Thursday, August 02, 2007

P.D. James


Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tammet is subtitled A Memoir of Asperger’s and an Extraordinary Mind, and an extraordinary mind is certainly what Tammet has.

A few years ago I watched a TV documentary, Brainman, about Daniel's phenomenal numerical abilities, and how he learned to speak fluent Icelandic in a single week; so I was really intrigued to read his own account of his life and of how he thinks his mind works.

Daniel has Asperger’s Syndrome, as well as synaesthesia, and he is a Savant. Asperger’s, as you may know, is at the high functioning end of the Autistic spectrum, and synaethesia is when two or more bodily senses routinely come together instead of operating independently. The most common form of synaesthesia is when an individual “sees” numbers, letters or words as colours, hence the title of this book.

“I was born on 31 January 1979 – a Wednesday. I know it was a Wednesday because the date is blue in my mind and Wednesdays are always blue, like the number 9 or the sound of loud voices arguing.”

More than merely experiencing numbers as colours, for Daniel they also have a shape, a texture, a motion, and sometimes an emotional tone. This makes his particular group of neurological syndromes particularly rare. What is also rare is his ability to describe it all to people who do not have his condition.

Much of the book details Daniel’s early childhood and schooldays and how "The sense of never feeling quite comfortable or secure, of always being somehow apart and separate weighed heavily on me". These chapters while interesting, are somewhat repetitive as he gives long explanations of the numerical games he played by himself –though I feel mean saying that because Daniel’s Asperger’s means that he is best able to cope when doing things in a very structured and repetitive manner, so of course he writes like that too. To this day he manages his life by having everything fit certain patterns and becomes extremely anxious and distressed when the unexpected occurs. For example he has to eat exactly 45g of porridge every morning, no more and no less. He describes his inability to connect statements made to him and come up with an appropriate response

"It is like joining the dots in a children’s colouring book and seeing every dot but not what they create when joined together. I find it almost impossible to read between the lines."

Reading Born on a Blue Day gave me a much better understanding of both Asperger’s and of synaesthesia. The human mind and how it works fascinates me, Daniel’s account of how he sees himself, his condition and the world confirmed for me that there is still a huge amount we do not know about our own brains.

Rated: 3*


When will the idiots who work for some of our local authorities realise that Political Correctness is OVER, out-of-fashion, so last century? They keep coming up with really stupid things which get people really confused and irritated. Political Correctness as a concept was bad enough, but when ill-educated twits try to apply it, it becomes nothing short of farcical. Last week I read about this situation in Durham which made me laugh but also made me mad.

A chap called Eddie Fung is about to open a £1.3million restaurant in Durham which will employ 60 local people; he already has another restaurant by the same name in Belfast. They are Chinese restaurants and they are called 'Fat Buddha'. The council's Head of Cultural Services, Tracy Ingle, has written to him to say he must change the name because it is provocative and racist and might give offense to Buddhists, fat being an offensive description, and because the restaurant doesn't serve exclusively vegetarian foods which is what Buddhists eat. Mr Fung is bemused. Firstly, he is Chinese, and a Buddhist himself; secondly, as anyone who has any knowledge of the east could confirm the 'Fat Buddha' is a famous symbol of health, happiness and contentment and is widely used to signal such feelings - what could be more appropriate for a Chinese restaurant? Thirdly, Ms Ingle seems to be under the mistaken impression that Buddha is a deity, which of course he was not, he was a teacher. The Buddhist Society has confirmed that there is no problem calling a restaurant by this name....but no, no, Durham City Council's Cultural Services department (who probably have at least one GCSE in how to make pot noodles they are so culturally aware) think they know much better than anyone else and are trying to insist on the name being dropped. Middle class council apparatchiks should not be meddling in what local businesses call themselves.

By the by, no Buddhists in Belfast seem to have been offended by having a Fat Buddha restaurant, and the local council there has minded its own business. Which is as it should be.


