Friday, August 29, 2008

The Stars of Order

Recently I've been rifling through my old stuff stored in one of Mum's sheds in Suffolk. Most of this is books and old VHS cassettes destined for little future in the DVD and post-DVD world.

Some of the detritus is going to jumble, some will be thrown out. My Mum needs more space. My dear little niece presumed today that the shed was mine. Yes, in a manner of speaking I replied. Bemused, I elaborated. Most of what's in it is mine but the room itself is Granny's.

Hidden away in a carrier bag in an old gramophone cupboard I found some of my old notebooks. I would say about 60% of these scribblings have been typed up at some point over the past twelve years in fits of little better to do. Much of the rest had been forgotten about. This from the mid 90s, for example, found in an A5 notebook manufactured by 'Europa':

Where have the galaxies of light, the enfolded, woven
threads of the beauty gone.

I wish again to know you
out past bounded fields of pain
taste again your smile
feel and hold in hands
warmths of flesh.

When you're gone
the framework in the head is shaken
spears and daggers of the abyss within
shed blood from the stars of order.

On the opposite page is an (unsent!) letter to a girl I got rather involved with (not her real name).

Dear Michaela,

I have nothing to say to you except:





Saturday, August 23, 2008

Aphrodite's Divided Heart

“Oh, but don’t mention love. I’d hate the pain of the strain all over again”

One of the inherent disassociations in modern, western culture, is that between our erotic and our emotional lives.

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard it said: “Sex is not Love. Love is not sex”. It’s not a small number. It’s one of the many mantras of our times. It reveals much about our contemporary condition, namely the Wasteland.

As it happens, on the other hand, I don't deny that some people can veer wildly to the other extreme, saying that sex is love and that nothing but sex is love. But that may be for another post.

To my knowledge, the perspective which says that sex is not love and that love is not sex is often held by people interested in ‘progressive’ or ‘emancipationist’ views of sexuality, whatever they are understood to be. The underlying understanding, as I see it, is that if I want to get love I don’t need to have sex to get it. And that, on the other hand, if I want to have sex, I don’t need to feel a pre-existing love for my sexual partner first. I can use his or her body as I might a motorcycle, upon which I might be taken to my sunset of sensual joy. Presuming that they had consented to play the role of motorcycle, of course.

Actually, when I look at the first of these understandings, that one can get love without sex, I don’t have any difficulties at all. On the contrary, I entirely agree. I can give and receive love without sex being involved. After all, I myself love and have loved many people whom I have not even kissed, let alone exchanged bodily fluids with. This is just as well, given my low score rate with the ladies. If I had only loved people I had had sex with, I wouldn’t have had much love in my life.

It is only the second understanding, that sex can be had lovelessly, that causes me to ponder and reflect.

Call me a wild-winged hypothesist. I can’t help wonder about the roots of this understanding. Why should someone want to set themselves up to think of the interrelationship between sex and love in such a divided way. It seems unnatural to me; forced, strenuous, a ‘disconnect’, to polarise these aspects of life in this way. This essentialist understanding, which asserts that sex and love are distinct, not to be confused: it wants to see the sexual-emotional life of humanity as something divided. I wonder why.

I see three reasons. The first relates to a reaction amongst secular progressives to what has been understood, with fair justification, to be the ancient sex-hostility on the part of the Church towards consensual sexual acts between adults. The Church logic rebelled against, I think, has been something like this: If you want to have sex, you will need to get married first. If you want to get married, you should first love someone such that you will want to spend the rest of your life with them*. To look at it algebraically then: Love (Horse) + Marriage (Carriage) = Sex (Joyful journeys hither and thither).To break out of this necessity, weakening the causal nexus between Love and Sex, naturally becomes a cunning strategy to get more sex, or to get sex at all.

The second reason motivating the sexual-emotion split, relates to a felt need amongst those engaged in casual sexual relations, so I speculate, to defend themselves from the unwanted emotional consequences they feel and fear might arise from their intimate, compromising actions with relative strangers. Even though I’ll be coming inside of her; even though I’ll be penetrated by his phallus, none of this will hurt me. After all, it’s only physical. My heart I defend behind a wall of confident disassociation. Until such time, of course, as I choose to open it to someone, or more adventurously to those, I share my bed with. In this regard, I am reminded, as an extreme example of this split, I grant, of how many prostitutes (or so I hear?), while they will happily have all and every orifice phallically serviced to procure money, will not allow their clients to kiss them on the lips. The irony that this defensiveness implies, on the contrary, - that a link between sex and love is unwittingly acknowledged by the very people who might deny it - should not go unnoted, I feel.

