THE first I ever heard of Rodolfo Walsh was when I read Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine in 2007. By that time, Walsh had been dead for 30 years, but Klein cited him as a posthumous source for her treatise on “disaster capitalism”, and introduced him in the most dynamic terms: “A gregarious Renaissance man, a writer of crime fiction and award-winning short stories … a super sleuth able to crack military codes and spy on the spies.”
WITH Bellow, Vonnegut, Mailer, and Updike all recently departed, Philip Roth is now supposed to be the last living giant of American literature. Roth’s late productivity has become an ongoing wonder of the publishing world, his sustained priapic raging a rebuke to every author and pensioner who has ever gone quietly into decline. At 76, he continues to cast the indignities of old age into one livid fiction after another, as if writing could dispel them, although some have noted that each of these senescent novels has been slighter and weaker than the one before.
IT IS the second and final day of the Body & Soul fair at Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall, and the main event is sold out. Three hundred people, the vast majority of them women, have paid £15 each for a seat in the exhibition hall, where therapist, healer and author Diana Cooper will conduct a workshop under the same title as her latest book: Angel Answers. If Cooper and her readers are correct in their view of the universe, then the auditorium must be twice as full as it appears to be. They will gently insist that belief is not a such a simple matter of right or wrong, but everyone here is agreed that all human beings have their own guardian angels. So we must be, this afternoon and always, in the midst of an invisible multitude.
FOR all the tricks and habits that humans teach them, there may be something we can learn from dogs. We consider ourselves their owners and masters, but there is no way to know what they think, and we are only guessing when we say they dream of rabbits. On occasion, between frequent, inscrutable relapses into primaeval wolfishness, tongue-lolling lunacy, and dung-eating degeneracy, they act as if they might possess the secret of happiness. Harry Horse’s dog Roo was no different, except that she could actually tell him about these things.
LEAVING law and morality aside, the best argument against bringing back hanging is that the hangmen themselves are all dead. A final Home Office list of official executioners was printed up in February 1964, and made obsolete when capital punishment was suspended the following year. Those six whose names appeared on it have long since gone to their own graves. There is nobody left in this country with the relevant training or experience to operate a gallows, which was in the end a more complex piece of equipment than it looked.
TONIGHT, THE night of the Led Zeppelin reunion, the whole rocking world is divided between those who have tickets and those, like myself, who do not. Nowhere is this separation more obvious than at the high-tech turnstiles of London’s O2 Arena, formerly the Millenium Dome. Luck and money have decided who goes through to the concert. There are fewer than 20,000 seats inside, but an estimated 25 million people registered to pay the initial £125 asking price, with winners decided at random in an on-line ballot. After that, only the highest bidders could buy their way in through eBay, although the record was apparently set at a Children In Need charity auction by young Glasgow businessman Kenneth Donnell, who paid £83,000 for two VIP passes, despite not being born when Led Zeppelin disbanded almost 30 years ago.
I AM afraid. Merely admitting this does not make me feel any better about flying, and yet I often say it aloud to the person sitting next to me on a plane during take-off or turbulence, those two fixtures of aviation which always make my face and palms ice over with doom-sweat.
LONG before Scotland was Scotland, when the population consisted only of green algae and the Highlands were as dry as Death Valley, a large natural object fell out of space and struck the Earth near where the village of Stoer now stands, in Wester Ross. This incident occured 1.2 billion years ago, but it has only been confirmed in the last few months. “If the same thing happened today,” says planetary geologist Scott Thackrey, “all the trees in Aberdeen would be felled. The trees in Inverness would actually ignite. Most man-made structures would collapse. Everything made of paper would burn. You wouldn’t be safe in Glasgow. But sitting here, we would be vapourised.”
ONE thing never questioned in a pub quiz is the pub quiz itself. Where did it come from? Who held the first one, and when? How has it become such a defining characteristic of British pub culture? Why do UK drinkers in particular seem to accept and enjoy challenges to their capacity for factual recall? What is the point?
THE oldest living thing on the planet is King’s Holly, a bush that has been growing in a Tasmanian river gully for more than 40,000 years. There are bivalve molluscs in Iceland that reach ages over 370. Bowhead whales have been discovered roaming the cold oceans with antique ivory spear points still stuck in their hides, which means these creatures have survived for at least two centuries longer than the pre-industrial sailors who tried to harpoon them.