My nephew Shug was not the brightest marble in the box. Hampered by the wrong crowd at school, he had spent sixteen years there with nothing to show, for it bar the ability to read and write, and a few party facts.
Still, he was resolute, no, adamant, that he was going to reverse those years. Figuring that gold rim glasses would do the trick in gaining other’s respect, he went one better and upgraded to a pair of Specsavers Levi gold frames that not only made him look intelligent, but also, cool.
There he was, sitting, doing the “Easy Crossword” in the Sunday paper. After half an hour, he threw it down and went out with friends.
I picked it up. There was one question attempted: “Friend of Adam: Three Letters.”
He wrote “Pal.”
I first read about
Gustaf Frederik Hjortberg in an essay called ‘People reluctantly on their way
into the shadows.’ It was written by the Swedish crime writer, Henning Mankell
(1947-2015). Being a bit of a Swedophile, I endeavoured to do more research on
Tucked away in the commune of Släp on the west coast of Sweden hangs a painting like no other. Long before the invention of photography, prosperous folk commissioned family portraits. Jonas Durchs was the artist. His painting of the Hjortberg family hangs in the local church but online copies are available on the Wikimedia Commons’ website. Gustaf Frederick Hjortberg was a local clergyman. The portrait features him and his wife, Anna Helena, and their fifteen children. As a son of the enlightenment, and a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, he has his foot in two worlds it would seem to the modern observer: In the background there’s a crucifix with 1 Timothy 1:15 written underneath. On the table, lays all his scientific and navigational instruments with a large world globe at his side. He holds an academic paper in his hand, emphasising his studiousness. As a student of Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist, Gustaf displays sample jars on the bookshelf in the background. As a former ship’s pastor, he shows evidence of wide travel: A row of African spears stand erect like Terracotta soldiers ready for action. A lemur’s tail is embraced by one of the boys as it walks with considerable freedom on the floor. Behind, and hanging from the ceiling, are various stuffed animals, including a tortoise. And on the right, a servant’s bell hangs at the ready.
Unlike British Victorian portraiture, where subjects are stiff with constrained facial expressions, Gustaf displays a kindly, patriarchal posture with an impish expression. There’s a sense of playfulness as one of his discarded shoes is laying on the floor, which may explain why the boys are informal in their half smiles. The females are slightly reserved in facial expression. Perhaps manifesting the ‘modest’ Biblical expectations of Lutheran women of the 18th century. However, there is nothing suggested in my profile of this artwork that would disabuse this family of their happiness, except for one important detail:
The family portrait includes not only those children in their midst, but the six that have passed away. Child mortality was high in Europe at the time. The main causes being cholera, typhus, typhoid and other air and water borne diseases. The deceased children float in the shadows, neither here nor in the nether world, but seemingly soliciting an invitation back to the physical realm. No other piece of artwork portrays more the human drive not to be forgotten, nor forget. Which comes back to my analysis of why I write: I wish to be remembered. My desire is to leave a written record to say, ‘I was here.’ It’s my way of defying mortality.
When studying Social Science some years ago, I learned
of the Kitty Genovese murder in 1964.
Apart from being chased down the street, sexual assault and then murdered, what made this case
more shocking was the bystanders that ignored Kitty’s screams for help.
This came to mind whilst reading Kathrine Boo’s shocking testimony to life in Mumbai’s slums in her book Behind the Beautiful Forevers.
She writes about a one-legged girl whose is set on fire by quarrelsome neighbours, many bystanders gather and watch like it’s the next episode in a soap opera. She writes,
“The adults drifted back to their dinners, while a few boys waited to see if Fatima’s face would come off.”
Fatima’s husband in a effort to get her to hospital is shunned by rickshaw drivers concerned about their rickshaw seats becoming bloodstained.
I see the expression "Enlightenment now" in books and the media. Just exactly what do we mean by it? In what ways have we become enlightened?
A discussion of the changes that have took place in picturebook authorship in the treatment of the child within the family structure. There is a manifestation of dramatic alterations. The shift from earlier didactic tales as illustrated in The Tale Of Peter Rabbit where family, home, discipline and transgression followed a path influenced by a bygone age of Victorian values has been pushed aside as the influence of post-modern concepts of a family structure where the child is encouraged to be the hero of his own journey, in a world of flawed adults. Where the child can become, not only the co-author of the picturebook narrative, but also, emboldened with a message that they can re-write their own life narrative. Additionally, the picturebook has radically altered in visual and narrative concepts where the minimalist construction allows the child reader to develop a sharper visual intelligence to unpack unarticulated concepts.
