Monday, July 31, 2006

In Perspective

It is often said that the pace of modern life is faster for most of us than many of our predecessors would have known. It is difficult to know whether that is actually true or not, as we have no direct way of knowing. All we can do is to look back at the historical detail and form an impression as to how life once was in respect to the influence of time. I suspect that the truth lies somewhere in-between; that for many, life was frantic, with business to conduct, deadlines to meet, crops to be brought in against the threat of a turn in the weather and without the benefit of modern machinery and so on. For others, for example, those who were wealthy and could afford servants for the menial and more arduous tasks, the days were possibly as leisurely as they are for those who are in the same financially sound position in life today.

For, what tends to be the driving factor behind the speed at which our lives are led is probably no different now than it was one, two or three hundred years ago: that is the need to feed, clothe and house ourselves and our families, along, for many, with the innate desire to improve individual living conditions. The latter, however, usually requires the acquisition of wealth and thus the pressure builds.

The true problem we face in a modern society is perhaps not knowing when sufficient is enough. When do we decide that the standard of living we have achieved is sufficient? At what stage do we step back from the conveyor belt of work and decide that there is more to life than the incessant toil of self-imposed challenges?

Holidays are often a good time to take stock and reflect on such matters. For a short period of time one is excused from the daily turmoil of labour and allowed the luxury of spending the hours of the day entirely as one wishes. It is, as Shakespeare said about another form of escape, ‘a consummation devoutly to be wished’ (Hamlet, Act 3, Sc. 1).

Over the past two weeks I have had the chance to visit a variety of places in North Yorkshire and the Lake District which have given rise to such reflection. As a group, they are diverse: The acres of beautifully landscaped gardens at Parcivall Hall, the well-preserved ruins of the Carthusian monastery at Mount Grace Priory and Brantwood, the former home on the shore of Lake Coniston of the Victorian writer, painter and poet, John Ruskin, to name a few. What these places have done is to reinforce that sense which many of us already know but often do not heed: the concept that in life, it is the journey that matters, not the destination.

Some people never have the opportunity of understanding the true priorities of life. For those of us who do have the luxury of being able to take time to gain that valuable insight, the task ahead, when the daily conveyor belt of work-related demands again starts up, is not to forget. More to the point, the mission should be, wherever possible, to put that knowledge into action. In the words of John Ruskin, it beholds us to remember that:
‘There is no wealth but life.’

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Au Revoir

Dr T's unfinished novel beckons to him. He will return in a couple of weeks time.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Word of the Week – Discombobulate

I do enjoy words which have a sound which befits their meaning. Discombobulate is one of those very words.

Derivatives of the word include discombobulation and discombobulated. It is thought to be a 19th century jocular alteration of the word discompose or discomfit. Its meaning is to disturb, upset or disconcert. A ‘discombobulating thought’ is therefore one which could be said ‘makes your brain hurt’.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Dear McScotland…

I recently enjoyed watching a documentary by Andrew Marr entitled Age of Genius.

The programme illustrated how 18th century Edinburgh was transformed by a group of enlightened Scots, whose ideas opened the eyes of people across the World.

This was all the more remarkable when one considers that there is on record the fact that, on at least one occasion during the 18th century, the mail coach from London arrived across the border with just one letter for the whole of Scotland!

I hope the letter’s contents were worth the effort of every man and horse involved in getting it there!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

For Lexophiles

Unfortunately, time pressures have recently prevented me from writing for this blog. I therefore apologise for falling back on someone else's work (anonymously). That said, I am sure that at least some of the following will summon a wry grin for a few readers:

1. A bicycle can't stand alone; it is two tired.
2. A will is a dead giveaway.
3. Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.
4. A backward poet writes inverse.
5. In a democracy it's your vote that counts; in feudalism, it's your Count that votes.
6. A chicken crossing the road: poultry in motion.
7. If you don't pay your exorcist you can get repossessed.
8. With her marriage she got a new name and a dress.
9. Show me a piano falling down a mine shaft and I'll show you A-flat miner.
10. When a clock is hungry it goes back four seconds.
11. The guy who fell onto an upholstery machine was fully recovered.
12. A grenade fell onto a kitchen floor in France resulted in Linoleum Blown apart.
13. You are stuck with your debt if you can't budge it.
14. Local Area Network in Australia: The LAN down under.
15. He broke into song because he couldn't find the key.
16. A calendar's days are numbered.
17. A lot of money is tainted: 'Taint yours, and 'taint mine.
18. A boiled egg is hard to beat.
19. He had a photographic memory which was never developed.
20. A plateau is a high form of flattery.
21. The short fortune-teller who escaped from prison: a small medium at large.
22. Those who get too big for their britches will be exposed in the end.
23. When you've seen one shopping centre you've seen a mall.
24. If you jump off a Paris bridge, you are in Seine.
25. When she saw her first strands of grey hair, she thought she'd dye.
26. Bakers trade bread recipes on a knead to know basis.
27. Santa's helpers are subordinate clauses.
28. Acupuncture: a jab well done.
29. Marathon runners with bad shoes suffer the agony of de feet.

