Sunday, 31 December 2006

New Year's Eve Fireworks in Sydney

Sydney New Year's Eve

Sydney New Year's Eve

The 9pm 'family' fireworks on Sydney Harbour were even more spectacular this year. And the midnight sequence, breathtaking. Click on the heading to see a video of the countdown to the finale.

Saturday, 23 December 2006

Sydney at Christmas and New Year


Radha's Birthday

The family came together at Christmas and New Year 2006 when we stayed just under the harbour bridge. Click the heading to see a video and here to see some photos of the New Year's fireworks

Tuesday, 19 December 2006

Hong Kong at Christmas

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Hong Kong was having wonderful weather and the winds had blown away most of the smog so it was idyllic having rooms overlooking the harbour. Friends took us to a fabulous French restaurant overlooking Deepwater Bay called Cococabana

Monday, 18 December 2006

Favourite Cafes

Fabio, Daniel, Jesus (the chef), Giorgi, with Mirelle and Paola

I don't know why I haven't written about this place before, as it played a large part in my City life. The Village was originally a greasy spoon in the back of our office building just off  Mitre Square where The Ripper did for his eighth victim and was taken over at the end of the 80s by a family of enterprising Italians who cleaned it up but kept it totally unpretentious. It became my breakfast haunt for 20+ years.

I would take my Lloyd's List in there at about 7am and have the same breakfast every day - poached egg on toast with grilled tomatoes and a large latte.  The waitresses were sometimes Romanian doctors moonlighting while they got their British credentials. Friends would come in and we would sit and chat and catch up on the news or the gossip. A wonderful way to start the day.

Although I no longer go there I was sad to see that the place had recently closed as the building is awaiting renovation.  I  don't know where they've gone but I'm sure somewhere they are making people happy.

Tuesday, 28 November 2006

Memories of the Countryside

Kei reading her poetry at James Allen's

Memories of the countryside

Awake, the sunlight splits the orchard and divides the fields,
At the edge of the grass alcove
(tucked away behind the courtyard and on the border of the corn)
Are the three graves – humble headstones low
Shaped slates of soil basking in the sun

Back by the woods he’s waiting for me
The scarecrow stands in his domicile - the golden desert,
Near to the sweet peas growing over the collapsed wall
But beyond I see my grandfather
We climb the ivy mountain together
Behind, I swear the world is catching up with us
And the nettles clutch at my dress.

Evening, and the violet solitude descends
We stand shoulder to shoulder
And on the crest of the hill a grand line of stags
Peer down at the two humans and disappear
Then the night quickens
The stones in the field slow my running
Towards the warmth of the fire my father has lit
Ahead in the distance like a calling.

Sunday, 19 November 2006

Japan - Imabari and the Kurushima Strait

Kurushima Strait

It's hard to know what to say about this magical place. The extreme scale of the views in all directions, the breathtaking engineering of the vast bridges - one of which - Kurushima- is the 14th longest in the world; the constantly changing light from the sea, the terrifying currents that keep even experienced masters on the bridge, the freshness of the air and of the local fish (made the more tasty by having to swim so hard), the sense of timelessness as the clouds and tides swirl as they have always done.

Thursday, 9 November 2006

The Power of Now

Eckhart Tolle's book, The Power of Now, is a great work; one of the most important philosophical books ever written, not because it elucidates a new idea, but because it reminds us of a fundamental truth with such clarity and insight.

The book begins with a beautiful description of how the German-born, English educated author came by the transformative experience that would guide his life and cause him to write not just The Power of Now but also A New Earth, a fascinating explanation of the workings of the ego.

'Until my thirtieth year I lived in a state of almost continuous anxiety interspersed with periods of suicidal depression. One night I woke up in the early hours with a feeling of absolute dread. The silence of the night, the vague outlines of the furniture in the dark room; the distant noise of a passing train - everything felt so alien, so hostile, so utterly meaningless that it created in me a deep loathing of the world. The most loathsome thing of all, however, was my own existence. What was the point in continuing to live with this burden of misery? I could feel that a deep longing for annihilation, for nonexistence, was becoming much stronger than the instinctive desire to continue to live. 

'I cannot live with myself any longer.' This was the thought that kept repeating itself in my mind. Then suddenly I became aware of what a peculiar thought it was. 'Am I one or two? If I cannot live with myself, there must be two of me: the 'I' and the 'self' that I cannot live with. 'Maybe,' I thought, 'only one of them is real.'

I was so stunned by this strange realization that my mind stopped. I was fully conscious, but there were no more thoughts. Then I felt drawn into what felt like a vortex of energy. It was a slow movement at first but then accelerated.  I was gripped by an intense fear and my body started to shake. I heard the words 'resist nothing' as if spoken inside my chest. I could feel myself sucked into a void. It felt as if the void was inside myself instead of outside. Suddenly, there was no more fear, and I let myself fall into that void. I have no recollection of what happened after that.

I was awaked by the chirping of a bird outside the window. I had never heard such a sound before. My eyes were still closed, and I saw the image of a precious diamond. Yes, if a diamond could make a sound, this is what it would be like. I opened my eyes. The first light of dawn was filtering through the curtains. Without any thought, I felt, I knew that there is infinitely ore to light than we realize. That soft luminosity filtering through the curtains was love itself.  Tears came into my eyes. I got up and walked around the room. I recognised the room, yet I knew that I had never truly seen it before. Everything was fresh and pristine, as if it had just come into existence. I picked up things, a pen, an empty bottle, marvelling at the beauty and aliveness of it all. That day I walked around the city in utter amazement at the miracle of life on earth, as if I had just been born into this world'.

Eckhart Tolle - The Power of Now

A wonderful description of a mystical experience of the kind described by William James in 'The Varieties of Religious Experience' and by Evelyn Underhill

Saturday, 28 October 2006

The Canary Islands


This is Teide, the highest mountain on the Canaries, on Tenerife.
La Palma

La Palma is the 'steepest' island in the world. The massive Caldera de Taburiente has given its name to all calderas the world over. All La Palma's mountains are volcanic and one - Teneguia - erupted as recently as 1971.

Click the photos for a better idea of the scale of these mountains

Ramesh Balsekar

A darshan at Ramesh Balsekar's house in Bombay. Ramesh, a realised soul, has held darshan at his house in Gamadia Road every morning for many years. His guru was Nisagadatta Maharaj, on whose teachings he wrote the classic 'Pointers from Nisagadatta Maharaj'.

Monday, 23 October 2006

Bombay Nights


Walking on Colaba Causeway after dinner at Leopold's Cafe. Click on the heading to see the video.

November 2008: I fear this may be the tailor who was shot in the terrorist attacks

Tuesday, 17 October 2006


Puttaparthy, about four hours drive north-east of Bangalore, is the site of Sai Baba's ashram, Prasanthi Nilyam, and was once a small cowherds' village. It's now a large and bustling town which probably has the most eclectic population of all of India as thousands of people visit the ashram annually from all over the world. It's also the site of his free schools and university, as well as a huge free hospital (built with funds donated particularly by Isaac Tigrett from the sale of his Hard Rock Cafes). There is another free hospital at Whitefield, a suburb of Bangalore

Sai Baba himself, an avatar and the reincarnation of Sai Baba of Shirdi, died on 24th April 2011 at the age of 85 (96 by the lunar calendar) and until he went into hospital on 28th March, he was still giving his darshan (blessing) to his visitors and the hundreds of schoolchildren in his schools daily from a specially adapted Toyota Porte from which he could descend in his wheelchair.

