Walkabouts and wonders

"A life not examined is a life not lived" – Socrates

Category Archives: mini-walkabouts

An English garden in spring

Yes, it’s true. I have been around the world and been to so many places that have really stirred the soul. Now that the jet-lag is gone and the first few days chores are done, I can write about more of them. But, before that, here’s a glimpse of the specialness that emerges in an English spring.

First daffodils in my garden

First flowers of spring

In an English country garden

After all the fun in India, a little from my own garden.

Honestly - put the plant in the ground, water it, chuck on some manure - what's all the fuss about.....

Honestly – put the plant in the ground, water it, chuck on some manure – what’s all the fuss about?

Lollipop cool?

lollipopToday, I found myself standing on a London street asking myself,”suck or bite?” Now, there are many situations in which that can be quite an important issue – in my case, the circumstances also involved another question – “to Kojak or not to Kojak?” My female readers may not have got this yet, but most males of 40 years or more will have. They will know that I had just unwrapped a lollipop and was about to get assaulted by an overwhelming urge to act out the persona of Kojak, the telly detective of my youth.

Of course, the above sentence assumes an element of free will in the process. In fact ladies, free will doesn’t enter into it. Before I knew it, the swagger, the tilt of the head, lolly in the side of the mouth and the Lower East Side accent were lining up like enthusiastic puppies; it was all I could do not to growl,”Who loves ya, baby,” at the next young thing to move into my (narrowed, knowing) vision.

I don’t know if every other guy has a life like this, in which random associations can trigger off complete (temporary) changes in persona. But I suspect so – mainly from watching other guys walk out of movies like the Bourne Identity or Men in Black (in fact, pretty much any Wilbur Smith vehicle). “The difference between you and me? I make this shit look good” – probably the best line on fashion sense that I have ever heard.

Which brings me to the sight that greeted me when I arrived, on the Eastbound platform of the Central Line at Tottenham Court Road, still sucking on my much diminished lolly. At first, I didn’t quite get it, but then I realised that I was sharing the airspace of a male fashion statement– brush-back blonde hair, tweed jacket with patterned handkerchief, cravat, drain-pipe legs and high finish brown brogues. Actually, there wasn’t just one – he was just the most striking of the three. I must be getting old. Time was, I would have snorted with derision at such dandiness. Now, I could almost admire the lengths to which these guys had gone in the search for distinction.  Had I more initiative and courage, I would have taken a picture to share with you. Tant pis. You will just have to make do with this example of a rather cooler dude from elsewhere on the net –

Tweedguy from dailyfashionwriter.com

Tweedguy from dailyfashionwriter.com

But it does make you think about what is going on. I mean, what is the incentive? After a bit of thought, I found myself thinking that the first motivation is

To look good.

Then,

To feel good,

Then

To do good,

Then

To be good?

Because, at first, don’t we give a lot of attention to fitting in? That seems to alternate with wanting to feel good, but I suspect it all comes down to wanting to fit in, or out, but in some way, fit. In which the feelings are nearly always the gap between what we think we should be and what others suggest we are, neither being necessarily true.

But after a time, and I think the timing varies, doesn’t it, the focus can shift, partly or wholly to doing and being good which, I think, are the starting points of true and original living. After all, how can anything original come of imitation or the impermanent tides of feeling and emotion.

Of course, there is another question – what do I/you really mean by “good”?

And who does love yah, baby?

Telly Savalas as Kojak, circa 1974

Telly Savalas as Kojak, circa 1974

Around home

Today I woke to the latest in a series of dry and sunny days that we have had in the UK, after weeks of rain, snow, wind and rain, again. Finally, I had a chance for a walk in my local woods and fields, and the weather to do it in. Very few pics, but that is because I was trying to resist the camera in favour of the moments (see Cameradrama 2) of which I am pleased to say there were many.

Aroundhome1In a couple of weeks’ time, I shall be off on my grand tour around the world, so much of it so very different, but to this I will return – how fortunate am I?

Which brings me to something that I am curious about – in each of these shots that I preserved out of so many, why the roads or corridors or pathways that go off into the distance? Is it just me, or is this one of those archetypes of imagery that everyone is drawn to? Is it what is in the picture, or what lies as yet undiscovered, just beyond that gate, those trees, that corner?

 

Aroundhome2

 

 

 

Aroundhome4

Nature’s little Christmas offerings

Today, I got outside for the first time with a new camera – intent on enjoying the first really hard frost of an English winter. With all the moisture frozen out, the air was as clear of fog and haze as you ever get it – like the inside of a temple dome of sharp, clean blue.

Now normally, I might expect to continue in this vein – after years of close-in city living, the sense of the wide roundness of the earth and our smallness within it never ceases to get to me. But today, the camera took me to a different world of miniature magic. With apologies for some of the quality issues, here is a little of what I found –

Privet rebel

Privet rebel

Here was this small burst of growth in the middle of my neighbour’s carefully crafted hedge. It’s not that there isn’t something attractive in a well ordered garden, but surely this is what it is all about – the irrepressible and unstoppable urge for growth.

 

 

 

 

Meanwhile, just around the corner….

Wired

Wired

 

 

 

 

 

And, on a pathway nearby,

A starling's christmas dinner?

A starling’s christmas dinner?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What more can I say, except “Thank you”?

Questions of freedom

A couple of weeks ago, a small ceremony took place in a London square; a memorial was unveiled to a young Indian and Muslim princess, Noor Inayat Khan, who parachuted into Nazi-occupied France in World War II to act as a spy for the British. She was captured, tortured and then executed in a concentration camp – her last shouted word before the crash of the rifles, “Liberte”. Her memorial is a salutary reminder of the many individuals who have given their lives resisting the barbaric and fighting for freedom .

