the day after Mardi Gras

Posted in opinion on February 17th, 2010 by george

Today is Ash Wednesday, the 1st day of Lent. For the next 40 days, Christians, as best they can, turn their backs on earthly delights and renew their commitment to God. Traditionally they give up something they enjoy, and take up something that may be of service to others. Each in their own way make sacrifices.

It is in anticipation of this behaviour, that the carnival ethic of Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, and so on has evolved. Christians around the world have relished the last chance to sing and dance and make merry, before the 40 days of fasting and abstinence begin.

Much like Christmas, Mardi Gras has been taken to heart by secular society, as another opportunity for revelry and excess. As usual they are eager to join in any celebration, but baulk at the idea of personal sacrifice. Where’s the fun in that? It is impossible for a non-believer to understand the joy the faithful experience in the performance of their Christian duties. Still, as at Christmas, I feel compelled to encourage everyone to at least consider the origins of the traditional celebrations they so heartily embrace.

No matter what we believe, most of us can own up to falling a little short in the human kindness department. That in particular is what I hope to work on and improve in myself this Lent.

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a certain amount of truth

Posted in opinion on February 5th, 2010 by george

Through the ages, the word and the notion, truth, has been the subject of conjecture, debate, and reams of written opinion and discourse. I don’t pretend to have anything startlingly new to add. But the phrase which is the title of this post, and what it suggests, has always disturbed me.

One of the dictionary definitions of certain is, ‘some though not much‘. For some reason, this is the meaning I assume to be in use in the phrase. In which case, ‘a certain amount of truth’ is a convoluted way of saying something is mostly a pack of lies!

My instinctive response when encountering this phrase has always been, “Well either its true, or it isn’t.” But truth isn’t  necessarily such an absolute. In the material world it often is. A pint of beer, a dozen eggs, dawn, winter…There’s no denying these things. They just are. A pint of beer is a very certain amount of truth. As in sure, finite…

However in the realm of ideas, philosophy, metaphysics and such, there seem as many degrees of truth as there are colours in the spectrum. Perhaps it is something to do with the nature of words, which ultimately fail us when we try to convey our insights to others. Music or pictures often do a better job. But at best, even they allow only momentary glimpses of something we yearn to know better. And that something we suspect is truth, or at least part of it.

‘A certain amount of truth’ sounds like a kind of seasoning that one might add to one’s reality or perception of it. Enough would make it truthful, but anything less would not.

If we are spicing our lives in this way, let us serve generous helpings!

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truants

Posted in journal, opinion on January 28th, 2010 by george

This morning as I pottered around my kitchen rearranging the debris, I noticed several children wandering by, after 9.00am, not looking like they were hurrying to school. First two girls walked by both eating some kind of bright yellow candy. Next a boy cycled by then stopped to untangle his shoelace from his chain. A few minutes later a lone boy ambled by peering around as if looking for some company. I would estimate all of these to be between 12 and 16 years old.

Although it is none of my business, it has piqued my curiosity! I know it is not a holiday because both my children have gone to school. Have they complained to their working parents that they are not feeling well, then when the house has emptied, got up and gone out to look for some fun? That’s what I used to do. Read more »

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blessed are the poor

Posted in opinion on December 27th, 2009 by george

I’ve never been a big fan of shopping. For me the impetus is need rather than want. Only when I really have to, do I shop. When that moment arrives, I find what is required as quickly as possible and buy it. Leaving the store, or these days, website, is the only enjoyable part for me. I always have something better to do.

I also prefer to shop alone. There are people I love who like nothing better than ambling slowly through displays of goods, stopping many times to pick up and handle items on offer, things they often wouldn’t dream of buying.  A trip to buy milk and bread, winds up being an extended market research project. Not for me! I have ruined more than one relationship, foolishly accepting a casual invitation to accompany someone I like, shopping. In no time at all, I don’t like them as much.

This is one way in which the poor are blessed. I am fortunate to be part of a Western society wherein even the poorest are by comparison very wealthy in the eyes of millions of Asian, South American or African people. Nonetheless, within this society I am definitely one of the ‘have-nots’. Mostly this does not concern me, but the pressure to change is relentless. Every wile and seductive measure is marshalled to persuade me to get more and better stuff, without which I am to consider myself inadequate.

