Extending Speach

A few years ago a British magazine ran a brief and unscientific survey. They took two teenage boys, one who had left school early and one who was studying to go to university and asked them what law they would enact if they had the power. They both, in different ways, replied they would rather repeal a few laws first. What the magazine showed was that education did not display intelligence as both saw the same thing, but it did describe a completely different way of speaking and phrasing the response.

Now we all know that persuasive people are often fluent and engaging but we are not all aware that these things can be learned. That advanced syntax and grammar will actually help one to utilise language for the powerful tool that it is not just to communicate but to persuade. We often do not stop to think that for everything that can be said there are thousands of ways of putting it and every brain has a slightly different slant on how it uses its native language. It is these changes that drive the evolution of linguistic changes and describe idiom.

If you want to use language effectively it is not enough to now the words, you have to come at people from that slight angle of incidence that makes them listen.


Being homesick can not only be debilitating it can be so extreme as to lead to depression and suicide. Some people are so ill they cannot be travellers or if they are they cannot go anywhere for long. We tend to dismiss this as something to do with ‘feelings’ and many people having no such problems laugh it off, but the physiology of the human species always tells us something.

All animals have to learn about their immediate surroundings as quickly as they are able. The first place of birth is imprinted upon us all and many people who are taken to several places as babies always have a feeling of ‘needing’ a home. This imprinting not only aids survival as we grow up it gives us a feeling of security. We do not like to think that things are imprinted upon us, as we usually associate that with ducks, but we are animals and we work in the same way as other animals.

Homesickness is a terrible feeling of being away from the most secure place we know, and the how we deal with it depends on strength of character and how interested one is in difference, as opposed to how scared one is of it.

All Fair For Eden

During the age of exploration when Europeans were going out to ‘discover’ the world (one that others had discovered long since) one of the things they were looking for was the Garden of Eden. I am always reminded when the seasons come and go in the UK how much people wanted to find the Utopia of Adam and Eve and how they imagined  part of that Utopia was a climate without seasons. Rather like a balmy English summer all day, every day. Humanity has never been a great lover of the cold.

When they reached the Pacific islands they genuinely thought they had found what they were looking for, though the inhabitants paid the price of cholera and slavery, hardly Utopia and certainly not Eden. Of course they also went looking for wealth, and trade routes that got around their European adversaries.

There are two things I take from this amongst others. The first is that some amazing things are done for stupid reasons, and despite the cruelty of Europeans finding we had one world and knowing all about it, is an amazing thing. The  second, perhaps more prosaic but nonetheless pertinent, is that we should always be careful about who finds us.

Best Medicine?

During her menopause my mother took to reading more about vitamins and how the body works than she had done for many years, finding out that some of her symptoms were not just because of her condition but the increased sensitivity it gave her to food additives. It was a very instructive time and one that has led me to hold modern medicine with all its pills at a distance, though I see their brilliance.

Her new illness is a case in point with her doctors telling the shortcomings of the medication and why they give it anyway, and my reading up on all the contra-indications of every pill produced.  Learning that despite the brilliance of research there are still quite a few things in the human body that we indistinctly understand.

So I am not dismissive at all of folk medicine based on plants as modern medicine is largely based on plants and where it is not the exotic alkaloids used in the pills are mirrored in some plants. I am not dismissive of herbs not of the efficacy of their use which was after all, all of medicine for centuries. I am however pretty sure that every person on the planet when taking any pill, herb or potion is an experiment, and we should all treat ourselves as such and watch closely and take nothing for granted.


Last night I caught a moth to put outside and until it flapped its wings I didn’t know for sure I was holding it. It is strange to have the sensation that I was holding something without feeling I was touching it. I know the senses have their limits and can be fooled but I realise  more fully now how reason has to fill in the gaps in the senses.

This doesn’t make reason a sense and probably only makes senses more accurate to a degree but it certainly plays a part, yet reason has to be educated, there is nothing automatic about how it works. Reason tells us the ground as far as we can see it is flat and no matter how far we walk the sensation of curving is never one we feel. I was recently talking to someone who thought the wind hit wind farm turbine blades and moved on and did not realise the energy was taken out of the wind where it hit the blades and at that moment to all intents and purposes at that specific point, turned into a small breeze.

Just as the senses need reason to fill in the gaps,  so reason needs knowledge to hone its ability to make decisions and draw conclusions. Throw away any knowledge and the world may just as well be flat.

Images Of Our Shame

There are two amongst the millions that exist, that make me shiver with the ignorance and  sickness of the human mind. The first is a short film I have seen of a white man in the African hunting dress leaping from elephant to elephant finishing them off as he decimates an entire heard, every animal is already on the ground and his firing is rapid and continuous and never once does his hat even move.

