Saturday, December 17, 2005

Spy vs Spy

This is Top Cat and I must write this because the news today is sensational, flabbergasting and amazing. It is even more amazing that Northern Ireland has not slammed to a halt with the news that came out today, in fact, I would even say that it is almost revolutionary.

Let me explain some of the background. We had direct rule in Northern Ireland for most of the troubles. Politicians here had very little to do or think about because local political decisions were made in London. Hospitals, roads, taxes were all decided in London and because of that Northern Ireland was a dump for about 20 years because a politician living in London doesn’t really care very much about what happens in Belfast. Meanwhile the whole of politics in Northern Ireland became entrenched in a laager mentality of criticising the other side. For years all politicians talked about was whether Northern Ireland was British or Irish and they happily argued in circles for years and years.

Until the Good Friday agreement when finally we were given our own government. All of a sudden politicians started to be consumed with education, health, business news. They almost forgot about the old arguments and the DUP even aligned itself with Sinn Fein to battle the beef crisis and give farmers a good deal. Then we had a catastrophe, the whole government was closed down because Special Branch RUC officers stormed Stormont claiming there was a spy ring operating and security details were being passed to the IRA.

The last few years we have been back to Direct Rule and it has been one of the worst times in our history. Hospitals in Enniskillen are being closed, high water charges are being imposed, people in Belfast were flooded all because politicians in London are not interested enough to deal with our local problems. After 3 years the police finally brought the case against the so-called spies in Stormont and the case was totally thrown out of court. It was declared that it ‘was not in the public interest’ to prosecute. Why? When Peter Hain was asked to explain the decision not to prosecute he stated ‘the case does not have any importance’!

I was disgusted, with Peter Hain (one of those in direct rule) with Special Branch with the courts. Northern Ireland is going down the drain and all he can say is ‘I don’t care about it’. Needless to say the DUP and the UUP were angry and have stormed parliament looking for answers. They got very little until today …

Denis Donaldson one of the Sinn Fein administrators accused of being a spy has declared he was recruited by British Intelligence and Special Branch in the 1980s. Since then he has worked as a British spy in the heart of Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein are the party that are working for a united Ireland and a total end to a union with London. He also has claimed that the Stormont spy scandal that ended the N Ireland government was a complete fabrication by Special Branch i.e. the police!

This is Le Carre stuff, spy thriller bluff and double bluff. Whatever people say over the next few days we need to get our government back! We have to prise it out of the dirty slimy fingers of Peter Hain.

Let me finish with a quote from Ian Paisley, talking about Peter Hain's refusal to explain why the court case was thrown out of court:

"In view of the governments refusal to make a statement, this situation has been aggravated to the point where the people have lost faith in the government and faith in the governments determination and dedication to deal with terror."

Monday, December 12, 2005

The Price of the ticket and paradox

'The Price of the Ticket' is a quirky, kinky, crazy, chaotic mess of a book. A lot of it just doesn't make any sense. But it's also a cynical, street-smart, barbed, clever, and oftentimes very funny neo-noir farce- which saves it.”

This is taken from a review by Terry D’Auray. This book is one of the strangest most intriguing books I have come across. I went to see Jim Nisbet in Belfast a couple of weeks ago and one of the things that impressed me was his intense focus and love of writing whilst hating the modern so-called-literary scene in USA. A harsh critic of the creative writing culture Jim explained that his books were hated in the USA and loved in France.

I can understand their point of view the writing does appear strange, even trashy at times and at other times quite brilliant with a huge lust for life and wildness. I was also impressed that even though Terry said he didn’t really like the book he did recognise a lot of the characters from San Francisco. This is a plus point for me because I want to know what it is like, not how the media and film industry tells me it is how it is for real.

One of the reasons I haven’t updated this blog is that I can’t really get my head around this book, another reason is I have been extremely busy and reading very few fiction books.

Tonight for the first time in ages I picked up ‘Systematic Theology’ by Tillich. I started to read a wonderful passage on the role of paradox in theology. Paradox is central, in the idea of the incarnation and redemption, it is an idea that transcends our logic. To quote Tillich:

“The acceptance of this paradox is not the acceptance of the absurd, but it is the state of being grasped by the power of that which breaks into our experience from above it. Paradox in religion and theology does not conflict with the principle of logical rationality. Paradox has its logical place.”

(That means I have reached page 64)

Saturday, November 26, 2005

The Wapshot Chronicles

“Cheever's main theme was the spiritual and emotional emptiness of life. He especially described the manners and morals of middle-class, suburban America, with an ironic humour which softened his basically dark vision.” from Wikipedia

‘The Wapshot Chronicle’ by John Cheever has been a slow start for me. I found the introducing chapters quite predictable. A 1950s middle class America with a lot of eccentric and comedic characters. The unusual twist of the quote from one of the ancestors of the Wapshots. As I am moving in to the novel there are some gorgeous insights into how the novel is going to turnout. The story has just started, it is about a young couple trying to find privacy, he lives with his parents, she lives in a boarding house. There is that sweet 1950s awkwardness that you would expect and just a hint of exuberant passion that livens up the story and whilst it must have been quite shocking in the day, nowadays it appears sweet and humorous.

One line that sticks in my head is when they go to a beach that he hopes will be deserted, they find two other groups of people. As if pre-planned he takes her hand and she says loudly “I’d adore to pick blueberries but let’s take your hat and we’ll put the blueberries in that.” All an excuse for some intimacy.

I am warming to this book, even though I am getting more busy and Christmas is coming it looks likely to become a good read. I now have only one pressing HNC assignment, I have to learn ASP and design a website but it is not too bad. I will finish off by letting the book speak for itself, a short section about Rosalie Young and her date going home from the beach:

“Then they drank some more whisky and ate again and now the homing pleasure boats had disappeared and the beach and all but the highest cliffs lay in the dark. He went up to the car and got a blanket, but now the search for privacy was brief; now it was dark. The stars came out and when they were done she washed in the sea and put her white coat on and together, barefoot, they went up and down the beach, carefully gathering the sandwich papers, bottles and egg shells that they and the others had left, for these were neat, good children of the middle class.

He hung the wet bathing suits on the door of the car to dry, patted her gently on the knee – the tenderest gesture of all – and started the car. Once they had got onto the main road the traffic was heavy and many of the cars they passed had, like his, bathing suits hung from the door handles. He drove fast, and she thought cleverly, although the car was old. Its lights were weak and with the lights of an approaching car filling the pupils of his eyes he held to the road precariously, like a blind man running. But he was proud of the car – he had put a new cylinder head and supercharger – prod of his prowess in negotiating the dilapidated and purblind vehicle over the curving roads of Travertine and St. Botolphs, and when they had gotten free of the traffic and were on a back road that was not, to his knowledge, patrolled, he took it as fast as it would go. The speed made Rosalie feel relaxed until she heard him swear and felt the car careen and bump into a field.”

Friday, November 18, 2005

I also bought a book on African history yesterday. It is fascinating because the African experience of getting rid of colonial powers reminds me of NI. Kwame Nkrumah the first leader of Ghana took the party slogan 'Self government now, in the shortest possible time' something we should probably think about.

As he stood to be confirmed as President he wore a cap with PG written on it. PG stands for Prison Graduate. This sounds familiar to!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

I bought another secondhand Pelican today ' An introduction to Jung's psychology'. To my delight when I opened it I found the following clipping concerning Malcolm Muggeridge which I am sure most readers would be interested in. It is available full size, if you click on the image.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Last night I found this poem by Samuel Daniel (1562 - 1619) which is a discussion between Ulysses and the Siren, I think it is relevant to what is happening in Belfast at the moment. Do we not have a 'wicked peace'? (See the last stanza of Ulysses)

The Sirens, if you remember were women who tried to sing and distract Ulysses to make him sail and crash into the rocks. The Siren wants Ulysses to 'make love not war' and he is having none of it!

