domingo, setembro 30, 2018

Rarefied Heights: "Umbrella" by Will Self

(Original Review, September 30th 2012)

And people are entertained by different things. Some people are entertained by cat videos. Others are entertained by football or motor racing. Others are entertained by mathematical or philosophical problems. Others are entertained by jigsaw puzzles or their literary equivalents. Others are entertained by sophisticated use of narrative technique. Some people may be entertained by all of these: they have rich mental lives, with varying sources of entertainment.

What made Umberto Eco's Il Nome della Rosa / The Name of the Rose such a great novel was that it combined so many types of entertainment: detective thriller, historical novel, literary allusions as a puzzle, psychological novel, a bit of sex, lots of violence and horror, discourses on philosophy and mediaeval aesthetics, and more. Readers could read it on the level appropriate for them; and if you could appreciate several levels, so much the better.

There is an absolute place for literature that is complex and hard but you have to then question the purpose of an award. Should the booker prize be to transcend excellent enjoyable books to the mass market (rewarding the author / publisher and ultimately the reader). Or should it be to reward a small elitist group of reviewers and showcase their views?

Personally I feel this year is more about the latter than the former.

In the case of Self it was revenge; it was intravenously injecting the psychotic rarefied "heights" of the imperial British and European elite's academy with a heavy overdose of their own medicine. What was the point?

sábado, setembro 15, 2018

We Are Silent Killers: "Lullaby Town" by Robert Crais

Lullaby Town, a dark drive down some
rockspotted track. We are silent. Killers.
With gloves from the farmer’s wife we trudge
to a cold outbuilding, strip-lit and grey.
Machines and men turn in the shed next door.
Protests and filthy jokes from the doomed birds.

A lesson from the farmer. The upturned turkey
two days from celebration, yawning red
from the pause of his last interrupted sentence.
The floor darkening and the farmer’s instructions
lost in our comprehension of Christmas lunch.
With one smooth rip the bird is stripped to cook.

The room spins with sudden birds, headless and
warm against our rubber hands. We stamp our
feet in hope of circulation, kicking crimson
feathers in some pillow fight between our knees.
The sun not yet risen over the morning hill.
Our tea drunk quietly. Our lunch quieter still.

By MySelfie.

quarta-feira, setembro 12, 2018

Non-Preciousness: "Shakespeare's Style" by Maurice Charney

Unlike Maurice Charney--and I am criticizing no one here---but, unlike many of you, I was never blessed to be able to study the bard, until I was much older, when I took a make up course at Universidade de Letras in Lisbon one summer--two week's to read and absorb "Hamlet"...and I loved it! 

Being a Portuguese born and bred, the only exposure I received to Shakespeare, in 12 years of high-school education as I grew up, was one viewing of "Romeo and Juliet" in, I think, 1986, with a mob of other students, in a crowded cinema, with absolutely no introduction...they put us on the buses, we queued up and paid for our tickets, sat in the cinema seats, and then we had to sit through several minutes of hearing the loud giggles and twitters of oversexed teens (or was that undersexed), as the opening shots were of close-ups of the men's codpieces. We were bused home at the end, and the next day given a book called "Romeo and Juliet" to read. The end.

So why, many years later, did I find myself sitting in my downtime at work, reading Hamlet? Why at the tender age of my 20s, pass up a western by Louis L'Amour, and buy a copy of Hamlet, instead? Was I trying to show the world how trendy or intellectual I was? Nope. I hope someone shoots me dead, if I ever try to be trendy, and if someone ever thinks me an intellectual, they don't know me very well. I just wanted to help my friends milk cows, and go to Colombo to do “gal-watching--hardly intellectual pursuits, hey? No, it wasn't me trying to be something I'm not. What drew me to Shakespeare wasn't the stories. It wasn't even curiosity, really. It was the words. Oh my god, what beautiful words! The flow and rhyme and sound of them, tripping over my lips as I sat under a pine tree and read out loud to my dog. And partly, it was the stories, too. I mean, the history may be gone, but what the characters feel, the essence of the characters themselves--they are still around today, those feelings, those human frailties and foibles and courage.

