promote his new book, Not a Chimp. His premise was that ‘rights’ should not be extended to chimps because they are not like us.

So, for forty minutes, Mr Taylor went on in excruciating detail about the differences between chimps and humans, citing cognitive, genetic and physical differences. After ten minutes I kept being distracted by that other great intellectual problem of how many angels might be able to dance simultaneously on the head of a pin.

Of course chimps are different from us. So what?

Then after forty minutes he made his point in a sentence which took about thirty seconds to deliver; he didn’t like the way some scientists were anthropomorphising the chimps. He particularly didn’t like the work of Jane Goodall and Richard Dawkins in this context.

The ‘debate’ that followed (it was billed as a debate but in reality it was a presentation with a limited Q & A at the end) merely allowed Mr Taylor to expand on what  he had already pointed out.

My question to him was, ‘So what was at stake? What difference did it make to anything if chimps were, or were not, granted rights?’

Mr Taylor seemed to regard this question as one of complete ignorance as if I had wilfully neglected to follow the intricate story twists of the greatest scientific issue since Shroedinger nearly couldn’t make up his mind when he went to the pet shop.

As the questions continued about legislation and morality it seemed to me that the point was being entirely missed. Whether a species shares 98.4% of our genes, or invents tools or not, is irrelevant.

Here is my premise;

  • The concept of ‘rights’ is a purely human invention, as is time, property, law and land ownership and as such, is easily ignored when resources are being fought over.
  • We are the only species interested in concepts and ideas (as far as we know). In all the experiments with chimps and corvids, the reward was always food. As soon as a species creates or responds to art, then we can start applying a ‘theory of mind’ to that species and involving them in a discussion about their ‘rights’ if we want to take it that far.
  • We are human, therefore, we are only interested in what affects us. The extinction of a species only becomes of interest to the majority of us when we can’t eat it anymore, turn it into fancy clothes or view it in a zoo. Anthropomorphism is a natural thing to do. That’s why we like cute and cuddly panda’s and mosquitoes can go to hell.

From that premise I cannot see the problem with extending human rights to chimps (or any other species we care to adopt) should we wish to do so. The concept of rights is a social device and an attempt to raise human consciousness. It has nothing to do with genetic similarity but is a further application of the ‘golden rule’ of philosophy; do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Chimps look like us, they have highly individual faces – like us. It is easy to identify with them. Therefore in an attempt to raise our consciousness even further why not look to the species that most closely resembles our own and afford them our moral respect. Don’t forget, it was only a short while ago that the vast majority of people saw nothing wrong with the concept of slavery. Even today, you can find societies where one sector of the population actually believes that another is sub human and therefore fit for exploitation or extermination. To get people to recognise that we are brothers and sisters requires a change in perception, a new approach. I have no doubt that the abolitionists would have welcomed any idea, no matter how absurd, if it did the practical trick of enlightening people about the immorality of their position and released the slaves from their suffering.

As humans we have a disproportionate impact on the planet. Our consciousness is both a curse and a gift. If we evolve benignly then we will come to respect all life on the planet, realise the connectedness of all things and slowly gravitate towards vegetarianism and veganism. If we evolve malignantly (no more bets please) then we accept that there are no absolute truths, which means that we can dispense with morality and if we decide that the farming of children as a sustainable food source is acceptable -  then so be it.

That is our choice. It is the practical application of philosophy that matters now. If the anthropomorphism of chimps by a bunch of scientists leads to a higher state of consciousness for the rest of humanity then I say issue each chimp with a National Insurance number now because inevitably, other species will ultimately follow them and the intelligence of humanity will have paid off in an evolutionary sense.

Ideas are like yoga postures

Friday, January 15th, 2010

Yoga primarily increases the flexibility of the body. You start from a comfortable posture and work up to greater and greater levels of suppleness through gradual increments of stretching. Some yoga postures are so extreme that only lifelong practitioners can achieve them.

