Oh to be old!



Warning; by Jenny Joseph

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

Wet Christmas

Today is the first day of many we have not woken to rain.  Thankfully we are in a house on a rise, built back in the 19th Century when the Victorians had the good sense not to build houses on lands prone to flooding.

Spare a thought for the 8,000 people in the UK who are without power.  Red flood warnings are in place from Wales all the way to northern Scotland.  My uncle in Cumbria has 4 inches of water in his basement, and considers himself a lucky man to get away so lightly.

The forecast is for more rain.  Those families evacuated from their homes will need to sit out the next few days to assess the damage.

With global weather patterns suggest we will see more of this weather.  So what are the options for those people who bought homes in flood areas?  They could follow the example of Yaron Ivry of Berkshire in the UK.  He simply jacked his entire 5 bedroom house 5 feet higher and placed it on stilts.  In fact, I smell a business opportunity here.

Another strategy is to create a series of stepped holding ponds or tanks in flood areas.  We have such a system near our house to prevent flooding on the motorway.  There are a series of wide flat  holding tanks either side of the road.  Mostly they stand dry, but in heavy rains they turn into temporary ponds as they take the run-off from the road, slowing down the water flow downstream and preventing flooding.

Another good strategy is to create huge sponges that soak up water and hold it for slow release.  We call these sponges “forests” or “bogs”.  Unfortunately we cut most of them down.

Suggestion for planning authorities:  Mandatory planting of woodlands attached to every housing development!

The Floods; by Rudyard Kipling

The rain it rains without a stay
 In the hills above us, in the hills;
And presently the floods break way
 Whose strength is in the hills.
The trees they suck from every cloud,
The valley brooks they roar aloud–
Bank-high for the lowlands, lowlands,
 Lowlands under the hills!

The first wood down is sere and small,
 From the hills–the brishings off the hills;
And then come by the bats and all
 We cut last year in the hills;
And then the roots we tried to cleave
But found too tough and had to leave–
Polting down the lowlands, lowlands,
 Lowlands under the hills!

The eye shall look, the ear shall hark
 To the hills, the doings in the hills!
And rivers mating in the dark
 With tokens from the hills.
Now what is weak will surely go,
And what is strong must prove it so–
Stand Fast in the lowlands, lowlands,
 Lowlands under the hills!

The floods they shall not be afraid–
 Nor the hills above ’em, nor the hills–
Of any fence which man has made
 Betwixt him and the hills.
The waters shall not reckon twice
 For any work of man’s device,
 But bid it down to the lowlands, lowlands,
    Lowlands under the hills!

The floods shall sweep corruption clean–
 By the hills, the blessing of the hills–
That more the meadows may be green
 New-mended from the hills.
The crops and cattle shall increase,
Nor little children shall not cease.
Go–plough the lowlands, lowlands,
 Lowlands under the hills!


Farming and female disempowerment


Go to any cattle mart anywhere in the world and count the % of women.  Our media is great at challenging gender inequality in CEO’s of public companies or at senior levels in Politics and the Civil Service.  But does anyone ever ask why there are so few women in marts?

In pre-farming societies there was very little inequality.  Studies of bones in hunter gatherer communities show that the tribe shared resources and either all starved or nobody starved.  The role of women in “primitive” societies was defined differently to the role of men, but not in a way that deprived women.  Women tended to be the owners of the home, even if the home was simply a tepee on the American Great Plains.  She owned the equipment that made the home comfortable, the bedding, the cooking utensils etc.  A woman could divorce her husband simply by tossing him and his possessions out of her home.

So why did the arrival of farming change the status and the role of women so dramatically.  Why did farming result in societies where women live in purdah?  Why did women end up becoming chattels, basically another form of property or livestock owned by the man?

I propose the following theory as one major influence:  The power to trade.

In primitive hunter gatherer societies each tribe basically had fairly similar means of production and end outputs.  A hunter knapped flint, made a spear, killed a deer, ate the meat, wore the skin.  There were some products that could be traded such as metals, salt etc which some tribes were better at producing.  These trades tended to happen at large summer gatherings of tribes where everyone, man and woman alike could trade.

With the arrival of farming the nature of trade changed.  Regular trade became a vital component of successful farming.  A wheat farmer did not “live on bread alone”.  The farm produced a surplus in certain foods and traded this surplus for specialty goods produced by experts.  The basis of civilization is the ability to specialize.

