About Me

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Brother Mark is a pseudonym of The Reverend Dr Robert Jaggs-Fowler, a clergyman, physician, writer and poet. His biography can be found at: www.robertjaggsfowler.com

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Publication of Collection of Poetry

Well, there comes a time when a pseudonym has to be revealed for the person behind it! This is one of the moments...

This month sees the publication of my first collection of poetry.

A Journey with Time

is available in both hardback and paperback versions and is currently available from:

http://stores.lulu.com/JaggsFowler

In a few weeks, it should also be appearing on Amazon and Waterstones.com

For a taster, here is the blurb from the jacket:

" 'A Journey with Time' is Robert Jaggs-Fowler's first collection of poems, the subject matter drawing on his love of nature, travel, books and music, as well as exploring the more intense emotions of love and loss. At times amusing, often poignant, 'A Journey with Time' reveals the inner workings of a sensitive human being who is in touch with far more than just life's daily toil."

If you are kind enough to buy a copy, please do feel free to come back to me with any comments.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Thought for the Day

The un-examined life is not worth living.

Socrates

Friday, August 08, 2008

Thought for the Day

'The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.'

George Bernard Shaw

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Thought for the Day

'What is life but a series of inspired follies?'

Henry Higgins
Pygmalion

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Thought for the Day

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

Edmund Burke

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Headhunted!

From little acorns...

As a result of my 'Postcards from...' series on here, I was recently invited to join a group of people writing about England for the American tourist market. Naturally, I was keen to be involved and the site has been up and running for a while.

My remit is to talk about life in the North of England. My postings can be found at www.BeABritDifferent.com Look under 'Friends' and click on the posts of James Tusitala.

Associated with the above, I can additionally be found on Facebook and Myspace...so, please come and say hello, leave a few comments, write on my wall and...most importantly, don't forget to add yourself as one of my friends!

See you there!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Projection Word Drops

I have recently been approached by a group of American educationalists with a view to reproducing some of my writing on their new website, Projection Word Drops. As the administrator says in his introduction to the site, their concept is based on the idea that:

'Sincere and true words have undeniable impact, just like a drop of water hitting the water surface. The ripples can go further all around. Ripples are generated as an effect, but it is the drop itself that drives them.'

I am only too pleased to be involved with anything which spreads my writing to knew readers and thought that you, too, might wish to have a look at the site. It can be found at:

http://worddrops.visionsprojection.com/mainpage/

Friday, April 18, 2008

Thought for the Day

Why I write...

I like to dance my pen on the soundtrack of my thoughts.
Nash Suleiman

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Do we face the Decline and Fall of the Western Empire?

For the past week, I have been contemplating some words of Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury. In his Easter Sermon, he said:

“…we as a culture can’t imagine that this civilisation, like all others, will collapse and that what we take for granted about our comforts and luxuries simply can’t be sustained indefinitely.

To all this, the Church says, sombrely, don’t be deceived: night must fall."


Dr Williams is frequently berated in the common press for speaking in an obscure style. However, for once, his message is loud and clear. Life, as we in the Western world know it, cannot continue forever.

There are comparisons and lessons to be learned from both the Roman Empire and the French Revolution.

The Roman Empire was once the most powerful Empire the world has known. Not only was it powerful; for at least the ruling elite, life was luxurious. With villas built in the Classical style and surrounded by art, sculpture, music, good food and wines, those fortunate to be amongst the wealthier citizens of Rome must have felt that life had never been so good. For approximately 1000 years, Rome was paramount. Then, as history now shows, night fell for the Romans; the Roman Empire started to shrink and the Barbarians overran Rome.

In the years before 1789, France was essentially a feudal society. The nobles were wealthy, possessed large estates, and had a life of luxury compared to the peasant workers who toiled in their fields and who provided for the needs of their ruling class. Whether one believes the Marxist view that it was inevitable that the growing class of bourgeoisie would overthrow the aristocracy (and Monarchy), and that in time the working class would overthrow the bourgeoisie, or whether one takes a more post-modernist view of history, what is clear is that the time of the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ could not continue forever. At some stage, a degree of re-balancing of wealth had to take place. The French Revolution may have been the mechanism, or it may have just been a speeding up of events that had been happening in small ways for some time and would have reached a climax at some later, albeit inevitable, stage.

