Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Favorite Poems: A 9th Century Chinese Poem on Old Age

'We are growing old together, you and I;
Let us ask ourselves, what is age like?
The idle head, still uncombed at noon.
Propped on a staff, sometimes a walk abroad;
Or all day sitting with closed doors.

One dares not look in the mirror's polished face;
One cannot read small-letter books.
Deeper and deeper one's love of old friends;
Fewer and fewer one's dealings with young men.
One thing only, the pleasure of idle talk
Is great as ever, when you and I meet.'

A 9th Century Chinese poem on old age, 
sent to Isaiah Berlin by Stephen Spender

Isaiah Berlin

I was lent a superb book by Ham and Cecilia Lloyd for my trip to Japan, Michael Ignatieff's Life of Isaiah Berlin. It's a masterpiece, illuminating his philosophical writings so elegantly and self-effacingly that one is left with a clear perspective on a fascinating life and mind.

Here are a few excerpts:

1. All his life, he attributed to Englishness all the propositional content of his liberalism: 'that decent respect for others and the tolerance of dissent is better than pride and a sense of national mission; that liberty may be incompatible with, and better than, too much efficiency; that pluralism and untidiness are, to those who value freedom, better than the the rigorous imposition of all-embracing systems, no matter how disinterested, better than the rule of majorities against which there is no appeal.' All this he insisted, was deeply and uniquely English.

2. Jewish energy is described as pushiness; cleverness becomes arrogance; exuberance turns into vulgarity; affection is seen as sentimentality. He never entirely ceased seeing his own people through the eyes of their detractors.

As he wrote to Felix Frankfurter, 'the trouble about the Israelis is not only their partly unconscious conviction born of experience that virtue always loses and that only toughness pays, but a great deal of provincialism and blindness to outside opinion'.

3. Nor were his spirits lifted by his exposure to the 'great big glaring sunlit extrovert over-articulated scene' of America. In a letter to his father, he admitted that Americans were 'open, vigorous, 2x2=4 sort of people, who want yes or no for an answer' but he longed for the company of people with a European 'nuance'. To his Oxford friend Mary Fisher he confessed that he was miserably homesick for the complex and mysterious social mazes of Oxbridge: there were no mazes in America, nothing but flat, clear vistas. Conversation with Americans were equally disappointing: 'a total lack of salt, pepper, mustard'. Though his view of Americans softened as he grew to know them well.

4. In the four Bryn Mawr lectures, he set out the distinction he was later to make famous between negative and positive liberty. Only at this stage he called them 'liberal' and 'romantic'. Until Rousseau, liberty had always been understood negatively, as the absences of obstacles to courses of thought and action. With Rousseau, and then with the Romantics, came the idea of liberty being achieved only when men are able to realise their innermost natures. Liberty became synonymous with self-creation and self-expression. A person who enjoyed negative liberty - freedom of action or thought - might none the less lack positive liberty, the capacity to develop his or her innermost nature to the full.

Berlin evidently approved of the ideals of self-realisation. The danger lay in the idea, latent in Enlightenment rationalism and Romanticism alike, that men might be so blinded by their true natures - by ignorance, custom or injustice - that could only be freed by those revolutionaries of social engineers who understood their objective needs better than they did themselves.

' This is one of the most powerful and dangerous arguments in the entire history of human thought. Let us trace its steps again. Objective good can be discovered only by the use of reason; to impose it on others is only to activate the dormant reason within them; to liberate people is to do just that for them which, were they rational, they would do for themselves, no matter what they in fact say they want; therefore some forms of the most violent coercion are tantamount to the most absolute freedom.'

To free a man, Isaiah insisted, was to free him from obstacles - prejudice, tyranny, discrimination - to the exercise of his own free choice. It did not mean telling him how to use his freedom.

5. It had been a mistake for the philosophers of the Enlightenment to suppose that men and women could live their lives according to abstract principles, cosmopolitan values and what he called 'idealistic but hollow doctrinaire internationalism'.

