Blog News

1. Comments are still disabled though I am thinking of enabling them again.

2. There are now several extra pages - Poetry Index, Travel, Education, Childish Things - accessible at the top of the page. They index entires before October 2013.

3. I will, in the next few weeks, be adding new pages with other indexes.

Saturday, 28 February 2009

Alices In Wonderland: Part 31

This illustration is from the other edition that I have by Rene Cloke. You will see just how different the styles are and why I'm confused that she seems to have illustrated it twice in such diverse fashion. I really would be grateful for information answering this question if any body has any.

Alice eventually gets fed up of the tea party and leaves. As she looks back she sees the March Hare and the Mad Hatter trying to stuff the dormouse into a teapot.

Dreaming A Life

I'm starting yet another ongoing project. Actually when I say starting, it isn't precisely true. I've been tinkering with this project on and off for quite a few years now: an autobiography entirely done in poetry.
Here's the plan.
I'll post a poem and, though I'm aware that the poems should stand by themselves, a couple of brief explanatory notes. The intention is to start from the 9th April 1957 (when I was born) and work forwards. Some of these poems already exist, others will be entirely new. And doubtless the project will come and go as my interest waxes and wanes but that's a problem for the future. Here then is the first poem, which mentions my birth and also provides an introduction. This isn't an existing poem. It's brand new, finished about ten minutes ago. I hope you like it.

Introduction: Synthesis

All things begin,
And this begins here
In a house divided
By walls and time.
A child cries out.
Then cries again
With a similar sound,
A wordless rhyme.
Unseen ripples
Fill the corners
And spread forwards
From then, to now
Through every second
Of every hour and day
And come to rest
Upon my brow.
I am the sum
Of all I have been
From that moment
Onward, to this
Of an ever
Ever spreading

The only note that you might need to help with this is the reference in lines three and four to "divided by walls and time". This is a reference to the fact that I was born in a very old house that had been divided into two dwellings by building a wall down the middle of it -and a fence down the middle of the garden. The owners lived in the other half and we rented our half from them.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Alices In Wonderland: Part 30

Robert Sabuda is one of the most well-known names in children's pop-up books. His Alice, clearly based on the Tenniel illustrations, shows why he has such a great reputation. The croquet game, the tea party and even a complete house with giant Alice inside spring into being as you turn the pages. Notice above the way that as well as the characters, chairs and tables, even the cups of tea have appeared.

Alice, following the cat's directions, arrives at a tea party where a Hatter, a March Hare and a sleeping Dormouse are seated at a large, and otherwise empty table. Alice joins them for a scene that includes some of the most concentrated (not to mention convoluted) wordplay in either book.

Monday, 23 February 2009


Recently the standards of proof-reading and checking at the BBC have been slipping. This quote is from an item yesterday about the amount of unclaimed pension benefits in the UK.

[pensioners should be able to...] "get their hands on an average of £4.8 billion per year".

Really? An average? They can get that each, can they? I must encourage my dad to apply. Or do they by any chance mean a "total".

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Alices In Wonderland: Part 29

The edition that I have illustrated by Alice Helena Watson has a single colour frontpiece and a lot of pencil drawings. There must however be another, later edition as this site shows. It is a different frontpiece, though the facing page is the same as in my copy. The publisher is Collins, 1957.
The illustrations, at first glance, seem rather primitive and unfinished, but it's deceptive. The economical pencil work gives a real sense of motion and the lines are very clean and subtle. The more I look at it the better I like it. Now if only I can find the edition with the other colour prints.

After releasing the pig-baby, Alice continues on her way. She meets the cat from the kitchen who is now sitting on the branch of a tree. It disappears and reappears a couple of times and they converse, predominantly about why everyone in wonderland is mad.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Sometimes other people can just say it better

I was trying to write a poem. What I was after was a melancholic mood. I had several goes and couldn't get it right. It either came out as positively suicidal or else as inappropriately flippant or else as just downright awful.
So I stopped and looked this up, partly remembered from my schooldays, instead.

