Sunday, 29 January 2012

We Passed It (Long Ago)

It is a border you cross.  Its location is unknown.  Even when you pass over it you are unaware of its existence; for you can hardly see it; certainly not clearly, maybe not even at all. 

You have crossed the border and the country changes; more exotic in all sorts of ways, it is a desert and a jungle combined; although do you do not recognise it – so many features have remained the same.  Your emotions so wild, so dense, so entangled; a slight pain a sandstorm of excruciating happiness.  You have arrived in a new land, but it takes years for you to see it.   One day when you are miles away from that crossing, and you look back from a high mountain range, you watch it shimmering on the horizon; figures moving slowly around it, inhabiting what for you is now an old nation.  There is the sky, the grey waves, the russet sand, and between them black silhouettes, like crochets on a stave.  The border, that beach, that one day, so long ago; that moment when everything changed for good; your life transported into a new country.

Friday, 27 January 2012

No Man's Land

Remember the good old days?  When you were young and still a child.  Do you recall the hostility, the cruelty; the violence just below the surface, ready always to pop up and show its impish face and flash its lightweight fists?   You do?  OK.  Good.  Now we can talk properly. What were you: the bully or the miserable victim?  Come on now.  You can tell me.  No hiding behind fancy games or intellectual fantasy.  I want it straight: did you make other people’s lives a misery or were you floored by the verbal abuse and cruel teasing; was it you at the bottom of a pack of brutal kicks and inept punches? 

Good, good, I am listening.  However, you will need more than some old memories to understand this film.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Little Humans

One day shortly after her return Deborah decided that the time had come to take down Menuchim’s basket from the ceiling.  Not without solemnity she turned the little one over to the older children.  ‘You must take him walking!’ said Deborah.  ‘When he gets tired you must carry him.  In God’s name, don’t let him fall!  The holy man has said that he will get strong.  Do him no harm!  From now on the children’s troubles began.


Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guiltie of dust and sinne.
But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lack’d any thing.

A guest, I answer’d, worthy to be here:
Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkinde, ungratefulle?  Ah my deare,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?

Truth Lord, but I have marr’d them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, sayes Love, who bore the blame?
My deare, then I will serve.
You must sit down, sayes Love, and taste my heart:
So I did sit and eat.

George Herbert

Saturday, 21 January 2012

The Same Old Thing

Religion.  Do we know what it is?   A belief in God: is that it?  For many people this is so.  Yet can God really be the cause of faith?  It does not seem possible, for something so strong and long lasting, and yet so nebulous: for ultimately he is our creation, an idea that exists at our behest.  Can something so individual and so abstract be so powerful?  Did God really build the castle that defends the faithful against all attacks; and is he still the handyman, repairing the walls and the creaking gates…  Such a lot of work for him to do; and never suffering from arthritis or a bad back…

Sunday, 15 January 2012


The Biggest Bully in Town

After reading a David Bromwich review what struck me is that civilisation simply means whatever power happens to be dominant at any particular time.  The powerful republic or empire sets the standard, and measures all other cultures against itself.  Thus the Roman Empire dismisses its German barbarians, the Ottoman rulers their European ones, as they march forward into history.  Today it is “The West” that carries the banners and flags, and it rules because of its particular DNA, or so a popular historian argues: competition, science, property rights, medicine, the consumer society and the work ethic. 

But how does it set this standard in the first place?  By conquest.  Yet strangely of the six factors that Niall Ferguson says makes the West great war is not one of them.  How odd.  How instructive!

Saturday, 14 January 2012


Vanity is a terrible thing.   You submit a poem, it is published, and a few months later you read it in the magazine.  How wonderful!  The words an elegant mosaic, the sentiment captured so clearly; although, on reflection, maybe you caught it just a little too well; but still…  You meander down the page, wistful about the sixth line in the fourth stanza, when your eyes are attracted to a crowd of words massed heavily to its left.  How annoying!  Do I have to share this space with others?  Why can’t I have the house to myself?  You laugh at this conceit, thinking of a large sequence decorating each and every room.  You imagine the bathroom, wondering how to squeeze a Ramayana reference into it; it should be appropriately elephantine, for a bathtub needs its irony; soapsuds amongst the classical gods; in dark blue on light green walls.  What!  Those words are again attracting your attention.  Really, they are a noxious crowd; chanting abuse at a close friend.  The phrases are harsh, but the slogans sound just a little too justly….  This you cannot accept.  In a rage you light up a few paragraphs, and throw them at the editor.