The madness of crowds: screens on planes …

I never watch movies or TV or play video games on planes. Why? Because those fag-packet-sized screens that they implant in the back of the seats are actually displaying the thoughts of the person sitting in front of you. It isn’t seemly to intrude on another’s thoughts – we’ve all read our Freud and we know that beneath the thin, smooth veneer of socially sanctioned self-awareness (I am an upright, decent, sincere, moral person . . .), there seethes a fetid-fiery pit of the libidinal imagination into which barrels of death instinct are regularly poured. How else can we explain what is plainly in view – a heaving morass of tortured and ecstatic and self-regarding flesh which is hardly ethically minimised by appearing in miniature?

On location: Maps, territories and train toilets

Can I be alone in finding the new toilets on trains peculiarly unsettling? There is something about all those buttons and lights, about the way the curved door groans shut, that contrives to make these smallest rooms feel provisional and exposed. I miss the heft and security of a toilet door you can shut and bolt manually: what automation gives, it can so easily take away, leaving your buttocks exposed to the commuting multitudes.

Madness of crowds: individuals and society

In his story “An Outpost of Progress” – a prototype for the novella Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad writes of his colonialist protagonists that they were “two perfectly insignificant and incapable individuals, whose existence is only rendered possible through the high organisation of civilised crowds”. This perspective on the crowd is alien to us; we are perfectly prepared to believe that the crowd “dehumanises”; that when we find ourselves in a stampeding herd of crazed people, we ourselves may lose our reason and thereby our very individuality. What we find it harder to accept is that we may be who we are at all solely by virtue of the crowd. Conrad continues: “Few men realise that their life, the very essence of their character, their capabilities and their audacities, are only the expression of their belief in the safety of their surroundings.”

Real meals: Virgin snack boxes

Sometimes I ask myself in all sincerity – is Richard Branson real? Please note, the question is not “Is Richard Branson for real?” (the sort of locution he himself might have used back in the days when he edited Student), but rather: “Does he exist in any meaningful sense at all?”