In sooth, I know not why I am so sad:
It wearies me; you say it wearies you;
But how I caught it, found it, or came by it,
What stuff 'tis made of, whereof it is born,
I am to learn;
And such a want-wit sadness makes of me,
That I have much ado to know myself.

(William Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice Act 1 Scene 1: Antonio)


Quite a few of my friends, both real world and internet, are creative. Several of them have their own blogs and some of them include their own writings, prose and poetry. One of them, known to me via the OEDILF site has just included this poem on her blog.

When I read it I remembered that I have a poem about mimes.

I wrote it on a visit to Barcelona after a stroll along Las Ramblas. Anyone who has ever been there will be familiar the the phenomenon of "human statues". You see these in many places but from my experience Barcelona must be the "human statue" capital of the world.

I'm afraid mine is a little more cynical than Susan's, rather nicer and more lyrical, piece.

Every fifty feet or so
Another human statue
Waits for scattered money.
An angel and a devil,
Charlie Chaplin and a clown
But it really isn't funny.
Stationary and silent
A different kind of violence
It's a motionless assult.
With wallet kept in pocket
Suffering would be ended
It's really our own fault.
These people must be stopped.
This thing has gone too far.
We have to draw a line.
You may think they entertain
And choose to to part with cash
But they're having none of mine.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Not the Samaria Gorge

A couple of days ago I did a lengthy post about the Samaria Gorge. Now, while this is undoubtedly the most famous Gorge in Crete, the Imbross Gorge, which we did a couple of days later, is in many ways much nicer. For one thing it isn't filled with people. Apart from our own party during the four hour walk down the Gorge I saw less than half a dozen other people and for long periods I walked completely alone. We had had an early start and taken a crowded local bus up to the start. Initially the path was almost level, steepening after about a kilometre. The gorge is an easier walk than Samaria and with the sun not yet clear of the mountains it was pleasantly cool. There is also a greater variety of flowers and plants to be seen although Janet, one of the other members of our group, assured me that none of them were very unusual or interesting. As she had been wandering around the whole time with a botany text book I was willing to take her word for it.
Further down, like Samaria, the Gorge narrowed to less than a couple of metres before widening and flattening again in the final approach to the bottom.
Here are a couple of photographs.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Alices In Wonderland: Part28

Harry Riley is another artist that I have been able to find little or nothing about. I know that he was English and that his dates are 1895-1966 with his edition of Alice having been produced in 1945. My copy is a third edition from 1946 published by Arthur Barron. The black and white illustrations are not entirely unlike the classic Tenniel ones, particularly in the portrayal of the animal characters. There are also a couple of colour plates - of the tea party and the croquet game - which are slightly more original watercolours though with characters still clearly based on Tenniel.

In the story, Alice, fearful for the baby's life in the chaotic kitchen, picks it up and carries it out, only to find that as she walks away with it, it turns into a pig which she releases into the forest.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Big Numbers

I have the ten o'clock news on TV while I'm sitting here doing nothing very much on the internet. The story that's just finished was the current one about the fraud charges levelled at Sir Allen Stanford. The charges, according to news, relate to a $9 billion dollar fraud. I was moved to consider the mathematics of it. How on Earth could anybody ever spend $9 billion dollars? Even using the American rather than British definition of a billion that's $9,000,000,000 which means if you spend $10,000,000 every year and make nothing it will take nine hundred years to spend it.

Sir Allen Stanford is 58 years old, if someone that age managed to live for another fifty years they would have to spend a staggering 180 million pounds a year to get rid of it all.

On my current salary it would take me over 370,000 years to earn that much. And I have to work for mine.

North Korea update

I realised, as I was filling in a form to apply for a DPRK visa, that I will, if all goes to plan, be entering the country on my birthday. I'd known of course that my birthday was during the trip but not that it was my actual entry date into North Korea.
I've spent quite a few of my birthdays out of the country because it almost always falls into the Easter break. For example, two years ago I was fifty and spent it having a marvellous time visiting friends in Chicago.
Our visit on to the pub on my birthday was very silly and to prove it here is one of the photographs from the event (let no one accuse me of being unwilling to show myself in an unflattering light!) wearing the rabbit ears that were one of the several Alice in Wonderland presents that I received.
Lest anyone should scoff, there exists in another location on the web, a set of such photographs showing each of the group in turn wearing them.