Today, those of us who have the privilege of living in the western world can all too readily be blinded to the reality of life in other parts of the world. Even with images of poverty, starvation, war, and human suffering transmitted to our televisions, we are in danger of allowing the television to sanitise the real effect on us. It is as though such things are not really happening; our lives go on as normal, we have plenty of food, clothes and warmth, our oil supplies are plentiful, we are healthy (or at least well-cared for when we are not) and nobody is waging a direct war against us. Many of us can find enough spare money to go on holiday; sometimes more than once per year. Life has never been so good.

Yet, are we not at risk of the same complacency that once beset the Roman and French aristocracies? Is it not simply a matter of scale? Instead of Rome or France, read ‘Western World’. Instead of ‘aristocracy’, read ‘westerner’. For, I would argue, there is a comparison to be drawn between the attitudes of the Roman and French aristocracies to the subjects of their respective empire or feudal estates, and those of us ‘westerners’ in our attitude to the nations poorer than us, but whose inhabitants toil for meagre return in an effort to sustain our insatiable demand for luxury. For example, where would we be without the cheap workforces of China, who produce so much of our every day commodities? Or, for that matter, the agricultural labourers who supply our tea and coffee for less than subsistence wages?

I recently read an article in Source (the Church and Community Magazine for the Parishioners of Upper Nidderdale, North Yorkshire) which gave the following statistics:

‘If you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof overhead and a place to sleep, you are richer than 75% of this world. If you have money in the bank, in your wallet, and spare change in a dish, you are among the top 8% of the world’s wealthy.

If you have never experienced the fear of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture, or the pangs of starvation, you are ahead of 700 million people in the world.

If you can attend a church without fear of harassment, arrest, torture, or death you are envied by, and more blessed than, three billion people in the world.

If you can read this message, you are more blessed than over two billion people in the world who cannot read at all. If you own a computer, you are part of the 1% in the world who has that opportunity.’



I can add to those statistics by something I read in a nature reserve exhibition. That, to bring the world’s population to the same standard of living enjoyed by the average person now living in North Lincolnshire, we would need the natural resources of another four or five Earths.


Insisting on supermarkets operating ‘Fair Trade’ policies is a start. Insisting that wholesalers do not import clothes from factories known to use child labour is commendable. However, such action is not going to solve the ultimate problem. We need to face up to the fact that our lifestyles in the western world are unsustainable. How long will it be before the population of China, for example, demands the same standards as those we enjoy? How will the world’s resources then meet the demand? Indeed, how can our own demands then continue to be met?

We must not be blind to the precarious nature of our western civilisation’s existence. As a country looking out at the world (rather than in respect to our internal politics), we (in the United Kingdom) are largely right wing, conservative and reactionary. A vast proportion of the world is, or has the potential to become, quite the opposite: left wing, radical, reformative, and revolutionary. We cannot rely on these factions being contained forever – but who can blame them when the time comes for them to demand an equality of existence?

Western civilisation is the modern-day aristocrat facing a growing unease amongst the countries of the poorer classes. It is time that we awoke to the reality before us. The 18th century philosopher, Rousseau, expounded the notions of the ‘Social Contract’ and the ‘General Will’; ideas that featured heavily within the minds of the French Revolutionaries. Perhaps we need our world’s leaders to start negotiating the same concepts, but on a worldwide basis – now, before the matter is beyond us?

It is a ‘fact of history’ that all empires fall. When, then, the decline and fall of the Western Empire? Just as Classical Greece saw its Dark Age, Western Europe has also lived through its own Dark Ages. However, the Archbishop of Canterbury was quite correct when he said:

“…don’t be deceived: night must fall."

