As the crow flies

 Pilgrimage  Comments Off on As the crow flies
Aug 272012

After a diverted journey – police had closed the road I had intended to use – I had to choose a different route.  I had to ignore the satnav: it just wanted me to go back and use the blocked road.  So I followed a guessed route on roads I had never travelled before.

The surprise was that the journey took only 225 miles compared with the ‘normal’ 219 miles.  Only six miles added in spite of the fact that my journey went a good thirty miles to one side of my ideal track.

It always surprises me how a tiny addition to the length of a piece of taut string turns it into a slack string with a huge range of possible positions.  (Try it.)  The shortest track is not available to us non-crows, but it seems that most ‘not-quite-shortest-tracks’ are of very similar lengths.

 Posted by at 23:31

Politicians are poets. (Sort of.)

 Uncategorized  Comments Off on Politicians are poets. (Sort of.)
Jul 132012

Poetry is often in my mind.  It’s because I used to work in local government.  (The alternative to recalling poetry was to listen to the debates.)

It struck me recently that there are big similarities between poets and politicians.  No, really, there are!  Of course there are differences too.

It is about the way they use words.  Both politicians and poets are very alive to the meaning and sound of words.  They search for words that will echo in our minds, rhythms that will get us hooked.

They are most interested, both poets and politicians, in words with multiple meanings.  They produce words with layers of meaning, connecting with many parts of our minds at one and the same time.  So when Auden says that “One is always real” the reader may think of the number 1, and of oneself, and of being “at one”, and of the One from whom no secrets are hid.

But the two professions seek multiple meanings for different purposes.  The poet wants to evoke as many responses as possible, cramming many thoughts and resonances into a few words.  They make each word work overtime, not just time and a half, but treble or quadruple time.

Politicians, it seems to me, are increasingly concerned to collect words which can mean lots of different things but, at the moment they are uttered, do not mean anything very specific at all.  The advantage is that, when they are challenged at a later date, they can defend:  “Ah yes, I did say that, but what I really meant was …”  And then the strength of their poetry becomes clear.  Their words are so rich in potential meanings that it is almost always possible for them to find a way out.

Politicians of an earlier style would have crammed their words into our ears against the stomach of our sense.  Modern politicians know they must be bland.  They do it by being so full of possible meaning as to be effectively meaningless.

Both poets and politicians are, in a way, a kind of opposites to the Quaker ideal of speaking plainly.  I know which group I would rather listen to.

 Posted by at 13:21

Still carrying her?

 Uncategorized  Comments Off on Still carrying her?
Jul 122012

Two Chinese monks had to make a journey from one monastery to another on a very wet day.  From the moment they left the first monastery the rain poured down and the roads became thick with mud.

As they trudged through a small town they passed a very pretty young girl.  She was standing in a doorway looking sadly out at the mud.  She needed to cross the street to another house and she was afraid her beautiful silk robe would end up filthy.

The older monk spotted her problem, so he went over to the girl, picked her up and carried her quickly over the road.  He set her down in the doorway she wanted, almost dry, and her silk gown free from mud.

The two monks resumed their journey.

Hours later, they reached the other monastery.  They got themselves dried out, said their prayers, ate an evening meal, and laid out their bed-rolls for the night.  As they were doing this the younger monk suddenly said:

“Our religion teaches us that a monk should have nothing to do with women, especially young, very pretty women.  So you really shouldn’t have carried that girl across the road this morning.”

“But I put that girl down hours ago,” said the older monk.  “Why do you still carry her?”


Personally, I find this a very easy lesson to understand, and yet (for me) it is very, very difficult to put into action.  There’s all sort of baggage from the past that I carry around today.  Resentments from long ago that I can’t seem to forget, ancient successes that I indulge in to enjoy remembered happiness.  And it all gets in the way of making progress with current work, and achieving the goals of new projects.

 Posted by at 23:27

What’s the point of a Writer’s Notebook

 Writing  Comments Off on What’s the point of a Writer’s Notebook
Jul 062012

All the writers who advise writers agree I must keep a notebook.  But they don’t say what it is for.  The obvious intention is that I should use a notebook to collect ideas together for later use.  But I have about 3,000 3×5 index cards, and numerous jottings and computer files, collected over a period of more than thirty years.  I can remember hardly anything that’s in there.

Maybe I should do a random sift every now and then.  Pick up a bundle of cards and see what is there.  Classify them somehow.  Then I could have collections marked:

  • People’s appearance and characteristics;
  • Witticisms and insights – maybe subdivided into politics, marriage …
  • Descriptions of places and buildings;
  • Ideas and sketches for stories; and so on.

Then I would end up with two hundred little drawers – each with two or three cards in – and a vast heap called “miscellaneous”.

And I would have wasted another slab of time which could have been used for writing.

 Posted by at 23:58

Much Too Difficult

 Life in general  Comments Off on Much Too Difficult
Jun 272012

When I started a new job I went on a round of visits.  One man – a senior lawyer – had four trays on his desk for organising his paperwork.  They were labelled:


 Posted by at 09:33