Sunday, 3 December 2017

Favourite Writings - We Are All Chained To Fortune



We are all chained to fortune: the chain of one is made of gold, and wide, while that of another is short and rusty. But what difference does it make? The same prison surrounds all of us, and even those who have bound others are bound themselves; unless perchance you think that a chain on the left side is lighter. Honors bind one man, wealth another; nobility oppresses some, humility others; some are held in subjection by an external power, while others obey the tyrant within; banishments keep some in one place, the priesthood others. All life is slavery. Therefore each one must accustom himself to his own condition and complain about it as little as possible, and lay hold of whatever good is to be found near him. 

The wise man … does not need to walk about timidly or cautiously: for he possesses such self-confidence that he does not hesitate to go to meet fortune nor will he ever yield his position to her: nor has he any reason to fear her, because he considers not only slaves, property, and positions of honor, but also his body, his eyes, his hands, — everything which can make life dearer, even his very self, as among uncertain things, and lives as if he had borrowed them for his own use and was prepared to return them without sadness whenever claimed. 

Seneca

See also The Tale of Heike

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Dedication in Hereford Cathedral of 'Ascension' for the SAS

'Ascension' by John Maine RA

A service was held in Hereford Cathedral on 17th October 2017 to dedicate a window and sculpture installed in honour of the SAS. The service was attended by the Duke of Cambridge who read from Paul's letter to the Ephesians. The Regimental Sergeant-Major read the SAS's poem from the epilogue of The Golden Journey to Samarkand by James Elroy Flecker

We are the Pilgrims, Master; we shall go
Always a little further; it may be
Beyond the last blue mountain barred with snow,
Across that angry or that glimmering sea...

After the traditional hymns, the company sang a stirring rendition of Lili Marlene.











Saturday, 14 October 2017

Turner - Painting With Light





I have always loved Turner's paintings from afar but an exhibition of a few lovely pictures from the Tate at the Winchester Discovery Centre has made me understand why he is among the greatest artists of all time. And on 13th October, Nicola Moorby (formerly of the Tate) gave an absolutely fascinating lecture of the techniques Turner used to achieve his fabulous effects in light.


   

Friday, 13 October 2017

Favourite Writings - Big Wolf and Little Wolf




 I hadn't come across this marvellous little book by Nadine Brun-Cosme until Maria Popova wrote about it in her weekly Brain Pickings post. It reminded me immediately of the Story of the Fox from Le Petit Prince, which I have always loved. In it, the Fox tells the Little Prince how to make friends.

"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... 



Big Wolf, Little Wolf has much the same advice and 
That evening for the first time Big Wolf didn’t eat.
That night for the first time Big Wolf didn’t sleep.
He waited.
For the first time he said to himself that a little one, indeed a very little one, had taken up space in his heart
A lot of space.

For the whole book, click here

Monday, 9 October 2017

Favorite Writings - Friendship

I value friendship more highly than love, of which it is a part, perhaps the greatest part. It is free of the tiresome jealousies and overheated humours of love and does not need constant validation. David Whyte writes beautifully about it: 

Friendship is a mirror to presence and a testament to forgiveness. Friendship not only helps us see ourselves through another’s eyes, but can be sustained over the years only with someone who has repeatedly forgiven us for our trespasses as we must find it in ourselves to forgive them in turn. A friend knows our difficulties and shadows and remains in sight, a companion to our vulnerabilities more than our triumphs, when we are under the strange illusion that we do not need them. An undercurrent of real friendship is a blessing exactly because its elemental form is rediscovered again and again through understanding and mercy. All friendships of any length are based on a continued, mutual forgiveness. Without tolerance and mercy all friendships die.

