So, over the last couple of days, Murakami has been accompanying me on my travels. Yesterday he spoke to me as I made the two and a half mile walk into town to meet a writer friend, and then I listened again as I took the train to Elizabeth Baines's book launch of The Birth Machine in Manchester.
Salt has reissued Elizabeth's book that was originally published in 1982, but published in the format that Elizabeth originally intended. Elizabeth outlined how she has changed it back, and it sounds very interesting. It is about a woman having her birth induced by a machine, I believe, and the process initiates memories and stories.
Then today I made another journey into town with Murakami. This time to hear Professor Alan Wall give a talk about medicine and literature. He chose examples ranging from Shakespeare to Dannie Absie and ended reading some examples from his recently published book Dr Placebo.
Dr Placebo is a wonderfully witty book; a series of poems written about the life of a Dr Placebo who diagnoses illnesses such as 'a pathogenic metaphor...'
'...'Which has taken over your life.
'It's all you'll ever see now
'Even with the curtains drawn and your eyes closed.'
and I have to report that 'One of the Doctor's Favourites' is also one of mine, dealing as it does, with lenses, and the weird fact that:
'Staring into the glass he saw
The Milky Way (unspeakably vast)
Through another lens he saw a flea
Its armadillo armour articulating
Movements through a microcosmic world.'
Wonderful stuff, ending with a consideration of the last lens that Spinoza ever ground (he sees God)
'With only the mildest hint
Of chromatic diffraction.'
As with all the best talks it made me think, in particular how medicine is so often a great source of literature, which brings me back to Elizabeth's book, and also the visit to the optician's I had to make soon afterwards (having idiotically left my glasses behind in Waterstones the previous evening).
As well as all the usual tests (spotting a bright light in various positions while looking straight ahead, reading out letters from a chart and having puffs of air blown at my eye ball) my optician took a photo of my retinas. They were like two suns, the surface tabby-striped and the blind spot exhibiting the crescent of the short-sighted. It is a good idea to keep these on record to detect changes, I was told, and thought of John Dolland who founded this particular business, and what he would make of it now. The son of a Huguenot silk weaver from Spitalfields in London he 'inherited' his interest in optical instruments from his eldest son, and went on to find a way of making a lens which reduces the colour defects (or chromatic aberration) formerly observed through a telescope. Something, no doubt, Spinoza (and Dr Placebo) would appreciate.
Then, as I talked to the optician, I learnt something else: next week Dolland and Aitchison is to be merged with Boots and will trade as Boots Opticians. I hope they keep the name - it has such a great history.