Sunday, 28 December 2014

TALL (RE)TAILS

One of Laytham's pleasures is its easy access to shopping.

Within a radius of five miles there must be half a dozen sheds selling fresh free range eggs. They're the only shops of course, thank God.

The eggs are of phenomenal freshness and eating them and eating supermarket bought eggs is like eating cheese and chalk, if you'd be stupid enough to eat chalk.

They are staffed by honesty boxes. You put your money in and pay for what you take. It works.

There is the odd exception. A shed shop, as we call them, must have had some problems with people bilking eggs - making off without leaving payment. Sadly, they reverted to rather snottily phrased signs asking people to leave the damned money for what they'd taken. It leant this particular shed shop an unpleasant, frustrated, peremptory tone. A shame. George and I addressed this by leaving an extravagant amount more than we could possibly have paid, by way of an experiment into human nature. It has had great results. The shed has been completely revamped. New, charming signs have been made. A new compartment for the eggs has been made. The shed has been painted a most tasteful shade. It now has a sense of real pleasure and gratitude about it. It is a pleasure to visit.

And is it my imagination? Is it their hens which lay the best eggs?
Some words and phrases have, for me, an anti magnetic quality. They will not go together.

An example would be "toast" and "lightly buttered".

Friday, 26 December 2014

TOPPING THAT


Not for us a Christmas Day of feasting and slumping.
One of the advantages of being an Anglo Germanic family is that we observe Weinachtsabend and thus get the odious falseness and materialistic platitudes of Christmas over and done with before Christmas Day itself, leaving 25th December free for more engaging activity. Moorland, beach, hill - living where we do you can take your choice. Yesterday we chose Roseberry Topping, which sounds like the sort of dessert you serve up to those who won't countenance figgy pudding, but is, in fact, a thousand feet of precipitous Cleveland hill.
About twenty years ago, on a New Year's day, following a late celebration the night before, and suffering from an almighty hangover, I ran in the Roseberry Topping fell race. I completed it with a couple of friends of mine. I had some difficulty as my earlier revelries caught up with me. Going up, I puked a couple of times, but made it to the top, and ran hard all the way down. It took me, I recall (but don't quote me) 18 minutes of hellish effort. Normally I stood a fair chance of beating my comrades but not on this occasion, and one of them, the Galloping Major, contrived to be languidly waiting for me at the finish drinking a cup of tea. In fact he beat me by a couple of minutes, though he obviously made out he'd been waiting hours. I got no more than I deserved.
Yesterday was a stark reminder of how far former glories have receded. I puffed my way to the top, and did in fact manage to run most of the way down. But not in eighteen minutes.
Today, on my constitutional, my legs feel like they've climbed Everest and I am having difficulty at home walking down stairs. Look on my works ye mighty and despair.

Friday, 19 December 2014

SPIV UP COCO


GOOD CHEER


Thursday, 18 December 2014

Gratitude = happiness?

Sunday, 7 December 2014

? ? ?

Is it any surprise that a question mark looks like a hook?

Can a line without a hook catch anything?

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

ZEN TODAY

Beauty is
As beauty does.

HANG MASSIVE

Thursday, 13 November 2014

ZEN TODAY

Yesterday, Man put a probe on a comet 4 billion miles away.

Today, I had a poo.

Miracles can happen.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

11. 11

A war - grey sky
Dropping barrages of rain.
No surrender.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

A FROG, A GYPSY, A PIANO


Cold.

That is what the gypsy thought.

Very cold.

No clouds. Stars, yes. Many. A cold night.

As he walked through the village, there were a few lights still burning in windows, orange pools of light. It was late.

He had not always been a gypsy. It was a way of life he had taken up late in life when a lot of other things had failed. And here he was on Christmas Eve, the only time of the year when he felt at all sorry for his solitary wandering life. Every other day of the year he was contented with it, rain or shine. He walked through the village, a place where in daytime he would have stopped and asked to fill his water bottle and, if the residents seemed friendly, to offer to do some work for food, or a few coins. If not, to move on without complaint.

But after dark he would not make any disturbance. His presence, he realised, would upset people. He had not become a gypsy to do that. So he walked on, beyond the village, out into the fields and woods in the moonlight, looking out for somewhere to lay down his bedding roll.

Christmas, he thought. Before the first Christmas, shepherds had stars, a star. Good enough for them. Good enough for me. He cheered himself with that thought, looking at a sky full of stars.

He looked for a sleeping place with care, searching especially for somewhere undisturbed and out of the wind. He came to a track entrance by a wood, rather disused and overgrown. Exploring it further he found that a short way into the wood, the track was blocked with undergrowth. Ideal, he thought.

He hunkered down and found a soft flat grassy area for his bedding. Then he foraged for dry sticks and logs of various sizes. There were plenty around.

Reaching into his pocket, he gathered in his hand the fluff, and small pieces of paper he kept in there deliberately for this purpose and laid it, surrounded by the smallest of the sticks, as the kindling for the fire. He lit it and it took straight away. Gradually he added wood to it and relaxed by its warmth and light.

As he relaxed he became dozier but not so sleepy that he did not bank up the fire enough to give warmth to last as he fell asleep, and beyond.

Amongst the spits and crackles of the fire, he became aware of another noise. A soft, low burping sound. The gypsy was curious, and as he leant forward to investigate, he realised that he had company. A frog. He was pleased to see it, as he was pleased by almost all the creatures he met, regarding them as his brothers and sisters. Indeed, it was this belief, of all, which most drew him to the life of a gypsy.

“Hello, dear frog,” he murmured. He was, of course, expecting no reply.

“Hello, dear man,” said the frog.

“Did you just speak?”

“Yes,” said the frog. “I am a speaking frog. That is, I speak. But only on one day a year, on Christmas Eve.”

“How so?” asked the gypsy.

“Ah,” said the frog, “that is a little story.”

“I have nothing better to do than listen,”

“Is there anything better than listening?” asked the frog.

“Perhaps not. Please, continue with your story.”

“I wasn’t always a frog.”

“Weren’t you?”

“No. I was once a storyteller and a poet. I used to travel across the land, reading and reciting my stories and poems to anyone who would give me bread, board and a mug of ale in return.”

“What happened? How did you become a frog?”

“One day,” said the frog, “I was walking between villages, and in a field I met a magic crow. Of course I didn’t know it was a magic crow. But I soon found out.”

“How?”

“I was feeling rather gloomy and upset that my stories and poems were not more well known and that I was not wealthy and famous. I kicked a stone towards the crow. ‘For all the use I am as a poet, I might as well be a frog’, I said. The crow was a magic crow and thought I was expressing a wish she could grant, so she turned me into a frog, there and then. When I complained about it, she realised her mistake but by then there was no going back. She told me she could not turn me back into a human, but she could grant me one other wish for one day of the year only – at Christmas. My wish was to speak to one other living being that day in order to grant, in turn, their wish. Today, Sir, it appears that you are to be the lucky recipient.”

“Dear frog,” said the gypsy. “I, too, was not always a gypsy. I used to be a musician. If I had a wish right now it would be to have a piano so that I could entertain you, dear frog.”

The frog made an unusual noise from deep within his body. The gypsy found himself again playing a piano, as he had done many times before he was a gypsy. For the frog’s delight, he played tune after tune, and filled each with his own kindness, sentiment and love, not only for the frog, but for all living things, all of nature’s miraculous contents.

The frog’s eyes moistened as he listened, as though he were drinking from a deep well of his own happiness, filled by that musical gift. ‘No matter what’, he thought, ‘those tunes will live with me for ever’.

Gradually, around midnight, the gypsy found himself so sleepy that he could play no more. He wrapped himself in his blankets, lay down by the fire, and was soon asleep. His awareness of the frog faded, and he wondered if he had been dreaming.