Ideas are similar in that they test the flexibility of your mind. Schools attempt to start from a comfortable intellectual posture and through gradual increments of mental stretching work up to, er.. a sitting position. OK, perhaps schools are not the best example, but basically you try to stretch your mind by exposing yourself to more challenging ideas as you get older (at least those of us interested in ideas, try to). However, there is one crucial difference between yoga and ideas.

You can observe a yoga posture as demonstrated by a teacher and then try it for yourself. Depending on your suppleness, you can either achieve the posture demonstrated or you can get so far then something will hurt which forces you to stop. With ideas however, you lose the option to stop. This is because to understand what is being communicated, to see the idea, you also have to try the idea in your consciousness. So if you find an idea particularly challenging, it is like having the teacher physically forcing your body into an advanced yoga posture without any regard to your level of suppleness. That means sometimes, it’s going to hurt.

For example, you are made aware of a radical new idea, say, it is scientifically proven that there is only you existing in the universe, that everything else is a figment of your imagination and that you have been making it all up as you go along. For some, the idea is so outrageous and so far outside their normal experiences that it doesn’t make any sense to them and it doesn’t register as a threat to their world view. It is like a yoga master levitating. As onlookers, we know that it is impossible to levitate so therefore we rationalise that it is some kind of trick. For others, the idea is just about comprehensible but it is so abhorrent to their world view that it badly dislocates something in their consciousness and every time they subsequently come across the idea, it hurts them. Such an injustice cannot be allowed to continue and they make every effort to discredit the source of their pain.

We have seen this happen many times throughout history. Science has been the grand master of extreme intellectual yoga and many people have been hurt by its growing repertoire of impossible ‘flat pack’ postures.

But here’s a tip on how to survive the fierce contortions of any radical idea. Start from the hardest posture of all. Let me explain.

I once read a yoga book by B K S Iyengar who developed a particularly strenuous style of yoga. Some of the photographed postures that Iyengar adopted in this book I found appalling in their grotesqueness. In one picture, he had the soles of his feet placed flatly on his chest. The postures grew more and more difficult as the book progressed until right at the end of the book he warned that the final postures was the ultimate one and therefore the hardest to master. With a nervous hand I turned over the final page, steeling myself for the unnatural abomination that was about to confront me. And there it was, a photograph of Iyengar lying supine, arms and legs out straight as if asleep. I laughed in astonishment. The caption explained why this was the hardest posture of all. It was the ‘meditation’ posture where the practitioner was supposed to empty their mind of all thoughts – an impossibility for most people.

And that should be your intellectual starting position; that everything you know is wrong. Any idea after that is merely a pleasurable little stretching exercise, the kind of thing you do after a comfortable nap.

If, after visiting this blog, you would like an additional mental work out I can recommend this book by Scott Adams. It’s free and it explores some fundamental assumptions about ‘reality’. If you enjoy exploring ideas (and I know you do because you are here) then there is some fun to be had in this book which describes one or two postures I hadn’t seen before.

Grievous is dead

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

Grievous was a Springbok praying mantis. He belonged to my son. It was his first pet.

From his earliest years my son has been fascinated by the natural world. He would spend hours crouched over the garden pond studying the behaviour of the insects and amphibians that lived there. I encouraged this interest as I deemed it healthy. Inevitably though, he developed an interest in the more exotic and one particular insect became the focus of his attention – the praying mantis.

He discovered that such creatures were regularly sold in pet shops and he asked if he could buy one to look after.

Now I have strong views about the keeping of pets and I explained them to my son; the creatures are caged prisoners, taken out of their natural habitat and forced into an environment which they find stressful. How would he like it if someone took him out of his natural home and kept him locked up in a basket strung from a tall tree that grew in a desert? He said he would not like it but it was obvious from his expression that the concept was too abstract for him to fully grasp and he persisted in his requests for a pet.

Eventually, when we thought he might be becoming more aware of the concept of responsibility, we relented to a certain extent and let him keep aquatic Sea Monkeys. We impressed upon him that it was his responsibility to feed them regularly but within days his mother’s resolve of non-interference had cracked and she was the one looking after them. This incident however served as a good excuse for a couple of years as to why we couldn’t trust him to look after a pet.

