Food for thought

The world of reading – I mean actual ‘flesh and blood’ books alive in my hand – is full of countless wonders and perceptions and images that spark the imagination as long as one is alive. Contemplate the following compilation of some items I have come across looking through recent notes.

  • Here is a poem I read at Christmas. It expresses very well the insight, which has always intrigued me that every second of history could have given rise to an entirely different universe to the one we by chance inhabit. The poem is by Paul Groves.





Scenario In An Alternative Universe

We understand Mary’s grief for her firstborn.

Had there been room at the inn this would not

have happened. Stables are inappropriate

for human birth. Sheep and cows, though neutral

and in a sense attractive, are far from ideal

companions during confinement. Clean towels

and pure water would have helped. Within days

the child was febrile. She wept, as if tears

could cool the small brow, but it was too late.

The baby was lowered into a shallow grave

In its swaddling clothes, Joseph was disconsolate.

Who knows what the boy might have become:

tax collector, scribe, fisherman, carpenter….

The worst part was that, three days later, a dog

unearthed the corpse as if it were a bone

and carried it away into the moonlight.

  • I was reading a new book about Winston Churchill – ‘new’ after the hundreds if not thousands of books which have been written about him – not as many, yet, as have been written about Lincoln and Napoleon but a lot. In his 80s Churchill was asked to deliver a commencement address at Harrow, the boarding school he attended as a boy. He stood up at the podium glared over his glasses, and delivered the shortest and most inspiring and most popular speech ever given at a graduation ceremony. “Never, never, never, never give up!” He roared. Then he sat down to thunderous applause.
  • As I contemplate my 62 years’ experience of politicians in Guyana and the Caribbean I have come to the conclusion that there is no better summary of their work and interaction than what is contained in the very first, and famous, sentence in the historian Barbara Tuchman’s book The March Of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam.

“A phenomenon noticeable throughout history regardless of place or period is the pursuit by Governments of policies contrary to their interests.”

  • Samuel Pepys is the best, and by far the most entertaining, diarist who ever lived. Browsing in his great diary I find an entry for 10th March 1666, which sums up what happens to nearly every ambitious or successful man or woman: “Thence home and to the office, where late writing letters; and leaving a great deal to do on Monday – I home to supper and to bed. The truth is, I do indulge myself a little with pleasure, knowing that this is the proper age of my life to do it, and out of my observation that most men that do thrive in the world do forget to take pleasure during the time that they are getting their estate but reserve that till they have got one, and then it is too late for them to enjoy it with any pleasure.”
  • I watched the last days of the Obama presidency with an admiration approaching reverence and a regret approaching grief. There is a grace about him which America, and the world, will miss terribly. I have read that there is a quality attributed to Javanese kings: Halus. It is a royal attribute of imperturbability. The quality of not being disturbed. Smoothness of spirit, meaning self-control. Smoothness of appearance, meaning beauty and elegance. Smoothness of behaviour, meaning politeness and sensitivity. Such kings could be depended on to govern well. Such kings could be depended on to keep the people safe and well-regarded and proud.
  • The antithesis of Halus is Kasar. Lack of control. Irregularity. Disharmony. Ugliness. Impurity. An unsettled and dangerous spirit. Coarseness.


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