Tuesday, 24 March 2009


I am re-reading "South from Granada." It is partly as a result of my first enjoying it, about 50 years ago, that we live in an out-of-the-way part of Spain now.
The big pic is Gerald Brenan, about 1920, I would say.
The queer-looking bod on the far left is Lytton Strachey. More of him later.
Having lived in a Spanish village for two years now, my perspective is changed. The book is the same but has a quite different meaning for me.
Remarkable, both the similarities and the differences in Brenan´s life and times and ours.
He has a chapter called The Village Calendar telling how the saint´s days and religious festivals regulate, not only the social life, but the working schedule. Still happens here. You don´t plant alfalfa until after Saint Eulalia´s day, or whatever.
Existence in Andalucia back then was literally Medieval - no electricity, no plumbing, no roads. Now we live in unimaginable luxury - with central heating and computers and a car to take us to Sahagun, six miles away. Brenan, who was an heroic walker, who have done that on foot, there and back, twice a day without giving it a thought. He tells how he once walked 57 miles from Yegen to Almeria in two days. Over mountains.
One of the most enjoyable parts of the book is the account of Strachey´s visit in 1920. As there were no roads to Yegen, mules were needed. Strachey, was effete, delicate, neurotic. Brenan says of him, "He seemed almost indecently lacking in ordinaryness."
That seems to me as great a compliment as one might wish to be paid.
The visit was a bit like trying to Climb Everest with Truman Capote or Yves Saint Laurent. A disaster of course, but funny.
Two friends of mine are coming over from England in a day or so.
Neither resembles Strachey, though they are not all that ordinary, either.

Sunday, 22 March 2009


LUANDA, Angola – Tens of thousands of Angola's Catholics lined the streets of the capital Saturday for a blessing from Pope Benedict XVI, who urged the country's faithful to reach out and convert people who believe in witchcraft.
But a stampede at a stadium before one of the pope's speeches left two people dead and others injured.
"The pope is very upset," a Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said late Saturday.

Naughty old witches.

I have recently been examining all the known superstitions of the world, and do not find in our particular superstition (Christianity) one redeeming feature. They are all alike founded on fables and mythology.
Thomas Jefferson

P.S. Readers may be surprised to learn that I am superstitious myself. For one thing, I firmly believe that backing losers is unlucky.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Bacon and Epicurus

Self-portrait by Francis Bacon. I have a theory about his work which I have never heard or read anywhere else, and this picture illustrates it more clearly than any other I have ever seen. I believe he got the idea for many of his paintings - self-portraits in particular - from travelling on the London Underground, which he did a lot. I myself often sat going home at night looking at my distorted reflection in the double-glazed window opposite, with the darkness of the tunnel behind it, and being fascinated by the effect.
But I am not Bacon, and did nothing about it but look and muse.
I talked with him several times in pubs and bars in the seventies and eighties, but only after I had gone to America, and after he died, did this idea occur to me.
So I have never discussed it with him.

Yesterday, I ranted on about Voltaire - what a great man he was and all. He is not the only one of course. Here are a few observations from Epicurus.
Epicureanism is generally utterly misunderstood. It does not mean living a gourmet, self-indulgent life, but virtually the opposite.

Here is a brief biog:

Epicurus : (Samos, 341 BC– Athens, 270 BC ) was a Greek philosopher and the founder of the school of philosophy called Epicureanism. Only a few fragments and letters remain of Epicurus's 300 written works. Much of what is known about Epicurean philosophy derives from later followers and commentators.
For Epicurus, the aim was to attain tranquillity, characterized by aponia, the absence of pain and fear, and by living a self-sufficient life. Pleasure and pain are the measures of what is good and bad. Death is the end of the body and the soul and should therefore not be feared.
The gods do not reward or punish humans.
The universe is infinite and eternal, and that events in the world are ultimately based on the motions and interactions of atoms moving in empty space.


The first and the last in the list are my favourites, for what that is worth.

If you wish to make a man rich, do not give him more money, but show him what he can live without.

Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.

I have never wished to cater to the mob; for what I know they do not approve, and what they approve I do not know.

If God listened to the prayers of men, all men would quickly have perished: for they are forever praying for evil against one another.

It is better for you to be free of fear lying upon a plank, than to have a golden couch and a rich table and be full of trouble.

It is folly for a man to pray to the gods for that which he has the power to obtain by himself.

It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and well and justly. And it is impossible to live wisely and well and justly without living a pleasant life.

It is not so much our friends' help that helps us, as the confidence of their help.

It is possible to provide security against other ills, but as far as death is concerned, we men live in a city without walls.

Justice... is a kind of compact not to harm or be harmed.

