Wednesday, August 05, 2009


I am sitting in my kitchen listening to a little light music and drinking a Gin and Tonic. It's a very nice Gin and Tonic. It has ample quantities of Gordon's gin, Schweppes Tonic, and ice. I don't have a very good memory for shopping lists, so this glass is conspicuously lacking in lime. I'm sure the more blinkered and materialistic of you out there will be thinking that my gin and tonic is incomplete but this is not so. Allow me to explain.

A few years ago I saw a documentary that looked at how the human brain handles arithmetic. As part of their research they went to a Chinese school where the children were taught to use abacuses to calculate fabulously complex sums. They got fast with the abacuses. Very fast. Like a frantic game of table tennis. It was impressive to watch, even though it all seemed a little too much like hard work to me. The really clever part, however, came when they took the abacuses away and taught the children to visualise them in their heads. With a little practice, these same children were able to perform calculations at the same speed as they did before, but just by closing their eyes and wiggling their fingers back and forth for a few seconds.

"This sort of thing is all very well for industrious oriental types," I thought, "but how could it help me?"


For many years the wonder of that technique languished at the back of my mind -- not forgotten, just unused -- until one day I found myself with a shocking absence of limes. I didn't even have any lemons, which are the flavoring of a scoundrel anyway. While a lesser man would have blanched at such a prospect, I simply stroked my mustache thoughtfully, adjusted the set of my monocle, and -- recalling the cunning tricks of the foriegn children -- poured the malaria-preventing drink of kings regardless. While I was doing this I visualised the lime, and chopped it with the power of my mind. I placed this incorporeal lime, this abstract idea of tangy goodness, into my cold glass and drank it down.

The imaginary lime was just as good as a real one, and had fewer calories. Having achieved such a feat of mental prowess I felt like a bhutanese monk. I was proud of the years in which I have honed my powers; meditating on many a clear beverage after a hard day writing about the inscrutable yet fascinating customs of mohammedians. I stood in the kitchen of my london home, feeling like a sadhu in tweeds, and poured myself another.

It remains to be seen whether this lime of the mind is as effective at preventing scurvy.