In the morning, Christmas morning, he woke and rekindled the fire. He had only a vague memory of what, by then, he was certain had been a dream. He drew the blankets close around himself as he boiled water on the fire to make coffee. It was then he noticed a dark coloured mark on one hand. At first he thought he had burnt himself on the fire without noticing. But then he saw more closely its shape. It could not be brushed or washed off. It gave no pain, yet seemed permanently scarred upon his skin, much as one would have a tattoo. It was the shape of a frog, sitting atop a grand piano.

 

 

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

EARLY

Yesterday, fog. As thick as butter.

This morning, a startling clarity. Silver bulbs of dew on purple-dark branches. The air is cold and gold.

Before me, the two largest cherry trees have leaves which hang like Chinese lanterns. A very oriental shade of peach.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

LAYTHAM BIRD SPECIES 2014

  • Grey Heron
  • Mute swan
  • Mallard
  • Red Kite
  • Sparrowhawk
  • Kestrel
  • Buzzard
  • Merlin
  • Partridge
  • Pheasant
  • Moorhen
  • Coot
  • Lapwing
  • Curlew
  • Gulls
  • Wood Pigeon
  • Collared Dove
  • Cuckoo
  • Barn Owl
  • Tawny Owl
  • Little Owl
  • Swift
  • Great spotted woodpecker
  • Skylark
  • Swallow
  • Pied wagtail
  • Grey wagtail
  • Wren
  • Robin
  • Fieldfare
  • Song Thrush
  • Mistle Thrush
  • Long tailed Tit
  • Bluetit
  • Coal tit
  • Great Tit
  • Nuthatch
  • Tree Creeper
  • Jay
  • Magpie
  • Jackdaw
  • Rook
  • Crow
  • Starling
  • Sparrow
  • Chaffinch
  • Greenfinch
  • Goldfinch
  • Bullfinch
  • Yellowhammer

SUBLIME


TRICK OR TREAT

I was snooty, but the torch shone a different light on it.

I had trick or treat down as a materialistic, unpleasant, sweetie grabbing American import.

A couple of nights ago, I saw things from another point of view. I accompanied a coven of mini Madams on a screeching after dark tour of Everingham. There were the usual jokes. "Have you got your mask on?" when they hadn't. "When are you going to get changed?" when they had. Ho ho ho. Then off we went, scary faces a-plenty.

The good burghers of Everingham changed my mind.

They had laid a trail of gentle horror, which, rather like Santa's letters, the knocked over wine glass and Rudolph's half eaten carrot, expressed a generosity of spirit, and an imaginative version of caring and the protection of innocence, for which one can only have admiration. The man who answered the door dressed as a wolf. His wife, dressed as Red Riding Hood. The people who mocked up a ghost with his head under his arm. The household who contrived a minor explosion when you opened the gate. The fake wounds and crevices worn in abundance. The generous donation of sweets, chocolates and fruit, to an over excited crew of seven and eight year olds. All these acts expressed the natural revelry in the art of giving.

It was marvellous. It was kind.

Only the churlish could knock it.

Monday, 3 November 2014

SEEING RED

Woodpeckers have a special meaning in our house. Big Madam's mum is a woodpecker. When we visited her grave some years ago, in the little cemetery at Lutzelsachsen, a woodpecker insisted upon our attention. The conclusion was obvious. This is the spirit form taken by the maternal soul. Ever since, woodpeckers have been a special reminder. My Dad was a silver birch tree. Our son, who died before being born, is also a birch tree. They too have a special meaning for me.

Some time ago I intended to go for a constitutional, trespassing on what I call the North Wood. Standing in the sunshine on its southern side, no movement for my constitutional was possible that day, as stillness called me along with the flirtations of two woodpeckers, flashes of white, black and red, high in the ash and oak. Their play was of such intensity, and they were so together, so intimate, that I was held in speechless awe. This moment came just after the death of Big Madam's Father. The conclusion was again obvious. The spirit world had brought together what the temporal world had tragically separated. That day I took no further steps. Tears of joy at the unification prevented me.

I used to wear a Shiva medallion. This was to remind me that all creation is destruction. That every destruction creates. That the forces of creation and destruction are intrinsically linked. So, also with togetherness and separation.

Today in the North Wood, another woodpecker. On the very northeast corner of the wood, a holly has come into berry, startlingly red. As red as the robin, making an alarm call at my passing. As red as the feathered flashes of the woodpecker. As red as my eyes.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

ZEN TODAY

That which gives energy, retain.

That which takes energy, discard.

Friday, 31 October 2014

GIVING THANKS

I think there may be a good argument that the root of immorality is wanting what you do not have. Conversely the appreciation of what you have leads to moral behaviour.

This is quite apart from the obvious and simple spiritual truth that appreciating what you have makes you happier than anguishing over what you don't. What you have is always, always greater than you first think.

An implication of this is that a daily practice of appreciation has a moral as well as a spiritual dimension.

It keeps you right in both senses.

For the religious, it redefines prayer away from a shopping list, and towards that for which it was more probably intended. Giving thanks.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

TODAY'S BRANDS

  • Handpicked Hotels
  • Molton and Brown
  • Colgate Sensitive
  • Gillette
  • Renu
  • Bleu de Chanel
  • Lonsdale
  • Loakes
  • Gieves
  • Levis
  • Charles Tyrwhitt
  • Dell
  • I phone
  • Range Rover
  • Muji
  • Barbour
  • Parker
  • Moleskine
  • MasterCard
  • Shell
  • Yachting Monthly
  • BBC
  • Old Speckled Hen

THE SUNNE RISING

Will whoever it was
Who took the top off the orange day glow paint
And spilled it all over this morning's dark canvas,
Dazzling our pupils,
And causing shock and awe,
Please own up?

However clever you think you are,
Perhaps you can explain
To us mere mortals
What game you are playing?
Is this what you call beauty?
Is this what you call art?

Sunday, 19 October 2014

ZEN TODAY

If pull, push.

If push, pull.

PURPLE LOVE

Big up my mate Sid's band.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

POWER OF EMPATHY


Friday, 17 October 2014

FAVOURITE AD OF ALL TIME?


ZEN TODAY

"It hurts whenever I think about it."

"So, why think about it?"

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

NPD

Mini Madam: "You know how we have ice cream in the summer?"

"Yes."

"Well,why don't we have lava cream in the winter?"

Obvious really.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

...............................................................

In Sanskrit, the same word means sage and silent one.

SO TRUE?


Tuesday, 7 October 2014

CONSTITUTIONAL

Rain. I get emotional about delicate natural items.
Lavender was the first thing to affect me this way, years ago now.
Today it is acorns.
Acorns. Yes, they are heroes. From tiny ones, great oaks. This we know. Acorns are natural celebrities.
But what about the cup that holds them? It has a name. The cupule.
Whereas acorns go on and do mighty things, the humble cupule just carries the acorn to the playing field, letting the glory go to its passenger. Nature's taxi driver. The parent who ferries kids to and fro, endlessly, thanklessly, but with pride in the act of giving.
The cupule sets me tearful for its own amazing beauty. The way it perfectly holds its acorn. The sheen of its dish. Perfect in form, and beautiful therefore. And miraculous. Water and sunshine made this thing. Millions of them form and fall. Forgotten things. Unnoticed. Supporters. The cupules on the wet tarmac set me appreciating all the world's supporters. Those gentle beings supporting the glories of others. I feel quite emotional about this.
I remember and give thanks for those who have held me, supported me, stood aside for my growth and progress. I stand, holding a single cupule. Tears and rain run down my face.

