I've mentioned Billl Bryson many times on The Blob including my first encounter with his Lost Continent which recommended by someone on a pre-WWW internet forum called rec.arts.books. which is still going ... sort of. I was down in Tramore last week and came away with a more recent Bryson book called The Road to Little Dribbling. It isn't as funny as Lost Continent but gives me a greater sense of empathy because it is threaded with reflections on how it feels to be getting older, and [therefore] more prone to mishap. In one incident, he is brained by the descending pole of a car-park in France because he pauses while walking though the opening to plan his next move and BADoinnnng! he is tonked. It was like me sawing half-way through the nail of my thumb as well as a 10cm Wavin pipe because I looked up when I heard a car rather than concentrated on one thing at a time. It's just as well I've only one more year to serve The Institute because the cascade of sensory failures is showing no signs of slowing down.
I was in said Institute a couple of days ago and met one of our graduate students in the corridor. He has always been appreciative when I bring in a slab of flap-jacks because he recognises that being a hoover of free food is one of the universal attributes of graduate students. He comes from India, where this free food thing plays out as it did for me in Boston when I was of his age and status back in the 80s. In Ireland, not so much: graduate students in Ireland of the present generation are quite likely to refuse free food possible from a misplaced fear of Salmonella and Campylobacter? Anyway, the lad impulsively asked
Would you like some mushrooms? . . . they're free.
Does a bear pope in the woods? Of course I'll take some mushrooms if they are Agaricus bisporus.
Biologists can talk like that because the realise that having the name and identification right can give you a nice mushroom omelette while cooking up the superficially similar Amanita virosa can send you to ER with multiple organ failure - the gills are white , silly.
Accordingly we drove to his home where he presented me with a sack full of mushrooms - about 2.5kg in weight. I had a cup of tea when I got back to my own gaff and spend an hour sorting them by size and closedness and cooking up the oldest and rattiest portions to stop the incipient slump in shop-standard quality. I was poking at the second saucepan-full with a wooden spoon when I 'saw' a cinnamon stick poking up out of the berluping seethe. WTF? How did a cinnamon stick get in there? [Matter?] I thought as I started to fish the thing out. It turned out to be the handle of another wooden spoon which I had been using earlier and allowed to sink beneath the surface. That's an interesting example of how our wretched and imperfect brains try to make sense of the world that presents itself on our retinas. The answer to the old conundrum What's brown and sticky? turned out not to be A stick but a quite different, albeit still wooden, object.