Loyalty: from the Lord of the Rings to Harry Potter

We are witnessing a horrific fight for the keys to 10 Downing Street. A rabble of disloyal self-serving politicians is driving our country to hell in a handcart… they don’t know what loyalty is… and they don’t care…

We need loyalty right now. This was my address at The Unitarian Church last Sunday: I started as boringly as possible, so that everything that came afterwards was greeted enthusiastically

Online Etymology Dictionary says that: loyalty comes from the Old French loialteleaute and The Medieval Latin word legalitas. The earlier Middle English form was leaute (mid-13c.), from the older French form. …is about Allegiance … It’s a matter of principle and applies especially to conduct. (Apparently)Loyalty is a matter of both principle and sentiment, conduct and feeling; it implies enthusiasm and devotion.

This deadly dry explanation from cyberspace just reveals that the use of a word in isolation doesn’t mean a thing, but when it’s woven into poetry, literature, conversation and life-experience it’s is a great deal more beautiful and meaningful.

Apart from the madnessof loyalty, the kind of loyalty that led nearly 2.67 million men to volunteer for the First World War, and other mistaken acts of human faith, the word means something very special. So, when I think of loyalty in its most simple sense, I have an almost visceral feeling about it, that is even stronger when I recall those films and books where loyalty has been a key part of the story. I am an enthusiast for some popular literature: The Lord of the Rings, and The Fellowship of the Ring, and Harry Potter all lean heavily on loyalty as underlying themes. I draw the line at The Famous Five, but I’m sure you won’t mind about that. Interestingly it’s said that Agatha Christie held loyalty in low esteem. Maybe that’s why I feel a bit off about her, and I don’t think she likes me much either.

Tolkien was clearly a great enthusiast for loyalty, which may have come, in part from his gruesome wartime experiences. It’s not surprising that The Lord of the Rings is so deeply concerned with loyalty as a central part of its plot. It’s a strong characteristic of the Hobbits, who always insist on doing stuff together. Despite their diminutive size they are allowed to become four of the Nine Walkers chosen to counter the evil of the Nine Black Riders. Their powerful devotion to each other is evident to Elrond (Number one elf) who agrees to let them form the main representative group in The Fellowship of the Ring. 

In Rivendell, the home of Elves, Elrond outlines what the Company of the Fellowship can and cannot do. Later on, when the Company has undergone some terrifying adventures, it is in an act of weakness and disloyalty that upsets everything. A member of the fellowship, Boromir, who is a man (rather than elf or dwarf) breaks up the Fellowship by trying to use brute force to take the Ring of Power. And this is the point in the saga when we discover what can happen to people who are disloyal. It’s a moment that opens out the plot very effectively. In the space of just four short paragraphs…in a book of over 455,000 words, the chain of loyalty is broken with disastrous consequences:

            ‘Come, come, my friend!’ said Boromir in a softer voice. Why not get rid of it? Why not be free of your doubt and fear? You can lay the blame on me, if you will. You can say that I was too strong and took it by force. For I am too strong for you halfling,’ he cried; and suddenly he sprang over the stone and leaped at Frodo. His fair and pleasant face was hideously changed; a raging fire was in his eyes.

            Frodo dodged aside and again put the stone between them. There was only one thing he could do: trembling he pulled out the Ring upon its chain and quickly slipped it on his finger, even as Boromir sprang at him again. (Frodo was now invisible)The Man gasped, stared for a moment amazed, and then ran wildly about, seeking here and there among the rocks and trees.

            ‘Miserable trickster!’ he shouted. ‘Let me get my hands on you! Now I see your mind. You will take the ring to Sauron and sell us all. You have only waited your chance to leave us in the lurch. Curse you and all halflings to death and darkness!’  Then, catching his foot on a stone, he fell sprawling and laid upon his face. For a while he was as still as if his own curse had struck him down; then suddenly he wept.

            He rose and passed his hand over his eyes, dashing away the tears. ‘What have I said?’ he cried. ‘What have I done? Frodo, Frodo!’ He called. ‘Come back!’  A madness took me, but it has passed. Come back!’

Tolkien didn’t let Boromir get away with his act of betrayal. Wild with remorse and regret, he lets this tormented character sacrifice his life shortly afterwards, for the good of the Fellowship, now divided by his act of disloyalty. Meanwhile Frodo, believing that the power of the ring warps everyone around him, runs off to Mordor, to destroy the ring.