'This rejection of natural ties seem to me noble but misguided. When men complain of loneliness, what they mean is that nobody understands what they are saying: to be understood is to share a common past, common feelings and language, common assumptions, possibility of intimate communications - in short, to share common forms of life.'

6. Convention does not in itself imply slavery; it is largely that instinctive law that arises out of mens' fear of anarchy, which is as far removed from freedom as tyranny itself. In this function convention is often a safeguard of inner liberty, creating as it does a broad external disciplinary equality which leaves room for complete inner non-conformity. It hurts no man to conform if he knows that conformity is only a kind of manners, a sort of universal etiquette.

The Joys of the iPad

I don't know why I ever hesitated before getting an iPad; I suppose it was its superficial resemblance to my iPhone. But a friend showed me the iBook reader on hers at - appropriately enough - the Antiquarian Book Fair, surrounded by illuminated manuscripts - and I could immediately see that it was a completely different experience from even a very clever and versatile mobile phone.

I love reading books and magazines on it (my son suggested Popular Science, which is brilliant); and I read The Big Short by Michael Lewis on the plane to Japan and it was a joy. What's more the battery barely blinked. My only disappointment at the moment is the selection of books in the iBooks store. Mostly new stuff. And even then I tried to find the Life of Isaiah Berlin by Michael Ignatieff, but it's nowhere to be seen. I had better luck with the Kindle for iPad as it grabs stuff from Amazon. And there are a number of amazing free apps that give you access to hundreds of old classic books, so there are compensations - and anyway the publishing world will soon catch up.

Actually, the thing that I didn't anticipate is the sense of ease and freedom that come from not having to muck around with a mouse and keyboard. The keyboard on the iPad is pretty good, and as I'm such a poor typist the auto-correct function actually makes it faster for me to type on it than on a laptop. And no mouse - well it's like using keyboard shortcuts, only with added functions that are completely intuitive.

The Advantages of the iPad

1. You can read it on summer evenings without turning on the lights
2. The absence of a mouse and the ability to touch and manipulate the screen gives the iPad greater freedom and flexibility than a laptop. It's also easy to type fast as the auto-correct is so efficient.
3. The Apple case makes it much easier to use; held like a book, or propped up for easier typing.
4. You can chuck it onto the sofa when you have finished using it for someone else to pick up. It's far easier than lugging your laptop around.
5. You can stay with people: you don't have to go to your desk except for heavy-duty stuff like uploading photos or writing long screeds.
6. Its huge battery life means that you don't have to charge it up all the time.
7. Not only is it fantastic for book and newspapers, but with TV Catchup, you can watch live TV anywhere - even out in the garden in the evening.
8. No one know what you're reading or watching. If you want to watch Zombies v. Cannibals Part III you can. Everything can be done privately - as with a mobile phone.
9. It's perfect for looking at photos from Flickr and the other photo sites, though the absence of Flash means that you can't view a slideshow
10. It would be great for marketing visits - showing people catalogues, videos, photos and other stuff.
11. The 3G version would be best for 'out and about' work as wi-fi can't then be guaranteed, but it's a one-off cost and not that expensive.

Using the iPad in Marketing (Japan)
The Japan Times reports that the iPad has taken off far faster than the iPhone did (which is logical anyway) but that it's being snapped up by businesses who give it to favoured customers loaded with their website, catalogues, links and videos (I guess they would set up an app linking everything they wanted the customer to see of theirs - or send him an e-mail with the necessary links in - as of course the customer would have to set the thing up on his own via iTunes - or maybe they go round and help with the set up and just put in the appropriate links). Salespeople carry one around with catalogues, videos and links in to use in sales.