I must find out what the alcohol situation is in DPRK, though I think I'll leave the bunny ears at home.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009


Looking through the books of my poetry I discovered a set of four poems on the subject of "silence". They are quite old, dating from around 1980, though I am not sure of exactly when I wrote them. The first one clearly refers to an office that I used to work in, in West Bromwich which puts it at approximately that period.


Part 1

Early-morning, office-furniture,
Filing-cabinet silence.
Empty-chair silence.
The building still sleeps.
Distant disembodied voices -
Sounds without words -
Solitary empty voices
Fragile morning meanings.
Footsteps, Dragged chairs.
Cups rattling, blinds raised.
A rhythm of sound
Sound without sight
Beyond obscuring office walls
Blurred by empty spaces.

A telephone screams,
And is silenced.

Part 2

There is noise all around you:
Voices raised in anger,
Traffic hissing through the rain,
The hum of air conditioning,
The rustling of the wind,
An orchestrated score of chaos.

There is noise all around you,
But silence in your head.

There is noise all around you:
Voices raised in laughter,
Telephones shrilly shrieking,
Chairs scraped on wooden floors,
Cash registers singing,
An orchestrated symphony.

There is noise all around you,
But silence in your head.

Part 3

There is silence hidden among the noise.
Do you hear it ?
Between the syllables, it lurks.
Between the cadences and rhythms,
Between the roaring guns it stands,
Between the clapping and the shouting.

There is silence hidden in among the noise:
Do you hear it ?
Just below the machines scream.
It waits below your speeches.
There behind the rampant rhetoric,
Wrapped around your meaning.

There is silence hidden in among the noise:
Do you hear it ?
Behind the party chatter it's smiling.
Behind champagne cork explosions, it's grinning.
Behind the bouncing music, it's laughing.
Silently lending meaning to the sounds.

Part 4

Silence like an open grave,
Silence like an empty room,
Silence like a missing friend,
Spits fear into your face.
Silence is the enemy,
Reeking of solitude and death,
Reeking of resignation,
And the cold hand
Catching at your skin.

Alices in Wonderland: Part 27

This was to be a post showing one of the illustrations by June Goulding but it is clear from her blog that she does not wish her work to be reproduced elsewhere. It's a pity because I really rather like it but as the blog in question contains a request not to repost her work, I shall comply with her wishes and move on to another artist. If you wish to see her Alice illustrations, then you'll just have to buy a copy.

So, Alice, after some conversation with the footman, enters the house and finds herself in a kitchen where a cook is busy throwing pepper around and the Duchess is tossing a baby into the air. Everyone is throwing crockery about and a cat is lying on the hearth

This illustration is by one of the most famous artists to have illustrated the book, Arthur Rackham.

Monday, 16 February 2009

The Samaria Gorge

One of the things I enjoy most on holidays is hiking. I have been up and down (actually down and up) various trails in the Grand Canyon, around a four day hike in the Himalayas, along the Inca trail and round and about in more places than I can count. Although I am older now, and knee problems have reduced what I can do, I can still make the easier walks. I was younger and fitter when I went down the Samaria Gorge, which downhill is a relatively pleasant and easy stroll.
The Samaria Gorge is 18 kilometres long and runs from a ranger station at Xyloskalo to the Iron Gates at Agia Romeli. It is not merely the longest gorge in Europe it is also the most visited. Some guide books claim that in ancient times the Cretan people avoided the gorge believing it to be populated by demons. Looking at the hordes of tourists that race down it every day it's hard not to reach the conclusion that they were probably right. Most of these tourists are ferried in by bus in the morning and picked up in the evening at the bottom by the ferry. Some do it the easy way and start at the bottom, walk up the gentle last kilometre to the narrowest point, the so-called 'Iron Gates', take a photograph to prove that they were really there and then walk back to Agia Romeli for lunch.
Doing it properly you begin at Xyloskalo which sounds like a planet out of Doctor Who but is in fact a word meaning 'wooden stairway'. However before you start there are the park rules to be memorised, for the Samaria Gorge is a Greek National Park. My helpful Guide Book lists them.