It’s a great evaluation of the massive potential effect of disloyalty, and how it can cause a chain reaction. Of all human emotions I have witnessed in my life, disloyalty sows the seeds of regret more than almost any other. Men who have left their wives and children, people who have said bad things about people they admire, all live to regret their disloyalty… Loyalty is both positive and powerful and is much better if honoured if one wants an easy life. And all this serves to remind us that love is almost surely the most important force in our lives (and whatever our belief system) is something sublime.

Another enthusiast for loyalty has to be JK Rowling. Despite a few personal doubts about the consistency of her writing, I have to admire her for her tremendous plot construction and portrayal of loyalty as revealed by Harry, Hermione and Ron Weasley in Harry Potter. These three all know exactly what loyalty is about, and very rarely waver in their support of each other. Like the Lord of the Rings, loyalty is a key component to the story. The loyalty of Severus Snape to Harry’s mother, and to Harry himself, is particularly beautiful and touching, given that for most of the book Harry is fairly unpleasant to Snape, in every way. Snape’s loyalty is almost angelic; through thick and thin he continues to be loathed by everyone, other than Dumbledore, yet still remains both loyal and brave in the face of great opposition. This is loyalty indeed, and it’s a wonderful study of loyalty at its most consistent and touching. As a study in fidelity, its almost worth reading for this alone. I like to think that its impact on the young people has been both profound and life-changing.

There’s not much doubt that loyalty and love are closely related in more than one way, and disloyalty and betrayal are also pretty well one and the same. Yet in the world of business some people use the idea and ideal of loyalty in quite a base way — the phrase ‘customer loyalty’ in all its cynical glory makes my heart sink…. For the time being let’s just bask in the light of faithfulness and kindness as revealed in this church and its congregation, and also another lovely quotation, this time from Cicero, ‘Nothing is more noble, nothing more venerable, than loyalty.” 

Acts of Violence Against People of Belief

My role within the Interfaith Contact Group (IFCG) recently switched from Secretary to Co-Chair, a position I share with Kate Williamson. Now Charlotte Gravestock, who was Secretary before, is Secretary again after eight years. It’s no exaggeration to say that both Kate and Charlotte are inspired.

Hove Methodist Church

The Interfaith Contact Group of Brighton and Hove is in itself an inspirational organisation, a microcosm of all that is best in the worldwide interfaith movement. It’s harmonious, peaceful and wise.

But being involved in an interfaith organisation is not all sweetness and light. One of the sorrows of belonging is being so very aware to the horrors of people of belief being killed, tortured or maimed for who they are and what they believe in. It is so very strange that within the human mind, another person’s beliefs are reckoned to be so bad and inferior to one’s own that one feels the need to kill them. Do those people who set out one sunny day to blow-up innocent men, women and children ever have any self-doubt? I wonder. This evening the IFCG will be holding a peace vigil in Hove Methodist Church at 6pm, honouring the people who died in Sri-Lanka, and next Wednesday, May 1st, we will hold our monthly Interfaith Peace Prayers at the Baha’i Centre in Stanford Avenue from 6pm to 7pm. Loving, sacred words, which draw people of all faiths and none are becoming increasingly important… and needed.

Here’s a prayer I produced for the vigil this evening:

When we lose spirits of faith
Caught up in a moment
Of sacred celebration
We lose so much of ourselves
And so, we feel abandoned

The departed pass on…
Holding belief in their hearts
Christian, Jew and Muslim
Buddhist, Atheist and Pagan
They continue their journey of mystery
But we, the survivors are left behind

It seems that energy, soul and belief
Life and love have gone for good
Because of the bad…
Known or unknown…
Companions go unheard and unseen
And so, we feel forsaken

And as we stand on the shore
Watching the tide shift gently
So very gently
We witness the change from being
To non-being
And we feel adrift and abandoned

And some will want revenge
And others are too bereft to think
And the rest will seek to know
And there is sorrow and desolation

But the truth lies in all of us
Those that have departed
And those that remain

It is buried… so deep
That when we come to our moment
Of knowing why they left us
We realise that there was no staying or leaving
We were, and are and will be…
We were never alone, never abandoned
And never destroyed
For we are as one
And the story has no end

 

A Beautiful and Effective Way to Stop People from Killing Each Other

 

If you watch lots of television, whether it’s the news, or a drama series or a documentary film you may conclude that there is only one way to deal with terrorism: it’s to deploy a bunch of blokes in black clothes, bullet-proof vests, balaclavas and battering rams to break into the wrongdoers’ hideout.  Then your crack-team will either blow up the terrorists, or hand-cuff them and take them off and incarcerate them. In other words, one deploys a similar response to the problem itself, one that does not differ much from the methods the perpetrators might favour themselves.

