The Scots and the Irish have seen a speck of light at the end of a long tunnel, but, this isn’t what I want to say. Yet.

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 15.28.38

Being retired has its downside, despite living in Paradise. It is often all too easy to find oneself a little bit off balance, the mind engaging in a variety of absurdities, there being little to challenge it. This can escalate into unhelpful thoughts and even actions, the consequent ripples sending those close to us scurrying for safe haven.

Curiously, I came across this. It’s a repost from a blog I visit from time to time. The speaker is Charles H Spurgeon – few readers, if any indeed read this – who have any knowledge of Church history, will need to be introduced to him. He wrote:

Knowing by most painful experience what deep depression of spirit means, being visited with it at seasons by no means few or far between, I thought it might be consolatory to some of my brethren if I gave my thoughts on it…

Most of us are in some way or other unsound physically… As to mental maladies, is any man altogether sane? Are we not all a little off balance? These infirmities may be no detriment to a man’s special usefulness. They may even have been imposed upon him by divine wisdom as necessary qualification for his peculiar course of serviceWhere in body and mind there are predisposing causes to lowness of spirit, it is no marvel if in dark moments the heart succumbs to them.”

He goes on to describe himself as “feeling like empty earthen pitchers which a child might break.”

In his ‘Lectures to My Students’ he wrote:

Causeless depression cannot be reasoned with, nor can David’s harp charm it away by sweet discourses. One would as well fight with the mist as with this shapeless, undefinable, yet all-beclouding hopelessness.”

So. What. One of the strange precepts against which I have battled all my life is the idea that going it alone, toughing it out, the lone sailor drifting into a sunset is infinitely preferable than being together, a ship sailed alone is a somehow more noble enterprise  than one where help is needed to get her to face into the wind and, indeed, if such help is not sought, she may founder.

I think, indeed I know, that this attitude is both muddled, prideful and wrong. I have discovered something in recent times about forgiveness, both its depth and the awesomely simple idea that, as I forgive, forgiveness is released to me.

“and forgive us our trespasses (going places where we should not), (just) as we forgive those who trespass against us.” ‘Our’. Not ‘my’. Oh.

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 15.26.09

The power of metaphor

This is written on the day in which Britain’s European destiny was changed for ever. She has voted, narrowly, to ‘go it alone’, a decision that she may regret. Millions, if not billions of words have been written and it’s pointless to add more charcoal to an already overheated fire. The Leave/Remain debate, the demise of David Cameron and the victory, as some have put it, of the ‘sans culottes’, is yesterday’s news, a knee jerk, emotional response to their EU prison door being opened just wide enough for them to make a run for it, stage-managed by the know-it-alls, autocrats and plutocrats, with little UKIPs pattering along in their shadow, like delighted terriers chasing a bone.

Harold Wilson once remarked “a week is a long time in politics”. The fallout from the last twenty-four hours may last for a generation.

Thanks to Charles Milner for the photograph, plus caption.

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 15.07.19

View from Cap Blanc-Nez,  France

…on the morning after the referendum- you can just make out the white cliffs of Brexit “Great” Britain. Ah…



One Hundred Years of….Shoe-Throwing

Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 20.40.10


In a few days, hopefully, I’m going to get to see the new ‘Independence Day’ movie, a 20-year rework of the original. The trailer promises a good deal, the new assailants are just like the old ones but more numerous, their ships and armaments huger, they are better prepared and infinitely more dangerous this time around.

I rather wondered whether there was a metaphor there somewhere…

Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 20.31.44In late May, the Arab press published a number of articles marking the 100th anniversary of the Sykes-Picot agreement, which still looks as if somebody just took a pencil and a map and drew some pretty arbitrary lines on it, segmenting the Ottoman Empire into several territories, thus shaping the map of the Middle East as we know it.  A relatively uncomplicated scenario, a bit like uploading a virus into an enemy spaceship. On its centenary, people have been revisiting the agreement and its outcomes. Some writers have focused on the agreement’s adversarial effects, warning that the US and Russia are currently formulating a new, improved Sykes-Picot, perhaps on the back of the rampant anarchy in Syria, which can surely no longer continue to function as a sovereign state for much longer. Perhaps the outcome might be a lot less draconian, subdividing the region’s states into even smaller entities on a sectarian and/or ethnic basis. This will have the effect of further weakening the Arab world and subordinate it to their control, a rather cynical ploy whose deliberateness would somehow have to be concealed. The notion of Obama’s and Putin’s successors, fighting over who gets the pencil, is probably too awful to contemplate.  Strangely, articles were published accusing the Arab regimes of co-operating with this plan, consciously or not, while others accused Israel of being up to its neck in the intrigue. On the other hand, if the warmongers are determined enough, a conflict of Biblical proportions could erupt with comparatively little warning, and, as in every other war in history, it will have come about through decades of stupidity, intransigence and wilful blindness to the truth that stares us in the face.

Conversely, other writers have claimed that the disintegration of the Arab world along ethnic and sectarian lines stems not from external plots but from the division and hatred that currently prevail among the Arabs, mostly but not exclusively along Sunni-Shia lines. It. has to be noted, however, that such divisions often stem from one side’s disparagement of the other in light of their Islamic observance, such as Hamas and the PA.