Friday, 3 October 2014

A CUSTOMER SERVICE MANIFESTO

  • By customer, mean person.
  • A living, breathing person whose greatest need is always love.
  • Love can be given in any job, but none more readily than customer service roles.
  • The world closes functional benefit gaps - what is left is emotional. Hence -
  • Love is the ultimate propositional differentiator.
  • When love is given, love is also received
  • What better job could there be?
  • Thus there is a reciprocity of benefits for customers and staff in giving extraordinary service.
  • The free flow of love can happen but not when censored.
  • The very people organizations struggle to get to deliver extraordinary service are the very people capable of huge, extraordinary, world enhancing acts of love, expressed outside the work place.
  • Leaders, go figure.
  • To obtain extraordinary service, a leader must remove the censorship which an organization places in the way of the free flow of love.
  • The greater the removal, the more extraordinary the experience.
  • The greater the pressures censoring free, loving expression, the drabber the experience.
  • Design can happen momentarily and individually. Routines and consistency are forms of censorship.
  • So are systems, soft and hard - but where they are essential the dwellers should be the builders.
  • Money is the greatest censorship of all.
  • The truly great service leader will keep money out of it as far as humanly possible.
  • Expert guidance in these matters is impossible. Only hearts that will open can guide what censorship can be tolerated. Expertise, professionalism, consultancy and advice are themselves all forms of censorship.
  • Amor vincit Omnia.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

"Laughter is the shortest route between two people."

Victor Borge

HORSING AROUND

As a concerned eco warrior galloping through the countryside in my Chelsea Tractor, I am always looking for sustainability ideas.

Here's one.

Horses.

Step one. Eat them.

Step two. Take all horse related acreage and turn it over to vegetables.

Smile. You have saved the planet. And made a major contribution to the war against anthropomorphism.

Friday, 26 September 2014

ALL AT SEA

Boats are she.
Everyone knows that.
But when you are out on the water, every other boat is he.
"He'll pass astern of us."
"He has right of way".
Odd.

Monday, 22 September 2014

PIES

Most people are like pies.

There's the crust, and the filling.

Of course you can't see the filling at first. You have to break the crust.

Sweet? Savoury? Not worth the bother?

You never know till you try.
This weekend, aboard CYLESTA, with George and Fraser, two ace crewmates.

A time of:

  • deep-cod psychology
  • mackerel fishing
  • pizza
  • dolphins
  • light airs
  • unseasonal sunburn
  • intrepid off the bow diving
  • land haze
  • easy going boat handling
  • Muscadet
  • Rockfish
  • chicken antics
  • laughter
  • superb company.

Friday, 19 September 2014

NO SEX PLEASE WE'RE BRITISH

A young friend of mine has dropped her boyfriend.

"Why?" I ask, "he seems like a nice guy."

"Yes, but there's a darker side".

"Ooh, tell."

"I caught him using porn on the internet."

I laugh. "No? What, him and most of the entire human race?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, it's a vast part of global internet usage."
"It's disgusting."

"Have you used it?"

"No, of course not."

"Then how do you know it's disgusting?"

"What's disgusting is him looking at other women like that."

"Then why didn't you make him some porn of you?"

I may have lost a friend. If looks could kill, I'd be in the crematorium.

The odd thing to me is how British this is. In many other parts of Europe my comment would be like saying to someone if you don't like your man going down the chippy for his lunch, why not make him a pack up?

We've a long way to go.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

CONSTITUTIONAL

While Scots in their millions take their constitution into their own hands (perhaps) I take mine into mine.

Mid September and the air wraps me warm, like a scarf.

Long tailed tits are busy zipping about, almost as though it were a second spring. Likewise goldfinches. I speculate on their purpose.

In the north wood two buzzards cry to each other their soulful song from the top of the tall Ashes. Cry, reply. Cry, reply.

A fat sycamore leaf falls. Brownish yellow, though the predominant foliage colour is still green. There are still butterflies, falling like leaves, except upwards. Reds, browns. greys, the occasional white.

I pace with controlled breathing. Four in, four out. Almost synchronized with the buzzards' calls. And when I can no longer do four in, four out, after slowing to preserve this rhythm, then three in, three out and I speed to a stronger heartbeat, feeling its benefit in my whole body, knowing I will breathe better, eat better, think better, sleep better.

ARRIVAL TIME

I've heard it said many times that life is about the journey not the destination.

That metaphor tends us toward striving, reaching, advancing.

I wonder if we wouldn't be better thinking of it as a constant set of destinations, each arrived at with the anticipation and relief of a destination reached.

Here we are.

Home at last.

Nowhere else to go.

Time to appreciate this.

Monday, 15 September 2014

WEEK'S READING

  • Northamptonshire Life
  • Sunday Express Crossword
  • Diesel engine maintenance and repair
  • Totto Chan
  • Heraclitus
  • Ottolenghi
  • The Story of Pain
  • A Bright Moon for Fools
  • Retail Week
  • Kenwood Stereo Manual
  • Sutton on Derwent School Newsletter
  • Force 4 Chandlery catalogue
  • Charles Trwhyitt shirt flyer
  • Country Life
  • Email Inbox
  • Roger Deakin's diary

Sunday, 14 September 2014

I goggle at geese and at goshawks

And marvel at merlin and mice.

But show me a gaggle of humans

And I struggle to see them as nice.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

PRIVILEGED

I met someone the other day who was critical of those with a privileged upbringing.

By privileged, he meant moneyed.

It set me wondering about privilege.

Who is the more privileged?

The child from a wealthy family who has materialism thrust on them to fill an absence of  genuine love and affection? The rich kid bundled off unwillingly to boarding school at eleven? An infant given toys, so parents don't have to engage fully with this person here and now?

Or the child brought up in a poor, but loving, attentive environment?

Likewise, underprivileged. One of the most striking things in rural India, where people have very few material possessions, is how self evidently happy and joyful they are day to day.

I wonder if, when, as some do, you set out to reduce or eradicate privilege, with this monetary definition, you are attacking one economy, when, perhaps, the real target should be another entirely?

Sunday, 7 September 2014

SKYWARDS

A spitfire. A very characteristic engine growl.

A Chinook. Unmistakeable whup of double rotors.

Five buzzards, jinxing and jiving at a thousand feet. Mewing. Functional behaviour? Aerobatic territorialism? Or just play?

An aerobatic pilot doing falling leaves.

A squadron of racing pigeons, low over the lane. Necks out. Competitive spirit. Neck and neck.

I think "strange". Wood pigeons, their cousins, are the antithesis of speed in their flight. They remind me of Buzz Lightyear. Not exactly flying. More, falling, with style. As though they forget to fly, start to plummet then remember they are after all birds and ought (no matter how reluctantly) act the part.

We cycle to Aughton church. I'm surprised to find it open. We go in. It's laid out as a café, replacing rear pews, never used. I pray. In the churchyard there is a headstone to Conan Aske, Baronet of Aughton. A direct descendant of Robert Aske, of the Pilgrimage of Grace.

As we pass Breighton airfield, a light aircraft takes off and it seems like only inches above our heads.

Swallows massing. It must be close to debating time - stay or go.

It's warm, still. Black and red butterflies are attracted to the apple trees in the vegetable garden.

I take plums and apples around the village and learn that Simon and Diane, our near neighbours, are moving. "We want a village where we can get more involved. And we can't stay another winter in that house."

Their need is exactly what I'd hate. One of the best things about Laytham for me is that there is nothing to get involved with, indeed seeing people is a rarity. And when you do they are pleasant, kind people. Perfect.

Meanwhile there is sky. Ever fascinating. Ever changing. Ever calming.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

FOUR SEASONS


Into September, and at Laytham nature's waitress brings the full three courses ordered by Mr Keats, right on time. Mists. Fruitfulness. Ripeness to the core.

A time to turn in on one's own core. The start of hibernation.

We catch mice, wanting to colonize our house for just that purpose.

With another inward gaze I wonder about emotions. There is a good case for strict limits to be placed on their number. Glad, mad, scared, sad. Four seasons of emotion.

Ask people how they feel and they will invariably tell you what they think. Different.

The next recourse is often to a past participle. Suspect. When there is an e and a d at the end of a description of feelings, it's often just blame.

I'm not alone in finding blame difficult. But I heard the other day someone referring to blame as a cry of pain. Very wise, that. Very wise, and very hard to remember, when it is an unexpected harvest, when the fruit you thought would be wholesome rotted before you got to eat it.

Very hard not to feel............................... disappointed!

Friday, 5 September 2014

"Never put your but into the face of an angry person."

