Tempus Fugit

When I am old and grey, and great grandchildren come and say, what do you miss, what do you hold dear, what did you waste, and what do you fear? I will answer time.

Time is the ultimate commodity.  Once spent it can never be bought back.  So spend it wisely!

And what the flippin’ heck is “vegetable love”?  It sounds turgid, engorged, gourdlike, tumescent, pompous, even perhaps bombastic!

To His Coy Mistress:  by Andrew Marvell

Had we but world enough and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down, and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love’s day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side
Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the flood,
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires and more slow;
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.
       But at my back I always hear
Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found;
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long-preserved virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust;
The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.
       Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may,
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapped power.
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.



Iarlais (The Changeling); by Louis de Paor (Translated from Irish)

She did as she was told

putting her arms above her head
as I pulled off the tightfitting jumper,
then ran crookedly
on bow legs slipping and
sliding across the wet floor
heading for the bath.

In the blink
of an eye the changeling
took on my daughter’s body
running for all eternity
down a narrow unending road
somewhere in Vietnam
naked as an unlidded eye
without a stitch to protect
her wizened body
from my evil eye
when the camera winked
at her like this.

When she comes back
screaming with pain
the mark of that tortured ghost
is branded on her dripping skin
scalded by the hot water
sweating from my unshuttered eye.

A Changeling is a child who is swapped by the faeries, who steal a beautiful child and leave an ugly and deformed one in its place.  It was a very strong belief in Ireland until quite recently.  It was a kind way to explain the birth of a deformed child or one suffering from Downes Syndrome, Motor Neuron Disease, Spinabifida etc.  There are many tales of boys being dressed up as girls to fool the faeries, and babies being smeared with soot on the face to make them look more ugly.


My youngest son sat his entrance exam for secondary school today.  OK he doesn’t actually enter secondary school until next September.  But it still feels like a milestone.  The deed is done, the exam is taken.  There is nothing further significant that he must achieve this year in his final year in Primary School.  In May he will be a teenager and, in one of the new rites of passage of our modern world, he will be eligible for a Facebook Page.

I always like to pause at milestones like this and take account.  What advice do I give a young gentleman embarking on a new chapter.  OK, he may be a little young for Polonius’s advice to Laertes, but it is worth a recall.  What I don’t get is why people think this is ironic.  It is all good stuff!


Yet here, Laertes? Aboard, aboard, for shame!

The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail, And you are stay’d for.

There, my blessing with thee.  And these few precepts in thy memory

See thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,

Nor any unproportion’s thought his act.

Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.

Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,

Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel;

But do not dull thy palm with entertainment

Of each new-hatch’d, unfledged comrade.

Beware Of entrance to a quarrel; but being in,

Bear’t that the opposed may beware of thee.

Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;

Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment.

Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,

But not express’d in fancy; rich, not gaudy;

For the apparel oft proclaims the man,

And they in France of the best rank and station

Are of a most select and generous, chief in that

Neither a borrower nor a lender be;

For loan oft loses both itself and friend,

And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.

This above all: to thine own self be true,

And it must follow, as the night the day,

Thou canst not then be false to any man.

Farewell. My blessing season this in thee!

Shakespeare: Hamlet, Act 1 Scene iii

Political despair

Today David Cameron announced that the UK will be allowed to vote in a referendum on membership of the European Union, if, and here is the clincher, if the Conservatives win the next election.

It is 2 years to the next election.  The Conservatives are in power only because they are in coalition with the Liberal Democrats.  The Lib Dems are pro Europe, and the Conservatives are afraid that this makes them look weak.

On the far right the lunatic fringe is gaining ground.  The UK Independence Party, who are basically a domesticated strain of the National Front, are making gains at the expense of the Conservatives.  Cameron is running scared from the UKIP.  He has to look strong.  He has to look British.  He is trying to personify the spirit of “St George and England” by adopting what LOOKS like an anti-Euro stance.