Yet another approach was taken by Lebanese journalist Khairallah Khairallah. He wrote that the Sykes-Picot agreement was actually a “gift from heaven,” but the Arabs failed to take advantage of it. Instead of using it to develop states that benefit their people, they used it as an excuse to oppress them and to justify all their failures. This won’t have gone down very well in diwaniyas up and down the Gulf.

Whichever is even a fragment of the truth, unfolding events will surely reveal. However, I am still looking forward to the film in which the good guys (those without tentacles and exoskeletons) win.


No Honourable Draw

Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 11.42.35A long time ago, I once met Henry Cooper, shaking his great meat-cleaver of a hand. He was larger than I expected, amiable, with a warm, friendly smile. Lighter by over twenty pounds, he was the man whose famous left hook left a young Cassius Clay sprawled on the canvas in 1963 and whose Achilles heel of a cut eye robbed him of the fight in the next round. Many have suggested that Clay had been illegally revived in his corner with the use of smelling salts and had he not been, the outcome might well have been different.

After a legendary career and having finally lost his battle with Parkinson’s Disease, the Louisville Lip is finally being laid to rest in his home town. Much is being made of the greatness of Ali – the world’s first high profile sportsman who converted to Islam and a lavish, multi-faith memorial is planned for a man whose hands were so fast that he could punish slower opponents at will and almost without effort, as Ernie Terrell and Larry Holmes both found out to their cost.

In sixty one fights, Ali won 56 times, 61% by knockout. He never drew a fight.

It seemed that Ali was a man who believed all roads led to God, often spending time at his father’s old church even after his conversion to Islam, albeit the black supremacist version peddled by the likes of Elijah Muhammad.  Perhaps this is the kind of Islam that Bill Clinton may remark upon on Friday at the memorial service, inclusive, almost tolerant, the kind that the West can do business with. It seems unlikely that the radicals would agree but nobody had ever publicly called him out as an apostate.
Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 12.08.50People are uncomfortable with extremes – they feel secure under an umbrella of near-predictable mediocrity which is why I think that when all the blood is mopped off the floor, Britain will still prefer to huddle under the Orwellian shadow of Brussels, irksomely chafing as it is.
It’s been interesting to follow the uppercuts and left hooks in Westminster as the Conservative party enthusiastically cannibalises itself and the extremes of opinion are hung out to dry like so much dirty laundry. UKIP thinks that if the Brits leave they’ll be subjected to hordes of sexual predators roaming the streets in search of inappropriately clad women. The economists are talking about retail collapse and David Cameron is focusing on what he thinks it will cost the average family if the Brexiteers win. Meanwhile, the political fortunes of the likes of Gove and Johnson hang in the balance. Both are gamblers, it would appear, and like the last hand in the poker game, have gone ‘all-in’. If they fail, they can be assured of enjoying a very long exile in the political wilderness. I don’t often agree with Jeremy Corbyn’s political strategy, but he seems to be watching the bloodletting from the sidelines and his non-involvement might be quite a savvy move.

This particular bout cannot end in an honourable draw.

Galley Slaves

I like to keep busy. It makes the day go faster.

I like to keep busy. It makes the day go faster.

Whatever one thinks of Iran’s draconian interpretation of Shari’a, hangings, stonings and what not, they’d have to go some way to beat the activities of the SAVAK, which was the secret police, domestic security and intelligence service established by the old Shah with the help of the CIA. Their brutality was legendary. The Savaki Meat Hook was a little trick once used in Evin Prison in Tehran, or so I was once advised by an ex-member of the Special Forces. It was an ingenious way to persuade people to talk. The torture involved stretching the victim’s arms straight behind his back, knotted at the wrists, then using a hook and pulley to pull them vertically upwards by a meat hook attached to the knot until the recipient was virtually standing on tiptoe in, let’s say, some considerable discomfort. Needless to say, tongues loosened very, very fast.

Why am I discussing torture?

I am in the process of marking external exam scripts. It’s a pastime for masochists, and melancholic ones at that. Think Eeyore on speed. I’d always felt I was a bit like a galley slave, but on previous voyages the whips were infrequently used and most of the time, one felt oneself to be a reasonably valued member of the ship’s crew.

This has changed in recent times. Tolerances have been ratcheted tighter and tighter, until one is standing on one’s intellectual tip toes with very little room to move, at the whim of a Chief who guides us all in the paths of numerical righteousness and who might or might not have been having a great day when he put the test material together. Additionally, the taskmasters punish infraction with metaphorical whip-cracking with a good deal more frequency than formerly, only slightly ameliorated by the frisson of schadenfreude when one catches one of the nobs at the top making a wee blunder themselves. As surely they must.

The Czechs have a delightful word: litost. “Litost is a state of torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery,” writes Milan Kundera in The Book of Laughter and Forgetting. Each time the ‘out of tolerance’ tab explodes on to the screen like a land mine, I understand what it means. Every year, I remind myself that the arms and shoulders don’t bend with as much suppleness as formerly and I’m a mug to sign up.

Next year, maybe, I’ll make a dash for the lifeboats….