I had a real hard time figuring out "Hamlet"--and, seriously, it really did take me 20 years to read the whole thing through. In the mid-80's, at a used book stall, I found an old paperback called The Age of Kings, that was based on some television programmes of Shakespeare's plays, put on by the BBC in the early 60's, I think. It had a wonderful introduction, which explained what the story was about in clear modern English, therefore enabling me to plunge into the story of Richard II, without too many pauses to figure out what the hell the characters were nattering on about in their Elizabethan tongues. So, maybe it's not so much that you find it boring, but that some of you are jaded by it, or blinded by the easy life of the instant gratification of the modern world, and you don't like having to work at enjoying yourselves....or maybe, you just find it boring. I find reality television, sunbathing and celebrities rather boring, quite frankly.

Crackpot academic fashion seems to have done its work quite well. The "historical" explanation of Shakespeare's reputation, with the "critique" of the work itself following hard upon it traveling the same Royal Road to inanity, could come only from a person whose brain has been saturated by the field that passes for politics in so many trendy campus enclaves.

As for me--well, just by virtue of channel-surfing, I happened to catch Branagh's "Hamlet" on the tube many eons ago. There's a lot to criticize in the film's conception. But The Man's language grabs hold of you, no matter how often you've heard it, and compels you to partake of the deepest insight any artist has ever produced. Sure, there are flawed works in the canon, especially the early plays, where Shakespeare was just learning his trade and was eager to pander to the vulgar tastes of the crowd. But note that in "The Merchant of Venice", he just couldn't bring himself to do it--Shylock towers over that play and its other, necessarily feeble, characters; its main fault is that, apart from Shylock, nothing keeps our attention.

Shouldn't wonder if Shakespeare wouldn't have done the same to his own texts were he alive today. He relished the contemporary 'common' turn of phrase, and he intended his plays to be a jolly good night out without 'preciousness'. But a key part of Shakespeare at his best is precisely his use of language; not just meaning, but sound and rhythm and interplay. One doesn't need to get too Eng.Lit. to enjoy these. And I don't know if it would be feasible to train actors to carry off an Elizabethan accent (however that sounded) in the course of staging a play. And even actors' accents have changed since the last century: The way Olivier or Richard Burton learned to speak these parts can't be heard today.

What I'm opposed to is the kind of thing we see in opera, in which directors try to place themselves on an equal footing with the creators by, for example, setting Tosca in Nazi Germany in a bid to make it 'their' work. Shakespeare used particular words; why should they be changed because people are too lazy to look them up? That's the trouble with the 21st century; if we have to engage with something that takes a little effort, then fuck it. We have no respect for the past any more, no patience, no depth and all we care about is convenience. I'm not advocating absolute purism, I'm advocating depth of engagement, and fighting against the crassness, commercialism and laziness of modern society in relation to the arts. A Shakespearean text is like an orchestral score. You should cut sections, perhaps - but not mess about with it. The integrity of its rhythmic structure should be maintained, as you would maintain tempo in a score.

What some call Shakespeare’s Style I just call Shakespeare. Charney does give us his impressions on each one of the plays. I've done the same myself.

Bottom-line: Glenn Gould claimed to despise Mozart, but at least he could play the piano a little (when he wasn't mauling Mozart, that is).

terça-feira, setembro 11, 2018

∆×∆p×≥h/4π: “Fashion, Faith, and Fantasy in the New Physics of the Universe” by Roger Penrose

“On the other hand, when we try deliberately to use the criterion of mathematical beauty in formulating our theories, we are easily led astray. General relativity is certainly a very beautiful theory, but how does one judge the elegance of physical theories generally? Different people have very different aesthetic judgments. [...] Moreover, the inherent beauty in a theory is often not obvious at first, and me revealed only later when the depths of its mathematical structure become apparent through later technical developments.”

