Saturday, 31 July 2010

The Snake Pit

Snake skeleton. Seems to be laughing, doesn't it?

When I was about ten years old, I had an epiphany. I was in a museum, that of Natural History in South Kensington, I suppose, and was looking at the skeleton of a snake.
It struck me how similar it was to my own skeleton. It was, to be sure, no more
than a skull and a long ribcage, but I realised that the snake and I were quite closely related. We were 'constructed' on the same basic principles - literally brothers under the skin (or scales, in our case).
Why a snake's skeleton, rather than, say, a gorilla's should move me in that manner, I really don't know. But there we are.
It was also, I believe, the start of my skepticism about religion as I knew it.
On the face of it, there is no obvious connection, but connections are sometimes
Later on, at the Big Boys' Catholic school, we were taught that snakes, along
with gorillas and cats and dogs and cods, would not be going to Heaven.
No, not even Major, my Granny's saintly old Moggie, who was my best pal.
Nor, for that matter, would Protestants, Hindus or Jews (Moslems simply didn't
exist for us). In fact, snakes, who had no chance at all of wriggling under the pearly gates, still had a better chance than Jews.
Jews had had their opportunity, and blown it years ago..
And those of us who persisted in doing newspaper delivery rounds on Sundays wouldn't be going either. We'd be consigned to the snake pit amid a seething and chaotic concatenation of Cobras and Calvinists and Cohens.
The notion that only humans merit eternal reward seemed to me then, and still
does, insufferable arrogance on our part.
Are we really to believe that God, over many millions of years, created untold billions of creatures, the vast majority never even set eyes upon by any puny human being, to live and die for no apparent reason?
If we humans (even the Jews) do have immortal souls that Pigs and Pythons and
Parrots lack, at what point were they inserted?
None of this idle speculation, is, of course, even remotely, an argument against
the existence of God.
But it does make one consider, if in fact He really does exist, what an odd sort of a chap he must be...

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Bang - I'm dead, and you're alive!

Little bit of Auden that resonates. Love that face! Want one like that when I grow up.Nothing to do with the crazy idea Big Bang idea below, though...

Only now when he has come
In walking distance of his tomb,
He at last discovers who
He had always been to whom
He so often was untrue.


Had an interesting idea while walking the dogs round the neolithic burial mound this morning.
Accepting the Big Bang theory to be true - maybe it can be linked up with Deism - the notion that God set the universe in motion, then walked away and left it to its own devices.
What if the Big Bang was a sort of cataclysmic suicide note?
What if God, tired of it all, (whatever 'it all' was) decided to bring the universe into existence and then - at the exact same moment - cause himself to cease to exist?
Would explain the apparent aimlessness of stuff.
Maybe in the 'seeds' of the universe he included the possibility, even probability, of life. Maybe He hoped, or even knew, that sometime, billions of years later, his farewell note would finally be deciphered?

Don't suppose this theory appeals much to Catholics. Does seem unlikely. But then, what doesn't?

Tuesday, 27 July 2010


Karl Popper's Birthday tomorrow. He's 108, or would have been. An intellectual giant of the last century. Hugely underrated, partly for a silly reason - his name, Popper. Sounds like a child's toy or, nowadays, a night-club drug.
If only he'd been called Wittgenstein. The Open Society should be enforced reading for everyone over the age of 16 in the world.
Yea, right.

Couple of quotes:

The open society is one in which men have learned to be to some extent critical of taboos, and to base decisions on the authority of their own intelligence.

The so-called paradox of freedom is the argument that freedom in the sense of absence of any constraining control must lead to very great restraint, since it makes the bully free to enslave the meek. The idea is, in a slightly different form, and with very different tendency, clearly expressed in Plato. Less well known is the paradox of tolerance: Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.

If you have not read 'The Open Society,' and are daunted by its size, just read the last chapter, 'Has History Any Meaning?' Then, unless I am sadly mistaken, you will want to read the whole thing.

Monday, 26 July 2010

With Friends Like These...

Warning: This Tord spits.

