Madness of Crowds: Texting charities

The Gadarene swine fallacy states that simply because a group of individuals are maintaining a formation, it doesn’t mean that they’re on the right course. You can see the logic of this: Jesus casts out the demons, they enter the swine, and the swine all charge along in a swinish pack and tumble straight into a lake. Only an ideally placed observer – Matthew, say, or possibly Mark or Luke – is able to see that the demoniacal swine are heading for disaster, while the poor little possessed positivist piggies keep on keeping on until their squeals turn into splutters and they sink beneath the lacustrine scum, all the time frantically maintaining the wisdom of their chosen course.

Real meals: Dirty Burger in Vauxhall

It’s pretty weird round my way at the moment: a sirocco of flight capital is blowing through, conjuring vast “luxury apartment” developments into being the way djinns are embodied by Arabian dust storms. The youngest and I went out for a little wander the other day and we were both intimidated by the tower cranes building themselves overhead. Each new parametrically designed and glassy moneymaker comes complete with an inbuilt restaurant – Riverlight, where a studio flat will cost you a modest £800,000, features a Korean joint, while St George Wharf, hard by Vauxhall Bridge, boasts the delightfully named Steax and the City. We eschewed this, rather than chewing on a steax (whatever that may be), but the problem of where to have lunch remained until the boy recalled that there was a branch of Dirty Burger on the far side of the railway viaduct.

On location: Wakefield

I arrived in Wakefield at what I assumed to be Westgate Station. It had been a null journey, the train leadenly clunking over the flatlands in the faint autumnal sunshine. The franchise on this route seems to have been acquired by East Coast, but the carriage I was in had that absurd Grand Central livery: the blown-up photos of Marilyn Monroe, the chessboards painted on to the tables. Really, the last thing you want when you’re heading for West Yorkshire is to be reminded of the existence of Manhattan. Not, I hasten to add, because there is anything wrong with Wakefield – it’s just that the Grand Central decor is decentring: it makes you wonder where the hell you are.

‘The fate of our literary culture is sealed’

‘Let’s think about reading – about what it’s like to read. And after we’ve thought about reading for a while, let’s consider writing – and what it means to write. There are many ways of reading: we scan, we dip, we skip and we speed through texts we know to be intrinsically dull, searching out the nuggets of information we desire as a bent-backed prospector pans for gold. In contradistinction: we are lost, abandoned, absorbed – tossed from wave to wave of language as we relapse into the wordsea. All serious readers of serious literature have had this experience: time, space, and all the workaday contingencies of their identity – sex, age, class, heritage – are forgotten; the mind cleaves to the page, matching it point-for-point; the mind is the text, and in the act of reading it is you who are revealed to the impersonal writer, quite as much as her imaginings and inventions are rendered unto you. In the course of my literary career I’ve read various accounts of the reading process – ones that analyse it phenomenologically, neurologically and psychologically; ones that site it in a given social or cultural context – but none has captured the peculiar quiddity of reading as I experience it. In particular, no forensic or analytic account of reading can do justice to the strange interplay between levels of reality we apprehend when we read deeply. We don’t picture a woman in a red dress when we decipher the marks that mean “she wore a red dress” – and, by extension, we do not hold within our mind’s eye the floor plan of Mansfield Park or the street map of Dublin when we read the novels of Jane Austen and James Joyce, respectively.