“I think I’m a better writer for not being angry” – Raja Shehadeh at Book Fest

Raja Shehadeh author reading at the Edinburgh International Book Festival

Yesterday at the Edinburgh International Book Festival (EIDF):
Image of Raja Courtesy of EIDF

“I think I’m a better writer for not being angry,” said Raja Shehadeh, speaking yesterday at the Edinburgh International Book Festival with playwright David Greig.  The lawyer and writer was speaking about his memoir Going Home:   A Walk Through Fifty Years of Occupation and his home in the Palestinian city of Ramallah.

“Anger can be distracting,” Shehadeh said.   “And since I am not distracted I can see things more.”

“If I become angry then I lose the point, I’m not convincing because I’m lost in my anger. If I’m not angry and able to be rational and explain things in a less angry way then I’m much more effective.  So I think many Palestinians who try to speak about their conditions lose their audience by becoming angry and lost in their anger and I did that for a long time, of course and I was very angry. But I think being less angry is much more effective and it allows you to see more and feel more, rather than to be involved in your own anger… which leads to nothing really.”

Gaza Strip Palestine

Shehadeh also spoke of his understanding of home as a Palestinian living in the West Bank;  “I often feel a stranger in my own city. But I try to not be lamenting of this and to see the positive aspects.

“It’s not imperative that you only love what you possess…  I can be at home by having peace with myself and even if the physical home that I have was destroyed I would still feel at home.

“If you feel at home you have a relationship and peace in yourself not necessarily attached to a concrete place.”

A possible end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was discussed, with Shehadeh expressing more hope in young people.

Dr. Kathryn Mannix – “With the end in Mind”

Dr. Kathryn Mannix – entertained a packed and attentive audience. She was talking about her book ‘With the end in Mind’.  This can be bought from Amazon see…


No gloom, and no doom.   Particularly as the subject  was about an unmentionable word.  No! Not the three letter SEX.  Do I dare mention it here?  Which reminds me  there are two things I tell  my friends… 

“We all must pay tax  and at some point after we are born we die – both are inevitable”

Sadly, I nearly missed this event as I spotted it in the programme at the last minute.   But more seriously while travelling I had a little doze on the bus.  I awoke to see the West End of Edinburgh depart from my eyes.  I hurriedly pressed the bell  and left the bus at Princes Street.   An additional 5 minute walk to the Book Festival.  Making me even  later to collect my desired ticket for the event.

Falling asleep in the afternoon.  Just like my grandmother!   She started doing so for a hour, then two, and over time to eight.  All  sleeping in this case after mid-day.  I always wondered did Gran sleep at night?  I am assured she did as her night time snores were loud and clear.  Therefore something else must be happening.

She was dying and was experiencing the death process.  Something we no longer talk about.  For some reason it is taboo!

As Kathryn so eloquently put it…  A hundred years ago we would be talking about Pomp and splendour of death”. Now we worry about  chatting  to anyone that has lost a  loved one.

The author explained that there are rituals that surround birth and death.  There was a time that women in the community acted as a  centre of health wisdom.  Giving advice, about birth and death, and anything in-between.

However, these days we happily talk about life, sex, birth  and all it entails.  We understand  all of this and any  associated rituals and the pain a woman suffers during the birth of a child.  Yet many come back for more.

But death, the normal process is not as understood by our society.

When we start to die we notice that we have less energy, we can’t do things as we used to.  It might not be so easy to breathe and we sleep longer/more frequently and at times become unconscious

It is important that there is somewhere in the sequence  of events that someone needs to explain the natural process of dying.  That is what her book ‘With the end in Mind’ is all about.  It describes the end of life experience for people in a hospice. Each individual experience interspersed with a ‘homework break’ for the reader.

The author explained that Natural Death is not painful, it is an opposite and a complete contrast to the pain endured at the end of pregnancy, that is the birth process.  I must say not everyone experiences a natural death and people are not aways forewarned.