In “Fashion, Faith, and Fantasy in the New Physics of the Universe” by Roger Penrose

Would it be logical if positive and negative charge represent two extra dynamic dimensions within our three dimensional Universe of continuous energy exchange? This is an invitation to see an interpretation of the mathematics of Quantum Mechanics as a geometrical of energy exchanges that forms what we see and feel as the passage of time! In such a theory the Planck's constant ħ= h/2π is a constant of action in the process that forms the continuum of time. Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle ∆×∆p×≥h/4π represents the same uncertainty we have with any future event with the future unfolding photon by photon with each new photon electron coupling or dipole moment! With classical physics representing processes over a period of time as in Newton’s differential equations.

"Big Bang" expansion: Keep in mind, if the rapid expansion of the singularity is really true (and I am not saying it's not), then it would have most likely expanded in basically a 360 degree spherical shape.  Assuming for the moment modern science is correct concerning how the forces of nature came about, (of which I believe them to be wrong, but that is a different discussion), then the forces of nature would have come about when the expansion reached a certain spherical dimension.  Even "if" true that the universe is continually expanding and would most likely then end in a "big freeze" as the energy in this universe ceases to flow one day, I believe it might be possible that a "Goldilocks zone" of continually active forces of nature might remain eternally active along the "surface area" of where the forces of nature came into existence based upon the spherical energy "surface" tension of that zone of force of nature initiation along the dimensional interface, (different dimensions being defined as having different forces of nature that they function by).  Any entity that makes it to this zone, and doesn't kill themselves off by some means, could in theory remain eternally consciously existent throughout all of future eternity, even though the rest of the universe would most probably end in a big freeze.  Eternal life here I come.  You snooze, you lose.

Now just to build my FTLRT (Faster Than Light Relative Travel) vehicle that generates a dimension within this dimension that we are in.  If you see a spherical ball of light zoom off of this Earth, going up to a relative speed of faster than light from your perspective, don't worry, it just might be me leaving all your future frozen asses behind.  Of course, if you see multiple balls of light, it's all those I am taking with me.  (See also some of my pedant musings on this blog as to how artificial gravity, necessary shield protections, and FLTRT might even all be possible).  And note, the universe might not end in a big freeze if my latest TOE is basically correct.  The gravitational force of the photon would interlock with the electrical component of the photon at 90 degrees to each other, with the magnetic field of the photon split both inside of and outside of this shell keeping it intact.  Hence also why the galactic backdrop is perceived as being black.  No light photons get absorbed by or reflected from this universal shell.  The remaining photons remain eternally active inside of this shell.  The whole universe would be my "Goldilocks zone".

If theoretical physicists can come up with crazy ideas, so can I.

Bottom-line: It is difficult to criticise a book by such a distinguished (and charming) theoretical physicist as Roger Penrose because I have no doubt that I am reading a book by one of the greatest living scientific minds. As a physicist myself back in the day I am familiar with the difficulties faced in explaining advanced topics to a predominantly lay audience but I think he probably lost many with such a muddled and ill prepared book. Not as good as "The Emperor's New Mind."

segunda-feira, setembro 10, 2018

Space Opera Buffa: "Salvation" by Peter F. Hamilton

"Book One in the Salvation Sequence, a dazzling space opera trilogy from master of the genre, Peter F. Hamilton

Know your enemy - or be defeated.

AD 2204
An alien shipwreck is discovered on a planet at the very limits of human expansion - so Security Director Feriton Kayne selects a team to investigate. The ship's sinister cargo not only raises bewildering questions, but could also foreshadow humanity's extinction. It will be up to the team to bring back answers, and the consequences of this voyage will change everything.

Back on Earth, we can now make deserts bloom and extend lifespans indefinitely, so humanity seems invulnerable. We therefore welcomed the Olyix to Earth when they contacted us. They needed fuel for their pilgrimage across the galaxy - and in exchange they helped us advance our technology. But were the Olyix a blessing or a curse?

AD 50,000
Many lightyears from Earth, Dellian and his clan of genetically-engineered soldiers are raised with one goal. They must confront and destroy their ancient adversary. The enemy caused mankind to flee across the galaxy and they hunt us still. If they aren't stopped, we will be wiped out - and we're running out of time.

