So So Secret

I was wondering about secrecy and realised that 99.99% of everything that happens in this world is a secret from me, and that’s over-estimating what I may know. I may know a great deal of the kind of things that happen by extension from my own reading and experience, but actually I don’t even know what is going on in the houses in my own village let alone across the world.

Which is why most of the wikileaks whilst bringing things into the light, never surprise because they are always in the realms of the possible. How could they not be. They don’t even shed much light on the privacy of candid conversation because we have read all this a hundred times in history books, which were a version of wikileaks before the Internet.

Even the journalists who are supposed to know much of this information anyway are not surprised and wouldn’t be a surprise is wikileaks turned out to funded by Governments to draw out the sting of having other things brought to light they would rather people not know. Take any country you like and you will be able to find factions plotting one-thing-or-another, take any International relationship you like (and that’s a farcical phrase if there ever was one because countries don’t have relationships they have tolerations) and you can devise any number of scenarios, and writers do.

Wikileaks is the imagination in printed form, entertaining but not revolutionary. Yet.

Missing The Obvious

The Hebrew bible story about the tower of Babel is an attempt to explain the different languages, and by extension, cultures of the human race. In many ways throughout the centuries thinkers have taken these differences as a rally cry to look at those aspects of human life that bring us together – as we know merely preaching filial love achieves very little worldwide. Music and sport have long been the two chosen as exemplars of this but people also know having a common enemy brings antagonists together. And the enemy could be as much disease as other people.

But perhaps this attempt is not fully rounded enough, for amongst  the ideas that propel people to try to bring tribes together is the obvious fact that this is a single planet and what happens on one side of it often impacts others through climate. It is the eco-system that truly binds us together, and it is the eco-system that we are putting into crisis, that will bring us together. The planet is the friend like no other and the enemy we could never beat.

To be at war with the planet through untrammeled exploitation is to be at war with ourselves. Pacifying our greed and working together whatever the cultures and language, are not a worthy aim but our only means of survival.


I am told that Americans don’t do irony very well and it is one of the reasons why they don’t always enjoy British humour. So they probably wouldn’t see any irony in my saying Sarah Palin is a female Ronald Reagan but they do get angry at the fact that many ordinary people are suffering from what a few bankers got up to but might not see the irony in the fact that the bankers couldn’t have done it without the ordinary people’s avid economic output.

Nor might people not get how ironic it is that so many Americans are descended from Europeans, where irony is done so well. For here they do see the nature of the present difficulties as deeply ironic; that the UK only being half-hearted in its advances to Europe is not much better off then Ireland which after a hundred years of freedom from the British needs British banks to help bale it out.

The beauty of irony is that it makes us all fools to our assumptions. And every generation makes decisions that would blind their forbears and politicians make declarations that would horrify their grandparents. Yet they do not see the irony of history.

We change, and not just with years, and in the change irony is born with laughter on its lips.

Where Politics Starts

I used to think that everything we do is political because politics starts with every interaction we have with the world outside our bodies. I am now of the opinion that this is naive because in actual fact, that is where ethics starts because we have to interact with the world around us in order to exist.

Politics is such a strange part of human thinking, and there are such definitive lines drawn on particular views on how to run society, that it is obvious to me now that what defines a political view depends almost entirely upon how much empathy one has with other living beings. It seems to me impossible to hold some views if one has empathy with the plight and suffering of others. And some views must arise naturally from the empathy one has for that suffering.

This is why a man like Shaftesbury in Victorian England, with all the lavish lifestyle of an aristocrat, fought for regulations to help the children of the poor, and why when he died many poor people followed his coffin. It also explains why not every aristocrat fought for better rights for others.

To walk that mile in another person’s shoes does not just give one an idea of what it is like to be that person, it makes one’s politics. And I have to say I side with those who show the highest empathy and understanding of others.

The Right To Dream

People all around the world have discussed their rights for generations, which is another way of outlining their expectations vis-a-vis their relationship with others. But it worries me that these rights which have emerged through history as necessary concomitants to a healthy society have been clothed in the attractive garments of religion and even called inalienable.

Because when we talk of such rights we always talk in terms of our own worth, our own expectations, our own borders both as individuals and as human beings. But we never accede as countries or societies to extend rights to other species. These we ‘deign’ to allow to exist as befits our needs. But if rights exist, and they are inalienable, they must be universal in the true sense of the word otherwise they are no more than constructs of human law.

Which is of course, exactly what they are because they have grown along with our ideas of society through the generations. The American Bill of Rights could never have been written in Roman Europe, when they talked a lot about rights and enshrined the rule of law as fundamental to society. Nor would it be written today where the extensive discussion of rights has taken us further than they dared to dream in the eighteenth century.

Once you realise that rights are not god given but human driven, you may begin to see why animal rights are so important.