The third reason relates to a recognition that, given the relatively loveless nature of our contemporay, highly disappointing world, feelings of love in general between the people that one meets are seldom experienced. If one is only to have sex with people you meet whom you also happen to love, so it might be thought, you would not have very much sex with anyone.

People can, and perhaps will, believe that sex and love are separate. Perhaps for them they really are. Ultimately, I can only speak for myself.

Speaking personally (yawn, cringe, shudder), and maybe it’s just me, what can I say? That I cannot imagine not feeling an emotional bond, at least of some kind, with a woman I might come to sleep with; just as I know that I do feel emotional connections, at least of some kind, and always a special kind, with the relatively few women that I have slept with. I can see how I might want to deny this in order to cope with certain unfortunate realities, but this wouldn’t make the denial true, would it?

This does not mean, as it happens, that I am angling after imitating or recycling Paul’s threatening implications regarding the iniquities of extra marital sex, in case you were wondering. It just means that I was saying what I said: that I do not believe that sex and love are separate.

* I realise that feelings of love have not always been considered a prerequisite for matrimony, and that considerations of family status and connections, the right religion and good health, have often been far more important, whenever arranged marriages were the rule, at least, and especially in the higher classes. In any case, I speak of marriage in relation to sex as it is understood in Occidental Christendom today.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

My Socratic Readers

It seems so far, from the questionnaire, that 'acquiring knowledge, wisdom and understanding' is the most popular purpose in life amongst my readers.

I'll leave it a bit longer before commenting on the results and revealing and explaining my choice. I'll wait and see if I can get 20 voters. Hmmmmm.

Meanwhile I'll continue to enjoy the countryside. This enjoyment, and other diversions besides, explains my recent less than fulsome commitment to this blog, as may have been guessed.

All this golden success in the Olympics reminds me very much of the early 80s, when the likes of Coe, Ovett, Cram, Capes, Goodhew and Thompson gave the Union Jack a similarly vibrant outing. Of course, we were helped in Moscow in 1980 by the absence of the Americans.

But that just makes our current success all the more significant.

Will Boris be playing Vangelis' theme tune from 'Chariots of Fire' over loudspeakers in Trafalgar Square, I wonder, when we have the day of celebration that he has planned for our team? Or for that will there first need to be more success on the track?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

One Week On

I have had a wondrous time in the past week. Leaving the Ishmaelite realm has yet again instilled in me feelings of levity and freedom. How this is to be explained, and what this means, is another matter, but that is the feeling.

I am supposing that according to the so called law of diminishing returns, the luscious delight I feel in wandering my homeland, and sensing its richness, both cultural and natural, will diminish if I move back and settle and become an established part of the system. Sigh.

Must one always be elsewhere in order to be here, to be abroad to appreciate home?

The Brits grumble about the weather. I understand why the farmers do - because it interferes with the harvest, but the rest of us? Rain is lovely, just ask the grass and the trees.

Ok, maybe that's not such a good idea:).

Monday, August 11, 2008


Speaking of Slovakia, on my way to the pub I had a brief chat with a Hungarian at North Greenwich tube station:

Jonathan: So you’ll just need to change at Bank. Where are you from?

Hungarian: Hungary.

Jonathan: Budapest?

H: Yes

J: Nice. I used to live in Slovakia, in Bratislava.


J: Or Poszony, as you’d say..

H: Yes, exactly! (he joyfully exhorted with great vigour), that’s right! (big smile).

J: Ah…(I sighed internally, while smiling).

J: You know, in 2002 it said “Pozsony” not Bratilava on railway station timetables in Gyor. I wonder why it now says Bratislava. I suppose the EU put pressure on the Hungarians, what do you think? You know, to recognise Slovakia's rights.

H: Pozsony is Hungarian, it was built by Hungarians.

He obviously wasn’t that interested in the finer details of why Hungarian claims on the soul of Bratislava/Pressburg (the pre 1918 German name) had been symbolically knocked back. I felt tempted to ask if he was a Hungarian nationalist but desisted, sensing the question might be taken as a rousing provocation to a tension I didn't want to experience as I looked forward to my first pint.