Without a 21st century Enlightenment in respect to the world’s resources, and a reality check on the disparity between living standards, the western world may yet have its most significant Dark Age to come.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

I'm Dreaming of a White Easter

I am sure that it has happened before, but I cannot off-hand remember when. However, Easter morning has dawned with a blue sky and two inches of snow here in the Yorkshire Dales.

A beautiful sight which offers a freshness which is very fitting for the day of the Resurrection of our Lord.

Happy Easter!

A Lexicographic Curiosity

On the 25th March 2006, I posted to this blog an article named 'Word of the Week - Megalotic'. Little did I think that this one word was going to become a major source of interest to our friends in Japan.

Like many blogs, I have a site-meter attached. This enables me to monitor how many hits the blog receives, how long people stay on and how many pages are read. An additional feature, which I find particularly fascinating, is that it tells me which part of the world the reader is in and, finally, how they got to my blog in the first place; for example, did they stumble across it by accident when searching for something in Google, or did they specifically enter the site name.

Over the past two years, it has become increasingly obvious that readers in Japan search on the word 'megalotic' and thus come to this site. Some even enter 'Dr Tusitala - Megalotic' as their search words.

The mystery to me is why this should be. The word megalotic is not an everyday English word and certainly took me a while to figure out what it might actually mean. (See the original posting for my answers to that). So why are the Japanese so interested in the word?

If anyone has an insight to my little conundrum, please do post a comment.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

A Maundy Thursday Tale of Hope

Arriving at our cottage in the Yorkshire Dales, late in the afternoon, we discover a note from the housekeeper informing us that the vacuum cleaner has stopped working. A slight understatement, as none of the electrical sockets work, meaning everything (with a plug attached) has stopped working. A quick assessment of the fuse box confirms a tripped RCD. Further analysis reveals that it re-trips whenever anything is switched on anywhere.

Now, what is the likelihood of finding an available electrician at 5 pm on Maundy Thursday in a village where I hold no bargaining power as a doctor; or, for that matter, an electrician who can affect a repair before the end of the long Easter weekend? About the same as finding a GP surgery open on a Saturday morning, I would say. The immediate future was looking bleak.

Undaunted, I ring a number on an advert in the local Parish magazine. Amazingly, a man answers. I explain the situation and make the tentative request that he might be able to help me.

‘I’ll be straight round,’ he says, and hangs up.

Somewhat amazed, I tell my wife that the cavalry is on its way. True to his word, he arrives within five minutes and proceeds to spend the next three hours finding the fault, isolating it, and giving us back a power supply.

The young man is a saint disguised as an electrician. My faith in human nature is restored, but somehow, after he has left with my profuse gratitude, I cannot help feeling guilty for not opening my surgery on Saturday mornings any more…

Monday, March 17, 2008

Thought for the Day

The following is often quoted as an extract from Nelson Mandela's inaugural speech in South Africa in 1994 (see footnote). In it, he reflects on the nature of our understanding of ourselves. It is so powerful that it requires no further introduction:

'Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light and not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous. Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We were all meant to shine as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.'


Footnote:
Whilst the above is widely quoted as having been used in a speech by Mandela, it would appear that this may be a misrepresentation. The original author seems to have been Marianne Williamson. The passage is a paragraph in her book Return to Love, published in 1992.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Thought for the Day

The Journey of Life

'Let us be contented with what has happened to us and thankful for all we have been spared. Let us accept the natural order in which we move. Let us reconcile ourselves to the mysterious rhythm of our destinies, such as they must be in this world of space and time. Let us treasure our joys but not bewail our sorrows. The glory of light cannot exist without its shadows. Life is a whole, and good and ill must be accepted together. The journey has been enjoyable and well worth making - once.'

From Sir Winston Churchill’s Thoughts and Adventures.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Earthquakes, Snakes and Talking Birds – Welcome to Lincolnshire

As if the floods of June 2007 were not enough, the early hours of Wednesday 27th February 2008 brought further evidence to the actuaries ensconced in the ivory towers of insurance land that Lincolnshire is not a safe place to do business.

