Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Ramesh Balsekar 1917 - 2009

Ramesh Balsekar the great Advaita master, has died. Click the heading for some photos of Ramesh and here for a letter from Wayne Liquorman

Sunday, 27 September 2009

The Big Issue

Photo by Froge on Flickr

I have always admired John Bird and The Big Issue which he started 18 years ago to help homeless people earn a little money and so get off the streets. It's been a brilliant success and has helped countless homeless people. At the same time it gives them - instead of begging - a public face that encourages people to treat them as human beings worthy of help.

Now through Centrepoint one can also sponsor a room for only £12 a month in which a homeless person can live and receive support - and even hold down a job (which usually requires an address) while they get back on their feet. The donor has the added satisfaction of getting regular e-mails about the person living in the sponsored room and can take a 'virtual' tour of it on the internet.

Charities like Centrepoint (which manages The Big Issue) and Fine Cell, which helps prisoners in jail by giving them needlework cushions and embroidories to make and sell, are a great advance on simple tin-rattling charities, where you rarely have much feel for what your money is doing.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Favourite Places

As a counterpoint to Winchester Cathedral, which makes up in length what it lacks in height, I was lucky enough to pass nearby Salisbury Cathedral, which has the tallest spire in England. Click the photo for a better view.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Drapers' Almshouse Outing to Winchester 2009

The Drapers' almshouse outings this year were for the first time to Winchester, a slightly lengthy journey for Queen Elizabeth's and Walter’s Close who had to navigate across London, but both took place on fine autumn days which got progressively warmer after a cloudy start, and were greatly enjoyed.

Unusually, this time residents were given a guided tour - of Winchester Cathedral - immortalised for most of the older residents in song. The beauty of the architecture is inspiring and the whole structure makes up in length what it lacks in height (it has the longest nave in Europe).

On the first visit, Sir Nicholas Jackson (whose grandfather was Cathedral Architect at a critical juncture in the Cathedral’s history – it was about to fall down and was saved by Jackson, Fox, an engineer and Walker, a diver) - knew the Cathedral’s Archaelogical Consultant, Dr John Crook, and the latter was kind enough to give the residents an introduction to the Cathedral and cover some of its fascinating history from the time that Winchester could be said to have been ‘the capital of England’. (The same history was covered by the excellent guides on the second visit).

Sir Nicholas was also found, to the residents’ astonishment, to have played in the Cathedral, a fact that the Drapers’ were accused of hiding, and this gave the visit added flavour as they surveyed the enormous Willis organ from the choir and wondered how such a monster could be tamed.

Although few residents climbed the stairs to see the Winchester Bible and none went up the tower, all were impressed with the beauty of the place and amazed at the extraordinary West Window which is made from fragments saved by the townspeople from the destruction wrought during the Reformation.

Most residents took their lunch in the Cathedral Cafe and then dispersed to the pedestrianised High St and beyond, some walking up to the Castle and into the Great Hall to see ‘King Arthur’s Round Table’ as well as the beautiful gates commissioned for Charles and Diana’s ill-fated marriage, and to survey the town below.

A few adventurous souls passed through the Cathedral Close and were taken on a tour of Winchester College by Herry Lawford, an Old Wykehamist, but only Christopher Barker passed by the meadows where Keats is said to have composed his ‘Ode to Autumn’, on his way to call on his old friend, the former Bishop of Winchester, who lives at St Cross.

Winchester is blessed with an extraordinary number of cafes and tea-rooms as well as fine gardens and riverside walks and pleasant hours were easily passed before the coach arrived for the journey home.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Monday, 14 September 2009

The Law of Unintended Consequences

All bad precedents have their origin in measures that at the time seemed good - Julius Ceasar

Even the liberal lawyer Helena Kennedy QC admits that the best intentions in legal reform can sometimes produce unexpected and unpalatable consequences.

She is particularly concerned about the development of alternative systems of justice that bypass the courts. Restraining orders to protect the victims of domestic violence, once championed by lawyers like her, have in recent years been broadened in scope and application by politicians, particularly by David Blunkett, with very troubling results. She discusses this on BBC Radio 4 which can be heard iPlayer by clicking on the heading.

This reminds me of the deeply unwise extension of laws relating to terrorism; the flawed new law championed by the idiotic Jacqui Smith against the clients of prostitutes; and the Home Office's supine acceptance of a lop-sided extradition treaty with the United States as well as the extraordinarily ill-thought out vetting of people who regularly work with young children. In each of these instances, media-championed attention seems to bring out the worst in law-makers, who consistently forget that any change in the criminal law has far-reaching and easily unforeseen consequences.

The core of all this foolishness is the absence of wise and experienced minds in government. Wisdom, and the moral authority to say no to the silly ideas put forward by well-meaning but narrow-minded reformers, seems to have disappeared compeletely. The appointment of Jacqui Smith was possibly the lowest point the country has ever reached in its long and distinguished criminal justice history - the nation that created habeas corpus and based justice on establishing mens rea through transparent due proces is now allowing small minds to nibble away at these cornerstones of liberty.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Friday, 11 September 2009

How to Draw

Camellia by Masumi Yamanaka for the RHS

To lean to draw a flower, it is best to place a blossoming plant in a deep hollow in the ground and to look upon it. The all its qualities may be grasped. To learn to draw a bamboo, take a branch and cast its shadow upon a white wall on a moonlight night; then its true outline can be obtained. To learn to paint a landscape too, the method is the same. An artist should identify himself with the landscape and watch it until its significance is revealed to him.

Kuo Hsi, a painter of the Sung Period (AD1000)

This reminds me: 'What is a lovely phrase? One that has mopped up as much truth as it can hold.'

Last Words

I have always admired the humble last words of Sir Isaac Newton, one of the greatest minds of any age:

'I do not know what I may seem to the world. But as to myself, I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.'

This reminds me of Bagehot's reference to Homer and the sea:

A man who has not read Homer is like a man who has not seen the ocean. There is a great object of which he has no idea.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Wine Writings

It's a great art to be able to write well about wine. Most descriptions singularly fail to capture the experience. But this piece, ostensibly about birdwatching, comes close

The first bird I searched for was the nightjar, which used to nest in the valley. Its song is like the stream of wine spilling from a height into a deep and booming cask. It is an odorous sound, with a bouquet that rises to the quiet sky. In the glare of day it would seem thinner and drier, but dusk mellows it and gives it vintage. If a song could smell, this song would smell of crushed grapes and almonds and dark wood. The sound spills out, and none of it is lost. Then it stops. Suddenly. Unexpectedly. But the ear hears it still, a prolonged and fading echo, draining and winding out among the surrounding trees.

The Peregrine by JA Baker

This imagery reminds me of the wine notes of Gerald Asher, whose wine descriptions are superb:

Chateau Lynch-Bages - just the wine for those who like the smell of Verdi. Dark colour, swashbuckling bouquet and ripe flayour. Ready for drinking but will hold well showing a gradual shift in style as it ages into graceful discretion.