The dynamic of friendship is almost always underestimated as a constant force in human life: a diminishing circle of friends is the first terrible diagnostic of a life in deep trouble: of overwork, of too much emphasis on a professional identity, of forgetting who will be there when our armored personalities run into the inevitable natural disasters and vulnerabilities found in even the most average existence. But no matter the medicinal virtues of being a true friend or sustaining a long close relationship with another, the ultimate touchstone of friendship is not improvement, neither of the other nor of the self, the ultimate touchstone is witness, the privilege of having been seen by someone and the equal privilege of being granted the sight of the essence of another, to have walked with them and to have believed in them, and sometimes just to have accompanied them for however brief a span, on a journey impossible to accomplish alone.
David Whyte

Friday, 29 September 2017

Favourite Writings - the Tao Te Ching


The way you can go
isn’t the real way.
The name you can say
isn’t the real name.

Heaven and earth
begin in the unnamed:
name’s the mother
of the ten thousand things.

So the unwanting soul
sees what’s hidden,
and the ever-wanting soul
sees only what it wants.

Two things, one origin,
but different in name,
whose identity is mystery.
Mystery of all mysteries!
The door to the hidden.

Rendition by Ursua Le Guin

Sunday, 13 August 2017

The Five Signs of Lack of Intelligence

People have varying levels of intelligence. Most people consider themselves to be intelligent, of course, and it can be very hard to get an accurate assessment of our own intelligence. After all, our thoughts usually sound clever in our own heads, don’t they?
But the less intelligent often have traits that betray them as unintelligent and can cause serious problems for themselves and others.
These are the five fundamental differences between intelligent and unintelligent people. 

1. Unintelligent people blame others for their own mistakes 


It’s unprofessional, and something an intelligent person tries not to do. If you consistently try to blame your mistakes off on others, you demonstrate to everyone that you aren't very clever and are certainly untrustworthy.
Unintelligent people don’t like taking responsibility for their mistakes. They prefer to wallow in self-pity or play the blame game.
Travis Bradberry, author of the bestseller "Emotional Intelligence 2.0" knows how telling this behaviour really is.
"It's never a good idea to cast blame. Be accountable. If you had any role — no matter how small — in whatever went wrong, own it," Bradbury advises. "The moment you start pointing the finger is the moment people start seeing you as someone who lacks accountability for his or her actions."
Intelligent people also know that every mistake is a chance to learn to do better next time. A neurological study conducted by Jason S. Moser of Michigan State University has shown that the brains of intelligent people actually react differently to mistakes.

2. Unintelligent people always have to be right 


In a conflict situation, intelligent people more easily empathize with the other person and understand their arguments. They are also able to integrate these arguments into their own chain of thought and to reconsider their opinions accordingly.
A sure sign of intelligence is the ability to look at and understand things from a different point of view, and intelligent people are open minded towards new information and changing parameters.
Inintelligent people, on the other hand, will maintain their arguments forever and will not budge from their positions, regardless of any valid arguments brought against them. That also means they will not notice if the other person is more intelligent and competent and worthy of belief.
This overestimation is called the Dunning-Kruger effect., a cognitive bias that makes less competent people overestimate their own skills while underestimating the competence of others.
The term was coined in 1999 in a study by David Dunning and Justin Kruger. The psychologists had noticed in prior studies that in areas like reading comprehension, playing chess or driving a car, ignorance leads more often to confidence more than knowledge does.
At Cornell University they conducted more experiments on this effect and showed that less competent people don’t just overestimate their own skills, they also don’t recognize when someone else’s skills are superior.
Dunning writes: "If you're incompetent, you don't know that you’re incompetent. The skills you need to produce the right answer are exactly the skills you need to recognize what a right answer is."
This does not mean that intelligent people always think everyone else is right. But they listen attentively and consider all the arguments before making their decisions.

3. Unintelligent people react to conflicts with anger and aggression 


Even intelligent people can, of course, get really angry from time to time. But for less intelligent people this is the default reaction whenever things aren’t going their way. When they feel like they don’t have as much control over a situation as they would like, they tend to use anger and aggressive behaviour to bolster their position.
Researchers of the University of Michigan conducted a study with 600 participants with their parents and children, over the span of 22 years. They found a distinct correlation between aggressive behaviour and a lower IQ-scores.
The researchers wrote: "We hypothesized that low intelligence makes the learning of aggressive responses more likely at an early age, and this aggressive behaviour makes continued intellectual development more difficult."

