Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A Poor Sort of Memory

So I want a brief on meaningful coincidence for reasons that will become clear. I wiki it, and I read an odd little entry on Jung's theory of Synchronicity, which includes a reference to Magical Thinking, I click and idly skim the article, the "Magical thinking exists in most people" section captures my flitting interest and includes a link to the Birthday Paradox. I know what this is, but, I realise, I have no real understanding of it. Having been informed by the current article that folks like me "rarely have a deep understanding of statistics" I dive in, in the futile hope of getting the maths straight in my head. The maths is impenetrable, the probability equations are thickly wooded with brackets and overgrown with unknown powers. Fortunately there's a paragraph just for me, "Understanding the paradox", which has almost no maths in it at all. Seriously, it's about 2% maths. So now I have a grasp of the problem, albeit a trivial grasp. But I want more so I explore an external link at the bottom of the page which bills itself as "A humorous article explaining the paradox". How can I resist? It's pretty funny, particularly the part about the calculator threatening the author. Lurking at the bottom of this page is a list of related articles, one entitled "The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon", I click again, which discusses a feeling that must be familiar to everyone: -

"one happens upon some obscure piece of information - often an unfamiliar word or name - and soon afterwards encounters the same subject again, often repeatedly..."

The author explains it away with that old chestnut, cognitive bias. But here's the thing. Scrolling down I notice a list of suggested further reading. The second item on the list? The original wikipedia article on Synchronicity!

Spooky. Or a meaningless coincidence, depending on your perspective.

I'm at Hammersmith bus station when my wife calls, on my way to a softball game in darkest Barnes.

"There are two envelopes here," she says. "One from Birkbeck and one from the solicitors. Shall I open them?"

I nod, then realise she can't see me.

"Go on."

The Birkbeck letter is a formal unconditional offer of a place on the 2007 BA English degree course. The solicitor's letter is the Administration Accounts for my mother's estate, including a cheque, the final residuary distribution, they call it. The cheque is for a sum closely approximate to my total college fees. It's a kick in the head, obviously, but a good one, I think. A shakabuku, even, at a stretch.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Inside The Park (1)

It's Memorial Day, a public holiday here in the United States. The morning humidity has been burned away by a fierce sun and in deference to the spirit of the day, and to the heat, folks are moving unhurriedly into the park. We are searched in a somewhat desultory fashion at the entrance behind home plate, and then we're in. Rob points out a beer stand, the only one, he remarks, where you'll get a decent beer during the game. It seems hopelessly far from our seats. Beneath the grandstand, cleverly, everything's painted in neutral off-white and grey shades, to exaggerate the great splash of green within. We walk along the first base side a little and then head up a ramp into the park.

Hundreds of people better qualified than myself have struggled to pinpoint the strange charm of Fenway. Some are overwhelmed by the greenness, or the intimacy. For me the most remarkable thing is that it seems, at first sight, to be both big and small. You marvel at the proximity of the Pesky Pole to home plate, then marvel again at the soccer-pitch-sized expanse of fair territory beyond it in right. The great inscrutable flatness of The Green Monster confuses the eye. A groundskeeper seems to physically shrink as he runs along it out towards centre. I experience the special thrill of being there; when you've seen the drama unfold on television and then come to see it in the flesh it's akin to walking onto the set of your favourite movie, while they're filming the sequel, but better still it's real. Everything that I will see happen tonight is real, and cannot be rewritten. It's an exhilarating realisation, and at about this point some dust makes its inexplicable way beneath my spectacles, causing my eyes to water a little.

Manny Ramirez, the great righthander, and David Ortiz, his colossal counterpart, are taking batting practice. Ortiz is being rested today, so this will likely be my only chance to see him hit.
He sprays half a dozen balls into the bleachers in right without apparent effort. Then Manny takes over and, interestingly, hits each of his pitches out the same way. I'm transfixed, of course, and I fail to notice that Rob has disappeared until he emerges from the bowels of Fenway bearing gifts; a program, a gameday newsletter and a Red Sox pencil. He presses them upon me. "Gotta get a program on your first visit," he explains. We disperse again towards our respective seats. Cyn and I are in the last two seats of Row 15, Section 43, righthandmost of the Right Field bleachers, where there is no shade from the merciless, lowering sun. I steel myself with a couple of tasteless yet fantastically expensive beers.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Aw, but they're cool people (3)

Dover, NH, is a small city of around 25,000 souls, an hour and a half's drive north northeast of Boston. It's been there for almost four hundred years, under one name or another. It was a major textile town in the nineteenth century, powered by the foaming waters of the Cochecho. The mills closed or moved south between the wars. I've not been there myself, you understand - my loss probably - but it sounds like a subdued sort of place, where folk live out their days quietly.

Last to arrive at the Cask is Dover, who hails from this minor metropolis, and takes her pseudonym from it. She's not yet twenty-one, and as such she is an affront to barroom bureaucracy. There's some wrangling with the bouncers, the rest of the party takes a blood oath not to slip her any strong liquor, and eventually she, and her sister (Sister of Dover, 28) are admitted. Dover is about as small as an adult can be without being odd-looking. There's a classic strongman pose, where the beefcake stands legs akimbo, arms raised, with a starlet nestling on either bicep. She'd be ideal for this. I reckon I could support her, on my strong side. So she's ever so slim and ever so tiny, and as is sometimes the case with slim, tiny people she is monumentally loud. Rather than being boorish, this loudness proves infectious however, and it's as if she communicates some of herself, this small bundle of fizzing blonde energy, and pretty soon everyone is shouting or laughing. Sister of Dover is altogether quieter, she doesn't have a clue who any of us are, I suppose. I do my best to be friendly towards her, but I'm distracted by an unusual tattoo on her upper arm. A triumphant Tigger stands on the belly of a recumbent Pooh. Tigger droppings appear to be falling to earth. "Is Tigger taking a shit?" I'm obliged to ask. "They're supposed to be butterflies," Sister of Dover explains. "Why are they flying around his arse?" I'm not sure if I should be amused or disgusted.

It's approaching five o' clock, when the gates will open, and the farewells begin. People get up in ones and twos and say their goodbyes to those not attending the game. It's curious to see the degree of warmth and affection we near-strangers have for one another after just one afternoon which has passed with a click of the fingers. We split up once again outside the bar, having left an astonishingly vulgar tip (Surviving Grady people are high-rollers). Another kidnapping scenario, involving both JET and the waitress flashes briefly through my mind. I take a deep breath as we head towards the park.