Even in the worst of times

Even in the worst of times – and who can doubt that the times are pretty bad– reading comes to the rescue by revealing other worlds of experience where cruelty and mindlessness and man’s inhumanity to man do not continually have the upper hand.

In Canada

My wife and I have just returned from one of the great cities of the world. 

Ageing well

I apologise if this appears to take the form of a health and fitness page in this newspaper.

Read to Succeed

I remember “Read to Succeed” was once the theme of the activities and exhibitions organised to celebrate the work of library services for the children of Guyana.

The habit of finding things to do

My younger friends – and at my advanced age virtually everyone is younger – particularly Generation Xers (born 1965-79) and the millennials (born 1980-2000) – complain about being over-scheduled and over-committed.

The responsibility to use words accurately

A very great asset is the ability to write well. Just as the gift of speech first separated man from animal, so has the ability to set speech down in written form gradually raised man up from his first beginnings as brute to the high level of science, art, and social organisation which he now precariously occupies.

The Robin Hood principle abandoned

It would cost US$700 million a year to immunise 250 million children in poor countries against polio, measles, whooping cough, diphtheria, tetanus and tuberculosis. 

The mark of a free society

In the old Soviet Russia one of the more outrageous features of life was that their greatest creative writers for years were barred from publishing in their own native land.

Silver linings

Samuel Johnson, that great man of letters and heavyweight of good sense in eighteenth century England, commonly said the people whom we should most beware in the world are those who constantly insist on finding fault, those whose clouds are never lit by silver linings, those who everlastingly “refuse to be pleased.” I am often reminded of Sam Johnson’s suspicion of such people and their moanings and gnashing of teeth when I read the newspapers or look at the news and commentaries and interviews and panel discussions on our TV channels.

Guidelines

At the ripe old age of eighty-five, when one is very aware that it is time to make sense of what has happened in one’s life, I have become convinced about two major things.

What is the good life?

Having retired years ago after 52 years in the sugar industry, including working closely with governments and regional institutions along the way, if there is one thing I have learned it is the extreme frailty of all grand plans.

Is CARICOM still relevant?

In 1991 and 1992, when I was working with the West Indian Commission, a feature of many of the presentations made by scores of experts and academics and businessmen and educators was how often they cited other countries as influences we needed to recall or examples we should strive to emulate.

Please teach poetry to the children

I have said before, and will keep on saying until my strength gives out, that there is nothing more important in society than teaching the growing generations to express themselves in good, clear, concise, forceful English.

Truth does not grow old

Good poetry holds its truth and relevance throughout the ages. It may retail the facts and thinking of its own era, but part of it will always express what is eternally true and recognizable.

How to deal with terrorism

The world is terror-stricken. A condition of advanced paranoia is spreading everywhere. The fastest growing business in country after country is the security business.

The truth about love

At thirteen, I think it was, I was reading love poetry. At seventeen, love-lorn often, I was writing it – very badly, full of inconsolable sighs and lamentation, but at least I was trying.

Travelling

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.

The end of the world

This is an easy column to write. A previous column I wrote about the great Polish poet, Czeslaw Milosz, drew a lovely response from readers who told me by notes, emails, even phone calls, overseas and at home, that they enjoyed this poet very much.

Deaths that tear the heart

Of all the expressions of unconsolable loss I have read concerning the death of anyone greatly loved, the following lament by Henry James, the novelist, when his older brother, William James, the scientist and philosopher, died is the most heartfelt: “I sit heavily stricken and in darkness – for from far aback in dimmest childhood he had been my Elder Brother; and I still, through all the years, saw in him, even as a small timorous boy yet, my protector, my backer, my authority and my pride. 

No fort is strong enough

In last week’s column I wrote about a pervasive anxiety about the state of things in general which currently focuses on the seemingly unstoppable spread of criminal activity and violent crime in society.

Fear of crime

The word angst derives from the German meaning fear, but signifying something a lot more than simple fear. 

A life-long love of poetry

I love poetry. It is the quiet passion of my life. When I was a child my mother read me old nursery rhymes at bedtime and they had the lilt of poetry in them which stayed with me forever.

The poetry collector

I am not at all sure how many readers understand my love of poetry, and I have a distinct feeling that the great majority are puzzled, if not bored, by my inclination to illustrate many of these columns with poems I like.

Laughing at our masters

I cannot think why, but politicians take themselves very seriously indeed. I thought I might see what the Oxford Dictionary of Humorous Quotations (obtained at Austin’s excellent bookstore which every thinking citizen should visit at least once a week) has to say about them.

Inhumankind

More than once I have quoted what the great historian Edward Gibbon wrote in his Decline And Fall of the Roman Empire: history, he wrote, is “little more than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind.” The latest crimes are as bad as ever.

The grit that makes the pearl

I am currently sorting old files and papers with a view to bringing some semblance of order into my chaotic personal archive and to preserve what may deserve preserving.

The great perhaps

Sometimes, not often enough I suppose, amidst the ordinary joys and tribulations of everyday living – the problems of planning for the immediate future, keeping track of what is going on in this beautiful and hideous world, enjoying a few drinks and laughter with the boys, the abundant joys and occasional trials of family life, the harassment of daily living – the mind does occasionally set upon great questions of life and death.

The sweetness of life

Quite often I am told – reprimanded even – for writing columns seen as deeply depressing because they deal with death, its inevitability, the fact that what we enjoy in a lifetime is gone in a blink of history never to return and soon to be forgotten.

What is real progress?

Having spent 52 years of my life in the sugar industry, including working closely with governments and regional institutions along the way, if there is one thing I have learned it is the extreme frailty of all grand plans.