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Dr Alistair Brown | Associate lecturer in English Literature; researching video games and literature

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Through exploring the psychopathology of Capgras syndrome, in which a patient mistakes a loved one for an imposter, The Echo Maker offers a sustained meditation on the ways in which we project our own problems onto other people. As a reflection on the mysteries of consciousness, the novel offers some interesting if not especially new insights into the fuzzy boundaries between scientific and literary interpretations of the mind. Read more


Training in Class

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Trains, like motorway service stations, airport lounges, and Tescos on a Saturday, are one of those rare places where different English classes, usually kept apart by leylandii hedges or multiple flights of apartment block stairs, are forced together. Sitting on a northbound train from Southampton, I find myself sandwiched between two different slices of English society (I realise this is a bad metaphor, thinking of the array of pre-packaged sandwiches mouldering in the chiller cabinet of Basingstoke waiting room, for it presents me as the writerly equivalent of soggy tuna mayonnaise.)

At the table in front of me, a large woman swathed in brown furs commands her family in a loud, plummy voice. Her perfectly-permed blonde hairdo jiggles slightly as she talks with her son, clad in a wax jacket and waxed RAF moustache. "I was, I will admit, a bit dubious when you suggested going by train," she announces. "I mean, one never want to get stuck in a carriage with the wrong sort of people, but I have to say that since I last travelled" - which, perhaps, was when carriages were wreathed in steam rather than buzzing with electric - "it is positively polite." This last comment being based on the fact that a tannoy has just declared that a catering trolley of light refreshments is passing through the train. Indeed, shortly afterwards it arrives with an exhalation of tea fumes, sadly not bearing the silver-plattered cream cakes that one imagines the word "refreshments" may have conjured in the mind of our intrepid user of public transport.

"Is it, perhaps, as good as the car, mother?" enquires her son, this last said with a curl of the lips that testifies to numerous arguments down the telephone over whether to take the Mercedes or risk the South West Trains service to Waterloo. "Well it depends on who one is travelling with, of course," qualifies our lady. "I mean car journeys can be interminable, too, with the wrong sort of company."

Her son now tries to demonstrate his equal open-mindedness. "Well I must say, when we went to Las Vegas, Penny and I looked around ourselves at the airport and were surprised by the quality of the people" - as if people can be judged like joints of beef - "because one thinks of who might be travelling to Vegas, to get married and the such like, and..." "Well darling," interjects his wife, "one man was drinking beer. From a can." This last qualification a potentially interesting sociological observation that one's status is defined not by the choice of drink, but by the vessel which conveys it: the delicate china teacup or the sturdy mug designed for the building site; the pint glass nursed over hazy summer days at some riverside pub or the can swigged swiftly in terminal five.

As the conversation in front drifts into the decline of the English country pub as a metonym for the sorry state of the country generally, I become aware of music being played somewhere further down the carriage behind me. Turning quickly, I note it emanates from the pocket of a leather jacket, belonging to a burly man - the sort whom might happily find himself with a can in hand en route to Vegas. He is equipped with the arms of a nightclub bouncer.

Yet, to prove one's assumptions are prejudiced, I realise that this unwelcome public broadcast from his mobile phone is looping through the greatest hits of Cher - who may, in her own way, have some masculine qualities, but who is not often the music of choice of butch males. As I am surprised by this, aging plum starts up again, proving to be more forward-looking than I had at first conjectured. "I do hate, Skype, don't you? When I use it I can see right up the inside of Ben's nostrils."

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Posted by Alistair at 9:24 am

1 Comments:

Anonymous Elija said...

Hear. hear

10:21 pm  

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