Misfortune seldom intrudes upon the wise man; his greatest and highest interests are directed by reason throughout the course of life.

Not what we have But what we enjoy, constitutes our abundance.

Nothing is enough for the man to whom enough is too little.

Of all the things which wisdom provides to make us entirely happy, much the greatest is the possession of friendship.

Of all things which wisdom provides to make life entirely happy, much the greatest is the possession of friendship.

Riches do not exhilarate us so much with their possession as they torment us with their loss.

Skillful pilots gain their reputation from storms and tempest.

The art of living well and the art of dying well are one.

The misfortune of the wise is better than the prosperity of the fool.

The time when most of you should withdraw into yourself is when you are forced to be in a crowd.

I would rather be first in a little Iberian village than second in Athens.


Manchester United 1, Liverpool 4
"I thought we were the better team, but the score doesn't reflect that."
Sir Alex Ferguson

This is the most intelligent entry I have blogged so far. Because hardly a word is written by me.

Sharp-eyed readers will notice that the picture is not the great Sir Alex. It is of a thinker, equally profound, possibly (in my opinion, at least) even more so.
You be the judge.
It is a portrait of Voltaire, one of the wisest men and greatest men who ever lived. You don´t have to take my word for that, as we will see.
Below is a tiny handful of his thoughts.
I doubt if there is this much wisdom in the Bible and Koran combined. They reveal him to be a man of reason, tolerance, decency and humor remarkable even today. And do not forget he lived in a time when to hold mildly contrary views to those of the current church and government could get a body hanged drawn and quartered - and in public too.

Sir Alex should consider himself lucky.

It is also a pity George W. Bush was not familiar with several of the observations below.


All murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.

An ideal form of government is democracy tempered with assassination.

Anyone who has the power to make you believe absurdities has the power to make you commit atrocities.

Behind every successful man stands a surprised mother-in-law.

Clever tyrants are never punished.

Common sense is not so common.

Divorce is probably of nearly the same date as marriage. I believe, however, that marriage is some weeks the more ancient.

Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.

Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do.

Every one goes astray, but the least imprudent are they who repent the soonest.

Everything's fine today, that is our illusion.

Faith consists in believing when it is beyond the power of reason to believe.

Fear follows crime and is its punishment.

God is a comedian, playing to an audience too afraid to laugh.

He is a hard man who is only just, and a sad one who is only wise.

He must be very ignorant for he answers every question he is asked.

He was a great patriot, a humanitarian, a loyal friend; provided, of course, he really is dead.

History is only the register of crimes and misfortunes.

I am very fond of truth, but not at all of martyrdom.

I hate women because they always know where things are.

I have lived eighty years of life and know nothing for it, but to be resigned and tell myself that flies are born to be eaten by spiders and man to be devoured by sorrow.

I know many books which have bored their readers, but I know of none which has done real evil.

Ice-cream is exquisite - what a pity it isn't illegal.

If God created us in his own image, we have more than reciprocated.

Illusion is the first of all pleasures.

Is there anyone so wise as to learn by the experience of others?

It is an infantile superstition of the human spirit that virginity would be thought a virtue and not the barrier that separates ignorance from knowledge.

It is better to risk saving a guilty man than to condemn an innocent one.

It is dangerous to be right in matters on which the established authorities are wrong.

Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.

Let us read and let us dance - two amusements that will never do any harm to the world.

Let us work without theorizing, it is the only way to make life endurable.

Life is thickly sown with thorns, and I know no other remedy than to pass quickly through them. The longer we dwell on our misfortunes, the greater is their power to harm us.

Man is free at the moment he wishes to be. (The first existentialist? P.)

Men use thought only as authority for their injustice, and employ speech only to conceal their thoughts.

Never argue at the dinner table, for the one who is not hungry always gets the best of the argument.

No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.

Nothing can be more contrary to religion and the clergy than reason and common sense.

Of all religions, the Christian should of course inspire the most tolerance, but until now Christians have been the most intolerant of all men. (Pre 9-11, of course. P.)

One great use of words is to hide our thoughts.

One merit of poetry few persons will deny: it says more and in fewer words than prose.

Opinion has caused more trouble on this little earth than plagues or earthquakes.

Optimism is the madness of insisting that all is well when we are miserable.

Originality is nothing but judicious imitation. The most original writers borrowed one from another.

Prejudices are what fools use for reason.

Stand upright, speak thy thoughts, declare The truth thou hast, that all may share;
Be bold, proclaim it everywhere: They only live who dare.

Superstition is to religion what astrology is to astronomy the mad daughter of a wise mother. These daughters have too long dominated the earth.