Ulysses and the Siren

Siren. COME, worthy Greek! Ulysses, come,
Possess these shores with me:
The winds and seas are troublesome,
And here we may be free.
Here may we sit and view their toil
That travail in the deep,
And joy the day in mirth the while,
And spend the night in sleep.

Ulysses. Fair Nymph, if fame or honour were
To be attain'd with ease,
Then would I come and rest me there,
And leave such toils as these.
But here it dwells, and here must I
With danger seek it forth:
To spend the time luxuriously
Becomes not men of worth.

Siren. Ulysses, O be not deceived
With that unreal name;
This honour is a thing conceived,
And rests on others' fame:
Begotten only to molest
Our peace, and to beguile
The best thing of our life--our rest,
And give us up to toil.

Ulysses. Delicious Nymph, suppose there were
No honour nor report,
Yet manliness would scorn to wear
The time in idle sport:
For toil doth give a better touch
To make us feel our joy,
And ease finds tediousness as much
As labour yields annoy.

Siren. Then pleasure likewise seems the shore
Whereto tends all your toil,
Which you forgo to make it more,
And perish oft the while.
Who may disport them diversely
Find never tedious day,
And ease may have variety
As well as action may.

Ulysses. But natures of the noblest frame
These toils and dangers please;
And they take comfort in the same
As much as you in ease;
And with the thought of actions past
Are recreated still:
When Pleasure leaves a touch at last
To show that it was ill.

Siren. That doth Opinion only cause
That 's out of Custom bred,
Which makes us many other laws
Than ever Nature did.
No widows wail for our delights,
Our sports are without blood;
The world we see by warlike wights
Receives more hurt than good.

Ulysses. But yet the state of things require
These motions of unrest:
And these great Spirits of high desire
Seem born to turn them best:
To purge the mischiefs that increase
And all good order mar:
For oft we see a wicked peace
To be well changed for war.

Siren. Well, well, Ulysses, then I see
I shall not have thee here:
And therefore I will come to thee,
And take my fortune there.
I must be won, that cannot win,
Yet lost were I not won;
For beauty hath created been
T' undo, or be undone.

Samuel Daniel

Go to Poemhunter and find the poem you always loved!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Mackerel Plaza by Peter De Vries

‘The Mackerel Plaza’ is essentially a comedy about a minister in 1950s suburban New England whose wife dies in a boating accident. As much as he loved his wife Andy Mackerel simply wants to move on, he has found another woman and he wants to marry her as soon as possible. His parishioners however will not let him forget her, they insist on calling her a saint and they want to erect monuments and hold countless dinners for her.

It is also a farce about liberal Christianity. Mackerel has created his dream church – a church without God. For his liberal Christianity Christ came not to convert sinners but more to irritate the religious. He creates a luxurious church with a medical practice, a psychiatrist and a drama company. The church provides him with a car, a housekeeper and he is relatively happy. However his parishioners are not happy, some have a strong sense that they are sinners, they want to be evangelical and have revival campaigns, Andy is furious!

The first page has one of the funniest incidents of the entire book:

“’What can I do for you Reverend Mackerel?’

‘I want to report a billboard in the Mobile Bay section,’ I said glancing out the window over the treetops to an intersection where the offending object was plainly visible. ‘This is a residential area, where I need not remind you public hoardings are strictly forb– ‘

‘Yes, I know. You’re triple-A out there. Please don’t get upset Reverend Mackerel. Go on.’ The woman – or more likely girl - was audibly eating something a fact not calculated to soothe Mackerel’s nerves or cool his pique.

‘I assume a waiver was granted by the Zoning Board or the signboard wouldn’t have got as far as it is,# I went on.

‘How far is it?’

‘It’s up! I can see it now from my study window, over there on Cooper Street and I don’t like it.’

‘What does it say Reverend Mackerel?’

‘It says –‘ I craned my neck to look out the window, as though I had again to verify the testimony of my senses.’ It says, “Jesus Saves”.’

‘Oh, yes.’ There was a silence at the other end, except for an act of deglutition, and a faint crackling noise which I could believe was that of a successor to a swallowed caramel being wrapped ‘I only work here’ the girl declared at last, ‘ but I do remember something about the board deciding that wasn’t strictly commercial.’

‘Commercial! That’s not the point. It’s vulgar. And the lettering is that awful new phosphorescent stuff – green and orange. No this is blight on the landscape and I protest.’

‘I know what you mean, now that you mention it. You’re not the first to complain. The Presbyterians are appalled. The Episcopalians are sick. All the better element there, with property values at stake – ‘

And it goes on! I was laughing out loud! Mackerel goes on to state ‘It is the final proof of God’s omnipotence that he need not exist in order to save us.’

It is a play on the whole idea that what we need in modern society is old time religion but it is so funny at the same time. I also get the impression that what Mackerel really wants is a good society without the need for religion.

The humour gets better as Mackerel is pressured to say goodbye to his girlfriend in favour of the ‘high society ladies’ in his church who want him to spend all his time doing memorial work for the church. He has a wicked sense of humour and starts putting sexual double entendres into the sermon in order to shock people. At one point the psychiatrist asks him to ‘accept Jesus’ as that is the only way he can save his career!

I found this book in a secondhand bookshop in town, unfortunately De Vries has been out of print for some time. There are a few of his books on Abebooks. I am quite amazed that a book I bought quite by chance turned out to be so good.

It is a book for its time, I have an interest in liberal Christianity so that helped but it is one of the few books that I finished and couldn’t stop reading. A utterly brilliant book.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Here we are let me introduce you to our reading and digital photography fieldtrip 2/11/2005. This is what I should be reading (in fact, it isn’t but that is as close as I can get to what I should be reading) - click on these images to see them full size.

So I am reading Christian existentialism, Isabel is reading about diets in ‘Pick me up’ magazine and seems to be very happy about it!

This is what I am reading – my new 3 volume ‘Systematic Theology’ by Paul Tillich. During lunch I learnt a new latin term – ‘theologia irregenitorum’ “theology of the unregenerate", another good name for a heavy metal band.

Can someone explain to me how to get digital photography to work in an aquarium, I had the perfect picture, dark flowing fish cloe up and all I got was blur, well it does look quite nice.

Unless the subjects are absolutely still - like Mr Monkfish and not everyone is so obliging!

Unless you have bright lights and it comes out perfect like this.

But my favourite picture is this enigmatic seal pic with Isabel’s hand. My finger slipped on the settings button for about ten pics and they all came out dark, but I did this one deliberately!

And finally the jaws of a white shark, reminds me of Tillich:

“Fundamentalism fails to make contact with the present situation, not because it speaks from beyond every situation, but because it speaks from a situation of the past. It elevates something finite and transitory to infinite and eternal validity. In this respect fundamentalism has demonic traits. It destroys the humble honesty of the search for truth, it splits the conscience of its thoughtful adherents, and it makes them fanatical because they are forced to suppress elements of truth of which they are dimly aware.”