The use of auxiliary paths is only permitted on presentation of a permit from the Forestry Commission of Chania.
Strictly forbidden within the National Park are
Camping, overnight stays, lighting fires and swimming.
Destroying, disturbing, collecting or in any way interfering with geological formations, plants, animals, historical monuments, signposts or other constructions. Also forbidden are hunting and the grazing of flocks.
The free circulation of any pet accompanying visitors.
The dumping of rubbish in any place other than rubbish bins.
Smoking except in the special rest areas.
The consumption of alcoholic beverages.
The possession of firearms, traps or snares.
Hunting and fishing.
Radios, singing, the throwing of stones or other disturbing noises.

Violators of the regulations will be prosecuted and will incur the penalties laid down in articles 268,275,276,277,280,283,285,286 and 287 of Legislative Decree no. 86/1969, concerning the Forestry Code and according to the statutes of Legislative Decree 9061/1971.

With these dire admonitions and not a little curiosity about the contents of those carefully enumerated articles rattling around in our heads we began then at Xyloskalo and for a hundred or so metres of descent went down a series of uneven steps, not wooden but rock and gravel. Already I was beginning to notice the strange footwear that some of the people there had. Our party was unusual in that we all wore boots, as recommended. By far the most common footwear was the ubiquitous training shoe, varying from cheap canvas pairs to expensive designer labels that would almost certainly be useless for much else when the walk had ended. There was also a sizeable minority who considered such items as flip-flops, sandals, slippers or ordinary shoes to be suitable. I didn't see anyone in high heels but I'd be willing to bet that there were some.
The quickest that I believe it would be possible to descend the gorge, drinking on the hoof and not hanging about to look at anything, is about four hours. We took a more leisurely pace, beginning at about ten and finishing at around five. It would be pointless to try to describe the walk in detail. As long as you keep on going down it is impossible to get lost (even for someone like me, who once got lost on the similarly simple Inca trail) and soon our party was scattered along a couple of kilometres. We would meet up and walk together in various combinations for a while before separating again. There are a number of areas designated as rest areas where at least a few of the party were usually to be found. At one such area I found Linda with her boots off having somehow managed to blacken her toes as I did last year in Peru. Cory, our resident doctor who was probably wishing he'd claimed to be a window cleaner, performed a quick bit of field surgery, piercing the nails with a hot needle to allow the pressure to be relieved, and we set off again. At the same stop there was a small church and after about ten minutes of trying I managed to take a picture without any people on it.

Further down, perhaps a little short of halfway is the deserted, except for tourists, village of Pano Samaria. You cross a small bridge to reach it and here we paused for a lunch break and a rest. A man with a horse with a distinctly uncomfortable looking wooden saddle was there offering, for a fee, to give rides down the remaining 9.5 km to anyone too injured or too weary to go on. The saddle looked so much like a medieval torture device that he found few takers even among the walking wounded whose numbers were by now mounting.
Soon we re-crossed the bridge and continued down. Later the horse passed us carrying a young woman with a badly grazed leg and a heavily bandaged ankle. She looked as if she could not decide which was more unpleasant - riding or walking.
Towards the end of the Gorge there is the narrowest points, the Sidheresportes - The Iron Gates. Here the walls rise above you with a slight overhang so that they appear to be closer at the top than the bottom. They are a mere eight feet apart and the bed of the river runs through them They would be a good deal more impressive without the six inch wide hose that has run, mostly invisibly, down the length of the gorge. Here it is an obtrusive line down the centre of the ravine
From the Gates there was only a little way left and soon we were assembling at the exit gate, taking pictures and drinking cans of Cola bought at the shop. Once outside it was a short and pleasant stroll to the town of Agia Romeli where, unlike the majority of walkers we were to stay for a couple of nights. We sat outside a bar on the corner of the main street sipping cold beer and watching the survivors limp in.

