Friday, September 10, 2010

Orienteering: philosophical and literal

My philosophy text says:
‘One of the most important reasons to study philosophy is to learn how to form and defend views of your own....A view counts as your own if you believe it and are willing to defend it...Sometimes, especially early in one’s studies, one does not feel able to decide which of two opposed theories is correct. However, one should be able to make lesser decisions: does this argument decisively establish or refute this theory? Could an objection be avoided by some modification of the theory? Can one not distinguish at least two versions of the doctrine that so-and-so? Asking and answering these questions is essential, if studying philosophy is to be worthwhile.’ (Sainsbury)
Fun times are clearly ahead, as I navigate my way through such questions. The more I read, the more it seems that I have landed in a hot bed of analytical philosophers – as distinct from ‘Continental’ philosophy, usually referred to in a faintly disparaging tone by the Analytics.

Today, more prosaically, I navigated my way through the streets around Leicester Square, including a stroll through Seven Dials, now a very chi chi cafe district around a confusing seven-ways meeting of streets. Outside one alternative-looking cafe there was a chap reading with his coffee: ‘Lacan for Beginners’. Hmmm. Lacan could be classed as one of the Continental philosophers, I guess, being a French psychoanalyst.

I had been down as far as The Strand, where I found One Aldwych and toured its health club. I met a couple of personal trainers and signed up for a ‘starter’ package of sessions to try the place out. I begin next week. I am really feeling the need to get back into a training routine after weeks of disruption – and over-eating! With a warm glow of accomplishment, I made my way back along Maiden Lane, and by chance came across a shop labelled ‘The Australia Shop’. Inside – Vegemite and Tim Tams and other antipodean staples. An excellent find.

I was considering the menu outside a restaurant in the same street when a well-dressed American couple asked me to take their photograph. They particularly wanted the restaurant in the background. ‘What’s so special about this restaurant?’ I asked them. ‘Well, everyone says it is great. Put it this way – I heard of it even in East Texas’ the chap replied. ‘From several people. They all said we should eat here.’ ‘Perhaps I’d better have lunch there then,’ said I, and after taking their photograph, in I went. It was a cornucopia of High Victorian interior decoration on the inside, and full of City suited types enjoying long lunches. I had a nice lunch myself, and learned that the place was established in 1793!
‘London’s oldest privately owned restaurant...Over the years an eclectic collection of memorabilia has been assembled which adorn the walls creating a uniquely charming atmosphere.’
Some of this memorabilia included stags heads and other hunting trophies; just a teensy off-putting with one’s venison perhaps. The restaurant owns its own game park, it seems, ‘in the heart of the High Pennines.’  The dessert course was called ’Pudding’ and one of the cheeses on offer was ‘Stinky Bishop’. The Americans were right. It was worth a visit. The restaurant is called ’Rules’.

After my interesting lunch I walked to Birkbeck, trying to become familiar with the streets, a project which had mixed success. You would have thought that The British Museum would be a big enough landmark to guide anyone, but I still managed a few wrong turns. Eventually I made it, and had another discussion with the friendly help desk people about the availability of my student card. There are still some hitches but everyone was very nice about sorting them out. I have faith that they will get their act together. I noticed that the fourth floor of the building is home to the ‘George Birkbeck Bar’, something I may perhaps have to investigate. Ah, dim memories of the ANU Union Bar...not sure I want to go back there.

My next discovery was a huge five-floor Waterstone’s bookshop, sandwiched between Birkbeck and UCL, and carrying lots of academic titles. I think this might become my Third Place. I found the Philosophy section in the corner of the top floor. How could I resist a book entitled ‘This Book Does Not Exist’ (in the Logic section)? I also discovered that a 'medium' sized coffee at the Costa coffee chain is extremely large.

My evening was spent very pleasantly with a subset of my old tribe, the Intellectual Property lawyers. I visited a friend at a London firm, went for drinks with the Trade Marks team, and then dinner with my friend. Apart from enjoying this excellent company, I was also treated to a mini-tour of a very interesting corner of London, that around Smithfield Market, full of restaurants, pubs, cocktail bars and an 11th century church (St Bartholomew’s). So much to discover! (Thank you, Carrollanne!)
Smithfield Markets

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