Of course Tillich refers here to what is known as fundamentalism in America, that is the more orthodox side of religion, what we would call ‘mainstream’ church. The dangers he was talking about seems to have happened in the last forty years and Christianity has now become a minority issue. This is one the things that excites me about Tillich, he wants to be practical and he wants to discuse the problems of Christianity and the current way of living, aka the ‘situation’ we are in.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

The whole situation that we have now in Northern Ireland reminds me of something that happened to one of my cats. Let me explain -

A while ago the house I was living in had the front door at the rear of the house. You had to walk down an alley and then you entered the house via the kitchen. In the kitchen door there was a catflap. One day the dog next door decided to chase my cat down the alley. The cat simply ran down the alley and jumped in to the catflap. This left the dog feeling quite confused in the garden looking around wondering where the cat had gone. I found it quite amusing.

Imagine the cat as the bomb - or the use of force. Imagine us as ‘the dog’. We have been chasing the cat and we have been so obsessed that when the cat disappeared we have been left utterly confused not knowing where to go. This represents us at the moment. The war has ‘ended’ but now we don’t know how to continue we have just voted in two parties - DUP and Sinn Fein that hate each others guts and we expect them to rule Northern Ireland somehow, somewhere even though if they were in government they would refuse to talk to each other. This has created a strong sense of despair in the citizens of Northern Ireland because we don’t know what to do - the cat has gone.

NB a cat has nine lives.

This analogy has nothing to do with my nick.

I will leave you with this little gem:

“for our strength in this world is, to be slaves of reason, and our liberty, to be captives of the truth.”
John Henry Newman

A friend of mine - 'Topcat' has asked to allow himself to join this blog for the purpose of the occasional editorial content. I have decided to allow him this opportunity as it gives all you readers a break from constant talk abut books!

Saturday, October 08, 2005


I KNOW my soul hath power to know all things,
Yet she is blind and ignorant in all:
I know I'm one of Nature's little kings,
Yet to the least and vilest things am thrall.

I know my life 's a pain and but a span;
I know my sense is mock'd in everything;
And, to conclude, I know myself a Man--
Which is a proud and yet a wretched thing.

Sir John Davies

Friday, October 07, 2005

One of the books I found last week at home was a delightful ‘Penguin Special’ on ’Aircraft Recognition’ published in 1941. I did suggest to Penguin that they use this ad as part of their 70th birthday celebrations but they seem to have ignored me! The text from the ad is as follows:

Many of us are finding more time on our hands now that travel is difficult and amusements are restricted. We suggest that some of this spare time might be devoted usefully to more serious reading.

If you care to write to us mentioning your interests, we will be only too pleased to send you our complete list and a suggested reading course.

It has these wonderful illustrations of airplanes and I have scanned them and they make excellent bookmarks! It might be a novel idea to publish one in this blog each week. Inever realised they had special clubs during the war to learn aircraft recognition - they called them ‘the Hearkers’.

I bought two books of interest last week - Selected readings from Thomas Carlyle and ‘The Private memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner’ by James Hogg.

Carlyle is fascinating, someone I have been interested in for a great while. In the 19th Century he was adored and then all of a sudden he just went out of favour. Here is something that could easily be applied to today (originally intended for the industrial revolution):

“Men are grown mechanical in head and in heart, as well as in hand. They have lost faith in individual endeavour, and in natural force, of any kind. Not for internal perfection, but for external combinations and arrangements, for institutions, constitutions - for Mechanisms of one sort or another, do they hope and struggle. Their whole efforts, attachments, opinions turn on mechanisms, and are of a mechanical nature.”

The James Hogg book was first published in 1824, it is basically a satire against Calvinism, a boy strongly indoctrinated as a Calvinist believes he can do no wrong and starts to kill people. I am really enjoying it. Here is one quote particularly applicable to Belfast at this moment in time:

“A mob is like a spring-tide in an eastern storm, that retires only to return with more overwhelming fury”

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Belfast may have stopped and the streets may be gridlocked with protestors but I still write on!

It is amazing that 4 days of protest and life is substantially restricted. Can't go out at night, bank machines are out of order, shops have limited stocks, businesses are apparently struggling because everyone wants to get home.

Needless to say I haven't really been able to read that much. My courses have started again and I have a text book in accountancy and one in e-business to read. I am trying to start Newman's 'Loss and Gain'.

Everything in Belfast is back to crazy normality!

Saturday, September 10, 2005

“You could never make her believe that the Titanic hit an iceberg. Whoever heard of such a thing! It was simply a flimsy prevarication devised to cover up the real cause. The real cause she could not, or would not, make plain, but somewhere in its black core was a monstrous secret of treachery and corrupt goings-on - men were like that. She came later on to doubt the courage of the brave gentlemen on the sinking ship who at the last waved goodbye smilingly and smoked cigarettes. It was her growing conviction that most of them had to be shot by the ship’s officers in order to prevent them from crowding into the lifeboats ahead of the older and less attractive women passengers. Eminence and wealth in men Aunt Ida persistently attributed to deceit, trickery and impiety. I think the only famous person she ever trusted in her time was President McKinley.”

From James Thurber’s ‘A portrait of Aunt Ida’. I thought the Titanic reference was quite fun considering that I come from Belfast. Thurber obviously admired his Aunt who lived to the age of 91 and maintained and hatred and bitterness for rich famous men, doctors, and was fascinated by birth, death and mysteries. It is interesting to note that I was reading a report in the New Economist about the lack of women CEO’s. One of the reasons given was that women were less likely to ‘join the club’ or become part of the old boys network. It would imply that women were less likely to be involved in the deceit, trickery and impiety that is required to be a male CEO. This would seem to support the cynicism and paranoia of Aunt Ida.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

England lose to Northern Ireland team ranked 116 in the world

hehe couldn't resist this!

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Last night I finished reading John Steinbeck's 'The Pearl' and I started to read some of his letters. 'The Pearl' is a profound and quite horrifying story. It almost verges into fantasy territory with the number of spirits and 'the family song', these elements crammed in beside the struggle for survival of a Mexican peasant family. I still feel deeply affected by the story and I am still thinking about it. It is different to 'East of Eden' in that one of the main themes has been taken, distilled, and strengthened.

Then I was reading in one of his letters how Steinbeck had this revelation about the nature of society and how there seems to be something that is active outside the individual, something he didn't really understand:

"Note - in Mendocino county a whole community turned against one man and destroyed him although they had taken no harm from him. This will sound meaningless to you unless you could see the hundreds of notes that make them meaningful to me. It is quite easy for the group, acting under stimuli to viciousness, to eliminate the kindly nature of its units. When acting as a group, men do not partake of their ordinary natures at all. The group can change its nature. It can alter the birth rate, diminish the number of its units, control states of mind, alter appearance, physically and spiritually. All of the notations I have made begin to point to an end - That the group is an individual as boundaried, as diagnosable, as dependent on its units and as independent of its units' individual natures, as the human unit, or man, is dependent on his cells and yet is independent of them." June 21 1933

It may take a while to understand this Steinbeck wrote as his thoughts came and left punctuation to other people frequently. I think he is trying to say something about synergy.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

This picture is from Callao, my favourite part of Lima. The port area of the town, its heyday was the 1900s and this house is typical of the quite unusual architecture.

I am back from Lima now, I can confirm that I read 'East of Eden' and 'Living to tell the tale' voraciously but 'Dr Zhivago' didn't work out as a holiday book and it looks brilliant but it needs a more concentrated attitude.

Here is one particular moment from 'Living to tell the tale' that I think captures the whole spirit of what Marquez is about. Latin America is a crazy place where lots of weird and wonderful things happen and this is what comes out in the fiction. For some reason the fiction of Marquez has always appeared very difficult whilst the non-fiction like 'News of a kidnapping' is wonderful. He explains in his book that to him the margins between reporting and fiction aren't always clear and he seems to switch from one to another with ease. At the same time capturing the absurd and wonderful things that probably happen everywhere but are captured and magnified by Marquez.

