Monday, December 19, 2011

How Many Leaves Does It Take?

I sometimes wonder how many leaves you need to call a book a ‘book’ and how many blades you need to call a fan a ‘fan’, and when I’m nonchalantly musing on that I wonder how many books you need to read before you can call a person a ‘fan’ of a particular author? I’ve probably got more dictionaries in my house than most people (one of which runs into eight volumes), but no person who’s perused my once expanding (yet now mercifully contracting) bookshelves has ever said “Oh I see you’re a fan of dictionaries” because people who like dictionaries for their own sake are often called other names, which it would be best not to enter into here.

Now apart from the sort of which which spins round and keeps you cool, the first time I learnt about another sort of fan was when I was 13 or 14 and heard about a rising group of young men who called themselves The Beatles. When I saw them on the telly, girls were jumping up and down in their seats and screaming, with tears were pouring out of their eyes. As plumb lines of mascara ran down their faces they hollered “John”, “Paul” and sometimes “George” and they did that because that’s what fans did, and that description’s as good for me now as it was then.

Rolling the clock on twenty years or so, a young priest had insinuated himself into my wee dwelling and was judging my character by my bookshelves. “Ah,” he said, “I see you're A Fan of Susan Howatch.” I had picked up one of her novels from the mobile library that turned out to be a trilogy which revolved around the internal dramas and wrangling within the clergy in the Church of England. I did find it interesting, even enthralling at the time because the first novel pulled me into the second and by the end of that tome I just had to go on to read the thrilling ecclesiastical conclusion. So much for my earlier notions about the dusty clergy. The shenannigans which went on behind the scenes coupled with the “making it all right in the end” somehow kindled my reflirtation with the Christian Church. I was a Hindu fish gasping for air in England's agricultural belt, and I felt I was, perhaps, still young enough to change my spots and swim in the Ocean of Christ. After all, water was water and I felt I'd rather live than die.

Later on I was called A Fan of Orchid, a term I thought wasn’t entirely inapt as the plants must have moving air in order to thrive. So I bought them a fan of their own, along with a Burg Humidifier and a lifetime's supply of Osmunda fibre. Yet I wasn't really their Fan according to my definition of the word. I was just nuts about them and I thought and dreamt about them morning noon and night. They were totally fascinating. From the moment of their husky microscopic births, they’re hurled into a life-and-death struggle: Born to be the prey of a Borg-like fungus, the orchid husk surrenders itself to the greedy mushroom but, like all living organisms the fungus has to excrete, and this fungus excretes simple sugars which to an orchid infant is like being fed mother's milk straight from the nipple. Human milk makes babies grow big and strong and the shit of a fungus is not only nectar to a mewling testiculloid seedlet, it’s also exactly the right ingredient for it to make a powerful fungicide known now to be a Phtyo-Alexin. Poof! Squirt! The baby launches its own poisonous ejaculate into the face of the monster, and the fungus retreats. The infant’s victory is short-lived though for the fungus, now given the equivalent of a bloody nose, nurses its wound in the corner of the ring while planning its next deadly assault. After all, it’s sure that babies aren't that hard to obliterate, so the micro-toadstool plans a renewed attack on the tasty babe, excreting an extra amount of sugary dung as its armoured plating grows.

Except of course that our infant is no longer an infant. It’s already grown to be a toddler after sucking in its first sweet load and toddlers can wield considerable damage. Even now I still reach for my temple which gives me trouble on a rainy day as memories of things my sister found she could do with a poker when she was aged 18 months are still a little too green in my memory, I'm afraid. In the meantime this orchidoid toddler has grown formidable power of its own. The latest pulse of primitive sugars excreted from the ravenous fungus has now fuelled the brattish seedling and an extra dose of fungicide is squirted into its fungal receptors, to make the orchid think it’s now got enough power to sprout a nascent testicle.

Of course this is a speeded-up version of what goes on in that mini world. It’s the fast-forwarded version yet the real process is extraordinarily slow and far more progress would be made by a human playing a game of chess by post, even if he used snail-mail and had to put a stamp on every move.

So I was perhaps (despite my earlier denial) a fan of orchids, although spelling the abbreviation full into ‛fanatic’ would have been far more appropriate for me. But what about my electronic book collection? Terry Pratchett? Does Amazon Dot Co Dot Ukay really think that because I’ve purchased three of his books for my Kindle that I Am A Fan? When I “Shop in the Kindle Store” I Am Greeted by them with “Kindle Best Sellers”, “New & Noteworthy” and “Recommended for You”† followed by a list of 27 Terry Pratchett Novels, interspersed with a peppering of other books one of which went under the name of Butterfly Knight. Now don’t misunderstand my point. I have nothing against Terry Pratchett, apart from the fact that he’s far too rich, far too famous and has far too many fans, quite apart from being far too clever with words. for my liking and now know that It is dangerous to read this man. Allow me to give one example:

Last year I was touting for cheap titles, and saw that Equal Rites was on offer at £1.99. So I bought it and actually started to read it, while marvelling at how a book can be delivered to me by Magic somewhere in an obscure paddy field in South India. I started to read it with googly eyes and soon I didn’t feel quite so good, which wasn’t really much to do with Mr Pratchett but probably quite a lot to do with being in the Land of Delhi Belly, even if I was 2,000 miles away from the capital. Knives were stabbing my guts and our heroine Eskarina was hobnobbing with the laundry ladies in the bowels of the Unseen University and plotting against the Male Chauvinist Pig Wizards Upstairs who had ruled the roost for far too long. This lady could attend to washing clothes and deliver a punch in the Goolies which, when you think of it, is far cleverer than being able to walk and chew gum at the same time. My guts hurt like mad, and laughing at Eskarina hurt even more, but what hurt most of all was a batted remark in Tamil which I heard the boys deliver amongst themselves, namely, “Well if he’s laughing at a bit of writing on that Kindle things he can’t be that bad.”

“Can’t be that bad? Can’t be that bad?” I thought, “Man I’m bloody dying here!” I was gasping my final breaths. There’s three words for three different types of breaths in Tamil which a dying man takes, with a special one signifying the very last gasps. Unfortunately I can’t remember even one of them, but I’m sure that the final one must have had variation or tone which meant convulsed in unpleasant laughter, because that’s what was happening to me. And why the heck shouldn’t times be modern and I be leaning and dying over my Kindle with my mind on Disc World, even if that’s the last place I’d want to be at my departure?

That’s the place I was now: Dying, and all because of this book it seemed. Except that the old wizard in the story only had seven minutes left to live before passing on his Hat to a baby girl, and I unfortunately had to live for about as many days, and the baby boy I passed all my worldly and ethereal things to had since matured into a young man aged twenty-six. He had a great body, but sadly not much clue as to what’s Really Going On Here and I had very little time to teach him what wasn’t happening and would probably have to sum it all up in four small words which are NOT A LOT, REALLY. Which when you think about it is probably the best way of saying it in the first place.

So with the convulsive death of my body we appear to have come round full circle, and we ask, ‘Have we ended up in exactly the place we were before we started or is there a difference?’ The answer of course depends on whether you have a viewpoint. If you have, then you’ve moved a long way by the time you reach this point, and if you think you’ve moved, the amount of movement will be in direct proportion to your thought. But if you ponder deeper, diving beneath the choppy surface waves of thinking, you’ll see you never really moved because you were never ever really anywhere to begin with. The fan needs to cool you because it chops the waves of mind, but that can only happen as long as you believe you have a place here, and when you realise you don’t there’s no ‛you’ to keep itself apart from the rest of the stuff that isn’t there.

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