Sai Baba's teachings are simple and timeless. They are also non-denominational. He welcomes all faiths and says" I have not come on behalf of any exclusive religion. I have not come on a mission of publicity for a sect or creed or cause, nor have I come to collect followers for a doctrine. I have no plan to attract disciples or devotees into my fold or any fold.'

His 'cause' is simple - to reestablish dharma - righteousness. In an early discourse he explained it thus:

"For the protection of the virtuous, for the destruction of evil-doers and for establishing righteousness on a firm footing, I incarnate from age to age. Whenever disharmony (asanthi) overwhelms the world, the Lord will incarnate in human form to establish the modes of earning peace (prasanthi) and to reeducate the human community in the paths of peace. At the present time, strife and discord have robbed peace and unity from the family, the school, the society, the religions, the cities, and the state.

The arrival of the Lord is also anxiously awaited by saints and sages. Spiritual aspirants (sadhus) prayed and I have come. My main tasks are fostering of the Vedas (Hindu scriptures) and fostering of the devotees. Your virtue, your self-control, your detachment, your faith, your steadfastness: these are the signs by which people read of my glory. You can lay claim to be a devotee only when you have placed yourself in my hands fully and completely with no trace of ego. You can enjoy the bliss through the experience the Avathar confers. The Avathar behaves in a human way so that mankind can feel kinship, but rises into his superhuman heights so that mankind can aspire to reach the heights, and through that aspiration actually reach him. Realizing the Lord within you as the motivator is the task for which he comes in human form.

Avathars like Rama and Krishna had to kill one or more individuals who could be identified as enemies of the righteous (dharmic) way of life, and thus restore the practice of virtue. But now there is no one fully good, so who deserves the protection of God? All are tainted by wickedness, so who will survive if the Avathar decides to uproot? Therefore, I have come to correct the intelligence (buddhi), by various means. I have to counsel, help, command, condemn and stand by as a friend and well-wisher to all, so that they may give up evil propensities and, recognizing the straight mark, tread it and reach the goal. I have to reveal to the people the worth of the Vedas, the Sastras and the spiritual texts which lay down the norms. If you will accept me and say "Yes," I too will respond and say, "Yes, yes, yes." If you deny and say "No," I also echo "No." Come, examine, experience, have faith. This is the method of utilizing me.

I do not mention Sai Baba in any of my discourses, but I bear the name as Avathar of Sai Baba. I do not appreciate in the least the distinction between the various appearances of God: Sai, Rama, Krishna, etc. I do not proclaim that this is more important or that is less important. Continue your worship of your chosen God along lines already familiar to you, then you will find that you are coming nearer to me. For all names are mine, and all forms are mine. There is no need to change your chosen God and adopt a new one when you have seen me and heard me.

Every step in the career of the Avathar is predetermined. Rama came to feed the roots truth (sathya) and righteousness dharma. Krishna came to foster peace shanti, and love prema. Now all these four are in danger of being dried up. That is why the present Avathar has come. The righteousness that has fled to the forests has to be brought back into the villages and towns. The anti-righteousness that is ruining the villages and towns must be driven back into the jungle.

I have come to give you the key of the treasure of bliss ananda, to teach you how to tap that spring, for you have forgotten the way to blessedness. If you waste this time of saving yourselves, it is just your fate. You have come to get from me tinsel and trash, the petty little cures and promotions, worldly joys and comforts. Very few of you desire to get from me the thing that I have come to give you: namely, liberation itself. Even among these few, those who stick to the path of spiritual practice (sadhana) and succeed are a handful.

Your worldly intelligence cannot fathom the ways of God. He cannot be recognized by mere cleverness of intelligence. You may benefit from God, but you cannot explain him. Your explanations are merely guesses, attempts to cloak your ignorance in pompous expressions. Bring something into your daily practice as evidence of your having known the secret of the higher life from me. Show that you have greater brotherliness. Speak with more sweetness and self-control. Bear defeat as well as victory with calm resignation, I am always aware of the future and the past as well as the present of every one of you, so I am not so moved by mercy. Since I know the past, the background, the reaction is different. It is your consequence of evil deliberately done in the previous birth, so I allow your suffering to continue, often modified by some little compensation. I do not cause either joy or grief. You are the designer of both these chains that bind you. I am the embodiment of bliss (Anandaswarupa). Come, take bliss (ananda) from me, dwell on that bliss, and be full of peace (shanti).

My acts are the foundations on which I am building my work, the task for which I have come. All the miraculous acts which you observe are to be interpreted so. The foundation for a dam requires a variety of materials. Without these it will not last and hold back the waters. An incarnation of the Lord has to be used in various ways by man for his uplift.

The Lord has no intention to publicize himself. I do not need publicity, nor does any other Avathar of the Lord. What are you daring to publicize? Me? What do you know about me? You speak one thing about me today and another tomorrow. Your faith has not become unshakable. You praise me when things go well and blame me when things go wrong. When you start publicity you descend to the level of those who compete in collecting plenty by decrying others and extolling themselves.

Where money is calculated, garnered or exhibited to demonstrate one's achievements, I will not be present. I come only where sincerity and faith and surrender are valued. Only inferior minds will revel in publicity and self-aggrandizement. These have no relevance in the case of Avathars. Avathars need no advertizement.

The establishment of righteousness (dharma): that is my aim. The teaching of dharma, the spread of dharma: that is my object. These miracles, as you call them, are just a means toward that end. Some of you remark that Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (an Indian saint) said that yogic powers (siddhis) are obstructions in the path of the spiritual aspirant (sadhaka) Yes, yogic powers may lead the spiritual aspirant astray. Without being involved in them he has to keep straight on. His ego will bring him down if he yields to the temptation of demonstrating his yogic powers. That is the correct advice which every aspirant should heed. But the mistake lies in equating me with a sadhaka, like the one whom Ramakrishna wanted to help, guide and warn. These yogic powers are just in the nature of the Avathar -- the creation of things with intent to protect and give joy is spontaneous and lasting. Creation, preservation, and dissolution can be accomplished only by the Almighty ... no one else can.

Cynics carp without knowledge. If they learn the Sastras or scriptures, or if they cultivate direct experience, they can understand me. Your innate laziness prevents you from the spiritual exercises necessary to discover the nature of God. This laziness should go. It has to be driven out of man's nature in whatever shape it appears. That is my mission. My task is not merely to cure and console and remove individual misery but is something far more important. The removal of misery and distress is incidental to my mission. My main task is the reestablishment of the Vedas and Sastras (spiritual scriptures), and revealing the knowledge about them to all people. This task will succeed. It will not be limited. It will not be slowed down. When the Lord decides and wills, his divine will cannot be hindered.

You must have heard people say that mine is all magic. But the manifestation of divine power must not be interpreted in terms of magic. Magicians play their tricks for earning their maintenance, worldly fame, and wealth. They are based on falsehood and they thrive on deceit, but this body could never stoop to such a low level. This body has come through the Lord's resolve to come. That resolve is intended to uphold truth (sathya). Divine resolve is always true resolve. Remember there is nothing that divine power cannot accomplish. It can transmute earth into sky and sky into earth. To doubt this is to prove that you are too weak to grasp great things, the grandeur of the universe.

I have come to instruct all in the essence of the Vedas, to shower on all this precious gift, to protect the ancient wisdom (sanathana dharma) and preserve it. My mission is to spread happiness, so I am always ready to come among you not once, but twice or thrice -- as often as you want me. Many of you probably think that since people from all parts of India, and even foreign countries outside India, come to Puttaparthi, they must be pouring their contributions into the coffers of the Nilayam (Prasanthi Nilayam: name of Sai Baba's ashram). But let me declare the truth. I do not take anything from anyone except their love and devotion. This has been my consistent practice for the last many years. People who come here are giving me just the wealth of faith, devotion, and love. That is all.