My Guide Book describes Agia Romeli as 'completely characterless and solely geared to earning its income for just a few hours each afternoon when the walkers arrive'. There is some truth in the description but it is over harsh. The locals are friendly enough, if you take the trouble to talk to them and staying on for a night or two after the walk is a far more civilised way of doing things than mindlessly catching the ferry and then a bus back to Khania or wherever.

This poem wasn't written for the Samaria Gorge, it was written, as the title suggests, after a very tough day's hiking uphill on the Inca Trail. I think it captures the feeling.

On the Inca Trail

One step after another.
Raise a foot. Swing it forward.
Slam it down.
Breathe hard.
One step after another.
Back foot pulled from sucking mud
Clears the ground.
Breathe hard.
One step after another.
Breathe hard.
Look up the hill at the miles to go.
Don't look back, no need to know
How little's gone.
Look at the rapidly receding back
Of the fastest fittest hiker on the track,
And then go on.
One step after another.
Try to keep a steady tread
Of laboured paces.
Breathe hard.
One step after another.
At every one you wish you were
In other places.
Breathe hard.
One step after another.

Bonus Culture

You'd have to have been in a coma for the last six months to be unaware of the financial crisis that is gripping the world. One of the current aspects of it is that, here in the UK as well as elsewhere, vast sums of public money have been spent in propping up financial institutions. There is a great outcry about how those institutions which have taken so much money, can still somehow find cash to dole out to their employees in the form of bonuses.

One thing that seems to have gone more or less unremarked is this interesting use of the word "bonus". The argument being repeated all over the place is that the Government has no power, even in these partly nationalised institutions, to prevent the bonuses being paid because they are contractually obliged to pay them and risk being sued by irate executives if they don't get the £50,000, £100,000 or whatever that they feel they are owed.

Hang on a minute! Contractually obliged to pay a bonus? Let's grab a dictionary or two.

bonus: something given, paid or received above what is due or expected (Collins English Dictionary)

bonus: something in addition to what is expected or strictly due as a) money or an equivalent given in addition to an employee's usual compensation (Merriam Webster On Line)

bonus: an extra amount of money that is given to you as a present or reward in addition to the money you were expecting (Cambridge Dictionaries On Line)

So, we're all agreed then, a bonus is something you get in addition to what you are supposed to have so how on earth can anything that is contractual be considered as a bonus? The truth is that these so-called bonuses are nothing of the sort, because if they were then there would be no legal reason to pay them. Interesting how bankers can manipulate the meanings of words as well as the financial markets.

And don't even get me started on their novel interpretation of the word "sorry".

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Alices In Wonderland: Part 26

We have seen the work of Margaret Tarrant before, in part 2 of this collection but it's good enough to take a second look.

Alice, having managed to use the mushroom to get back to a sensible size, walks through the woods until she comes upon a house. Outside the house are two footmen, one a fish and the other a frog. The fish-footman is bringing an invitation from the queen for the duchess to play croquet.

A Saint Valentine's Day Poem

I’d like to write a poem
Of a love that’s deep and true,
That’s brighter than the sunshine
And fresher than the dew,
That lasts for all eternity
Yet begins each day anew,
Adds music to the sounds of life
And grandeur to the view –
And the only thing that’s missing
Is someone to send it to.

Sadly not eligible for Garrison Keeler's competition for poems to be read out on The Prairie Home Companion, today because they have to be poems specifically written TO someone real. (And, for the rather more prosaic reason that the on line form on the web site only accepts USA and Canada addresses.)

Friday, 13 February 2009

Not a Saint Valentine's Day Poem

It's a while since I posted any poems, so here's one. It isn't a Saint Valentines' Day poem, though I suppose it comes close enough in spirit to how I feel about the day. It's a couple of years old now but it is the first time that it's dared to show its face in public. It's a cheery little number that was originally written as a song.

You can move around the furniture
But the room’s still the same shape
And change everything there is to change
But some changes just won’t take.
You can change your hair, you can change your clothes,
You can even change your name
But when you reach the heart of it
It’s all still just the same.

