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Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Royalties of Europe

Several years ago, becoming fascinated by Queen Victoria and her large, extended family, I began compiling a series of card index boxes of the royalties of Europe between around 1850 and 1918, in order to help me remember who was who. The boxes have been sitting there, all carefully labelled for such a long time that I suddenly wondered if they might be of use to anyone else. When the internet first became available, it was hugely helpful to me to be able to continue the research through various site so I just wanted to put a little back by copying out the boxes for anyone else who is interested. As the details are gathered from various sources, some of the names are in the Latin format, some in German/French/Spanish or English versions and in all it is combination of all of them. If anyone is interested, I am gradually copying out the boxes at:

Royalties of Europe 1860-1918

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Good King Wenceslas

According to the carol, "Good King Wenceslas looked out on the Feast of Stephen..." The song continues with the story of the king seeing a poor peasant gathering firewood in the snow and bringing him indoors to wait upon him.
It's appropriate that the story took place on 26th December, the Feast of Stephen (the first Christian martyr) as this coincides with 'Boxing Day' - the day when traditionally the alms boxes were emptied and distributed among the poor.
Although the carol little more than legend, King Wenceslas was known to be a 'good' king - or rather, Duke - of 10th century Bohemia, who ruled his people in fairness. As the grandson of a martyr, St. Ludmilla, he was staunchly Christian but, fortunately, when many of his people returning to Paganism, he did not respond with the ferocity displayed by many other so-called Christian leaders of the time. Instead, he responded with tolerance and gentleness.
Unfortunately, as in so many cases 'uneasy lies the head that wears the crown', and Wenceslas became caught up in a power struggle with his brother, which culminated in his murder at the door of the church in Alt-Bunzlau.

Good King Wenceslas looked out
on the feast of Stephen.
When the snow lay round about,
deep and crisp and even.
Brightly shone the moon that night,
though the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight,
gathering winter fuel.

Hither page and stand by me
if thou knowst it telling
Yonder peasant, who is he,
where and what his dwelling?
Sire, he lives a good league hence,
underneath the mountain,
Right against the forest fence,
by Saint Agnes' fountain.

Bring me flesh and bring me wine,
bring me pine logs hither
Thou and I will see him dine
when we bear them thither
Page and monarch forth they went,
forth they went together
Through the rude winds wild lament,
and the bitter weather.

Sire the night is darker now,
and the wind blows stronger
Fails my heart I know now how,
I can go no longer.
Mark my footsteps good my page,
tread thou in them boldly
Thou shalt find the winter's rage
freeze thy blood less coldly.

In his master's steps he trod
where the snow lay dinted
Heat was in the very sod
which the saint had printed
Therefore Christian men be sure,
wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor,
shall yourselves find blessing.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Queen Victoria's Christmas Eve

A very short extract taken from Life with Queen Victoria, Marie Mallet's letters from Court Edited by Victor Mallet, describing Queen Victoria giving gifts to her household at Osborne House in 1897.

Christmas Eve at 1/4 to 6, I was present at the ChristmasTree at which the Queen gave her presents to the household. The Princesses were there, and the most handsome presents given all round...When the Princesses left, they fell on the tree and divided the spoil, filling waste paper baskets!

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Fifteen Wild Decembers

On a frozen December night, what could be more apt than Emily Bronte's heartfelt 'Remembrance' or 'Fifteen Wild Decembers'? As someone who, to all outward appearances, could not have experienced the sentiments expressed in this poem, Emily Bronte appears to have written it from the mouths of the characters in her imagination but how could she write this unless she knew on some inner level the depths of emotion it expresses? It's endlessly fascinating that so private a person who preferred the company of animals and the freedom of the Moors to being in company (and who became physically ill when deprived of that freedom) had such an incredible power of empathy at the highest level. I think she experienced, on some level, all that wrote not only in her poems but also in one of the most passionate stories of all time, "Wuthering Heights." Nothing is ever as it appears and sometimes those who seem most silent and removed from what passes for depths of emotion, are really experiencing it most deeply. I think Emily Bronte's pen would have thrived on so cold a night as this one!

Cold in the earth, and the deep snow piled above thee!
Far, far removed, cold in the dreary grave!
Have I forgot, my Only Love, to love thee,
Severed at last by Time's all-wearing wave?

Now, when alone, do my thoughts no longer hover
Over the mountains on Angora's shore;
Resting their wings where heath and fern-leaves cover
That noble heart for ever, ever more?

Cold in the earth, and fifteen wild Decembers
From those brown hills have melted into spring--
Faithful indeed is the spirit that remembers
After such years of change and suffering!

Sweet Love of youth, forgive if I forget thee
While the World's tide is bearing me along:
Sterner desires and darker hopes beset me,
Hopes which obscure but cannot do thee wrong.

No other Sun has lightened up my heaven;
No other Star has ever shone for me:
All my life's bliss from thy dear life was given
All my life's bliss is in the grave with thee.

But when the days of golden dreams had perished
And even Despair was powerless to destroy,
Then did I learn how existence could be cherished,
Strengthened and fed without the aid of joy;

Then did I check the tears of useless passion,
Weaned my young soul from yearning after thine;
Sternly denied its burning wish to hasten
Down to that tomb already more than mine!

And even yet, I dare not let it languish,
Dare not indulge in Memory's rapturous pain;
Once drinking deep of that divinest anguish,
How could I seek the empty world again?

Friday, 18 December 2009

King Canute and Coperhagen

A long time ago, according to English legend, King Canute stood on a beach and, believing he was some kind of saviour, tried to stop the tide. He was somewhat humiliated when his feet got wet!

Now we hear the voice of the self-appointed gods saying they will control temperature by 2 degrees....I guess the more you try to take on the control of the world the more you believe yourself to be God. It's snowing in Copenhagen, as it is here. It's a typical English winter. Stand on the beach and rail at the snowflakes and tell the weather to become warmer or colder and you will achieve nothing! Why not turn instead from massive ego-trips to caring for creatures and humanity in a way that is sincere?

Thursday, 17 December 2009

I Leant Upon A Coppice Gate

I saw some blackbirds on the snowy grass tonight, pecking their way through the cold and looking so beautiful! Winter is really here and, above the climate-change-babble, it's obvious that the climate changes have nothing whatsoever to do with how we live and everything to do with being attuned to Nature in all her seasons. I guess that's what happens in a world dominated by linear thinking. The earth, like people, has its cycles and seasons and, thinking in a cyclic way, it all makes more sense. Some people have made a fortune from the climate scam and others have run like sheep after the lie, but at the end of the day, the seasons change and we change with them when we drop that need to control everything and everyone.

I find Thomas Hardy's books depressing and verbose (with his obsession with describing the details of architecture!) but his poetry is something else this:

I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-gray,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.

The land’s sharp features seemed to be
The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited ;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

PLEASE Stop These Evil Practices!

It is so important that people are aware of this cruelty going on under our noses that I have posted this link on both blogs. Please be warned that this video is very distressing but, after watching it, anyone with a heart would be so appalled and demand an end to such vile practices to living, sentient, loving creatures.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Albert the Good

On the anniversary of the death of Prince Albert, here are a few lines written in his honour by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Albert 'the good' was surely the 'greatest king we never had' - a man so gifted and with such humanity. What a tragedy for his family and for the country that he died so young!

Or how should England dreaming of his sons
Hope more for these than some inheritance
Of such a life, a heart, a mind as thine,
Thou noble Father of her Kings to be,
Laborious for her people and her poor—
Voice in the rich dawn of an ampler day—
Far-sighted summoner of War and Waste
To fruitful strifes and rivalries of peace—
Sweet nature gilded by the gracious gleam
Of letters, dear to Science, dear to Art,
Dear to thy land and ours, a Prince indeed,
Beyond all titles, and a household name,
Hereafter, through all times, Albert the Good.

And Tennyson's dedication to Albert's daughter, Princess Alice, who died on the anniversary of her father's death.

