Open Space

I live on the edge of moorland. To be precise Bodmin Moor which is very like Dartmoor and the famous Exmoor known as the home of the Doones in the book Lorna Doone.

Although not as dangerous as years gone since there are now roads criss-crossing the area, there are still long stretches perfect for hiking and orienteering and the wild horse cropped grass rises upwards to be broken by outcrops of granite on the hilltops, known as ‘tors’. Granite is the reason Bodmin moor still exist because farming is almost impossible as every inch the plough will throw up more granite. The extensive walls of stone are all made of granite found in the immediate field and even after building them the soil is barely deep enough for grass. This is subsistence farming.

The true strength of the moors is the beauty of openness, the undulating grasslands, the wild wind and the gorse which not only caresses the moorland with yellow but fills the walks in the summer with fragrance.

And if you are knowledgeable about moorland plants you will see the grass is textured everywhere with red and white and blue. Nature’s flag. It is always chilly on the hill tops, if snow is going to fall it will come first to the Moors, but in a world once so open, these places are dwindling and precious.

It is when you know places like this that you truly understand how landscapes make people.

History In A Word

My Latin master (I wasn’t very good) used to love the word magnopere (greatly) which rolled off his whiskey soaked tongue as he said it. Most any writer you choose to talk to, or anyone who works with words, will have their favourite sounds. But the true wordsmith loves dictionaries. They read them for pleasure and high on the list of best dictionaries are those that have the history of the usage of the word, derivation and quotes. These facts about a word, when it was first used, how, who by and from what origins it emerged into the language, are layers of meaning that enrich its usage. To know that a word like ‘simply’ or ‘nice’  is used today in a completely different way to its first sightings in English adds a piquancy to every use you make of it; like your secret language.

In exactly the same way science is teaching us about the language of the Universe and we are seeing things in very different lights to those of our ancestors. The layers of meaning run deep  and far and most exciting of all is that we seem to run with them.

Life is a language, and with every passing day we learn more about her words, their origins and how they came into being along with us. Its a wonderful dictionary to appear in.

Coping With Success

You have seen the headlines. So many celebrities die young or fall from fame and end up penniless and you read their stories to find out if it was a character fault, corrupt agents, disinterested promoters or bad luck. Success and fame, and success without fame, brings with it challenges just like any other path in life and you look at those who manage to stay successful and you see they have all given up something; if not many things.

From partial marriages, broken relationships with children, dysfunctional lifestyles,  every successful person compromises on some parts of their lives to remain successful – to keep that business going, to keep that name in lights because all success comes at a price.

We are the most successful animal the planet has seen. As successful as the dinosaurs in the extent to which we rule the Earth and more successful than any others at understanding the universe and changing our environments to suit our needs. Yet we do not believe our success means we lose anything, but we do. We lose the right not to care, we lose the right to be indifferent, we lose the right to turn away from the insalubrious results of our success.

If we continue to be so successful without addressing the imbalance we represent to nature, we will be as dysfunctional as any celebrity and we will suffer in like degree. Even to losing all that we have.

Being Someone

Putting aside the obvious challenges in not getting on with one’s relations, every one of us either goes through a phase, or has a need, to belong. Whether to a tribe, a community or a nation we like to see ourselves as part of some wider human grouping. Even artists who are the archetype outsiders, see in their very separateness from the mainstream a self-definition.

The fact of belonging probably means many things: a comfort, an affirmation that others believe what we believe, a sense of standing within a community and that greatest of all helping hands that says we are someone, we are not lost, we are not worthless.

Most of these groupings are chosen for us, because very few of us are ever able to create a nation, or a movement, or a tribe. We may make modifications but because they are chosen for us, so too are many of our attitudes because to belong you have to fit in for even in disparate societies the rule of law is a suit we all wear.

But if we are going to belong surely it makes more sense to be as inclusive as possible? If there is a strength in community surely that community should be as wide as possible?

Surely if there is truth and honesty to be found in this world, then belonging to the clan ‘human’ is more important than any other grouping.

Much more important than nations.

Communicating With The Impossible

I am always told not to think of animals in anthropological terms, as if to imbibe them with some facets of human character were absurd, degrading or misleading to the animal and myself. Like the journalist who said on the radio his aunt would hear her budgie tweet and say ‘ Listen! every word clear as a bell!’ to loud laughter.

When you cannot talk to another person you look for expression and gesture and try to find common themes (obviously food) with which to build some form of communication. David Attenborough’s famous encounter with Amazonian people showed how a smile and hand gestures were almost universal.

It seems to me you can always go too far, but if you are dealing with nature and you know she doesn’t speak your language, communication relies upon your emotions.  Percy Bysshe Shelley wanting to be the west wind, men learning  to feel what is in the mind of a hunting wolf so they can breed sheepdogs and the ancient longing to feel what it is like to be a bird.