You can persuade yourself you’re happy
With the way things have worked out
You can convince the whole wide world of it
In a whisper or a shout.
You can lie, deceive, dissemble,
And no-one cares that much
You can use the truth as a weapon
Or you can use it as a crutch.

And in the end it doesn’t matter
If your life was good or bad
In the oceans of humanity
One drop is small and sad
And whether you’re a saint or sinner;
You use your heart or use your head
The simple undisputed truth
Is that still you’ll end up dead.

My official Saint Valentines Day Poem will appear in the next post. It's nearly as cheerful as this one.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Alices In Wonderland: Part 25

The illustrations that I have in a rather heavy hard-backed French edition (translated byAndre Bay, published by Grund, 2002) are by Jean-Claude Silbermann and they are probably the most seriously disturbing of any edition in my collection. These are not illustrations you would want to show to nervous six year olds. They are the stuff of nightmares. I don't know if it's cultural, if the French are less sensitive to horror but these illustrations wouldn't be out of place in the grimmest of grim horror films. Skulls, snakes, dead fish, weirdly elongated creatures, grinning figures with mouths full of sharp pointy teeth: it's not easy to look at.

Anyway, Alice finishes conversing with the caterpillar who tells her that she can adjust her size by eating parts of the mushroom, one side for bigger, one for smaller. Her first experiment causes her neck to grow extremely long and stick up out of the trees where pigeon mistakes her for a serpent.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

New Blog

Just for information, my blog reprinting my unpublished book is now virtually complete so I have started a new blog. This one will be printing a selection of photographs, one at a time, from the vast collection that I have taken in my travels over the years. Comments are not just welcomed but actively requested.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Not just me

This post from Neil Gaiman's blog is so much like me it's uncanny.

And it's not just tea. I'm an English teacher and a running joke in my classes between me and my students is how often I lose board pens, erasers, papers etc. I can have a pile of papers in my hand but when I come to hand them out I can't find them and the observant students will notice me surreptitiously looking around, trying to notice if I've left them on my desk, or near the computer, or on one of their desks, or on the window sill or occasionally in the bin.

I can sit at an empty desk with just a sheet of paper and a pen and if I blink my eyes I will lose the pen and the paper. If I blink twice I might even lose the desk.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Alices In Wonderland: Part 24

In among the collection are some oddities. One such is a book I have which is a spiral-bound volume called "Songs from Alice" (published by Adam and Charles Black,) in which Don Harper has set various of Carroll's poems to music. The illustrations are by Charles Folkard.

As she talks with the caterpillar, Alice muses about how she doesn't feel like herself. In response the caterpillar asks her to recite a poem, You are Old Father William. She does so. The illustration comes from the poem as she recites it.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Aggressive assaults on belief

I normally don't go too near contentious subjects but I can't really let this one pass. I've just read the transcript of Tony Blair's address to the National Prayer Breakfast. Now the very existence of such an event, previously unknown to me, bothers me on any number of levels - not least of which is the fact that it seems to be a political event and, call me old fashioned if you like, I believe whole-heartedly in the separation of church and state.
We'll let that pass though, as I'd rather look at the content of the speech.

It's a mix of religious rhetoric, personal reminiscences about his religious experiences and a kind of deliberate all-encompassing ecumenicalism that attempts to include all branches of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism and even Buddhism. All of those faiths are quoted in what looks very much like a cynical attempt to appear even-handedly tolerant. I may be doing him a disservice. Maybe it isn't cynical; maybe it's perfectly sincere, but the shoe-horning in of quotes from religions which have beliefs and tenets so far from his own surely looks calculated rather than spontaneous.

That isn't the thing that bothers me though. I said "all-encompassing" but it isn't. In fact there is one group of us who are not only omitted but openly derided, in fact referred to as if we are the enemies of the world.

"From without, religious faith is assailed by an increasingly aggressive secularism, which derides faith as contrary to reason and defines faith by conflict. Thus do the extreme believers and the aggressive non-believers come together in unholy alliance."