Marshall Rosenberg

Thursday, 4 September 2014

COBBLERS

If a Cobbler by trade, I'll make it my pride
The best of all Cobblers to be;
And if only a Tinker, no Tinker in earth
Shall mend an old Kettle like me.


Walter Law

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

GRRR

In a fit of rage I have just thrown a laptop in the bin.

Very therapeutic.

CAMPING

It was to be a grand adventure - the Mini Madam and her friends camping in the paddock.

The kids were given a free run (within fiscal limits) round Sainsbury's, purchasing sausages, burgers, chocolate brownies and other goodies. After a meal which featured Chocolate Orange segments as its starter, followed by burgers and ketchup, they settled into their campsite for the duration.

The Mini Madam lasted till about seven, then appeared indoors, complaining that the wind made a horrible noise.

Her tent mates were more intrepid, lasting another twenty minutes, before emerging to spend the night indoors.

I lay long awake, listening to the wind's song, a cold north easterly lullaby.

Monday, 25 August 2014

LANYARD

I have a lanyard on my boat which I pull for luck, every time I return from the sea safely.
 
I do it in remembrance of a friend of mine who sadly died, prematurely young, and in honour of the joy and urgency of living, brought forcefully and poignantly home to me at his requiem, and which was the immediate call to me to get on with it and  buy my scruffy old boat.

COMPLIMENT

Dying with you would be a good laugh.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

THE MEANING OF LIFF

I get a letter asking me to advise on life's purpose.

Here's my reply.

You’re asking ME the purpose of life???????
 
You’re having a laugh.
 
I’m just a fellow traveller as baffled as anyone. All I have learned is that happiness is inside one’s own noodle. But as to putting it into practice. That’s a whole different ball game. I wish it were different, but I reckon I’m as prey to circumstance as anyone I know.
 
If you want a view, I see happiness as nirvana. Nir va na. Never blown off. That’s what the three words mean (as I understand it).  It makes sense to me. A state of mind, entirely capable of joyous appreciation of what is, even when what is seems to consist of what is negative. The infallible, immovable ability to take delight in what there is to delight in, rather than concentrate on what apparently preoccupies as harm, hurt, pain, dislike or other negatives.
 
Easy to say.
 
Very, very hard to do.
 
If I have a life quest, having moved my mind from depressive to merely aberrant but without the depression (itself a proud boast), achieving that unshakeable equilibrium is it. And this is where zen and its paradoxes come in. Seeking it can’t get it. Trying at it defeats it. Attaining it is by letting it be. “It” doesn’t exist anyway. Preferring it self defeats. Puzzled? Me too, brother.
 
I keep living, finding kindness a help to me more than others, finding silence a comfort, finding that the more I think to define myself the harder it is, and finding the state of happy being as bloody elusive as ever.
 
And then....................
 
In the field of grass a single flower.
 
The copper beech everyone said would not grow, grows.
 
Shit stinks gloriously.
 
A pigeon emphasizes ridiculously its third syllable of five, over and over.
 
Swallows consort about the season on a wire. Time to stay? Time to go?
 
I see mice, a rarity, but a symbol of the season.
 
The beech hedge smells of nothing but beech.
 
This wine tastes great.
 
My legs carry me - a miracle.
 
I am joyful. I am sad. I am angry. I am tired. I sleep. I wake. I sleep again. I wake. Miraculous, when you think about it.
 
My thoughts come. My thoughts go. Some stay. Some go quick. Trains of thought in an endlessly open station.
 
But just look at how much better off I am than the man screaming in the agony of dying. Ta, life.
 
And for the man screaming in agony before death - not yet dead.
 
Life. It just bloody goes on all around no matter what silly fuckers like you, or me do. What we really ever control is zilch.
 
In short, I’m as puzzled about life's meaning as you.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

GULLED

Perhaps I was wrong.

When I was a kid, and looked up to see a v of birds, crossing a wide East Anglian sky, they were geese, or swans.

Now, in the profound, rouged evening skies above Laytham, they are gulls.

When I was a boy, they were called seagulls. Now, they are ubiquitous and are just plain gulls. Ever ingenious, they have copied the geese and their aerodynamic flight tactics. And in they come from shore, ever ready to trawl new inland food sources.

How do they know where to go? The corporation tips which are now their homelands stink, so that is obvious. But there isn't a farmer ploughing anywhere, without a gull entourage.

The skies these last few evenings have been full of v shaped gull commuter trains. The commuters silent, absorbed, well fed.

I look up, hoping for geese. I get gulls.

Friday, 22 August 2014

EDIBLE

I've been winding my son Jed up about his newly allocated university accommodation and how he was not going to afford to feed himself. Having failed to persuade him to keep a couple of sheep or cows on the lawns of the halls of residence, I exhorted him to go to Church, as old ladies would take pity on him and feed him up, inviting him round to heavily calorific tea parties, sunday lunches etc. Unfortunately he was having none of it. When I thought about it afterwards though, I did think it was actually a rather good idea. If I ever hit rock bottom I’ll start going to church regularly.
 
It is the time of year for crumble making, and I made the first of the season today, Plum and Pimms, with a porridge oat based crumble, as I have discovered that all things flour and bread make me ill. Had a large portion tonight, with thick double cream. Bloody delicious.
 
The greengages are just getting ripe too. And this year, we’ve a tree full. My God, I’m looking forward to getting stuck into them.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

OBJECT OF DESIRE


A CARSE IN POINT

One of my more arcane Mastermind subject choices would be the history of South Georgia - a product of an over developed Shackleton mania. So it came as a surprise when this rather unknown episode in the history of South Georgia's exploration and habitation came to light. Spicing it is its protagonist's own story. A thrice married radio artist, he was the voice of Dick Barton, Special Agent. During wartime, he was a  naval officer who constantly complained that his talents were not being used. And his love story was one of steadfast determination on the part of his third wife, Venetia, a commitment to loving someone who believed themselves unlovable. He first set eyes on South Georgia as an apprentice merchant naval officer and later went there, leading expeditions to map its inhospitable mountainous terrain. Duncan Carse, born in 1913, died in 2004. His bust, by Jon Edgar, for which he reluctantly, truculently sat, is an artefact of the South Georgia Museum, at Grytviken. Ten years on, here is his South Georgia testimony.


Tuesday, 19 August 2014

SIGNS OF A NEW SEASON.

I have written before about there being many more than four seasons.
 
It is mouse season - the time when the temperature changes inevitably but not yet fully towards autumnal, and sensible mice make a beach head assault on country house interiors.
 
We have a mouse (or mice as it turns out) in the house. Seasonal arrivals. I caught one last night in a trap and showed it a new life elsewhere. But more droppings today indicate that our mouse guests are not yet fully gone. When we first moved in, there was a time when I was alone a lot in the house, doing building, restoration and decorating work. In the cold winter house, without any working heating, I would sit in the kitchen in a thick workman's jacket and a hat and have my packed lunch. The mouse would come out and scrounge a crisp or a bit of sandwich - his lunch. He was bold as brass. Terribly small. But bold. I didn’t have the heart to kill him. He and I shared lunch together. Eventually, as our moving in date came, he had to go. I bought my first humane trap. I’ve had a soft spot for mice ever since. Humane traps it is still.
 
It is also the very start of the season for crumble making, and I made the first of the season today. Plum and Pimms, with a porridge oat based crumble, as I have recently discovered that all things flour and bread make me ill.
 
I had a large portion tonight, with thick double cream. Bad as anything for me, say those who are guardians of my dietary conscience. Bloody delicious, I say.
 
The greengages are just getting ripe. And this year, we’ve a tree full. My God, I’m looking forward to getting stuck into them.
 
Already I am feeling that the change in the season is one to relish.
 
 

Sunday, 17 August 2014

ASSEKEREM



A  quest for silence can be a consuming thing.

I wonder if it was that which took me here?

Strange, now, to think that the destination, if that is what it was, was with me all along.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

HEV YA GOTTA A LOIGHT BOR?