See A Walk in the Park by Anthony Browne
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
“People die from lack of shared empathy and affinity. By establishing
social connectedness, we give hope a chance and the other can become heaven. ― Erik Pevernagie
I was watching a documentary last night about the “happiness” paradox in the Scandinavian countries. I say paradox because despite the level of happiness, there is a considerable reliance on antidepressants.
One factor for this is the lack of shared empathy and companionship. Scandinavians by nature are reserved. Look at the following image on Quora and you will see this played out (Enter the link into the search bar): https://qr.ae/prsTkh
If there was ever an opportunity to have a social chat, this would be it: when people are standing in a line.
Due to the high suicide rates in Denmark in the past, the nation addressed this by recognising that loneliness was a major factor. Houses are designed to encourage neighbours to socialise. Many Danes are members of several clubs. The work/leisure life is carefully balanced, and suicide is now at a low.
There's a lesson in empathy for all of us: Say hello to the stranger. Invite them for a coffee. Talk with your neighbours. Put a smile on someone’s face. Give hope a chance.
Why is there something rather than nothing? Why do our hearts and minds think on terms of eternity? Why are we still young inside even when we get old?
A wise man once wrote that God has “set eternity in our hearts.” Ecclesiastes 3:11
I find this a very pleasing concept. Think of our brains, we have the capacity to take information into it indefinitely. We grow to love other humans. When out time comes, we never want to leave this planet. We desire to take knowledge in constantly. Is it all for nothing? Or is there something, somewhere in the unseen we do not know of? Many argue that we are bound in a material world, but the lived experience tells a different story.
I often wonder if the Chinese man I spoke about yesterday, found the answer.
I was thinking of yesterday’s post and wondered if the theme of death is worth a blog.
A friend, who was a charity worker that looked after the needs of refugees had a Chinese man walk into his office one day. The man never spoke English, so, with a video link to a professional translator they were able to answer the man’s query.
“Can you tell me, what happens when we die?” was his question.
The Chinese man is not unique. We all ask that question and believe me; the thought becomes more frequent as you get older.
Why is there something rather than nothing? Why is this lump of matter and electrical charge we call the brain aware of itself? Why are we so unique that we can explore these matters? This is the boundary of science. These are questions that will never be answered by science. Despite the grandiose claims, we are nowhere near answering these questions.
There cannot be a God, there’s too much evil. However, why is there so much good? And think of the statement, “There’s too much evil.” Where do we get that moral absolute? Where does this invisible standard of right and wrong come from? If we are products of blind chance, then why is there the demand for justice? Justice has no place in a blind universe.
I will return to this question tomorrow.
What's Your Favourite Book Quote? Goodness, it's like deciding who your favourite child is. But I would have to say David Berlinski the mathematician and thinker.
We live in a society where New Atheism and popular science has made more claims and promises than it can deliver. Berlinski puts it this way:
“Has anyone provided proof of God’s inexistence? Not even close. Has quantum cosmology explained the emergence of the universe or why it is here? Not even close. Have our sciences explained why our universe seems to be fine-tuned to allow for the existence of life? Not even close. Are physicists and biologists willing to believe in anything so long as it is not religious thought? Close enough. Has rationalism and moral thought provided us with an understanding of what is good, what is right, and what is moral? Not close enough. Has secularism in the terrible 20th century been a force for good? Not even close, to being close. Is there a narrow and oppressive orthodoxy in the sciences? Close enough. Does anything in the sciences or their philosophy justify the claim that religious belief is irrational? Not even in the ball park. Is scientific atheism a frivolous exercise in intellectual contempt? Dead on.”
― David Berlinski, The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions
A happy New Year to one and all.
When I say trolls, I don’t mean The Hall of the Mountain King, Solveig, Peer Gynt and all those characters that appear in Ibsen’s Peer Gynt. No, I mean Internet trolls. Although both types have something in common: Ibsen’s trolls would hide behind rocks and cyber trolls hide anonymously behind their identities.
The modern word troll comes from the idea behind fishing trolling. The vessels troll along the sea looking for a catch.