So I hear, many Hungarian families have maps of the old Hungarian pre-WWI Empire. At opportune, heart swelling moments they might bring them out and show them to guests, waxing misty eyed over the "true" size of their country. While I’m sympathetic to the pains relating to the decline in status and self-respect the loss of an Empire can bring –after all it happened to we British– are we sure that coveting the formerly possessed lands of foreign peoples, in order to compensate for a perceived diminution in ones own ethnic-national prowess, is entirely called for. Can't we see through all this?

Or to put it differently, if it’s ok for Hungarians to want Slovakia back, as well as large tracts of Romania and Northern Serbia to boot, is it also ok for the British to want India back, or our African former colonies, or indeed Canada, Australia and the states of New England?

Personally I'd say no, surprisingly enough, perhaps; for all kinds of reasons to do with stepping beyond outworn paradigms of domination and coercion. And if it's not ok for us to recycle our old dominating ways, I presume it is also not ok for others to do the same –or is that me being naive?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The George and Dragon

A perhaps unforeseen advantage of the smoking ban is that interiors of pubs can be less crowded, as smokers sit or stand outside.

So it was at The George and Dragon near Gt Portland Street. This charming, real ale hostelry, on its own admission is the 'best kept secret in London'. Here, on Thursday night, as many people were standing outside, spilling over the curb and onto the road, as were seated inside, enjoying the wooden tables and the old world decor. A welcome, wondrous consequence of which was that on a Friday evening in central London I had an entire table to myself, as I waited for my friends, former colleagues from Slovakia, to arrive.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Initial Reflections on Returning to England

The emphasis on customer service. The implied belief in the power of the consumer.

Seeing 'Tel Aviv' next to 'Kuwait' on a Baggage collection screen. The unmentionable land casually, unselfconsciously mentioned.

Seeing more Afro-Carribean people. In Kuwait there are few. Filipinos, Indians and other Arabs comprising most of the ex-pats.

The omnipresence of advertising and the marketing mythos -rendered in a language I can understand and so not escape from. Alas.

The security announcements and warnings -instructing me to be loyal to my bag. Will these ever end?

That you can't smile and wave at strangers and get welcoming, or at least unfreaked out, responses.

A certain levity and liberation in the air, in the spirit, in the general atmosphere.

A greater quiet - even in London.

Beautiful English women with radiant eyes and flowing blonde hair.

The vivid, fresh colours of my homeland. In the brick, the trees, the telephone boxes, the terraced houses.

A sense that it is very different, and makes me feel different.

A happiness to be here.

A certain reluctance to return.

The thought to stay.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


I wonder who will do my questionnaire. It's on the left and might be there awhile. I had it on a purple background before but it was garish.

I ask what the 'purpose' of life is, as opposed to the 'meaning' of life. I do this because to me 'meaning' implies definition. Things are defined in relation to what they are not. We are not aware of that which is not life (ok, except death), so I do not see how we can define life in terms of something we know nothing about. I am supposing here that life encompasses God, if only with regard to our relationships to God.

Purpose relates to our motivations, be they ones we find ourselves necessarily driven by or those we consciously choose.

Obviously, there may be other options you might want to fill out but can't. But I tried to be as comprehensive as possible, without giving too many options.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Out of the Desert

I’m traveling back to England on Friday. I wonder what I will think of it, what I’ll get up to when I’m there. It will mean so much more to me, I suppose, than it does to people who are there all the time. Especially since I’m crossing a boundary between civilizations and returning out of the desert.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Be Thou My Vision

"Be Thou my Vision" is one of my favourite folk songs. It’s Irish and its words were written by one Dalln Forgaill in the 8th century, but were translated into English and versified in the early Twentieth Century by Mary E.Byrne and Eleanor Hull. As for its music (a tinny version of which can be heard here), it is of unknown ancient folkish provenance, or so I believe.

I have to confess to a dastardly terrible vice. I am moved on occasions (though not often) to playfully interfere with the lyrical integrity of songs not my own (I have no songs of my own). I am presuming, perhaps incorrectly, that as long as I do not make any money out of such violence, I am not going to have my ass sued to hell and back? Especially if a certain sufficient number of decades have passed since the composition, or the death of the author, in any case? Anyway, I would always in no way presume that any alterations I made had been attempts to either supplant or claim an objective superiority over the original. Only, rather, that they were different songs. Ok, relying on the same music, but not as such an attack on the original, if this lawyerly wind-baggery makes sense and persuades.