Don't know if I am still having communication problems with 'Catholicism Pure and Simple' or not. (A more maladroitly-named blog is hard to imagine.)
Each morning about 20 emails still arrive - all more or less saying the same thing in different order - and giving very little indication that my message to 'include me out' has got through.

It isn't very important, except that I will feel guilty if someone is unknowingly toiling to get my page on there straightened out, unaware that Toad has hopped off.
As you can see from this post, I am still occupied with the whole odd business.

'Cath' is a classic example of Narrowcasting - the big thing on the web. No matter how narrow your interest, there will be a handful of the like-minded out there with whom one can bond.
Generally, it is harmless - folk, say, with a shared passion for Victorian British postage stamps, or Ferret breeding, or Agatha Christie first editions. But it can also be vicious - imbeciles who link up to earnestly pray for the early death of Obama.(That last is true. Saw it on Facebook.)

'Cath' is in the first camp. It is, at times, preposterously complacent and pàtronising, but it means no real harm.

Someone tried patronising my wife on there the other day. She (figuratively) wrapped her rosary round her fist like a knuckle duster, and delivered a stinging poke to the guilty noggin.

The A-Team there was also condescending to me. Kindly and sympathetically suggesting, that as a non-believer, I was somehow not an entire human being. My senses were less acute than theirs. Not my fault, but there we are, we will pray for you.

For a while, I felt that it was my mission to gently suggest that there is another way of looking at the world, the way of the likes of Montaigne, Hume, Voltaire, Popper, Russell, etc. The way of reason.
But no. All misguided.
Voltaire was poo-pooed for bringing about the French Revolution, for example.
One might as well beat up on Beethoven for bringing about Boogie-Woogie.

Toad was amusing, but not to be taken seriously. Quite right, too. Now that I'm not watching with my beady toad eye, the gallant little gang can form a snug, smug, self-congratulatory circle of mutual, mental, masturbatory admiration. ''Loved your offering on 'the Little Flower of Luton' Cecil!'' ''Nowhere near as teary-eyed making as yours on 'The Ecstasy of Saint Winnifred the Wonderful of Wimbledon,' Claude!''

Well, I warned them I was nasty. They just smiled. 'Dear old Toad..'

Sunday, 25 July 2010


The Deposition, by Roger Van Der Weyden, circa 1435

I've spent a long time looking at this painting in The Prado over the years. Undoubtedly one of the world's greatest, and a case could be made for being the world's most moving. All the action takes place in a sort of painted 'niche' about six feet deep, from front to back. Christ's arms echo the shape of a crossbow, because the Guild of Crossbowmen, or something similar, commissioned the work. Early 'image branding.' The little reproduction here cannot come near to doing it justice. The original is 8.5 feet wide and the figures are almost life-size.

It really has little or nothing to do with today's topic, unless you take an existential view of the world. I suppose I do.
Anyway, on Friday, I was in our little church on duty, giving pilgrims 'sellos' and keeping the place open for them. Ten minutes away from closing time, at 2pm, a woman pilgrim came in looking a bit disturbed and asked if she could go into the church. She did so.
Five minutes or so later, she came back out to me with tears streaming down her face. She had spoken to her mother, by phone, about half an hour before, for the first time in six months. The mother's news was very grim. Two operations for cancer within the last few weeks and the prospects for recovery bleak.
Bad enough. But it gets worse. The pilgrim, Elizabeth, from Budapest, told me she also has cancer, the same sort as her mother, and her chances of survival are equally low. That, she said, is why she is doing The Camino now. While she still can.I told her she should come back to our house and rest and stop for a while. She wanted to keep on walking, but I managed to persuade her to come over.
We gave her lunch and she ended up staying the night. She slept a long time and said the visit had done her good, 'thank God for sending me to your house,' etc. My wife and Kim are wise and good listeners. Pilgrims often want to talk a lot. But then, others are virtually mute.
What does it all mean? Everything and nothing, I suppose. Religious-minded people would see some significance in it all. I don't.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Getting all cross

By Grunewald.