The ancient Romans built their greatest masterpieces of architecture, their amphitheaters, for wild beasts to fight in.

The art of government is to make two-thirds of a nation pay all it possibly can pay for the benefit of the other third.

The art of medicine consists in amusing the patient while nature cures the disease.

The best way to be boring is to leave nothing out.

The Holy Roman Empire is neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire.

The husband who decides to surprise his wife is often very much surprised himself.

The infinitely little have a pride infinitely great.

The multitude of books is making us ignorant.

The opportunity for doing mischief is found a hundred times a day, and of doing good once in a year.

The public is a ferocious beast; one must either chain it or flee from it.

The safest course is to do nothing against one's conscience. With this secret, we can enjoy life and have no fear from death.

The superfluous, a very necessary thing.

The true triumph of reason is that it enables us to get along with those who do not possess it.

The truths of religion are never so well understood as by those who have lost the power of reason.

There are truths which are not for all men, nor for all times.

Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so, too.

Time, which alone makes the reputation of men, ends by making their defects respectable.

To hold a pen is to be at war.

To the living we owe respect, but to the dead we owe only the truth.

Tyrants have always some slight shade of virtue; they support the laws before destroying them.

Very often, say what you will, a knave is only a fool.

We are all full of weakness and errors; let us mutually pardon each other our follies - it is the first law of nature.

We must cultivate our own garden.

We never live; we are always in the expectation of living.

What is tolerance? It is the consequence of humanity. We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other's folly - that is the first law of nature.

What most persons consider as virtue, after the age of 40 is simply a loss of energy.

Saturday, 14 March 2009


Kauto Star leaves them all for dead in the Gold Cup

One week off from the blog. Mostly due to Cheltenham races, but also a stretch of fine weather, which continues. Daffodils and things are flowering in the yard. We - Reb, that is - are installing a watering system out back in what is currently a desert . The chickens watch us with amazed clucks. We have also hung a spectacularly ugly fly screen made of plastic strips in the front doorway.

Well, the fences are jumped, the races are run and done, and a bit of my cash along with it. Not too satisfactory, due partly to technical difficulties.
The problem is, what with being in another country and with slow band width, whatever that is, and having a Mac instead of a PC, I had to listen to the races rather than watch them on the computer, and even that was be a bit unpredictable at times.
It took me back half a century to standing in smoke-filled betting shops (no sitting down allowed, then) full of undesirable gamblers like myself , listening (no TV allowed) to a deadpan commentary and cursing horribly as our dreams went up along with the Woodbine fumes and our pounds, shillings and pence went down the drain.
Many an afternoon was wasted with Jeff Bernard in some Soho hovel shoulder to shoulder with Cypriot waiters screaming "Fuckeeng Piggot - ´ee gone an´ done it again!" in my ear.
Still, it is amazing that I can do anything at all out here on the Meseta. We have come a long way all right.
And there is still the Kentucky Derby to come, and Dunkirk to bet.
There´s optimism, for you.

If you pretend to be good, the world takes you very seriously. If you pretend to be bad, it doesn't. Such is the astounding stupidity of optimism.
Oscar Wilde

Optimism is the madness of insisting that all is well when we are miserable.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Miracle time

I have been neglecting the blog recently, for which - to my loyal reader - I am sorry. Mainly due to getting very enthused over Cheltenham Races next week. More of that later on. But down to more mundane stuff. On Thursday there were two stories on Yahoo news with the word "miracle" in the headline - on a guy who had survived two days on his upturned boat and a Turk whose "miracle" has to be seen (below in the link).

The survival of Nick Schuyler, who endured almost two days at sea after a boating accident that probably cost two National Football League players and another person their lives, was nothing short of a miracle, his doctor said.
“To stay in the water for 46 hours and be alive afterwards is a miracle,” Dr. Mark Rumbak, who is treating Schuyler at Tampa General Hospital in Tampa, Florida, said at a televised news conference.

Then there was this:

The tiny Turkish man shown in the videos escaped with only scratches and bruises... another miracle!

In my time I have covered several "miracles." Just getting out the paper most nights almost fell into that bracket.

But I especially remember the Quecreek Mine Miracle. Nine coal miners were trapped by rising water deep under Western Pennsylvania during the summer of 2002. They were down in a hole for 77 hours and dozens of very determined, smart and dedicated people managed to get them all out alive. It was a marvel of hope and engineering. But who got the credit? God, of course. It was, as practically everyone cried, "A miracle!"