With a constant demand for trading somebody had to adopt the role of the trader on the farm.  In primitive tribal societies if you sent a woman to another tribe there was a risk she would not return.   You could send an older woman, beyond child bearing age, but in primitive societies they were few and far between, and way too valuable to risk.  So you send a man.  Every move is a risk, he may be robbed, or killed, or both.  Tribes eventually settled for sending men to trade their goods.  The loss of a single man is a lesser problem for a tribe than the loss of a women who can produce children.  The future viability of a tribe derives from production of children.

So men became traders.  They developed the skills of going out into the wide world, negotiating prices, exchanging goods, learning new languages, developing accounting and recording systems etc etc.

Traders developed mathematics and writing systems.  These skills developed into formal religious institutions which observed the weather, climate, movements of animals, seasons and led to the development of calendars which dictated the correct times to plant and harvest.

When trading was defined as an activity for men it was given to them because of the danger of the job.  Nobody could have predicted the benefits trade would bring to the power of the individual.  Men rose in status at the expense of women.  Understanding the value of assets from a trade perspective they moved to take ownership of the assets of the tribe, the livestock, the land and eventually the home itself.

In some societies the home remains the property of the woman.  Greek families are an example of this, where the boys must work to provide their sisters with their own homes before they can marry.

If you want to see equality in society you need to see equality in the Cattle Mart, and we are a long way away from that day.




Solstice Vs Shortest Day


Today, Dec 21st, is the shortest day of the year.  Many believe this makes it the Winter Solstice, but the one is not always the other.

The Solstice is when the Sun rises in its lowest position in the year.  This does not always fall on the Shortest Day.  In 2015 the Solstice occurs at dawn on the 22nd.  That is the morning you want to be in Newgrange or Stonehenge or one of the other great megalithic clocks.

It is funny to read about the 50 people who were disappointed at Newgrange when the clouds obscured the sunrise.  They won the annual lottery to attend the event on the 21st.  Did they realise they were there on the wrong day?


A Leaf From The Tree of Songs; by Adam Christianson

When harpers once in wooden hall
A shining chord would strike
Their songs like arrows pierced the soul
Of great and low alike

Aglow by hearth and candleflame
From burning branch ot ember
The mist of all their music sang
As if to ask in wonder

Is there a moment quite as keen
Or memory as bright
As light and fire and music sweet
To warm the winter’s night?

Seizing the advantage


Dec 20th 69 AD Vespasian entered Rome as Emperor.  When I look at his face I see a jocular and human person, not an emperor on an ivory tower.  A plain man, with a face engraved with the worries and cares of normal life.  The blunt face of a plain man, a soldier, a man of the people.

In truth he was a brilliant military commander.  He had a track record of military success in Britain under Claudius, followed by the subjugation of Judea.

After Emperor Nero committed suicide followed the “Year of the Four Emperors” as one candidate after the other vied for control of Rome.  Galba was defeated by Otho who was ousted by Vitellius.  Vitellius held Rome with the cream of the Roman legions from the Gallic and German frontiers.

This is when Vespasian demonstrated his keen mind for politics and economics.  Instead of marching on Rome he moved on Egypt.  This was the breadbasket of the Roman world, providing the grain supply that kept ordinary Romans fed and happy.

With the food supply in his control he was able to broker alliances with the former supporters of Otho.  He added the Syrian legions to those he controlled in Judea.  He then assembled favourable religious omens, prophesies and portents to support his claim before moving on Vitellius.

Vespasian was also a marketing genius.  He understood the power of branding, placing the name on the world famous “Flavian Amphitheater” which is today better known as the Colosseum.

The name “Colosseum” actually referred to a giant bronze statue which stood in front of the Amphitheater.  Originally a statue of Emperor Nero, and modeled on the “Colossus of Rhodes” one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world.  The Colossus of Rome was almost as tall as the Statue of Liberty.  Over time it was re-purposed to represent other emperors, and to represent the Greek Sun God Helios.




Christmas Spirit



I hung up all the outside lights today.  That Christmas feeling is building.  Ah the commerce of it all!



Goodwill To Men – Give Us Your Money; by Pam Ayres

It was Christmas Eve on a Friday
The shops was full of cheer,
With tinsel in the windows,
And presents twice as dear.
A thousand Father Christmases,
Sat in their little huts,
And folk was buying crackers
And folk was buying nuts.