Emotion and imagination are how we communicate with a tree, with the sea, with the earth itself and as time goes on their sensitivity is being intensified by science. Because most times, the need to understand is even greater with those parts of nature to which we cannot directly communicate.

To Women

What is the use of a bed without a
Woman upon it, to sculpture the sheets
With her form and the pillows with her play
And make the springs sing at her deep love’s feats?
And what is the use of an hour of night
Or an hour of the day not resonant
With sighs and names? Darkness is far too light
And day too heavy when love’s too distant.
And what is the use of waking before
Her if not to watch her face intently
Hoping, waking, it is you she looks for
Because you lie upon her mind, gently?

No dawn breaks as happy as those when she
Moves, opens her eyes, turns and looks for me.

…………………
The book grows. Jonathon is busy finishing the portraits and all being well we shall have a book of poems out before Christmas.

I Believe What You Believe

It is a very curious facet of the need to work together that we seem to be a species that needs to think together as well. I am not sure anyone has done much research on this outside of looking at ‘cultural homogeneity’  and I am sure that when a group goes through the same experience it throws up relationship-bonds in similarities of response.

But the animal in us is very strong which is why, it appears, we need leaders so much. One person to represent us all. There is a joke in Israel that is it a country where there are six million Presidents. And in a way that is how the world should be, a place where there are six billion leaders. Surely that is a better world to live in that one where there are six billion followers?

I am always amused by how people pass through the years of their lives and somewhere along the way, become a ‘generation’. I heard a musician say once that he didn’t know what it was but something ‘happened’ to music when he reached the age of thirty. This is why people ‘look-down’ at others for the way they dress, they way they speak, the music they play.

But they fail to look down at the way we all follow. The way we give away power. The way we all accept inventions without question as part of the human way of doing things.

I wonder how much of civilisation really exists in any of us. How many values would survive if any of us were the last human being.

Sleep

On the one hand it is almost criminal that we have to spend so much of life  sleeping, on the other sleep is a marvelous renewal. Which is why no doubt so many people have such brilliant ideas when they sleep and wake up raring to go and finish whatever it they have yet to start.

Dreams have long been inspirational to the artist, and some may even say artists live in a  dream-like state anyway even when they are awake. As Colin Wilson wrote about it in The Outsider, they are always one-remove from the rest of us.

But the idea that all life needs to constantly recharge itself, that energy fades over the course of a day,  that we have high and low moments, is very important for understanding not only how to live but also who we are. Sleep is like a time-out, when the brain can do its own thing with all the information it is gathering, when we can put aside stresses, torments and challenges and divert them into a place where we are in control.

To be woken up by someone you love, by the dawn, or even just by one’s own body clock, is itself an affirmation. A blissful stretching, which is the greatest sadness of poverty for no matter how often you wake up you are always tired.

The Financial Crisis

The planet earth and every single atom of  organic and inorganic life on it, was a free gift to humanity. In fact pretty much a free gift to all sentient beings. The biggest free lunch we could conceive of before we conceived of blasting off into the wider Universe where the only thing that will stop our rapacious appetite for converting everything into money will be a stronger being.

I do wonder, if people were given the chance to vote on it, whether they would invent money again. This need to convert the planet and its resources into things people buy, to divide up areas of land into private property which can be bought and sold, which becomes one personal fortune, seems little more than birds displaying their mating potential.

The alternative?  Isn’t bartering, because the alternative only depends on the aims of individuals and the species. If the aim were knowledge we wouldn’t be making NASA scientists compete with each other for funding of projects, we would have a community of a million or so people working together in a micro society, making everything for themsleves, because they would know you only need energy to get things done.

I wish the money world had left space for such communities to arise but it hasn’t. A loss to us and knowledge.

Our Priorities Are The State’s Priorities

Desmond Morris was very interesting in his series and book ‘Man Watching’ because he looked behind what we do, to put it into the context of what all animals do. And modern science has begun to show us how richly our actions are determined by glands excreting hormones in our bodies prior too reason getting involved. It is not even emotion, it is just instinct, something that religious people do not like to think about when it comes to humanity.

The ideas interest me because I have always been slightly enticed by the ideas of the psychology of history; that says, in the main, events happen because of our influence as much if not more than we are influenced by events. Human events. Someone once said that great leaders are those who do what the people want without the people realising it. It is akin to a collective will, which resonates with religious people at the point of mediation and prayer.

But whilst we all run around trying to make a name, trying to ‘be’ someone,  longing for a home, looking for a mate, chasing status amongst each other and family, filling our minds with other people’s thoughts selected for us in other people’s books and on-line, I wonder how much all this activity is hormones, how much is instinct and how much is purely rational?

After all countries and governments only exist because we have a need for leaders and borders that is purely instinctive.