It was a little before 1 a.m. when our four-poster bed started to violently shake, accompanied by a loud, deep, roaring-rumbling noise. The effect lasted a mere ten seconds. However, it was sufficient to fully waken both my wife and I. To her startled exclamation of ‘what is happening’, I instantly replied ‘earthquake’. Not that I am an expert in such matters. I suppose it could have been a gas explosion, or an aeroplane crashing, or the oil refinery exploding (shades of Flixborough). Nonetheless, once you have experienced one earthquake, you tend to be tuned-in for life.

Peru was the background for my initiation into the delights of nocturnal earth-movings; six floors up in an hotel in Arequipa to be precise. The year was 2006 and my wife and I were touring Peru for a few weeks.

The vast cracks and undulating pavements should have been the clues to the fact that we were in an earthquake zone. However, stepping off a coach in the darkness of evening meant that such observations were going to wait until morning. Neither did we realise the significance of the little red signs advertising ‘Safe Zone’, liberally posted at intervals along the corridors. In retrospect one can smile at our naivety.

A deep rumbling, which grew progressively louder until it became a roaring noise, preceded the shaking of the bedroom floor and walls. My first reaction was to think ‘oh no, they have put us in a room next to the railway line’. (You can probably detect that I have stayed in a few suspect areas of London in my past life.) However, as the pictures started to swing at crazy angles, the fleeting thoughts of complaining to the management and seeking an alternative room evaporated into the more focused opinion that we were six floors up and so a railway outside the bedroom window was unlikely. This was an earthquake!

Meanwhile, my wife was in a bath with its own in-built tidal waves. Now, we do have a Jacuzzi at home but can never achieve such vigorous aquatic effects. Not surprisingly, she also twigged that all was not exactly as it should be and, needless to say, the bath was quickly vacated; as was the hotel.

That is to say, we vacated the hotel. Outside, life appeared to be going on as normal; as did the activities in the hotel restaurant; which was pretty much the response in our home town in Lincolnshire last Wednesday. One or two lights went on and a couple of neighbours wandered outside in their nightclothes, before all going back to bed. No sirens, no panic – just stiff-upper lip, British matter-of-factness. Even the conversations the following day were more about the weather than the largest earthquake to hit England in the past quarter-century. Neither did the news that the epicentre was in Market Rasen, a mere steeplechase away from us, do anything to raise the British pulse.

Nonetheless, pulses were raised last night. Earthquakes followed by snakes sounds quite biblical in character. However, this sighting was one to be relished. The encounter took place in Gainsborough, not far from Market Rasen (though that is where the connection with the earthquakes finishes). Snake Davis, the internationally famous, multi-talented saxophonist, slithered once again into that jazz-club of excellence, The Sands Venue, and, along with his band, delighted his audience with two hours of aural, spine-tingling, foot-tapping, eye-closing, mesmeric delight.

Recently returned from Japan, Snake’s latest album is titled Talking Bird (the title coming from a dream wherein a bird spoke to him). With forty-six minutes of soprano, alto and tenor saxophones, flutes and the hauntingly beautiful melodies played on the Shakuhachi (made of bamboo and similar in timbre to the Peruvian queena), disciples of this two-legged serpentine musician will only be disappointed by the fact that it will probably be at least a year before the next album appears.

This album was predominantly recorded in Japan; a country well-versed with the subject of earthquakes. Talking Bird, however, has no such turmoil. On the contrary, the tranquillity of traditional Japanese culture shines through. On the album cover, Snake says

‘...we all really hope that this music will make you close your eyes and drift off somewhere away from the crazy hectic lives we lead...’

All I can say is that, listening as I write, I am already in that ‘somewhere’. Welcome back, Snake. Bring on those earthquakes – I’m cool.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Behind the Broken Façade

Two events this week have served to remind me of the importance of not underestimating the human brain.

For as long as I can remember, I have consciously made an effort to speak to disabled people as though they were able. This is no less important when it comes to addressing people who have had strokes, are in a coma, or have a condition that causes severe speech problems, such as severe cerebral palsy. One can never be sure as to how much they understand, so surely it is best to err on the side of caution and assume that they understand everything?