I was reminded again of this, when I stopped in the British Museum for a couple of hours between appointments in London. It is a place where I have often spent a fascinating hour or two, marvelling at the great works of past peoples and civilisations – Egypt, Assyria, Saxon England, the Ming dynasty China. This day, I went into the Ancient Greek galleries.

The total number of items on display isn’t actually that great, but it does include some remarkable pieces – statues that still carry a sense of reverence for the beauty and divinity of the human form as perceived in that time, more than 2,000 years ago. But the great majority of the displays come from one of the earliest and greatest single examples of ancient public art still to be seen in the world today; the Parthenon at Athens – only the temples and pyramids of Ancient Egypt, remain as visible in our modern times. These statues and relief carvings were created as part of a powerful and permanent reminder of the triumph of the free Greek states against the threat of conquest by the Empire of Persia, 2,400 years ago. And it was created by public agreement. What an exhilarating thing it must have been for the people of Athens to pass through the portals of a monument to their own beliefs and courage, built at their own hands.

        

But then, to bring everything completely up to date, as I left through the gates of the museum, a tall young man reached out to me in the evening gloom – he passed me a booklet entitled “Discover Islam”. Against a background of fear, suspicion and antagonism created by the last few years’ extremist behaviour, it described a faith that promotes peace, compassion and acquiescence to the will of a supreme creator.

From the time that the Parthenon was first conceived and no doubt before, individuals and nations have fought at different times for their freedom – often standing on opposing sides and frequently invoking the same ideas and the same gods as their authority against each other. Standing back and considering that history, I cannot help feeling that either, the human race is mad or, we need some fundamental new thinking about what freedom is and what it means. Freedom for whom? To do what? And at what cost? A freedom maintained by guns and fear, or a freedom used to self-satisfaction only – are these the ways of true freedom, or something lesser that masquerades as such, deceiving us as to our own higher nature?

Pret-a-tete

Sometimes, you have to wonder what is going on. The other day, I went into London to meet a man who might be a source of work. We’d met about four years previously, and I remembered liking and being impressed by Hassan – He was obviously comfortable with himself and had a professional business that he was proud of , but it didn’t seem to own him, the way businesses often do. Anyway, we agreed to meet, we exchanged a few ideas, told each other a couple of stories from recent doings, then with smiles and best wishes, we were off to lunches in different places.

Except of course, I discovered that my intended lunch-appointment would have to wait as he was feeling unwell and was heading home for the day. Which is how I came to walk  into Pret a Manger to get a humus salad and coffee and had one of those encounters which just might change everything. And yes, it was with a woman, and yes, she was attractive, but actually you should stop thinking that right now, because that was not the point of the conversation at all. It was far, far more interesting than that, really!

For those of you who don’t know, Pret a Manger is a chain of salad bars with a great reputation for its food, but none for its seating. Typical of central London, the seating in this place consisted of a single window bar with high stools and no room for more than four people at a time. So, as I approached, the lady in the seat next to my intended spot had to shift her bag. And what a bag it was – huge, soft sided and difficult to move. And with my usual inhibitions temporarily distracted and being naturally a bit shallow, I commented on the size of the bag. Happily, she didn’t react by ignoring this “coot in a suit” – and told me it was an overnight bag which she was using on a rare trip into London.

And here is the serendipitous bit. Some of you might know that I have been thinking of writing about the experiences I had with getting a treatment for prostate cancer over the last few years. But the big issue has been to make a good and effective approach to the psychological impacts of the treatment and how poorly they are handled in our NHS system. And who is this woman I have sat next to? – Only a university lecturer and practicing psychiatrist who is advising a charity which promotes training for GPs on psychological support to their patients. And she was in London just that day, to deliver a keynote talk to the charity on this year’s work and plans. Serendipity, or what?

Sadly, we ran out of time to talk much, but I gave her my card and asked if she could contact me so I can write to her about aspects of the book as I work on it. I only hope I didn’t put her off by asking for her telephone number, first. Yes, I know; it probably did seem like I was trying to get her number for other reasons, but it didn’t occur to me until after we’d parted, by which time it was too late.

But, there we go. Oh, and if this subject interests you, you can find out more about the work of that charity at http://www.cwmt.org.uk/training/charlie-waller-institute/

A title searching for an article…..

Here’s an odd thing – I have had a series of great experiences during the course of a day in London, largely as a consequence of following my instincts. Thinking about how I might describe the experiences in a blog, a great title came to mind – “The Value of Shallow”. Troble is, it doesn’t actually fit toany of the experiences I had or any angle I can think of to write about them. So, what gives?

Maybe it’s not my title. Maybe there ‘s some unfortunate soul out there;  a budding novelist, and this is the title they need for their book to be a best seller. Only, I got it; they didn’t and it would have ushered in a whole new era of peace and mutual understanding based on collecting and swopping souvenir cards, but now it won’t happen.

Or maybe a wormhole opened between me and another “me” in an alternative universe – and this is the title of the book that I wrote in that universe, where my childhood sweetheart and I made up after that fight over pulling her hair (I was seven and she was six) and we eventually got married and had three children, and lived happily ever after on the royalites.

Or maybe, sadly – this is a discarded title – some great writer somewhere was trying to figure out a title for his next great book, and “The Value of Shallow” came up, and it nearly fitted but then it didn’t. And he just dismissed it; threw it out into the cold hard world, where it’s so desperate to get used that it jumps into my head in hopes of getting used in my blog (poor thing)…..

Or maybe, I had a little too much sugar in my tea, earlier.

Except now, I got another new title – “Pret-a-tete” – which I can use! Yippee!

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