"In the paroxysm of war the rumour circulated that civilian airplanes from SCADTA were militarised and armed as fighting squadrons and that one of them, lacking bombs, dispersed a Holy Week procession in the Peruvian town of Guepi with a bombardment of coconuts."

Thursday, August 11, 2005

This is from Lima Peru!

Managed to finish East of Eden by John Steinbeck. A really wonderful book. Especially as it is concerned with nobility and virtue in American Life. One thing that was interesting was that he refers to power structures as spiders webs. The higher level you go up the weaker the thread becomes. Explaining very simply how it can appear that with greater authority there is a lowering in creativity and intelligence and more of a desire to {follow the party line{. It also goes into great depth about how a lie can infect and corrupt everyone involved in it.

A great epic, I am still fairly obsessed with the characters and the events they had to deal with. I was really hooked to this book and finished it within two days. It may be considered very old fashioned nowadays to be concerned with something as simple as honesty but I think it would be something that should be very highly valuable to everyone.

Friday, August 05, 2005

I recently bought a copy of 'Life in letters' - the letters of John Steinbeck. It is wonderful reading. Here are two short excerpts from a letter written in December 1931:

"Dear Ted,
After the silence of ages, I have three letters from you all on the same day: To you I say Happy Christmas and Happy 1932. I found several things in your letters which were very amusing. The first is the complete belief of M. and O. [his agents] that I conceal masterpieces. I have written to them denying this. . .

Toby gets to singing so loudly that the police interfere. Were you at the beach with us the night he nearly drowned in his soup? I heard a gurgling noise beside me and there was Toby with his nose submerged in his soup snoring it in and gradually drowning. I have a feeling you were there."

Monday, August 01, 2005

Newman once said: 'Let us avoid talking, of whatever kind.'

Those of you who know me will realise why I have similar feelings to Newman!

Owen Chadwick in his small 'Past Masters' book on Newman explain the statement:

"Something in the stance was the feeling, how poor are words in this corrupt world. We have real feelings. Words prevent us from explaining the reality of these feelings; so we appear cold to one another when we are not."

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Still on the theology slant, I managed to find 'Introduction to the Study of the Gospels' by B. F. Westcott published 1888. Westcott was a member of the Cambridge triumverate, a highly competent Biblical scholar he was involved in the Revised Version of the Bible.

He has a wonderful image in his preface about truth:

"The winged word leaves it trace, though the first effect may be, in the old Hebrew image, transient as the shadow of a flying bird."

I love that idea. Truth is something that has to be searched for like the shadow of a flying bird. The same could be said for all truth.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Actually I am still reading and thinking about Newman but I'm going to change the subject today to Alastair McCall Smith and 'The Sunday Philosophy Club'. I really feel like being totally scathing about this book. I am not impressed. It seems to me that the author is a philosopher who wants to encourage ordinary people to read more philosophy so he decides to write a detective novel with a philosopher in it. It doesn't work, for one thing the guy doesn't know how to write, he is much too concerned with telling the writer how brilliant he is in philosophy and what startling ideas the character has about philosophy.

I really wanted this book to be good, so perhaps it will get better. I can see all too clearly what he is trying to do.

I bought a new book today - another Pelican - 'The Wandering Scholars' by Helen Waddell. It is about wandering medieval latin poets. Slightly different! I'm looking forward to giving it a go.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

After reading Newman last night I read that Henry Tristram regarded the start of the Oxford Movement as a sermon entitled: Personal Influence, the Means of Propagating the Truth from January 22nd 1832. I thought it would be nice if I could read it and I found it online. This couple of paragraphs are very interesting, they talk about truth needing to be revered. Whilst academics merely want to treat it like sport. Just for a moment move yourself back173 years and imagine listening to this:

19. (1.) First, every part of the Truth is novel to its opponent; and seen detached from the whole, becomes an objection. It is only necessary for Reason [Note 1] to ask many questions; and, while the other party is investigating the real answer to each in detail, to claim the victory, which spectators will not be slow to award, {89} fancying (as is the manner of men) that clear and ready speech is the test of Truth. And it can choose its questions, selecting what appears most objectionable in the tenets and practices of the received system; and it will (in all probability), even unintentionally, fall upon the most difficult parts; what is on the surface being at once most conspicuous, and also farthest removed from the centre on which it depends. On the other hand, its objections will be complete in themselves from their very minuteness. Thus, for instance, men attack ceremonies and discipline of the Church, appealing to common sense, as they call it; which really means, appealing to some proposition which, though true in its own province, is nothing to the purpose in theology; or appealing to the logical accuracy of the argument, when every thing turns on the real meaning of the terms employed, which can only be understood by the religious mind.
20. (2.) Next, men who investigate in this merely intellectual way, without sufficient basis and guidance in their personal virtue, are bound by no fears or delicacy. Not only from dulness, but by preference, they select ground for the contest, which a reverent Faith wishes to keep sacred; and, while the latter is looking to its stepping, lest it commit sacrilege, they have the unembarrassed use of their eyes for the combat, and overcome, by skill and agility, one stronger than themselves.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Last night and this morning I started to read again my biography of Newman. It is interesting how a biography can reveal aspects of character that you would never have realised. I always knew Newman was awkward and shy but I had never read the account of his illness in Sicily. Newman travelled in 1833 with the Froud’s to Italy. He separated from them to travel to Sicily alone. Sicily in the 1830s must have been like Africa today with a great deal of poverty and quite dangerous healthwise. Newman fell ill with what was most probably typhoid fever. His sole companion was his Italian guide - Gennaro. Whilst Newman lay ill for three weeks, having hallucinations, almost close to death, Gennaro looked after him patiently and nursed him back to health. When they parted Gennaro asked Newman for one thing - his blue robe but Newman refused. I can’t understand how he refused the man. He paid Gennaro £10, a large sum in those days but it is startling that Gennaro saved his life and yet he wouldn’t grant him one request.

When Newman returned from Italy it was almost immediately that he started the Oxford Movement. The Oxford Movement was one of my favourite events in church history. It was a revival of sorts. A revival which involved the Anglican church reacting against government trying to reduce the importance of the church. It also stresses the idea of ‘apostolic succession’ the idea that the Bishops of the church were given authority by the apostles and that this authority was held by the Church of England.

What is interesting is the gradual drift for Newman from the Anglican church to the Roman Catholic church. This drift is caused because Newman appears to favour the Roman Catholics too much, it is his drive for the authority of the church that actually strengthens the opposition towards him and forces him into converting into Roman Catholicism. Whilst in the Roman Catholic church he causes trouble too but I didn't get time to study this at school, I am looking forward to that.

The Oxford Movement was attempt by Newman to get back to the 'True' church ie the early church. When Newman talks about truth, he means the indestructible element of faith that manages to survive no-matter what the situation or the people entrusted with the truth. Newman likes this idea that 'the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not comprehended it'. The light shines but the darkness doesn't have the ability to understand it. It needs to be taught, it only reaches the people who the truth 'allows' to understand itself. This was the idea that fascinated (and confused) me at school and this is the idea that draws me to Newman. It still confuses me!

Friday, July 08, 2005

This is a dark day for London. Forgive me but this post isn't going to be reading related. A lot of my reading has concerned the rise of terrorism and fundamentalism in the world. I feel strongly for London, especially considering our experience in Belfast. I was born during a time of bombs in Belfast, July 1972.

What we learnt in Belfast and what the world needs to learn is that terrorists can not be fought physically. They are by nature anonymous, silent threats and as someone famous once said, 'if you want to hide a leaf go to the forest' so it is with terrorists.