Many of you come to me with problems of health and mental worry of one sort or another. They are mere baits by which you have been brought here. But the main purpose is that you may have grace and strengthen your faith in the divine. Problems and worries are really to be welcomed, as they teach you the lessons of humility and reverence. Running after external things produces all this discontent. That type of desire has no end. Once you have become a slave to the senses, they will not leave hold until you are dead. It is an unquenchable thirst. But I call you to me and even grant worldly boons so that you may turn God-ward. No Avathar has done like this before, going among the masses, counseling them, guiding them, consoling them, uplifting them, and directing them along the path of truth, righteousness, peace and love (sathya, dharma, santhi and prema).

My activities and movements will never be altered, whoever may pass whatever opinion on them. I shall not modify my plans for the establishment of righteousness (dharmasthapana), my discourses, or my movements. I have stuck to this determination for many years and I am engaged in the task for which I have come: that is, to inculcate faith in the path of the highest spiritual peace (prasanthi). I shall not stop or retract a step.

Not even the biggest scientist can understand me by means of his laboratory knowledge. I am always full of bliss. Whatever may happen, nothing can come in the way of my smile. That is why I am able to impart joy to you and make your burden lighter. I never exult when I am extolled, nor shrink when I am reviled. Few have realized my purpose and significance, but I am not worried. When things that are not in me are attributed to me, why should I worry? When things that are in me are mentioned, why should I exult? For me it is always, "Yes, yes, yes." If you give all and surrender to the Lord, he will guard and guide you. The Lord has come for just this task. He is declaring that he will do so, and that it is the very task that has brought him here. I know the agitations of your heart and its aspirations, but you do not know my heart. I react to the pain that you undergo and to the joy that you feel, for I am in your heart. I am the dweller in the temple of every heart. Do not lose contact and company, for it is only when the coal is in contact with the live embers that it can also become live ember.

Cultivate a nearness with me in the heart and it will be rewarded. Then you too will acquire a fraction of that supreme love. This is a great chance. Be confident that you will all be liberated. Know that you are saved. Many hesitate to believe that things will improve, that life will be happy for all and full of joy, and that the golden age will recur. Let me assure you that this divine body (dharmaswarupa) has not come in vain. It will succeed in averting the crisis that has come upon humanity." Sri Sathya Sai Baba 23rd November 1968

Click here for a lovely Sai Gayatri

Friday, 13 October 2006

Favourite Poetry - Ego Sum

I am solely, I am
I aim at solid minds of attitude and stealth
Quick to steal and unlock the truth
Turning around the days like they were paper aeroplanes
And slowly pouring out sweet pocketfuls of vengeance unto myself
The feeling reek deeper shades than black and therefore
I accept every broken slash across my arms hoping that I
Will change and become a rock, to hold up and be strong with.
Who is the doctor who will help me out
When I cry and try and block out the stars?
To moan intro a silent cave that will hold me still
Rocking back and forth my child self in my arms
Receding in the smoke, thinking I will be safe
But I am not, and there is no glory in defeat
And no winning in loss, a great loss that I am
Beginning to shield myself from this storm
Hold me close and beat me unconscious so I might sleep
And be a peace, a liquid form, I fit!
This is the world and this is I
Dreaming deep the being is,
I am solely, I am

Kei Lawford (2004)

Thursday, 12 October 2006

Bombay Taxi Ride

Ramesh Balsekar

Travelling by taxi to Ramesh Balsekar's house in Gamadia Road (now called Shri Lalchand Hirachand Chowk) on Thursday 12th October 2006. Ramesh wasn't well that day and so we couldn't see him...

Click on the heading to see the video of the taxi ride to Ramesh's

Monday, 2 October 2006

Charlotte Lucy Lawford

Charlotte Lucy Lawford born at 1.20pm on Wednesday 27th September 2006 at Freemason's Hospital, Melbourne to Marijke and Edward. My first granddaughter

Sunday, 1 October 2006

Favourite Poetry - The Four Quartets

The last lines of the Four Quartets on the wall of Salisbury Cathedral

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

East Coker III

And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

Little Gidding

And hear Jeremy Irons here

Sunday, 17 September 2006

The Dressing Table by Kei Lawford

Annette Lawford

There you sat, one leg folded over the other
Your wooden stick by you
The one you’d had since you were twenty
Since then, I heard the echoes of your vanity
Swirling round that dirty mirror
And there I was, sitting on the bed
I was seven and playing with your jewellery
My dear and old grandmother, I was by you then
The mirrors, the boxes, the ornaments and you,
You became an exhibition and I admired
Your hair that reminded me of looms, your hands
Carved from cherry wood, the deep grey storms you had for eyes
Sunken like glass ships.
Three stained panels faced you, reflected you from all
Sides, embracing your fine lines
The ones that made your skin feel like
Yolk when I kissed your cheeks
You would smile and I’d catch sight of three smiles
And your hair fell like gauze, it was so light
Your fingers playing their way through it,
It seemed as if young children were running through
Cornfields, gold turned dull by the clouds
Just as your fingers made a parting, a silver path
Melted into moonlight.
Then, with one graceful move,
Every lock of hair would lift up past
The nape of your fragile neck, and there! With little effort
Your hands would pin the bun into place
With black slides that slid so gently through the strands
I would watch in silence, as the morning sun would settle
Above the orchard and the pool
I felt the weak beams of light pass through us both
And steal away the colour from the wooden drawers
And the silver rings I’d hold in my hand
And for a second, you seemed so far away
Holding the ivory comb with the missing teeth, your
Eyes gazing dimly at the velvet case, now your mouth
Painted with rouge that barely showed, your lips so small
My memories of you grow old
As if the sun on any day, when shining in my life
Steals your picture away and when you died
That table which you sat at, the throne and the glass panels
Swung open like palace doors
Became my last mental photo of you
As I sat a little older on the stool, remembering you
Knowing that father was selling the house
And I could hear the ivy scratching at the wall
But the dressing table is still your throne,
And in my mind we are the last two who belonged
To that painting in the picture that I hang on the walls
Of my memory,
And I can still make out our figures
Even as the light begins to fade.

Catherine Kei Lawford (aged 14)

Saturday, 16 September 2006

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

These are just a few of my favourite verses:

One Moment in Annihilation's Waste,
One Moment, of the Well of Life to taste -
The Stars are setting and the Caravan
Starts for the Dawn of Nothing -
Oh, make haste!

Tis all a Chequer-board of Nights and Days,
Where Destiny with Men for Pieces plays:
Hither and thither moves, and mates, and slays,
And one by one back in the closet lays.

For in and out, above, about, below,
'Tis nothing but a magic Shadow-show,
Play'd in a Box whose Candle is the Sun,
Round which we Phantom Figures come and go.

Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend,
Before we too into the Dust descend;
Dust into Dust, and under Dust, to lie,
Sans Wine, sans Song, sans Singer, and- sans End!

And if the Wine you drink, the Lip you press,
End in the Nothing all Things end in -Yes -
Then fancy while Thou art, but what
Thou shall be - Nothing- Thou shall not be less.

Oh, come with old Khayyam, and leave the Wise
To talk; one thing is certain, that Life flies;
One thing is certain, and the Rest is lies:
The Flower that once has blown for ever dies.

This has claim to be one of the greatest poems in the English language as Edward Fitzgerald wrote most of this great poem freshly; very little actually came from Omar Khyyam

Friday, 15 September 2006

Edna St Vincent Millay - Love Is Not All

Love is not all: it is not meat and drink
Nor slumber, nor a roof against the rain;
Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink
And rise and sink and rise and sink again;
Love cannot fill the thickened lung with breath,
Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone;
Yet many a man is making friends with death,
Even as I speak, for want of love alone.

