This site runs on small donations- thanks!
Full list of articles

Ethiopian proverb

The person whom God has cursed trades butter in the summer and salt in the rainy season.



The latest word that public people think will solve the world's problems. Since there is no shortage of such words, there is little prospect in the foreseeable future of people relinquishing the desire for a word to replace what is really quite common: genuine insight, informed experience, common sense, tolerant other words what separates the best qualities of human beings from mere automation.


vodka corrupts

As Steve Micalef always said: vodka corrupts and Absolut Vodka corrupts absolutely...


the pearl

Everyone knows it's the grit that seeds the pearl within the oyster. It applies to life- grit in the form of irritants and things we cannot avoid help us to grow. But it also applies to art, or at least making new things such as books. It's hard to start from scratch. Most books are improvements, variations or disguised copies of earlier books. You need grit to start- and this is often some piece of unwelcome experience that, like grit, is indigestible. Writers come to cherish their hard upbringing- look at Dickens and the way he mined the blacking factory where he worked aged 12 (even naming Fagin after his fellow worker Bob Fagin). The bad experience, the emotional dumdum bullet, the scars of childhood and adolescence- all this is grit. It won't go away so the artist weaves a web around it to make it beautiful. But the cost is obvious: sane ordinary folk have less grit to work with. That's where the traditional grit comes in. Modern grit is indigestible experience. Ancient grit come in the form of stories, narratives, myths, legends, yarns, details, journeys, odd facts, snatches of dialogue. All that is sharp, pithy and irreducible, just like grit, can be the starting point for creating something new. Joyce and Eliot used old myths as their grit. Detective story writers use the form of the mystery story as theirs. Shakespeare worked from potted histories and biographies that today would be considered children's reading material. In fact kid's books- both fact and fiction- are a great source of grit. They can provide that kick start, that tiny push, that require ounce of shove to get you going, bowling along in fact.


Catastrophe theory of feeling really rather good

In the 70s catastrophe theory was used to explain things that chaos theory explained in the 80s and the tipping point has explained for the last few years…however there is more than a grain of truth in the idea that some things have a threshold that needs to be broken down by cumulative assaults- and then it spreads like wildfire. Humour for example- if you have three funny things on a page the fourth may produce a belly laugh. It is the sheer density of humour that eventually makes people think- hey- this is really funny, rather than the individual quality of a gag. The same with feeling good about yourself- three good things one after another suddenly flip that switch and you’re really up a level of personal content and happiness and energy. This happened to me today- a talk I’m giving has sold out, then I heard a friend will be visiting Wigtown festival when I will be there and a rather tricky repair I effected on our house has worked better than I thought- all small stuff taken individually but cumulatively suddenly I am winging along feeling very good indeed- because everywhere you turn in your mind you see something good to think about. Perhaps the lesson is- since good things can’t happen everyday- maintain this happy interior landscape by having good things ready to think about whenever you are in downtime mode. The other thing is that once you are through the threshold you can hang on in there a long time after what got you there has receded, so an element of timing is involved. If you have three good things happen rapidly in succession, say, once a week then I speculate you’ll be in the highest of spirits…


one minute tai chi

I have friends who do a ten minute yoga routine every morning before breakfast. I applaud the notion, and from time to time I have had my own press ups/exercise type routines early in the morning but, let’s face it- who’s got the time?

Now we all know this is nonsense. We have loads of time, we just waste it etc etc. But the outer brain, the public brain, the social brain REALLY DOES THINK that it has no time. That’s why we always kind of perk up and agree when people suggest we have no time. Like you are now. And why WE LOVE anything that ‘saves’ time. Like ONE MINUTE TAI CHI. Yes, you’re loving it already aren’t you?

One minute Tai chi starts with doing the slow up and down sweep movements – watch a tai chi basics video on youtube to get the picture. You do this routine – do the legs bit as well if you can- until you get bored. Then segue into all the exercise and warm up bits you can remember- but do them only once, twice or thrice- one sit up, one press up, one weird yoga dog posture, one touch the toes etc etc. Pretty soon one of these will get your fancy. Hey that feels good you’ll think- then go with it- do five or ten. But no pushing. This is one minute tai chi. If you only want to- spend only one minute on the whole routine. I just did and I feel FANTASTIC!

The main benefit is that you go through a massive RANGE of movement in a very short time. In Japan old people don’t have bad knees, neither do men in the middle east- why because they get on their knees every day (in Japan to use a squat loo and to generally squat and sit, in the middle east to pray- women aren't required to do the knee bending public prayer ritual so they have terrible knees often) - if you don't use it you lose it. The second benefit is that you’ll be tempted to go for a bit longer from time to time and that will actually improve fitness. The third benefit is that you can claim to be a one minute tai chi master.



britain's moral collapse?

There is an awful lot of talk about rebuilding morality and saving Britain from a moral collapse but what is on offer seems shallow and wrongheaded about where moral sense actually springs from. The idea that morality is derived from a set of principles is something only modern philosophers need to take seriously. That’s the inheritance of a more ancient philosophy where the rules were always contingent on something suprahuman, something bigger than us, something awe inspiring, often, but not always, a recognisable deity. That’s the real well spring of any moral behaviour- the recognition that you are a tiny part of something massive and meaningful- you can feel it in the face of nature or perhaps in the face of intuitions of forces beyond our paltry abilities to know or describe.

Appeals to family and community and such like only work when you are in the right relation to the world, when you feel the abundant awe inspired by the planet we live on.

In the past such feelings were usually dragged along in the giant trawl net called religion. Where now?

It may even be the case, as others have pointed out, that a certain amount of moral collapse is due to take place before something new can takes its place.