All efforts to fight terrorism by force will merely strengthen them. Instead we need to be cunning and analyse the situation, try to understand them. One very positive thing is to work against poverty in the world. Dialogue, though controversial, is in the end one of the only things we can do if we want to stop them.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Today I finished 'All the flowers are dying'! All 288 pages, quite amazingly in 5 days. It was a real blast. I've forgotten how good those crime fiction books can be when they really get going. Yes, at times it was a bit too violent for my tastes but overall it was a solid fascinating chilling book.

The story is about a killer who kills young boys and then deliberately frames another stranger who is then executed. This very clever criminal then comes after Matt Scudder the ex-PI that Block has written about for years.

Paedophilia is one of those topics that is almost feared today. It seems that no matter how well known or respected a person is, if he is accused of paedophilia everyone assumes his guilt. This is what happens to Preston Applewhite. Evidence is planted on him that would indicate he had killed 3 young boys. No one doubted his guilt and the police accepted the evidence quite happily, he was then executed.

Block has created a PI who thinks a great deal, prehaps too much but thankfully he hasn't turned him into a left wing sympathiser for the criminal. The book is very cleverly written and there are a couple of gut wrenching twists, completely unlike the traditional 'whodunnit' and that caught me completely by surprise (books rarely surprise me!).

I loved it and now I have moved on to McCall Smith and it seems to be more mellow and thoughtful - the main character is a middle aged female philosopher from Edinburgh. Slightly different to a recovering alcoholic in New York but still seems to be interesting.

Monday, July 04, 2005

this is a test post


Sunday, July 03, 2005

Happy Birthday to me!

I indulged myself a little bit ! I got 5 new books and 3 CDs, plus a coffee machine, an MP3 player and some other things!

'All the flowers are dying' by Lawrence Block was my number one priority. I am loving this book, I haven't read Block in a long time but this book has me hooked already. Steinbeck is facing some harsh competition.

I got the following other books:

Rubicon by Tom Holland - supposedly a new hip history of the Roman empire.

The Sunday Philosophy Club by Alexander McCall Smith - really wanted to get 44 Scotland Street but it was only available in hardback. I am very eager to get an insight into the hype about this guy. I normally prefer my crime fiction hard boiled but I've been increasingly intrigued by the number of philosophical detectives appearing recently.

Comparative Religion by A. C. Bouquet - I am a sucker for a 1950s Pelican in good condition ie I consider myself a collector. Looks interesting.

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner by Alan Sillitoe. A classic from the 1960s, one of the eras that I really admire, especially English literature from the time. I started it this morning at 6.00 am. Looks like my sort of thing.

I am listening to the new Foo Fighters CD which is wonderful.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

p.s Tomorrow is my birthday!

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Understanding and hidden secrets

I took this picture yesterday (when it was sunny!) As you can see me photography skills are still quite limited and I managed to get the flower out of focus, but I still think it is quite interesting.

Newman's opinions on poetry are of course, highly controversial. They may lead to the idea that atheists are all bad people and that it is impossible to debate with unbelievers the purpose of belief. I can understand that these ideas may seem unpleasant but I think they all grow and reflect the huge contradictions that Newman had to live with. He was also an extremely capable academic. How could someone so academic still conclude that reason had no role for faith?

Gilley continues to explain Newman's fascination with the Church fathers and his ideas that would anticipate his conversion to Roman Catholicism, all of which are highly intriguing. The Early church had withheld teachings from the church because of the(somewhat dubious idea, I think) that they did not think the church was ready for the complete teachings. This was known as 'Disciplina Arcani' - discipline of the secret. This led to the idea that the church has the greatest authority. This comes from the idea that Jesus did not speak plainly, he did not give his wisdom to whoever, he spoke in parables so that those who were wise would understand.

This comes from Luke 8:9-10, one passage that has always puzzled me:

'9His disciples asked him what this parable meant. 10He said, "The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that,
" 'though seeing, they may not see;
though hearing, they may not understand.'

This idea that certain people have been given authority and understanding over the church is something that I would completely disagree with.

Anyway, Gilley also gives the following quote from Newman about a holiday in Devon:

"the extreme deliciousness of the air and the fragrance of every thing ... really I think I should dissolve into essence of roses, or be attenuated into an echo, if I lived here"

Monday, June 27, 2005

What a perfect scene?

This is my attic. As other people will realise for those of us who like to read, nothing could be better! In fact apart from a large comfy chair (which I could never get up) or a very large pot of coffee I can't think of anything better. Unfortunately as usually happens the scene was set and I didn't have the time to read!

I did get a little chance to read today, I learnt a new word - 'glebe' not the duck, a glebe was the property owned by a church in olden times that they could raise money from. I have been reading 'Newman and his age' by Sheridan Gilley. John Henry Newman was one of my heroes in school when I was studying 19th century church history. Although in many ways I never understood him fully. He is a man full of contradiction, liberal and conservative, a strong Anglican who became Roman Catholic, he grew up evangelical and changed to high church whilst at Oxford, a man who had mediocre exam results but still managed to get into Oriel one of the best Oxford Colleges.

The past few weeks I have really started to understand things that I had a rough grasp at school. He got into Oriel because the tutors in Oriel despised the exam system, they wanted to measure a man by the way he thought, not by exam results, I haven't reached his conversion as yet I am just about reaching his involvement in the Oxford Movement. One of the things that impressed me about Newman at school was that he was considered a spiritual master. He was the man who stood up to drunken students being forced to attend church. Looking back I really don't think I ever understood what he was about. Until tonight. Sheridan Gilley is very good at looking at the spiritual journey of Newman and analysing the environment he was living in to be able to commentate on how his mind was moving and thinking.

Gilley is describing how Newman discovered a mindset that his faith was 'the unsophisticated infancy of notions'. This idea first proposed by the church fathers such as Clement was that religious truth was not a scientific concept, it was not something that has 'proof'. This truth comes from 'pious and religious feeling'. He goes on to say:

"Moral truth is gained by patient study, by calm reflection, silently as the dew falls, unless miraculously given, and when gained it is transmitted by faith and by 'prejudice'. . . which any Cambridge man might refure with the greatest ease."

What Newman is saying here is that his view of spiritual faith is not liberal, rational or scientific (like any man from Cambridge), in fact if you try to make it rational or scientific you will fail and fail utterly to understand. This is perhaps why Newman is so highly criticised by modern historians such as A.N. Wilson. All through his life he had so many disagreements and arguments, I suspect a lot of people never understood this idea, even when he was alive.

Gilley then explains how Newman found great strength in Romantic moralism and in the 'poetry' of faith:

"The most sceptical of men, like Hume and Gibbon, will also be the least poetical. 'Revealed religion should be especially poetical', and the Christian with spiritual insight will see the world through the poet's eyes."

This is what impresses me about Newman. This is why he is so important, his message is more important than ever for the people of today.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Jim Wallis in 'The Independent Magazine'

There was a very interesting article yesterday about Jim Wallis in 'The Independent Magazine'. Jim Wallis is well known for being a christian leader favouring the left side of politics. I think it is fascinating that a Christian leader is standing up in USA and saying that perhaps Bush and the Christian right aren't the best way to be. I have heard of Jim Wallis, about ten years ago but he was quickly forgotten and I have just assumed that he was forgotten. No, Jim is back and he has already stood up to Bush when he arranged for a letter of protest to be written against Bush when he visited Calvin College in Chicago.

