The last time I had to write any essays was for entrance into the Army Staff College in 1978, with papers on International Relations and War Studies. A great tip was to liberally drop appropriate quotes into the essays, hopefully giving an impression of being well read; like ‘Jaw! Jaw! Not War! War!’ (Note 1). Little did they know!
Not sure about you but I would hazard a guess that occasionally you come across some words, some comment, some observation, my grandparents would have used the French expression ‘bon mot’, that stops you in your tracks; you think “That’s so nice! That’s wonderfully apt! How beautifully expressed! Etcetera.” I certainly do and am often so moved to jot down those words in my Notes app on my iPhone. (Note 2) This postcard covers some of these, attributed where possible but if not I acknowledge that I did not write them!
One of the most amusing autobiographies I’ve read was the late Clive James’ ‘Unreliable Memories’ (1980). Of his writing, Australian James (1939-2019) wrote: “All I do is turn a phrase until it catches the light.” All of us who want to turn our thoughts into words look for that, I guess, wanting them to ‘catch the light’!
Philosophical individuals have written much the future:
“The future is just mere speculation. Now is the time to live tomorrow’s memories.” Like ‘live today as if your last’, but who does that, even if you acknowledge the wisdom of the direction? Then this little encapsulation: “Yesterday is history; tomorrow is mystery.” The rhyme of history and mystery is cute although it still comes back to living in the present. Try Yoga meditation if you want to learn how to be in the present. There is also a reminder that history can teach us a great deal; today we are forgetting how important is the study of history, of events and societies’ reaction to them.
“Memory is an unreliable friend.” It’s been described in many ways, this storage of our experiences, our data bank, no more so that over the last year or so when individuals have tried to redefine the word ‘truth’! Then I read ‘The Spaces In Between’, an autobiographical account of the early life of Caroline Jones, a yoga enthusiast and good friend. She writes about one’s ability to recall experiences: “….. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings – and who is to say that my version is true anyway? Who is entitled to say what is true in any family’s history? It is all shades of grey, interpretations and misinterpretations: something that passes one person by might be the thing that tips another onto a different journey; and all, in the end, coloured by imagination and weakened by unreliable memory.” Exactly: so simply put.
There’s this Chinese Proverb: “I hear and forget; I see and I remember; I do and I understand.” So ‘doing’ something gives one greater insight than simply observing or hearing? So better to play the piano than listen to someone else’s efforts, or enjoy looking at a painting rather than painting? Food for thought! (Er? Cooking rather than eating?)
I enjoy reading the wisdom of the Zen philosophers, especially the stories of the Muddy Road and the tale of the Cup of Tea. In the latter Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868 – 1912), received a university professor who came to enquire about Zen. Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full and then kept on pouring. The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!” “Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?” Both stories illustrate how we get obsessed with our own ego.
I often find that a phrase in a foreign language sounds more romantic than if read in English. Dante Alighieri (1265 – 1321) was a Florentine writer, poet and philosopher best remembered for his ‘The Divine Comedy’, a journey through the souls of Hell, Purgatory and Paradise. I recently read a quote from his Paradiso: “L’amor che move il sole e l’altre stele.’. Although lovely, I don’t think the English translation has that same magic: ‘The love that moves the sun and other stars.’ One of his more popular quotes is “Remember tonight for it’s the beginning of forever.”
There are a great many quotes made by people at the end of their time on earth. One I read the other day stays with me: “We loved this earth but could not stay!” Then there is the story how Harold McMillan, Prime Minister of the UK from 1957-1963, sat in his chair with his evening whisky, finished the glass and murmured: “I think I will go to sleep now!” ….. and died. He was 92.
The Academy of St Martin’s in The Field Chamber Orchestra
The late Sir Neville Marriner was the founder and conductor of the Academy of St Martin’s in The Field orchestra in London. One day, irritated during rehearsals by the piercing sounds of a pneumatic drill being used in the road outside the church, he stormed out to confront the chap. “Are you interested in sex and travel?” “Of course!” said the man. “Well, fuck off then!” The music theme reminds me of Sir Graham Vick’s comment: “You do not need to be educated to be touched, to be moved by opera.” Which piece of opera touches you, gets inside your emotions?
“Science takes things apart to see how they work. Religion puts thing together to see what they mean.” Jonathan Sacks was notably the Chief Rabbi from 1991 to 2013. Ennobled, Baron Sacks was also a philosopher, peer and very much a public figure.
I really hope you enjoyed some of these? There will be more – to be continued ……….
Richard 10th September 2021
PS In PC 245 ‘Tagus and Cascais’ I mentioned the Niagara River. Coincidentally this popped up in Facebook this week, a rare photograph of the dry falls in 1969.
Note 1 Attributed to Sir Winston Churchill
Note 2 If you read books on a Kindle or some electronic device you can see which passages others have found profound/interesting/apt/funny/poignant.