HUEVOS ENRIQUE

Onions. Sweat em.
Fry some pancetta in with the onions.
Add slices of chorizo.
Dust whole pan with pimenton de la vera. Dolce.
Add tin of baked beans. Tin of chopped toms. Blast of tom paste. Dab of water.
Sugar - a bit, or the toms will go all bitter and twisted and that is a waste of life for anyone, tomatoes included.
Stir etc.
Pretend you are cooking, when you are just really making something to eat.
Fry two eggs - or three if you are me.
Serve eggs on top of chorizo stew.
You could have crusty bread but I can't as I have discovered that bread gives me narcolepsy.
Cheap. Good. Very enjoyable with a glass of wine.

Friday, 15 August 2014

OF TANDEMS

I owned one. I was fourteen. A tandem stood rusting outside a house on my paper round. Eventually I took courage, and knocked on the door and asked the man if he wanted to sell it. It belonged to his daughter, away at University, but when she came home, he promised, he'd ask. Then one day, he stopped me. "Still want to buy that tandem?" I offered him £15 and he took it. It was a Claud Butler. Vintage. I guess about 1930. Hub brakes. Cross over chains . As heavy as a skip. But my best friend and I had a whale of a time on it. We were both racing cyclists in a local club, and we could have the tandem, heavy though it was, up to a good 35mph or more. We used to take it out after school onto a dual carriageway where, at about the same time every evening, a chap on a Honda 90 would be commuting home from work - Wymondham to Norwich, about 9 miles. He was our Derny. We'd tuck in for the nine miles, grit our teeth and hang on for the distance and then try and outsprint him on the final downhill for the City sign, getting up to probably 45 mph or so. He clearly was tickled, and would tuck down, urging the Honda to exceed its meagre power output. Sometimes he won. Sometimes we did.  Norwich - A Fine City. That's what the sign said.  The sign's still there. Everything else is just memory.

I've been looking at tandems on ebay.
Mastery and intimacy are opposites.

Are men ever destined to balance them?

Thursday, 14 August 2014

IS GOLDEN

How much silence do you like in your life?

I like a lot.

I've all but given up on radio, music or story in the car. Five odd hours to Plymouth. Many driving hours through work. Silent. No phone. Just my own thoughts.

Ditto daily space for it. The burble of my home life is a beautiful music. The conversation of friends is a treasure. But the appreciation of these things is heightened by a practice of silence, long and regular.
The more silent you are, the more you hear. Not just external sound, but the sensory experience of the ebb and flow of your own thoughts, and with acceptance, contentment with those. The hum of memory. The gentle music, if only you listen for it, of the perfection of selfhood. Not a moral perfection, but a physical, ontological, universal perfection in which one sees the distraction of duality, and one's own merger with the universal. Silence amplifies the sound of one's own edges. I choose sound as the descriptor here, as, aptly, sound seems harder to trace as a distinct temporal or spatial thing than objects. And so with the soul, if that is what you must call it. Hard to see its start or finish in time or space. The soul can be heard, in silence.

Silence breeds appreciation, when well used.
Silence contains contentment, when well practised.
Silence reveals one's own truth, when well absorbed.
Silence promotes peace, when willingly embraced.

The more silent you are, the less you realise you have to say.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

WOODIES

Today, I saw two wood pigeons. So what? One was dead. The other was standing vigil over the body and, in my opinion, clearly grieving. Animals, I believe, have just as complex an emotional life as we humans. Of course I have no scientific evidence for this, but close observation of their behaviour bears me out.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

GENTLEMAN OF THE ROAD

When cycling goes big, it leaves me cold. The Tour de France in Yorkshire. Not interested. Too many crowds. Likewise York's new cycling circuit. Just too many people.
But there are parts of the sport which still appeal, still carry on in an utterly amateurish way, unattended by all except a hardcore of participants and followers. Twelve hour time trials, for example. It turns out that the roads around us are a regular course for these events. Regular, as in once a year. Today was that day. I enjoyed the coloured vests, the empty jawed scowls of the exhausted riders coming towards the end of their allotted time, the sometimes painfully slow progress at the end of such a marathon.

I passed the spectacle feeling lifted by its obscure, un commercial appeal.

Then I came upon the man under the tree. He was away from the main course, and laid out full length in the grass under a tree. He was clearly a participant - number 68, in fact. There was no one around and at first I drove right by. Then something made me stop and reverse the car.

"Are you all right?" I called.

"Er, not too bad..." a shaky voice. "Just needed a bit of shade under this tree." Slightly slurred words.

I was grateful he was alive, but this looked like a case of what cyclists call "the bonk" or "the knock". The running equivalent is the wall in marathons.

"Do you need anything? Food? Drink? Do you want me to call someone?"

"Bit thirsty. Couldn't eat anything. Think I'd be sick."

"Would some apple juice do you?"

"Yes please."

He drank nearly a litre, which I'd filled into his bottle.

Some colour returned to his face.

"Did you do the twelve hour?" I asked.

"No. Just the hundred. Was just making my way back to race HQ. Felt a bit rotten."

"OK now?"

"Yes. Bless you."

He meant it.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

FACILITATOR'S MANIFESTO

  • Let.
  • Eschew expertise. Know nothing.
  • Throw all status away. It is weight which will sink you.
  • Doing nothing is best; doing least is better; active is worst.
  • No investment in content.
  • Your compass points to output, subject to the magnetic variation of the group's changes.
  • As one finger on a tiller will keep a boat to its course, so minimal steering.
  • Off course may be on course. How do you know?
  • You are not the guide. There is no map. Ask the group for directions.
  • Time is a prejudice. Things take as long as they do.
  • See each participant as you would a loved one.
  • Capture exact words - the language has value.
  • Calm. You are not responsible.
  • Trust your physical senses.
  • Hear more by being quiet inside.
  • Help by not helping.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

ZEN TODAY

Everyone is my teacher.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

BIRD BATH

Last night it rained hard till about 0400, breaking the night's high pressure and bringing welcome cool.

This morning the lanes were washed clean and, all along the rutted edges of the tarmac, small birds were bathing, knowing that the water, fresh fallen was clean and clear. It is hard not to imagine that their excited behaviour equalled delight.

I constantly find myself wondering about bird intelligence, and revising my view, upwards.

Friday, 4 July 2014

LINGO

When we were kids, my sister and I used to speak to each other in a private language. I believe this is not so uncommon. We also developed codes, and nicknames to describe the people, things and places around us. This habit's stuck. At home, mufflahs, wiffas, dogwiffas, snaggers, woofers, The Ladies - all have meanings of their own. A Scottish friend of mine has what he calls his Fallydoon gear. That's his term for getting dressed up to go out - the implication being that a state of inebriation can be expected where stability is compromised.

At School and University, my nicknaming became more extensive, crueller and more personal. If Impetigo Harry is reading this, he will testify to its communality too.

I'm glad to say that Cylesta is beginning to acquire her own language, in addition to the (to the landlubber) mysterious nautical differences between sheets and halyards, fore and aft, coming up and bearing away and so on. To these, we add The Palace (the forepeak), The Kilps (the helmsman's boxes), The Coffin (the starboard quarter berth), the Nono (the heads) and The Flag (which - sort of - is a flag).

These mean that she is not a thing, but a vessel of meaning, as well as of mariners.

Things are going the right way.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

FRED

My son wants a new hat. A red one.

Most people would think of going down the shops and buying one.

But the one he wants can't be bought. It must be earned, by gruelling physical training, long yomps with pack and rifle, a few miles with a telephone pole to be carried by you and a team, a similar challenge with a cast iron stretcher, a minute or so's milling, and finally a few jumps from an aircraft.

What do I think?

There's a challenge to be the best you can be. I get that. Great camaraderie, tick. Proving to yourself you can do something exceptional. I get that too.

But then there's the commitment. No matter how tough he proves himself, he isn't tougher than an IED or a sniper's bullet. I'm proud of him as he is. Coming back from active service in a box or a wheelchair certainly won't make me prouder.