4. Unintelligent people ignore the needs and feelings of other people 


Intelligent people tend to be very good at empathizing with others. This makes it easy for them to understand another person’s point of view. 
Russel James of the Texas Tech University conducted a representative study with thousands of Americans and found out that people with a higher IQ are more inclined to give without expecting anything in return. As it turns out, an intelligent person is better at assessing the needs of other people and also more likely to want to help them.
"People with higher cognitive ability are better able to understand and fulfil the needs of distant others."
People who are less intelligent have a hard time imagining that people could think differently than they do and would, therefore, disagree with them. Also, the concept of doing something for someone without expecting a favour in return is more foreign to them.
Everyone is selfish now and again; it’s completely normal and human. But it’s important that we keep the balance between the need to pursue our own goals and the need to consider other people’s feelings.

5. Unintelligent people think they are better than everyone else 


Intelligent people try to motivate and help others. They do this because they are not afraid of being overshadowed. They have a healthy level of confidence and are intelligent enough to accurately assess their own competence.
Unintelligent people, on the other hand, tend to ridicule others in order to look better themselves. They believe themselves to be above everyone else and are quick to judge. Prejudice is not a sign of intelligence.
In a Canadian study published in "Psychological Science", two scientists of the Brock University of Ontario found that "people with low IQs tend to be more in favour of harsh punishments, more homophobic and more likely to be racist."
Many biologists believe that the human ability to cooperate has been instrumental in our overall development. That could mean that the most important signifier of intelligence is being good at working with others.

Business Insider


Friday, 4 August 2017

Life by Bianca Sparacino

Agapanthus by Nigel Burkitt
A fine piece, guidance particularly for those near the beginning of their lives (though I am not sure about the 'extraordinary' ending). I used to look to the late Sally Brampton for such advice, but this will do. 
Understand that life is not a straight line. Life is not a set timeline of milestones. It is okay if you don’t finish school, get married, find a job that supports you, have a family, make money, and live comfortably all by this age, or that age. It’s okay if you do, as long as you understand that if you’re not married by 25, or a Vice President by 30 — or even happy, for that matter — the world isn’t going to condemn you. You are allowed to backtrack. You are allowed to figure out what inspires you. You are allowed time, and I think we often forget that. We choose a program right out of high school because the proper thing to do is to go straight to University. We choose a job right out of University, even if we didn’t love our programme, because we just invested time into it. We go to that job every morning because we feel the need to support ourselves abundantly. We take the next step, and the next step, and the next step, thinking that we are fulfilling some checklist for life, and one day we wake up depressed. We wake up stressed out. We feel pressured and don’t know why. That is how you ruin your life.
You ruin your life by choosing the wrong person. What is it with our need to fast-track relationships? Why are we so enamored with the idea of first becoming somebody’s rather than somebodies? Trust me when I say that a love bred out of convenience, a love that blossoms from the need to sleep beside someone, a love that caters to our need for attention rather than passion, is a love that will not inspire you at 6am when you roll over and embrace it. Strive to discover foundational love, the kind of relationship that motivates you to be a better man or woman, the kind of intimacy that is rare rather than right there. “But I don’t want to be alone,” we often exclaim. Be alone. Eat alone, take yourself on dates, sleep alone. In the midst of this you will learn about yourself. You will grow, you will figure out what inspires you, you will curate your own dreams, your own beliefs, your own stunning clarity, and when you do meet the person who makes your cells dance, you will be sure of it, because you are sure of yourself. Wait for it. Please, I urge you to wait for it, to fight for it, to make an effort for it if you have already found it, because it is the most beautiful thing your heart will experience.
You ruin your life by letting your past govern it. It is common for certain things in life to happen to you. There will be heartbreak, confusion, days where you feel like you aren’t special or purposeful. There are moments that will stay with you, words that will stick. You cannot let these define you – they were simply moments, they were simply words. If you allow for every negative event in your life to outline how you view yourself, you will view the world around you negatively. You will miss out on opportunities because you didn’t get that promotion five years ago, convincing yourself that you were stupid. You will miss out on affection because you assumed your past love left you because you weren’t good enough, and now you don’t believe the man or the woman who urges you to believe you are. This is a cyclic, self-fulfilling prophecy. If you don’t allow yourself to move past what happened, what was said, what was felt, you will look at your future with that lens, and nothing will be able to breach that judgment. You will keep on justifying, reliving, and fueling a perception that shouldn’t have existed in the first place.
You ruin your life when you compare yourself to others. The amount of Instagram followers you have does not decrease or increase your value. The amount of money in your bank account will not influence your compassion, your intelligence, or your happiness. The person who has two times more possessions than you does not have double the bliss, or double the merit. We get caught up in what our friends are liking, who our significant others are following, and at the end of the day this not only ruins our lives, but it also ruins us. It creates within us this need to feel important, and in many cases we often put others down to achieve that.
You ruin your life by desensitizing yourself. We are all afraid to say too much, to feel too deeply, to let people know what they mean to us. Caring is not synonymous with crazy. Expressing to someone how special they are to you will make you vulnerable. There is no denying that. However, that is nothing to be ashamed of. There is something breathtakingly beautiful in the moments of smaller magic that occur when you strip down and are honest with those who are important to you. Let that girl know that she inspires you. Tell your mother you love her in front of your friends. Express, express, express. Open yourself up, do not harden yourself to the world, and be bold in who, and how, you love. There is courage in that.
You ruin your life by tolerating it. At the end of the day you should be excited to be alive. When you settle for anything less than what you innately desire, you destroy the possibility that lives inside of you, and in that way you cheat both yourself and the world of your potential. The next Michelangelo could be sitting behind a Mac book right now writing an invoice for paperclips, because it pays the bills, or because it is comfortable, or because he can tolerate it. Do not let this happen to you. Do not ruin your life this way. Life and work, and life and love, are not irrespective of each other. They are intrinsically linked. We have to strive to do extraordinary work, we have to strive to find extraordinary love. Only then will we tap into an extraordinarily blissful life.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

