I took this photo some years ago in Pattaya, Thailand. I never actually went to the restaurant advertised -- no objections to condoms but I can't stand cabbage -- but I was amused by their sign. I often used to see English-speaking tourists takig photos of it, just like me.
I see that Stephen King has published another novel. Well, it must be at least three weeks since his last one. Anyway, I saw it on the table by the door at Borders a couple of days ago. It’s called Under The Dome and like most of his books it’s a big, thick doorstop. I’ll no doubt buy it, and very likely enjoy it, when it comes out in paperback. I wonder what sort of blurb they’ll put on the paperback. It won’t be the same blurb as on the hardcover edition because there is no blurb at all. None. I’ve never seen that before. The back cover was bare, as were the inside front and back flaps. No summary of the story, no reviewer’s comment, no author bio and photo. Nothing. Maybe thy think that Stephen King’s name alone is publicity enough. Probably they are right – I’m sure the book will sell, but I do find that very pretentious indeed.
If you get a new credit card these days, one of your tasks is to choose what design you want on the front of it. Most banks offer a choice, varying from the patriotic (flags, eagles etc.) to the universal (moon, stars) by way of the environment (waterfalls, dolphins), the kitsch (kittens) and the irrational (signs of the zodiac). Some banks even allow you to have a photograph of your own on your card: yourself or a family group or you three-month old baby or your pet dog or your house. All very nice. But I just stick with the basic card with the bank’s corporate logo on it. I’m not being a curmudgeon – I just don’t see the point. Who is actually going to see the design on your card? Think about it. Your credit card sits in your wallet or purse or pocket, and when you use it you whip it out, swipe it through the reader (chip and pin technology has yet to arrive here) and then you put it back where you got it from. No one sees the picture. Yes, okay, waiters might, but since you give them your card by putting it inside the plastic folder they bring you your check in, they won’t see it till they are over at the cash desk. It’s not as though you and whoever you are paying are going to share a warm fuzzy moment as you share the pleasure of whatever design you have chosen. “Yes, I love dolphins.” “That’s right, I’m a typical Libra.” “That was a group photo taken at our family reunion last year. Not a very good one of me, because the card number goes right across my face, but you can see great-aunt Edna very well. Unfortunately, unlike the card, she has expired.” Luckily, no soul searching is needed to pick your American Express design. It’s fixed, though they do have varying backgrounds, but whether yours is green, gold or platinum is not simply a matter of your choice.
Here’s a thing. Did you know that if you pick twenty-five people at random, it is more probable than not that at least two of them will share the same birthday. In fact, even though it is not a mathematical certainty, it is a high probability. I have never understood that. With 365 possibilities (366 if you insist) I don’t see how this can be. Our mathematics teacher at school demonstrated it to us by going round the class asking our birthdates, and he hadn’t even got to the second row before he had a match. He explained to us exactly how this is so , in mathematical terms, but I am afraid that in my case it didn’t sink in. I’ll accept it, but I just don’t understand how it is so. I have come across it occasionally in books and elsewhere, and it still mystifies me. But yesterday, for fun and out of renewed curiosity, I put it to the test. I picked twenty-five of my Facebook friends at random and checked out each one’s birthday. Sure enough, I found a match long before I had examined all twenty-five profiles. Try it yourself. It will most probably work for you too, but don’t ask me how. .
I was at the doctor’s for a check-up yesterday, and all seems well, I’m glad to say. All the usual procedures – stethoscope, deep breath, say “ah”, cough, stand on the scale please, fill this, just a tiny little prick (in reference to taking a drop of blood from my fingertip, for the benefit of anyone who thought the doctor was being insulting and inaccurate). I also had an ultrasound of my heart.
I had had an EKG before, but never an ultrasound. An EKG, if you haven’t had one, is the procedure where they wire up your chest and then take readings on something that looks like a lie detector – lots of needles making inky tracks on a moving roll of paper. I found the whole thing interesting and relaxing when I had one, until the nurse, who was standing by the machine watching the readout, suddenly exclaimed “Oh, my God” I sat bolt upright, exclaiming “What’s wrong?” She replied: “My pen has leaked ink all over my jacket pocket.” I didn’t know whether to be annoyed or relieved. Anyway, I digress. No EKG yesterday, but an ultrasound.
Now, I knew all about taking ultrasounds of pregnant women, to ensure that all is well inside -- in fact the first time I ever saw my daughter she was a grey shape among many on a cathode ray screen in a doctor’s office in London. What I wasn’t aware of is just how many applications ultrasounds have now, and are a much used alternative to X-Rays, without all that nasty radiation. So anyway, I let the technician stick a few electrodes to my chest, lay on my left side and he put what looked like a small electric shaver against my skin. There was no sensation at all, other than a slight metallic coldness.
I was facing the wall, away from the machine itself so I couldn’t see the screen – no clumsy cathode ray tubes these days, but a laptop with a lot of extra buttons. But I could hear my heart very well. Now, I always thought, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, that a heart sounded pretty much like hearts do on TV dramas – a steady beat, not quite like a drum, but certainly sharp and percussive. Not so! A beating heart sounds like someone walking across a very muddy field in boots. There is far more sloshing and squelching than beating involved. In fact, I was alarmed for a moment. “Is it supposed to sound like that?” I asked the technician. “Yup!” he replied.
I reflected that if I were an ultrasound technician I might have a metronome concealed behind the laptop so that the patient could hear a steady beating, and feel reassured that this was a proper heart-like sound. And if I felt in whimsical mood I could reach out and stop the metronome and at the same time say “Uh oh!” What laughs the patients and I could share together! .