Once again we have entered a major football tournament clutching our hopes and dreams of success on the international stage to our chests, only to find ourselves, in the event, clutching at straws. Every time we enter a competition it is with our heads held high and with our ambitions plastered across the national newspapers. Then we come crawling out of it like some lame animal after some miserable defeat. Then the grumble across the lips of the nation is “and from the country that invented it”.
But we did not invent it! What sort of a remark is that?
Frank McAveety, a Labour MSP, was heard making comments about a woman attending a Scottish Parliament committee meeting he was chairing.
He remarked of the “girl in the second row” that she was “Dark and Dusky. We’ll maybe put a wee word out for her. She’s very attractive, nice, very nice, very slim. The heat’s getting to me.”
The Clerk whom he was talking to remains – quite prudently, in hindsight – silent, but McAveety continues.
“She’s got that Filipino look – you know, the kind you’d see in a Gauguin painting. There’s a wee bit of culture.”
Quite inappropriate remarks for the convener of the petitions committee to make, one feels, and he has been made to resign because of it. But one can’t help feel that for his eloquence and his ‘cultural comparisons’ alone, he perhaps deserved something of a reprieve.
A two part account of one hapless, young man’s journey to the Songkran festival in Chiang Mai.
From Bangkok to Chiang Mai
Waiting at the Bangkok train station is quite a pleasant experience. The great hall is arranged as though into a theatre, though the only show is one of red lights and incandescent, scurrying words; the timetable, that is. There’s also, as is expected in any public building in Thailand, a huge picture of the King, stood rather grandly next to his dressing table.
You, dear reader, find me just as I am about to embark from Bangkok by train on a journey 700km North to Chiang Mai, the epicentre of activity and celebration during Thailand’s Songkran festival of the Thai new year. The most widely known celebration of Songkran is the throwing of water; however, this was not always the main activity of the festival. Songkran was traditionally a time to visit and pay respects to elders, including family members, friends and neighbours. Besides the throwing of water, people celebrating Songkran may also go to a Buddhist monastery to pray and give food to monks. They may also cleanse Buddha images from household shrines as well as Buddha images at monasteries by gently pouring water mixed with a Thai fragrance over them (I happened to be caught up in this particular ritual and carried a sweet scent with me throughout the rest of the day). It is believed that doing this will bring good luck and prosperity for the New Year. In many cities, including Chiang Mai, the Buddha images from all of the city’s important monasteries are paraded through the streets so that people can toss water at them, ritually ‘bathing’ the images, as they pass by on ornately decorated floats. In northern Thailand, people may carry handfuls of sand to their local monastery in order to recompense the dirt that they have carried away on their feet during the rest of the year. The sand is then sculpted into and decorated with flags.
However, not being a Buddhist myself, my primary reason for visiting Chiang Mai was to experience the prodigious water fight that takes part in Chaing Mai throughout Songkran (13th-15 April); and what and experience it was!
The Beeb reported that:
Prime Minister David Cameron has welcomed Conservative predecessor Baroness Thatcher back to 10 Downing Street for a reception in her honour.
They shook hands and waved at photographers before entering the building but did not answer questions.
Baroness Thatcher, 84, is one of the first guests to be hosted in Downing Street since the coalition entered office last month.
She wore a light blue dress and coat for her meeting with Mr Cameron, emerging from Number 10 some 45 minutes after going into the building.
A smiling Mr Cameron said: "It’s good to have her back."
This last quote sent shivers down my spine.
I feel I have accidentally been swept along by the wave of furore that has accompanied the release of the iPad and other e-readers.
I remember reading an article a couple of years (or so) ago about the coming of the e-readers, the new age in book reading that we were to find ourselves in. These highly portable, highly practical, and highly innovative devices – and highly expensive – would be a must have. Gone would be those cumbersome books that decay and become tattered. Here was a device that would allow us to keep all our books in the same place and read them whenever we found the urge, no matter where we were
A year on and I came across the Sony Reader and I have to say I was a little disappointed. Not that the device did not offer what was promised, it did just that; there was the portability, the practicality, the innovation, and the price tag. There was even a small spark of excitement when the screen lit up to reveal the ‘e-ink’ format. However, I couldn’t help but notice a void, something missing. Where was the emotion? Where was the emotion and sentiment that I feel when reading a good book?
I, like most others, find some strange pleasure in the smell of books, both old and new. Along with that there’s something satisfying about taking a side-long glace at a book and seeing how much you have read in a session. I enjoy the weight of a book; perhaps I can equate that to the knowledge I am to gain; call it a quantitative measurement of the time that the author dedicated to it, if you will. There’s also all the things you can tell about a person from their books. Jottings in the margins, dog-eared books, books that have remained in pristine condition for all their lives – they all say something about past owners. And this raises another point entirely, that is, who in their right mind would be willing to lend their Ipad to someone in the same manner that you would lend someone a good-book?
Let us not forget also the joy of bookshops themselves! With the rise of e-readers and online ebook stores we would surely see the everyday bookstore disappear from our high streets. I personally must spend hours on end in bookshops browsing through the miles and miles of titles on offer, admiring the eclectic mix of cover artwork available for my eyes to feast upon. Bookshops provide a refuge from the bustle of everyday life, a place to find inspiration and to kick-start the creative juices, or at the very least a way to pass the time during a sudden downpour of rain.
So no, the rise of the e-reader was a phenomenon that I thought would not catch on, or more honestly, a phenomenon I was hoping would not catch on. I didn’t want to see the real thing taken away from me and from all those many millions that share my love of books and bookshops.
But, something changed. And this change was the announcement and release of the iPad. Ashamedly, from what I have seen of it I can’t help but feel a little drawn to its aurora. It has everything that is to be promised in an e-reader (though there are of course the countless other functions and apps), the practicality, the portability, the innovation (something that apple has always excelled in) and, sweet heavens, the price-tag.
But it has achieved more, much more, than I had come to expect from an e-reader. Put simply, it has given the e- reader ‘emotion’. It is not the dull device that I found to be the Sony Reader – it has a wow factor to it. You can’t help but be drawn in, just as humans are drawn to anything that possess a certain ‘beauty’.
There are gasps of ‘ohh’ and ’ahh’ at the swish of the pages as you delicately turn them with your finger tips. There’s the satisfying swivel of the text when you rotate the device. The colours are vivid and bright, they dazzle (something that apple has highlighted with the inclusion of ‘Winnie the Pooh’ free with the device). And the feeling of an iPad in your hands, though not the same as a book, is just as pleasurable in other ways. It’s crisp and it’s light, but it also has a solid, sturdy feel about it. It has quite simply blown the tech-world away, just as most Apple creations do.
But there’s one thing that it won’t ever give you; the ability to brag. Yes, you may win a few fans by flashing your iPad at work or on the train, but what can be more fulfilling than having all the books you’ve ever read shelved and on display in your home. Think of the gains in esteem you’ll achieve as your parents-in-law eye that ‘War and Peace’ sitting on the shelf in your lounge (no matter if you’ve read it or not, chances are they haven’t). A beautifully bound collection of Dickens books are sure to provide an air of ‘Je ne sais quoi’ to your living room. And in the eyes of any guest, that complete works of Shakespeare will make you the master of the English Language that you deserve to be.
But truthfully, there’s nothing wrong or arrogant about looking at the shelves of books you have read and thinking ‘’I have tackled that. That is the weight of my knowledge”.
And it is because of this that I sincerely hope it is books, and not e-readers, that continue to remain the most superior and most sought-after medium for reading.
Long live the book!