Or one can do something completely different… the problem is that our Government has no idea about what this may be, and that is one of the terrible problems of the moment. We are run by a Government with no imagination, no will and no intelligence… but there is another way, as I will reveal at the end of this bloggetty blog.

To appreciate the fact that our Government is clueless about violence, one needs only to go back to 2003 when Tony Blair declared war on Iraq. Those of us that marched on February 15th then, realised we would soon face relentless terrorist activities from people who had never been our enemies before. Why couldn’t Tony Blair see this? I have often wondered.

There are many causes of violence and governments, particularly ours seem incapable of understanding the root causes.  People who invest in war and conflict is one cause. The other, and maybe even more terrible cause is poverty itself. In scenarios of poverty, where there is no hope, people resort to violence, either under the influence of extreme anger, alcohol, oppression, or frustration. I have a friend who has done a lot of filming for charities in Afghanistan. She tells me that if the (oxymoronic) Ministry of Defence had deployed the kind of money it spent on arms and killing people, on acts of friendship instead, like building schools, new homes, health and agricultural initiatives, the story about Afghanistan and what happened there would have been completely different. The cost financially would have been a great deal less, and we wouldn’t have seen so many innocents killed and maimed.

The UK has a history of war and waging war, and we have learnt nothing.

Here’s a terrible statistic that I found in Google: Over 14 million people, about one in five of the UK population are in poverty, according to the Joseph Rountree Foundation. Of them 8.2 million are working-age adults, 4.1 million are children and 1.9 million are pensioners. Eight million people live in poverty in families where at least one person is working. This is a terrible recipe for violence and disaster; it’s a recipe for domestic violence; it’s a recipe for terrorism, it’s a recipe for people to hate and hate again – to hate people with more money than one has oneself — to hate people of different ethnicity — to hate people of different ages, genders, looks and sexual inclination. It’s the anger behind Brexit and perhaps something a great deal worse.

On the Third of October 2018 our Leader, the Rt Hon Theresa May MP announced that austerity was over. And six months later we see pigs flying about, or as the Italians say, we see donkeys flying, or according to the French, we now celebrate a week with four Thursdays on St Glinglin’s day, not to mention the Serbian suggestion that this is the moment when the willow bears grapes. So who dares to say that austerity is over?

But even in this awful moment, there is a way to tackle hatred. It’s to bring people together. To find common ground for ideas, conversations, creativity and interests. It’s to get people to eat and talk and share things together. This what that Interfaith Contact Group of Brighton and Hove does, without any money. If you want to see how we do it, please take a look at this brilliant 10-minute film made by Sarah West. I just wish that a few kids from the poorer places in our City could participate in this story, and maybe in time, this will happen… or better still, maybe the poverty in our City will be vanquished for good… one day.

The film can be viewed on the front page of our website:

www.interfaithcontactgroup.com

or with the following links… not to mention the link to Sarah West herself.

 

https://www.westcreative.org

 

 

 

Go Green Go!

Long ago and far away my Labour councillor urged me to join his political party, and I just couldn’t. It wasn’t until I had thrown my company out of the window, walked away from London, had a nasty dose of cancer, and found myself doing a boring research job… that I found my way. The job involved studying the core ideas of the main political parties, and reading their unbelievably dreary manifestos. As a result of this journey through treacle and tedium I discovered a gem in the midst of the dross, and promptly joined the Green Party. Because I ate food that grew on plants, or under the ground, or on a tree, and breathed air and drank water, and because I loved nature with a passion, it seemed to be where I belonged. The environment was my thing. The environment is the thing for anyone who thinks about the important things in life. Loving the environment seems to me to be supremely sensible… And children can be reasonable and sensible, as we saw yesterday.

Caring for our world should be part of life, because we can’t live without our world. The wonderful children of the world know this. They know that green is about life itself, and that corporate greed is about death, and I am not talking about death as a beautiful gateway to the next world, but death as in choking ourselves and our birds, fish and animals and the sea and the air with plastic… Killing bees and all the other insect life with pesticides, and throwing toxins and material waste everywhere and destroying clean water, and raising the sea levels, and creating climate havoc, and, and, and… you know the rest.