Well, it will be no surprise for many of my readers(!) that I am finished with 'Catholicism Pure and Simple.' Toad brought low by a mouse. Never mind. Better on my own blog probably. No big boys around.

I am a bit miffed because I had posted a piece yesterday about images of the Crucifixion, which seemed to me, worthy of discussion. And this morning I had a further thought on the matter. The first thought was, briefly, how do people, Catholics in particular, (naturally for it is a Catholic blog,) reconcile personal modesty (often excessive modesty, in my opinion) with the image of the near-naked Christ, that, in other circumstances, that they might well decry as more or less pornographic?

The second, (and more interesting, I think) thought is, did The Romans bother to cover up the genitals of their victims under similar circumstances? Somehow, one doubts that they would. I suppose historians would know. If Abu Ghraib is anything to go by, torturers make a point of stripping their victims naked to humiliate them, probably always have done.
If the Romans did crucify people naked, what is the justification for covering Christ up, even partially? If the idea is to show in totally realistic detail (and some Spanish dead Christs go to remarkable lengths for realism, including real hair)why not show him naked?
I suspect if such images were hung on classroom walls, there might be a bit of an outcry, even from those who advocate keeping the existing crucifixes in schools.

But, as Montaigne wisely says, what do I know?

Thursday, 22 July 2010


Here is a mercifully short and exquisite fillum starring myself, made in Palen├žia in the Bullfight Bar. A brief movie career, but glorious.

Indeed, films are the subject of today's offering. Recently my dear wife bought me sixteen movies on Cd's made by Ealing Studios. I lived many years in Ealing and knew the studios, and the pub across the road from them, The Red Lion, well.
The films involved all date from the forties to the sixties, before the BBC took over the studios.

So far, I have watched four - Nicolas Nickleby, Hue and Cry, The Ladykillers and The Lavender Hill Mob.
'Nickleby' is not bad - the others are awful. Worse than I either remembered or expected. I should have known.

Not that I don't enormously enjoy watching them - many use location shots of various parts of London, which is very nostalgic for me.

I should have known that they would be bad, because Wittgenstein, who liked to relax during the nineteen-forties by going to 'the pictures' declared - as an unassailable truth - the the British were incapable of ever making a watchable movie.
He favoured American Westerns and musical comedies. His favourite 'star' was Carmen Miranda.
Well, he was a philosopher.

Looking at these laborious, dim-witted efforts, one can see his point. Still, I have to say that during this time, David Lean and Hitchcock were making some excellent works of art.

But not in my back yard.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010


Bertrand Russell. Nothing to do with the blog, just he has such a wonderful face.

Much ado, these days, about blogs and stuff.

As some of you may know, I had been 'commenting' for a month or so on a Daily Telegraph site by Damian Thompson, about Catholicism. I was often vaguely aware of all sorts of weird undercurrents there, none of which concerned me.

Anyway, a new blog was started. As of 7.05 pm today, it is called 'Catholicism Pure and Simple.' (It might well have a new name by the time I post this.)
I know, I know. I have already made the point that Catholicism is neither of those things. 'Pure' could be argued (unconvincingly) perhaps, 'Simple' never.
But I digress. They are all nice people and I wish them well.

Already, however, the new blog is riven by schisms. (Isn't that a great phrase? Worth a repeat - RIVEN BY SCHISMS - doubt if I'll ever write that again in my life. Hope not,anyway.)

Again, I digress. The thing is, a couple of their stalwarts have quit to start up at least yet one more blog. On top of that, I, and my wife (but that is another digression) have succeeded in upsetting a 'commentator' on Blog Two (CPAS) so deeply that they have quit in a huff.

In view of all this schism rivening, and bearing in mind that what I wrote seemed, to me no more than reasonable and low-key comment on a totally preposterous idea, I am wondering whether I should just stop. Go back to Damian. Or just stop it all. Take up dog walking, grooming and excrement-gathering professionally.
When I upset somebody unintentionally, it makes me unhappy. I like to upset people intentionally.

A double-length walk with the faithful canine crew tomorrow might clear the mind.
Used to work for Kant(even without dogs).

