Monday, October 23, 2006

Cry Hungary

Fifty years ago tonight I lay in bed aged 13 listening to the reports of the uprising in Budapest. It is ironic that there is trouble in Budapest tonight! In 1956 the people were taking on the Russians; today there is division at home over the dishonesty of the government.

The Hungarian uprising was my political baptism. I knew nothing of politics, or democracy and oppression. I just listened all day and all night to the reports coming from Hungary of ordinary and often unarmed people facing up to the power of the soviets. This bravery was very impressive to me, a teenager. I wanted to be Hungarian, not British! I wanted to be there with the excitement and emotion of the fight. I knew nothing of the pain of living under the Soviet yoke, or the pain of death in this uprising. It was David and Goliath, and I wanted to be David.

The uprising (or was it a revolution?) changed my life, leaving me with a revulsion for "the Russians" as we called them, but not so strong that within a few years I saw capitalism as a greater threat. So today, after a lifetime of support for a political party and ideology which some might call socialism (not many I think) what is left? It is not for me to comment on Hungary and its people; their past is past, their future is theirs! But I have to say thank you ..... for my commitment to the poor against the rich, the weak against the strong, can be traced to the events in 1956 in the streets around Hősök Tere and Andrassy Avenue. so.... thank you for that. Without your struggle and the example of the Hungarian people, I would not be the person I am today.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Hero and Orator

Neil Kinnock, the man who rescued the Labour Party from impending oblivion, spoke at events in Manchester at the party Conference in late September. Great man, great orator, great photos!

Neil Kinnock was born eight months before and just a few miles from me. Always my hero both for his great oratory laced with Welsh fervour, and for the way he made Labour electable during the late 80s.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Lori Decter sings Mimi's Act I Aria from La boheme (Puccini)

My first attempt to add video to my blog. Let's hope the technology works.

As for a comment on La Boheme, just listen and enjoy!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Whose fence is this?

Sitting in my garden, I am surrounded by fencing two metres high but invisible to my eyes. It is covered from the ground upwards with ivy! Ivy? Yes that five-pointed leaf that repeats day after day, year on year and inch by inch, but never in the same shape or colour.

What do I see? Greens of every hue from dark and tough and ageing to small, new, fragile and light. And in between, every shade and misshapen size possible. There’s not a flower in sight, just millions of leaves each one covering the layers and leaves underneath, changing with the seasons and with the years but never changing the totality of cover over my lost and hidden fence.

If the fence was the ovum, the ivy was sperm! Millions of leaves which impregnated and in time turned into its own eco-system. Sustained by sun and rain, a shelter to frogs and birds, threatened by hedge-cutter and creosote, renewed by spring each year, but always home to a secret and silent community.

I closed my hand, pushed it between the leaves. More leaves? Yes, for a while, but they had lost their smoothness, and like the skin of an ancient naturist, were wrinkled, hard and crisp to the touch. They crumbled in my squeeze and fell to the ground. “Dust to dust,” says the good book?

Like motorways, railways, roads and paths, the ivy stems tangled and twisted to all points in this hedge. “Where I will,” they seemed to say. No architect, planner or bureaucracy here; just more and more growth and in amongst it, evidence of a huge range of creatures, spiders, ants, flies, beetles, centipedes, insects of every description, and all unwittingly approaching death by bird, hedgehog or other prey.

Where is the parliament to regulate this ivy? Where is the protest or the support? Where is the management and organisation? There is nothing I can find, save an eternal community, in balance but without committee. And underneath the ivy, long since lost to light, the fence lives on, save in its protective coat.

What lessons are there here for us? What can we learn from this peaceful idyll? Maybe to let nature take its course, to leave our world alone, to wrap ourselves in nature and not the reverse; but like each ivy leaf, we have no future and will not be missed. We make our input, just a little, we have our day, but in eternity, we barely figure, counting as even less than zero. A depressing thought? No, we are human, trustees of this universe, and destiny is ours, or is it mine alone?

(dedicated to Sylvie Garreau who gave me an empty book ..... in which to write!)

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Thoughtful Sea!

I sat on age-old rocks in the warm of the sun and the cool of the wind at Calella de Palafrugell, wondering what these rocks would say if they were to give voice to their memories. Would they tell of a history of waves and weed, of fishermen and boats, of traditions which changed little over the centuries? Or would they speak with the forked tongues of men? Conscious of the differencees between Spaniard and Catalan, or facist and republican, or the modern invasion of tourists from accoss Europe. Is Calella Catalan any more? Is this the Costa Brava, or is it now Costa Turistica?