The last marketing job I did involved the creation of a wonderful exhibition stand with an exquisite design featuring the downs which served as an enchanting backdrop in the midst of many a dreary exhibition hall. My marketing career of a zillion years came to an abrupt halt when the person I reported to said to me “Oh no! There’s far too much green. Green, green should never be seen!” thus repeating the superstitious words said to me by my grandmother a century before. Both believed that green was an unlucky colour. Actually they both got it wrong. The phrase is “Blue and green should never be seen unless there’s something in-between” and as I think lovingly on the glory of the Sussex Downs and the beauty of the blue sky, I can only marvel at the sheer perfection of nature, the harmony of these two most perfect colours – blue and green – and the sheer dottiness of humans, and their capacity to destroy so much that is good and glorious… but hey ho!

 

 

In the Face of Horrid Uncertainty (like a No-Deal Brexit) turn to the Spirit of the Wayward Feather

Being aware is a double-edged sword. One can see that the future Brexit path looks dangerous, and this country faces a potentially horrendous future for its young people. I find myself imagining what might happen to the poorest amongst us… and then these thoughts remind me that (some bloke called Dan Zadra said) ‘worrying is a misuse of the imagination’.

That’s the moment when I do a bit of spiritual wandering. The conflict and uncertainty give way to contemplation, and the contemplation takes one to a place that is not so much escapist, as a world of reality. It puts things in a different place and reminds one that everything that provokes passionate feelings, is a matter of perception. It’s a point of view, and it’s time to step outside of it all. And this week I visited ‘The Spirit of the Wayward Feather’, a dreamy pattern of thought that can take one all over the place, like a floating feather.

Very often when I’m doing things around the house, like sitting down to write, making a bed, doing a bit of cooking… a feather, such as one might find in a pillow, or in a garden, will float down. Feathers are objects of enormous power. They are reminders, comments and connections with reality, imagination, dreams and above all the subconscious, the deepest most beautiful self. For a start feathers are ancient and useful. They evolved like skin and horns, and they are an essential part of birds, the plumage, but they were also part of the outside covering of dinosaurs as well. They are useful, like pullovers only better – they aid flight, keep things warm, help diving birds to whizz about underwater and are beautiful and very decorative. Some feathers are rare and exquisite and highly valued.

Everything in this world has energy and spirit, and the spirit of a feather carries many messages. Meditating on a feather could take a lifetime. The structure is enormously complex, depending on the size and function of the feather itself; it includes shafts, barbules and hooks and all sorts of things. But I am looking at the spirit of the feather, the wayward small floating things that drift down from a corner of the house, or the garden and offer a thousand ideas. If the feather could speak it would say — I have been worn in battle, giving the wearer the power of the bird that I belonged to; I have been shoved into pillows and used as a pen, a tool to write with, wielded by the greatest minds and the greatest poets and playwrights; and that pen was mightier than the sword, as we all know. I have been part of the most delicious eiderdown you might want, but I am also a reminder, a powerful messenger.

It’s no coincidence, that angels who are messengers with wings are invariably equipped with feathered wings. Having worked on the Angel Year in our City, gathering images from age groups across the board, if I hadn’t come to recognise the importance of angel feathers by now, I would be a dim-wit. People young and old associate angels with feathery wings, and this crosses all faiths and many interpretations. Feathers belong to birds and equally to angels. So…Are wayward feathers messages from angels?

Most importantly when you have forgotten about feathers, they come to you. They float down from nowhere. Many people believe that they are messages in themselves, reminders of people who have died, loving communications that empower one to recall somebody who is elsewhere. Many, many times, I have been told that people recalled a loved one because of an inexplicable feather that floated out of nowhere. The Egyptians reckoned that a light heart was something to do with being a goody, so they did a nice metaphoric weighing of a heart on the one side and a feather on the other. The word light, has so many meanings, and presumably light meant a few things in hieroglyphs as well. And with this in mind, it’s time for us all to be light as a feather. To be frivolous. To tickle ourselves with a feather. To honour the tickling stick. To accept a good message from the feathery realms, and smile, remembering that if you start to be aware of the spirit of the wayward feather, you must also appreciate that feathers come from a glorious variety of birds – from the grand and dangerous birds of prey, to the smallest and most beautiful hummingbird – and the messages they give us should remind us at all times that we are of this world, and should therefore love and protect this world and its birds, just as we are part of other worlds, where messages, ideas and dreams spring from objects that simply float out of the sky.

Adventures in Eternity

Last Sunday I did a service at the Unitarian Church about Eternity. It included a great reading called You Want A Physicist to Speak at Your Funeral. 