Note: No trees were killed in the sending of this message, but a large number of electrons were terribly inconvenienced.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Postcard from London (3)

Thursday 29th June 2006

I have the honour of being a Commander of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem. In addition, I have the privilege of sitting on the Chapter of the Order’s Priory of England and the Islands ( ).

Several times per year the Chapter meets in the Chapter Hall at the historic St John’s Gate in Clerkenwell, London. Following a morning of deliberating business appertaining to the running of the St John Ambulance ( ), the Eye Hospital in Jerusalem ( ) and the St John Care Homes Trust ( ) , the members of Chapter re-convene after lunch in the Priory Church for the investiture of new members of the Order.

The Order is the oldest Order of Chivalry within the British Honours system, with membership of the Order being bestowed following approval by the Queen. As with other Orders under the Crown, there are various grades of membership, namely, Serving Brother and Serving Sister (both soon to be replaced by the title ‘Member’), Officer, Commander and then Knight or Dame. Knights are further divided between Knights of Justice (who are armigerous and have the right to appoint two Esquires) and Knights of Grace (who are not armigerous and have the right to appoint one Esquire). The highest honour within the Order is to be appointed a Bailiff or Dame Grand Cross.

The occasion of an investiture is one of glorious pomp and circumstance. It is a ceremony which never fails to delight and impress all those who attend.

At the opening of the ceremony, the members of Priory Chapter are announced and process into the Church, dressed in the traditional black sopra vests (a form of cassock) and black mantles, the latter bearing the white, eight-pointed cross of Amalfi on the left side. They take up their positions in two semi-circles in the north-east and south-east of the Church, there to await the arrival of the Prior.

Within a few minutes the Director of Ceremonies announces ‘The Prior of the Priory of England and the Islands’ and everyone stands for his procession. Preceded by the Church Cross and the Sword of Justice and accompanied by the Principle Priory Officers (Dean, Chancellor, Chief Commander, Chief Commissioners, Hospitaller and Almoner) and the Chapter clergy, the Prior’s procession make its way to the East of the Church, each armigerous member being followed by an Esquire bearing a banner depicting that individual’s Coat of Arms. It is a display of colourful, but solemn, pageantry which encapsulates so much of the historic significance of the Order of St John under the English Crown.

Following opening prayers, the National Anthem and a few words of introduction by the Prior, each postulant (i.e. a person to be invested) is summoned in turn and is invested by the Prior with the insignia of his or her grade within the Order.

For the postulants, as for many of their family members and guests within the audience, it is a moving occasion representing the recognition of years of outstanding service to the Order in one or more of its charitable arms. For all recipients, it is a moment to take pride in and one which will never be forgotten.

After the completion of the ceremony, the postulants and their guests are able to mingle with members of the Priory Chapter amidst the splendid surroundings of the Chapter Hall and partake in afternoon tea.

Finally, before departing from the St John’s Gate, visitors may take the opportunity of visiting the Priory’s Museum, where the Order’s 900 years of history, dating back to the Knights Hospitallers of the Holy Crusades, is displayed. The museum is open to the public, details of which can be found at: .

Today’s investiture was of particular significance for me as a close friend, who is also a colleague within the St John Ambulance and will already be known to readers of this blog as ‘Harlequin’, was invested as a Serving Brother of the Order. Needless to say, it was a matter for celebration. Accompanied by our wives and following champagne in the garden of Over Seas House ( ), overlooking Green Park in St James’s, we adjourned to Le Caprice ( ), a restaurant which has previously featured in this blog (see Dinner with Melvyn Bragg, 11th May 2006).

As always, this popular rendezvous was packed with diners well up to midnight. Although not an evening for the presence of either of the Lords Melvyn Bragg or Jeffrey Archer (both devotees of Le Caprice), we did notice Sir Alan Sugar with a party of guests on the table adjacent to ours. The evening must have pleased him as well as us, for none of the waiting staff was fired before the night was over.

The Power of Love

Looking through my writing archives for the month of March, I came across the following article, initially published in my weekly column for...