A newspaper article in The Daily Telegraph (Saturday, 23rd February 2008) illustrated the point about people in comas. It was reported that a woman was brought out of a coma by her husband shouting at her (Husband’s love and a rollicking save a coma wife, p. 7). Apparently, doctors told the husband that they were considering the need to turn off his wife’s life-support equipment, as there was no sign of recovery. The husband, who had been holding a bedside vigil for two weeks, grabbed his wife’s hand and shouted at her, telling her to make an effort, fight back, and not to leave him. He then left for a couple of hours to ‘get some fresh air’. When he returned two hours later, his wife was breathing spontaneously and subsequently made a full recovery. She reported that she could remember hearing him shouting at her and that made her cross; thus the stimulus to recovery.

Neurologists have confirmed that the unconscious brain continues to process information. This, of course, is a topical subject, having been brought to us in the television series Life on Mars, and most recent with the program’s sequel, Ashes to Ashes.

Which brings me to the second event of this week.

On Thursday, I went to the cinema to see the film The Diving-Bell & the Butterfly. This is not a blockbuster film. It is, however, a remarkable story and a very moving one. It was a film I really wanted to see, having read the original book in 1997.

The Diving Bell & the Butterfly was written by Jean-Dominique Bauby. Bauby was 42 years old and the editor of Elle magazine in Paris. In 1995, he suffered a massive stroke, which left him completely paralysed apart from the ability to move the lids of his left eye. This became his only means of communication. Over the next year, he managed to write the story of his stroke and to describe what it is like to suffer a perfectly active mind with no means of communication or movement. The condition is called ‘Locked-in Syndrome’. The story was dictated by having a secretary sit for hour upon hour, slowly reciting the vocabulary. Each time she reached the letter Bauby wanted, he would indicate by signalling with his eyelid. Thus, by such painstaking action, he dictated his words. Bauby died ten days after the book was published. I defy anyone not to be impressed by his tenacity and achievement, and not to be emotionally moved by those same endeavours. I also know that no one, who has either read the book or seen the film, will ever see a person with such a condition in the same light again. The story has the power to change perspectives. As the Evening Standard critic, Gilbert Adair wrote when reviewing the book:

‘…his closing sentence, just twelve flutters long, is one of the most heartrending in all of modern literature.’

It is.

The poet, Elizabeth Jennings, wrote a poem entitled Old Man. The title suggests the topic – that of an old man, beyond his prime, who requires the daily attention of carers for his well-being. In 2007, I wrote a response to Jennings's poem, suggesting that matters are not always what they seem to be. I reproduce it here:


Life’s Denouement
(after Old Man by Elizabeth Jennings)

Do not be fooled by my inaction.
My silent world is not what it seems.
You see an old man confined by
a bed, a chair, a room.
You perceive tranquillity, yet
I have no need for communication.

Chairbound?

I am not even earthbound.

My spirit has earned its freedom from
materialistic chains.
Knowledge now powers my
unencumbered travel. I exist
disassociated from your reality.

You think you tend to an old man.
Yet, you are satellite images
to where my world revolves.
That shadow is the real me:
waking with dawn, slipping away
by midday and, for now, returning
with the setting sun.

Time knows no boundaries.
Age is not what it seems;
death, a powerful invocation.
Your delusion is
my ultimate illusion.

I am not the old man you see before you.

I am.

© Copyright 2007 Dr Tusitala


Whatever the disability we are dealing with, whether it be a coma, paralysis after stroke, or the effects of old age, we must never assume that what we see is all there is. One day, we might be in a similar position of infirmity. Wouldn’t we then all wish that some enlightened person would see beyond the broken façade?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Spare a Thought for the Poor Librettist

How many people listen to the early hit songs of Elton John and think ‘wow, Bernie Taupin had a great way with words’?

How many people watch an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical and knowingly admire the poetry of Tim Rice?

And the neglect of the poor librettist is not confined to the modern day. How many Mozart arias and duets can the opera buff sing along to...yet give not a moment’s thought to Lorenzo Da Ponte, who wrote the lyrics to The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni and Cosi Fan Tutte?