I have to say, as political gambits go, this looks like a good one.  It looks strong.  It looks determined.  It looks downright British.  In fact it is just about as British as St George, who was an Anatolian who joined the Eastern Roman Empire as a Soldier.  You could call him a Roman, you could call him a Greek.  He had more in common with Palestinians than with British.  Just like David Cameron, the British anti-European neo-splendid isolationist, St George is a phantasm.

Cameron is gambling.  He is gambling with stability, with business confidence, with the ability to plan long term.  If he wins the Tories gain power alone for a term.  Cameron could be the next Margaret Thatcher.  Now, if only he could kick off another war in the Falklands, and a decade of violence in Northern Ireland he could become the new Iron Lady.  God Forbid!

Politics; by William Butler Yeats

HOW can I, that girl standing there,
My attention fix
On Roman or on Russian
Or on Spanish politics?
Yet here’s a travelled man that knows
What he talks about,
And there’s a politician
That has read and thought,
And maybe what they say is true
Of war and war’s alarms,
But O that I were young again
And held her in my arms!

Presidential Inauguration

Upon this momentous day, when Barak Obama became the 44th US president and the first African American US president to be inaugurated for a second term, it is a good time to pause for thought.

Great empires have risen and fallen, great kings have fallen into dust.  Civilizations have been and gone until there remains of them naught but some dusty stones and dustier memories.

So where now lies America?  Head down beneath the noonday sun, or is the sun shining on China these days?


You, Andrew Marvell; by Archibald MacLeish
And here face down beneath the sun
And here upon earth’s noonward height
To feel the always coming on
The always rising of the night:
To feel creep up the curving east
The earthy chill of dusk and slow
Upon those under lands the vast
And ever climbing shadow grow
And strange at Ecbatan the trees
Take leaf by leaf the evening strange
The flooding dark about their knees
The mountains over Persia change
And now at Kermanshah the gate
Dark empty and the withered grass
And through the twilight now the late
Few travelers in the westward pass
And Baghdad darken and the bridge
Across the silent river gone
And through Arabia the edge
Of evening widen and steal on
And deepen on Palmyra’s street
The wheel rut in the ruined stone
And Lebanon fade out and Crete
High through the clouds and overblown
And over Sicily the air
Still flashing with the landward gulls
And loom and slowly disappear
The sails above the shadowy hulls
And Spain go under and the shore
Of Africa the gilded sand
And evening vanish and no more
The low pale light across that land
Nor now the long light on the sea:
And here face downward in the sun
To feel how swift how secretly
The shadow of the night comes on …

Dumb diversions.

Everyday is a schoolday.  Today I learned about a Bull.  That’s Bull with a capital B, as issued by the Pope.  It is called a Bull because the latin for the seal, which authenticates its origin, is a “bulla”.

The Bull I learned about today was issued by Pope Nicholas V in 1452.  It was called Dum Diversas.  This Bull supplied the authority of the church for Catholics to engage in the slave trade.  “We grant you [Kings of Spain and Portugal] by these present documents, with our Apostolic Authority, full and free permission to invade, search out, capture, and subjugate the Saracens and pagans and any other unbelievers and enemies of Christ wherever they may be, as well as their kingdoms, duchies, counties, principalities, and other property and to reduce their persons into perpetual slavery.”

It was a bid to  incite a new crusade, to save Constantinople from the Turks and to sweep the last of the Iberian muslim kingdoms into the sea.  No great crusade emerged and Constantinople fell the the Ottomans the following year.  Their most Catholic Majesties of Spain soldiered away until they reconquered Al-Andalus in 1492.

Subsequently great empires were built on the backs of the slave trade.  First the Spanish in the Canary Islands, then the Portugese in West Africa.  They were followed by the Dutch, the French, the British and the Belgians.  Fortunes were made, colonies created, new lands were brought to the plough.  Out went a river of blood and back came the fruits of their labour, Coffee, Tea, Tobacco, Sugar, Molasses, Rum, Cotton, Rubber, Spices, Silk and the dangerous fruits of the mining industries, Gold, Silver, Lead, Copper, Tin, Diamonds.

