Ian McDonald

Ian McDonald

Misfortune

In a long life I have on a number of occasions been asked to address various groups graduating from school or university or making the transition from one stage of life to another – for instance, new recruits in a company or first-time members of a national sports team.

Travelling by the book

My tutor at Cambridge, Professor Nick Hammond, authority on the history of ancient Macedonia and on the life of Alexander the Great, used to coach me on what he called “exercises of the mind.” He knew I played tennis for the university and he put it to me that just as I trained hard for the tennis so should I stretch to exhaustion the muscles of the mind.

Adventures in words

These days, as increasing age makes the discovery of new lands much less likely, it remains perfectly possible to voyage in the mind as adventurously as ever by reading books and talking to good friends.

‘A dreadful spirit of division rends the society’

Winston Churchill, exasperated by opposition politicians constantly questioning his policies and his own credentials and frustrated by having to consult and compromise on measures which in his judgement were straightforward and ripe for introduction without hesitation, once exploded: “Democracy is the worst kind of government!” Then he paused, thought a little bit, considered the alternatives and ruefully concluded – “Except all the others.” Democracy ensures, or should ensure, that the differing views, varied cultural persuasions and diverging concepts of how the people’s affairs should be managed are allowed expression and none ever squeezed into resentful, and eventually festering, silence.

Nearly all of us are also-rans

Frederick Winslow Taylor, who as a young foreman in a Philadelphia steelworks in 1880 started measuring work performance compared with time taken to do the work, was the first time and motion study expert, the man who pioneered the science of efficiency in management. 

Poetry and the real world

Seamus Heaney, the great Irish poet, whose marvellous collection of essays The Redress of Poetry I like to re-read, writes that W H Auden’s elegy for Yeats was “a rallying cry that celebrates poetry for being on the side of life, and continuity of effort, and enlargement of the spirit.” Heaney believes that one function of poetry is to act as a counterweight to hostile and oppressive forces in the world: he calls this “the imagination pressing back against the pressure of reality.” This is what he calls “redress”, whereby “the poetic imagination seems to redress whatever is wrong or exacerbating in the prevailing conditions,” offering “a response to reality which has a liberating and verifying effort upon the individual spirit…tilting the scales of reality towards some transcendent equilibrium…This redressing effect of poetry comes from its being a glimpsed

The miniaturisation of sugar

It is hard to claim that GuySuCo’s losses on the scale now obtaining – leading to the diversion of precious taxpayer’s revenue from education and health for instance – can be sustained much longer.

A column of complete and utter pessimism

In Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Edward Gibbon, writing about the reign of Titus Pius, commented in passing that history was “little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind.” That judgment seems true.

One of the greatest poets who ever lived

At a time when one is still shaken by the death of Derek Walcott – the thought which diminishes us that he will never again decipher the beauty of the world for us – let us celebrate poetry – “the bread that lasts when systems have decayed.” And today I do so by recalling a poet whom Walcott loved – I remember talking with Walcott about him when Walcott visited Guyana a few years ago.

Fast bowling

“You have been watching West Indies cricket for 70 years – give me three outstanding memories,” a friend asks me.

For your soul’s content

Leave aside the interminable bungling and set-in-stone ill-will which to one’s endless dismay characterise Guyana’s public space – and concentrate instead for your soul’s content on the many wonders which cross the mind on a daily basis.

Notice

Many people go to the ends of the earth to find beauty. And certainly beauty can be found at the ends of the earth.