Saturday, 31 December 2016

The cycle of seasons personified - The January Man


I've put this song up before, either on this blog or my previous one, so I hope you're not bored by it. 

The steady plod of the instruments under Karine Polwart's lovely voice suggests to me the welcome relentlessness of the seasons' cycle. It'll roll round no matter what we do.

On the last day of the old year, with lots of nervousness and fussing about the political events likely to occur in the year ahead, lots of gloom and dismay about what is happening to our own society and cultures, bitter divisions in politics and public policy, I find, and I hope you do, solace here - right here and now, 31:12:16 - in knowing and feeling that I am part of the seasons' turning. It is in me, I am of it.

It's not a matter of being controlled by these cycles of change, it's more being part of them, the same "thing."

Why do disturbed city kids respond well (often/usually) to programmes that take them out into the countryside, or into  city farms? Is it just some lovely views, some sweet furry animals?

I think it is easier in these locations for them to feel, even if not to know rationally or consciously, that each of them is a natural system, a set of changes that is part of something much huger than each of them alone. 

"The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
Drives my green age, that blasts the roots of trees
Is my destroyer.
And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose
My youth is bent by the same wintry fever."

Are these lines lamenting the passing of time and the coming of age? I don't think so, because they contain both the wintry fever and the green fuse - the cycle.
That's how it is for all of us; we don't need to tell the crooked rose anything, in any literal sense. If we can be as one with the cycle of change, live in and with it, in this moment, then maybe we can carry our being-in-the-present through into whatever next year brings. It's bound to help.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

AA Gill on being a reluctant Christian

To fill the aching void between Christmas and New Year's Eve hangovers, here's someone (recently late and widely lamented) writing with wit and insight into a state more people than we might imagine find themselves in.

 "I am a reluctant Christian. I was once interviewed by Lynn Barber and I told her I was a Christian but not a homosexual . . . she didn’t believe either. “You can’t be a Christian,” she said, in her parlour maid’s voice, “you just can’t.” Well I can, that’s the thing with religion. Absolutely anyone can. “But you’re not remotely Christian,” she continued. “It’s another contrarian affectation.” What, like bow ties? “Yes.”

"I wish it were. Having a dose of religion, in my milieu, at this time, is as awkward and inconvenient as not having it in 17th-century Norwich. It would be so much more socially easy to be a vain fashion atheist.

"I was brought up by atheists. I honestly thought I was immune to religiosity. And I didn’t catch it in a Methodist way after signing the pledge, I began to have vague spiritual unease because of art at the Slade and that really was contrarian. I’d go and sit in the back of churches and feel wordlessly moved.

"There was a family friend, an Irish Jesuit and university professor, who occasionally took me out to lunch and I would confide in him. He was a radical libertarian theologist, which was exciting, and he said if at all possible religion was something to be avoided.
Who would willingly lumber themselves with a book full of medieval rules, superstitions and the possibility of an eternity’s agony by choice? Far better, he said, to adopt a general humanitarian goodness, be thoughtful, charitable and kind and trust in the benevolence of providence to see you all right. He pointed out that, statistically, religious belief had no actuarial benefits: you didn’t get to live longer, or have less cancer; religious people didn’t have prettier spouses, politer children, more sex — quite possibly less sex — nicer offices or better weather. They did, on the other hand, get guilt (point of order here: it’s the Catholics and Jews who get guilt, Protestants and Muslims get shame). And of course remorse.

"You don’t really believe that, do you, I said. “Adrian, I wish to God I did, but I can’t because the space is already filled with a belief in God.” I think I’ve got it too, I said. “Which flavour are you?” Well, that’s rather the thing, I’ve got a formless faith.
He said: “If you want my advice, go with what’s closest to home. Faith is ethereal, the practice of faith is cultural. If you become a Zoroastrian or a follower of Cao Dai, a marvellous Vietnamese Christianity that believes Muhammed, Moses, Louis Pasteur, Shakespeare, Lenin and Victor Hugo are all saints, then you’re going to have to learn a lot of stuff . . . and get over a whole lot of other stuff before you get to the good stuff and it’ll have very little to do with your soul.

"“Weren’t you baptised into the Church of Scotland? I’d stick with Protestantism. Actually, I think it rather suits you . . . low to middle. Anglo-Catholicism would bring out the worst in you, all the dressing-up would get out of control and you’d become an architectural pedant doing brass rubbing.”

"So that’s essentially what I am — a lazy, middle-range Protestant with a mildly pedantic crush on the King James Version and the Book of Common Prayer."
with thanks to Weeping Cross' blog "The Hearth of Mopsus"

Monday, 19 December 2016

Betjeman on Christmas.

"and is it true?" asks the poet. Even if, like me, you think the last two lines are not true in any factual sense, I defy you (at a safe distance, of course) not to agree that there is truth, or maybe "validity," in the poem!

If I don't get on here again before Der Tag, here's wishing you all (both..) a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.