Of course, there are numerous other examples of misplaced admiration. The musician gets the praise, but it is often the poet who has stimulated the ideas in the first instance.

So next time you admire a song (of whatever genre), do spare a thought for the neglected poet.

The Starting Line

Religion means many different things to many different people. For some it means an entire philosophy for living; others call upon it as a crutch at times of need. A large proportion of society professes to acknowledge no religion at all; they draw strength from their secular avocations.

William Ralph Inge (1860 – 1954), writing in Idea of Progress (1920):

‘To become a popular religion, it is only necessary for a superstition to enslave a philosophy.’

Perhaps he was right. If that be so, then I personally consider the philosophy underlining Christianity to be a very reasonable way of guiding the conduct of one’s life. However, I then ask myself, can a philosophy on its own cause a spontaneous uplifting of the spirit? Can a philosophy recharge drained emotional batteries? Can a philosophy bring renewed strength when mind and body are failing? There may be some who would answer these questions in the affirmative, though I am not convinced.

I have held a strong faith for the major part of my teenage and adult life. It was not imposed upon me by my parents. It was something I was drawn to by personal desire. Over the years, the influence of religion on my life has varied, but never disappeared. For a while I was strongly drawn towards the priesthood and would probably have continued down that path had it not been for the commencement of a life-changing, personal relationship. The irony is that the relationship which so magically reformed my personal life (and continues to do so) was also contrary to the teachings of my faith. The values of the relationship were (and are) sound; it was just that my religion did not allow one to get it wrong first time round. So the idea of ordination was set aside and, for a while, I lost the spiritual magic I had once felt on entering a church, on picking up the Bible, on gazing at a cross, and so forth. And that troubled me because I was aware of an emptiness, despite the glorious warmth, love and passion of my new relationship. Something was missing.

Time went by and gradually, for a variety of reasons and in ways which were at times imperceptible, my faith was returned without me trying to restore it. I even questioned its validity. It stood the tests I imposed and has under-shored my life ever since, often without me thinking about it. Just as, I suppose, we do not on a daily basis consider the presence of the foundations of our houses; we just take it for granted that they are there doing the job of supporting the rest of the building.

So what makes me so sure that my faith is genuine and not just a reassuring “club membership” where I can find like-minded people? The answer is in happenings such as that which occurred a few Sundays ago.

It was the occasion of my parent’s Golden Wedding Anniversary and we had taken them back to Bromley in Kent, where they had lived as children and subsequently married. On the Sunday, we visited the church where their wedding had taken place, namely, Christ Church in Highland Road, Bromley.

The church has undergone many alterations over the past fifty years, and continues to have a thriving congregation. However, it is no longer the traditional Anglican Church that my parents knew. It has been re-born as an evangelical church. The altar is now in the north, to allow for a re-arrangement of the seating and facilitate the building of a three-sided gallery to accommodate the enlarged congregation. The traditional prayer books are no longer used and the hymns are modern. There is even a gospel choir and band.

For someone who has always appreciated the litany and proceedings of ‘high church’, such a setting might be daunting. However, I sat there and, with an open mind, took in my surroundings. Almost immediately, I sensed something special was taking place in that building. There was something uplifting about it; something which caused an inward excitement, that elevated the emotions and gave strength to a tired mind; something that I had not so readily felt for a very long time.

It was then that my mother whispered a few words which, to her, were a ‘by the by’ but for me were illuminating.

‘Of course, this is also where you were christened.’

Her words entered my ears and, like an electric current, surged through my mind, thumped my heart and fizzled into my limbs. For a moment I felt slightly dizzy as realisation dawned. THIS was where it had all started for me. It was in this very building that I had been first received into the house of God. It was here that I had crossed the starting line on a journey which was to offer all sorts of challenges; challenges which I would rise to and obstacles which I would overcome. For it was from here that I took with me the strength of a living Christ. I gazed towards the west-end of the church to where the old font would once have stood. That is where it all began. And no wonder I felt so positive about the place.