My address followed. I hope you enjoy it.

One of the topics of the moment… is Death. It’s very a la mode. In and around Sussex we have all sorts of events dedicated to death, there’s something called a Frontline Death Network Event coming up, and there are Death Cafes, and a Last Wishes Workshop. Death is a topic of concern to many of us, particularly as we get older, and more and more of our contemporaries drift out of our lives. Death is also a business. There is a material side to it.

I have been studying Death with a real passion since the mid-1970s,  yet now it seems that the more important issue may not be Death, so much as Eternity… and so I’m inviting us to give a thought to our eternal selves, and along the way, we can take in a bit of other people’s wisdom, celebrate Eternity with a touch of frivolity, admire the view and also respect the words of people of faith.

The concept of Eternity is bound into most religions – Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and  Buddhism, and the Eastern faiths are probably the most enlightened on this subject… but the spiritual text that goes to the subject of Eternity in the most direct way, with perfect precision, is the 2,500-year-old Chinese philosophy called – The Tao.

The Tao makes reference to Eternity from the outset, but also explains the problems we meet when expressing the idea of Eternity in words. The word Tao itself has a nice broad meaning – it is the basic principle of the universe and is simply translated as The Way. It is the journey of life, taking in its potential and also the journey that goes beyond life, and it embraces many ideas and principles. Here are the opening words of the Tao:

The Tao that can be told
Is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named
Is not the eternal name.

The unnameable is the eternally real
Free from desire
You realise and understand the mystery
Caught up in desire you see only the manifestation
The expression… the unfolding action.

Mystery and manifestations
Come from the same source
And this source is known as darkness.

Darkness within darkness
Is the gateway to all understanding.

When people see some things as beautiful
Other things become ugly.
When people see some things as good… other things become bad.

Being and non-being create each other.
Difficult and easy support each other
Long and short define each other
High and low depend on each other
Before and after follow each other.

Therefore, the wise one acts without doing anything
And teaches without saying anything.

Things arise and she lets them come
Things disappear and he lets them go.

She has, but she doesn’t possess;
He acts but doesn’t expect.

When her work is done
She forgets it
And that is why it lasts forever.

The Tao, in saying that everything has its opposite reminds us that the opposite of the eternal is the moment, the now… the split second when you do something, like read or hear these words. The relationship between the moment and the eternal, these two polarities, and everything in-between are the essence of the Tao… The Way. The smallest and the greatest are one and the same.

So… a moment, a split second is both the opposite and the same as Eternity. At risk of overdoing the quotes, I would like to tell you what Thoreau said about this… he said: “You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your Eternity in each moment…” Ludwig Wittgenstein went one better when he said: “Death is not an event in life: we do not live to experience death. If we take Eternity to mean (not infinite temporal duration) but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present.”

And the importance of the now and Eternity is also mentioned in the Gospel of John, where it says eternal life isn’t about the future, it’s about the ‘now… so those who accept Christ can possess life here and now as well as in Eternity, for they have “passed from death to life.”

But the prospect of Eternity doesn’t appeal to everyone. In fact, there is a phobia called apeirophobia which is a fear of Eternity — the terrifying thought that existence goes on for ever. On a frivolous note, perhaps, those who have seen the film Groundhog day once too many times, or worse still too many episodes of Pointless, may begin to feel this way. Of course, apeirophobics will have all sorts of concerns, and I suspect that coming to terms with time itself is one of them, and that is hardly surprising. Coming to terms with time is not easy at all.

For example, if we can imagine that the earth was formed 24 hours ago, human existence occupies just one second in the age of the earth… and if human history amounted to a day, a 24 hour day, it would be 10 minutes or so since the birth of Christ… In terms of spiritual awareness… we have recently been told that humans have been demonstrating sacred rites and practices for the past 70,000 years… Christ, as we all know, was born two thousand years ago… The Christian faith is young… a lot younger than the entire Egyptian civilisation of the Nile Valley, which lasted for about three thousand years. Understanding the scale of time, and its relativity within the framework of the cosmic picture is not easy, particularly when it comes to the given lifetime we have.

