2. Am I any less well-informed about current affairs now I've stopped reading the papers? I don't think so. I still get the headline stories from radio and TV. All I've done is filter out the surrounding buzz .
3. I was watching a programme about the history of mathematics last night. Mathematicians peak early. And most of them seem to do their greatest work in their early 20s. Ailz and I were discussing why this should be- and she suggested it was because their brains weren't yet cluttered up with all that human stuff that comes with maturity. I think she's right. Artists and writers, on the other hand, need that stuff- it's their raw material- and mostly they don't peak until middle age. Also they need time to refine their craft. Musicians have a foot in both camps. Great musicians peak early (mastering a keyboard is a lot like mastering numbers) but then- like Mozart or Beethoven- add human depth to technical expertise. So what about old age? That's difficult, because the data is sparse- few of the geniuses of the past ever got that far. Mathematicians and scientists become mentors, writers lose their edge, musicians too. Only the painters- Titian, Goya, Turner, Monet, Picasso- perhaps because their craft is so visceral, so babyish- all that spreading around of coloured muck- go on producing masterpieces into the seventh, eighth, even ninth decade.
4. Contemporary Archaeology has an article about hill figures- those huge icons carved out of the turf of- most famously- the chalk downlands of Southern England. Most of them are modern- and have well-documented origins in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Those that remain, those that are unaccounted for, can now be dated by a technique known as bio-luminescence. Consequently we now know that the Uffington White Horse- the most elegant of them, the only one it isn't a little foolish to call a work of art- is 3,000 years old while The Long Man of Wilmington- the guy with the two staves- is 16th century. As yet untested is the Cerne Abbas Giant, the guy with the club and the club. Documentary evidence suggests he's 17th century- possibly intended as a satire on Oliver Cromwell, but until we bioluminesce him we won't know for sure.
The Uffington White Horse