Salvation is the first title in a stunning science fiction trilogy by Peter F. Hamilton."

From the book blurb.

"Interstellar war is a fantasy. It makes no sense. Economically, for resources, for's all crap. Hong Kong doesn't even make drama games about it anymore."

In "Salvation" by Peter F. Hamilton

So stargate and nuclear detonations? Hamilton’s been using stable gateways in his fiction for a while now. The whole Commonwealth Saga (starting in 2002/2004, depending on if you consider "Misspent Youth" part of the series) is largely built around trains as a form of interstellar transport (they go thru stable gateways). It's nice to see that Hamilton "based" these portals on the concept of quantum entanglement... Having fission detonations as red flags for an alien civilization instantly reminded me of Isaac Asimov’s short story "Silly Asses."

I love SF, which is why I started ignoring Hamilton since the Void Trilogy. Some authors write too many books, some ideas are desperately tired, some forget that the bleeding edge has the properties of a Möbius strip and lose fingers as they sounded like the sort of thing Macmillan and Audible did when 'Doctor Who' was off the air. I'm specifically thinking of 'Bang Bang-a-Boom', in which the pomposity of 'Deep Space Nine' was punctured by a pastiche base as the setting for Eurovision, or 'Tragedy Day', which sideswiped at 80s telethons for 'charidee'. Who knew Peter F. Hamilton would try to be this generation's William Gibson? The overall story arc was brilliant. The devil is in the details though. It meant much less in the way of meandering plot-lines and whimsical side stories. The sense of gradual revelation of a bigger picture, and the focus on political machinations was excellent though. It's still funny that fear of aliens and being invaded by a hostile and incomprehensible force should obsess the Brit mind for the last 13 years or so... it's almost like they're working through some issue or other, eh? To me a real Space Opera involves space travel to new strange worlds, radical new technologies, encounters with alien lifeforms and civilizations, interstellar wars, colonization of new worlds, and radically modified humans. "Salvation" has that aplenty. Good space opera works when it's about people - like soap opera but in space. Basically us monkeys wanna see other monkeys doing stuff. We wanna see monkeys out of their cages, free to explore, meet alien monkey girls, solve alien monkey puzzles and all that monkey shit. Because most of us suspect "The Matrix" is based on a true story (and it's a very old story that one). I'm also not convinced of the value of re-hashing stories we already know. I want something new, something with an ending I haven't read at least 3 times. Something that explores new territory. Better than The Night's Dawn Trilogy though...

NB: Nothing more depressing for a potential reader clicking on a new releases page to see the words: 1st book in series...ah well.

domingo, setembro 09, 2018

Timeless Humour: "Porterhouse Blue" by Tom Sharpe

I´ve lost count of the number of times I´ve read "Porterhouse Blue". What memorable characters - Scullion, the reactionary porter who hates change and fondly recalls the good old feudal days when he used to get kicked by the aristocratic students. Sir Godber Evans, the wet former cabinet minister exiled to Porterhouse and his politically correct wife, Lady Mary, who wants to introduce healthy food, condom machines and women into Porterhouse. Sir Cathcart Death, head of the Porterhouse alumni association, who has a Japanese bodyguard, holds orgies in his stately home and tells Scullion to make sure the cook gives him tea on his way out. Cornelius Carrington, the slimy TV presenter, Mrs. Biggs, the randy middle-aged cleaner who tries to seduce the unwitting student Zipser who is writing a dissertation on “The Influence of Pumpernickel on the Politics of 16th Century Osnabruck” and too many others to mention. My family still think I am nuts when I laugh out loud reading about Wilt's adventures. Perhaps only the Mortimer Rumpole escapades have had the same laugh out loud impact since then. I remember weeping with laughter at the image of the Kommandant chained to the bed and dangling from the window with a stonking erection whilst dressed in a pink latex nightdress as his men discuss whether to shoot him as a pervert. All the time my mother was asking me go explain what was so funny. Not an easy task when you were 16.

