Food for Thought

January 2016

This was written for the Independent's Food for Thought column, where you have to keep a diary of what you read and watched or listened for a week.


Watched Kung Fu Panda 2 on DVD ahead of upcoming Kung Fu Panda 3 release. Panda Po's Kung Fu style is a kind of slapstick comedy, which make me think how much of Chaplin, Keaton and Laurel and Hardy's slapstick is a kind of martial art: strange, oddly balletic moves with which to defeat more powerful opponents.


John Locke
Daughter put this paper doll over the picture of John Locke, and somehow this is the front cover of the book I really want to read. Looks much more like a proper philosopher, I feel. This is what I imagine the author of 'An Essay Concerning Human Understanding' really looked like, a somehow truer picture of the man who in 1688 helped organise one of the only bloodless revolutions in history.

John Locke - A Biography by Maurice Cranston. Great subject, poor biographer. John Locke, an Afghan hound of man, is one of the most quietly influential philosophers of all time. Spoilt rotten as we have been by Claire Tomalin, Valerie Grove and Doris Kearns Goodwin and the Golden Age of Biography, however, this 1950's book is an uphill read. Cranston writes like the chair of a committee of inquiry. ("I find no evidence to suggest that on the dates in question..."). I confess I'm struggling, like the out-of-shape Po trying to scale the many steps to the Kung Fu Temple. Halfway through... must... keep... going.


... or give up and read Love Goes To Buildings On Fire - Five Years In New York That Changed Music Forever by Wil Hermes. From 1973-77 the New York music scene works like a giant hive mind. There are no single-minded visionaries, not even among such idiosyncrats as Patti Smith, Philip Glass, Blondie, Sprinsgteen, Celia Cruz and Kool and the Gang. Instead everyone puts out their antennae and chemical sensilla (a lot of chemical sensilla being put out ) and receives signals from each other. Every genre is a crossover genre. As witness the following brain-twisting fact. Guess the name of the band on whose record Theodore Livingston, the Grandmaster Flash protege, first invented scratching? Thin Lizzy.


Over breakfast, I read The Snorgh and the Sailor with my daughter. The sailor is a hare and the snorgh is a Snorgh. Thomas Docherty's gorgeous, atmospheric illustrations combine with Will Buckingham's witty storytelling to create two wonderful characters.

"Mmm! Samphire soup!" said the sailor. "May I?"

"Snorghs don't share soup," said the Snorgh.

Then I read Paul Krugman in the New York Times on how inequality stifles innovation, whereas: "... high-tax, low-inequality countries like Sweden are also both highly innovative and home to many business start-ups. This may in part be because a strong safety net encourages risk-taking."

She likes this less than The Snorgh and the Sailor, to which I am forced to return.


In Adrian Turner's wonderful biography of screenwriter Robert Bolt, it says that after a chance meeting in the Somerset village of Butleigh in June 1958, John Steinbeck and his wife ended up babysitting Robert Bolt's two children. This made me think about famous babysitters. In between drug busts and fights with sailors, Billie Holliday babysat Billy Crystal. This was, one feels, an age of less stringent CRB background checks.


Tonight we discovered that Mr Gum books are absolutely useless as bedtime stories because after a page and a half of Mr Gum and the Biscuit Billionaire by Andy Stanton I am helpless with laughter, tears rolling down my face. Tonight I made it for two full pages before I lay on the floor barking like an asthmatic seal. Less funny please, Mr Stanton.


Rob Newman
Chauvet cave art

In Nature a piece about whether the famous Chauvet cave art might be depicting a volcano. The painted strombolian spray usually goes unnoticed because of the prancing deer in the foreground.Of course 'foreground' is a controversial phrase to use about a picture painted 40,000 years ago before the invention of perspective . Then again they had perspective in late Antiquity, lost perspective, found it, lost it again. (I have evenings like that.) If it is a painting of the active volcanoes near Chauvet at the time, then could the deer in the foreground be rearing up in response to the eruption?

... And could that mammoth in fact be a Snorgh? Has the Snorgh, like perspective painting, also been lost and found by our culture?