Winter’s Fortune

The cold is here and I am happy to say we have a warm, enclosed fire going which as I write has been burning for four days. Momo my rescued little dog loves the fire and spends the day curled up on the softest chair nearby and in the evenings sometimes even gets up and stretches out on the tiles in front of the fire. Such a testing life!

The morning walk is always greeted with the roosting birds flying out over our heads to spend the day in their favourite fields where sadly three days ago I saw a dead cow and if nature is beautiful she is also pretty mean because the magpies peck out the dead’s eyes first then rip off the skin and it would have been a better system if the earth just sucked these creatures up and let them rot down with more dignity.


When snow has settled on the ground,
Silence hangs all around,
But for my laughing and shouting
But for the snowballs I send dancing.
Winter’s Best!

With thick, wool mittens and new boots,
Warm head! Warm hands! Warm roots!
Sledges slipping over snow,
Faster than the fleet we go!
Raise my voice with the rest,
Winter’s Best!

But if your cold through and through,
Too poor and sad for snow’s sweet tune,
Blue hands! Blue nose! Blue feet!
Summer must be hard to beat!

(A poem from the upcoming collection If You Are A Child, These Are For You)

Working Together

One of the joys of writing for children is sending my work to painters and asking them if they want to illustrate the books. To ask another mind to read the story and do their thing, with no preconditions or preconceptions – and see what they create.  It isn’t just another layer or some pretty colours, it is a whole different concept of the story.

Nothing can beat seeing their first drawings or finished first painting, to see their art bring to life a part or whole of a story. It isn’t just about doing things I cannot do because in my head I do have images, it is about seeing their imaginings of the text. I have a vision of how it must have been when the great artworks of the world were created and architects worked with painters and sculptors, and realise why artists who demand something exactly of others and try to control what they create, cause so much friction.

Just as society has been created with one idea here and one idea there and modifications to laws down the ages with no direct plan from the centre, so when artists work together to allow each their own freedom and creative space, to trust their creative force, truly makes something that speaks in many different voices.


I was thinking about writing and the convoluted ways in which people go about ‘thinking’ over their plots and manipulating their characters pretentiously telling people that the ‘characters take over’, which is another way of saying you don’t know your own brain, when the whole concept of imagination made me leave writing all-together.

People who don’t write think it immensely hard to see a page of white paper and fill it with any thoughts,  because they think imagination is something you either have or do not have, but it isn’t true. We all have immense imaginations. The plans we have when we are young for where we want to be when we are older, the careers we wants, the dates we think are going on as apart from the reality, how we think we look in our clothes and how we think we sound, what we perceive of the world from our own experience and thoughts, how we are going to spend all that money.

Think how much imagination there is on forward planning, in anticipation, in playing sports, in solving riddles like the Cosmos. Inside our heads there is not just one world but many, thousands of answers to as yet unasked questions, and a myriad of emotions we think we are going to feel. Anyone apprehensive of not having anything to write is missing the whole point of our lives.

Our entire lives are filled by our imaginations.

A Political Animal

Years ago I remember listing to a man outside a party conference talking about a particular clause in the party’s governing instruments and what it meant and my mother saying, ‘Now he’s a political animal’. He was wholly immersed in the entire process of politics and knew it backwards from procedure to implementation.

Political parties have no allure for me for participation would require the very thing I could not give, my allegiance to aims and objectives I do not wholly agree with. And having a political party of one, where I would be most happy, has no chance of success. I also think the process of power over others is a very corrupting life style.

But I was drawn into a discussion today about my view on politics and instead of looking at politicians I looked at voters, who after all have the true power though the system doesn’t allow them to display it often enough. And my observation was simply wondering at the reasons voters have for choosing a particular party and how narrow the focus is for their choice.

When all is said-and-done,  you don’t have a more cohesive country because you have cheaper fuel, or more choice in where you educate your children, or less local taxes. You may have a more harmonious personal living experience, but the country judders than than sprints into the future when voters don’t vote with a rounded vision of the entire country.

Fantasy Writing

I have always enjoyed writing children’s stories, in much the same was as I enjoyed reading them when I was child, because I never quite know what is going to happen next. Writing as I go along is not something everyone would wish to do but much the same way as I never understand people who write a whole novel on cue cards and have everything settled before they actually write the first page, each to their own.

The fact that I make it up as I go along means that I can write myself into a  corner and have the fun of trying to think my way out of the problem. In my first book all the heroes were stuck on a piece of land suddenly surrounded by sea and in danger of drowning and I had no clue when I put them there what I would do next. I was very much on the adventure with them. I was told that book was too like C.S Lewis.

Of course the problem is I sometimes don’t have an answer or go off in another direction but that is why we have drafts and most of my stories can go into seven drafts before I begin to feel they read well. Doing this one’s mind has a breadth and depth of its own, like a natural metronome, and I never felt good about 20,000 words stories which is probably why my present story will be in three volumes of 100,00 words each.