Dead Princess, living Power, if that which lived
True life live on–and if the fatal kiss,
Born of true life and love, divorce thee not
From earthly love and life–if what we call
The spirit flash not all at once from out
This shadow into Substance–then perhaps
The mellow’d murmur of the people’s praise
From thine own State, and all our breadth of realm,
Where Love and Longing dress thy deeds in light,
Ascends to thee; and this March morn that sees
Thy Soldier-brother’s bridal orange-bloom
Break thro’ the yews and cypress of thy grave,
And thine Imperial mother smile again,
May send one ray to thee! and who can tell–
Thou–England’s England-loving daughter–thou
Dying so English thou wouldst have her flag
Borne on thy coffin–where is he can swear
But that some broken gleam from our poor earth
May touch thee, while, remembering thee, I lay
At thy pale feet this ballad of the deeds
Of England, and her banner in the East?

Saturday, 12 December 2009

It's Cold!

It's not snowing yet but it's so cold that dear Pooh comes to mind!! Thank you A.A. Milne!!!

(Tiddly Pom)
The more it goes
(Tiddly Pom)
The more it goes
(Tiddly Pom)
On snowing.

And nobody knows
(Tiddly Pom)
How cold my toes
(Tiddly Pom)
How cold my toes
(Tiddly Pom)
Are growing.

The more it snows
(Tiddly Pom)
The more it goes
(Tiddly Pom)
The more it goes
(Tiddly Pom)
On snowing.

And nobody knows
(Tiddly Pom)
How gold my toes
(Tiddly Pom)
How cold my toes
(Tiddly Pom)
Are growing.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

A Whole Load of Pretentious Twaddle

Never in my life have I heard such a load of pretentious twaddle as was voiced on last night's BBC 2 programme: "School of Saatchi". If art is meant to speak to the highest aspects of ourselves, or to represent reality in some way, this so-called art brought from me only anger and sadness that we have sunk so low; nor did it represent my reality or the reality of a world of beauty. A whistle dangling from what looked like either a towel rail or something to help the elderly get out of the bath was one effort. The fact that there was a smudge of lipstick on the whistle gave it, according to one of the judges, a sexual connotation? I can think of few things less sexual than a smudge of lipstick on a whistle. At the end of the programme, one of the 'artists' was heard to say, "I don't think the public will understand this." Of course we won't. We are mere morons who do not appreciate the meanings you see in your self-indulgent creations. Art, after all, according to that world view, isn't designed for the masses, it is there to cater to the ego of the artist who sees himself as non-conformist while conforming exactly to the notion that being an artist means being something ordinary mortals do not understand.

It brings me great joy to know that all over the country there are true artists who study their craft and create real beauty - those who work with wood and clay, restore stained-glass windows, an upholstery of previous centuries, and create new and beautiful designs that others can appreciate, too. I would say literature is also a great art and what is the point of it, if no one understands it except the weird brain of its creator? order to fit into the modern school, I have created my own work of art - this poem:

Whistle, string, lipstick, pile of rubble,
Zimmer frame, spinning wheel,
Junk, open curtains, closed curtains,
Picture of a man at a computer.
Life passes by.

Vermillion, apple blossom, cornfield,
Trumpeter, crashed cars, manhole cover,
Bits of rubbish, unemptied bins.
Grasshopper, my heart....
Awake and bleeding.

That poem speaks of the existential nature of the soul, caught in the dilemma between the paradigm of an other-worldly perfection, and the baser instincts of humanity as expressed through a primitive sexuality (as shown in the line 'bits of rubbish, unemptied bins'). In order to grasp this concept - and I doubt that will be possible for 'the public' - one must understand the angst of the true artist as an epitome of all human emotion, struggling against the odds to capture the fleeting moment when the two realities meet. And if you believe any of that rubbish, I am the King of Siam!!

Random words without meaning and not a poem at all!!

The Emperor is walking about naked...

Saturday, 21 November 2009

The Days That Are No More

The seasons change and now, in the middle of the dark days - the fogs, rain, short evenings, dark dawns, Tennyson's poem comes to mind with a sense of mellow Victorian nostalgia:

Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean,
Tears from the depth of some divine despair
Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,
In looking on the happy Autumn-fields,
And thinking of the days that are no more.

Fresh as the first beam glittering on a sail,
That brings our friends up from the underworld,
Sad as the last which reddens over one
That sinks with all we love below the verge;
So sad, so fresh, the days that are no more.

In fact, I wouldn't want to return to the 'days that are no more' but the changing seasons allow for a little self-indulgence and there's nothing quite like a bout of nostalgia to welcome the winter!

Wednesday, 11 November 2009


Young man with a smile on an old photograph
In a uniform smart as your father before,
Pack up your troubles and daring to laugh
As you tramp through the town on your way to the war...

Will you die at a price? Will you die for a shilling?
Is it worth all the pain and the things we don't know?
Is it worth all the horror and bloodshed and killing?
Are you willing to die so a poppy can grow?

Young man with a tear as you walk away crying,
Put down your gun now and lift up your head,
War time is over and breezes are sighing
Through fields of small flowers that blood has stained red.

Did you die at a price? Did you die for a shilling?
Is it worth all the pain and the things we don't know?
Is it worth all the horror and bloodshed and killing?
Were you willing to die so a poppy could grow?

Young man, you who look at the old photograph,
In a uniform smart as your grandfather wore,
Looking so brave now and daring to laugh
As you follow his footsteps and march to the war,

Has the offer been raised? Is it still just a shilling?
Lives are bought cheaply. It's always been so.
When so mine fine people need bloodshed and killing,
We shall slaughter our sons so that poppies can grow...

(Lyrics by Christina Croft, Music by Tony Croft)

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Penny For the Guy

As Bonfire Night draw nigh, I find myself wondering whatever happened to the 'penny-for-the-guy' children? Those kids who used to stand outside shops with some model they had taken time to create, and a cap on the floor asking for a penny for the Guy. It's rather like the rag and bone men who used to come by with their horse and cart. If you gave them a bag of clothes, they gave you in return a ride on the cart to the end of the road. Where are they now? Did they ride off into the sunset?

It's also like the May Processions - the ones where you were playing outside one Saturday afternoon and were suddenly called in, scrubbed and forced into the white dress to join the procession. Where are they? Did they walk off into the sunset, too?

Penny-For-The Guy kids were often looked down on. Basically, they were just begging for money for fireworks (and then they weren't allowed to buy fireworks because they were too young) but I remember those who took great pride in their Guys and deserved a penny for their trouble! Others just brought out something that looked like a melted snowman thrown together and didn't even merit the penny. Now they have just disappeared altogether. I just wondered if they went the same way as rag and bone men and May Processions and wandered off into the hills one day when I wasn't looking....

Friday, 30 October 2009


The night is so dark and misty - the perfect setting for the lead up to Hallowe'en, and what a set of bizarre reactions there are to that night! Here in England, I have heard from several quarters, a strange sort of backlash against this 'American import' this year. A few years ago, I heard a priest raging against it - calling it 'dangerous' like some kind of satanic ritual.

It's true that until maybe five or ten years ago, beyond the scary ghost stories and occasional pumpkin in a window, it seemed to have died out in England. There were no 'trick or treats' - instead there was (on November 4th) Mischief Night - which really meant stealing the wood from other people's bonfires before November 5th. Mischief Night escalated into putting treacle on door knobs, then throw eggs at windows or stealing someone's gates. People said how bad times were - forgetting that right back to the Middle Ages any excuse for disorder was welcomed! Trick or treat is mild in comparison and, personally, I think it's fabulous fun for children and a great American import Thank you, America!

The priest's reaction seems to go back to another era. The era when we didn't all live so indoors, hiding behind central heating and double glazing - when the dark night wasn't scary and the change of seasons was celebrated; when animals were brought indoors and there was no separation between humanity and the other creatures of the earth: the era, perhaps, before Christianity in its impurest sense arrived on these isles. The darkness of the night, the respect of the seasons was not something to be feared, but something to be respected. It spoke of the darkness within us - the fears, the judgements, the bitterness and the need to hide from ourselves. Samhain, like the May time Beltane, simply marked that contrast in Nature, that is reflected within us. It spoke of our fears as surely as springtime speaks of our hope. And here's an interesting thing: in the days and cultures where such things were acknowledged, respect for the wisdom of the elders was profound. Now, in our culture that fears the dark, we treat elderly people badly. We want only spring, only to be insulated from the natural flow of the seasons, and wonder why the world is as it is.

Hallowe'en - All Hallows Night - Hallowed (the same word that appears in The Lord's Prayer to describe God's Name) is not a nasty scary thing of ghouls and vampires and skeletons. It's no less a Feast Day than any other. Unless we face our fears, we are destined to be haunted by them, and it seems to me that our greatest fears are facing up to our own shadows - our own resentments, judgements, unforgiveness.

