There's something rather wonderful about the fact that Oxford is a very small city that contains most of the cultural and metropolitan facilities you could want, in terms of bookshops, theatre, cinema, conversation. But it's near enough to London to get here in an hour, and it's near enough to huge open spaces without which I would go insane.
At teenage parties he was always wandering into the garden, sitting on a bench in the dark . . . staring up at the constellations and pondering all those big questions about the existence of God and the nature of evil and the mystery of death, questions which seemed more important than anything else in the would until a few years passed and some real questions had been dumped into your lap, like how to earn a living, and why people fell in and out of love, and how long you could carry on smoking and then give up without getting lung cancer.
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people who believe in God think God has put human beings on earth because they think human beings are the best animal, but human beings are just an animal and they will evolve into another animal, and that animal will be cleverer and it will put human beings into a zoo, like we put chimpanzees and gorillas into a zoo. Or human beings will all catch a disease and die out or they will make too much pollution and kill themselves, and then there will only be insects in the world and they will be the best animal.
And when you look at the sky you know you are looking at stars which are hundreds and thousands of light-years away from you. And some of the stars don't even exist anymore because their light has taken so long to get to us that they are already dead, or they have exploded and collapsed into red dwarfs. And that makes you seem very small, and if you have difficult things in you life it is nice to think that they are what is called negligible, which means they are so small you don't have to take them into account when you are calculating something.
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Miaow Consider me. I sit here like Tiberius, inscrutable and grand. I will let "I dare not" wait upon "I would" and bear the twangling of your small guitar because you are my owl and foster me with milk. Why wet my paw? Just keep me in a bag and no one knows the truth. I am familiar with witches and stand a better chance in hell than you for I can dance on hot bricks, leap your height and land on all fours. I am the servant of the Living God. I worship in my way. Look into these slit green stones and follow your reflected lights into the dark. Michel, Duc de Montaigne, knew. You don't play with me. I play with you.
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A Rough Guide Be polite at the reception desk. Not all the knives are in the museum. The waitresses know that a nice boy is formed in the same way as a deckchair. Pay for the beer and send flowers. Introduce yourself as Richard. Do not refer to what somebody did at a particular time in the past. Remember, every Friday we used to go for a walk. I walked. You walked. Everything in the past is irregular. This steak is very good. Sit down. There is no wine, but there is ice cream. Eat slowly. I have many matches.
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What actually happens when you die is that your brain stops working and your body rots, like Rabbit did when he died and we buried him in the earth at the bottom of the garden. And all his molecules were broken down into other molecules and they went into the earth and were eaten by worms and went into the plants and if we go dig in the same place in 10 years there will be nothing except his skeleton left. And in 1,000 years even his skeleton will be gone. But that is all right because he is part of the flowers and the apple tree and the hawthorn bush now. When people die they are sometimes put into coffins which means that they don't mix with the earth for a very long time until the wood of the coffin rots. But Mother was cremated. This means that she was put into a coffin and burnt and ground up and turned into ash and smoke. I do not know what happens to the ash and I couldn't ask at the crematorium because I didn't go to the funeral. But the smoke goes out of the chimney and into the air and sometimes I look up into the sky and I think that there are molecules of Mother up there, or in clouds over Africa or the Antartic, or coming down as rain in rainforests in Brazil, or in snow somewhere.
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Appalling things can happen to children. And even a happy childhood is filled with sadnesses. Is there any other period in your life when you hate your best friend on Monday and love them again on Tuesday? But at eight, 10, 12, you don't realise you're going to die. There is always the possibility of escape. There is always somewhere else and far away, a fact I had never really appreciated until I read Gitta Sereny's profoundly unsettling Cries Unheard about child-killer Mary Bell. At 20, 25, 30, we begin to realise that the possibilities of escape are getting fewer. We begin to picture a time when there will no longer be somewhere else and far away. We have jobs, children, partners, debts, responsibilities. And if many of these things enrich our lives immeasurably, those shrinking limits are something we all have to come to terms with. This, I think, is the part of us to which literary fiction speaks.
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And Siobhan says people go on holidays to see new things and relax, but it wouldn't make me relaxed and you can see new things by looking at earth under a microscope or drawing the shape of the solid made when 3 circular rods of equal thickness intersect at right angles. And I think that there are so many things just in one house that it would take years to think about all of them properly. And also, a thing is interesting because of thinking about it and not because of it being new.
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And when I am in a new place, because I see everything, it is like when a computer is doing too many things at the same time and the central processor unit is blocked up and there isn't any space left to think about other things. And when I am in a new place and there are lots of people there it is even harder because people are not like cows and flowers and grass and they can talk to you and do things that you don't expect, so you have to notice everything that is in the place, and also you have to notice things that might happen as well. And sometimes when I am in a new place and there are lots of people there it is like a computer crashing and I have to close my eyes and put my hands over my ears and groan, which is like pressing CTRL + ALT + DEL and shutting down programs and turning the computer off and rebooting so that I can remember what I am doing and where I am meant to be going.
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Then, when I've got a degree in maths, or physics, or maths and physics, I will be able to get a job and earn lots of money and I will be able to pay someone who can look after me and cook my meals and wash my clothes, or I will get a lady to marry me and be my wife and she can look after me so I can have company and not be on my own.
Siobhan said that when you are writing a book you have to include some descriptions of things. I said that I could take photographs and put them in the book. But she said the idea of a book was to describe things using words so that people could read them and make a picture in their own head.
He said that it was very difficult to become an astronaut. I said that I knew. You had to become an officer in the air force and you had to take lots of orders and be prepared to kill other human beings, and I couldn't take orders. Also I didn't have 20/20 vision, which you needed to be a pilot.