All up and down the country,
Before the light was snuffed,
Turkeys they get murdered,
And cockerels they got stuffed,
Christmas cakes got marzipanned,
And puddin’s they got steamed
Mothers they got desperate
And tired kiddies screamed.

Hundredweight’s of Christmas cards,
Went flying through the post,
With first class postage stamps on those,
You had to flatter most.
Within a million kitchens,
Mince pies was being made,
On everyone’s radio,
“White Christmas”, it was played.

Out in the frozen countryside
Men crept round on their own,
Hacking off the holly,
What other folks had grown,
Mistletoe on willow trees,
Was by a man wrenched clear,
So he could kiss his neighbour’s wife,
He’d fancied all the year.

And out upon the hillside,
Where the Christmas trees had stood,
All was completely barren,
But for little stumps of wood,
The little trees that flourished
All the year were there no more,
But in a million houses,
Dropped their needles on the floor.

And out of every cranny, cupboard,
Hiding place and nook,
Little bikes and kiddies’ trikes,
Were secretively took,
Yards of wrapping paper,
Was rustled round about,
And bikes were wheeled to bedrooms,
With the pedals sticking out.

Rolled up in Christmas paper
The Action Men were tensed,
All ready for the morning,
When their fighting life commenced,
With tommy guns and daggers,
All clustered round about,
“Peace on Earth – Goodwill to Men”
The figures seemed to shout.

The church was standing empty,
The pub was standing packed,
There came a yell, “Noel, Noel!”
And glasses they got cracked.
From up above the fireplace,
Christmas cards began to fall,
And trodden on the floor, said:
“Merry Christmas, to you all.”


Saturnalibus, optimo dierum!


December 17th is the Roman feast of Saturn, the Saturnalia.  Over the years it expanded to become an entire week of festivities.

During Saturnalia all the conventions of Rome were thrown aside.  It was the Roman Version of the Dionysian Mysteries.  But the Roman festival seems to have been far earthier, and a lot more fun.

Masters became the servants.  Women acted like men.  Rules around what you could eat or drink or how to behave were thrown away.  Chaos and fun were the order of the day.

From Saturnalia we get one of our most enduring Christmas traditions, the Pantomime.  The male hero is played by a woman.  Dames are played by men.  Farce and comedy are feted in place of po-faced theatre.  There are no seats for litterati at the panto.  It is owned by children, small ones and big ones.

It is a tried and true formula.  The good guys always triumph, the guy gets the girl and there are no nasty surprises.  “He’s behind you!”

Audience participation is de-rigeur.

Oh no, it isn’t…..


The Pantomime – A Humorous Poem -by Blackangelwings

I’ll boo if I want to
I’ll jump up and down
I’ll hiss at the Stepmother
And laugh at her crown.

I’ll be the first to scream
When a cow is sold for beans
I’ll tremble at the Giant’s voice
When Jack escapes, I will rejoice.

I’ll scramble for sweets
That Seven Dwarfs throw
I won’t push over children
It’s rather naughty I know.

As children to the woods are banished
My inhibitions tend to vanish
As a glass slipper is forced on willing toes
I’ll shout ‘She’s behind you’ wherever the Evil Dame goes.

I won’t give a care
When adults turn to stare
I’ll laugh at the old gags, they’re always the same
I’ll be jolly and excited, so very glad I came.

Maybe I’ll stay in my seat
If the interval provides a fluorescent treat
A glowing wand this year
As previous swords made me reckless, I fear.

I won’t whistle at the Principle Boy
You told me Santa would take back a toy
I’ll cheer as a Prince so brave
Breaks the curse of a glass coffin grave.

When Witches appear I’ll roar out a boo
I promise not to swear or turn the air blue
As Ugly Sisters pull up their chests
I’ll just giggle and won’t be a pest.

I’ll journey on a carpet somewhere nice
I won’t heckle the Genie or give my advice
I may weep a bucket full of tears
As into Snow White’s mouth a poisoned apple disappears.

This Pantomime time
I won’t commit the crime
Of running down the aisle
Two steps at a time.

I won’t even jump on the stage this year
I’ve heard of Health and Safety fears
I must admit though, I’ll miss all the attention
It’s far more fun than collecting my pension!