The other I have not seen but it was described to me and it is a photograph taken of a group of white men standing by a  river throwing black babies into the river where they are being eaten by the crocodiles. I am not sure I ever want to see this picture though sometimes one must force oneself to know without doubt that such men lived and still live.

It is not that these images conjure up a disrespect for life, show an arrogance human beings have no right too, and exist because of the inherent bigotry that is the birthmark that disfigures our hearts, as much as they did not mind being shown to be doing what they were doing. That they actually thought men would think the way they think forever.

Our thoughts will be the curses upon our dead heads from our grandchildren, as they seem to have always been.

Now I Know

Thirty years ago the woman in my bed was twenty but now I know I am old because last night not only was the woman in my bed menopausal and suffering from sweat and hot flushes, I slept on the sofa downstairs. Thankfully this passed as a joke between the two of us when I drove her home today as she was a friend just staying over but when we went through the check list of the couples we know, the likelihood of similar arrangements became apparent.

These changes are natural but the automatic response of some people is to cling to the expectations of youth in which there is no wisdom or acceptance that life is a progress, and change should be embraced as offering new challenges and new possibilities.

Admittedly the challenges of sleeping on the sofa are not great but the challenges of helping a woman through the menopause certainly are. Everything should reflect not only some of her needs but also why her needs have changed and the ability to  educate oneself about bodily changes is as important as showing consideration.

Above all else whatever the changes in relationships are people need to establish early on that they can talk about anything. For in the fact of being able to be truthful and heard is all of successful psychiatry and all of successful therapy.

I’m In Trouble

When we moved here we put in 54 copper beech trees as a line of hedging across the front gardens adjacent to the road. They actually look very lovely in the summer and cut at the right time they do maintain a lot of their leaves through the winter. I have always cut them back and interwoven the twigs to make the hedging thicker but now they are over fifteen feet high in places and need to be cut lower.

But I love trees and the thought of cutting these lower so that they never grow to be the 100 foot plus broad leaf trees they are meant to be goes against the grain. So I asked a few farmers if they have a need for some maturing beech trees but no one here does and now I am looking wondering if I can dig them up this winter ( a huge job) and find a decent place to let them grow.

And it is not as if I am not used to pruning I prune the roses and bushes but somehow cutting down a tree is not right. I think it is because I know these trees can be climbed by children and I remember sitting in the lower branches of a big beech in one of our many houses and whiling away a few moments.

How could I destroy such promise.


The Politics Of Poetry

I don’t think many people – even some artists – understand the role of art in the human mind. There are many fanciful things said and quite a few believed to excuse the behaviour of artists which taken in the round are little more than men behaving badly. On a purely non-academic surmise women artists are not quite as flaunting of their being as the men, probably because so many of the men have a woman to keep them grounded and put up with them, whilst the women rarely do.

I am sure people are born with a higher ability than others in various arts but I am also sure there are very intellectual reasons why artist choose their lives. Few artists are ‘joiners’ and the vagaries and passions of society are rarely of interest to them. And then some see their art as the deepest expression of their thoughts. Which is where the talk I give about politics and poetry takes it lead. Shelley was not being facetious when he said poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world, because they talk about the universal and strip away the transient parts of society.

They are the ultimate commentators –  at their best brutally honest, unafraid, writing to be listened to and effective. But the point of the poetry is not the writing or the words or the life of the poet, but the listener. If the listener is there everything has meaning.

Invitation To a Seance

Houdini famously took part in many seances after his mother died trying to find out if there was an ‘after life’ and being a showman he was able to expose every supposed mystic he met. It doesn’t stop people believing though, as many in this country regularly go to mass meetings where individual’s start telling them what messages they are receiving from the ‘other side’.

The Greeks and Romans had a whole show of their own, placing oracles in dark tunnels, strangely dressed in torch light and sometimes disjointed voices in the dark, a dark ruled by Hades or Pluto, one step away from the demons of Hell. And the oracles said much the same thing as they do today with lines that could be taken two ways and some indistinct probings that sometimes hit their mark with the credulous visitor.

That, of course, is the heart of the whole matter. The credulity of those who approach the mystics hoping, wanting, even praying that there is an afterwards, there is a place where consciousness continues to exist. Not of course doubting that decrepit bodies won’t be decrepit any more. Nor doubting that some great mystery ties it all together. That the blood stream of life and the pulse of death are all connected in some indefinable way in the dark of ignorance.

We would all do better to put aside all thought of living after death, and live while we may. It is after all, what life is for.