The same applies with the cyber troll, they cast a bait and wait for a response. They are really creatures to be pitied. Behind their aggression and hostility is the need for attention. Therefore, they are best ignored is the advice that most sources recommend:
However, if I was ever faced with one, and I haven't on any of my websites , I would consider just being kind to them and ask they Why are you being so hostile? It may just help them self-reflect. That would be a good thing; helping another human to be human.
However, there is the option of contacting the organisation hosting and reporting them. You can also make light of the situation. Or just don’t give them a platform. Most blogs allow you to instantly delete them. On my website I have to "approve" comments before they appear on it.
However, matters can become more serious and involving the law when trolls cross the line. This would be the case with harassment, hate or threatening speech, cyberstalking as in the case of dragging sites.
I began writing to explore the more positive example of human nature, but here I am exposing the negative, ugly side.
Request: These little excerpts at times form the basis of some of my larger articles that are being compiled. Feedback is most welcome. If not here, then on my email email@example.com
C.S. Lewis wrote, ‘If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world will satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we are made for another world.’
All the books I read as a child was about a craving. The hero’s striving for something. I could not put my finger on it at the time. It was the human impulse for justice. Something books will never satisfy. I found that hope one day when I picked up a Bible. I read,
‘He (God) will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, the old order of things has passed away.’
Revelation 21: 4.
Image by Rachid Oucharia
Interested in a book group? A group of OU graduates have formed a book group that meets every month.
The Book for December is The O. Henry Prize Stories 2019
My wife came home early from work last Friday. 'Can we go for fish and chips and do the beach thing?' Sure!
We have a great chippy. We headed to West Kilbride and sat on the picnic tables enjoy our meal and watching the gentle sun cast its presence over the sea.
In a short time, we found ourselves on a migratory path. At least a thousand geese passed overhead on their path from Canada to Scotland. I took a moment to bow to this great metaphysical act of creation.
“The Swedish he knew was mostly from Bergman films. He had learned it as a college student, matching the subtitles to the sounds. In Swedish, he could only converse on the darkest of subjects.”
― Ann Patchett, Bel Canto
My daughter's Swedish pen-pall invited herself over for a holiday in the eighties. The following year. her family reciprocated the hospitality and my son and I spent the year learning Swedish from Linguaphile cassettes and watching a Bergman film (The Best Intentions: Den goda viljan) and a Swedish copy of Dances With Wolves (Danser Med Vargar). Like Ann Pratchett's experience, I had pulled out Swedish phrases that were dark, or downright strange and to the amusement of the encountered Swedes.
I miss Sweden now.
Ah! Robert Louis Stevenson, a man after my own heart. I go everywhere with my notebook and my current reading material. Chance favours the prepared mind. A random thought emerges. The thought is pursued and drafted into the notebook. Less I forget.
“I kept always two books in my pocket, one to read, one to write in.”
― Robert Louis Stevenson, Essays of Robert Louis Stevenson
And current reading, if you're enquiring. The Penguin Book of Prose Poems
' The caterpillar feet were gone,
the wings unfolded.
One should never loose hope'
- Tomas Transtromer , Memories Look At Me.
Change can bring with it, new horizons. Trauma can make one re-access life and like an Atlantic storm, it can wash you up on a new beach; a new beginning.
I've two quotes on my office wall: one the reminds me of what it means to be human, and the other, the first paragraph from Richard Selzer’s essay, The Knife. It’s the best piece of writing I have read. I always read the essay's first sentence before starting a new project. It reads, ‘One holds the knife as one holds the bow of a cello or a tulip — by the stem.’ I’m not sure why this is such an invitation to read on, but it is — always.
If I can get the first sentence right, the writing flows.
I was reading Richard Selzer's essay, The Knife whilst waiting on an X-ray yesterday. He had just performed an operation. Here is how he concludes the essay in a masterful manner.
At last, a little thread is passed into the wound and tied. The monstrous booming fury is stilled by a tiny thread. The tempest is silenced. The operation id over. On the table, the knife lies spent on its side. The bloody meal smear-dried upon its flanks. The knife rests.
“We meet so many people in life, but we connect to the heart of very few!”
― Avijeet Das
Walking in Scotland’s fine places, one realises you don’t have to travel the world; the world comes to you. But many fine opportunities are missed by not having the courage to commune with our fellow man.