Now there’s a story!

Learning By Infusion

Babies of all species have to learn from their parents and their peers. We used to simply have to learn the art of survival, which berries to eat, how to hunt, how to cook, where it was safe to sleep, but the learning experience has become far more sophisticated over the millenniums. Yet like all things the fundamentals never change.

Money is merely a survival mechanism, and the more I read of people trying to infuse trust and nobleness into the monetary system the more I smile at the tension between making money in the day-to-day and the betterment of human thinking. It is one thing of course to have to make one’s way in the world and provide for one’s family (something that can be done with a lot of work and surprisingly little actual money as a field and a river can supply food and power) and quite another to lend a helping hand, give freely to the community and expect no return.

For example it is much wiser for the species for there to be nothing we may term ‘illegal immigrants’ because people want better lived and it would be a better world if the rich countries helped and educated those who were poorer. But of course, money is not about bettering the human race but about making it richer for money has its own rationale that has nothing to do with trust or nobility and everything to do with borders and national interest.

Which is why the human race must leave moeny behind in the dustiness of history if it is ever to be at peace with itself.


One of my children’s stories, actually one I am quite fond of, has a central character of a child whose singing is creative. Going back to the themes of innocence and times when people were closer to nature. And it was a strange story for me write because I don’t actually like singing very much.

I can handle friends in choirs for a while, and sing badly to my dogs and understand the whole idea of singing lines to oneself to help learn them, and so forth. I am aware singing has a place. But I never got on with Opera or arias, and was perfectly in agreement to the critic who said opera is acting with singing to the detriment of both. I have never thought the human voice the greatest of all instruments and I actually don’t like things like the X-factor much simply because singers are not the best music out there.

I am sure that I am the only person in the world who thinks Beethoven ruined his ninth symphony by scoring that glorious last movement with a choir. It may be that I do not actually understand song, and I would be the first to say it does sound better acapella. Maybe I just think there is too much human in the music, which must be a really odd thing to say since all the music I listen to is human music.

Or maybe the voice asks me to listen whilst music begs me to feel.

When Nature Calls

It is of course wonderful to live in a place, if not the house, that one truly loves but sometimes when choosing one has to look beyond what one sees to what one suspects or even learns. I remember when digging out the back of the bank to get the soil away from the house, thinking that I had to be very careful about drainage. These old cottages are built straight up  from solid stone with no foundations and the inside floors are only about an inch above the outside level. Imagine my delight to realise that the men who built the cottage also knew about drainage and the rain actually flows down the pathway because there is a very slight incline.

Everywhere I built and the materials I used outside were all designed from gravel to porous sheeting, to make sure the water percolated into the hillside with ease despite there being a house here. In fact I learned that most of house building is water management of one kind or another.

Imagine then how I feel for those down the bottom of the hill in the village when the worst rains fell in decades and rivers flooded this week. There are cottages built next to the river utterly lovely in a warm summer day with a gentle flow, utterly terrifying when it is gushing through your back door. And the worst hit places were twenty miles away.

In some ages they wrote stories about night like that:)

Writing In the Dark

Several people I know have asked me how and where I get my ideas and truth to tell if you do a lot of reading, most ideas seem pretty well grounded in human experience. A few seem to go beyond experience and expand upon what we know and a few are far reaches of pure imagination yet even those rely heavily upon what we experience for their foundations.

A far more difficult question for writers is often ‘why’ do we write. And here there is an interplay of character and society because there is a difference between creative writing and artists, a difference between a Clancy and a Steinbeck. Creative writers do very well in the stable of the BBC churning out work to a given formula of time and content, artists write without much care for whether or not they will make any money though they do want to eat, but because they desperately need to write in exactly the same way as a photographer needs to photograph – it is about the innate desire to be historians of the human condition and by so being change things. Change thinking, change society’s mores, change the way people become insensate.

Sometimes creative writing for money becomes an art as in Balzac but such artists are rare, Liszt would be another. For the most part artists are bad with money even when they have it.

But they are brilliant with the conscience of the world.


Rarely has an elegy to friendship been written better:

They told me, Heraclitus, they told me you were dead;
They brought me bitter news to hear and bitter tears to shed;
I wept, as I remembered, how often you and I
Had tired the sun with talking, and sent him down the sky.

And now that thou art lying, my dear old Carian guest,
A handful of grey ashes, long, long ago at rest,
Still are thy pleasant voices, thy nightingales, awake;
For Death, he taketh all away, but them he cannot take.
— William Johnson Cory

Heraclitus himself besides being a philosopher wrote poetry. The beauty of his style  gave rise the the epithet ‘nightingales’ for his poems.

According to scholars who learned at his feet, William Johnson Cory was one of the finest teachers ever to teach at Eton.

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