Anyway, here are the first two stanzas of the famous
“Be Thou my Vision”:

"Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one."

Good lyrics. And for a hymn, acceptably rid of grovelling sanctimoniousness and sentimental effeteness. Still, it is nothing if not ‘old fashioned’ (shock horror! I sense my traditionalist readers, Griff and Reynard, reacting?). I should make myself clear that what I sometimes react to with hesitation about the ‘old fashioned’ in general, is not that it is rooted in the past or that it fails to be enthusiastic about our modernist obsessions with the Brave New World of the 21st century; but rather that it can be merely inaccessible. For what, pray, is the purpose of communication, if it is to be stifled by inaccessibility?

Beyond the form, I am also less keen on the content than I could be.

For example “Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.”

This particular line seems to express very unambiguously something which I consider - in all my boundlessly unauthorized subjectivity - to be an erroneous understanding of the desired effects of Christian devotion upon the life of the Self. The life of the Self, that is, in the context of the world, and most especially, of other people. It is stating, after all, that nothing should be important to the Christian believer except God.

Hmmmmmmm…? Are we sure that this is what the Christian life is about? I had thought that the point and purpose of being a Christian was to be a light in the world, to love and serve your fellow men, be they your friends or your enemies? While I would never deny that such a love, being essentially unnatural, is impossible to achieve with much efficacy, without the transfiguring effects of God’s indwelling love active and shining within you, I would also suggest that maintaining that God alone is important to the Christian could tend to undermine, if not potentially contradict, such an understanding?

Secondly, in the second verse, we see a beautiful expression of the intimate relationship that exists between God the Father and the Christian believer as that believer partakes of the Sonship through his identification with Christ. I have no objections to this at all. I only wonder if a rhapsodic Hymn such as this is, is the best place for the expression of an esoteric theological truth that may in no way be accessible or believable to a non-Christian, who might indeed even be alienated by the expression of such an abstract strangeness. “What on Earth are they talking about”, is a thought that might arise, I’m thinking, when they sing or hear this song.

So what, you may think. So what if they don't understand? But is such a question really one to ask when the effective celebration of the transcendent is at stake? Or are you advancing the cause of a kind of Christian hermeticism, a Christian isolation from worldly relevance?

And so with trepidation and a robust desire not to rouse the spirit of Diall Forghill in acts of haunting vengeance against me, or that of his accomplished translator Mary Byrne and versifier Eleanor Hull, I humbly offer up an alternative version of the first two stanzas, which I myself, nevertheless, shamelessly prefer. Isn’t it weird the way we are not supposed to like our creative, or should I say in this case re-creative, acts?.

Be assured, I make no claims as regards its objective quality or worth. It is if nothing else simpler and more repetitious in its use of 'Be thou' as a refrain. While I can sense that some might feel it to be ‘wet’ (especially non-Christians) this is not what I intend it to be.

"Be thou my vision, be thou my true light
Be thou ever with me, and keep me at night
Be thou my saviour, be thou my delight
Be thou my energy, in the midst of the fight.

Be thou my wisdom, be thou my true light
Be thou revelation, in the darkness of night
Be thou my splendour, be thou my delight
Be thou my happiness, and the love in my life."

NB..see comments

Friday, August 1, 2008

The Higher Light

Does not find peace boring
Does not see evil in people

only sickness and ignorance
Does not condemn

but only grieves and is wounded
Delights in innocence

and is bored by conflict and hatred
Is never angry

And laughs a lot of golden laughter.

An Interesting Lyric

You know your problem
You keep it all in
You know your problem
You keep it all in.

From "You keep it all in" by The Beautiful South.

The rest of the song's conceptual content appeals far less, but this line swarmed pleasantly through my head while travelling as a youth in South America, although I'm not sure I credited its meaning with the significance it deserved at the time. It is normal for me to find the lyrics of modern songs far less attractive than the underlying music and timbre of the singer's voice in-itself. But sometimes, the splendour of the actual conceptual meaning will break through and charm. While this has happened most reliably with the work of Jim Morrison and Steven Morrissey, it sometimes happens with other lyricists too.

Usually, though, I'm just lost in my own reveries, not attending to the meaning of the sung words, using the music as mere fuel to delight my imaginative, restorative adventurings.

But the line above is a good one, and deep, even if it doesn't particularly mean to be.

I should collect together all my favourite lyrics from the world of popular music one day.