Robert Pimm

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How to increase your attention span

A man is writing a novel.  He decides to check a fact.  He consults his computer, or his phone, to find he has six new messages from friends.  An extraordinary news story has come out.  Some thrilling sport is available, live, on-line.

You know the rest.  By the time our writer friend returns to his novel, 45 minutes have passed, and he has forgotten what he originally set out to research.

Our apparent inability to focus on anything for an extended period of time is one of the problems of the 21st century.  It risks hampering our creativity and channelling our energy into bitty activities which leave us unsatisfied or unhappy.  What can we do?

Two things.

First, we can learn from the masters of concentration.  One of these is the novelist Anthony Trollope, about whose awesome qualities I have written before, including this: “Trollope’s work is a reminder that sometimes, life in the slow lane can be better than the alternative. There’s no way to rush-read Trollope.  His novels are best savoured: read in chunks, rather than a few pages at a time.”

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Transience and Fat Lama

The novel Lord of Light, by Roger Zelazny, opens with the following lines:

His followers called him Mahasamatman and said he was a god. He preferred to drop the Maha– and the –atman, however, and called himself Sam. He never claimed to be a god, but then he never claimed not to be a god.

I was thinking of Lord of Light the other day, and the new start-up Fat Lama, when planning to walk the last 100 miles of the Pennine Way.

I do not have pictures yet of the Pennine Way. This is the Lake District in 2007

I was due to walk the Pennine Way with my brother, with whom I walked the Dales Way in 2003 and who has done all the hard planning, including scoping the route, booking accommodation and so on (and has walked the first 168 miles of the Pennine Way, on his own).  But for various reasons he now cannot go – disaster.  Fortunately, my daughter (more…)

Wonder Woman and Wartime Moral Confusion (WMC)

When I was 8, my friend Barbara Stewart used to receive a package of DC and Marvel comics every few weeks from a relative.  We lived in the mountainous African kingdom of Lesotho, and used to retreat to a certain deserted basement room in the university campus to gorge ourselves on the newly arrived treasures.

In that room was an electric point with the cover missing.  We discovered that by inserting our fingers into a certain part of the wiring, we could give ourselves a powerful electric shock.  We spent many lovely afternoons reading comics and daring each other to give ourselves another shock.  Barbara, if you’re out there, please get in touch.

Wonder Woman “Official Final Trailer”

I mention this story because, back in the ’60s, we used to think the DC comics, with characters such as Superman and Batman, were cool; and that the heroes in the Marvel comics, (more…)

Happiness and small victories

When was the last time you punched the air and said “yesssssssssss!”?

If you want to understand me a bit, read on.

Air-punching is the stuff of small victories.  You disagree?  Please leave a comment below.  I would argue that with big victories (child born; illness overcome) you feel a powerful inner glow and no air-punching goes on.  But I digress.  My recent small victory involved the mileometer (an English word, the spell-check tells me – more usually odometer in the US and probably more appropriate here also as I actually choose to measure my cycling progress in small, rapidly-mounting kilometres rather than large, hard-to-accumulate miles, a fascinating subject in itself) on my bicycle.

I bought this bike on 16 July 1998 in Bonn, along with three other bicycles which have since perished.  One was out-grown.  Two were destroyed when a car I was in skidded on snowy tires in my garage in Kyiv and crushed the bikes, which were leaning against the wall and thus in the wrong place at the wrong time.  My own bike was leaning against a different wall and escaped.

The bike on the Rhine tow-path – before I uglified it with yellow tape for Berlin – Photo Robert Pimm

In Bonn, I cycled 14 km each day to and from work, mostly on a tow-path along the Rhine, (more…)

Review: fine Austrian movies: Toni Erdmann vs Wilde Maus

One wonderful feature of Austria is the survival of independent cinemas.

Austrians do not admit this.  They complain that independent cinemas are dead or dying and everything used to be much better.  This is kind of true: I remember in 1985 sitting through a showing of the movie Britannia Hospital in a Viennese cinema as the only viewer.

Trailer for Toni Erdmann (English subtitles)

But believe me, Austrians: you have it good (or, as they say in German, hör auf mit dem jammern auf hohem Niveau).  

It follows that in Austria, one has a feast of fine independent films, many off-beat and existential.  But are they any good? (more…)

Women in fiction: Atomic Blonde and Blood Summit

A review of the forthcoming thriller Atomic Blonde describes it as “the biggest action role for a woman on screen to date”.

Sounds good to me.

Atomic Blonde (2017) – trailer

A piece in the International New York Times by Jessica Manafi, which appeared in the Austrian Standard on 22 May, argues that Lorraine Broughton, the MI6 spy who is the heroine of the movie played by Charlize Theron, is getting closer to equality by (more…)

Things are getting worse, right? Wrong. Here’s why.

‘I saw this terrible news today.’  My friend, a sensible person, is distressed.  ‘A terrorist group is breeding babies to be brought up as fresh soldiers for their cause.  How can we resist such fanaticism?’

‘Don’t worry,’ I say.  ‘It’s probably a mix of propaganda and sensationalism.’

I’ve written before about how the Internet is filled with misleading nonsense (“a vortex of vacuity; a crisis of kaka; a whirlwind of piss-poor polarisation”) in one of my most popular blogs: The Internet.  7 reasons why it will destroy civilisation.

Lesotho: one of the most beautiful countries on earth has the lowest life expectancy – Photo RP

I’ve also written about the elegant Tuchman’s Law (hit the link for the full article), which says: “The fact of being reported multiplies the apparent extent of any deplorable development by five- to tenfold (more…)

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