See also another of my favourite Millay poems as well as her famous 'Dirge Without Music'

Sunday, 13 August 2006


A young man loved a maiden
Who turned from him aside
To one who loved another yet
And took her for his bride

The maid at sore resentment
At fortune so ill-starred
Married the first who came along;
The young man took it hard

It is an old, old story
But it is forever new
And whosoever suffers it
It breaks his heart in two


Song of Solomon

Cherry blossom in Battersea Park

The Song of Solomon

My beloved spake, and said unto me,
Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.
For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone;
The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle-dove is heard in our land;
The fig tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell.
Arise my love, my fair one and come away.
O my dove, that art in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stairs, let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice and thy countenance is comely.
Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines; for our vines have tender grapes.
My beloved is mine, and I am his: he feedeth among the lilies.

Song of Solomon 2:9

The other Song of Solomon

1. The song of songs which is Solomon's also.

2. And the King who was Solomon did raise himself in his bed on to one arm and
shake his head, for he was sore perplexed, and he did speak thus unto Sharon who was of the Park of Gidea and sayeth:

3. Er, um... this has never happened to me before.

4. And Sharon, whose hair was as a flock of goats from Gilead, for that day she had been to Jason 'n' Gary in the Street which is High for a platinum rinse, did reply unto him: Yea! And truly I am a natural blonde – pull the other one, for it ringeth like the bells of heaven.

5. And Solomon spake saying, No honestly, it must have been that last Malibu; for did I not say that mixing it with Bailey's Irish Cream as the ram is mixed with the ewe in the field, was a bad idea?

6. But Sharon, who was the daughter of Beverley of Hendon and Murray of
Southgate, did cloak herself in fine silk and damask and 50% poly-cotton mix and was out of the tent smartish saying, You know your trouble, old son - you're past it.

7. And Sharon was not seen again in that land nor in Tyre nor in Ashkelon nor in Sidon nor yet in Edom, although a wise Moabite did see her sister once buying a boiling fowl in Sainsbury's.

8. Or it might have been Waitrose.

9. At any rate, Solomon was much vexed and did call unto his tent all the wise men and the assistant wise men and the friends of the wise men and he did say to them, Actually, it's all a bit embarrassing, guys.

10. And the wise men spake to him with one voice and did say, You don't have to tell us, squire. And one man who was neither so old nor so wise as the rest and who was known as Shmuley, said, Have you tried thinking of someone else? Like Vanessa, or Gaby Roslin, or that woman who slices the salmon at Shwartzes?

11. And Solomon said, You mean the one with the tattoo on her tuchas? You think I want to go blind, or what?

12. And so the wise men did go into the land and they did speak with the
apothecaries and the priests and the healers and at the end of the second quarter of the moon they did return to Solomon.

13. From Ararat came word that would be the woman dress as a servant from the
gentile lands, or a houri in silk, or as a traffic warden, success would be guaranteed and Solomon's loins would be girt and his seed spread far.

14. But Solomon did shake his head, saying, Who wants to think of a traffic warden in bed? I mean, where's she going to stick the ticket?

15. And a messenger who had dwelt long in the land of Tesco did say that he had heard that half-a-dozen oysters did the trick and then he did make a raucous sound which was like unto a snort.

16. But Solomon did shake his head again saying, Oysters? Oysters? What do you think we are here? Reform or something?

17. And there was a silence about the tent like as to the silence of death, for the oysters and the traffic warden were the best they could come up with.

18. But then up speaketh a man of the distant land they call Shnorrer and he did say, I have a potion that is called Viagra.

19. And Solomon did frown, saying, What, you mean you rub it on? Won't that be a
bit embarrassing? You know; she's about to take off her fifth veil when you stop and say, Hold on, love: there's this potion.

20. The man who was of Shnorrer did clutch his sides and laugh saying, But it is a pill. A blue pill.

21. Solomon did frown and did say Blue? Blue? Whoever heard of blue pills?
Pills are white. Except for Night Nurse which is green and yellow.

22. But the man who was of Shnorrer speaketh thus, saying, Shah! For I guarantee
that with one of these little beauties thy loins will be as the Cedar of Lebanon which grows above all the trees in the forest, not only straight but also long.

23. And Solomon did say, Hmmmm.

24. And the man who was of Shnorrer said. Straight up, squire, One of these and
you won't be able to stand up straight for a week. You'll be walking at five and forty degrees like Max Wall on a good night. You won't be able to get out of the tent sideways....

25. And Solomon said, Enough already - we take the point.

26. And so Solomon did take the blue pill and he did call unto his tent Deborah who was called also Debbie.

27. And also Samantha who was Sam, and Sarah who was Sar, and Fatima who was
er, Fatima.

28. And there was a great rejoicing all through the land, and Solomon did emerge
from his tent grinning like the grinning things of the desert.

29. But a priest did say to Solomon, Beware! For does this pill not contain that which is forbidden us in Leviticus?

30. And Solomon thought long and he thought hard, for he was a wise king, and he
said, Send forth a messenger to Jedediah, the Scribe who is writing the word of
Leviticus on a scroll as we speak.

31. And say unto Jedediah he has a deal. Leave Viagra out and he can keep his
bacon sandwiches in.

32. And so it was.

Wednesday, 9 August 2006

Hampshire 45 Years Ago

Stocks and Harvestgate Farms below Old Winchester Hill
  Posted by Picasa

I grew up here. Nothing has changed in the more than forty years since this photo was taken in 1973

Monday, 24 July 2006

Ramesh Balsekar

Ramesh giving his daily talk in his house in Bombay, surrounded by pictures of his guru, Nisargadatta Maharaj

An inscription in one of Ramesh's books - a quotation from Chuang Zu that says all there is to say: "The wild geese do not intend to cast their reflection; the water has no mind to receive their image"

More Freya Stark

My grandmother as I knew her came into being-always a little of a problem, living with this relative or that, or in lodgings at the end of long tram or bus routes, in sitting-rooms of dark plush where all the pictures had heavy frames. Here, with small very wrinkled hands, and silk lace carefully and gently draped about her, she radiated her unchanging serenity and charm. She carried about her that best of atmospheres- a sense of amplitude of time. A whole series of episodes in my childhood show her peacefully reading, or dressing,or brushing the long dark hair that could reach her knees, while a babel of agitated voices urged departing carriages or trains. She always had a book in her hand and was never busy; she would put it down and her arms would open to enclose any human being, but particularly a child, who needed refuge there; for what she gave was affection pure and simple, deliberately free from wear and tear of understanding or advice. She did this because she believed in affection as the panacea for all the evils in the world, and the essence of this simple love has wound itself in my memory with her scent of eau-de -cologne, and her blonde lace, and the wide silk folds and bits of warm satin that made up the black friendly labyrinth of her gowns. There one nestled for hours while she told stories. The book of Genesis, myths of Greece, the Siegfried sagas, the Seven Kings of Rome, Tasso, Dante, Goethe, came to me in this good way, not arid noises from a mechanical cavern, or black and white deserts of print, but warm with the person of the teller, modulated with the inflections of a voice that meant safety and kindness, so that the childhood of the world merged with my own and lies there entranced in the same afternoon light that melted into twighlight and gradually dimmed the ivory face and left the voice almost alone to call up pageant after pageant, while one fondled the small hands, so soft and old, whose rings had taken the shape of the fingers and lost their lustre through more than half a century of wear.