Because time is not like space. And when you put something down somewhere, like a protractor or a biscuit, you can have a map in your head to tell you where you have left it, but even if you don't have a map it will still be there because a map is a representation of things that actually exist so you can find the protractor or the biscuits again. And a timetable is a map of time, except that if you don't have a timetable, time isn't there like the landing and the garden and the route to school.
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A white lie is not a lie at all. It is where you tell the truth but you do not tell all of the truth. This means that everything you say is a white lie because when someone says, for example, "What do you want to do today?" you say, "I want to do painting with Mrs. Peters, " but you don't say, "I want to have my lunch and I want to go to the toilet and I want to go home after school and I want to play with Toby and I want to have my supper
And that is why a dog can go to the vet and have a really big operation and have metal pins sticking out of its leg but if it sees a cat it forgets that it has pins sticking out of its leg and chases after the cat. But when a person has an operation it has a picture in its head of the hurt carrying on for months and months. And it has a picture of all the stitches in its leg and the broken bone and the pins and even if it sees a bus it has to catch it doesn't run because it has a picture in its head of the bones crunching together and the stitches breaking and even more pain.
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Lots of people wrote to the magazine to say that Marilyn vos Savant was wrong, even when she explained very carefully why she was right. Of the letters she got about the problem, 92% said that she was wrong and lots of these were from mathematicians and scientists. Here are some of the things they said: 'I'm very concerned with the general public's lack of mathematical skills. Please help by confessing your error.' -Robert Sachs, Ph.D., George Mason University... 'I am sure you will receive many letters from high school and college students. Perhaps you should keep a few addresses for future columns.' -W. Robert Smith, Ph.D., Georgia State University... 'If all those Ph.D.'s were wrong, the country would be in very serious trouble.' -Everett Harman, Ph.D., U.S. Army Research Institute
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And it's best if you know a good thing is going to happen, like an eclipse or getting a microscope for Christmas. And it's bad if you know a bad thing is going to happen, like having a filling or going to France. But I think it is worst if you don't know whether it is a good thing or a bad thing which is going to happen.
And then a man stood next to the shelf and said, "Come and look at this, Barry. They've got, like, a train elf." And another man came and stood net to him and said, "Well, we have both been drinking." And the first man said, "Perhaps we should feed him some nuts." And the second man said, "You're the one who's bloody nuts." And the first one said, "Come on, shift it, you daft cunt. I need more bers before I sober up.
And Father said, "Christopher, do you understand that I love you?" And I said "Yes, " because loving someone is helping them when they get into trouble, and looking after them, and telling them the truth, and Father looks after me when I get into trouble, like coming to the police station, and he looks after me by cooking meals for me, and he always tells me the truth, which means that he loves me.
People say that you always have to tell the truth. But they do not mean this because you are not allowed to tell old people that they are old and you are not allowed to tell people if they smell funny or if a grown-up has made a fart. And you are not allowed to say, 'I don't like you, ' unless that person has been horrible to you.
What actually happens when you die is that your brain stops working and your body rots, like Rabbit did when he died and we buried him in the earth at the bottom of the garden. And all his molecules were broken down into other molecules and they went into the earth and were eaten by worms and went into the plants and if we go and dig in the same place in 10 years there will be nothing exept his skeleton left. And in 1,000 years even his skeleton will be gone. But that is all right because he is a part of the flowers and the apple tree and the hawthorn bush now.
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Eventually scientists will discover something that explains ghosts, just like they discovered electricity, which explained lightning, and it might be something about people's brains, or something about the earth's magnetic field, or it might be some new force altogether. And then ghosts won't be mysteries. They will be like electricity and rainbows and nonstick frying pans.
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Books are like people. Some look deceptively attractive from a distance, some deceptively unappealing; some are easy company, some demand hard work that isn't guaranteed to pay off. Some become friends and say friends for life. Some change in our absence - or perhaps it is we who change in theirs - and we meet up again only to find that we don't get along any more.
...people who believe in God think God has put human beings on earth because they think human beings are the best animal, but human beings are just an animal and they will evolve into another animal, and that animal will be cleverer and it will put human beings into a zoo, like we put chimpanzees and gorillas into a zoo. Or human beings will all catch a disease and die out or they will make too much pollution and kill themselves, and then there will only be insects in the world and they will be the best animal.
People think that alien spaceships would be solid and made of metal and have lights all over them and move slowly through the sky because that is how we would build a spaceship if we were able to build one that big. But aliens, if they exist, would probably be very different from us. They might look like big slugs, or be flat like reflections. Or they might be bigger than planets. Or they might not have bodies at all. They might just be information, like in a computer. And their spaceships might look like clouds, or be made up of unconnected objects like dust or leaves.
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Stories about mental aberration and oddity only make sense in context. Just how do people live with someone who is peculiar, gifted, strange or alien? It's odd because there's a little part of me that wants to write about exotic, strange bizarre subjects. Instead, I've rather reluctantly realised that what I write about is families.
The word "metaphor" means carrying something from one place to another . . . and it is when you describe something by using a word for something that it isn't. This means that the word "metaphor" is a metaphor. I think it should be called a lie because a pig is not like a day and people people do not have skeletons in their cupboards. And when I try and make a picture of the phrase in my head it just confuses me because imagining and apple in someone's eye doesn't have anything to do with liking someone a lot and it makes you forget what the person was talking about.
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Siobhan also says that if you close your mouth and breathe out loudly through your nose it can mean that you are relaxed, or that you are bored, or that you are angry and it all depends on how much air comes out of your nose and how fast and what shape your mouth is when you do it and how you are sitting and what you just said before and hundreds of other things which are too complicated to work out in a few seconds.