Corvid had restricted this for the past few years, but four nights of camping in Aviemore recently confirmed that things are going back to normal-if there ever will be normal.
Some of the joys were those I met on my trip. The Native American Indian and his wife. The couple from Canada. The Scottish couple we met at An Lochan Uaine (The Green Loch) in Aviemore.
In all cases we conversed for some time. People I will never forget, But, in the hustle and bustle of life, it is difficult to keep in touch; to give one’s heart to all we would like to
I agree with Mary Wollstonecraft, who made many trips two centuries previously, a soulmate, like me, who found separation of newfound friends as a most melancholy, death-like experience.
‘Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.’― Frank Turek
Hello World. Did I miss the meeting? The London bus, I mean. The one that read ‘There is probably no God. So stop worrying. Enjoy your life.’ Oh dear! The telling word is ‘probably’. It doesn’t inspire conviction, does it? The adverb sticks out like a scaled down version of Pascal’s Wager. Like ‘There’s probably no God, but if there is, he might just let me off the hook for my lack of complete denial and reverence.
And then there’s the ‘enjoy yourself’ part. It is so refreshing to see that the atheists are the only ones on the planet that are enjoying themselves. I guess the drug addicts, alcoholics and escapists must be believers. How strange, I never noticed. Someone must inform our secular neighbours who are swiping down the antidepressants at record levels that it isn’t allowed. They shouldn’t be enjoying themselves that much.
I was singing a song this morning as my wife was getting ready for work. She is from the Philippines. She asked, 'where did you get that song?'
'It's an old Glasgow street song,' I replied.
Perhaps you sung it as a child? I would be interested to know if some of our students from abroad sung it. When I did a bit of research on it, it seems it originated from Tonga in the 13th century. I guess Glasgow being a maritime city, it travelled with sailors from the area. We will never find out who the mystery wordsmith was who taught us how to hide from humans, and brought joy to countless millions of kids. Here is the melody at the end, if you wish to karaoke with it.
Nobody loves me, everybody hates me
I think I’ll go eat worms.
Big fat juicy ones
Emsie weensy squeensy ones
See how they wiggle and squirm
Down goes the first one, down goes the second one
Oh, how they wiggle and squirm!
Up comes the first one, up comes the second one
Oh, how they wiggle and squirm!
I bite off the heads, and suck out the juice
And throw the skins away
Nobody knows how fat I grow
On worms three times a day.
We don't always have a word to describe deep and specific emotions in the English language. Therefore, we invent them. In his his book, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, John Koenig discusses the word klexos, a neologism coined by himself to describe the idea of resurrecting old memories and re-evaluating them in the light of the shape-shifting effects of time and personal revelations. Perhaps in the same way an artist returns to a painting, gets his pallet out and adds touches as he looks at the painting in a new light or with gained skill.
No one could fault Dickens for his characterisations. So good, we feel we have met them:
“Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice.” Dickens on Scrooge.
I know what polysyndeton is when I see it, but never knew the name for it. Reedsy defines it this way:
'Instead of using a single conjunction in a lengthy statements, polysyndeton uses several in succession for a dramatic effect. This one is definitely for authors looking to add a bit of artistic flair to their writing, or who are hoping to portray a particular sort of voice.'
I'm none the wiser. Best to see two example. First, a simple one
'For I am convinced that neither death nor life nor angels nor governments nor things now here nor things to come nor powers nor height nor depth nor any other creation will be able to separate us from God’s love that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.' Romans 8
Now, a more complex one:
'Luster came away from the flower tree and we went along the fence and they stopped and we stopped and I looked through the fence while Luster was hunting in the grass.' — The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
"I felt once more how simple and frugal a thing is happiness: a glass of wine, a roast chestnut, a wretched little brazier, the sound of the sea. Nothing else." Nikos Kazantzakis
I was with a friend out walking last weekend. He was telling me a
relative spent £1000 on a hoodie that he took out in hire purchase. Now
everywhere he goes, he must guard his hoodie less someone steal it for its
Conspicuous consumerism is as old as the Silk Road itself. The idea of purchasing of goods or services for the sole purpose of displaying one's wealth is losing ground as minimalism gains power in the West. Happiness is not achieved through materialism. We only need to look at the West to see that depression and other emotional and mental illnesses are robbing society of happiness. Happiness comes from the simple things in life.
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