Freya Stark

Monday, 10 July 2006

Wednesday, 28 June 2006

Nisagadatta Maharaj - Excerpt from 'Pointers'

The mind creates the abyss; the heart crosses it

The highest truth can be found in the teachings of Nisagadatta Maharaj, a barely-educated tobacco-kiosk owner who died in Bombay in 1982. The classic book of his teachings is 'I Am That' transcribed and translated from his native Marathi by Maurice Frydman, as well as books about his teaching such as 'Pointers' by Ramesh Balsekar.

The dialogue, one evening, was started by a young Canadian, wearing a lunghi and a thin kurtha. He said that he was twenty-three, but looked barely out of his teens. He wore around his neck an elegant little silver cross on a dainty chain. He said that he had come across the book I Am That in a bookshop in Bombay a couple of days ago. A cursory glance at a few pages impelled in him a desire to meet Maharaj personally. He had already gone through the book reading almost continuously, through the afternoon, evening and night, and had finished both volumes only a few hours ago.

Maharaj: You are so young. I wonder since what age you have been interested in the spiritual quest?
Visitor: Sir, ever since I can remember I have been deeply interested in Love and God. And I strongly felt that they are not different. When I sit in meditation, I often.....
M: Wait a moment. What exactly do you mean by meditation?
V: I don't really know. All I do is sit cross-legged, close my eyes, and remain absolutely quiet. I find my body relaxing, almost melting away, and my mind or being or whatever, merging into space, and the thought process getting gradually suspended.
M: That's good. Please proceed.
V: Quite often, during meditation, an overwhelming feeling of ecstatic love arises in my heart together with an effusion of well-being. I do not know what it is. It was during one such spell that I felt inspired to visit India - and here I am.
M: How long will you be in Bombay?
V: I don't really know. I rarely make any plans. I have sufficient money to live frugally for about fifteen days, and I have my return ticket.
M: Now tell me, what is it exactly that you want to know? Do you have any specific questions?
V: I was a very confused man when I landed in Bombay. I felt i was almost going out of my mind. I really don't know what took me to the bookshop (Chetana in Rampart Row, where I Am That was for a long time uniquely available -HL) because I don't do much reading. The moment i
I picked up the first volume of I Am That, I experienced the same overpowering feeling that I get in meditation. As I went on reading the book a weight seemed to lift off within me, and, as I am sitting here before you, I feel as if I am talking to myself. And what I am saying to myself feels like blasphemy. I was convinced that love is God. But now I think that love is surely a concept and if love is a concept, God also must be a concept.
M: So what is wrong in it?
V: (Laughing) Now, if you put it like that, I have no feeling of guilt in transforming God into a concept.
M: Actually, you said that love is God. What do you mean by the word 'love'?. Do you mean love as the opposite of 'hate'? Or do you mean something else, although of course no word can be adequate to describe God?
V: No. No. By the word 'love' I certainly do not mean the opposite of 'hate'. What i mean is that love is abstaining from discrimination as 'me' and the 'other'.
M: In other words, unity of being?
V: Yes, indeed. What then is God to whom I am expected to pray?
M: Let us talk about prayer later. Now then, what exactly is this God you are talking about? Is he not the very consciousness - the sense of being that one has - because of which you are able to ask questions? I am itself is God. What is it that you love most? Is it not this 'I am', the conscious presence that you want to preserve at any cost? The seeking itself is God. In seeking you discover that 'you' are apart from this body-mind complex. If you were not conscious, would the world exist for you? Would there be any idea of God? And the consciousness in you and the consciousness in me - are they different? Are they not separate only as concepts, seeking unity unconceived, and is that not love?
V: Now I understand what is meant by 'God is nearer to me than I ma to myself'.
M: Also remember there can be no proof of Reality other then being it. Indeed, you are it, and have always been. Consciousness leaves with the end of the body (and is therefore time-bound) and with it leaves the duality which is the basis of consciousness and manifestation.
V: What then is prayer, and what is its purpose?
M: Prayer, as it is generally understood, is nothing but begging for something. Actually prayer means communion-uniting-Yoga.
V: Everything is so clear now, as if a great deal of rubbish has been suddenly thrown out of my system, blown out of existence.
M: Do you mean that you now seems to see everything clearly?
V: No. No! Not 'seem'. It is clear, so clear that I am amazed that it was not clear at any time. Various statements that i had read in the Bible, which seemed important but vague before, are now crystal clear - statements like: Before Abraham was, i am; I and my father are one; I am that I am.
M: Good. Now that you know what it is all about, what Sadhana will you do to to obtain liberation from your bondage?
V: Ah! Maharaj. Now you are surely making fun of me. Or are you testing me? Surely, now that I know and have realized that I am that - - I am, which I have always been ad which I shall always be. What is left to be done? Or, undone? And who is to do it? And for what purpose?
M: Excellent! Just be.
V: I shall, indeed.
Then, the young Canadian prostrated himself before Maharaj, his eyes brimming with tears of gratitude and joy. Maharaj asked him if he would be coming again, and the lad said: 'Honestly, I don't know'. When he had left, Maharaj sat for a ewhile with his eyes closed, the gentlest of smiles on his lips. The he said very softly: 'A rare one'; I could barely catch the words.
I never saw the young Canadian again, and have often wondered about him.

From 'Pointers From Nisagadatta Maharaj' by Ramesh Balsekar. Chetana Bombay 1982.

Friday, 23 June 2006

Things we learn in time

As man advances through life, and begins to see things from a higher angle, then everything the world has agreed to call beauty loses much of its importance for him, as well as carnal pleasures and other trifles of that sort.

In the eyes of a clear-sighted and disillusioned man each season has its beauty, and it is not spring that is the most enchanting, nor winter the most evil. Henceforth beauty for him will not mean the promise of physical pleasure and happiness. It is Stendhal who says that beauty will henceforth be the form which promises the most kindliness, most loyalty in fulfilling one's side of the bargain, most honesty in keeping trust, most delicacy in intellectual perception. Ugliness will mean cruelty, avarice, falseness and stupidity. Many men do not know these things and only learn them later to their own cost. Just a few know them now, but each knows them for himself alone.


In similar vein, Coleridge:

Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether the summer clothe the general earth
With greenness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the night thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles
Quietly shining to the quiet moon

Friday, 26 May 2006

The Story of the Fox

Herry often talks about this beautiful passage from Le Petit Prince as being part of his philosophy of life and of business, but it seems that not everyone knows it . Here it is!

'It was then that the fox appeared.

"Good morning," said the fox.
"Good morning," the little prince responded politely, although when he turned round he saw nothing.
"I am right here", the voice said, "under the apple tree."
"Who are you?" asked the little prince, and added "You are very pretty to look at."
"I am a fox," the fox said.
"Come and play with me" proposed the little prince. "I am so unhappy."
"I cannot play with you" the fox said. "I am not tamed."
"Ah! Please excuse me" said the little prince.
But, after some thought he added: "What does that mean, 'tame'?"
"You do not live here" said the fox. "What is it that you are looking for?"
"I am looking for men" said the little prince. "What does that mean,'tame'?"

"Men" said the fox. "They have guns, and they hunt. It is very disturbing.They also raise chickens. These are their only interests. Are you looking for chickens?"
"No" said the little prince. "I am looking for friends. What does that mean, 'tame'?"
"It is an act too often neglected" said the fox. "It means to form a bond."
"To form a bond?"
"Just that" said the fox. "To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other . To me, you will be unique in all the you, I shall be unique in all the world..."
"I am beginning to understand" said the little prince. "There is a flower...I think she has tamed me..."
"It is possible" said the fox. "On earth, one sees all sorts of things."
"Oh, but this is not on the Earth!" said the little prince.
The fox seemed perplexed, and very curious.
"On another planet?"
"Are there hunters on that planet?"
"Ah, that is interesting! Are there chickens?"
"Nothing is perfect," sighed the fox. But he came back to his idea.
"My life is very monotonous" he said, "I hunt chickens; men hunt me. All the chickens are just alike, and all the men are just alike. And, in consequence, I am a little bored. But if you tame me, it will be as if the sun came to shine on my life. I shall know the sound of a step that will be different from all the others. Other steps send me hurrying back underneath the ground. Yours will call me, like music, out of my burrow. And then look: you see the grain fields down yonder? I do not eat bread. Wheat is of no use to me. The wheat fields have nothing to say to me. And that is sad. But you have hair that is the colour of gold. Think how wonderful that will be when you have tamed me! The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back the thought of you. And I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat..."

The fox gazed at the little prince for a long time. "Please, tame me!" he said.
"I want to, very much" the little prince replied. "But I have not much time. I have friends to discover, and a great many things to understand."
"One only understands the things one tames" said the fox. "Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready-made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where you can buy friendship, and so men have no friends any more. If you want a friend, tame me."
"What must I do, to tame you?" asked the little prince.
"You must be very patient" replied the fox. "First, you will sit down at a little distance from me - like that - in the grass. I shall look at you out of the corner of my eye, and you will say nothing. Words are the source of misunderstanding. But you will sit a little closer to me every day..."

The next day the little prince came back. "It would have been better to come back at the same hour" said the fox. "If, for example, you came at four o'clock in the afternoon, then at three o'clock I shall begin to to be happy. I shall feel happier and happier as the hour advances. At four o'clock, I shall already be worrying and jumping about. I shall show you how happy I am! But if you come at just any time, I shall never know at what hour my heart is to be ready to greet you... one must observe the proper rites...."
"What is a rite?" asked the little prince.
"Those are also actions too often neglected" said the fox. "They are what makes one day different from other days, one hour from another hour. There is a rite, for example, among my hunters. Every Thursday they dance with the village girls. So Thursday is a wonderful day for me. I can take a walk as far as the vineyards. But if the hunters danced at any time, every day would be like any other day, and I should never have any peace at all."

So the little prince tamed the fox. And when the hour of his departure drew near: "Ah," said the fox "I shall cry."
"It's your own fault" said the little prince. "I never wished you any sort of harm; but you wanted me to tame you..."
"Yes, that is so" said the fox.
"But now you are going to cry," said the little prince.
"Yes, that is so" said the fox.
"Then it has done you no good at all!"
"It has done me good" said the fox, "because of the colour of the wheat fields." And then he added: "Go and look again at the roses. You will understand now that yours is unique in all the world. Then come back to say goodbye to me, and I will make you the present of a secret."

The little prince went away, to look again at the roses. "You are not at all like my rose" he said. "As yet you are nothing. No one has tamed you, and you have tamed no one. You are like my fox when I first knew him. He was only a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But I have made him my friend, and now he is unique in all the world." And the roses were very embarassed.
"You are beautiful, but you are empty" he went on. "One could not die for you. To be sure, an ordinary passer-by would think that my rose looked just like you - the rose that belongs to me. But in herself alone she is more important than all the hundreds of you other roses; because it is she that I have watered; because it is she that I have put under the glass globe; because it is for her that I have killed the caterpillers (except the ones that we saved to become butterflies); because it is she that I have sheltered from the wind; because it is she that I have listened to when she grumbled, or boasted, or even sometimes when she said nothing. Because she is my rose."

And he went back to meet the fox. "Goodbye" he said.
"Goodbye" said the fox.
"And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see clearly; what is essential is invisible to the eye."
"What is essential is invisible to the eye" the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.
"It is the time that you have spent for your rose that makes your rose so important."
"It is the time I have spent for my rose" said the little prince, so that he would be sure to remember.
"Men have forgotten this truth" said the fox. "But you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed. You are responsible for your rose..."
"I am responsible for my rose..."the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.'

Le Petit Prince
Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Wednesday, 24 May 2006

Herry's Office Retirement Photos

Colin Lewin, Tony Payne, Peregrine Massey, Hugo Wynn-Williams, Herry, Stephen James, Mark Holford, Luke Readman, Charles Fenton, Graham Daines. Absent: Nigel Carden, Francis Frost.

A retirement lunch at Millers with some of his colleagues. Herry had 13 retirement events in various cities around the world including

London (Office)
London (Trinity House)

Herry's Office Retirement Speech

Herry at his desk for the last time
One should never follow a Stephen James’s speech as he is one of the masters of the art. And I have had more than my fair share of speech making myself over the past two months, starting with a farewell party in Hong Kong in March, so I have used up my entire miserable stock of jokes. And I can asssure you I’m not going to repeat the speech that I made at Trinity House in April, which was far too serious for this company.

I shall miss so many things about Millers. I thought I might just take you through a typical day both to remind you and to fix in my memory what a remarkable place this is and how many remarkable people it contains.

Some of you know I always come into the office fairly early and park my car downstairs. It slots into a space that was bequeathed to me more than 20 years ago by John Henderson, who was Stephen’s predecessor as the UK Club’s underwriter. The only difference was that his car was a Roller – and they didn’t even have the Thomas Miller Share Incentive scheme in those days!....

I invariably find Tim Penn already there, washing down his fine motorbike, which although it’s nearly as old as my car, he keeps like new. I have to pass the room used by the cyclists and motor cyclists to change. I’m pretty sure that it’s the only room in the entire building that I have never ever been into. I don’t know why. I think it is something to do with all that lycra and leather. There is also this wonderful smell of aftershave that comes wafting out of it which makes me feel rather inadequate.

Going upstairs, I try and see if Steve Britt-Hazard is behind his desk - or whether he isn’t! It’s sometimes very difficult to know. I come upstairs to the Blue Lagoon and plonk down my laptop and switch it on and see what’s happened since I last looked at it. I hesitate to tell you when that was but I’m pretty sure to find something from Paul Sessions on it! As you all know, I have been addicted to email for years now, although I think I’m the only person in the Blue and Grey Lagoons who doesn’t use a BlackBerry – so you can conclude that my addiction is “mainline” and I will never be satisfied with “email lite”.

I then go down to see if I’ve beaten Ron into the postroom for the newspaper. I must say he has been jolly good recently. He leaves them unwrapped ready for me to grab as I go out to breakfast at the little cafĂ©, the Village, under our building. I’ve been going there ever since it was a very greasy spoon – for almost 30 years.

As I pass the car park I invariably bump into Kim Vernau who used to come in in the most marvellous racy Beamer but recently has unaccountably swapped it for a very PC Prius. I have forborne to ask her whether she thinks that was a good deal. And on the subject of Kim, how many of you know that when she was the internal auditor she was always in here before 7.00 am – and would feel comfortable about it if you did! At least you now know why I’ve always got in so early.

Another early arrival in the car park is Brooksey, who for some reason swapped his rather smart Golf a couple of years ago for a much more humble machine, I think under the misguided impression that it would get the Miller Remuneration Committee to treat him more sympathetically! Bad luck Brooksey!

Sitting in the Village, where my age shows as the waitresses seem to get prettier by the day, I can see certain of my colleagues who come past displaying various levels of enthusiasm on their way to the office. Andrew Jamieson always looks as though he has just caught another shipbroker up to something particularly nefarious. David Perks breezes along. Mark Hodson looks as though he has got the whole of the Iraqi debt in dinars tucked into his briefcase. And our beloved COO swings past, grinning happily at the thought of some new committee that he has thought up overnight and which will be known by an acronym pronouncable only if you speak Tamil!

Returning to the office after breakfast, I come back to the Blue Lagoon to enjoy that blissful peace that is only known to man when Hugo is not around. In fact, I know if Hugo’s arrived or not if I pass a certain very large black car in the car park. The same one that when it first appeared caused Kirsty Hart to lean out of the window of the Grey Lagoon and exclaim, “Oh – very David Beckham!”

We’re a very strange bunch in Millers - and I think in England generally. In France or Germany when you go into the office in the morning, you go round and shake everyone’s hand and say “Guten morgen, Herr Daines” or something equally appropriate – isn’t that right Katharina? Instead, we drift in like ghosts and you frequently look up from your screen to find everyone has silently arrived and no one has said a word!

There’s a wonderful book that I read last year called “Watching the English” which suggests, quite correctly I think, that the English are one of the most socially inept races on earth and we cover it up by turning almost anything into a joke. Mind you, you’d be pretty unwise – and completely wrong – to suggest that Stephen was socially inept, so it’s not a universal truth.

Now, you realise that its not even 9.00 in the morning and I haven’t yet got out from behind my desk to see who is nipping along to the staff canteen to grab a quick toasted bacon sandwich - and hoping that no one knows that they have already had breakfast. If I went that way, I would have to pass Terri Lewis, who seems unaccountably concerned that I’m going to reveal secrets that only those who work close together in an open plan environment can possibly know about each other, and Jill McGrath is even more concerned that I’m going to tell you all the whereabouts of the inexhaustible box of HR chocolates!

So, I’m going to stop there and instead leave ‘Not the Miller News’ to carry on poking gentle fun at our many foibles, as it has so brilliantly over the last many years under its various secretive editors.

For myself, I’d love to continue walking the corridors with my mental camera, as well as my real one, recalling the weeks, months and years that I have been happy and proud to work amongst you all.

Herry Lawford
18 May 2006

Tokyo Retirement Speech
Beijing Retirement
Trinity House Retirement Speech

Thursday, 11 May 2006

Freya Stark - The Lycian Shore

As I came down from the causeway through the theatre, a black snake like a shy god slid into the laurel thicket; I stepped over the stones rattled by earthquakes on their foundations, and climbed from terrace to terrace of corn where peasants built shallow walls round the pockets of ancient houses. The full ears, ready for harvest, beat their slight weight against my passing hand, as if they to would spend their weak resistance for the headland's warm and living peace. So remote, so undisturbed was the great hollow, that its own particular divinity seemed to fill it - complete in being as a cup is filled to the brim. There was no judgement here but only the consequence of actions; the good corn filled itself out in deeper places and the bad dwindled among stones, and all things were a part of each other in a soil that someone's building two thousand or more years ago had flattened or spoiled. A fair-haired woman, still beautiful, with green eyes, was reaping. I asked if I might photograph, and she called her husband, who came climbing up and stood beside her, and glanced at her and smiled when I said that she was like the English to look at: they were both pleased by her fairness, and there was a happy friendliness between them. He had the oval face of the Mediterranean, and she the straight northern brows: and the history of the world had washed over Cnidus to produce them both, from the days when their ancestors, in the oldest city of the peninsular, joined in building the Hellenium in Egypt, or sent the first caryatid to Delphi".
Freya Stark-- The Lycian Shore

Wednesday, 10 May 2006

Tokyo Retirement Speech

Herry, Luke Readman and Moto Sugiura at The UK Club Directors' Party
at the Palace Hotel in Tokyo. Herry and Stephen James retired at the party
and Herry made a farewell speech which is set out here.
Minasama, konbanwa!

I have been honoured to work amongst you for almost 30 years, without any doubt the most satisfying and fascinating aspect of my career. I first visited Japan in 1978, and soon fell in love with all things Japanese. I was immediately struck by the very tangible sense of harmony that exists in this great city and all over Japan and which derives from individuals living not just for themselves but also for their fellow man – and for Japanese society. I was astonished at the care which Japanese take over details that elsewhere would be ignored or taken for granted - shown particularly in the exquisite craftsmanship that goes into even quite humble things. And the way in which in Japan high quality has never been confused, as it is in Europe and America – with luxury. So quality as an ideal can be pursued without detractors, to the great advantage of Japanese businesses whose reputation for quality is now unmatched.

I also found over time, loyalty and trustworthiness from everybody that I encountered. Even those businesses which for a time struggled to survive, took great pains to settle their debts in an honourable way. There was also a strong sense of continuity. I met and was made to feel welcome by those who my predecessors, particularly Sidney Fowler and Terence Coghlin, had themselves dealt with. Of course following those substantial figures was not so easy, but you never made me feel anything other than appreciated and respected.

Of course P&I is a form of mutual self-help that blends well with Japanese thinking, which takes a long-term view of business and business relationships. It is insurance, but insurance built not just on the exchange of premiums for claims, but on a deeply shared understanding of the risks faced by shipowners every day - from the awful power of the unforgiving oceans to the rapacious attentions of corrupt or incompetent officials to the simple errors that accompany any human endeavour - but which at sea can prove devastating. As such it is really a contract based on trust: trust that when things go wrong – as sadly and inevitably they will in even the best-run companies – the Club will be beside you seeking every means to solve the problem and settle whatever costs – even totally unexpected ones – may arise.

I can see friends here too numerous to mention by name, some who have themselves already retired. In that respect, our business is doubly satisfying. The build up of trust engenders friendship and one of the many great advantages of our world is that our friendships can extend to every continent and we can travel to cement them far more regularly than most people are ever able to do.

It is impossible for me to say farewell without making reference to my colleagues that I have worked with in Japan over the years. Luke Readman, now chairman of Thomas Miller P&I, spent a great deal of time here in the '80s, and was instrumental in setting up the Club’s Japan Branch office in 1989. Luke is particularly remembered for his work on pollution issues, especially OPA 90, as well as the early LNG contracts with Indonesia. Nigel Carden, who now takes responsibility for Japan amongst the managers, joined me here from the early '90s onwards, and is also known for his expertise in environmental issues as well as LNG, and has also handled many of the most difficult and expensive claims that have occurred in recent years. He is now very well known to you all and I have not the least doubt that you will give him all the support and friendship that you have given me over the years.

Great tribute must also be paid to my Japanese colleagues, particularly Moto Sugiura, who as you can see is destined to outlast us all. Not only is he still winning any long driver contest that he cares to enter, but he has already won the long service contest, having started with Dodwell as long ago as 1964, and is still the lynch-pin around which the Club functions in Japan.

It is very difficult to say goodbye to somewhere that has become something of a second home to me over the years. I suspect, however, that my farewell will be short-lived and I will continue to invent many reasons for continuing to visit my friends and the lovely places that abound in Japan, for many years to come.

Domo arigato gozaimashita

Herry Lawford
8th May 2006

A Japanese translation of this speech can be found here

Sunday, 23 April 2006

Memories of the Taj

The galleried floors at the Taj

Click the heading for more photos of the Taj

This was originally an article written for Lloyd's List in 2006

My first visit to India - and to the Taj - was in 1972, when I accompanied Bill Birch Reynardson (later Miller's senior partner) on a visit. The UK Club had already established an interest in India in the '60s when Frank Ledwith made several visits in which he set up Rustom Mehta and his assistant Suresh Mankad from New India Assurance as the Club's correspondents.

Bill Birch Reynardson in 2013

I had been with Thomas Miller for about five years and my travelling - often with Bill Birch Reynardson - had until then been confined mostly to former Yugoslavia which, although beautiful, had communist-drab hotels and certainly nothing as richly magnificent as the Taj. Its stunning position overlooking the Arabian Sea towards what would later become Bombay High and its powerful Victorian architecture next to the Gateway of India, made an instant impression.

I had always been drawn to India partly because, like many Englishmen, I have family connections going back several generations through both the Lawfords and my mother's family, the Pughs. General Edward Lawford, an engineer, had commanded the garrison in Madras and Mysore in the 1850s and his younger brother, Lt-Col Henry (1812-1880) also served in Madras. Likewise Lt-Col Edward Melville Lawford (1826-1891) was Colonel of the 4th Madras Cavalry, while his younger brother, Henry Baring Lawford was Chief Judge of the High Court of Kishnagur. Further back, Edward Lawford, another lawyer, became wealthy as Solicitor to the East India Company and Clerk to the Drapers Livery Company, and had his home, Eden Park, described appreciatively by Pevsner in 'The Buildings of England'

A Pugh great uncle (Lewis Pugh) had led the raid by the Calcutta Light Horse on Goa in the Second World War (which disabled German warships providing intelligence about the movement of allied shipping and was later made into a film ‘The Sea Wolves’ in which his part was played by Gregory Peck). My grandmother, Nina Arundel, whose father Sir Arundel Tagg Arundel was on Curzon's staff, married my grandfather Col Archie Pugh, who was then a solicitor in Calcutta, in 1894, while my great-grandfather Lewis Pugh Evans Pugh was Attorney-General for Bengal. My mother was born in Darjeeling, the nearest hill station (though even today several hours journey away), and I remember her talking of the view of the Himalayas as seen from her bedroom window.

It was thus with ribbons of family history behind me that we set up in rooms off the open galleries of the ‘old’ Taj, the new Taj tower not having yet been built. Bill Birch Reynardson took a suite with a fine dining room in which we entertained shipowners, government officials (such as the Director General of Shipping), lawyers and others at a long table flanked by white coated waiters. The ‘ordinary’ rooms were not lavish, but they had one marvellous attribute in that the windows could be thrown wide to let in the warm Arabian sea breezes bearing the scent of jasmine and spices. The sounds of hawkers, snake charmers and the daily thong of people who gathered on the seafront under one’s windows in the mornings and particularly in the evenings made the strongest sensory impression, and one that maintained my love for the Taj above all other hotels.

Sadly this magical experience can no longer be repeated, as they have finally replaced the old (and admittedly rickety) windows. The ‘new’ windows can only now be opened by calling on a member of staff - who has to be called back to close them again - and have no restraining bar so they can no longer be left wide open.

Needless to say I bought a Kashmiri carpet on that trip, and laid it out in my room. Bill Birch Reynardson was sure that I had been robbed but I was delighted with it, and it remains a prized family possession more than forty years later.

I returned to India in 1978 and spent three weeks travelling around the country visiting Calcutta, Delhi and Madras, and learning details of Indian maritime law and customs – and indeed Customs (with a large C) were one of the Clubs' major problems in those days as shortages and pilferage were rife in the docks and Customs enthusiastically raised Show Cause Notices for the infringements, sometimes years after the event. Indeed so egregious was the Customs Authority's behaviour that eventually the leading Indian lawyer, S Venkiteswaran (known to all as Venky) took a case to the Supreme Court and got the ancient customs penalties struck down on the grounds of natural justice.

On another occasion in the early '80s I dealt with a case involving Japanese owners who had suffered at the hands of an Indian bill of lading forger. The owner (now the president of the company) and I spent a two weeks meeting in the Taj trying to recover monies lost as the result of cargoes being delivered to criminal interests.

Needless to say I continued to stay at the Taj, learning to escape the heat and crowds in its great halls. In the gardens one watched the crows swoop down to grab sandwiches off guests’ plates. The food at the Taj was mostly indifferent, although the toasted chicken tikka sandwiches were excellent, but they made their own crisps and the most delicious home made ginger ale, so strong that it had to be drunk with brandy or it would take the back of your throat off! Sadly neither of these delicacies are available any more. Visiting regularly in the 1980s in furtherance of ITIC's business in India - the agents there being understandably concerned about the long tail customs penalties - I got to know some of the Taj staff, two of whom have remained friends to this day, and I am godfather to one of their children

The pool at the Taj

One of my Miller colleagues, Robin Travis, took over the P&I role in India when I became involved with ITIC, and I joined him on occasion entertaining the Indian maritime community at cocktail parties next to the pool at the Taj; splendid events on warm evenings under dark blue velvet skies. In those days - and until quite recently - Bombay was a "dry" city, alcohol being allowed only if you could show that you were a registered alcoholic, so one had to bring in spirits. But this never seemed to result in any shortage at parties.

Later, in the early 90’s, serious rioting broke out in the city, with mobs overturning buses and burning cars. As it wasn’t safe to travel to the airport, I was stuck at the Taj for three days until the brave correspondent, Capt Sundareshan, drove me safely past the throngs and I was able to get on a plane

Another vagary of the hotel, although probably not entirely of its own making, used to be its fantastically poor telephone system. As laptops began to be carried in the '90s and we attempted to gather our e-mail from our servers back in London, hours would sometimes pass on lines so poor that one sometimes had to leave the system connected all night in order to get important documents. In fact it was far cheaper, even after acrimonious correspondence with the hotel management to get the hotel telephone bills reduced by 70 or 80%, to go back to fax.

The service at the Taj declined during the '90s until, prompted by the rise of the Oberoi on the other side of Nariman Point, the hotel pulled itself together and it is again smart and well run. The service has improved back to the level of the 1970s with of course the addition of modern communications and equipment in the rooms. Unfortunately, though, the food is still not the best and is far better at the Oberoi. On a recent visit, too, a companion who I was entertaining in one of the lounges was scratched on the ankle by a rat, which produced a low-key furore amongst the staff.

As is obvious, the Taj is built back to front, supposedly as a snub to the British. The hotel should stretch its two long wings magnificently towards the sea, but in fact it embraces the city behind. Consequently there are far fewer rooms facing the ocean than there should be - and I now find it almost impossible to get a sea view room. However, with the windows now sealed there is much less pleasure in watching the sun rise over Bombay High.

Shirt and suit makers still ply their trade in the shops on the ground floor. The shirts are fine, and all my business shirts come from there. Doubtless I pay more for them than I would do if I hunted down bargains in the city, but the convenience of walking in on the way back from a day's work and ordering three more "as per last" to be delivered to one's room in a day or two, makes them irresistible. Suits are however another thing. I once had a safari suit made, being told by the correspondent that this was what well dressed Englishmen should wear to conduct business in Bombay. The suit was duly produced but I hadn't reckoned with the fact that styles were many years behind Europe, and it sported huge bell bottoms. Needless to say it was never worn and I continued to stick boringly to a City suit. Attempts at a silk suit also failed. The cloth itself seemed fine, but what I failed to understand was that the quality of the ‘innards’ (the canvas and padding that are essential to a comfortable suit) were of an inferior quality compared to those used on good suits in London. Again an unworn suit and a lesson (rather more expensively) learned.

One of my fondest memories of the Taj was of an occasion when I was not there at all. My nephew's then girlfriend Sam Asprey took a backpacking trip around India with two other friends and before she left I gave her a sealed envelope, only to be opened when she reached Bombay - which would be after several months dusty travel. When she got there she opened the envelope and found an invitation for two nights at the Taj for her and her friends. I can still hear the squeals of delight from the phone call they made to me that night.

Herry Lawford
24th February 2006