On his tenth birthday he convinced his mother that he was now responsible enough to look after a praying mantis. I was not convinced and even if I were, I still had my principles preventing me from acquiescing to his wishes. But then I thought it might provide a valuable lesson for him and I relented.

A trip to the pet shop was organised last November and a tiny, fragile mantis was chosen (actually it was the only one they had). The clear plastic cup stuffed with a bit of tissue paper was deemed unworthy by my son as a suitable abode, – despite the shop assistants reassurances, and a whole catalogue of equipment had to be bought including a heat mat. Then there was the question of what to feed the Mantis. They eat insects of course, live ones, so five black crickets were also purchased. Then we went home with one happy boy in the back seat of the car. It was to be the happiest moment he experienced with that insect. He named him Grievous.

To be fair to the boy, he had done his research and he knew how the mantis should be looked after. Jungle litter was placed at the bottom of the tank and plastic foliage laid on top. Water was then sprayed in a gentle mist into the tank to raise the humidity. He had also learned that it should eat one cricket every two days or thereabouts. This is where the trouble started.

Transferring the cricket from its holding cell into the feeding container (apparently it was not wise to let the crickets run free in the tank with Grievous) was a major undertaking. Crickets are fast moving insects and we had to get one out of a container holding five. How was that to be done?

Fortunately I had a computer tool that was meant to retrieve dropped screws from the bottom of tight fitting chassis. It had three metal ‘legs’ that were sprung loaded and which came together when they were retracted into the pen like body. This was used to grab the cricket and drop it into the feeding container where Grievous was already waiting. Now this sounds like one of those instructions out of a car manual that sounds straightforward enough – ‘remove the screws’ kind of thing. But as everyone knows, the actual execution of that instruction is a journey into hell due to rusted screws with worn slots etc. And so it was with trying to capture the cricket without killing it and without dropping it onto the floor during the transfer. Needless to say, I was required to complete this nerve racking operation. It was like trying to defuse a bomb but eventually I managed it. Then we waited for Grievous to eat the cricket. Then we waited some more. Eventually the cricket started to charge at Grievous and my son said Grievous had to be rescued. Apparently, the crickets can chew off the leg of a Mantis if the Mantis is not interested in feeding.

In the process of trying to return the cricket to its usual confinement it got dropped onto the bedroom floor from where it subsequently vanished into the landfill of toys and books that were scattered everywhere (a normal state of untidiness for my son).

From then on, each feeding attempt was a stressful saga which took its toll on the whole family. I would hear shrieks of alarm from both my son and my wife before I was called to the rescue. For some reason Grievous had little interest in feeding and my son was distraught with worry. Crickets of a smaller size were bought to see if that helped any. It didn’t, so they were chopped up into neat little parcels and offered to Grievous with a pair of tweezers. Grievous simply turned his head at them (a full 360 degrees – the only insects able to do this so my son tells me). Unfortunately the crickets came in packs of twenty and my son’s bedroom started to look more and more like an infestation waiting to happen. Eventually, after several days of abstinence, instinct took over and Grievous snatched the cricket we had imprisoned with him and he commenced to devour it much to everyone’s relief.

Here was the curious thing I noticed. My son loved Grievous. It tortured him to think that he might be suffering in any way. And yet Grievous was an insect just like the crickets; why should his affections be manipulated in this way? Presumably his interest could have been with the crickets and he would have pampered some exotic cricket as much as he did Grievous. But here, one was a loved pet, the other merely food. Can we extrapolate from this? Can humans love one tribe but consider another tribe, equally deserving, as merely slaves? Of course they can.

Anyway, Grievous failed to conform to all the recommendations we had read about his supposed eating habits and despite all our best efforts, after a couple of heartbreaking months it was apparent that he was dying. My son kept a vigil over his slowly sinking body and cried relentlessly. It took three days for Grievous to die.

