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.
An old sporting argument – good for many lovely hours of intense discussion and fervent argument – surfaces every now and then: Is winning everything?
My wife and I have just returned from one of the great cities of the world.
Individual effort is the basis of success in any endeavour. Yes, I know about teamwork.
I apologise if this appears to take the form of a health and fitness page in this newspaper.
Let me continue on the theme of reading, the love of reading, the absolute value of reading in a child’s life.
Anyone who writes about life must think about death. It is not being morbid to do so.
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.
Certain words are beloved of bureaucrats; words like monitor, check, regulate, review, classify, and control.
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.
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.
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 debate about what constitutes happiness has been going on for thousands of years.
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.
In Guyana getting a good education is thought of as getting good exam results.
My father died twenty-three years ago at the age of 89. He was a good man and a beloved father.
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.
A recent article in The Economist calls attention to the retreat of democracy in the world.
I find it hard to understand why most people never, literally never, read poetry.
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.
In my sorting out of old files and paper in my chaotic personal archive, I have been unearthing essays I wrote a long time ago.
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.
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.
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.
The title I gave to my fourth collection of poems is Between Silence and Silence.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“You gave me gifts, God-Enchanter. I give you thanks for good and ill.
“We receive three educations, one from our parents, one from our schoolmasters, and one from the world.
When I was a schoolboy we had a games-master named Mr. Wilkinson who had served the College for all eternity.
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.
Suddenly I am 85 years old. I find that ridiculous but chronologically it is a fact.
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.
The word angst derives from the German meaning fear, but signifying something a lot more than simple fear.
Thomas Friedman, NY Times columnist, wrote in an interesting recent article that the world is faced with three immense “climate” changes.
The global poverty rate has been cut in half in about the last 20 years, so why not try our best to eliminate poverty in the next 20?
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 golden shower orchids in my wife’s garden are particularly lovely just now.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The rapidly proliferating presence of the social media in our lives is transforming how society works – and creating dangers which need to be addressed.
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.
We have to look forward to a long and terrible age of increasing and fearsome devastation.