Truth In Language

What is it to be able to say that truth exists in language? Is it more than that language makes some kind of sense to us because they are structured? And that if they veer off the road of sense then they must be false? Put another way, if a sentence follows the rules of grammar and all the elements in it refer to or denote, actual things, then the sentence can be said to be correct. Even the sentence Martians Don’t Exist is a correct and true sentence with meaning, because we know there are no Martians.

If this is all it takes for language to be true, then language merely follows understanding and knowledge of the world. It describes rather than reveals. It is the paint on the canvas but not the painting. And obviously if this is true, then language needs to change because like all tools we need to modify it to improve its efficacy.

But is there a cross-over between what it is for a sentence to be true and what truth is? The only idea I ever had that there may be is that there are consequences of truth in  language. Like all truth. And those consequences are that the meaning we impart when we write and speak, has content. That no matter how often we repeat it, or to whom it is said and at what time in the eons, it will always be the truth.

In this sense lies can be ‘true lies’; we get the meaning,  structure has touched upon the immutable.

How Fire Made Water

Sometimes we can understand something better if we look at its opposite, or simply look at it in contrast to something else of a similar or dissimilar nature. After all our understanding of what a lie is, is based heavily on our understanding of what truth it.

Many years ago when I worked for a woodland charity one of the team designed business parks and when faced with the searing, high, bland brick and metal walls of factories painted trees on the them to harmonise them better with the landscaping. To me of course it looked no more than a painted tree, large and season-less, but in a way she was showing me what a factory really was. Inorganic. The landscaping of bushes and trees showed what it was to be able to grow, and what it was to be inert.

And we can understand ourselves better by placing ourselves against the Universe. The smallness of the blue Earth as seen from Voyager 3.7 billion miles away, and so well described by Carl Sagan. Our conceit, our self-importance, our daily lives, are lost in space. It is not that we are small, or insignificant, it that the Universe is so significant.

Perhaps true knowledge is the understanding of the relationships we have with everything else. Because where we stand, will teach us how to stand.

The Art Of the ‘Thing’

There is a great debate amongst commentators on the arts, as to whether you can separate the artists from what they create, whether, for example, a painting can be looked at as just a painting or whether you need to know about he artist in order to appreciate it. Now obviously you can look at a work of art just for the thing itself, and my entries here are rarely about the obvious.

The question is whether you lose something if you do not know about the artist, and of course you do. So is what you lose important to your appreciation of what they create? After all if you had known Van Gogh and walked into his sparse room, smelling of sweat with dirty clothes around and heard him snoring with a painting still drying on the easel, would you ‘appreciate’ the painting more than seeing it on a gallery wall surrounded by guards?

My mother told me you can never ‘understand’ a work of art if you do now know about the life that created it. Because every bit of sweat, and the smell of those dirty clothes is in Van Gough’s work. Just as fascism is in Ezra Pound’s work, just as the fight for liberty is in Lorca’s work, when you read Balzac you experience his Frenchness which is distinct from Zola’s. The passion in Wuthering Heights, is Emily’s passion.

This is why artists of stature feel themselves in their work,  and uncovering that self gives the work the edginess of life itself.

Fulminar The Good Magician

The first book I ever wrote for children, begun when I started revising for my degree, was a little too like C.S.Lewis according to the agents, so I had to write something slightly different.

The result was Fulminar The Good Magician which is about a special magician come to earth to rescue some stolen, magical pictures. It is set in London and the chapters on how the eighty year old man from whom the pictures were stolen, changes into an eleven year old boy and how he reacts to that, were thought well done. Not that anyone ever wanted to publish it. I was very fond of the magician though and along with two other stories I wrote over the same year, he appears again in the longer fantasy work which won’t be ready until late next year.

I am delighted  that the young artist Martin Williams decided to illustrate Fulminar The Good Magician and design a cover based on his photographs so now the 120 page book will be published the autumn; and it is pleasing that amongst the first children’s book I am publishing will be the first I completed that merited publication.

The Five Pictures of Rhyme, the Orlates and the beginning of the fantasy world in my mind is about to be launched.

Characters

Myrtle was an old lady when I met her. We lived in the seaside village of Looe in Cornwall and she was our next door neighhbour, in the days when having a thin wall between you and a neighbour didn’t mean you heard their music blaring through your house at all hours. She actually told my mother she liked her music because it made her feel more alive.

She moved slowly as she was very overweight and I recall she had a certain smell about her, which was on all the furniture. The houses were damp as it was  a fishing village with a huge tidal river flowing through its heart, but I think the smell was from mustiness and moth balls. Quite probably she and Reginald couldn’t smell much anyway. Our houses connect at the back with a door that lead into her kitchen from ours. They built houses once to be more communal.

She was always a kind lady who walked with difficulty and lied about her age. We lived next door to her for two years and I went back six years later to visit. Reg had died and she was on her own. She had never had any children but was very proud of her fishing heritage and the men in her family who had helped to build the village and its famed pier.

She is buried in the church at the top of the hill and one day I should pay my respects to a gentle Cornish woman who liked the company of a five year old.

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