That's it for me then. As a non-believer I am clearly part of that increasingly aggressive secularism. I deride faith as contrary to reason and define faith by conflict. Really? That's all news to me. As it happens I respect everyone's right to believe whatever they choose and, however unlikely I may find it all personally, I don't express those views, try to convert people to my point of view or, usually, deride people for believing it. And as - let's not use the weasel word "non-believer" - as an atheist, I have suffered a whole lifetime of being assailed by "aggressive" religion. Now that's not to say that everyone I know who is religious aggressively tries to convert everyone they meet. That would be ridiculous, wouldn't it? Nevertheless atheists don't generally go around knocking on doors or stand on street corners preaching or offer to not pray for someone.
It's a trite thing to say, but I've had, and have, good friends who are of all sorts of persuasions: Christian, Jewish, Sikh and even Mormon, a religion with beliefs that many find risible. I admit that I once wrote an article on how scary I find Salt Lake City, because I do, but the truth is I find most religious fervour rather scary because the very religious may disagree about the nature of God, the practice of their faiths or even the number of gods; may be so fundamentally at odds with each other that no true reconciliation is possible; but they do all agree on one thing, I am bound for hell simply because I disagree with them.

I find certain assumptions implicit in Tony Blair's speech to be deeply offensive to my beliefs.

"There are a million good deeds done every day by people of faith."

"'I'm afraid my father doesn't believe in God'. I said. 'That doesn't matter' my teacher replied 'God believes in him. He loves him without demanding or needing love in return.'"

'The 21st Century will be poorer in spirit, meaner in ambition, less disciplined in conscience, if it is not under the guardianship of faith in God.'

'We can perform acts of mercy, but only God can lend them dignity. We can forgive, but only God forgives completely in the full knowledge of our sin.'

All of these statements are offensive to my beliefs, not because he believes them - that's his business, not mine - but because there is an implicit criticism of my beliefs involved in each of them, and for that matter in the whole tone of the article.

True, towards the end, he throws a sop to "humanism" but only up to a point and frankly I find the use of the word "humanist" to be a kind of mealy-mouthed hedging.

The thing that disturbs me most is that while bending over backwards in his efforts to include every religion he can think of - it's a wonder he didn't quote Obi-Wan Kenobi - he has deliberately and specifically excluded me and the approximately 150 million people like me worldwide (source Wikipedia, 2.3% of world population). We are, at best, "doing God's work" and therefore "God's people" even if we don't believe it. And we are "limited" in even that. Well, I'm sorry but that's the most incredibly patronising thing I've ever heard.

Tony Blair talks about how religion is also under attack from within, "corroded by extremists who use their faith as a means of excluding the other", but it seems to me that his words are just as extreme in the way that they deny my beliefs.

OK. That's it. I have deliberately not gone into the other religious story of the last few days about the rise of fundamental belief and creationism in the UK. Although I find it very disturbing, it isn't really relevant, except to the extent that I would like to hear his views on it.


We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.I'll try to stay away from contentious stuff for a while, and I sincerely hope that this doesn't lose me any of my more religiously inclined friends whose views I respect completely even while not agreeing with them.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Snow Day

I've just been for a walk to the local supermarket and, though I'm surprised that anybody thinks the weather is bad enough to close schools, I took a few pictures on the way.

Alices in Wonderland: Part 23

So far, all the illustrations that I have used have come from books in my own personal collection. This post is breaking, for the only time that I intend to do so, with that self-imposed rule. I do not own a copy of this version and am unlikely to ever do so. Until last year I thought I would probably never see one other than on the internet. Last year however I found a shop in London with a copy proudly displayed in the window. I chatted to the man in the shop for a long time about it but I could never even consider laying out £4000 for one book... even one illustrated by Salvador Dali!

As she wanders on through the woods Alice comes to a caterpillar sitting on top of a mushroom, smoking a hookah.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

So that's why I like words!