I do not believe that a philosophy on its own has the power to induce the significant and spontaneous surge of emotion and energy I felt whilst I sat in that church. I have no doubt that my faith is true and substantial. I may not be able to rationalise it, but whoever said that God is rational?

Karl Marx wrote in A Contribution to the critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, in 1843:

‘Religion...is the opium of the people.’

Well, if he was right, then I confess to being a hardened addict – and am proud to be so.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Postcard from the Yorkshire Dales (10)

Saturday, 9th February 2008

A delightful meal and good bottle of Barolo last evening at the award winning Italian restaurant, La Locanda, in Gisburn, Lancashire, were in need of being removed from the waistline. With a cloudless sky and temperatures approaching a remarkable 14°C, the stage was set for another walk.

Staying within Malhamdale, our route began in the village of Airton, wandered across pastureland to Kirkby Malham and then on to Hanlith, before joining the River Ayre for the journey back to Airton.

Although only 4¼ miles, the walk was full of interest, not least because of the magnificent views afforded by the clear skies. Rye Loaf Hill, Pikedaw, Fountains Fell, Malham Cove, Malham Moor, Gordale Scar, Weets Top and Hanlith Moor provided the scenery in front of us, whilst behind stood the imposing Pendle Hill. Contrary to the surrounding areas, a light mist circled around the base of Pendle Hill, giving it an air of mystery quite in keeping with the folklore of witches thereabouts.

The route from Airton soon intersected the historic Kirk Gait: an ancient path, trodden by the inhabitants of Otterburn each Sunday as their quickest way of covering the three miles to church. The pastureland was boggy in places and I marvelled at the thought of those devout people tackling this walk in all weathers; the women no doubt in long skirts and everyone without the benefit of the modern waterproof walking boots we take for granted.

Although spring was tentatively making its presence known, with snowdrops in abundance, daffodils making their first appearance, and buds starting to form on the surrounding trees, the scene was still a reflection of the starkness of winter. The bare branches of the trees and bushes, broken only by an occasional splash of vivid red from small clumps of surviving hawthorn berries, provided a skeletal foreground to the wonderful variety of greens and yellows of the pastures of the lowlands and hillsides. The novice artist in me started to imagine mixing the various paints from my palette as, in my mind’s eye, I painted a watercolour of the scene before me.

The age of these small hamlets is advertised by the dates on the lintels of several properties, giving a sense of timelessness to the environs. In Kirkby Malham, a cottage with mullioned windows had a date stone from 1637, whilst in Hanlith, Hanlith Hall dates from 1668, a cottage in Airton bears the date 1696, and the Friends’ Meeting House in Airton was built in 1700. The path re-entering Airton runs between the River Ayre and an old mill-race, once belonging to an old cotton mill (now converted into flats).

As one passes through all these places, a real sense of the past is a constant companion. With the surrounding countryside, there is a continuous reminder that we are mere visitors to this wonderful landscape, which has witnessed centuries of change imposed onto the backdrop of its timeless presence. It is a salutary reminder of our own impermanence and relative insignificance.

Postcard from the Yorkshire Dales (9)

Friday, 8th February 2008

It has been well over a year since my last Postcard from the Yorkshire Dales. This beautiful early-spring weekend deserves the production of another.

The ability to escape from the rigors of the surgery on Thursday afternoon last week, allowed my wife and I to arrive in the Dales that same evening, with the promise of a long weekend ahead. With the dawning of Friday, the promise became reality with weather to match our enthusiasm for shaking out the walking boots.

The village of Gargrave was our starting point. From there, the seven-mile walk took us alongside the River Aire for a short distance, before climbing up to where the Pennine Way awaited. The latter served as the route to East Marton, from where the Leeds-Liverpool canal’s towpath became our course back to Gargrave.