Here is a paragraph from the last page of the article:

"There is a golden opportunity to reverse the tide now, he believes, because the right has over-reached and, to at least some extent, begun to lose its audience. 'All over this country there are people of faith who don't see their faith represented in the media, in the way religion was used in the election, in the way it is invoked in the White House or the Congress. They hear the shrill tones of the religious right, an the disdainful tones of the secular left, but they don't hear themselves. They are a silent majority, if you like, and they feel their voice has been left out."
Belfast 25/6/05 New digital camera

Yesterday I was testing my new digital camera. Can I make this a photoblog please?

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Last week I started to read 'The Porter and the Three Girls of Baghdad' part of the Tales from the Thousand and One nights. I have never read anything so mysterious, exotic and fascinating. Full of djinn, one eyed dervishes and other strange phenomena, this is a book to be read late at night prefereably outloud around a campfire. This one little exerpt captures the whole mystery and the strangeness. Here one of the one-eyed dervishes is reflecting on all the events that happened to him:

"I pondered over all that had befallen me from beginning to end; how I had escaped the highwaymen of the desert and how I met the tailor, my amorous sojourn with the young woman in the secret palace and my deliverance from the jinnee, my life as an ape and my purchase by the king, the loss of my eye and the breaking of the spell. Nevertheless I thanked Allah, saying: 'Better a lost eye than death.'"

Many of the incidents involve a man being told he can do anything he wants except open that door or ask a certain question and in the end they become so curious that they do the thing and then everything goes chaotic and crazy.

Monday, June 13, 2005

I came across Robert Southey quite by accident, he was one of the favourite poets of John Henry Newman. I really like this sonnet, it shows how a poem with a very strict rhyming scheme can still be very moving.

Sonnet 06

(to a brook near the village of Corston.)

As thus I bend me o'er thy babbling stream
And watch thy current, Memory's hand pourtrays
The faint form'd scenes of the departed days,
Like the far forest by the moon's pale beam
Dimly descried yet lovely. I have worn
Upon thy banks the live-long hour away,
When sportive Childhood wantoned thro' the day,
Joy'd at the opening splendour of the morn,
Or as the twilight darken'd, heaved the sigh
Thinking of distant home; as down my cheek
At the fond thought slow stealing on, would speak
The silent eloquence of the full eye.
Dim are the long past days, yet still they please
As thy soft sounds half heard, borne on the inconstant breeze.

Robert Southey

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Fear of Annihilation

The past few days I have been reading ‘The Battle for God’ by Karen Armstrong. The last section has been about Jewish fundamentalism over the period 1960 - 74. The first thing that struck me was that fundamentalist movements in other religions are much more interesting and exotic. One of the influential movements was known as ‘Gahelet’ aka the glowing embers. Drawing on the idea of the religious remnant, the faithful that are exiled, the ones who are truly religious. This idea crops up in most forms of fundamentalism according to Karen Armstrong from the fear of annihilation.

The big idea of the Gahelet was that they wanted to set up a Kibbutz where the men would study the Torah all day, whilst the women did the farming and cooking. I’m not going to say anything!

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Thomas Oliphant

Occasionally I like to subscribe to some of the big newspapers in USA to find out what is going on and to try to find some entertaining reading. I subscribed last week to the Boston Globe and I was reading the opinion columns when I found this article by Thomas Oliphant. He described in a very interesting article how he was recovering from an aneurysm and the things that had been happening to him. He concludes with the following conclusion:
Normally, aneurysm patients have problems -- delicately called deficits -- for months. Miraculously, I can concentrate again and finished reading a book last week. Sadly, I now know who the president is.

See this link: (although you may need to subscribe)

My journey into darkness

Thursday, June 02, 2005

I realise that the last comment was not properly answered. In reply to the comments from my last post the reason I was a little bit annoyed with the film was that when I was reading the book I felt a turmoil because both of the characters situations were equally understandable, I genuinely didn't know how the situation should be resolved. I felt sympathy for the alcoholic and sympathy for the immigrant. In the film I think this didn't come across. Fair enough, the book is never the same as the film but that was the most important aspect to me.

About the Iran thing, Iran is usually avoided because no matter what the comment, about whatever time period the Middle East is an extremely sensitive topic and it is assumed that no matter what is said it will arouse bad feelings. This creates a situation where nobody wants to make any comment at all. I think we all have to strive to resolve this situation, try to understand the situation better, if we make comments, be prepared to stand by them or take the criticism.

Monday, May 30, 2005

I've started to read two books by John Steinbeck. One is 'The Pearl' and the other is 'East of Eden' which is quite an epic. I might be able to finish 'The Pearl'. It seems to be just as brilliant to be honest. One of the main characters in 'East of Eden' - Samuel Hamilton is from the north of Ireland. Maybe one of the Ulster-Scots. Whilst I have only scratched the surface of this book, it appears that Samuel Hamilton is being portrayed as honest, hardworking almost puritan which is in stark contrast to Adam Trask.

I remember spending lazy Sunday afternoons listening to East on Eden being read as the classic story on Radio Four. I didn't get to hear it all but it always seemed to be wonderful and reading it is exactly the same.

Yesterday I watched ' The house of Sand and Fog' probably one of the best books I read last year. The film is remarkably good. Ben Kingsley is perfect as Behrani. Whichever way round you want to do it, I would still say read the book first. The only difference I can detect is that the book was slightly more balanced, in that it focussed on Behrani and there was a good deal more about his sense of guilt for being in Iran. It went into great detail about the fact that this man was simply a good hard worker in the wrong place at the wrong time. He didn't know about the bad things that were going on by his fellow officers until it was too late. He felt guilt that he had survived whilst his friend had not. Yet, he survived to go to America to be treated literally like rubbish.

In the film the emphasis is more towards how good and decent Behrani is compared to the lazy, nasty Americans who are determined to punish and ruin his family. I can understand that it is quite trendy to downgrade USA in films because that makes them more controversial and also anything that is seen to offend Iran is definitely not a good thing. But still I think a filmmaker has the responsibility to take a book and remain faithful to the original text. You don't have to include every line of dialogue but at the least you do not start adding meanings that are not in the book.

Perhaps I am being too pedantic, it's a great film - go and see it!

Friday, May 27, 2005

Murakami has written a really great book about the Tokyo gas attack. He went around and interviewed the survivors and those involved in planning the attack. He succeeds in presenting a book that is mostly witness statements with a few chapters about the person involved, how he saw them and what he thinks of them.

I've been reading a few more chapters about the Tokyo gas attack and it really struck me that the survivors, the people who only received slight injuries - they didn't feel the attack was about them. They want to put it down as an accident, something that had nothing to do with them. That was until Matsuo Arima. It seems that he is one of the few who has actually thought and reflected that this happened because of his society and the present culture in Japan.

At the end of his few pages he says " Ultimately, from now on I think the individual in Japanese society has to become a lot stronger. Even Aum, after bringing together such brilliant minds, what do they do but plunge straight into mass terrorism? That's just how weak the individual is."

The attack occurred on March 20th 1995. Over the past 10 years nothing has changed and if anything that message is even more relevant today than it was back then.

Monday, May 23, 2005

I got a distinction for my flash assignment!

Started to read (again) 'Underground' by Haruki Murakami. Just finished a chapter about a shrimp trader who was gassed on his way to work. It is interesting that Sarin, the gas used in the attack is a form of insecticide. I wonder if that was a conscious reason they choose to use it. At any rate the whole thing was terrible and the shrimp trader just looked at it as an unhappy incident on the way to work.