On a more thoughtful level, though, to whom is he proving himself? I don't think he needs to be anything other than he is, and revelling in the exact shaped whole in the Universe made ready for him, and peacefully and effortlessly occupying that space seems to me - admittedly an ageing softie - the very point of life.

Will he go for it? We'll see.
Will my words make any difference? We'll see.
Will he benefit from it? We'll see.
Will he think any better of himself after it? We'll see.
Will anyone else think better of him? We'll see.
Will I? We'll see.
Will it make him a better man? We'll see.

ACROSTIC

Mini Madam has made me an acrostic, and I am very touched:

Fascinated by boats and the horizon
Absolute best Dad in the Universe
Tasty meals and lovely puddings
Having you for a Dad is amazing
Every time you cuddle me I feel safe
Rips and jumpers don't bother you.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

A DAY IN BULLET POINTS

  • A long chat with a dear friend about weariness - how being surrounded by psycho drama and the sheer weight, sometimes, of living, has brought it on. I feel great sympathy. Perhaps high pressure days exacerbate this sort of feeling. I later get a lovely email saying how the conversation has had a cheering, lightening effect.
  • It isn't raining. Or is it? Its such a faint fall of moisture that when I think I hear it in silent moments I can't be sure. So I go for mini strolls and am even more unsure. It's moisture, hanging rather than falling. Very dark clouds, shedding only the faintest of loads. Reminds me of Dartmoor.
  • On my constitutional, the road is shimmering blue. The heat haze reminds me of childhood. Then, tarmac melted under bicycle tyres, the tread popping and cracking as the wheels threw off the tar.
  • Work today is thinking. A sustained imaginative effort needed. Visualising an event through, like a film you haven't yet seen.
  • I'm accustomed to blackbirds being the last song of the day, but it's pigeons tonight.
  • A single dog has barked all day. Maddened by the pressure?
  • It needs to rain.
  • It's a long time since a book captivated me as much as Robert Harris' latest. I finish it today, having devoured it from the first page. I don't normally do novels. I tire of most after less than a chapter.
  • And I get approached for a professional writing gig. Very flattering, but we'll have to see where it leads, if anywhere.

STERN PARENT

Mainly I see my job as a parent as not to intervene.

Kids fall out and scrap. Do nothing and they invariably sort it out themselves. I'd draw the line at impending physical injury, but it amazes me just what a low threshold for intervention other parents have.

Likewise, responsibility for things like learning, homework (why do we have it anyway?), organising kit for school, decisions, choices et cetera. Leave it to the kid, and you will be surprised at what they can handle.

To me, this approach most breeds not only independence, but skills, and dignity. I hope that, in the main, my kids have felt from me a supporting hand on their shoulder, rather than a directive pointing finger.

Is it just laziness on my part? I confess that the rights and wrongs of playground disagreements leave me less than enthralled. But there is another awareness at play too. It is that so often, through my life, where I have met people with mental health issues, the aberrant thought processes stem from the effects of a controlling parent's voice, often keenly felt even from a distance of many years away. A source of deep, primal pain. I include myself in the victims of this.

When I see high levels of parental control taking place, I find myself wondering whose needs are being met. The child's? Or the parent's?

When I do intervene, I invariably regret it.


Monday, 30 June 2014

PRACTICE MAKES

The mini Madam has been binned. Her piano teacher has refused to continue teaching her, on the grounds that mini Madam never practises. She's got a point. Mini Madam doesn't practice. The teacher looks at me with undisguised reproach. Her view is that I - me particularly, as I can play the piano - should enforce a practice regime. My parents had the same view, did enforce a practice regime, and told me I'd be glad in later years that I'd be able to play the piano. I am.
But does that encourage me to toe the authoritarian parental line? No.
From the outset of mini Madam's piano playing adventure, I made it absolutely clear to all concerned that I wouldn't press her to practice and that progress and application were a matter for her and her alone. I still hold to this. I've felt the same about my sons' education too. I'm puzzled by things like parents' evenings, which lull us gently into the misplacement of responsibility.
It doesn't matter whether mini Madam does or does not grow up with piano playing in her accomplishments. It does matter that she grows up feeling fully empowered and self responsible about her life and its successes and failures.
In contrast to the piano teacher's approach (which, I might argue, has resistance built in) is that of mini Madam's singing teacher, which de-emphasizes practice, and is heavy on enjoyment, personalisation and following the student's own curiosity. Mini Madam sings almost all day every day.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

BEAUTIFUL MADNESS


ZEN TODAY

Hero?
Villain?
Neither?
Both?
Who cares?

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

ZEN TODAY

Shall we train and equip ourselves to be in the moment?

Saturday, 21 June 2014

HELLO AGAIN

Only kidding.

Back, due to overwhelming and sometimes surprising reader demand.

This blog shall, of course, NEVER end.........maybe.

Awake at 0500 this morning, with the cool, benign early morning air welcoming me to the equinox. I look out over the rows of hedges, and the coverts and can just see the Wolds, hazy in the early sun. Living isn't bad.

I have been wondering about autism. People say it is genetic, but I wonder if it's socialized, its characteristic inability to empathise being a learned behaviour from parents who gave little away to their poor infant. In teaching facilitation, coaching, and the person centred orientation, I've often played a game which I bill as teaching mind reading. I get people to sit in pairs, subject and observer. The subject is to think silently of a person to whom they have a strong emotional reaction - love, hate, jealousy, fear, whatever. The observer's job is to watch their face, and then, after observation, to say what the subject feels about the person they are bringing to mind. It never fails. Though I've never tried it with autistic people. What it shows up is our innate ability to see in the other how they are feeling. But what it also normally prompts is a discussion of how that hugely rich data so often goes ignored. I've heard it said that torturers won't look their victims in the eye. If true, I wonder if that is to add to the torture, or whether it is to protect the torturer from facing the inevitable pain of seeing someone else suffering? Perhaps I forgive too easily.

I also pondered a video I saw of a BBC camera team who got caught a bit close to the front line in Iraq in the ISIS conflict there (for the record caused by US - and Blair led UK - foreign policy). I was struck by how panicky everyone was - the Iraqi fighters, the cameraman and reporter. It was a far cry from British soldiers, who are admirably calm, determined and focused under fire. Indeed, I couldn't even be sure that the incoming fire on this video was especially effective anyway. In conflict situations, it is easy to panic. Calmness under fire, though, is not an innate thing, it is acquired through actual experience. I'm talking here about life in general. Very often what sounds like really dangerous stuff is just some idiots firing off in no general direction in an overdose of testosterone. The battle hardened know how to tell the difference.

Last night, during a really excellent night's sleep, I dreamt of sleeping and dreaming. Now what the hell does that mean?

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

THE END

This is the end of this blog.

If you read it, thanks.

If you enjoyed it, so much the better.

Good bye.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

RUN, RABBIT

It's been a weekend of allsorts.

I made quite an idiot of myself by reprimanding a group of teenagers, failing completely until too late  to see their side of the story. I felt very sorry about that. I got suckered into a moral position that, if I'd had a few moments thought, I'd never have taken. I was boring in my atonement. But no one was greatly harmed, just my pride.

My pride was at stake at the boat, as the worst bit of boating is leaving and arriving at a berth, when there is almost always an audience to see one's hopeless attempts at controlling a large cumbersome object affected by at least three fluid media - water, wind and tide. My marina berth is tight requiring reversing with the helm hard over one way, and then firing ahead, ostensibly pointing directly at other boats, but with the helm hard over the other way, trusting that the bow will spin round. Hitherto calm, hidden boat owners appear during these manoeuvres, with furrowed brows, ready to take steps to protect their vessel as I seem intent on dinging both theirs and mine. Fortunately this time I got it right - just, and a kind lady aboard one sparkling boat gave us a thumbs up. So George said, anyway. I was way too concentrated to notice. But my fear, my true fear, is not damage of property, but, again, damage to pride.