Talking with my father about the old times when I was a kid and he was a (much) younger man, we reminisced about my childhood. We moved from our old house, which we rented privately, to the council house where my family have lived ever since*, because the council had bought the land and were about to knock it down and build about six houses on the site. I was six at the time. Shortly afterwards I developed a sore throat. Back in those days it was completely routine for any child with a sore throat to have his tonsils whipped out and spend a couple of days in hospital. And that's what happened.
To give poor little six-year-old me something to do, my parents bought me a John Bull printing set. I don't know if anyone remembers these things, or indeed if they even existed in America, but they were quite popular here once upon a time. They consisted of a wooden block with a grove in it, a set of tiny pieces of rubber embossed with reversed letters, a pair of tweezers and an inkpad. You used the tweezers to put the letters into the block (back to front), banged it on the pad and then onto paper to print your message (right way round).
Paper or any white surface.
Hospital sheets are white.
I'm told that the hospital were very understanding about it, but it seems that I was going for the world record for the number of times someone's name can be printed on a hospital bed.

Ah such days of innocence. Can you imagine, in these days of computer systems, Nintendo, Gameboy, Wii and such like, any kid wanting to play with such a low-tech thing? No, me neither.

(* My father and I still live there, althogh we own it now - having bought it in the great Margaret Thatcher council house sell-off.)

Alices in Wonderland: Part 22

Slipping away from the house Alice enters the woods where, in a scene that seems out of place, she meets a puppy. This serves usefully to remind us of Alice's current size but otherwise does not fit into the book at all.

The illustration above is by Eric Kincaid and comes from the Brimax Publishing edition (1988). This edition has been abridged by removing in their entirety two chapters, as well as making many smaller cuts. It also, rather strangely includes a CD reading of the first two chapters only.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

An untold story of Peruvian plumbing

It occurs to me that in my recent post on toilets around the world I omitted a story of Peru. This isn't a story of an oddly located toilet. Nor is it a story of a particularly unusual or disgusting toilet. It's just something that happened in Cuzco.
We had been to Puno and travelled back from there by train to Cuzco, a journey that even on schedule takes eleven hours. We stopped in Juliaca and again at Chuquibambilla and at each we were delayed in starting out again. The result was that, after a fourteen hour journey, we reached Cuzco at around eight thirty and then piled into a minibus to drive into the city. Twenty minutes later we had unloaded our gear into rooms at the Hotel Carlos V. Twenty minutes after that I was eating pizza in a tiny local restaurant and twenty minutes after that I was upstairs in the Cross Keys pub drinking a bottle of beer and listening to a splendid mix of Lou Reed, Bon Jovi and AC/DC.
I stayed there drinking and playing pool until about one in the morning when I decided that I was drunk enough and should head back to my bed. My temporary room mate, a Danish teacher, was, while not exactly a teetotaller, a rather more modest drinker than most of us and had left straight after the pizza, so I tiptoed in as softly as only a very drunken man who has been awake for about eighteen hours can. Somehow I managed to avoid waking him.

I know what you are thinking. What has this to do with toilets. Patience, I'm getting there.
Before I climbed into my bed, I decided that it would be wise to go to the toilet and relieve the pressure from all of that beer. It was, after all the first time I'd had any en suite facilities for almost two weeks. So I tiptoed into the bathroom, did what I had to do and flushed the toilet. I turned to leave but I was vaguely aware that something was wrong. The toilet was still flushing. And still flushing. And still flushing.
And it was loud. The kind of flushing that rattles all the pipes in the whole building. The kind of flushing that shakes the cistern. Certainly the kind of flushing that wakes up your Danish room mate.
It was clear that until the flushing stopped neither of us would get any more sleep. We tried, sober man and drunk man working in imperfect harmony, to fix it, but half an hour and a whole roll of insulation tape later it was still flushing and my room mate was extremely annoyed. He went off to seek an alternate room and fifteen minutes later the staff had found one for us. We moved in and he climbed grumpily into his bed.
By now my bladder was bursting again so I went into the toilet. It was about three O'clock. I did my business and turned to leave. As I did so I flushed the toilet.

I'm sure that you can guess what happened next.