What has Calella lost since the BBC proclaimed it to be the least spoilt destination in Spain? To sit on those rocks in winter or spring; to dream with the gulls, to ferret around with the sparrows, to look into a swirling cremat, to sip on cafe solo, to enjoy the saltiness of Vichy water, solsos at lunchtime, the rocky crust of crema catalana, simply to be alone with history, culture, language, music and oneself .... these are forever lost. Tourists bring money and with money change ... eternal revolution of homes and bars, of tracks which become roads, and roads which grow into motorways.

So I sat and thought of these rocks and the stories they cannot tell ... how the sounds of the sea reassures those who doubt the realities of our world, how cormorants return each year to this remote pasture, how multitudes of fish are able to hide beneath these clear waters. The world goes on, mi amigo. It does not deny the superficial nor the beneficial, but human activity is on the edge, one facet only and the spirit of the earth and sea lives on. Garcia Marquez is right, the spirits walk our world, unseen by most, and only the spirits understand the force, the power, the omnipotence of nature. Our world is safe, if only we knew it!

Monday, April 17, 2006

April in Madrid!

Oh, to be in England
Now that April's there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England—now!
And after April, when May follows,
And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows!
Hark, where my blossomed pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops—at the bent spray's edge—
That's the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!
And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,
All will be gay when noontide wakes anew
The buttercups, the little children's dower—
Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!

A poem by Robert Browning ..... but .... 12 April 2006 .....

Oh to be in England now that April´s here!
On this occasion, no contest .... the Copa del Rei with son-in-law Mario, and Español´s somewhat unexpected 4 - 1 victory over Zaragoza was an event to savour... a moment of history, a moment to enjoy being out of England!

Forza Español! Posted by Picasa

Friday, March 31, 2006

The Flea

A poem by John Donne that I have not read in many years ... but its meaning improves with age!

MARK but this flea, and mark in this,
How little that which thou deniest me is;
It suck'd me first, and now sucks thee,
And in this flea our two bloods mingled be.
Thou know'st that this cannot be said
A sin, nor shame, nor loss of maidenhead;
Yet this enjoys before it woo,
And pamper'd swells with one blood made of two;
And this, alas ! is more than we would do.

O stay, three lives in one flea spare,
Where we almost, yea, more than married are.
This flea is you and I, and this
Our marriage bed, and marriage temple is.
Though parents grudge, and you, we're met,
And cloister'd in these living walls of jet.
Though use make you apt to kill me,
Let not to that self-murder added be,
And sacrilege, three sins in killing three.

Cruel and sudden, hast thou since
Purpled thy nail in blood of innocence?
Wherein could this flea guilty be,
Except in that drop which it suck'd from thee?
Yet thou triumph'st, and say'st that thou
Find'st not thyself nor me the weaker now.
'Tis true ; then learn how false fears be;
Just so much honour, when thou yield'st to me,
Will waste, as this flea's death took life from thee.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

And Death Shall Have No Dominion

And death shall have no dominion.
Dead men naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
Under the windings of the sea
They lying long shall not die windily;
Twisting on racks when sinews give way,
Strapped to a wheel, yet they shall not break;
Faith in their hands shall snap in two,
And the unicorn evils run them through;
Split all ends up they shan't crack;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
No more may gulls cry at their ears
Or waves break loud on the seashores;
Where blew a flower may a flower no more
Lift its head to the blows of the rain;
Though they be mad and dead as nails,
Heads of the characters hammer through daisies;
Break in the sun till the sun breaks down,
And death shall have no dominion.

Dylan Thomas

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Letter to Peter

Dear Peter

I was at your funeral this morning, trying to make sense of it all, all that pain and hurt and sadness …. asking myself the question … “why?” And yet through the tears, I also asked, “why not?” After all we have no monopoly over life and death; why should it be early or late in life, and why should we always be able to predict the timing of this inevitable event?

I looked at faces racked by tears, red-stained eyes that looked worn and old, noses than ran sore and were wiped incessantly. I felt the collective heave of a community bound together in the grief of your death. Family, friends from school and from life, colleagues from work, and those who were there only because they knew your name and who you were, all caught up in what we hoped would be a celebration of your life, but inevitably became for many, a catharsis, and for some a trauma.

Phil talked about your illness, Ged about your life and work, but so many spoke only to themselves and to their God, knowing there was no answer to the questions “Why?” and “Why not?” We listened to these brave words from those who would do anything to go back a week, pick up a telephone, call at the house, do something different to change the course of history, and thus not need to be here today. All pointless … we cannot go back. We make our choices and must live by their reward.

