Sunday, 31 July 2011

The Velveteen Rabbit

Illustration by William Nicholson

"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"
"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."
"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.
"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."
"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"
"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

THE Velveteen Rabbit


by Margery Williams

This has strong echoes of my favourite piece from Le Petit Prince - the Story of the Fox

Sunday, 24 July 2011

The Joy of Cricket


Ok, this one's going to be a tough sell. Cricket is probably the least known and understood of the major games played internationally. And those who play it are only countries with long ties to Britain such as India and Australia (though not the US or Canada) and as with football and rugby, it is a game which owes its development and spread to being part of the unvarying curriculum of the the British public schools.

I have just been lucky enough to be asked by a member of the MCC to visit Lords for the third day of the Test Match between England and India. It was an enthralling spectacle for one who understands the game; a crashing bore for anyone that doesn't. For one, each game is played over five days and a single innings by one side can last two or three days. And a single innings by one batsman can also last as long, though it rarely does.

Hurstbourne Priors Cricket Ground, Hampshire
By chance, I grew up a few miles away from the ground where cricket was supposed to have first been played in about 1750 - Broadhapenny Down in Hampshire, beside which is a pub, The Bat and Ball, dedicated to the game. And when young my brother and I played endless games of cricket on the lawn at home, with straw bales behind the wicket to stop the ball.

Its appeal has been endlessly evoked in literature; from the classic description of a village cricket match in 'England Their England' to the dry prose of the almanack of cricket, Wisden. But this short piece from an Australian summarises its appeal concisely:

'Cricket invokes passion among the one billion people who play it. And Test cricket is the most passionate of all, with national pride bubbling close to the surface of the match.
International relations can be soured by controversy; in the 1930's Bodyline Test, the English captain's tactic to play the man led directly to serious calls for Australia's secession from the Commonwealth. Prime ministers and the king intervened.
The passion grows from the spirit of the game, its beauty, complexity and subtlety. One has to plan, to have a sense of strategy and exercise skill. It is not about might, but about psychological confrontation and domination.'

See also John Updike on Baseball

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Driving Movie

Driving down Sheep Pond Lane from Corhampton Down towards Droxford and across the A32 at Merington's Garage. Then on over the Meon towards Soberton. Music by The Poges

View Driving Movie - Droxford in a larger map

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Favourite Poetry - Poesie mondane, Bestemmia 619

                                                             Assisi, originally uploaded by HerryLawford.

I am a force of the past.
Tradition is my only love.
I come from the ruins, and churches,
and altarpieces, the abandoned
villages on the Appennines or on the Prealps,
where brothers have lived.
Like a madman I wander on the Tuscolana,
On the Appia like a dog without a master.
Or I observe the twilights, and the mornings
over Rome, and Ciociaria, and the world,
as the first acts of the After-History,
which I partake of, by chronological privilege,
from the extreme border of some
buried age.

"Poesie mondane, Bestemmia 619” - Pier Paolo Pasolini

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

India the Cradle of Language, Astronomy and Science

Whitefield, Bangalore. Click for large
India was preeminent at unveiling knowledge in the ancient world. The Sanskrit language, which is the mother of all languages, is the oldest, most systematic language in the world. Its numerous verb roots and affixes produce words that give precise expression to diverse ideas - from mythology and philosophy to science and mathematics, from poetry and prose to astronomy and anatomy.

Sanskrit's vast array of words gives it an incredible wealth of expression. There are 65 words for 'earth' and 70 for 'water' alone. By applying various suffixes, the word for 'water' can be multiplied into 280 words to describe specific types of rain.

'The Sanskrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of wonderful structure - more perfect than Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either'.  Sir William Jones, British Orientalist (1746-1794)

The world's first university existed at Takshashila, in the north-west of ancient India, as early as 700 BC. The minmum entrance age was 16 and there were 10,500 students - not only Indians, but people from Arabia, China, Babylonia, Greece and Syria came to study. 68 streams of study were offered, including Vedic literature, logic, grammar, philosophy, medicine, surgery, archery, politics, military strategy, astronomy, astrology, accounting, commerce, documentation, music and dance.

In mathematics, India has always been pre-eminent, inventing the both zero and the decimal system. The earliest records of the zero in writing include an inscription on the Sankheda Copper Plate found in Gujarat dated 585-586 BC. The concept of 'zero' can also be found in Sanskrit texts of the 4th Century BC and is clearly explained in Pingala's Chandah Sutra of the 2nd Century BC. The Brahama-Phuta-Siddhanta of Brahamagupta (7th Century) also contains a lucid explanation of the zero. From here is is said to have been rendered into Arabic books around 770 AD which were then carried into Europe in the 8th Century.