The poorer a person is, the further are such desires from that person’s mind. For the millions of dispossessed around the world, the hunger for something, anything, to eat, and a place to lay their head down for the night keep them busy enough. For them, the choices our consumer society confound themselves with are laughable. They have none of these options, so why dwell on the impossible? Deprived of material advantage, they quite naturally find solace in the world around them, the people in it, and spiritual concerns. Blessed indeed…

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I live in a shopping mall

Posted in opinion, rants on December 6th, 2009 by george

st catherine'sI live in the old English university town of Cambridge. Along the river Cam, are some of the most beautiful old buildings in Europe. A trip I never tire of is a punt ride down this river, from which vantage point, the buildings are perhaps best admired. Far from the traffic, the lapping of water against the side of the boat as one drifts past the colleges that have stood there for so long has a deeply calming effect.

mathematicalThis is indeed a venerable ‘seat of learning’. Great men and women have studied, researched and taught here for centuries. Many students have gone on to become world leaders or captains of industry. The feeling of proximity to the ‘corridors of power’ is tangible.

Yet on a trip to town on Monday, it was all to easy to forget this side of Cambridge. Read more »

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thanksgiving

Posted in opinion on November 26th, 2009 by george

Corncop2God bless America for coming up with such a great holiday. To simply gather with friends and family and give thanks. And there is plenty to be thankful for.

My memories of Thanksgivings past when living in the US, include a tradition of everyone at the table being given a chance to say what they are thankful for this year, before the feasting begins.girl-turk

We do well to recall our successes, big and small, and the joyful times we have experienced. Looking back over a year, surely everyone has some positive memories, even in the midst of great suffering. Once we focus on the good things, the list grows surprisingly quickly.

Living in the UK, where complaining seems to be the order of the day, it is all too easy to forget. Our sainted media thrives on digging up dirt and picking holes in everything. But then it has long been established that good news doesnt sell.

ncookedturkey2Unlike its beleaguered cousin Christmas, Thanksgiving is not much tainted by commerce. There is no extravagant gift buying. All that is given is thanks, to each other and to God, for the abundance of good things we have.

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just say hello!

Posted in journal, opinion on November 19th, 2009 by george

S3600016Yesterday I walked to a local store to buy some milk for my morning coffee. Close to my destination, I encountered an elderly, African looking man waiting for a bus. He appeared both dishevelled and disgruntled.

On impulse, I looked him in the eye and said, ‘Hello!’ Instantly his weathered face broke into a beatific grin and he mumbled a reply. I didn’t stop, but continued on my way.

As I walked away from him, I realised that I had behaved as I did, because of his African demeanour. If this sounds racist, I don’t believe it is, unless in a positive way! I spent several summers in Ghana, West Africa, and got used to their way of saying hello. On a daily basis, total strangers would greet me as they walked by, and not just because I was white. There seemed to me to be a tacit understanding there that no opportunity to acknowledge a fellow creature should be allowed to slip by. I never felt threatened or targeted in any way. I just felt included. How different from the city streets of England! Read more »

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cleanliness is next to dirtiness

Posted in journal, opinion on November 15th, 2009 by george

french maidCleaning is an endless task. I know people who have spotless homes, but spend every waking moment keeping them that way. Conversely there are those who always have something better to do, and choose to blithely ignore the absolute squalor surrounding them. I am somewhere in between.

Despite my best intentions, I wind up letting cleaning/tidying up slide until it overwhelms me. Then in a frenzy of remorse and disgust, I thoroughly tidy and clean everything and everywhere, promising myself that henceforth I will stick to a regular cleaning schedule. I may even keep my promise for a while, but generally within a month or so my good intentions are a dim memory. Read more »

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sorry prince charlie

Posted in how about?, opinion on November 11th, 2009 by george

7989185Poor old Charles and Camilla. Hauled off to Montreal to present new colours to the Black Watch of Canada, they were confronted with more than 100 anti monarchy demonstrators.

Julien Gaudeau, a spokesman for the militant nationalist group Reseau de Resistance du Quebec which organised the protest, said: “The prince is important as a symbol of power given by the blood. We don’t want this kind of symbol in Quebec, more than 80% of the population in Quebec is opposed to the monarchy.” Read more »

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statistics, the first cousins of lies

Posted in humbug alert, opinion on November 7th, 2009 by george

policing cambridgeThis little magazine dropped through my letterbox the other day. Its purpose is to summarise police work in the area over the past year. All very commendable, but I take issue with one claim made in an artice entitled, ‘Life on the street’. In it, PC Christian Dicks states that, “The average homeless person in Cambridge can make £400 a week by begging.” He goes on to say, “In London I’m told its more like £1000.”

I cant help wondering where PC Dicks gleaned this information. My guess is it is the result of an exaggerated account of a particularly good day. Perhaps, a few days before Xmas, someone wound up with £73 one evening. He or she was probably far from average. Most likely they were playing seasonal music. Excited by their success, they bragged about it to fellow beggars & buskers, rounding their earnings up to £80 in the process. In this new polished version of reality, our braggart puts in a 5 day week and earns £400. And hey presto, in the giddy world of statistics, £400 becomes average earnings. Read more »

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