The porters on the underground cleaned up the gas which was spilt as a liquid with newspapers because they didn't have time to get a mop. They were one of the first to die.
I suppose the question of the last blog should have been - Do we need to believe in the traditional idea of God to be a Christian? Forgive me for not having sufficient definition. I suppose what Tillich is calling for is religious humanism. When it comes down to it, we might as well all be humanists and get rid of all the medieval superstition that sort of thing. Unfortunately that doesn't really wash with religious people. They don't want to mix with humanists, they want to be spiritual and they want their own organisation and structure.

I suppose trying to understand God is something that is not really given enough time today, we sort of gloss over it a bit too much. CS Lewis said that man trying to understand God is like a dog trying to understand its owner. Or perhaps it is like someone who has eaten tinned mangoes all their life going to Brazil and being given a real mango in a supermarket.
Do you need to believe in God to be a Christian?

Whilst countless philosophers and otherwise intellectuals might think this was obvious John Robinson would suggest that the idea of a God as a transcendental ‘person’ is obsolete in modern society.

It was Bonhoeffer who suggested that this is the time for the world to ‘come of age’. As science, politics and arts have mostly discarded the idea of God perhaps it is time for religion to consider the possibility that it is time to grow up and consider some other possibilities about God. For instance Tillich would suggest that God exists as a deep existence behind everything. We need to look closer at a ‘naturalist’ view of the world. God in this sense is what gives meaning and direction to nature.

Bonhoeffer saw us like children about to leave home, although Daddy is always there in the background: “God is teaching us that we must live as men who can get along very well without him.”

Whilst it may not be time for God to be discarded a change would seem to be something to think about. Something to think about perhaps?

Monday, May 16, 2005

This is the address of the new web page for Big Wise Owls. It also features a new introductory flash sequence (which I happen to be very pleased with!).

Please feel free to visit but remember that contrary to popular opinion Big Wise Owls is not real - not yet anyway. Just a figment in the imagination of my multimedia tutor!

Monday, May 02, 2005

Last week, I rediscovered my Kenneth Koch poetry books. I remember meeting him and getting him to sign my book. His poems still feel familiar even though I haven't really read any of his books in five years! He also has a great sense of humour:

Aesthetics of being glorious

To be glorious, take off your wings
Before you fly.

Anyway, the one I really wanted to quote is taken from 'A New Guide' written in his collection 'One Train'. It is written as if it is a set of instructions:

Look at this camel.
A man unused to camels is trying to mount it.
The camel's driver motions for the camel to kneel down
On its front knees, which it does.
The man mounts it. The camel gallops away.
To qualify for his position the man must demonstrate his ability to
ride a camel. He has failed.
Maybe he will be given another chance - if it was decided that this was
a defective camel.
The worst thing that can happen is that he will be out of a job. He
will not be shot.
The camel crouches down now in the sand,
Quiet, able and at ease, with nothing about it defective.
If the camel were found to be defective, it would be shot.
That much of the old way still goes on.

A New Guide: 4
Kenneth Koch

Anyone care to guess the meaning of this very profound quote? - Well, I'll tell you (and please don't be offended):

"Until the power's back on, anybody for charades?"

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Whilst I am no expert, it seems to me that the new Pope Benedict XVI is not going to be beneficial to the church. He has been criticised for being anti-totalitarian in politics but totalitarian in terms of theology. Whilst someone who claims to be a humble christian could be of benefit I have doubts.
It seems to me that one of the biggest problems that afflicts all religions is the idea of complete self-certainty. This is one of the things that I was reading about in my book by Paul Tillich this morning and I think it is even more relevant today than at any other time.
Whilst some would respond to this by re-moulding themselves in the role of cunning wise religious philosopher,it is clear that this is a time when the majority of people have huge doubts, huge confusions and huge uncertainties. Fundamentalism and triumphalism in terms of theology only serves to dirty the reputation of the church.
Paul Tillich takes the text ' To the weak I have become weak myself in order to gain the weak' :
1 Corinthians 9:19-23
"This is the most profound of the three statements that Paul makes about himself, and the most important one for our existence as theologians. We must become as though weak, although grasped by the Divine Spirit, the basis of all theology, we are not weak. How can we become weak without being already weak? We can become weak by having the strength to acknowledg our weakness, by restraining ourselves from all fanaticism and theological self-certainty and by participating - not from the outside, but from the inside - in the weakness of all those to whom we speak as theologians. Our strength is our weakness; our strength is not our strength. We are strong, therefore, only in so far as we point, for our own sake and for the sake of others, to the truth which possesses us, but which we do not possess."
(notice he doesn't say, I have become weak even though I am strong)

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

I have figured out a way to show you all the books I have for sale on Amazon. Please note you need to have Java enabled on your browser to see this page properly. If it doesn't work, check the security settings on your browser.

On a sunny day like this I can’t help thinking about the first few lines of ‘The Last Summer’ by Boris Pasternak: “that last summer when life still appeared to pay heed to individuals, and when it was easier and more natural to love than to hate.” What he is talking about is the summer of 1914 but it still rings true today. I really think this book is one of the finest that I have read and I will have to get busy to read it again. This could be the start of something, I can see myself reading it over and over.

While the car is getting fixed I have been getting the bus and the great thing about the bus is that you can read and ‘drive’. I have been reading ‘Living to tell the tale’ by Marquez on the bus and it is getting better and better. As he grows up you learn how he thinks, how he looks at the world and how people have started to see him as a writer, even when he was still quite young. I am learning that through the eyes of a child the world is a very mysterious place. Marquez has very cleverly looked back and written about the things that happened to him, the way people treated him and you can really get a feel for how his books are the product of his life.

When his Grandfather died, a man he greatly admired, he watched on as they had a ceremonial burning of his Grandfathers uniform. He was a colonel and they had gone through his clothes and gathered all his uniform and hats. They mistakenly took the young Marquez’s Scottish plaid hat and burnt it along with his Grandfathers clothes - and when he saw that he realised that something of himself had been taken when his Grandfather died.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Hi there, I'm back again and after a coupl of desperate months I am ready to get back to writing more on this site. I'm still trying to get back into the way of things at the moment, I'm trying to set up a method of showing all you people out there some of the books that I have for sale through Amazon. Your chance to pick up some great bargains and see some of the very embarassing books I have managed to pick up (along with some great reads).

Monday, February 28, 2005

Hi all,

I'm having a few computer problems and haven't been able to post anything for a while but I have been reading some very interesting books in particular 'The Shaking of the Foundations' by Paul Tillich. Based on a recommendation by John Updike I was looking for some of his books and I happened to find this book by chance at home.
The theme is really modern man and how he has tried to shake off God but he has not succeeded and has only succeeded in causing destruction. The chapter I was reading today was on 'The depth of existence'.

"But the mark of real depth is its simplicity. If you should say, ' This is too profound for me; I cannot grasp it,' you are self deceptive for you ought to know that nothing of real importance is too profound for anyone. It is not because it is too profound but rather because it is too uncomfortable that you shy away from the truth. Let us not confuse the sophisticated things with the deep things of life. The sophisticated things do not concern us ultimately; and it does not matter whether we understand them or not. But the deep things must concern us always because it matters infinitely whether we are grasped by them or not."

I found this a rather severe warning to those amateur philosophers such as myself who might think that deep things are only for intelligent people. Tillich goes on to explain that many people have gone so deep that not only do they reject God but they lose touch with all sense of goodness. This may be what happened in Germany.

I am also trying to read Patrick White, another Hemingway book, a chess book and a book on the gospel of John.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

My poems have been published in this month's edition of 'Fortnight' magazine. They can be seen using the following link:

Fortnight Poetry page

Don't be disturbed if the browser takes a long time downloading this because it is quite a big file.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

According to my book on guerilla warfare the British forces in India were referred to as 'Ferenghi'. I'm no Star Trek freak but I know all about the Ferenghi and you start to realise the subtle insults that are going out on what is a relatively good and clever science fiction series.