In the conversation this weekend a prominent feature was the subject of men who go off with other women. A few examples have occurred. It's easy to rush to the same sort of judgement I made about the teenagers about this. And maybe moral opprobrium is more appropriate. But many a marriage is a loveless and lonely place, or worse, and that must surely go for men as well as women. Who knows?

I admired George for battling seasickness and still performing the essential functions of a crewman when asked. That takes some effort. A morally upright and righteous determination to do what one says.

I was very tired by the time we'd driven back from Plymouth. As I went to bed, there were two rabbits, gloating on the drive. I grumpily got the rifle out. I shot the first and he screamed. Really screamed. I hit him just beneath the head and he threw back his head and screamed. Then he skittered about, legs going like mad, running nowhere except into his own extinction. The second rabbit witnessed this, and was on high alert because of the screams. She froze. I shot her too. She bucked up, raced a few feet, and fell near the wheels of my car. That's what a moral bloke I am. That people shoot for sport baffles me. It leaves me feeling dirty and debauched. I've persuaded myself that the rabbits have to be shot as they eat everything in the vegetable garden. And that is true. But then, since I've had the boat, I've hardly touched the vegetable garden and, apart from a couple of rows of onions and potatoes and a few sad lettuces, its a weed jungle. So what am I protecting, Lord Bloody Protector of my land. I felt the same after shooting the rabbits as after reproaching the teenagers. Crap.

I went to bed and dreamt, horribly, of grotesque rabbit courts sentencing their rabbit felons for infidelity, and saving their harshest sentence for a pompous, fat man with rabbit ears, guilty of making a damned fool of himself with all sorts of ridiculous actions and judgements.

Friday, 6 June 2014

D DAY



We live in freedom and democracy in our great country today because of the sacrifices made on the beaches of Normandy seventy years ago today. It is a direct lineage. We have inherited our freedom from those who fought and died for it then.

Visiting the Normandy beaches is a terribly emotional thing. It would be a hard person indeed who remained unmoved by the rows upon rows upon rows upon rows of crosses, marking the fallen. And whereas the Allied graves are marked with glorious monuments, backed by a moral rectitude, no less extensive are the plain grey crosses accorded to the German fallen. And they are no less dead, their families no less bereft.

My favourite story of D Day in my mind epitomizes the very freedom which was being fought for. Shimi Lovat, the Brigadier commanding the 1st Special Service Brigade, was a colourful character who, amongst other trademarks of his individuality, eschewed the khaki uniform sweater replacing it with his own white highland sweater with LOVAT embroidered on it, and replaced the standard Lee Enfield rifle with his own Winchester hunting rifle. He also had his own personal Piper, Bill Millin. Upon disembarking at Sword Beach, he commanded Millin to pipe his men ashore. This had been expressly forbidden in orders given to him, as Millin reminded him. "Ah," said Lovat. "Those are Whitehall orders. We're Scotsman. They don't apply to us. Now, for f*cks sake, play something cheery."

"I suppose you want me to march up and down as well?" asked Millin, amazed.

"That would be very good," said Lovat.

Thus the preposterous occurred. Millin, clad in a kilt, patrolled the beach playing Road to the Isles and Blue Bonnets, oblivious to the incoming fire. Later, German snipers reported a variety of reasons for not shooting him, including that they thought it would be bad luck, and that if he was mad enough to do what he was doing, he ought to be allowed to get on with it.

In both Millin and Lovat were men who epitomised the individualistic, slightly mad art of being British.

I cannot bring to mind such things without my eyes moistening. We owe so much to these men and their comrades. But to honour their bravery and sacrifices properly, I believe takes a personal commitment not to nationalistic patriotism, but instead to a desire to break national boundaries and closed minded entities which ultimately are the reason for conflict and war in the first instance. Our freedom, fought for and won at such a cost, contains as its essence a permission to think beyond what binds "us" to a deeper questioning of "them", and a more universal definition of "us" that includes all humanity.

In this way, at the going down of the sun, and in the morning, will we best remember them.

Friday, 30 May 2014

AN UGLY SCENE

The footballer Joey Barton has had to apologise for saying on BBC Question Time (why was he on it anyway?) that the four main political parties are like four really ugly girls.

If he'd said they're like four really ugly blokes, would he have had to apologise?

Thursday, 29 May 2014


Wednesday, 21 May 2014

ADRIFT

Four yachtsmen are missing after their yacht capsized and sank mid Atlantic. The US Coastguard has been persuaded to resume a search, assisted by RAF aircraft.
I hope the men will be found and returned safe to their anguished families. Feeling great solidarity with the worried families, I signed a petition to urge resumption of the search.
But those of us who go to sea for adventure have no real right to expect others to rescue us. Though it is the duty of any vessel to respond to a mayday if they can, the extent to which, as a yachtsman you call on this is up to you. We go to sea by choice. I know of more than one sailor who sails with no expectation of rescue, and whose philosophy is to sort out their own salvation, or perish in the attempt, without endangering anyone else's life in a rescue mission.
My boat has an EPIRB and a radio to call for help.
I have a horror of the rescue situation as it inevitably signals my failure as a skipper.
But is it worth losing your life by not calling for help?
The other day I made my first single handed passage. It was close coastal work in home waters. I was still terrified. At every second there was a keen awareness that going over the side would very probably be the end of me.
Alone, though, the decision of whether to call for help or not is perhaps morally and practically clearer than with others aboard.
I pray for those in peril on the sea.
And I pray for my own wisdom to not go to sea in circumstances even the least bit perilous, and if I do, to take the right responsibility for my life, and any entrusted to me.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

AWAY

  • I am away, staying at Fawsley, the most bonkers of all places. A bonkers pile, exploded into the British countryside. The sheep are arrogantly bonkers, mutely submitting to being run over on the gated road. The place is bonkers, architecture all over the place, mainly bonkers Tudor with bonkers bits of Georgian and Palladian fill in. The staff are bonkers. I thought the receptionist was going to bite my neck. She is a long dead Russian ballerina. The systems creak more than the floorboards. Even the menu is bonkers. Smoked salmon, but in some mad curry slurry, which obviously you have to ask them not to put on the plate. A perfectly good steak is ruined by some Cajun nonsense. Why don't cooks just do the simple thing well? Eating out would be so much better if they tried less hard. A glass of wine is a tenner, but a bottle only twenty. They have every form of gin but not Plymouth. The pictures on the wall are all of British Royalty, from Tudors onwards. Oil paintings. Except they aren't - they're prints with odd dabs of paint put on to make them seem authentic. Even the guest list is bonkers. The place is full of lesbian couples, each a bonkers combo of pneumatic babe and industrial lump.
  • An interesting conversation about autism and how autistic people work from detail outwards. I recommend the book The Reason I Jump. I see  this detail out tendency in people who would not be thought of as autistic too.
  • Late food makes my sleep intolerably awful. Alcohol in the evening also has this effect. It is difficult to accept this after such a long career of carousing.
  • Can women have it all? Career, motherhood, loving partnership? An interesting chat about whether it's the media asking this question which limits women's sense of entitlement. Little girls are criticised for being bossy. Little boys aren't.
  • One of my clients has resigned, following a single session with me. There is a frisson to this. Excitement. Fear, too.
  • The Hopping Hare is a place I really like. I stay there quite often and the people are getting to know me. They are very nice and helpful. For example, I went mid afternoon to try and get some lunch. No chef. But the barmaid said "I'm no great cook but I could rustle you up a sandwich." That kind of straightforward care is rare.
  • I desperately need an early night, having feasted and thus slept so badly. I am ready for bed at about nine and am just dropping off when there's a fireworks display. The bonkers tin lid on it.
  • Tomorrow I sleep on Cylesta. I dream of it.


Friday, 9 May 2014

The Giro d'Italia is starting in Belfast.
The Tour de France is starting in Yorkshire.