The End of Cadogan


It is sad to see the end of Cadogan, the clothes shop in the Square in Winchester owned and run by Alex Edwards. It was the only independent shop in the city in which to buy a full range of good quality men's and women's clothes, albeit geared to the older end of the market, but which - for men at least -  specialised in beautiful Italian cords and colourful shirts and jackets. The shop, housed in the same building in which Keats wrote 'Ode to Autumn', was also where one could see old friends, some of who worked for him for years. As Alex was good to work for, the atmosphere in the shop was usually one of a barely-suppressed party, with Alex quietly holding court downstairs.

Winchester is probably unique among cities anywhere in that it has no independent butcher or fishmonger and the council have long seemed incapable of sound and imaginative planning. The High St is full of uniformly drab chain shops and apart from the Hambledon in the Square, there are practically no other shops of individuality and character to be found, though an honourable mention must be made of the dry-cleaner, Gervades, run by the multi-talented and irrepressible Javaid Akhtar.   

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Favourite Places - Lime Wood


Lime Wood, in the New Forest near Lyndhurst, is the principal hotel in the Pig Group created by Robin Hutson. It's pretty spectacular, more upmarket than the Pigs themselves (which are described as 'Restaurants with Rooms'), and is notable for its spectacular garden and beautifully decorated reception rooms, created by Robin Hutson's wife Judy.




Click here for more photos.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Mottisfont Rose Garden June 2017

The National Trust entrance to Mottisfont

Mottisfont
is by some measure the most visited National Trust garden in the country, the main attraction being its fabulous rose garden, created in the old walled kitchen gardens by Graham Stuart Thomas from 1972 onwards. In the main walled area, he brought in many from his own extensive collection of roses while in the north garden he planted only old roses, many which had been thought lost, but which he was able to source from Sangerhausen, a noted rose garden in Germany.