This needs to be understood by the person in the hours, days, weeks, months or years before they die.  If explained  It gives an opportunity  for the dying person to see how they can help their  intimate and closest friends, family, and their tribe.   That is to cope  with their loss after they have gone.

For those dealing with Palliative Care they need to know who and what the person is – that is not only their own personality but their family, their tribe, village and relationships.

By the end of the book people should be  familiar with the process.  In that book there are many stories told but here is one very emotional  story…

It is of a Senior Male Doctor explaining the process to Sibien in a nursing home.  Kathryn went along to join the senior doctor. 

He explained the process to…

Sabien.  She is a Wonderful women, a French Women with a fantastic French accent. She was in the resistance movement.   Married to her husband that was parachuted into France. He died as a hero.  But she had bowel cancer.  The pain was going to be terrible.  Her religious belief was such that  if she was not brave she might not be in the same part of heaven as her beloved.  That is her very brave husband.

Sabien adored the very bones of the male Doctor.  Her eyes lit and face shone as the Doctor started to  tell Sabien about dying.

“I hear that you have some worries about dying.  Would it be helpful if I could describe it?


“You may notice that you are weaker and you need more sleep”


“Can I describe it you?”


“You become more weary as time goes by.   Your stay awake period is  less.  Some of the time you will sleep but others you will be unconscious”


Kathryn thought “He is not going to tell her all the details is he?”

The doctor continued…

“The periods of sleep and unconsciousness  become longer”


“Eventually your breathing will slow”

“Towards the end  you will Snore. Your breathing will be shallow – your breath will gently  slow and stop”

“No pain – just a gentle close.”

She held his hand.  She was relaxed.  Her eyes glowed with a peace.

Then Kathryn said…

“I will always remember his words.  For some reason my cheeks were wet”

“We need to tell everyone about the process of death.”

“Currently in acting, on TV, films etc – dying is about as interesting as watching paint dry and is not included as part of the story.  Normally the scene is set of a person starting to die and it suddenly switches to the funeral.   The death scene omitted as that all important Drama is needed”

The event continued with more discussion and a question and answer session.    The applause at the end was rapturous and the tears from the audiences eyes were mopped by an army of paper tissues.

(Editorial note that may help directors of Soap Operas) There has been the occasional death bed story, – and I have seen it done well.  I am a fan of Handel – the drama I watched  was a death bed scene that covered about 1.5 hours.  It was a reflection of Handel’s life.   The programme “God Rot Tunbridge Wells”. 





The Debatable Land by Graham Robb

The area was Location about 7 miles north of Canonbie were a track leads  to a large standing stone.  This standing stone  was the northern boundary of the Debatable land.

Graham Robb, auteur de “Une histoire de Paris par ceux qui l’on fait”, Flammarion
Photo Pilippe Matsas copyright Flammarion

Graham Robb in his talk pointed out the “Fact is often stranger than fiction and in 1551 it was no different.  The order was given that…”

All Scotsmen and Englishmen from this time forth shall be free to rob, burn, spoil and slay any person or animals or goods belonging to all who inhabit Debatale Lands.

That did not work and it was only later after both parties had agreed which parts to gain control that the issue was resolved.

Graham’s book outlines all the issues and it can be bought here

Fish, Chips and Peas Squared, Calculus, Apache and Guitars

Every year I scan the Edinburgh International Book festival Programme for something different.  All the events are fantastic but I am looking for something that is extra special.  This year I spotted Music and Calculus.  David Acheson was promoting his book and during this session there were many examples of how calculus and maths is applied.  David’s examples focused on Music.  But there are many others.  Therefore, you may be surprised but…

Throughout the land – thousands listen to some applied maths. People play this game either at home or in their local  hall.   For them it is  an every day game, providing fun and entertainment – everyone waiting for a special moment.  This is what happens as the tension builds…

Sheila is close.    Only one to go – all she needs is a number 10.  The caller shouts out “Theresa’s Den”, number 10.   (Early in 2017 it would have been David’s Den – David Cameron Prime Minister did live at 10 Downing Street until Theresa took over the role). 