It is very rare that mining accidents turn out well. The next one in Pennsylvania ended as usual, with all the poor buggers dead. Pennsylvania mine safety officials say that 20,000 bituminous coal miners have died in accidents since the commonwealth began keeping records in 1877. Did we hear, "All dead! It´s a miracle!"

We did not.

If there is a god who gives a damn - which I personally doubt - when he´s not getting away with miracles, he´s getting away with murder.

The Christian religion not only was at first attended with miracles, but even at this day cannot be believed by any reasonable person without one.
-- David Hume

And if I come away from Cheltenham Races showing a profit, it will be a miracle.

Monday, 2 March 2009


Portraits of Assorted Beasts.

The relationship between Murphy, Una and Tim is complex and subtle. Una seems to regard Murphy as the child she never had, and plays with him often - terrible rough games involving pulling the cat around by his scruff. But Murph seems to delight in it and when Una tires of it, will come back shouting for more.
Tim doesn´t care much for Murphy. Jealousy. He resents it that Murph can come and climb on my lap any time he wants - diverting vital affection that should go to him.
Tim also resents it that Murph can stroll about the house bellowing arrogantly for attention, food, company, the best spot in the dog basket - and get it.

I have studied many philosophers and many cats. The wisdom of cats is infinitely superior.

Hippolyte Taine


The dog has seldom been successful in pulling man up to its level of sagacity, but man has frequently dragged the dog down to his.
James Thurber


My life has been full of terrible misfortunes most of which never happened.
Michel de Montaigne

I tried to find Stevie Smith saying it, but no good. It´s not the same written down, but there we are.

The Galloping Cat

by Stevie Smith

Oh I am a cat that likes to
Gallop about doing good
One day when I was
Galloping about doing good, I saw
A figure in the path; I said
Get off! (Be-
I am a cat that likes to
Gallop about doing good)
But he did not move, instead
He raised his hand as if
To land me a cuff
So I made to dodge so as to
Prevent him bringing it orf,
Un-for-tune-ately I slid
On a banana skin
Some Ass had left instead
Of putting in the bin. So
His hand caught me on the cheek
I tried
To lay his arm open from wrist to elbow
With my sharp teeth

Because I am
A cat that likes to gallop about doing good.
Would you believe it?
He wasn’t there
My teeth met nothing but air,
But a Voice said: Poor Cat,
(Meaning me) and a soft stroke
Came on me head
Since when
I have been bald.
I regard myself as
A martyr to doing good
Also I heard a swoosh
As of wings, and saw
A halo shining at the height of
Mrs Gubbins’s backyard fence,
So I thought: What’s the good
Of galloping about doing good
When angels stand in the path
And do not do as they should
Such as having an arm to be bitten off
All the same I
Intend to go on being
A cat that likes to
Gallop about doing good
Now with my bald head I go,
Chopping the untidy flowers down, to
and fro,
An’ scooping up the grass to show
The cinder path of wrath
Ha ha ha ha, ho,
Angels aren’t the only ones who do
not know
What’s what and that
Galloping about doing good
Is a full time job
That needs
An experienced eye of earthly
Sharpness, worth I dare say
(if you’ll forgive a personal note)
A good deal more
Than all that skyey stuff
Of angels that make so bold as
To pity a cat like me that
Gallops about doing good.

Sunday, 1 March 2009


Bob, the singing fool, named capriciously for Dylan, grabs a few rays in the yard Friday. He will not be outside today as it is grey and cold - nor tomorrow - when snow is due to make a comeback.

I urge you to read Reb´s blog (see on right) about yesterday´s action in the village.

And so I will turn instead to today. Reb was running a temperature and decided to skip Mass, so I went alone. Odd thing for an unbeliever to do, but there you are.
Very small turnout: just twelve of us. Normally there are about twenty. And this despite a bonus offering of Ash. Santiago the priest was unable to get here on Wednesday, the trad Ash day, so today was substituted. I went and got my forehead marked with the other eleven sinners.
Santiago said a few words about the symbolism of it - mortality, penitence, humility etc., although, looking around the tiny church, one might think that few of us needed much reminding of the frailty of life at our collective ages.
Afterward, walking home, it struck me that one of the things I find so pleasing about our town is the total lack of class structure. Maybe it simply is not populous enough, but there is no "Lord of the Manor," no "leaders." My friend Estebanito is the Mayor, but he didn´t want to be, he was more or less forced into the job because nobody else would do it, and that was that.
I don´t know if anyone here is rich. Certainly, nobody is poor. Nobody is cold or hungry. And if any of them are rich, they don´t spend a cent on smart cars or elegant clothes or impressive houses. (They do lash out on some enormous tractors, though.)
We might be the most prosperous people in town or we may be the least. I have no idea.
And I like that.