Thursday, May 04, 2006

Now you see it. Now you don’t.

A curious thing happened to me a few months back. I had started reading Alec Guinness’s A Positively Final Appearance (Penguin, 1999), bought from the Strand Book Stall. Then it suddenly did a mysterious disappearing act. After searching and re-searching for it for an unconscionably long time (and cursing my friendly neighbourhood crow for snatching it out of spite), I finally bought a second copy, again from Strand at their usual special price. I think I made a wise decision. It’s quite a piece of autobiographical writing. Frankly, Guinness was never a personal favourite as an actor except as Mr Holland, the Dutch boss of The Lavender Hill Mob (1951). His Obi-Wan Kenobi (the fleet-footed lightsaber wielder, remember?) had amused me immensely, though. What tickled me in his book is his account of the re-release of Star Wars and his disgust at the fuss made about something so banal that had lost all its virginal freshness. It’s a rollickingly great read by any standard. Read the book extract that includes the Star War-related episode: P.S. I learned from Alec G the origin of the term ‘scapegoat’. It seems from an account he cites from the Mishnah, supposedly a part of the Talmud, that every Holy Week, the Scapegoat with a crimson thread tied around his neck to symbolize the piled-up sins of the community was driven three miles into the desert. Simultaneously, another crimson thread was tied to the door of sanctuary in the Temple. The Scapegoat would eventually die in the desert cleansing the collective sins and the thread in the Temple would turn white. Now we know why a person falsely accused of a wrong is called a scapegoat. In other words, the fall guy (or, crow), yes?

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