Do people frown upon at all-out satire today? There's more than enough raw material. But would anyone read a rib-tickling send up ...of the British police? Of José Socrates, our former Prime-Minister, and his financial dealings? Of the dunces that ran the banks while posing (with the cheerleading support of our esteemed newspapers… all of them) as pirate captains of the corporate world? Of our tottering political "leaders", the boys who push in front of the class and declare themselves our betters?

On a serious note, in the Porterhouse and Riotous Assembly novels, Sharpe managed to capture the awful snobbery of one institution and the ridiculous racism of another. In the 80s I would regularly see fellow passengers reading on the train home, totally riveted and often chortling away with abandon. Occasionally curiosity would get the better of me & I'd either watch for a glance of the cover or pluck the courage up to ask what they were reading.

Bottom-line: Sharpe’s books gave me so many hours of laugh-out-loud delight. Timeless humour. And I would love to think that many of today's young people would pick up Sharpe’s books to sample real humour is crafted. He has left a library of wonderfully funny books - nothing to be ashamed of. I think I might pull out Ancestral Vices for another read isn't it :-)) Any write who can make you choke back the laughter when reading on a bus has to be OK. That was the effect of “Porterhouse Blues” for me.  

sábado, setembro 08, 2018

In the Darkness, Everyone is Alone: "The Wanted" by Robert Crais

In the darkness, everyone is alone.

None to speak to you but silence,
The quiet of words unspoken,
An old friend scarce known.
A silence we dread to see broken,
Yet somehow constantly bemoan.

None to bother you but fears,
The dread of rejection and failure,
To which every man is prone.
Fears that are part of our nature,
Yet we can so rarely atone.

None to haunt you but ghosts,
Wraiths of chances botched or missed,
Of failings we cannot condone.
Ghosts that somehow persist,
Dragging us down unbeknown.

And none to visit you but dreams
Hopes of better days to come,
Of one day sitting on a throne.
Dreams of a future not so glum,
In which we no longer are alone.

By MySelfie

sexta-feira, setembro 07, 2018

Sticky Patch: "Planetside" by Michael Mammay

Once upon a long ago writers who wanted to try something different would put books out under an alternate name to distinguish them: Fred Bloggs, writer of sundry detective novels, would flirt with being Annette Wilkins, purveyor of steamy romances. Trouble was that if Ms. Wilkins didn't sell as well as Mr. Bloggs, some bright spark in marketing would then decide that the books should be republished with the moniker "Fred Bloggs, writing as Annette Wilkins", which made the whole point rather moot. Most authors thus gave up on the split-personality literature and chose to put everything out under the same name, sometimes disappointing those who didn't expect their detectives to start bedding nubile females whilst the crimes were left unsolved. I can understand the feeling of disappointment with a writer when a new book by a new writer arrives, and you dive eagerly in, only to find not much. But abandoning that author altogether? If bad novels happen to good authors, isn't that simply a cue to stop reading that particular novel? As a prolific reader, I have often come across that very issue. What usually happens is I finish the book, spend a few minutes (hours, weeks) pondering the unfortunate flaws in the book, before wandering off to read something else. However, on those occasions when I simply cannot continue, I don't. I agree that reading should be a pleasurable experience, and that just because something is a "meaningful" book, or because you feel you ought to read it, that you should force yourself to continue after all hope has been lost of it ever capturing your interest in any way. I don't think that people should only read what is light and easy; stretching ones reading scope is important, and sometimes that means pushing through a sticky patch. However, in these cases, usually the writing is of a quality that gives you reason to believe that the author can write themselves out of whatever trouble they've gotten themselves into. But to get back to the original point, which is about abandoning an author who writes a novel you didn't like. Let me ask this: should people who hated "Planetside" still try to read Mammay in the future? Well, that depends. Did you find the writing style engaging despite all of its flaws? Did the tone interest you? The period? The military stuff? The character’s style? Then absolutely. If you thought it was a great story but was totally bogged down by the writing, then perhaps Military SF and Mammay in particular isn't your cup of tea. Before you leave an author altogether, consider why you're leaving. Despite all this, it’s still better than “Theft of Swords” and “Redshirts”... “Planetside” at least is an honest book if I can call it that.

quinta-feira, setembro 06, 2018

Blaring SF: “Theft of Swords” by Michael J. Sullivan

"She was a vision of youthful beauty and Hadrian guessed she could not be more than seventeen."