So...thank you again, America, for reviving our ancient tradition of remembering All Hallows Night - after all, if God/Life is omnipresent, everything is holy!

(Photograph courtesy of Andre Hilliard

Friday, 23 October 2009

All The World Is A Stage

"All the world's a stage," wrote Shakespeare in describing the comings and goings and passing of time in a person's life. It's interesting to consider that in the lives of most of the people that we know, we are all bit-part players. We appear on the periphery of someone's memory or as something like 'serving wench' or 'third gentleman' in someone else's script. At the same time, we constantly appear centre-stage in our own drama.

Hamlet (obviously, from a different play) is a character whom I adored in my youth. His psychological complexity; his contradictions - one moment total inaction and apathy, the next rash action - have such appeal but he was merely the centre of his own play, as we all are, perhaps. And, to quote him, "therein lies the rub." Laertes, on the other hand, was straight to the point - a character who does not inspire such affection because he seems to lack the complexity that makes Hamlet so appealing as he sits hugging the skull of the late jester, or suddenly engaging in a rash sword fight to the death.

Nowadays, I think Hamlet is the epitome of youthful angst and self-centredness. His obsession with the idea that he has been wronged and must, somehow, avenge that wrong, is combined with the idea that his motives are altruistic (on behalf of his dead father). The bit part players in his life mean nothing to him and even as he cradles that skull, he is really thinking of himself and his own mortality.

And maybe that is how most of us view the world. We fight our own imaginary battles, and for our own illusory causes, constantly blaming some outside interference and never realizing that we are creating our own drama. We get to choose if we want to be tragic or comic heroes or heroines. We have the possibility of writing our own scripts; and sometimes it is very interesting to hear the bit-part players in our lives and suddenly realize we are also bit-part players in someone else's play. How fascinatingly we all interact!

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Lady Constance Lytton

The lines we take in as children remain with us forever. One evening when I was a child the BBC series "Shoulder to Shoulder" was on TV. It was the episode about the very courageous Lady Constance Lytton (daughter of the Viceroy of India and Queen Victoria's lady-in-waiting) who, having been arrested several times for protesting in favour of votes for women and receiving preferential treatment on account of her aristocratic background, disguised herself as a poor seamstress and was subsequently arrested, went on hunger strike and was brutally forcibly-fed, without a medical examination which would have revealed her chronic heart complaint which had kept her as a semi-invalid all her life. Gentle animal loving Constance became known as a militant suffragette, when she had never harmed anyone but, against all her upbringing and instincts took a stand for justice. I think, what kept her an invalid and what led to that heart complaint was simply the stifling of who she really was and the smothering of all her talents. She broke out of that in a most courageous way and wrote a book about her experiences - "Prisons & Prisoners" - which is largely forgotten now.

The lines that really stuck with me came from something she quoted:

"Have you seen the locusts, how they cross a stream? First one comes down to the water's edge and is swept away. Then another comes and another, and gradually their bodies pile up and make a bridge for the rest to pass over." She ended by saying, "Well, perhaps I made a track to the water's edge."

It's a beautiful thought when follow our own paths, even when they seem to veer away from what is expected...

Sunday, 27 September 2009


Autumn comes again with the hazy mornings, the sun being a little lazy in rising, then coming out in all its amber splendour by mid-afternoon, and the chilly evenings with those scents which are so evocative! This poem is so often quoted that it seems almost trite to repeat it, but it is 'the' poem of autumn and its timelessness is so touching. Keats' "To Autumn".

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
Drows'd with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,--
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

Monday, 21 September 2009

E.E. Cummings

Why did e.e. cummings have such an aversion to capital letters with regard to names and personal pronouns! The letter 'I', at least, should always be written in the upper case because the 'I' is so much greater than the 'me' and is the true self, to my mind, which is the spark of the Divinity, or simply Divine. We all can write 'I' boldly, because we are far greater than we know. All the same e.e.'s poems are often so lovely....I felt this today, walking among these beautiful trees in Temple Newsam!

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday;this is the birth
day of life and love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any - lifted from the no
of all nothing - human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

Thursday, 17 September 2009

"The Wild Swans at Coole"

There were only two swans on the lake today and it's not yet October, but seeing the beautiful swans at Temple Newsam, W.B. Yeats' poem: "The Wild Swans At Coole" came to mind....

The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine-and-fifty swans.

The nineteenth autumn has come upon me
Since I first made my count;
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings.

I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,
And now my heart is sore.
All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight,
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
Trod with a lighter tread.

Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold
Companionable streams or climb the air;
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
Attend upon them still.

But now they drift on the still water,
Mysterious, beautiful;
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake’s edge or pool
Delight men’s eyes when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Being and Doing

Maybe some people 'are' and some people 'do'. There's a message as we grow up that we need to be 'doing'. If we are not 'doing' we are being lazy and idle. But when we look at those who 'do', most are either interfering into everyone else's life or trying to rule the world.

"If everyone thought as you do," I was often told as a child and young person, "nothing would ever be done." My thought in reply was, "But what has been done by those who do thoughtlessly instead of thinking first?"

People rush thither and yon, always having to be busy, always having to take command of someone else, always having to meet deadlines or be at work on time, or get home on time, or fill the quiet hours with doing. And people have damaged the land, the animals, the trees and nature and caused havoc all over the place with our doing. Walk past a field of sheep and see that they are doing what they do without the need to do it. They just run when they feel like running, chew when they feel like chewing, stare when they feel like staring. Walk through a forest of trees and see how ancient they are, how they withstand the storms and the summer sun, how they don't give a damn for who is making silly rules about what we can and cannot do. Look at Nature and see how even when we try to crush all growth, the weeds still just work their way to the sun through the cracks in the pavement.

I'm not advocating inertia or suggesting that humanity needs only to stand as still as trees or spend our lives chewing grass, but it seems that the rest of creation knows what it is about and only humanity stands apart because we have forgotten that we are here to be before we are here to do. What needs to be done is being done by a far greater hand than ours. When we wake up to being, like the flowers wake up to the morning sunlight, rather than waking up to a day 'at the office' or another day of drudgery, we will truly be co-creators with the Divine.

Like the wonderful Davies poem:

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

The Price of A Few Letters After Your Name

It's interesting how scornful or amused we are by the people who buy titles on-line. Apparently, for various amounts of money, one can buy an aristocratic title of count, countess, baron or anything else, and the title comes with a certificate to authenticate it. Anyone can choose the title or the area (rather like choosing number plates on cars) and the certificate - nothing more than a glossy piece of paper - acts as proof of purchase. Of course, the higher class version of this is being granted the title by whatever government happens to be 'in power' (whatever that means) in return for filling the party coffers. It's an age-old means of buying self-esteem and the idea that a title impresses other and gives one access to the echelons of power (whatever that means, too!).

It looks ridiculous but is it any more ridiculous than the millions of people all over the world who dedicate 3, 4 or 5 years of their lives to purchase some letters after their name? During those years, it used to be possible to have a lot of fun. Students were notorious for being rowdy, lazy, drinking too much, finding some kind of pleasure in the necessity of bringing traffic cones home, and having deep and meaningless conversations about anything and working out their delayed adolescent angst. Having been there, I must say it was fun in its way. Nowadays student life is quite different
and many, having worked their way through university in order to pay the fees, leave with enormous debts...and, of course, the letters after their names.

Politicians are constantly spouting about the need to make university places more accessible to more people; and people are constantly responding by feeling the need to have a degree...but what does it really mean? It means that you conform your essays to what the powers-that-be want you to say; it means you fit the system and think you are rebelling, but you're not. It means, basically, you pay out loads of money and come out with a piece of paper saying someone else decided you were this clever, that clever, or just mediocre (or a failure) and you can write some letters after your name. Basically, a degree or any other qualification is simply gaining authenticity from someone else's idea of what you should be. Surely, the brightest brains know that there is no need for such ulterior authentication. It's interesting that some of the wealthiest and most successful people have no such stamp of approval by the authorities. Richard Branson, Alan Sugar (I think) Shakespeare, Emily Bronte, Jesus etc. etc. were not university qualified, but professors argue for hours about their merit, while the great minds and great spirits go on making an impact on peoples of all time when the university officials are long forgotten.