Without fear the words  “House!” are shouted out in excitement.  And a prize is on its way.  She is a bingo winner.

For bingo on your computer/phone some maths are involved, as there is no physical ball!  A mathematical calculation is performed in some cases to establish the number of the next ball.   That  calculation gives a magic number for the virtual bingo caller to shout out!

David in his talk did mention a magic number and I am now going to tell you all about it.   I have called it Fish, Chips and Peas Squared.  And for this meal there are three portions and of course the number 3 is a prime and odd number.  But that is not the number that David introduced me and the audience to.

But what would happen if I invited my friend for a bite to  eat.  Of course being completely compatible we eat the same meal. That would be 2 meals of fish chips and peas – dare I say it – it is squared!

That is two sets of 3 but what can I do with this?

  • Well I can add them together and that will give 6. But that is not the number David mentioned..
  • I can subtract 3 from 3 and again I get a number 0, and zero is a magic number.  Therefore, if I divide 0 into three I get… infinity?   David did talk about infinity but that wasn’t the number at the start of the event he focused on.
  • It also follows that I can square 3 and that is not quite right.. As the answer is 9 and not…

The answer is simpler if my friend and I become one in this example. One mathematically I mean. That is by joining together we have some magic and the number 33 appears.  This is nearly the number that David introduced  me and the rest of the audience to.  The clue here is in the title Fish, Chips and Peas Squared.

Now we should just do that calculation . That is 33 x 33 and write down the answer.  Yes, top marks if you have calculated 1089!

Please, make a note of this number and now try the following exercise.

Think of any three digit number above 500 that descends in value the distance between the first and second number must be at least 2.

Write this number down.

For example 754

Then reverse the order 

that gives  457

subtract from your original number






reverse the order and it gives


add both numbers together and it gives 1089

Is that not amazing!

And of course he has written another book about maths and it is  simply called 1089 and all that.

But that is not the book he is promoting at the book festival it is the calculus story.  This book became a Christmas Stocking filler after a surprise article in the New Scientist.

And on that theme he went on to show how calculus can be applied to ordinary things such as guitar strings.  A demonstration followed in which two children held a piece of string and applied movement to it to generate single and a variety of multiple waves.

Other examples followed and the event closed with a superb finale. Did he quickly give us two plates of Fish, Chips and Peas to digest?

Image Courtesy of Edinburgh International Book Festival
David John Acheson is a British applied mathematician at Jesus College, Oxford. He was educated at Highgate School, King’s College London and the University of East Anglia.

No, in food terms it was the sweet that he served up to his audience.  A superb performance on his electric guitar showing the applied use of  calculus.  A standing ovation almost ensued.  The music on exit,  Apache by the Shadows.   David by all accounts should have been in that recording,

Well that is the end of that story and if you are mathematically inclined you can purchase David’s book here….

But why is the headline Fish, Chips and Peas squared? What has that got to do with anything.

Well here comes the clues…

Theresa’s Den –  Bingo Ball (10)

Garden Gate – Bingo Ball (8)

Two little ducks – Bingo Ball (22)  

Two Fat ladies – Bingo Ball (88)

Fish, Chips and peas or All the threes is Bingo Ball  (33) 

Yes, they are all bingo calling rhymes and of course Fish, Chips and Peas is 33 in Bingo slang.  And as you all know 33 squared is… 33 x 33 = 1089

Another interesting fact is that in 1089 the Northumbria was split into many smaller counties….

As a result of many rebellions by the county of Northumbria it was decided to make  the County more manageable.  Subsequently it was divided into the counties of Northumberland, County Palatine of Durham, Yorkshire, Westmorland and Lancashire.