The Marathon des sables is due to start in Barnsley.
The Venice Biennale will start in Caracas.
Rio's famous carnival will shift its start to Antarctica, posing costume challenges for the participants.
The May Day parade in Russia's Red Square will start in Belgium.
The London Marathon will start on the moon.
The Edinburgh tattoo will be in Cameroun.
Timbuktu will host for the first time the Palio.
The Derby will be run mid Atlantic.

I'm all for cosmopolitanism, but to an older gent like myself it can at times be a touch confusing.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

SWEATY PALMS


Friday, 21 March 2014

DAWN

0540.
Blackie is singing outside my window.
This is the rough end of a belief that we should be diurnal. Go to bed when it is dark. Rise when it is light.
So comes the listening - a practice I do not find easy. The mind strays away from the present moment into all sorts of versions of past and future. Stories.
This morning, Blackie holds my attention. It is a truly beautiful, heart-filling sound, and with a background rivulet of curlews, I cannot imagine a finer alarm clock. For one raised in sounds of traffic, rowing neighbours, and the odd siren, it is a privilege worth daily thanks.
It sets me thinking too.
Current science holds that the dawn chorus is a territorial claim, made over and over again. In some time, I imagine science will be proved wrong again.
Blackie does not repeat himself. The core melody is similar, but not the same each time. He ends it differently, and adds all sorts of variants throughout his aria. Each call is different. And the answering calls from neighbour blackbird also differ each time they are made. Sometimes I could swear they are interrogative, sometimes jussive, and sometimes downright imperative.
What I believe I am listening to is conversation, perhaps with repetitive themes, but with stimulus and response both present in the song.
Why would they just repeat the inane "here I am; this is mine"?
Why wouldn't they be talking about what would be important to them that day? The weather? The wind direction? Where they will be going for food? Where they have heard or sensed food might be? What threats are about? What opportunities? These seem far more likely to me, even if more sophisticated.
Maybe even, like me, Blackie sends up a prayer of exultation at simply being alive to hear this marvellous round of sound.
Birds and animals are far cleverer, I believe, than we humans, and especially scientists, acknowledge.
After all, we have many singers, but few as fine as a blackbird.
And not a single one who can combine that beautiful voice with the ability to fly.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

NO CRIMEA?

Now that Russia is enacting the answer that ought to have been enacted from the start - a Crimean referendum - one might think that the invitation to OSCE observers to monitor the referendum would be accepted.
But it hasn't been.
That is because the Crimean referendum will be free and fair. It doesn't need to be anything else. You don't need to rig an answer you can get without rigging it.
But the OSCE has handed the West what it would want - an excuse to condemn the referendum. Indeed, they are already doing so, in terms of it being illegal. Rigged, will follow as a headline.
The situation tells us something else though.
It tells us that the OSCE is prey to following the West's own on and off definition of democracy, based on European and Western geopolitical and economic advantage.
What the world needs is a democratic monitoring force which actually is interested in democracy for its own sake, disinterested from any national or supra national interests.

Friday, 7 March 2014

U KRAINE IF YOU WANT 2

Congratulations to the lucky winners of the competition launched in the last blog post. Well done, Mr V Putin, of Moscow, who shares his win with 79 members of Crimea's parliament. Your prizes are on their way to you.
It is disappointing to note that winners from further West have been few indeed. And there has been some quite bad sportsmanship too. Mr B. Obama, of Washington DC has complained loudly about breaches of the rules. Apparently, holding a referendum on separatist feelings is a violation of international law. Even more disappointing is a universally supine western media, not one of whose ranks has had the sense to ask Mr Obama "Mr President, which law?" I am not a lawyer so cannot of course be definitive about what is or is not legal or illegal in these matters. But if Mr Obama is right, then MR D Cameron of London, England, and Mr A Salmond, of Edinburgh, Scotland may both be in legal hot water. Everyone knows though that in law invading another's country is illegal and that is why, as an example, we would never see US or UK troops invading, say, Iraq or Afghanistan.
What is most puzzling is this - that the West would expect Mr Putin to simply lay down and accept the machinations of the West in creating a pro Western Ukraine, with concomitant access to its important gas supplies. That is an arrogance which is pretty unbelievable, and, as the events have shown, misplaced.
What is also puzzling is this - that the West does not simply listen to what Mr Putin has to say and take him seriously, accepting a greyer, less absolute but much more workable version of both truth and national and international best interest.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

U KRAINE IF YOU WANT TO

Here's a simple spatial problem.

A country is surrounded by two powerful neighbours. Lets called one simply East and one simply West.

Half of the said country overwhelmingly want alliance with East, and half want alliance with West. Those who want alliance with West live overwhelmingly in the west of the country. Those who want alliance with East live overwhelmingly in the east of the country.

Bearing in mind modern principles of democratic self determination, solve the above problem.

You have (shall we be generous) two minutes to provide a suitable answer.

I am expecting that any sensible reader of this now has the solution.

Yet, for leaders of two of the world's superpowers, this seems not to be the case, and, instead of an amiable tension free arrival at the solution, we have bellicose escalation on both sides.

Why?

Because to be a modern leader it is more important to be seen to be hard, warlike and powerful (based on military power) than it is to be seen to be emollient, wise, flexible in thought, and able to get on with one's neighbours.

We shall see how a dangerous situation in Ukraine progresses. On pragmatism, or on ego?

My guess is, it'll get worse before it gets better.

Friday, 24 January 2014

MORE ON MONKS

Which reminds me.......

When I was travelling in India once with the Missus, we visited a Buddhist monastery. Quite a famous one.
We were shown round by a brown skinned, round faced monk - a refugee, I believe, from Tibet, and a follower of the Dalai Lama.
He gave us quite a tour, and quite a lecture. Especially, as I recall, on the subject of attachment. He urged us to free ourselves of attachment. Not bad advice, I thought, so I asked him if he wouldn't mind giving me his watch.
"I'm sorry," he said, "I can't. My mother gave it to me."

THE MONK WHO SOLD HIS FERRARI

I haven't been reading this book.

If he was a monk, why didn't he give it away?

Sunday, 12 January 2014

INTERSTICES

My Dad used to joke that he was a collector - a collector of Fivers. In my lifetime he was not a conspicuously successful collector in that field.

He more successfully collected words. Odd ones. Arcane ones. Obscure and interesting words. Thus, at an early age, I learned of numismatics, graticules, micrometers, interstices and many more. This collection was housed in scraps of paper and notebooks, written in his beautiful, artistic hand.

He also collected small memories, often also written up in his notes. Recordings of the ordinary things in life around him, which he found, by dint of his own survival, shimmering and remarkable - the amount of raspberries or other crops yielded by his garden; the way a particular view looked on a particular Wealden evening; a sound of this or that bird, the taste of a toffee. Not big things. Small things. Small things noticed, though. Small things appreciated. Interstices, you might say, between the big ups and downs of life, the big happenings, the triumphs and disasters. An appreciation, and a contented awareness of what is happening when nothing is happening. What is going on, all the time, if only you stop to notice it.

These were his collection. Perhaps, too, his collection had a greater value than any collection of Fivers.

I find, as I return to this blog after an extended, indolent Christmas and New Year absence, that, if I have a New Year wish for others, and for myself, it is to be able to look at the interstices, the gaps, between notable events in our lives, and to collect with wonder and gratitude the million, million tiny spurs to contentment which are happening, every minute of every day just, in fact, as we think nothing much is going on at all.

May we notice, appreciate, collect and treasure.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

OTHER MEN'S FLOWERS

If I ever become a rich man,
Or if ever I grow to be old,
I will build a house with deep thatch
To shelter me from the cold,
And there shall the Sussex songs be sung
And the story of Sussex told.
I will hold my house in the high wood
Within a walk of the sea,
And the men that were boys when I was a boy
Shall sit and drink with me.




HB

Thursday, 9 January 2014

EMOTION MAP

 
Participants in a study were asked to map where they felt different emotions - which part of the body was stimulated (red/yellow/white) or deactivated (blue). One of the more interesting things I've seen recently.