Annie Ovenden

Many years ago when I was working for an Arts Centre I saw some of Annie’s work and wrote to ask her if she would mind my writing some fairy stories, each one inspired by one of her paintings. Initially there were six in the collection but that is now eleven and the book The Exalted Gate with a cover also by Annie will be published in a month.

I have been told the paintings are beautiful  (and one editor wished the writing were better) though that never stopped the idea of the book being stolen by a publishing house (as is there corrupt way.)

The stories were to be no more than one thousand words each and have a modern lilt about them. They are enjoyable and will make good reading exercises for young children. Annie’s work is always expressive but her nature paintings are lustrous and beautiful filled with surprises and a barely suppressed joy. Even her bare trees show the beauty of the form and none of the chill of winter (my nephew Jay Shah has three of them proudly exhibiting on his wall.)

The book of stories and paintings will be in full colour and around one hundred pages, price is yet to be decided but as with all these things it should be slightly cheaper than comparable work.

Too Much Truth

All lies have elements of truth in them, which is why so many lies are so believable.

I have followed the arguments the British Government is having at the moment about the National Health Service and pensions for public sector workers and all the arguments circle the same thing: finances. The Conservative Government is steaming to try to get the deficit down as quickly as possible and why shouldn’t they, they are money men and everyone who has ever tried to play share markets or run a business know how critical time is in their success. But should a country be run as one would run a business?

It’s an interesting question but one I think has an immediate and straightforward answer : just because we choose to use money to run our affairs does not mean, can ever mean, money and the dictates of money gain supremacy over our ethical behaviour. The reason the Government wants everyone to suffer a lot now is because the men and women ruling the country have money to make.

I am guessing this is the same everywhere and it brings us back to the even older problem of whether people with lots of money should ever be allowed to rule countries. Perhaps it is time to have a law that politicians must leave office no richer than they enter it. I wonder how that would go down amongst our busy business men.

The Democratic Heart

I have been forced to think a lot about families in recent years. Especially with the recent death of my father and my mother’s long term illness. But like everything in my life I appear to be more of an observer than a participant. I don’t think I have ever engaged fully with my fellow humanity either in accepting norms or society’s dictates, or in acceding to the demands of fiscal policy.

People are all different but the differences rarely anger me what they do is trigger a series of questions, why do they believe that? What made them think that? What do they hope to achieve?  One of the greatest strengths of dealing with people is never to be angry. The second and even more important is always to be brave. Life is not and never has been for cowards, and I don’t mean to show how callous one can be, I mean to show how loving one can be in the face of the indifference of others. It is the lesson my mother taught me. Live through your love.

When you spend your life observing you can reach, as I have, the age of fifty one without drawing many conclusions on anything and when you hear other people’s conclusions they seem to be no more than compromises.

Brave people cannot compromise.

Too Much Of A Hurry

Some of the greatest changes in history have been the consequence of the fact that people do not live very long. Alexander would never have been in so much of a hurry if he had had a couple of hundred years to live. Napoleon wouldn’t have chaffed at the bit to conquer Europe if he could have planned over a hundred years. Even thinkers like Lenin had to see the changes they wanted and thought necessary, be carried out whilst they lived.

We can see the same things happening with tyrants today who won’t relinquish power because the focus of their lives is the power – not the changes they wanted to see brought about when they took power. And to a great extent the rush to get things done – to be a millionaire by this date or that – is all about the shortness of human life. And in the rush, is the tragedy and the mistake.

Rather we should be teaching people that we are part of an historical process, whatever our egos may wish, and that if we have one word, one idea that someone can run with in a thousands years from now, we have done our job.  Like the great stories from Homer to Charlemagne, added to and expanded by different voices and writers down the centuries until they become a part of the very fabric of a nation.

The whole of time is the unseen liquid in which the compound called humanity is being mixed.

The Oppressions Of State

We are all aware of the politics within families and how they work; whether there is someone you have to treat well, someone with secrets you have to ignore, ways of being and traditions to follow. Even today there are countries where the strata of society into which you are born cannot be betrayed. One wonders though what people get out of such families and if there is real strength in always towing the line?

Look at what happens when we increase the scale and have fifty million families and the same dynamics are exposed though now on a countrywide scale. The same kinds of strata, the people you have to listen to, the same ways in which people are defined and designated a position and the same kinds of opprobrium heaped upon those who do not conform.

And the reason it matters is not the trite one, that there are some people who don’t want to work or want to smoke marijuana all their lives, but the far more terrible one that when people revolt there are those ready to kill them. Because everyone has a place it is easy to make that place one where they are killed, brutalized, demeaned.

You cannot rule a family without implications for your nation.

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