Time flies


Sonnet 7: by John Milton

How soon hath Time, the subtle thief of youth,
stol’n on his wing my three-and-twentieth year!
My hasting days fly on with full career,
but my late spring no bud or blossom shew’th.
Perhaps my semblance might deceive the truth
that I to manhood am arriv’d so near;
and inward ripeness doth much less appear,
that some more timely-happy spirits endu’th.
Yet be it less or more, or soon or slow,
it shall be still in strictest measure ev’n
to that same lot, however mean or high,
toward which Time leads me, and the will of Heav’n:
All is, if I have grace to use it so
as ever in my great Task-Master’s eye.


On Dec 9th in 1973 the Sunningdale agreement was signed, setting up a power sharing administration in Northern Ireland.  It was followed by a unionist backlash, a general strike and a breakdown in public order.  The agreement did not survive for six months.

As a result of the collapse of Sunningdale Northern Ireland, and the Mainland UK, were to suffer 25 years of tit for tat violence and terrorism.

In 1998 the Good Friday Agreement was signed, introducing a power sharing administration.  It was nicknamed “Sunningdale for slow learners”.

There is a lesson here for policy makers who are attempting to resolve conflicts between polarised interests.  Before any peaceable agreement can be implemented it must be sold effectively to both sides.  In particular it must be sold to the hard line extremists.

Moderate interests are always focused on the solution.  Hard line extremists focus on their positions, rights, entitlements, traditions.  They worry about symbols such as marches, flags, badges and language.  When finding a solution that includes the hard liners the devil is in the detail.

For any solution to work requires the hard liners to engage in the the process to find the solution.  If they are excluded from the process they will simply undermine any solution that emerges.

In many situations the Hard Line interests are operating outside of the sphere of legality.  They are often labelled as criminals and are wanted by the police for terrorist activity.  Any negotiation process must begin by recognizing the right of these people to be present at the negotiation table.  This in itself is often anathema to other interests.

Building agreement is a delicate choreography of acceptance, inclusion and negotiation.



Parents:  by Paul Durcan

A child’s face is a drowned face:

Her parents stare down at her asleep

Estranged from her by a sea:

She is under the sea

And they are above the sea:

If she looked up she would see them

As if locked out of their own home.

Their mouths open.

Their foreheads furrowed –

Pursed-up orifices of fearful fish –

Their big ears are fins behind the glass

And in her sleep she is calling out to them

Father, Father

Mother, Mother

But they cannot hear her:

She is inside the sea

And they are outside the sea,

Throughout the night, stranded, they stare

At the drowned, drowned face of their child.

Move over Nostradamus


Politicians discussing global warming: Isaac Cordal

I woke up this morning to the full force of Storm Desmond.  Every weekend in the last month we have had a Storm that deserves a name.  The weather is relentless.

I switch on the TV and see floods in Peru and Chennai.  In Svalbard they are short on snow in December.  Australia faces the worst heatwave and drought on record.

There is no longer any doubt that mankind has altered the weather patterns on Earth.  Yet at the Climate Talks in Paris the politicians will continue to dither and prevaricate.  They won’t make the hard economic decisions that are needed to arrest the pace of climate change.

Politicians are too worried about the next election to make decision that will affect our great grandchildren.  But we, the voting public, have the power to change this dynamic.  As a species we need to place the common good over individual desires.  Not an easy ask.

Perversely it is centrally planned utilitarian states who can make unilateral decisions for the common good.  China and the one child policy being a case in point.  Imagine trying to impose such a restriction in the USA?

So to other events on the goggle box this morning.  Famine in Yemen, Civil unrest in Ecuador and Venezuela.  San Bernadino laments another mass shooting and ISIL claims responsibility.  Britain, France, Russia and the USA queue up to drop bombs in Syria.

In the back of my mind I heard the words of the Prophet singing the verses of his 1960’s vision.  Yes folks, forget Nostradamus.  Listen to the words given to us by Bob Dylan.  The recording below is brilliant because it is so flawed.  It is real, visceral, truthful.  The live recording in New York Town Hall carries all the hallmarks of unedited live performance.  You can hear when Dylan turns his head slightly away from the mike.

On top of that this is a Vinyl recording, complete with hiss and cracks and there is even a scratch on the record.  Pure class.

You heard it from Dylan, A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall