Sunday, 31 August 2008

Favourite Nursery Rhymes

A jolly fat frog
Lived in the river swim O!
A comely black crow
Lived on the river brim O!
"Come on shore,
Come on shore,"
Said the crow to the frog
And then O!
"No you'll bite me,
No you'll bite me"
Said the frog to the crow
Again O!

"O there is sweet music
On yonder green hill O!
And you shall be a dancer,
A dancer in yellow,
All in yellow,
All in yellow"
Said the crow to the frog
And then O!
"All in yellow,
All in yellow"
Said the frog to the crow
And then O!

"Farewell, ye little fishes
That in the river swim O!
I'm going to be a dancer,
A dancer in yellow."
"O beware!
O beware!"
Said the fish to the frog
And then O!
"I'll take care,
I'll take care,"
Said the frog to the fish
Again O!

The frog began a swimming,
A swimming to land O!
And the crow began jumping
To give him a hand O!
"Sir, you're welcome,
Sir, you're welcome,"
Said the crow to the frog
And then O!
"Sir, I thank you,
Sir, I thank you,"
Said the frog to the crow
Again O!

"But where is the sweet music
On yonder green hill O?
And where are the dancers,
The dancers all in yellow?
All in yellow,
All in yellow,"
Said the frog to the crow
And then O!
But he chuckled, how he chuckled
And then O, and then O!"

Friday, 29 August 2008

The End of a Special Place

Some places feel special as soon as you walk into them. Our local post office in Balham High Rd was one of those. Cramped and a bit scruffy, it radiated warmth and helpfulness to the many local residents who used it, some every day, for the small but essential services of pension withdrawls, bill payments, the submitting of official forms and the posting of letters. To go there was to be almost certain that you would find someone to talk to in the queue, such was the convivial atmosphere generated by the highly educated family who ran it for many years - the Mazumdars - who came from India in 1967. Mrs Mazumdar was always behind he counter, smiling, helped by Victor, while her husband managed the sales of cards and envelopes in the front.

Now it has been shut down - one of the more than 2,500 local post offices that are being closed by the bureaucrats in Whitehall. True, other post offices exist not far away, but are either much less convenient for elderly residents on foot, or are large and soulless places where people wait in desultory queues for insufficient service, and no one talks to anyone else except to complain.

On 29th August approximately 700 people came to the little post office at various times during the day and were given Indian food and cake while they paid their respects and reaffirmed their opposition to the closure. Most had signed the petition taken last year to keep it open, but their voices had gone unheeded. Further loss of respect for government has been added to the sad chill this unnecessary closure has thrown over the local community.

The Most Moving of All Hymns

I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,
Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love;
The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test,
That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;
The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.

And there's another country, I've heard of long ago,
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.

Words by Sir Cecil Spring-Rice,
Tune Thaxted by Gustav Holst.

Favourite Poems - Beloved Earth

You are forever with me, as I with you.
Day and night we are always together.
If I go a thousand miles, a million miles away,
You will be there and comfort me.
I am a seed in your soil,
For you I blossom and bring forth fruit.
I am a willow beside your path,
For you I herald the miracle of spring.
O beloved Earth,
You are forever with me as I with you.

While you dwell in my heart
Nor life nor death can part us.
Mine the faith of a loveling child;
Yours the compassion of a merciful father.
Like a lark soaring in the sky
I will hymn the beauty of the morning.
Like a pine tree high on the mountain
I will give shelter from the storms and tempests.
O beloved earth,
You are forever with me as I with you.

Beloved Earth - Traditional Chinese -
sung by Katusha Tsui at the Memorial Service for Sir YK Pao 23rd January 2002

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

American Prints

A wonderful exhibition of American prints at the British Museum

Click the heading for some more photos

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

John O'Donohue at Glenstal Abbey


We have spectacular landscapes here in the West of Ireland. Everywhere, dark mountains preside. It is also a landscape singularly unburdened by California-style sunshine. We enjoy generous endowments of rain, fog and mist. Sometimes, when the fog comes down, the mountains disappear completely. More interesting is when you awaken on a day when the fog has come halfway down the mountain, making the top of the mountain invisible and rendering the stem of the mountain strong and lucent. It is fascinating to stand under the mountain then, and experience the summit as absent. Though you know it is still there near you, you can no longer claim it with the eye. I always find this to be a thrilling experience of the power of the imagination. Like the mountains around every life, huge adjacencies preside, presences that remain invisible to the eye.

You have never seen your own face. You cannot see your thoughts, which shape your mind and world, and you have never seen the inner world hidden behind the faces of those closest to you. You cannot see the future that is already claiming you and you cannot see the divine, so the invisible world holds our deepest treasures and it is only through the gift of the imagination that we can sense these adjacent worlds and cross over their thresholds. The imagination is the great friend of possibility. For the alert and awakened imagination, possibilities always beckon towards new pathways of creativity, belonging and love. Each of us has been created by the Divine Artist, made in the image and likeness of the Divine Imagination. When we become creative, we approach holiness. The imagination knows that it is at these thresholds that new worlds rise into view. At last, we abandon the repetitive safety of the predictable and risk ourselves into the adventure of the unknown.

There is a sublime wildness in God that calls us to risk becoming who we dream and have long been dreamed to be. The Divine Imagination has no time for the closed and the finished. To each of us is given an unfinished, open-ended world and spirituality is the adventure of attention, to which its secret and sacred forms begin to emerge. More often that not, the language of religion falsifies the subtlety of Divine Presence and Imagination, and labels and names mislead us into the bland territories of the obvious. Often, when you wake in the middle of the night, unprotected, uncertainty finds you. The role an name you wear during the day, the things you do, what you have achieved, who others hold you to be, all of that seems so far away now. You feel alone, a stranger in the world. Though disturbing, such moments of dangerous knowing draw us deeper into who we really are and why it is that we are here. It helps us become aware of the subtle, but secret, order of Divine Providence that guides our ways and our days. This helps us realise even in dark times how light is kept alive in the world. It awakens us to the beauty of goodness.

Around us all the time is the invisible presence of the unknown saints, people who bring goodness alive. We will never know their names, for they live far from the world of image and headlines, yet through the dignity of their kindness, they keep the humane tissue of a culture alive and vital. Each day we awaken, unknown kindness supports and shelters us. These are the gifts we never see directly, yet their presence makes life bearable. Their endurance prevents the house of the mind from becoming a haunted ruin.

The great Irish poet and philosopher John O'Donohue, who died suddenly earlier this year. Transscribed from a BBC programme

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Vilhelm Hammershoi at the Royal Academy

I knew nothing about Vilhelm Hammershoi - a marvellous Danish painter -until recently, when the Royal Academy held an exhibition of his work

Click the heading for some more examples

Monday, 4 August 2008

The Best Hotel in the World?

Cliveden is sometimes described as the best hotel in the world. I don't know enough places which might fall into that category to judge, but it's certainly the finest I've ever visited. The glorious Italianate facade which greets you at the end of the magnificent drive is spectacular, but intimate - and indeed Cliveden still feels like a large country house rather than an hotel. An additional wing overlooking the famous swimming pool adds a number of more standard-sized rooms, but if you stay, take one of the rooms in the main house with their beautiful views across the front garden down towards the Thames.

You enter through the main hall - a marvellous panelled room dominated by a huge fireplace and hung with tapestries - and the original portrait of Nancy Astor. It's a perfect place for tea - or drinks before dinner.

You can have dinner in the Terrace dining room overlooking the garden, and it’s now done up like a pudding in an overrich terracotta but still lacks intimacy. Moreover, the chef still seems to think that the type of nouvelle cuisine where you need a golf trolley to find your way to disparate scraps of food on a vast plate is 'le mode’.. The 'haute cuisine' restaurant Waldo's in the cellars is more interesting and there are some fascinating portraits and photographs in the corridors - including a fine one of Christine Keeler. Breakfast can also be taken communally at a huge table in a magnificent room at the end of the house, just as it was when a private home - but now, only if you book for a large party.

The pool area behind a lovely old wall has been converted in to a full spa with a heated indoor pool, but it's still very easy to imagine the the beginnings of the famous Profumo / Keeler scandal there (for those too young to know about such things, there's a brief summary here)

Despite the grandeur of the house and its associations, it's marvellously relaxed and one quickly settles in to the lifestyle. Surrounded by a large park and formal gardens which are beautifully looked after by the National Trust, there is much to see before returning to the comfort of a chair by the fire in the library to contemplate starting some scandals of your own.

Friday, 1 August 2008

Favourite Comedy

I've always loved hand puppets since the days of Peter Brough, Shani Lewis, Rod Hull and the like- and the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre is wonderful!