We buried him in the garden yesterday. I asked my son what he had learnt. He said he would never own another pet again, that creatures belong in their natural habitat and that in future he would simply support attempts to preserve their habitat.

I was a proud father that day.

Whoa! Look at those icicles!

Sunday, January 10th, 2010


Reality is an optical illusion

Friday, January 8th, 2010

Walking to school in the snow this morning with my daughter, she noticed a strange phenomenon when she stopped walking and continued to stare at a garden blanketed by pristine snow. She exclaimed the snow seemed to be ‘going backwards’.

“It must be an optical illusion.” she guessed.

“Yes,” I replied, “reality is an optical illusion.”

Now, that idea seemed to pop out of my mouth without any brain activity preceding it and I had to work backwards, as it were, to figure out what it could mean.

“What do you mean daddy?”

“Well… did you know that insects see flowers in a different way to us? Depending on what design of eye you have, the world looks different to different species. Do you know what that means?”


“It means we can never be sure what ‘reality’ actually looks like. What we think of as being reality is, in fact, a simplified version of something far more complex – it is therefore, always an optical illusion.”

“Whoa! Look at those icicles daddy!”

Useless inventions

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

I’ve developed a rechargeable battery that is big enough to power your house. Simply charge it overnight by plugging it into the mains…

Horbury in the snow

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

Horbury in the snow 1

Horbury in the snow 3

Horbury in the snow 4

Everything we know is wrong

Sunday, January 3rd, 2010

As I sat in the canteen of Leeds college of art waiting for Phil Kirby to turn up I tucked into a festive turkey sandwich complete with stuffing and cranberry sauce. The sandwich was a free gift, courtesy of Creative Networks, a monthly networking event hosted by the art college. Tonight was their Christmas party and instead of the usual guest speaker there would be various performances from a band of obscure entertainers.

It felt like I had arrived way too early. The PA system was still being inexpertly assembled with occasional feedback howls whilst a thin crowd of entertainers and administrative staff floated about the echoing room. I was not too early though, it was simply a poor turn out, possibly due to a combination of the unknown quality of the performers, the thin covering of snow outside and the threat of yet more snow to come. I turned my attention onto the sandwich I had clasped in my hands. The chunk of white French loaf sliced down the middle then loaded with a grey and red goo made the sandwich look like a scale model of an Egyptian barge and I eyed it suspiciously.

I don’t like turkey but if there is no alternative I can just about manage breast meat. On this occasion, there was no alternative. I had been surprised when, at the counter, I was confronted with this one option. There was usually a vegetarian choice. Ah well, maybe Christmas requires strict conformity to the festive spirit (a substance, I am reliably informed, that was invented by a Japanese business man).

The eating of it however was not as bad as I had feared; I found no veins of fat or gristle in the meat – something I loathe.

Eventually Phil came into the canteen flanked by a man and a woman. We spotted each other and exchanged waves before he came over to my table and introduced his friends, Samantha and Richard who had both been at the previous nights party at the Temple Works.

Ah, the Temple Works party… It was the best party I had ever attended. Everything about the evening was magical, from the first moment of walking up the street in south Leeds and seeing this exact replica of an Egyptian temple covered incongruously in snow, to the last moment of parting from my new found bohemian friends. It had been a gathering of the cognoscenti of Leeds, all the artists and writers in the surrounding area who had adopted this remarkable building as a fitting venue for their creativity. Inside it was like a set from The Golden Compass; most things were grounded in reality but then something odd would appear and suggest this was ‘our’ reality. I remember being in a cosily lit room, wood panelled and furnished with desks and chestnut red chesterfields invitingly illuminated by adjacent floor lamps. All around, on any available flat surface, lay chocolates and various puddings, ready to eat for any guests who cared to help themselves. I was in the pudding room of the party and several groups of people stood or sat around these confectionaries earnestly discussing the important topic of the day – their equivalent of ‘dust’. The evening kept seesawing between reality and surreality. Despite the quality and quantity of the food on the tables, conversations were the real food at the event, and everyone seemed to have something interesting or remarkable to say, so unlike my day to day experiences living in a small West Yorkshire town.