Yup, those Popes knew a thing or two when it came to economics.  And look at all the souls that were saved.  Why practically all those slaves went on to become good Christians.

The Quadroon Girl;  by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The Slaver in the broad lagoon
Lay moored with idle sail;
He waited for the rising moon,
And for the evening gale.

Under the shore his boat was tied,
And all her listless crew
Watched the gray alligator slide
Into the still bayou.

Odors of orange-flowers, and spice,
Reached them from time to time,
Like airs that breathe from Paradise
Upon a world of crime.

The Planter, under his roof of thatch,
Smoked thoughtfully and slow;
The Slaver’s thumb was on the latch,
He seemed in haste to go.

He said, “My ship at anchor rides
In yonder broad lagoon;
I only wait the evening tides,
And the rising of the moon.”

Before them, with her face upraised,
In timid attitude,
Like one half curious, half amazed,
A Quadroon maiden stood.

Her eyes were large, and full of light,
Her arms and neck were bare;
No garment she wore save a kirtle bright,
And her own long, raven hair.

And on her lips there played a smile
As holy, meek, and faint,
As lights in some cathedral aisle
The features of a saint.

“The soil is barren,–the farm is old,”
The thoughtful planter said;
Then looked upon the Slaver’s gold,
And then upon the maid.

His heart within him was at strife
With such accurséd gains:
For he knew whose passions gave her life,
Whose blood ran in her veins.

But the voice of nature was too weak;
He took the glittering gold!
Then pale as death grew the maiden’s cheek,
Her hands as icy cold.

The Slaver led her from the door,
He led her by the hand,
To be his slave and paramour
In a strange and distant land!

Paskha , Paskha, Ptichka


Paskha is the Russian word for Easter.  It is also the word for a cheesy pyramid shaped treat food consumed at Easter.  It also sounds a lot like Ptichka, which means “little bird”.  We all know that eggs are a symbol of Easter.

But Eggs predate Christianity.  Oester was a germanic fertility goddess represented by a Hare (hence the Easter Bunny).  From the word Oester we get oestrus and oestroegen.  The feast of Oester was aligned with the vernal equinox and was a time of planting, lambing, calving and egg laying as the days grew longer.

Eggs, therefore, were one symbol of birth, and were appropriated by the Christian church as a symbol of rebirth as the Christian church appropriated the earlier pagan festivals.

In Russia there is a peasant tradition of setting a little bird (the ptichka) free and I wonder is this why the Russian for a little bird looks very like the word for Easter?  Someone who knows something about Russia will probably disabuse me of the notion.  Until then, here is a poem about a little bird by one of the greats of golden age Russian poetry.

A Little Bird ; by A.S. Pushkin

In alien lands devoutly clinging
To age-old rites of Russian earth,
I let a captive bird go winging
To greet the radiant spring’s rebirth.
My heart grew lighter then: why mutter
Against God’s providence, and rage,
When I was free to set aflutter
But one poor captive from his cage!

A. Pushkin

Is this worth the effort?

Not often, but sometimes, I question the value of keeping this blog.  Is it worth the effort?  What does it contribute to the sum of human endeavour?

Then I read the musings of someone higher on the hog than myself and I realise that I do have a purpose.  I may never stand upon the roof of the world, but I can show you the mountain, and maybe you can climb it.

So here is a quote from a master essayist;

Have no mean hours, but be grateful for every hour, and accept what it brings. The reality will make any sincere record respectable. No day will have been wholly misspent, if one sincere, thoughtful page has been written. Let the daily tide leave some deposit on these pages, as it leaves sand and shells on the shore. So much increase of terra firma. this may be a calendar of the ebbs and flows of the soul; and on these sheets as a beach, the waves may cast up pearls and seaweed…David Henry Thoreau