In “Theft of Swords” by Michael J. Sullivan

"You're going to ruin all your pretty makeup" -- said to Thrace by Hadrian as she was crying....

In “Theft of Swords” by Michael J. Sullivan

"I mean, sure, she's cute as a button..." said by Hadrian about Thrace

In “Theft of Swords” by Michael J. Sullivan

I could go on and on on bad this novel is, but I won’t. I think the quotes above will suffice. As always I’ll go on a tangent when I’ve just finished reading a really bad book.

What I'm thinking is to listen to that nagging voice that might be warning the reader of wasting time on the treadmill of publisher's 'hilarious' and 'must-reads'. The analogy of publishers to the RTP (our state TV) may not be out of place as it seems, nor strange, to one who see SF as part of a whole culture and so the same attitudes permeate the culture - the attitude that bombards the consumer with valueless products and doesn't care much how people are affected by it so long as they dominates the production. Three sets of “speakers” all in close proximity to each other all blaring out hip hop is an abuse of the rights of the public; there's a certain careless mentality there. They were gone today, the huge lorries, but RTP were back with a smaller van and set up a tent with six speakers on stands and I presume were about to start blasting again on the local radio station level. What I'd like to see is a more interrogative attitude, and a critical one, on the part of the consumer. The consumer should assert his/her power and reject those things that don't add value to their lives. I mean if people expect good culture can they get it without exercising their discretion and value judgments. I don't think they can. I don't think the residents of SF city are being given the type of culture which they would benefit from, but are having things foisted on them. It's more difficult to make this point in the realm of fiction publishing - except from personal experience: that much of what is published is effete and some of it stomach-turning. I find myself turning more and more away from SF in recent times because there's very little you can feel good about taking and interest in; the market goes in for shifting large quantities so that the book celebs are always the big news. Some tosser gets the status that belongs to the Chekovs, who are dying in the gutter as I write. The way some publishing houses are taking over the town square is an iconic example of what's wrong with the arts/culture today. Three sets of “speakers” all blasting off at once with the hip hop within a few metres of each other doesn't show that there is any message but that sort of thinking that if we blast the traditional off the face of the earth we can make room for something new - it's a culture of abuse for its own sake and some just love it because it is the antitheses of meaning and value. It's the 'get fat' consciousness of the boys with the 'burgers' to sell and get rich. The Publishing Houses are the forefront of the grossly moronic culture which is today pervasive and allows books like these to see the light of day.  

SF = Speculative Fiction.

quarta-feira, setembro 05, 2018

Let us Violate Cakes Together: "Redshirts" by John Scalzi

"Let us violate cakes together"

In "Redshirts" by John Scalzi

(*day dreaming*)

I applied for a job to be a licensed fiction writer of sorts last year - it was working on flavour text and copy for the Star Trek Franchise. The interview was heavily focused on my ability to write within the constraints of their authorial voice and existing publications - as stringent as working for any publication with a house style. That's not quite, I admit, the same thing as writing tie-in novels - but the attitude of IP holders to how licensed authors should write I experienced seems very much to be more like writing for a journal or newspaper than writing fiction - the job I applied for would very much have been technical or copy-writing about subjects that were fictional. Definitely a "specific skillset" as this Scalzi’s novel shows once again - but in retrospect I'm quite glad I didn't get the job. Having to write fiction to the same level of editorial constraint as in a job writing non-fiction seems to be sucking the joy out of the imaginative aspects of SF. On a related note, I think as a whole licensed fiction walks a very fine line of absolutely killing the enjoyment you might get from something you like through over-explaining. The more authors try to explain every aspect of their world and remove all the uncertainty, the more everything becomes a dry knot of detail. SF lives, for me anyway, in its unexplained bits - the intimation that there's a big world out there that's quite unlike what you're used to. Explaining every aspect of it, leaving no gaps to fill in with your imagination, risks losing that. But by all means, have fun with your toys in the present moment, the days of size and profit margins! Children and childish adults don't really take the future seriously, despite the fact they enjoy reading about it so much, now do they? ;)