The impromptu carol singing, complete with hard hats, in the adjoining vast empty space of the factory floor merely added to the joy of sharing a collaborative experience with co-conspirators.

On a high I bid farewell to my new comrades and hastily arranged the meet up with Phil for the next cultural event in Leeds that was the Creativity Networks Christmas bash the following day at Leeds College of art.

I should have known it could not have possibly equalled the sensational party at Temple Works but that wasn’t going to stop me from attempting a repeat performance.

So, back at the college of art, Phil, Samantha and Richard left me sitting at the table and went off to gather their free food and drink. Sometime later they returned. Samantha and Richard were fully laden with provisions.  Phil however, was empty handed and sat down furiously at the table. I asked him why he hadn’t got a sandwich and a perplexing bit of news was revealed to me.

The turkey, it turned out, was ersatz.

Ah-ha! Now it all made sense – the lack of a vegetarian option, the lack of fat and gristle – the meat was a fake. Not a bad attempt at mimicry, I thought. But for some reason, Phil found the deception highly offensive.

“What is the point!?” he hissed. “I refuse to be a party to such a futile gesture.”

This took me by surprise and I asked Phil what the problem was. He looked at me like I was stupid.

“Don’t you see? It’s vegetarian,” he said. “ They took perfectly good vegetable matter and tried to turn into something that looks and smells like meat to feed to vegetarians who eschew meat. What’s the point?”

Various answers tried to promote themselves eagerly in my head – fun, cleverness, why not? Maybe it was for the benefit of meat eaters who dismiss vegetarianism out of hand – but none of them seemed strong enough to withstand the fury of Phil’s reasoning and so I remained silent.

The evening was irrevocably doomed after that. The canteen remained stubbornly bereft of a proper audience and even the planned entertainment produced only more disappointment – jugglers that habitually dropped balls, announcements that could not be heard through the badly configured PA and exotic dance routines that mystified the mute watchers.

Eventually, Phil’s hunger and ire had gnawed at him for too long and he announced his immediate departure for a local hostelry. We all decided to cut our losses and agreed to accompany Phil in his exit. As we were leaving something remarkable happened on the stage, something I had never seen before.

A solo dancer performing a complex routine that was Asian in origin was providing the entertainment. It was incongruous in this venue as nearly everyone in the audience was not from Asia and thus had difficulty in understanding the point of it all. It was a bit like an Asian comedian trying to tell jokes to an uncomprehending white audience and all the jokes falling flat. Suddenly the dancer got heckled. But here was the strangeness; a dancer heckled him. With dance moves.

The heckler got up onto the stage and in silence, added their own interpretation to the music. It was the weirdest thing. It only lasted a few seconds and there seemed to be no animosity behind it but what a strange story it produced.

As remarkable as the incident was I had bigger issues to contend with. As I walked across the snowy car park in the dark I pondered the ticking philosophical bomb that Phil had handed to me. What was the point of ersatz turkey?

My overall, day-to-day philosophy was already on shaky ground. It’s main motif was the story of Chuang Tzu dreaming he was a butterfly and trying to come to terms with the possible alternate reality that he was a butterfly dreaming he was a man, dreaming. Now I had the added problem of another possible reality; that Chuang Tzu (or the butterfly) were only pretending to be who they appeared to be and were, in fact, neither.

As I started my car and wiped the falling snow from my windscreen I could sense that the turkey sandwich incident had jammed my Richter scale of existential doubt into number eleven. As my scale only goes up to ten, this was essentially off the scale. I sat in my car staring at the drifting snowflakes kissing my windscreen and marvelling at the impossibility that every single one of the snowflakes was unique. Every single one. Throughout all of history. The numbers defy our imagination.

This thought reminded me, yet again, that everything we know is wrong.

There is no point to anything.