So being in the now is as close to coming to terms with Eternity as possible. But we also have to respect the exquisite and even unsettling patterns of our history, the lessons taught by past religions, cultures and dynasties. History empowers us to relate to time more easily. Our City and its architecture bear witness to our respect for history, the beautiful proportions and principles of Greek and Roman buildings that are to be found across Brighton drawn from the shapes and patterns in nature, and their mathematical formulae. When we resonate with the past, through form, classical form, which can be found in art, architecture, music, and poetry, we also contact our deepest and most distant memories, and we are reminded that we are eternal beings

The gateways to connecting with our eternal selves are all around us. Some may choose to walk through the emptiness of desert sands to gain a feeling for the endless nature of time; others train a telescope into the sky, or just walk on the downs and marvel at the glory of the stars. Others may choose to look through the lens of a microscope and admire the shapes and forms of nature and crystals at their most minuscule levels… but the real answer almost certainly lies in us, ourselves. We have an inbuilt programme, amidst the 1,000 trillion synapses in our brains, and the memories we also contain in our bodies, because every cell of our bodies, has memory… It is your deepest ‘self’ that has the potential and power to ‘know’ your eternal self, to appreciate that your spirit just never, ever dies. We just need to climb into the complex and profound place of self, and wander through the beautiful arcades and galleries and libraries and gardens of the mind. Meditation and contemplation are wonderful paths to knowing Eternity.

As I draw to a close I would very much like to pay homage to those people who believe they have had a brush with Eternity at the closest range. These are people who have nearly died, either through illness or trauma, and have experienced a Near Death Experience. Over and over again they find it difficult to express what they experienced as they went over to “the other side”. These people (of which there are now a great many) talk constantly about the importance of light and also darkness in terms of illuminating their understanding of life and death. I am reminded of the words of the Tao “Darkness within darkness – the gateway to all understanding,”  and the recently discovered ‘Dark Energy’. Light and darkness are intrinsic to the Near Death Experience. The role of music is very frequently mentioned, music far more beautiful and powerful than anything heard on earth. Landscapes and scenery with varying degrees of familiarity are described, and time itself is also said to work differently, as does language, which seems to be no longer necessary. When we are in the discarnate state communication seems to work without words — it is instant, made possible by simply thinking or feeling about something. In a land where language is not used, it will always be difficult to explain new experiences involving words we do not have. Many of these people say that the enormity of what they encounter, and the scale of the dimension they encounter — of cosmic proportions and beauty — is both endless and indescribable. They meet people who have died, and sometimes this includes people they didn’t encounter in their present life. Eternity is both mysterious and intriguing, whatever angle it may be viewed from. Perhaps most significant of all, is that after those people have encountered Death, they no longer fear it, which is understandable, given that Death is simply a gateway to our true eternal selves.

And so it seems so appropriate to close with the words of the great Carl Gustav Jung, who said “What happens after Death is so unspeakably glorious that our imagination and our feelings do not suffice to form even an approximate conception of it. The dissolution of our time-bound form in Eternity brings no loss of meaning.”

 

 

 

Meditating with House Plants

Wow! This sounds dreary… but it’s not… it’s cosmic. Whenever you feel close to the point of screaming — taking on the horror of the news— listening to the arguments of all sorts of people, arguing in an argumentative way— hearing about acts of ugliness elsewhere in the world… just take yourself off and meditate with the plants. Trees will do, but they are difficult to get in the house; plants are usually more accessible. It has fallen to me to look after the plants in this house, while the more experienced and knowledgeable gardeners lay claim to the gardens in the front and back, and on the roof.

The roof terrace. I’m not allowed to plant anything here, but I do enjoy it every day.

I think the feeling may be that I am not to be trusted in the open, and they may be right. It’s true to say, my family has a lot more gardening experience than me. So, let’s get back to meditating with houseplants. First of all, I do believe in the loving power of a plant in the bedroom; it’s particularly nice if it’s visible when you go to sleep or wake up. It’s like a fairy or an angel keeping an eye on you as you snooze. In the morning a plant will greet you with an air of calm and peace, and it doesn’t answer back or demand to be fed. If you feel relaxed, your mind might drift off to other lands where this plant has been in a previous life. Just think about it, plants and their leafy relatives have been everywhere — exquisite ornamental gardens in sunny climes, formal gardens, wild gardens, dingles and dells and fabulous jungles occupied by exotic flora and fauna.

The plants that wake me up in the morning

One can also meditate as one waters the plants, and it’s a good idea to talk to them as well. They are very responsive to a loving conversation, and unquestionably flourish when spoken to. My plants grow particularly enthusiastically when addressed in a loving way.