Phil started and ended with the reminder that no event, no one illness can define or determine you or anybody else in our world. We are who we are with all our history, successes and failings, laughter and tears, choices made and avoided, friends and colleagues; we are all these things and not just the final event of our life.

It was good to hear this, reassuring, and it reminded us of all the pleasure that you gave us at home, at school, at work. Your work is not undone by death; it is perpetuated, complete. Your laughter, your energy and commitment is not lost; we are the people that you influenced, that you helped to form; and so your qualities and something of you, live on in us.

So, Peter, look down on us from wherever you are, smile your smile and talk your talk. Maybe when we look at sun or moon, your face will be there. When we hear the sound of that gentle wind it will carry your muffled words into our world. Whatever else you do, remember that we loved you, the person you were and the person you remain, and then, my friend, my child ….. rest in peace.

Friday, February 24, 2006


is being alone with your thoughts, sharing them only with your God!

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Dawn or realisation?

I boarded that train at some provincial stop, and at some unearthly hour. This is my job, I told myself and sank into seat.

As night gave way to dawn, to light, to landscapes, to skies, what did I see? People? No, this land is empty of them, but full of fields and folds, copses and ponds, lanes and tracks which all deserted looks so natural. Only the canals and bridges look man-made. Man’s influence seems almost sympathetic as hamlets, farmhouses, barns and stacks pass by. What I cannot see is the track on which we ride, this iron road rebuilt on white and soon to be grey stone, fenced in with railings which in time will rust. And as they do, will they blend in and be consumed by this rural scene? Will earth’s colours again assume their dominance? Can cuttings and embankments, straight and fine, ever stand out against nature, or will they mellow, soften, and be weathered by wind and rain and sun?

This arrow, this sharp and silver shape, cuts through our land at speeds we cannot comprehend. London in two hours they say, when once it took a week! But trains are urban, not rural, filled with the urges and noises of those who work and chatter and shout orders down their phones. Why can they not stop for a moment and take in what they do not see. Obsessed by work, efficiency and outcomes, they take their worries and concerns, their intensity and commitment, to transform this world they say … for the better, and without even a glance at these passing sights, this ancient world which will see us out. A world of quiet, of birds, of rats and shrews we never see, of quiet cattle, of sheep, of those who mind their own affairs, those who relax, take the longer view, and take life as it comes.

So town and city dwellers just halt your race into oblivion. The train speeds not to London, but to eternity. One gets on, but will it ever stop? Like some great wheel, the train speeds on, in relentless chasing of a perfect world.

Think on, my friend; this is not heaven but hell, a denial of our humanity, a false faith in our dominion when what we need is quiet and humble eyes for the marvels we have missed.

Sleep on my friend, and when you wake, the world will not have changed.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Os pensamentos num trem

I woke to the sound of overwhelming, utter exhaustion. The mobile was ringing, waking me from a sleep induced by the monotony of the rhythm of the train. All day I had discussed, debated, analysed, and to what purpose? Putting the world to rights, condemning injustice, Opposing anarchy? No, none of these; just reflecting on the differences between the meanings of monitoring, evaluation and review!

If only we spent our time productively. We protest out commitment to efficient service delivery, and what do we do? Use our tongues rather than our hands, our mouths rather than our heads!

Is this like the difference between Lenin, Stalin and Trotsky? Who proved to be the most effective? Was it the thinker and planner, or the one who acted decisively? One left us a political philosophy, another a corrupt and inhuman empire; the third was exterminated because of the threat he posed.

The parallel for today might be the interactions between militant Islam and the secular West. The former protests at the cartoon sacrilege upon their prophet (peace be upon him), oppressed both by Western domination of oil and the vestiges of a thousand years of clerical rule. Meanwhile, in the name of freedom, our governments and peoples rape the resources of our world, threaten the future of the planet and of humanity, jeopardise the quality of the very air we breathe, and are never brought to account for these crimes. Our world is in our trust, not our ownership or dominion!

Meanwhile, in Latin America, in Africa, in Asia, and in so many of the West’s urban centres, people suffer and starve in the names of capitalism, secularism and religion. When did religion last protest on behalf of the poor? Nearly always it is tied into a political regime. While our prophets prophecy in truth and in justice, Christians at least have both oppressed and been oppressed in the name of Jesus. Of other prophets, I cannot speak.

Maybe I should take refuge in sleep, undisturbed by worry, concern, pain and violence, or the threat of these.

Back to sleep on my train. Boa noite meu amigo!