If you want to go to university to study, by all means do so! If you want to study a subject among people who have taken if further than you have, then study it in colleges and universities. But if you want some letters after your name or a piece of paper and some outside stamp of authenticity for your self-esteem, it won't work. That can only come from yourself and you would do far better following your own heart, studying what you love and who cares whether someone else decides your efforts are worthy?

If you want letters after your name, write your own. How about:

F.S. - Free Spirit (it's more fitting than my B.A. - Bachelor of Arts, since I am not a bachelor and never could be!!)

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Emily Bronte and "Wuthering Heights"

I don't care what the critics write! Of all the adaptations of "Wuthering Heights" that I have seen, this is the best. Shown in two parts, this version of the book was so much more than the old Olivier/Oberon love story, or the ridiculous version that tried to be closer to the book but cast a French Cathy! This version, in my opinion, capture Heathcliff perfectly! Tom Hardy's portrayal was wonderful because he was attractive one minute, most unattractive the next. He was loving and passionate, and equally hateful and violent - humanity in the raw and passion-driven. Sarah Lancashire's performance as Nelly was spot on, and both Tom Hard and Charlotte Riley finally (as opposed to earlier versions) had the correct Yorkshire accents!

Most brilliant of all was the way this version returned one's thought to the author of the book and the astounding fact that a very young woman created this epic purely from her own imagination. Emily Bronte didn't wander thither and yon, or gather masses of research to create such a story. She spent a short - horrendous to her - unpleasant time 'confined' as a teacher in Belgium and felt so deprived of the wildness of the moors that she became ill. Back home, she walked miles and miles every day, and from her walks, her own singular mind such a story of utter passion, darkness, probably the most powerful love story ever written came into being.

There is so much of Emily's brother, Branwell, in Heathcliff, but there is a lot more besides. It is fascinating that Emily, at so tender an age, caught a chill at Branwell's funeral and died a short while after. The undertones of incest in the book are obvious but I am absolutely not implying anything untoward between Branwell and Emily, but I do believe that Emily (who was so absorbed in spirituality) was the other side of Branwell's coin. Branwell was the epitome of a spirit turned to the hellish aspect of life, while Emily was seeking heaven. They were one soul in different aspects. They were so close as children and emotionally deeply involved. Absolutely nothing untoward in it, just the emotional/spiritual manipulations that affected all of that family! Emily - the parson's daughter, who, were she alive today, would be seen as so insular - was the most fearless warrior in delving into the inner life and unashamedly created in her characters such raw passion that she was prepared to expose every taboo. The greater part of Emily's short life was lived in her own head. To me, she is the most fascinating of all the Bronte sisters and ought to be listed among the greatest spiritual seekers of all time. She was utterly Pagan - her poetry attests to that - and, like Cathy in the novel, she simply could not live without the breath of freedom of the Moors and Nature.

"Wuthering Heights", as this latest adaptation shows, is anything but a simple love story. It is about passion and the soul; the fine line between heaven and hell, and living life on the edge, where convention is simply a prison....and begs the questions, "What is it to be truly alive?" and, "What is real goodness, and what is evil?"

Thank you to the casting department, the screenplay and script writers and to the great actors for such a brilliant presentation of the book!!

Saturday, 29 August 2009

The Last Sound

What will be the last sound at the end of the world? Will there be applause, like at the end of a marvellous show, when the curtain comes down and you don't want it to end but go home feeling better for having been there? Will it be someone quietly sobbing, or screams of despair? Will it be birdsong or gunfire; will it be that horrific explosion of a nuclear bomb that was so propagated in the 70s and early 80s? Or will it be laughter? I think the last sound will be either a little bird singing or someone laughing happily.

I hope it will be laughter, because sometimes it seems that laughter brings more genuine tears to the eyes than mountains of grief. It's beautiful that laughter causes us to cry in the same way as sadness does, but sadness leaves one feeling drained and exhausted, when laughter beyond control leaves one feeling equally exhausted but thoroughly alive. It's interesting that when we laugh, we are totally children again. We can't control ourselves; we can't pretend to be serious and grown-up. We just our native state of bliss and harmony. No one ever killed anyone while he was laughing with joy. No one ever caused a war when he was happily laughing.

Maybe the first sound we make on earth is that of a baby cry....I hope to goodness that the last sound we make is of sincere and heartfelt laughter.

Here's a great comic who makes me laugh a lot!

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Writing What You Know

An interviewer on a radio programme once asked a writer how she reconciled the maxim "write what you know", with all the horror described in her novels and which she clearly hadn't personally experienced. She replied that she took her own experiences which inspired emotion, magnified the emotion slightly and put it into whatever situation her novel required. I thought that was rather wonderful!
Basically, no matter what the external events, humans run the same gamut of emotions so, perhaps, every novel is to some extent autobiographical of the writers' experience and all humanity's experience.
I would like to include some excerpts from my novels, over the next couple of days, beginning with "The Counting House."
This is autobiographical only in as much as it tries to describe the emotions, fears, joys, anger and love of a child, which I believe are common to everyone's childhood. I have often felt that children, struggling into roles allotted to them by society, go through so much angst because they have not yet learned to voice or understand their deepest feelings and there is often no outlet for them to express these emotions. So often, confined by the mores of the family or school or society, children are compelled to hide their anger, their fears and their love. How many of us grow to adulthood with the unhappy, unexpressed child still lost somewhere inside and acting out childhood fears and anger in grown up bodies.

Georgie, the central character of "The Counting House", thinks in black and white when the novel begins. Everything is good or evil, heroic or weak, brave or cowardly. She feels terrible guilt for having 'stolen', from a cemetery lodge, a candlestick which she believes has led to her being cursed by the devil and condemned by God, When tragedy strikes the family that evening, she believes she is to blame and embarks on a bizarre quest to appease God and rid herself of the devil. As the book progresses she gradually comes to understand the 'shades of grey' in defining the nature of good, evil and accident.

This excerpt from the beginning of the third chapter, describes her fear not only of retribution from God, but also of her terrifying teacher, Miss Keppel:

"I am the Lord thy God who brought thee out of the land of Egypt and out of the house of bondage.”
While the boys made Plasticine models with plastic knives on small square boards, we sat like ladies-in-waiting around Miss Keppel’s desk, clicking our needles and quietly chanting the steady rhythm,
“In, wrap it round, pull it through, slip it off. In, wrap it round, pull it through slip it off.”
Miss Keppel moved among us uttering words of wisdom, “The devil finds work for idle hands. Always keep your hands and your minds busy!”
Her huge nostrils quivered as she surveyed the class, “Gerard Taylor, what is the first commandment?”
He answered without hesitation, “Thou shalt not have strange gods before me.”
“Go on,” she said.
We carried on knitting, “In, wrap it round, pull it through slip it off, in, wrap it round, pull it through, slip it off.”
“Nor any fish or,” he looked down and stuck his thumb into the squashy pink snail, “bird or graven image or any insect or anything.”
Miss Keppel’s great nose came down above him until his neck shrank into his shoulders. A swift hand clipped the top of his head, “For I, the Lord am a jealous God and I punish the father’s guilt in his sons!”
She spun around like a whirlwind, “Catherine Gould, the second commandment?”
“Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.”
“In, wrap it round, pull it through, slip it off. In, wrap it round, pull it through, slip it off,” faster and faster, building up speed like a train.
I said the words but my hands were out of time. I said, ‘Slip it off,’ when I was wrapping it round and I knitted a hole where there should have been wool. Catherine Gould’s scarf grew longer and longer in a rainbow of bright colours. I wriggled the wool through my fingers, tying the loose ends in knots on the needles. The two rows that Miss Keppel had knitted to start me off grew greyer and greyer but the scarf never grew any longer.
Miss Keppel moved on, calling names at random, “Michael Donnelly, the fifth commandment.”
This week she was bound to come to me; I guessed that she would reach me with the seventh. She always omitted the sixth and the ninth and Gerard Taylor said they were rude. I looked them up in the Bible.
“Jessica,” I said, “what’s adultery?”
“Being cheeky to grown ups.”
“That’s not rude.”
“Being rude to grown ups then.”
Miss Keppel’s shoes squeaked over the wooden floor and her flowing skirt made a breeze as she passed. My fingers were damp and slipped over the huge plastic needles. I gathered the grubby grey wool on my lap and buried the scarf in my hands.
“Georgina Meadows, the seventh commandment?”
I felt the blood rush out of my face and my hand began to shake. I opened my mouth but no words would come.
“The seventh commandment, Georgina?”
She was standing in front of me, her long bony fingers entwined before my eyes. Her knuckles were red and inflamed and brown spots covered the skin.
I screwed the wool into a ball, “Thou shalt not steal.”
One by one her fingers untwined and stretched themselves like an eagle about to swoop on its prey. Her hand was cold when her skin touched mine, pulling the woollen ball from my knee. When she lifted it up her nostrils flared and her thin lips sank into her mouth.
“What,” she said, pausing between each word, “is this?”
I didn’t know if she wanted an answer so I bent down and pulled up my socks.
“Please may I do Plasticine next week?”
“Plasticine?” the word burst out like an oath.
“I can’t knit. My Mum can’t knit either. None of us knits in our family.”
Her dull eyes widened and her lips disappeared. She took the end of a thread in her finger tips as though it were an insect she could hardly bear to hold and with one sudden movement of her wrist, unravelled the whole creation and dropped it in a heap on my knee.
“You can’t knit? Then it’s time you learned. You’ll stay in at playtime this afternoon and every afternoon until you can"

Saturday, 15 August 2009

This beautiful poem by Charles Tennyson Turner, the younger (and largely overlooked) brother of the more famous Tennyson, was one of the first poems I learned as a child. It delights me today as much as it delighted me then, and sometimes when I have seen children scouring maps and globes, it comes to mind again. It's very lovely and I added the photo of Temple Newsam for no other reason than I happen to like it!:

When Letty had scarce pass'd her third glad year,
And her young, artless words began to flow,
One day we gave the child a colour'd sphere
Of the wide earth, that she might mark and know,
By tint and outline, all its sea and land.
She patted all the world; old empires peep'd
Between her baby fingers; her soft hand
Was welcome at all frontiers. How she leap'd,
And laugh'd and prattled in her world-wide bliss!
But when we turn'd her sweet unlearned eye
On our own isle, she rais'd a joyous cry,
"Oh! yes, I see it! Letty's home is there!"
And, while she hid all England with a kiss,
Bright over Europe fell her golden hair!

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

The Glorious Twelfth

For some strange reason they call the start of the grouse shooting season (today) 'the glorious twelfth.' What can they possibly find glorious about murdering living creatures for sport? The mind of a person who takes pleasure in causing the death of an innocent creature must be very dark indeed. I believe that all life is an emanation of the One Life; how then can someone kill a life without killing part of his own life?

On the theme of birds, here Sri Chinmoy's beautiful poem, "Soul Bird"
O world-ignorance,
You have shackled my feet,
I am free.

You have chained my hands,
I am free.

You have enslaved my body,
I am free.

I am free because I am not of the body.
I am free because I am not the body,
I am free because I am the soul-bird
That flies in Infinity- Sky.
I am the soul-child that dreams
On the Lap of the immortal King Supreme.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Air Brushed

Every year, during the 'silly season' - which is really less silly than most of the rest of the year - while politicians happily go on holiday and newsmen can only follow real stories instead of what the politicians want us to believe, we return to the question of whether skinny models cause anorexia in young girls, and how we are swayed by media photos and air-brushed adverts into thinking we're all too plain, too short, too rounded, too old, too much ourselves to be among the beautiful people.

But really we all know it doesn't matter. We think it matters but we know it doesn't really. More significant, and never mentioned, than the superficial appearance is the idea that everyone else's life is more fascinating, more brilliant, more fabulous than our own. Other people's lives, portrayed in films and fairy tales, are filled with adventure and excitement, with glamour or tragedy. In films they feel what we feel but have the background in which to express those depths of emotion. When they're joyful, they don't just leap for joy as we do, they have orchestras playing the right music; they have perfect Nature behind them; they move in slow-motion and they capture for a few seconds moments that live with us for a life time...air-brushed out. When they're sad, their noses don't run, they don't snuffle off somewhere or have a headache from crying....they weep buckets, beautifully (the runny nose air-brushed out!) and their grief is somehow superior to ours. The lives of others are tragic and joyful and beautiful and magical....and we live ours.

But the stuff of dreams, the stuff of symphonies and ballets and operas and great art, is only a presentation of what we all feel, too. Our joys, our tragedies, our daily overcoming of difficulties is as dramatic as the most poignant Shakespearean drama. That's why I believe that great music, powerful words, art and magnificent cinematography honours all of us. We know when we feel deeply that the depths of our feelings can only be expressed in magnificent themes.

it is an insult to humanity to have so many so-called reality TV shows of people snuffling about nothing, or showing people who feel deeply about something sobbing and the camera holds the pose for too long. In order to express ourselves in all our grandeur, we need to acknowledge that our own emotions are enormous and enormously powerful, and we need great art to help us express the depths of it. When we hear the beauty of Callas singing, or bathe in the wonder of Delaroche's paintings, or throw ourselves into Tennyson, Eliot, Brooke or Shakespeare, we're not air-brushed, we're real, but the outcome expressed in the works of art is the air-brushed version; the refinement of the depths of how magnificent we all are.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

The War To End Wars

August 4th 1914 was a Bank Holiday in England - unlike 2009 it was a very warm summer and people had crowded to the beaches to enjoy the sunshine when the news came through that Britain had entered the war. You would think such news would lead to a sombre feeling but, after the initial shock, it seems a kind of euphoria erupted. After decades of sabre-rattling and propaganda, there was finally the chance for some action! All kinds of young men who lived humdrum lives could march off to see the world and return as heroes. Their cause was noble - the war to end wars - and they would all be home by Christmas.
Those who rushed to enlist were hastily supplied with uniforms and guns. Mothers, wives, sisters, fathers, younger siblings were so proud to see them march through the streets. Whole workforces enlisted. Little towns across the country saw their young men march off in step and they hailed their courage, as though it was all a great game.
Then, gradually, the telegrams trickled in until hardly a family in Europe had not suffered a bereavement. How quickly that cheering turned to mourning, and that great dream of seeing the world turned to being knee-deep in mud in the trenches...and the war went on and on and on.
Almost a hundred years since the outbreak of the war to end wars, we still see planes bringing home the coffins, draped in the Union Jack, and people standing silently in the streets as yet another and another and another young man has his life cut short in the name of a righteous cause. There has even been, recently, such a call to support what the soldiers are doing, that there have been more military parades through the streets. The courage of those young men in not in question, nor is the grief of their families. What is questionable is the way that the same politicians, safe in their council chambers, continue to send out messages of another 'war to end wars'. How long will it be before we understand that no war will end wars...wars only end lives.

The wonderful Eric Bogle song, "The Green Fields of France" is so moving and beautiful. Having rested by the gravestone of a soldier, Willie McBride, in a French cemetery, and wondering about his life, the songwriter concludes:
And I can't help but wonder, now Willie McBride,
Do all those who lie here know why they died?
Did you really believe them when they told you "The Cause?"
Did you really believe that this war would end wars?
Well the suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the shame
The killing, the dying, it was all done in vain,
For Willie McBride, it all happened again,
And again, and again, and again, and again.

Friday, 31 July 2009

Love & Fear

A story is told of a man who meets a sage on a hillside overlooking a town. Below them, the man sees a dark figure approaching the gates of the town, and the sage says, "That is Plague. He is going to carry off twenty people."
Some time later, the man hears a report that over five hundred people have died so he returns to the sage and says,
"Five hundred people died yet you said Plague would only kill twenty."
"He did," replied the sage. "Fear killed the rest."

Fear is surely one of the most malignant emotions. Tyrants rule by fear, and governments control by creating fear and promising to protect the people from whatever threat they themselves have created. Wars are caused and promoted through fear, and it is through fear that genocides and other such atrocities are allowed to happen. It is fear that leads to vicious competition between people; and fear that leads people to denigrate others. Many fears are concealed beneath masks of self-righteousness: "I fear that if I listen to you, my own faith will be shaken - therefore your religion is to be condemned" or, "I fear that if I accept how you live, my own certainties will not be so secure - therefore I condemn you lifestyle."

The opposite of fear is love. "Perfect love casteth out fear..." Fearless people do not interfere in the lives of others because there is no perceived threat from others. Fearless people have no need to condemn, to make wrong or to attack. Therefore it stands to reason that any system which condemns individuals or groups; any faith which proclaims itself to be the only faith; any individual who feels a need to criticise others (and I am not speaking of cases where it is necessary to stand up for freedom or to protect the vulnerable) is acting out of fear. Fear can only be disarmed by trust and love.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Silly Little Man

It is interesting that a tree standing still and doing nothing other than being a tree, can have roots so deep that it can cause a tower to collapse or a house to fall.
It's interesting that even in the most soul-less cities, concreted over or covered in paving stones, tiny shoots creep out between the flags and moss grows on damp walls.
It's interesting that in no time at all, deserted and derelict buildings are soon crawling with life, with greenery and shrubs that no one remembers planting.
There are still fathoms of oceans that no one has ever seen, and mountain ranges on sea beds, that no one has ever climbed. Creatures live there that are not recorded or logged in any book, and something as small as a tiny bacterium can wipe out whole populations.
And little Man has the arrogance to believe that his coming and going and getting on with his life can disrupt the whole cycle of Nature, bring about climate change or global warming...Silly little man.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Damascus Road

Wouldn't it be wonderful to have one Damascus Road experience where everything suddenly was clear in a blinding flash of light? Life changed in an instant, and Enlightenment dawning in the blink of a blinded eye!

In my experience, it doesn't happen like that. The most inspiring ones, are those for whom the journey to awareness has been quite a trek. Gathering wisdom here and there, developing their own understanding and, more importantly, stripping away the layer upon layer of misguided beliefs until they reach a place where they are truly themselves, fresh from their Divine Essence, and can simply be.

Equally interesting is that the phrase, "Damascus Road experience" is based on someone - Paul - whose life apparently changed in a flash and whose ardent conversion led him to re-write the Gospel of Jesus and make it 'according to Paul'. Jesus Himself had been thirty years on earth (pretty old in those days!) before His 'ministry' began, and even during that ministry He seemed to develop His message, to the point of asking His followers, "Who do people say that I am?"

Those who change in a flash tend to be fire-brands and rather oppressive in their certainty of what is right or wrong, what is so or not so. Though there are surely some people for whom life-changing moments happen in a flash, I have little faith in instant conversions. Most truly edifying 'instant conversions' are, in reality, the result of years of learning, wondering, questioning and seeking. They don't blaze like fireworks making an impression, but rather simmer and create a steady flame growing ever lighter and, when they reach their potential, they have no zealous desire to convert the rest of the world to their thinking because they appreciate that everyone else is equally capable of making the same journey at their own pace.

Damascus Road experiences would make life so much easier for all of us but, for the most part, it's a steady pace up a steep hill, and we might as well enjoy the lovely scenery...And something lovely to hear en route is Charles Trenet's La Mer:

Friday, 10 July 2009

Nobility and Human Insanity

Alone in a field near the Sphinx Gate at Temple Newsam, a black bull sits in all his magnificent glory. He is a huge, noble creature who contentedly looks at the passers-by who look at him through the railings, and he seems to communicate a stately wisdom of such serenity. Sometimes he lies down, oblivious of who is looking at him, or simply sits, flicking the occasional fly from his back. Looking at such splendour - the strength of sinew and bone, the certain look in his eyes and the serenity of his view of the world - one feels incredibly blessed to be in the presence of such, to quote Whitman again, 'self-contained' power. Further along, the supercilious goats sit with their smiling faces and beautiful hair, knowing they are such perfectly formed creatures, while a little kid skips about in infant radiance, and lambs and sheep come to the fence to greet their two-footed visitors. All the while the bull, like the goats, sits in his own glory and truly, one stands in awe before such a majestic creature.

Then...on the TV news comes the story of the man tragically killed by the bull in Pamplona, followed by footage of the bull run. What kind of madness possesses apparently civilized people to pit their strength against that of innocent but far mightier than we are, creatures? What kind of insanity is it to goad and humiliate such noble animals, to poke them with sticks, create such chaos around them, to unbalance and to confuse them until their only response is self-defence? There are horrendous images of bulls running into the sea elsewhere, and of some insane people thinking there is something to be gained from taking on a creature that has no desire to fight but is many times more powerful than a man. There are images of drugged bulls with swords in their beautiful backs and matadors claiming some kind of glory from fighting with an intoxicated animal, and bringing home his ears and tail as trophies. There are images, too, of goats and donkeys being pushed out of church towers in some so-called religious ceremony....And, much as my heart goes out to the family of the man who was killed by the bull, what can you expect? Stick your fingers into a fire and you get burned - there's no courage in it, no macho points to be earned, just sheer stupidity.

For heaven's sake, grow up and let us learn to become as stately as the noble animals!! Leave the bulls and goats and all the other creatures alone!!

And, on a similar line, there is another message in the news today about the penalties of goading innocent creatures. Taunted for long enough, any creature will snap and the consequences are always horrendous.

(If you can bear to open the following link, please be warned it is very distressing:

Saturday, 4 July 2009

John Henry Newman

One of the most beautiful prayers I ever read in my youth was John Henry Newman's:

Lord Jesus, help me spread Your fragrance everywhere I go. Flood my soul with Your Spirit and Life. Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly that all my life may only be a radiance of Yours.

Shine through me and be so in me that everyone I come in contact with may feel Your presence in my heart. Let them look up and see no longer me but only Jesus! Stay with me and then I shall begin to shine as You shine, so to shine as to be the light to others. The light, O Jesus, will be all from You; none of it will be mine. It will be You shining on others through me.
Let me thus praise You in the way You love best, by shining on those around me. Let me preach You without preaching-not by my words but the catching force, the sympathetic influence of what I do, the evident fullness of the love my heart bears for You.

The beauty of that message is so profound and, though the understanding of it changes over time, it is the same message that emanates from every faith or spirituality - the message of knowing we are all more than our outward appearance; more than flesh and bone, and that the love that flows through us is the reality of who we are, and in that love we are all One.

A man who could write with such beautiful understanding; a man who walked his spiritual path sincerely (and took the major step of conversion to a different faith - a step which is always a major step for any person, regardless of the our views of the direction they choose to take), is surely a man worthy of great respect.

Isn't it, therefore, a sacrilege to deny that man one of his last requests? He requested that he be buried with his dear friend Ambrose St. John and that request was honoured until some ignoble minds decided that such a move might give rise to suspicions about his relationship with his friend. What kinds of suspicions are these? To the pure everything is pure. To those who read of the man's life and spiritual journey, everything is beautiful - whether or not we would take the same course. His relationships are clearly built from love and his sexuality is not our business. Love is what is important to this man. How he chose to express that love is irrelevant.

From what dark minds does impurity emanate? The dark minds that claim a soul (or a corpse) and readjust it, manipulate it to fit their view of what is or isn't alright? This, coming from the same institution that has turned a blind eye to all kinds of ugliness (paedophiles, abusers of children, the degradation of women, the missionary zeal that trampled over the sacredness of ancient cultures) is one more nail in the coffin of such a claustrophobic and controlling mind-set.

I don't suppose John Newman has any desire to be canonized. After all, canonization means quite simply giving someone the stamp of approval so other people can imitate their virtues. Having studied saints for more than 30 years and loving so many of them, I have to say that a large number of them are totally unworthy of imitation - their zeal for their beliefs is merely pandering to their ego and, without a doubt, if Jesus were incarnated today, His anger at the way in which 'His Father's house' has been turned into a den of thieves and whited-sepulchres!

Monday, 29 June 2009

All The Birds of....

Ah! At last, after some years of endless rain, we have summer and on a hot June day, Edward Thomas's beautiful "Adelstrop" came to mind. It seemed this morning and this evening that 'all the birds of" Yorkshire sang and every flower that ever grew in England flourished today! The swans and ducks were so happily floating through the golden light over the lake at Temple Newsam! How beautiful is the sunshine and the summer!

Yes, I remember Adlestrop –
The name because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontendly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop – only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Glastonbury and "Bread & Fishes"

As people have done for centuries for different reasons, crowds are gathered at Glastonbury this weekend. I hope they have a brilliant time and that, for once, the rain stays away....though there seems to be something cathartic about wallowing in mud!

The Leeds Festival used to take place at Temple Newsam but some people complained about the bother it caused and it was moved. Personally, though I never attended the festival (and live close enough to be disrupted in a minor way by the crowds and the noise) I loved seeing the young people making there way there. I didn't mind queuing up for a long time behind mud-soaked people in shorts and Wellington boots (strange attire) in the supermarket as they filled their trolleys with cans. It had a summer feel about it and - in spite of what was reported in the Press - all the people I saw coming or going to the Festival, were so friendly and free. It had the feel of Medieval pilgrimages, of 60s flower people, of youth and life about it. Yes, the park was often a mess the next day. Yes, some people had caused trouble, but out of the thousands who were there, it can only have been a minority. It was just lovely seeing people gathering to enjoy themselves.

The other day, walking through the beauty of summer sunshine to the 'Little Temple' at Temple Newsam, I met a family: one of the most beautiful little children I have ever seen was with her parents. We spoke for only a few moments and they said it was their anniversary and asked me to take a photo. I did, we exchanged pleasantries and I walked on....but walked on feeling happier for that brief encounter. It so reminded me, on such a lovely day, of that wonderful song: "Bread and Fishes", which recalls a meeting with the Mystical Family on their way to Glastonbury. I don't know those people's names. They don't know mine. "Our names they mean nothing, they change throughout time...." but I am so glad I met them the other day. In other versions of this song, the words are different, "my name it is Joseph, this is Mary my wife, and this is our young son who brightens our life..." It doesn't really matter, I think, how we interpret it. It's about pilgrims and travellers and what it means to be alive.

Here is a really beautiful version of "Bread & Fishes" (which goes here by a different name: "Wind the Willows") by Blackmore's Night

Sunday, 21 June 2009

A Little Learning Is a Dangerous Thing...Suddenly Everyone Can Be a Guru!

As a teenager I briefly attended a yoga class. I had read that yoga was a beautiful and ancient art but my experience was that it was anything but beautiful and the only ancient thing about that particular class was the elderly woman who ran it who, in the middle of demonstrating a movement (I forget the name of it but it consisted on kneeling down on all fours and raising one leg like a dog relieving himself at a lamp post!) regaled everyone with long stories of her son's divorce, her neighbour's hysterectomy and how she had healed herself through yoga of all kinds of illnesses that I had never heard of. I gave up on yoga within a couple of weeks.

Some years later I signed up for a Tai Chi class. I should have seen the warning signals when the introduction involved paying the full amount for something like 10 lessons before anything was taught or shown. It took a long time for everyone to sign in and pay all this money, but eventually the couple who were running the class said, "Now we will show you what you will be able to achieve after 10 weeks..." We watched in eager anticipation of something amazing but the woman simply moved her arms and legs in one simple movement that we could all already do. I stayed for the two hour class, listened to a whole load of hogwash, and, having wasted the money, never returned.

Now, of course, I know better: Tai Chi and Yoga are amazing spiritual disciplines and arts coming from ancient traditions of wisdom and truth but they are much misunderstood and abused.

Since I only recently managed to gain access to YouTube, thanks to a new computer, it has opened up a whole new world but also an old world in a new form. There are a zillion 'guided meditation' videos. It seems like everyone is suddenly an expert of the 'law of attraction' on 'meditation' on angels and spiritual truths. Yes, indeed, the truth of each person is to be respected but the number of people 'guiding' others in their own brand of meditation is staggering. Some are highly amusing: the high pitched voice with a jarring accent that says in the tone of a concentration camp commandant, "Now listen only to my voice and relax. Relax. Relax..."; or the numerous soporific voices that drone on and on about breathing deeply...relax, relax, relax...Or there are a few that become quite impassioned about meeting your imaginary lover, or entering mystical caves, or meeting your spirit guide on a beach, or feeling the ocean, seeing angels....Suddenly onto the bandwagon jumps everyone with a little learning and whole load of nothing to say. And in the middle of all of this there are some really true voices: most of them seem to come from India and are people who are clearly have something to say, so they say very little and what they do say is not the anaesthesia or escapism of so much mush. Crikey! After listening to some of the nonsense spouted today, it was utterly refreshing to have a phone call from a dear friend who brought that stuff down to earth with a most earthy statement that, "The cat threw up in the toaster!" I wonder if the cat had been suffering from a surfeit of that saccharine nonsense that some people call meditation.

It seems in every walk of life, 'a little learning is a dangerous thing...' Dangerous only because it is simply an escape. Chakras, energy flow, meditation, recognizing our reality and true spirituality are vital but, no matter how much I have read about them, I am so aware that I know so little about them. People who thoroughly understand these things, shine out on YouTube and in their writings - they are people who have studied deeply, meditated deeply, have been through all kinds of depths of understanding and they have huge lessons to teach us. Yes, the information is accessible now to us all and that is brilliant, but please, any Tom, Dick or Harry who has read one book or spent a few minutes in silence or saying a Mantra, don't suddenly think you have a duty to guide the rest of us. It rather reminds me of some of the TV adverts for shampoo or moisturizer or certain foods where they say something like, "The only product to contain Z-P300!" or "Rich in Glycopsychoglutinousmaximus" and they think people are so stupid that we all suddenly realize that all that has been lacking in our lives is some fictitious chemical!

Tuesday, 16 June 2009


Tonight, while a friend and I were sitting outdoors and talking till long after the sun went down, a male blackbird hopped across the lawn. He was such a fine fellow! So strong and noble looking with his beautiful yellow beak, and, thinking that the song of blackbirds is one of the most beautiful sounds in all of Nature, some lines from Keats' "Ode to a Nightingale" came to mind:

Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird !
No hungry generations tread thee down ;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days by emperor and clown :
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
She stood in tears amid the alien corn ;
The same that oft-times hath
Charm'd magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.

The birdsong this evening was exquisite! Beautiful, isn't it, how governments come and go, hours of hot air, lies and truths are poured from the mouths of politicians and statesmen and preachers while the birds go on singing the same song, the flowers go on exuding the same scents, the same moon waxes and wanes, the same sun rises and sets throughout the ages, and these things of timeless beauty illustrate the foolishness of listening to any voices that speak of control or of our dependence on some other human power to show us what life means. Comparing the song of the blackbird to the nonsensical lies spouted in government buildings across the world is quite amusing. Where does the real Truth lie and who is really wise? I'd rather be 'away with the fairies' - or birds - any day, than be enchained by the voice that dominates and speaks of doom. Perhaps 'cloud cuckoo land' is more sensible and eternal than all the meaningless routine of living according to the race-mind notion that speaks of regimentation, of being ruled and crushed by financial constraints...The birds aren't controlled by markets and we are, to paraphrase Jesus and all the great spiritual teachers, worth as much as 'hundreds of sparrows.'

Friday, 12 June 2009


This, from my youth, was my own experience of what C. Day Lewis far more brilliantly expressed. It's simply called "Photograph":

Camera clicking children into history.
He sits beside me, laughing on the lawn.
Bathing in his shadow,
Till I thought my heart would burst,
Beating in my breast -
"Smile please!"
So close!
Click, click,
Then gone.

Fingering the photograph this morning,
I kissed the little boy with static smile,
Still unaware the child
Who sits beside him,
Spent half her lifetime crying for his love.
I'm smiling now.
Time heals.
Tick, tock,
You're gone.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

C. Day Lewis

Cecil Day Lewis - what a brilliant poet! - captures so perfectly the sense of the moment and the transience of 'special' moments. His poetry has such a transparent feel about it: that sense of trying to capture something that cannot be captured - like the moment he realized the child was no longer dependent upon him in: "Walk Away" or that sense of tryng to recapture and hold something from childhood that cannot be captured. His poems rather remind me of a quotation (from whom, I know not!): "The bird of Paradise alights only on the hand thatdoes not grasp." So many of Lewis' poems seem to be about ephemeral, almost mystical, characters making their exits 'stage left' as though we come upon him at a moment in a play, and have missed the previous scenes and only see his response to them. At the same time, he writes so perfectly of feelings that are so familiar to all of us. I trust it doesn't infringe copyright to include two of my favourite poems here: Firstly: "The Album" (and the photo of the empty bench at Temple Newsam seems somehow to fit this!)

I see you, a child
In a garden sheltered for buds and playtime,
Listening as if beguiled
By a fancy beyond your years and the flowering maytime.
The print is faded: soon there will be
No trace of that pose enthralling,
Nor visible echo of my voice distantly calling
‘Wait! Wait for me!’