It’s quite easy to get lost in the foliage of plants. One can easily imagine oneself poised on a leaf or sitting on the top of a rubber plant. Many of my plants have acquired personalities attributed to them from their origins, as gifts, or in the light of their popularity. My sister, who died 11 years ago gave me a rubber plant. It was tiny and grew as rubber plants do, becoming a giant tree-like thing. I gave it to a friend who had a conservatory, but it was a mistake. She killed it;  luckily a leaf fell off as I was taking the plant off to the plant-killer, and I propagated that fallen leaf… and now have two magnificent rubber plants, one in the bedroom, one in the bathroom, reminding me that death has no dominion. I also have some other plants, that are sometimes memorable, special and even contentious.

Carol Kirkwood’s money plant aka crassula ovata

I have a wonderful money plant given to me by the wonderful weather girl, Carol Kirkwood, and a great many spider plants, that are held in utter contempt by my family, and my neighbour, who says that they are dated boring plants of the 70s… which may be true. But I love them, they remind me of cascading waterfalls, and apparently, they are very powerful when it comes to absorbing all sorts of toxic stuff in the air.

Spider plant, a lovely thing but not popular in my house

Plants are gentle, calming and inspirational. One can use them as a starting point for a meditation in many ways and we don’t always need to eat them. Sometimes they are just perfect as companions, keeping us company.

For the Love of Doctor Who

Doctor Who is a 55-year-old child going on 2,000. His mother, Auntie BBC, is a crumpled, cramped, neurotic old fart who was born on the 18th October 1922, which means that it will be her 96thbirthday this week. For many a moon, Auntie lumbered along under the guidance of white Anglo-Saxon men from public schools in high office until suddenly the real world hit her, very hard, and rightly so. And that little knock proved to be a very good thing. The doors of Auntie Beeb’s abode were prised open, making those dull, white middle-aged controllers wheeze and choke on the fresh air provided by a great wave of unexpected talent that came from women, gays, people of ethnicity and others… and we started, very slowly to witness a bit of a change for the best. Yes indeedy, Doctor Who is the child of the awful old crone that we revere – the Auntie who had good stuff but also allowed  Eldorado to appear on our screens, and series as bizarre as Help Me Anthea, I’m Infested, starring Anthea Turner and an exterminator (along with sundry mice, rats, moles and cockroaches).

But Doctor Who was of another order. Doctor Who was and is great, and I have watched it since I entered my teens, from the time when it appeared in black and white, starring William Hartnell through to the glory years of Tom Baker in 1974. Tom Baker was, of course, the greatest incarnation of them all. By the time Tom Baker appeared I was in my 20s, but I still loved my mummy sooo much for knitting me the Doctor’s stripey scarf for Christmas. It was a very special present. It was a sad day when Tom Baker went… I found it tricky to even accept the Doctors portrayed by Peter Davison, Colin Baker or Sylvester McCoy.

And years passed, and the aged Auntie (who by now had come to her senses) revived the good Doctor, and although Christopher Eccleston appeared when I was a mere babe in my fifties, it seemed exciting that such a great hero should return. And of course, David Tennant was truly wonderful, the family just loved him, and Matt Smith rather less so. I personally adored Peter Capaldi, but some of the episodes seem to leave much to be desired, and a certain tiredness crept into some of the scripts… particularly the stinker concerning the Doctor repeatedly banging his head against a stone wall for thousands of years ‑ an interesting metaphor for a script writer clearly bereft of ideas.

But now great changes are in the air and afoot and around, and we have yet another incarnation of Doctor Who – Jodie Whittaker, and let’s face it, she looks very much like the best since Tom Baker and David Tennant. Sadly, I am at choir practice this evening, so I won’t be able to catch up with the latest antics of the Doctor until later tonight, but I will do so. It all looks very promising, the companions are lovely, and there is only one thing missing — I just feel a bit discombobulated until the Tardis reappears.

 

 

Felines, Fun and Funeral Readings

A warm and wonderful welcome to the Antbeat blog on this sunny day in autumn. Sad to say, the beautiful summer is fading away, and also sad to say my blog does not leap onto the electronic page with the regularity and wit that I would wish. I do admire those people who blog away all the time, by night and day, constantly churning out breath-taking wit and pithy remarks. But here is some news… I have launched a new website of funeral readings – called www.funeralreadings.org and I hope it will prove useful to those good people and celebrants who have had enough of Henry Scott Holland who has been telling us for the past century “What is this death but a negligible accident?” Excuse me, but this negligible accident happens to us all… so why does everyone go on using this morbid little reading all the time? Maybe there are just not enough heartfelt and varied funeral readings around.