The gardens were until his recent retirement looked after by David Stone, and attracted many rose specialists such as Jon Dodson, who also maintained a beautiful collection of his own old roses.





Graham Stuart Thomas's own watercolours of some of the roses.


When you visit, don't miss the little exhibition in the potting shed near the entrance to the rose garden, which as well as having some beautiful watercolours painted by Graham Stuart Thomas himself, also has a short history of the garden on a video loop, narrated by Audrey Hepburn. 
Click here for more photos of the house and garden

Friday, 23 June 2017

Favourite Writings - Bruno Schulz 'August'


This summer heat reminds me of these lines from a short story by Bruno Schulz called 'August': “The dark second-floor apartment of the house in Market Square was shot through each day by the naked heat of summer: the silence of the shimmering streaks of air, the squares of brightness dreaming their intense dreams on the floor.”

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

RHS Flower Show at Chatsworth



The RHS held its first show at Chatsworth on 7th June 2017 hoping to bring some London garden magic to Derbyshire and the Peak District. Chatsworth itself - and its setting in the Derwent valley - is stunning and well worth the visit, but one couldn't also go round the house and the garden and had to be content with the show which was somewhat disappointing for those expecting Chelsea-style 'show' gardens. There were the huge tents of plants - one in the shape of the Great Conservatory at Kew - and a beautifully decorated Palladian bridge, but the main part of the show was given over to individual 'stalls' selling plants, garden artefacts and food.The 'show' gardens were of no great interest and tended to try to make a point, which is not what I look for in a garden (see here for what I think gardens are for).

The Palladian Bridge














Friday, 2 June 2017

The Garden Gallery Exhibition at The Grange


The Garden Gallery,  Rachel Bebb's celebrated sculpture garden in Broughton, put on a special exhibition at The Grange, Northington, on 2nd June 2017. The old Baring home is in the process of being restored and this provided magnificent brickwork and stunning lighting effects for the artworks, many being paintings used as stage sets.




Thursday, 18 May 2017

Bertrand Russell's Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech - The Four Desires Driving All Human Behaviour

All human activity is prompted by desire. There is a wholly fallacious theory advanced by some earnest moralists to the effect that it is possible to resist desire in the interests of duty and moral principle. I say this is fallacious, not because no man ever acts from a sense of duty, but because duty has no hold on him unless he desires to be dutiful. If you wish to know what men will do, you must know not only, or principally, their material circumstances, but rather the whole system of their desires with their relative strengths.
Man differs from other animals in one very important respect, and that is that he has some desires which are, so to speak, infinite, which can never be fully gratified, and which would keep him restless even in Paradise. The boa constrictor, when he has had an adequate meal, goes to sleep, and does not wake until he needs another meal. Human beings, for the most part, are not like this.

Russell points to four such infinite desires — acquisitivenessrivalryvanity, and love of power — and examines them in order:
Acquisitiveness — the wish to possess as much as possible of goods, or the title to goods — is a motive which, I suppose, has its origin in a combination of fear with the desire for necessaries. I once befriended two little girls from Estonia, who had narrowly escaped death from starvation in a famine. They lived in my family, and of course had plenty to eat. But they spent all their leisure visiting neighbouring farms and stealing potatoes, which they hoarded. Rockefeller, who in his infancy had experienced great poverty, spent his adult life in a similar manner.
However much you may acquire, you will always wish to acquire more; satiety is a dream which will always elude you.

In 1938, Henry Miller also articulated this fundamental driver in his brilliant meditation on how money became a human fixation. Decades later, modern psychologists would term this notion “the hedonic treadmill.” But for Russell, this elemental driver is eclipsed by an even stronger one — our propensity for rivalry:

The world would be a happier place than it is if acquisitiveness were always stronger than rivalry. But in fact, a great many men will cheerfully face impoverishment if they can thereby secure complete ruin for their rivals. Hence the present level of taxation.
Rivalry, he argues, is in turn upstaged by human narcissism. In a sentiment doubly poignant in the context of today’s social media, he observes:
Vanity is a motive of immense potency. Anyone who has much to do with children knows how they are constantly performing some antic, and saying “Look at me.” “Look at me” is one of the most fundamental desires of the human heart. It can take innumerable forms, from buffoonery to the pursuit of posthumous fame.
It is scarcely possible to exaggerate the influence of vanity throughout the range of human life, from the child of three to the potentate at whose frown the world trembles.