'It was India that gave us the ingenious method of expressing all numbers by means of ten symbols (the Decimal System)....a profound and important idea which escaped the genius of Appolonius and Archimedes, two of the greatest men produced by antiquity.' Pierre-Simon Laplace, French mathematician (1749-1827)

The highest prefix used for raising 10 to a power in today's mathematics is 'D' for 1030. As early as 100 BC, Indian mathematicians had specific names for numbers up to 1053. In the Anuyogdwara Sutra, written in 100 BC, one numeral is raised to 10140.

The word 'geometry' seems to have emerged from the Sanskrit word 'gyaamiti' meaning to measure the earth. And the word 'trigonometry' is similar to 'trikonamiti' meaning measuring triangular forms. Euclid is credited with the invention of geometry isn 300 BC but the concept of geometry emerged in India in 1000 BC from the practice of making fire altars in triangular and rectangular shapes.  The Surya Siddhantha treatise of the 4th Century describes detailed applications of trigonometry which were not introduced into Europe until the 16th Century.

The value of Pi was known in India by the 6th Century BC. It is given in the Sanskrit text Baudhayana Shulba Sutra as being approximately equal to 3. Aryanhatta in 499 BC calculated its value as 3.1416.  In 825 AD the Arabian mathematician Mohammed Ibna Musa affirmed: 'This value has been given by the Hindus'.

The Baudhayana Shulba Sutra shows that Pythagoras's famous theorem was in fact formulated by Baudhayana in the 6th century. He states: 'The area produced by the diagonal of a rectangle is equal to the area produced by it on two sides.'

1000 years before Copernicus published his theory of the revolution of the earth in 1543, Aryabhatta stated that the earth revolved around the sun. 'Just as a person traveling on a boat feels that the trees in the bank are moving, people on the earth feel that the sun is moving.' In his treatise Aryabhatteeyam, he states that the earth is round, it rotates on its axis, orbits the sun and is suspended in space. He further explains that lunar and solar eclipses occur by the interplay of the sun, moon and Earth.  

1200 years before Newton, the law of gravity was known to the Indian astronomer Bhaskaracharya. In his Surya Siddhanta he notes: 'Objects fall on Earth due to a force of attraction by the Earth. Therefore the Earth, planets, constellations, moon and sun are held in orbit due to this attraction'.

In Surya Siddhanta, Bhaskaracharya calculates the time taken for the earth to orbit the sun to nine decimal places. The difference between this measurement and a modern measurement is only 0.0002%

Indian astronomers had words for calculations of time as small as 34,000th of a second and as large as 4.32 billion years.

Shushruta, known as the Father of Surgery, practiced his skill as early as 600 BC. He used cheek skin to perform plastic surgery or reshape the nose, ears and lips with incredible results. Modern surgery acknowledges his contribution by referring to this method of rhinoplasty as the 'Indian Method'. The early surgeons had over 125 types of surgical instrument and were so advanced that they could cut a hair longitudinally. Shushruta describes the details of over 300 operations and 42 surgical processes. Ancient texts show that the Indians were among the first to perform amputations, caesarean and cranial surgery. They used medicated cotton pads to heal wounds.

'In India, I found a race of mortals living upon the earth but not adhereing to it, inhabiting cities but not being fixed to them, possessing everything but being possessed by nothing' Apollonius Tyanaeus (Greek traveller, 1st Century)

'If there is one place on the face of this earth where all the dream of living men have found a home from the very earliest days when man began the dream of existence, it in India'. Romain Rolland (French philosopher 1886 - 1944)

'The ancient civilization of India differs from those of Egypt, Mesopotamia and Greece in that its traditions have been preserved without break down to the present day.' Arthur Basham (Australian historian 1914-1986)

'In religion, India is the only millionaire....the one land that all men desire to see, and having seen it once, by even a glimpse, would not give that glimpse for all the shows of all the rest of the globe combined.' Mark Twain (1835-1910)

From the 'Understanding Hinduism' Exhibition at the Sri Swaminarayan Mandir in North London

Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, London

 Shri Swaminarayan Mandir

The Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden, north London, is an incredible edifice. It was designed and constructed entirely according to ancient Vedic architectural texts and no structural steel was used. Almost 5000 tons of marble and limestone were shipped to India and carved by 1500 artisans and then shipped on to London. In all more than 26,300 carved pieces, including intricate designs made with Indian Ambaji marble, were assembled like a jigsaw all within three years. The construction of the mandir was a labour of love for over 3000 volunteers. The ground floor contains an exhibition - 'Understanding Hinduism' - which provides an insight into the Hindu faith. A later post will set out some of the elements of that exhibition.

From the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir Exhibition Booklet

Glorious Gardens in the National Gardens Scheme

No 6, Compton Road, Winchester

I have written before about our glorious gardens, and posted photos of some of the best that I know of, like Adwell, but there is great joy also in more modest gardens. Our National Gardens Scheme allows one to visit these all over the country, often only on one specific day in the year when an otherwise private garden is made available to view, with the proceeds of the small entrance fee going to charity. Click the heading for the photos of two such gardens in Winchester, open only over one weekend in early July.