The two latest additions to www.funeralreadings.org  took umpteen years to write, but I hope they are a touch fresher than “Death is Nothing at All. One was inspired by a scientist who wanted a reading for his wife that reassured him that consciousness doesn’t end with death, it’s called What If,  the other is for a cat, because I know how upsetting it is to lose a pet. I am a cat person, which is OK, as Facebook and the world are awash with cats. Sadly the cat population is effectively seeing off the bird population, which is why I don’t have a cat anymore. My much-loved cat died many years ago, and I only had to think about him, and his crazy sense of fun, to appreciate how special he was. I’ve been told that the result is very sentimental, and that said I am (sadly) reminded of what Norman Mailer said about sentimentality, which is that ‘…sentimentality is the emotional promiscuity of those who have no sentiment’ to which I can only reply that somebody, somewhere also said… ‘sentimentality is a disease you can catch from the Americans.’ If that’s the case, I reckon I watch far too much American Schlock and do too much of the music as well, so I am well and truly infected.

Anyway, sentimentality apart, here is my cat reading… and a picture of the neighbour’s cat, which is very glamorous. It is a very English cat, but I don’t know if it voted for Brexit.He keeps trying to get into our house. If only my nephew wasn’t so allergic to felines this place would be populated by zillions of neighbouring cats, but thereby hangs another tail….or tale…

Cat, Friend and Companion

Life goes with scrapes
Doors, dogs, dicey streets
Happy holidays, sad workdays
And those skipping spirits
That cannot be ignored
Padding shared paths

Laughed and loved
Soft fur, loud purr
Teased and fluffed
With fleas and stuff

Saucers, special bowls
Impatient whiskers
Wicked ways
Pawing and bluffing
Yelling for nothing
Except food

My cat was a friend
And everywhere we went
My friend went with me
Even 100 miles away
Even when freer than free
We had connection

You will understand
When I say
I lost my best friend today
A small friend
Whose dancing spirit
Has curled up
Gone to sleep
And now holds a place in my heart
Gone, just for a moment
Never forgotten, never apart

 

 

 

 

Valued and Valuable – Restriction and Respect — Aretha and her glorious music in the 1960s and beyond

In 1968 I bought Aretha Franklin’s ‘I Never Loved a Man The Way Love You’ at enormous cost. I was a student living off 10 shillings a week, and that album was priced at £1/12/6d or maybe more, a small fortune at that time. Later on, the albums went up to £1/17/6d. I don’t know how I and others like me (millions of us baby boomers) managed to get our hands on those albums — ‘Aretha Arrives’, ‘Soul 69’ and ‘Young Gifted and Black’ as well as all the other pop stuff… well, I do know, we used to do all sorts of work to get our hands on those sounds, which meant that the value of that music and its power was incalculable.  After a year of being a student in 1968 I realised that I wanted more music and more life experience and more fun, so I dropped out of undergraduate life and went to work full time… and I suspect that Aretha’s music contributed to those potent feelings about independence and adventure that drove me up and away from university.

Radio Caroline – a breath of fresh air at the time

We had been starved of pop, R & B and jazz until the late 1960s. There is no question that when you have so little, something like access to music in that way is a privilege, and its role in one’s life takes on a new meaning, which would be difficult to explain today. Music represented freedom for real. Because of trade union restrictions about playing non-live music, The BBC only started to play recorded pop music in September 1967, and that was still restricted. Before that we accessed the dicey sounds of the ever-cheerful pirate stations broadcasting off the East Coast – Radio Caroline and Wonderful Radio London (1964 to 1967) with its Fab 40. Before that we had to fight to hear the pop music and jazz we wanted to hear – we shared albums played by travelling friends, and weekly listened to the strains of Radio Luxembourg’s top 20, heard every Sunday night under the bedclothes as it faded and returned on a borrowed and cranky transistor radio.

The cranky transistor – essential for Radio Luxembourg


Today music is everywhere, and the scope and shape of that music is vast and has become underlined by the music video. We are that much poorer. The power of sound alone means that I can recall wonderful, strange and even intimate moments in my life simply by association with certain pieces of music. Music videos interfere with that poetic way of thinking. 

The power of Aretha Franklin’s soul sounds belong to me and my generation, and helped form our ideas about race, harmony, understanding and of course… respect. The Queen of Soul – that glorious girl — helped to define us all with her harmonious gifts of brilliance and beauty.