The other day my dear friend Joy presented me with rhubarb, salad leaves and potatoes which she had grown on her allotment. I immediately decided that we would have one of my favourite Spanish dishes for supper. Patatas Bravas (Brave potatoes?) are often served as one of a selection of tapas dishes, but by adding some chorizo sausage and having a large mixed salad on the side it made a wonderful meal.


1kg new potatoes
Olive oil for frying

2 cloves of garlic, finely minced or pushed through a garlic press

6 tablespoons olive oil
1½ tablespoons tomato puree/paste
1½ tablespoons wine vinegar
1 heaped teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon chilli powder or cayenne pepper ( or Tabasco sauce)

Put the potatoes in a large pan of cold, salted water and bring to the boil. Boil until just tender, not quite ready to eat. Drain them and let them cool for a bit before peeling off the skins and cutting them into quarters or thirds.

Meanwhile mix all the sauce ingredients together in a small bowl and whisk well.

Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan and add the potatoes and the garlic. Shallow fry whilst stirring continuously to prevent the garlic from burning . When the potatoes are crisp and golden brown, remove to a serving dish and pour the sauce over them, mixing gently with a wooden spoon so that all the potatoes are slightly coated. Serve hot or warm.

To make this into a complete supper dish, add thick slices of chorizo to the frying pan when sautéing the potatoes.


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Teuchter said...

I have recently found myself embroiled in the middle of a pc stushie and am so going to be quoting PD James at them.

Another interesting book - and another good recipe. We currently have new potatoes aplenty in the jardin at Teuchter Towers - so brave potatoes could be on the menu this w/e.

Central User said...

Fantastic rant re the Fat Buddha- you really couldn't make it up! You may want to remove the " / " from the end of the BBC hyperlink url as it doesn't work with it. Regards.

motherofthebride said...

Wild potatoes?
cf Costa Brava

John Self said...

There is indeed a Fat Buddha restaurant in Belfast, though I haven't been to it. The Council in Durham is being very silly.

I don't agree though that political correctness as a concept is bad. Martin Amis put it like this:

"Although it is French in its philosophical origins, political correctness (PC) begins with the very American and attractive and honourable idea: that no one should feel ashamed of what he was born as, of what he is. Of what he does, of what he says, yes. But not ashamed of what he is.

"Viewed at its grandest, PC is an attempt to accelerate evolution. To speak truthfully, while that's still okay, everybody is a racist or has racial prejudices. This is because human beings tend to like the similar, the familiar, the familial. Again, I say, I am a racist. I am not as racist as my parents. My children will not be as racist as I am. Freedom from racial prejudice is what we hope for down the line. Impatient with this hope, this process, PC seeks to get things done right now. In a generation or at the snap of a finger, you can simply announce yourself to be purged of these atavisms."

Some more thoughts on the wilder outposts of internet anti-PC sites here.

herschelian said...

knicksgrl: You vile spammer.

teuchter: brave potatoes are brilliant - specially when served with deep fried baby bat!

central user: welcome - sorry about the failing link. I've tried, and failed, to correct it.

MOTB: Costa Brava/Patata Bravas, hmm. there must be a connection but so far I cant find it.

John Self: The thing about PC is that it may have originally started out with good intentions, but now it has been hijacked by every jumped up little jobsworth in the land. If, as a person, you practice good manners towards all other people, you have no need of PC. BTW I am a HUGE fan of your blog.

motherofthebride said...

Simply that Costa Brava is usually translated as the wild coast ....

Aphra Behn said...

Do you know what unsettles me far more than a Chinese Buddhist calling his restaurant "Fat Buddha"? It's the way the Buddha is used as an item of decor in shops that sell cheap-trendy-retro stuff. It doesn't matter as such, but I do find the mixing of categories unsettling. The Buddha was, as you say, a philosopher and a teacher, not cheap tat to be bought and thrown away when the fashions change.

Regarding Chinese eateries in Durham: it was there about 25 years ago that I saw an ad in the Job Centre window for a cook "ability to speak Chinese an advantage". Hmmm, yes.

The book sounds compelling too.