Apart from that I don't have a great deal to report. I did find a great link:

Saturday, January 22, 2005

"Yesterday at the Methodist Ladies College opponents of private schools disguised themselves as parents – dark suits for the men, well-cut, modest dresses for women and just walked in … present were about 1000 parents and the camouflaged guerrillas from the Defence of Government Schools organisation … In the middle of the assembly a DOGS lady with a banner stood and was immediately assailed by a dignified woman in bright pink. After a brief feminine struggle they were separated by a teacher … Parents had a second cup of tea. The DOGS people dispersed." from Sunday Australian 30 April 1972
Yesterday I was unable to resist two new books- 'Revolutionary Guerilla Warfare' by Geoffrey Fairburn and 'The Gobi Desert' by Mildred Cable and Francesca French (travel book from 1940s). The above quote comes from the introduction to the guerilla book. I found it reasonably amusing.
Fairburn goes on to describe the growth of terrorism and to write about it. I found another quote particularly interesting. It is from Clausewitz, his description of the strengths of guerilla movement it is:
"an idea, a thing invulnerable, intangible, without front or back, drifting about like gas."
This is the thing Colin Powell and George Bush have not understood. How can you wage war against a gas? You can't. You have to become more cunning. You have to prevent it happening and before you start you have to fully understand what it is.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Hi Rod,

I’m still mulling over your last post on Luke.

So, for the moment, I’d better send you this excerpt I’ve found from Michel Foucalt’s “The Archaeology of Knowledge” –on an e-book on Semiotics I’m currently reading- which refers to the concept of intertextuality.

The frontiers of a book are never clear-cut: beyond the title, the first lines and the last full stop, beyond its internal configuration and its autonomous form, it is caught up in a system of references to other books, other texts, other sentences; it is a node within a network. The book is not simply the object that one holds in one’s hands.


Tuesday, January 18, 2005

The Gospel of Luke

I have just finished a very interesting essay on Luke by Annie Dillard. The thing about the Bible she says is that the people who hold it up as the most respectable book possible clearly haven’t read it!

This is the Gospel where Jesus says: ‘Take no thought for your life … Sell all that you have and give it to the poor … Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

She then goes on to explain how in Luke we have a radical mysterious and amazing Jesus. Think of the number of times in Luke when Jesus told the disciples things and they didn’t understand them, emphasising the fact that because the disciples were human they didn’t understand – much like us today. Jesus was always telling his disciples off, telling them not to hurry or to ‘trouble him’. Such as when he healed the woman who touched his cloak on the way to Jairus’ daughter. She goes on to say that ‘what a pity that so hard on the heels of Christ come the Christians.’ The rush around, being smug and busy full of flaws and here we have the results all around us today.

But, and there is always a but perhaps this is where we find that Luke has his unique slant on the Gospel:

“Unless of course –
Unless Christ’s washing the disciples’ feet their dirty toes, means what it could, possibly mean: that it is all right to be human, and full of evil, all of us, and we are his people anyway, and the sheep of his pasture.”

The message of Luke is that we find salvation by following Jesus, the person he was and the things that he did. It is not all about his death, it is more that we should follow the way he lived – a life of prayer, repentance and mercy. This is perhaps one the reasons that I think ‘Passion of the Christ” failed to impress me. This is the man who said ‘For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?’ – tell that to Mel Gibson

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Sunday evening chilldown reading

I finished reading ‘Packed dirt, churchgoing, a dying cat and a traded car’ by John Updike, one of his Olinger stories. It is a wonderful story that does exactly what it says in the title and amazing transfers over all the above subjects, travels to England and Pennsylvania, witnesses the birth of his first child and the death of his father. It was a very good story for a lazy relaxing Sunday evening.

I managed to finish ‘Alberto Angelo’ by B. S. Johnson this week. He has a rather brilliant unusual penultimate chapter called ‘Disintegration’. This rather funnily explains how the entire novel is roughly made up on events on his life and how he ‘lied’ by changing people’s names and some places. It is includes one of the most amazing jokes I have ever read. It is a joke that you have to read, weirdly it doesn’t work if it is read out. I have scanned it and you can find it as a pdf file at the following location. (229 kb) Please read it!

This has been an incredibly hectic week. I heard about Joe Gordon a bookseller from Waterstones in Edinburgh who got fired for calling his boss ‘the evil one’ and making some other comments that he no doubt thought were funny and unimportant comments in his unimportant blog. Then they call him in and fire him! I mean, everyone occasionally makes jokes about the people they work with. He made the mistake of writing it on the Internet. I think it just goes to prove that we should all avoid Waterstones as much as possible. I must admit I haven’t avoided it very well this year. As Joe pointed out Waterstones make a great deal of being the thinker’s bookshop and pride the power of freedom of speech. This event just goes to prove that the real Waterstones is simply a large book supermarket which abuses its staff just as much or maybe even more than most supermarkets. You can visit Joe's blog below:

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

I've been thinking about the gneiss dilemma. Perhaps it was only a misunderstanding - an example of how science can be so easily misunderstood. Yes gneiss is made from igneous rocks - granite normally. However fundamental to understanding rocks is the way it was formed. All igneous rocks are solidified directly our of molten rock. When granite is subjected to heat and pressure it produces gneiss.

Forgot to tell you that I collect those free postcards you get and use them as bookmarks. Got this prize in Germany - who says the Germans have no fun?

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

English literature and geology do mix!

Here is a concrete example of why all English literature students should study geology! In the first B.S. Johnson story the main character is a teacher doing a lesson on geology - 'Albert Angelo'. Central to the story is this piece of gneiss – a metamorphic rock. The character is describing this small piece of gneiss to the class whilst at the same time he is remembering the holiday with his girlfriend in Ireland where he took the gneiss sample (the rock gets stolen by one of the kids). He goes on to describe gneiss as an igneous rock. This really shocked me because there is no way that gneiss could be considered an igneous rock. It is strongly layered, igneous rocks are hardly ever layered. I started to think how he could have made such a mistake. Perhaps he is doing it deliberately so that the character may have an argument with a geologist later on … unlikely, perhaps he really doesn’t know that gneiss is a metamorphic rock. Where would he have read this? As far as I know gneiss has always been considered metamorphic. The best explanation I can come up with is that he read this information in an architecture manual. One where the author got his information wrong and one that the author never managed to check up.

The question is, would anybody else realise this? I doubt if any English literature student would realise this unless perhaps they had just been watching Alan Titchmarsh’s guide to geology on TV. That perhaps is quite unlikely too! I still haven’t finished the story as yet, I will maybe find out . It would be quite amazing to be able to find an architecture manual where gneiss is identified as an igneous rock, one reason why cheaters never win, they repeat their mistakes!

Monday, January 03, 2005

Kavanagh and the county poet

I should have said that the biography is "Patrick Kavanagh: a biography" by Antionette Quinn. She has also kust published "The Complete poetry of Patrick Kavanagh". Instead of all that waffle in my last entry about naivety and nature poets I should have just quoted this from page 45:
"The image of the country poet as a simple singer piping down
the valleys wild, is he pointed out, an absurd sentimentalisation. On the
contrary, 'simplicity is the ultimate in poetic sophistication' and
derivativeness is 'the common failing of self-taught poets': "when a country
body begins to progress into print he does not write out of his rural innocence
- he writes out of Palgrave's Golden Treasury.""
I'm beginning to regret the number of large words in that quote, derivativeness simply means lack of originality.