Then I turn the page
To a girl who stands like a questioning iris
By the waterside, at an age
That asks every mirror to tell what the heart’s desire is.
The answer she finds in that oracle stream
Only time could affirm or disprove,
Yet I wish I was there to venture a warning, ‘Love
Is not what you dream.’

Next, you appear
As if garlands of wild felicity crowned you –
Courted, caressed, you wear
Like immortelles the lovers and friends around you.
‘They will not last you, rain or shine,
They are but straws and shadows,’
I cry: ‘Give not to those charming desperadoes
What was made to be mine.’

One picture is missing –
The last. It would show me a tree stripped bare
By intemperate gales, her amazing
Noonday of blossom spoilt which promised so fair.
Yet scanning those scenes at your heyday taken,
I tremble, as one who must view
In the crystal a doom he could never deflect- yes, I too
Am fruitlessly shaken.

I close the book;
But the past slides out its leaves to haunt me
And it seems, wherever I look,
Phantoms of irreclaimable happiness taunt me.
Then I see her, petalled in new-blown hours,
Beside me – ‘All you love most there
Has blossomed again,’ she murmurs, ‘all that you missed there
Has grown to be yours.’

And "Walking Away"

It is eighteen years ago, almost to the day –
A sunny day with leaves just turning,
The touch-lines new-ruled – since I watched you play
Your first game of football, then, like a satellite
Wrenched from its orbit, go drifting away
Behind a scatter of boys. I can see
You walking away from me towards the school
With the pathos of a half-fledged thing set free
Into a wilderness, the gait of one
Who finds no path where the path should be.

That hesitant figure, eddying away
Like a winged seed loosened from its parent stem,
Has something I never quite grasp to convey
About nature’s give-and-take – the small, the scorching
Ordeals which fire one’s irresolute clay.
I have had worse partings, but none that so
Gnaws at my mind still. Perhaps it is roughly
Saying what God alone could perfectly show –
How selfhood begins with a walking away,
And love is proved in the letting go.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Flaming June

This is the finest time of year in England! For all our damp climate and rainy times and unpredictable weather, when the sky is changing through various shades of blue between nine and ten-thirty at night, there is a stirring about the whole of Nature coming alive again. The herbs and plants flousish, the trees are suddenly laden with foliage and the whole world seems new again! The moment the sun comes out in England, everyone dashes outdoors. Office workers eat their lunch on the bits of grass or benches in the city; hospital patients are wheeled outside; we rush towards it and cling to it, like every summer might not come again for many years...and oh! How the 'mad dogs and English men' adore 'the midday sun!' James Russell Lowell's lovely poem captures it perfectly, alongside pre-Raphaelite Leighton's painting of 'Flaming June'/

And what so rare a day is June!
Then, if ever, come perfect days;
Then Heaven tries earth if it be in tune,
And over it softly her warm ear lays;
Whether we look, or whether we listen,
We hear life murmur, or see it glisten;
Every clod feels a stir of might,
An instinct within it that reaches and towers,
And, groping blindly above it for light,
Climbs to a soul in grass and flowers;
The flush of life may well be seen
Thrilling back over hills and valleys;
The cowslip startles in meadows green,
The buttercup catches the sun in its chalice,
And there's never a leaf nor a blade too mean
To be some happy creature's palace;
The little bird sits at his door in the sun,
Atilt like a blossom among the leaves,
And lets his illumined being o'errun
With the deluge of summer it receives;
His mate feels the eggs beneath her wings,
And the heart in her dumb breast flutters and sings;
He sings to the wide world, and she to her nest,-
In the nice ear of Nature which song is the best?

Friday, 29 May 2009

The Road Through The Woods

There are many paths through the woods at Temple Newsam (where I took this photo yesterday) and though they remain open, I am often reminded of this poem by Rudyard Kipling when I walk there.
Sometimes I fancy you can still hear the 'swish of a skirt in the dew' and the steady canter of horses of bygone ages. Perhaps the footsteps of centuries remain absorbed in the earth and the beautiful trees. It's a lovely poem:

They shut the road through the woods
Seventy years ago.
Weather and rain have undone it again,
And now you would never know
There was once a road through the woods
Before they planted the trees.
It is underneath the coppice and heath
And the thin anemones.
Only the keeper sees
That, where the ring-dove broods,
And the badgers roll at ease,
There was once a road through the woods.

Yet, if you enter the woods
Of a summer evening late,
When the night-air cools on the trout-ringed pools
Where the otter whistles his mate,
(They fear not men in the woods,
Because the see so few)
You will hear the beat of a horse’s feet,
And the swish of a skirt in the dew,
Steadily cantering through
The misty solitudes,
As though they perfectly knew
The old lost road through the woods. . . .
But there is no road through the woods.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009


Tennyson is, to my mind, one of the greatest poets - if not the greatest poet - England has ever had! What a fascinating character - so loved by Queen Victoria, to whom he was a neighbour on the Isle of Wight (his home, Farringford, now a hotel, not far from beautiful Osborne House). His poetry speaks of enchantment and of that idyll of England: the age of Arthur captured at the same time by the Pre-Raphaelite artists. But it is more than an escape into some Victorian folly or a Golden Age that never was. It speaks directly to that dream within us all - the dream of our own real reality of nobility and all that is finest in humanity.

Tennyson lived with a horror of mental illness, which had sorely affected his family, and perhaps he resonated with Queen Victoria in the sense of sorrow that they both shared deeply. It's interesting that when one of his books received damning responses from the critics, he didn't publish again for 10 years. When dear, beautiful Prince Albert passed on, Queen Victoria barely emerged from her isolation for almost a decade. Tennyson met Queen Victoria and there was an immediate rapport. Oh! To have been a fly on the wall in that meeting! I think for all of Tennyson's wonderful poems, there is a short message in this quotation, which, though written unpoetically, is beautiful....

"No man ever got very high by pulling other people down. The intelligent merchant does not knock his competitors. The sensible worker does not work those who work with him. Don't knock your friends. Don't knock your enemies. Don't knock yourself"

Monday, 25 May 2009

"Brother Sun & Sister Moon"

I was 17 when I first saw "Brother Sun & Sister Moon" and it moved me more than anything I had ever seen before or have seen since. I taped it with an ordinary old fashioned (now) cassette player pressed up the TV and over and over again I played the tape of this particular scene that said everything I wanted to say. Time and time again throughout the past 3 decades I have returned to that old cassette and still, after all this time, it raises the same feelings of innocence, transparency, the real beauty of the soul, within me. I spoke of it to teachers who said it 'merely Hollywood' and to lecturers (I studied theology) and they smiled in a kindly but not really helpful way.

"If the purpose of life if this loveless toil we fill our days with, then it's not for me. There must be something better. There has to be. Man is a spirit...he has a soul and that is what I want to recapture: my soul!"

Some of the theologians argued that man isn't spirit; and some of the priests with whom I spoke said, "It's just an ideal." It left me wondering sometimes, why did people preach one thing, but then when you believe it, tell you it can't be done or it's just an ideal or a dream and 'you have to be practical' ?

Well in the 30 years since first seeing it, my belief in it has never gone away. Sometimes it has been dimmed or hidden or obscured and sometimes I have almost forgotten it, but it's still there like a dearest friend. Theologians argue about many things that seem rather pointless. Many of them are bound by dogmas and doctrines. Nowadays, I don't believe in the necessity of being a beggar or that Christ was a beggar, except in the spiritual sense that everything we have is freely given from the Creator and Source of life, who is willing to give freely as much as we are prepared to receive; but I believe in everything else in this beautiful extract and no argument in the world can change that. It just speaks directly to the heart and soul and I love it...hope you do too!

Saturday, 23 May 2009

At last - poetry!! And a little bit of 'Tsaritsa'

Thank goodness!! The BBC is launching a poetry season that actually sounds like real poetry! It is to include, I believe, Tennyson, Shakespeare, Donne and Milton - they're bringing out the 'big guns' again at last!!

May I recommend this programme and Griff Rhys Jones' wonderful presentation of it!! It includes some aspects of poetry that I think are not poetry at all, but regardless of that, his enthusiasm is so wonderful!

Apart from that, if you would like to hear and read a little of the words and music of 'Tsaritsa' - a musical based on the life of Empress Alexandra of Russia, please visit:

I hope you will enjoy it!