Just prior to joining the Pennine Way, the track took in a bridge over a railway line. The line nestles within a deep cutting, the two sets of rails disappearing into the curves of the hills in both directions. High above, the rolling dales were pre-eminent. Standing on the bridge and gazing down at the line, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the mammoth undertaking that the fathers of the early railways set their minds upon, when the concept of a railway was first envisaged. The task of taming a corridor through this rugged countryside, with the manual digging of cuttings, blasting of tunnels, and levelling of tracks, must have been a Herculean project in those early-industrial days. The presence of the railway is something we now tend to take for granted. However, standing on that isolated bridge, with nothing but the hills and wind for company, one could not help but sense the magnitude of their achievement.

East Marton is a small hamlet adjacent to the Leeds-Liverpool Canal. Its major architectural attraction is the presence of a double-arched bridge: not in the sense of twin spans, but one arch on top of the other. The increasing volume of road traffic over the first bridge meant that a stronger structure was required. Instead of rebuilding the entire bridge, a second arched structure was simply placed on top of the first; a concept which now gives the erroneous and initially disorientating impression that the canal must have once run at a level some twenty feet above its present location!

The English canals have long been a fascination for me. It is as though the process of stepping from the towpath onto a canal boat takes one through a time warp. Time itself slows, the frenetic pace of the modern world is banished, and peace and tranquillity reign. I harbour this dream of one day owning a broad-beamed barge (similar to a narrow boat, but twice as wide, and for which the northern-most canals, such as the Leeds-Liverpool Canal, were specifically constructed). My imaginary barge is painted a deep green (of the ‘British Racing’ variety), with its name, The Apothecary, emblazoned on its side in scripted gold lettering. Other gold-painted motifs, drawn from my personal armorial bearings, such as a fox rampant, holding a saxophone and quill pen, would further adorn the sides. I would spend my days gently meandering through the serene countryside of the Dales; whilst my evenings would be passed with The Apothecary moored to the towpath in an isolated spot, far from evidence of modern civilisation. There, I would sit on the roof, playing jazz and blues on a tenor saxophone, with only the sheep in the surrounding fields for an audience. After dark, I would retire to the candle-lit saloon, where I would write deep into the night, accompanied by a crystal glass of malt whisky and my Labrador, Thea.

Et in Arcadia ego.

The Spring Muse Awakes

Writers, poets, musicians, and artists have long looked towards their own personal muse for creative inspiration. The Egyptians had Hathor, the goddess of music, love, and beauty to assist them in their endeavours. Greek mythology offered an entire sisterhood of nine goddesses (‘the nine muses’) who were devoted to stimulating the artistic mind. Whereas the Romans looked to the Camenae who, like the Greek muses, were also water nymphs and hence known as the goddesses of springs.

For me, the first part of winter has often been a low period for creativity. The dull, cold days seem to suppress imaginative thoughts. The coming of the New Year has usually served to reawaken the urge to write, as the turn of the calendar offers the promise of new beginnings. If that does not work for me, then my birthday (at the end of January) usually does. Then, Janus, the Roman God of beginnings and endings (after whom the month of January is named), applies the influence of his two faces (one looking forwards, the other backwards) to allow me to take stock of what has been and what may yet come. This year, that reviving moment did not really have a chance to happen, as I found myself caught up in the whirlwind of other family celebrations.

However, the coming of spring has often heralded a further reawakening of inventiveness and enthusiasm. Such has been the effect of this weekend’s weather. The past two days have seen glorious blue skies and sunshine. Together with two walks in the beautiful countryside of the Yorkshire Dales, the effect of the elements has been one of instant cerebral reinvigoration.

For me, the onset of an early spring has certainly acted as my personal muse. The desire to write has started to bubble up from deep within and I feel spoilt for choice as to where to begin. The Greeks called the Goddess of Spring and fresh beginnings, Maia (hence the month of May). In reality, it may only be February, but I welcome the early presence of Maia with delight. Already, several ideas have started to tumble around the grey matter, with concepts for a poem and short story amongst them. Then there is my partly written novel, and not forgetting to mention this blog.

Now all I need is for Kronos (also known as Cronus), the Greek God of time, to look kindly upon me and bless me with the gift of a little free time in order to bring all these ideas to fruition. Perhaps, Maia could have a word or two with him on my behalf.