Reb has bought me 16 old Ealing Comedies. But I have digressed enough for one day. Tomorrow, perhaps...

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Dogs and walls

I urge you to click on this pic to enlarge it - it's wonderful!

The Greyhounds have dug a big hole in the yard and put a small toy dog in it. Not a real live toy dog, a toy toy dog - a soft toy dog. What can it all mean?
Is it a message that we must not go away for two days? Surely not. Kim looked after them just fine.
Greyhounds, unless you want to hunt hares, are utterly useless. They just look nice. Some people think they are silent. Not ours. If I'm not up at daybreak, they come and howl. And wrestle and work on making the hole deeper. Maybe they will discover a Roman villa down there. And eat it.
Anyway, we went on the train to Avila for a jolly. Very nice it was. The wall is spectacular. The city is spotless, all grey stone. Grim in the Winter, no doubt, but beautiful.
We found a wine bar that boasted a wine list literally a thick as a phone directory. Reb spent ages choosing a wine for us. We should have had a drink while we were waiting. When she finally made a selection, wrong number. ''Haven't got that one right now.'' Tried again. Another wrong number. Same thing. Finally the bar suggested one it had in stock. It was OK.

Our hotel was once a synagogue. As we were leaving it, we had to fight our way through a guided tour group that was having the building explained to them.
Saint Teresa was everywhere. I looked for her hand, only to be told it's in Ronda. There is a finger of hers there, though, still with a snazzy emerald ring on it. Avila seemed to be struggling, economically. Although this is the high season, there were few tourists to be seen, and strangely few local people either. I would go so far as to put it, like Venice or the Grand Canyon, or Vegas, or New York City, on the 'must see' list.
Despite all its wonders, seems like the place could use a hand right now. One from Ronda, perhaps.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Pillar of the Church

People seem to prefer it when I write about local stuff, rather than ranting on about politics and the like. I don't blame them.

So. The church of Santo Tomas, in our village has been on my mind recently.

This Sunday, I took myself off to Mass alone, Reb being cheerfully flooded near Pamplona. (see her fine blog) As I entered, a neighbour grabbed me and said 'Go and see if you can help Don Santiago (the priest). So I did. He had a tall, scruffy old geezer in the sacristy with him, with shoulder-length whitish hair and a scraggly beard a foot long, at least. He looked very bogus to me.
'He's a priest, I think,' said Santiago.'Can you talk to him? He has no Castellano.' Well, no, I couldn't. The old fellow spoke only French. But somehow, we all agreed that he would 'co-consecrate, or whatever, the Mass.
It went OK, except, that at one point, Santiago handed him the book and he read the wrong bit very nicely and made us all smile. We suppose he was a priest. Could have been a Satanist, for all we knew. Oh, well.

It struck me that here was a good argument for saying the Mass in Latin, like when I was a boy. Except that I am greatly in favour of the Mass in the vernacular. Provided that it is in a foreign language.

On Wednesday, it was our turn to keep the church open during the day for the passing pilgrims. My task alone with Reb still away. A group of four French pilgs showed up in the morning. Perfectly polite. Wanted sellos. No Spanish of course. Alone among pilgrims of every nation, the French, when I pass them on the Camino and say 'Buenos dias,' stubbornly reply 'Bonjour.' Go figure. No good at football either.

The point is, the two men in the said party both were wearing shorts that were so brief they might have been swimming trunks. Oddly, the women were dressed OK. I must be getting older and crankier than even I suspected. I said nothing. But I thought it was near indecent. I am getting more Spanish by the day, I suppose. I even change out of my own shorts, that I wear within the sheltering walls of the house, into jeans to leave and go 300 yards to the bodega to get a bottle or two of wine.

Still, I quite enjoy the weekly stint at the church. Tim comes along and sits with me. When pilgs come in, he goes and sits by them and puts his head in their laps to be petted. They think he is a sort of holy dog, sent to greet them. But he and I know that once a pilg gave him half a sausage. Hope springs eternal in the Spaniel breast.