Bottom-line: Scalzi's "Redshirts" is not really a franchise novel; it's more of a parody. Fancy tap dancing on my part to disguise the fact that franchise media tie-ins are quickly written, rigidly formulaic novels (parodies or not). All in all, this is a lovely little paean to shallow entertainment. Lots of influence and big profit margins while the hype lasts, of course. But in the long run things get a little bit different, don't they? Will people read these silly novels in 100 years? Not really I should say.

terça-feira, setembro 04, 2018

Time is an Invention: “Science of Self-Discipline - The Willpower, Mental Toughness, and Self-Control to Resist Temptation and Achieve Your Goal” by Peter Hollins

“Motivation and self-discipline are nice to have. Motivation, however, is often emotional and temporary, while self-discipline can be exhausted. But having solid habits will deliver the same results with far less pain and suffering. Habits have been shown to take around 66 days to form, so all you need to do is commit to small actions (mini habits) for that amount of time.”

In “Science of Self-Discipline - The Willpower, Mental Toughness, and Self-Control to Resist Temptation and Achieve Your Goal” by Peter Hollins

People in this country, Portugal, - and maybe in others too, but I've not really lived elsewhere - work too hard, for too many hours, and retire (in general) too late. Too many of us have accepted the myth, or have had no choice but to accept it, that self-discipline and unremitting effort is good for ourselves, our families, the economy - but as so many of us work in jobs that actually don't matter very much, or at all, that can't be true. If no one worked in PR, or banking, or accountancy, the world would have a problem, but it wouldn't stop spinning on its axis.

Inculcating a belief in competition as being good for children, whether in sport or academic pursuits, has created generation after generation of over-striving, over compensating, self-critical, generally unhappy people who seem to me to be getting progressively angry with each other and with government, employers, fellow-workers, those who can't work at all, pensioners or conversely young people.... just ever angrier, working ever harder, achieving less and less that makes any genuine difference to their own generation or that which is to come.

My own observations of executives over the years lead me to conclude that many of them mistake activity for achievement, long hours for effective time-management, and that an awful lot of them have swallowed a version of how good managers behave that ends up bankrupting their companies and killing them and the staff under them. I know. I was one myself back in the day. We now insist children attend pre-school or nursery school at 3 or 4 - why? We postponed the age of retirement for entirely actuarial reasons - it certainly isn't going to do any good, because after a lifetime of work most of us have bits falling off, or failing, or growing where they shouldn't from around 55 onwards. The self-discipline we need is that required to plan our time better, and to slow down; not to worry if a job isn't finished by the time the office shuts - it'll still be there tomorrow, usually; it won't matter if it's not done today, and anyway if you planned your time better you would have done it today: you wouldn't have taken on other jobs that stopped you completing the one that was dead-lined.

My life got a whole lot easier once I accepted that my natural style was to leave things until the last possible minute, and also that it usually turns out OK (all those years of doing my homework on the bus/in the Tube/under the desk at the start of the lesson clearly gave me a valuable skill). It means that when I have some work to do at home, instead of forcing myself to sit at the computer all day before finally making a start on it at about, I now spend the day doing something else and then sit down at about and get straight on with it. When I discovered that the best way to solve a problem was to think about it for a bit then go away and do something else. I often end up dreaming the answer...

Bottom-line: Slow down, world. Time is an invention - it's not real. Unless you're in the business of treating an aneurysm before it bursts, or plugging a dam, or bringing down a mad axe-murderer, it's seriously unlikely that your work is so important that you need bust a gut to finish it before time and immediately plunge yourself into the next project. Efficiency and overwork aren't the same thing - indeed, the second precludes the first. We all work differently. Same with breakfast.