Shops are buying them to leave around (there's no risk of theft in Japan) so that people can find out more about their wares through eg a video or a FAQ - and of course just to look cool. Hotels and businesses are leaving them in reception for the same purpose - letting people pick up their web-based e-mail - and read their newsletter, or browse newspapers and magazines (having paid for access where necessary of course). No need to order lots of hard copies each day. Lawyers can pre-load all the relevant papers for use when clients come in for meetings (I would use something like iDisc or for this). Likewise execs are using them in meetings loaded with agendas and minutes and all sorts of company info. They are of course far easier to use and less obtrusive than laptops.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Norman Buckingham 1918 - 2010

Capt George Brodrick taking a high pheasant with his keeper Norman Buckingham in a superb photo (Country Life)

Norman Buckingham, one of the country's greatest gamekeepers, died in Hampshire on 30th May 2010 aged 92.

He was for many years keeper to Capt George Brodrick of Eastwell in Kent. Capt Brodrick moved to the Dunley estate in Hampshire 1979, and Norman moved there with him, managing the shooting (which had been established by my step-grandfather, Sir Alfred Herbert) and helping to look after Mrs Brodrick after Capt Brodrick died.

Norman Buckingham at home at Dunley in 2009

He was a legendary keeper and a great character with a fund of amazing stories. And he himself was a great shot. In the 1930's, he once shot 26 snipe with 26 cartridges and his father, who was also a gamekeeper, told him that nobody would ever perform that remarkable feat of marksmanship again.

Norman's obituary, written mainly by his widow Rita, gives a good picture of his very full life:
Norman died in Basingstoke and North Hants Hospital on 30th May 2010. He was born in Winterbourne Monkton, a small village near Swindon. The youngest of seven, he enjoyed a country childhood with complete freedom to roam and explore the glorious Wiltshire downland, which sadly few children have today. His father was a head gamekeeper, so he was well versed in gamekeeping, shooting, training gun dogs etc. However the pay did not satisfy the young Norman and in 1939 he applied to join the police force. As he was also in the territorials he was immediately called up when World War II started. The young gentleman farmer who was employing him at the time was eager to join up himself, so he pulled a few strings and got Norman out of the army, much to his disgust, to run the farm. That was not to be the end of his involvement in military matters.

Although officially a member of his local home guard unit, he was trained in the art of guerilla war for Churchill's secret army. These were fit young men in reserved occupations, and in the event of an invasion, would have been faced with fighting to the death (it was estimated that their life expectancy would have been about two weeks). Many years later a personal letter from George VI was found by his wife and framed before it was lost forever.

After the war, Norman decided to be a herdsman specialising in Guernsey cattle. He moved to Ham, Berks, where he met Ellie who was to become his first wife. They later moved to Twyford where their son David was born. Norman spent many years working and exhibiting Guernseys for wealthy landowners. He used to rrelate with relish the hialrious exploits he and his fellow herdsmen got on to at the shows!

He started at Eastwell Park, Kent, in 1958 for Capt George Brodrick. They were to form a friendship lasting the rest of their lives. Eastwell was a large estate of 7000 acres and in 1979 Capt Brodrick retired and asked Norman and his wife to move to Dunley Manor, where they both enjoyed shooting and fishing to the full. Norman also looked after the grounds and was a general factotum.

Sadly Ellie died in 1983 and Norman spent five years on his own. His little fox terrier Julie was a great comfort to him at this time. Rita and Reg Constable had been great friends with Ellie and Norman for many years in Kent. Reg died in 1984. The friends had always kept in touch and after some years Norman and Rita decided to enter into a relationship and later married. They were to spend twenty happy years together and went on many memorable holidays, including two cruises, which Norman enjoyed immensely.

Although he had several serious health problems in his mid 80s, he was as tough as old boots and led a fully active life until the last few months.

He has left a huge gap in the lives of all who knew him with his inexhaustible store of jokes and songs. He was a man who many people were drawn to and loved and will be sadly missed but never forgotten.

From Hill & Valley, the parish magazine for Hurstbourne Priors, Longparish and St Mary Bourne and Woodcott. July 2010