But the most potent of the four impulses, Russell argues, is the love of power:
Love of power is closely akin to vanity, but it is not by any means the same thing. What vanity needs for its satisfaction is glory, and it is easy to have glory without power… Many people prefer glory to power, but on the whole these people have less effect upon the course of events than those who prefer power to glory… Power, like vanity, is insatiable. Nothing short of omnipotence could satisfy it completely. And as it is especially the vice of energetic men, the causal efficacy of love of power is out of all proportion to its frequency. It is, indeed, by far the strongest motive in the lives of important men.
Love of power is greatly increased by the experience of power, and this applies to petty power as well as to that of potentates.

Anyone who has ever agonized in the hands of a petty bureaucrat — something Hannah Arendt unforgettably censured as a special kind of violence — can attest to the veracity of this sentiment. Russell adds:
In any autocratic regime, the holders of power become increasingly tyrannical with experience of the delights that power can afford. Since power over human beings is shown in making them do what they would rather not do, the man who is actuated by love of power is more apt to inflict pain than to permit pleasure.

But Russell, a thinker of exceptional sensitivity to nuance and to the dualities of which life is woven, cautions against dismissing the love of power as a wholesale negative driver — from the impulse to dominate the unknown, he points out, spring such desirables as the pursuit of knowledge and all scientific progress. He considers its fruitful manifestations:
It would be a complete mistake to decry love of power altogether as a motive. Whether you will be led by this motive to actions which are useful, or to actions which are pernicious, depends upon the social system, and upon your capacities. If your capacities are theoretical or technical, you will contribute to knowledge or technique, and, as a rule, your activity will be useful. If you are a politician you may be actuated by love of power, but as a rule this motive will join itself on to the desire to see some state of affairs realized which, for some reason, you prefer to the status quo.

Russell then turns to a set of secondary motives. Echoing his enduring ideas on the interplay of boredom and excitement in human life, he begins with the notion of love of excitement:

Human beings show their superiority to the brutes by their capacity for boredom, though I have sometimes thought, in examining the apes at the zoo, that they, perhaps, have the rudiments of this tiresome emotion. However that may be, experience shows that escape from boredom is one of the really powerful desires of almost all human beings.

He argues that this intoxicating love of excitement is only amplified by the sedentary nature of modern life, which has fractured the natural bond between body and mind. A century after Thoreau made his exquisite case against the sedentary lifestyle, Russell writes:

Our mental make-up is suited to a life of very severe physical labor. I used, when I was younger, to take my holidays walking. I would cover twenty-five miles a day, and when the evening came I had no need of anything to keep me from boredom, since the delight of sitting amply sufficed. But modern life cannot be conducted on these physically strenuous principles. A great deal of work is sedentary, and most manual work exercises only a few specialized muscles. When crowds assemble in Trafalgar Square to cheer to the echo an announcement that the government has decided to have them killed, they would not do so if they had all walked twenty-five miles that day. This cure for bellicosity is, however, impracticable, and if the human race is to survive — a thing which is, perhaps, undesirable — other means must be found for securing an innocent outlet for the unused physical energy that produces love of excitement… I have never heard of a war that proceeded from dance halls.
Civilized life has grown altogether too tame, and, if it is to be stable, it must provide harmless outlets for the impulses which our remote ancestors satisfied in hunting… I think every big town should contain artificial waterfalls that people could descend in very fragile canoes, and they should contain bathing pools full of mechanical sharks. Any person found advocating a preventive war should be condemned to two hours a day with these ingenious monsters. More seriously, pains should be taken to provide constructive outlets for the love of excitement. Nothing in the world is more exciting than a moment of sudden discovery or invention, and many more people are capable of experiencing such moments than is sometimes thought.