The bells of waiting Advent ring,
The Tortoise stove is lit again
And lamp-oil light across the night
Has caught the streaks of winter rain
In many a stained-glass window sheen
From Crimson Lake to Hookers Green.

The holly in the windy hedge
And round the Manor House the yew
Will soon be stripped to deck the ledge,
The altar, font and arch and pew,
So that the villagers can say
'The church looks nice' on Christmas Day.

Provincial Public Houses blaze,
Corporation tramcars clang,
On lighted tenements I gaze,
Where paper decorations hang,
And bunting in the red Town Hall
Says 'Merry Christmas to you all'.

And London shops on Christmas Eve
Are strung with silver bells and flowers
As hurrying clerks the City leave
To pigeon-haunted classic towers,
And marbled clouds go scudding by
The many-steepled London sky.

And girls in slacks remember Dad,
And oafish louts remember Mum,
And sleepless children's hearts are glad.
And Christmas-morning bells say 'Come!'
Even to shining ones who dwell
Safe in the Dorchester Hotel.

And is it true? And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window's hue,
A Baby in an ox's stall ?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me ?

And is it true ?  For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant,

No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare -
That God was man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.
                   John Betjeman

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Christmas Life

"If you don't have a real tree you don't bring the Christmas life into the house." Josephine Mackinnon, aged 8

Bring in a tree, a young Norwegian spruce,
Bring hyacinths that rooted in the cold.
Bring winter jasmine as its buds unfold -
Bring the Christmas life into this house.

Bring red and green and gold, bring things that shine,
Bring candlesticks and music, food and wine.
Bring in your memories of Christmas past.
Bring in your tears for all that you have lost.

Bring in the shepherd boy, the ox and ass,
Bring in the stillness of an icy night,
Bring in the birth, of hope and love and light.
Bring the Christmas life into this house. 

                                            Wendy Cope

Thursday, 8 December 2016

an inward revolution and Rowan Williams' eyebrows

Rowan Williams, 'To learn contemplative practice is to learn what we need to live truthfully, honestly and lovingly - and is therefore a deeply revolutionary matter'.

Always the danger that because he was the Arch B of C,  those not of a Christian persuasion, or those who are but didn't care for his leadership, will pop that statement into a neat and dismissive box. 

Or socialists might see him as leading a religious grouping, and all such are irrational, and oppressive morally, psychologically, and materially. Or they may object to a non-Marxist idea of a revolution. 

Conservatives might see him as too liberal, and "wishy-washy."

I'm increasingly prepared to take him exactly at his word on this. 
In fact, let's leave him and his splendid eyebrows alone, and just look at those words.

I take contemplatives practice to refer to meditation (Buddhist or otherwise), deep contemplation, and prayer, particularly of the wordless variety as, for example, practised by Quakers and Christian or Sufi mystics. 

Praying for the name of the Derby winner or for your bunions to stop aching or even for peace in Syria is not a deep contemplative practice, because it involves the ego wanting things and making narratives about it. One-way narratives, I'd say because I don't think it works, but that is another story.

To jump to the other end of the statement, let's consider revolutionary practice that is not in the usual sphere of political and military action. It seems to me that the people who, historically, always suffer the most in violent revolutions, be they of the right or of the left, are the poor. I think we're too tightly interrelated now for a traditional "storming of the winter palace" - type revolution to be particularly beneficial, in the long term, to the majority. We need, urgently, a reallocation of wealth in our society, but spare us the Bolsheviki.

And yet we surely need massive revolutions across the planet in the ways that we live and interact. Whether climate change is or is not significantly caused by human action, it is surely happening, and so is the depletion of what we see as global resources (in terms of fuel, food, medicines and so on) 

That is, the resources people sometimes say that we need to "save the planet." Well, that phrase is misleading. The planet will be fine for many more millions of millions of years. The question for us is surely how long will we survive as a species, and, more narrowly, as a civilisation and a set of cultures? 

Maybe some people will be surviving somehow in a few hundred years' time, even if we don't stave off disaster. But we all know that sea level rises, if they come to the extent that the majority of scientists agree is possible/likely, will have catastrophic implications for cities such as London, Sydney, New York -  you complete your own list of cities that would be threatened by inundation, whether from the sea or from rivers. And that doesn't even touch the question of food shortages and animal and plant extinctions that could also threaten our cultures.

Oh, enough of all that, I'm not naturally pessimistic, I just want to establish that there is an urgent need for huge change in how we live. Most of the answers that you could call "we'll be okay if we carry on just as we are, but with a few changes" won't make much difference. For example, electric cars, which people refer to as if they didn't put out huge amounts of carbon in being manufactured, and as if their motive power, if it's not from solar panels, didn't come from power stations of one kind or another.

So we surely need to consume less and differently on our paths through life. We surely have to live less selfishly; any sense of species survival surely runs contrary to economic systems that generate a tiny minority to own, directly or indirectly, such a huge proportion of the planet's assets. 

If we follow a historical model, seize all those people's wealth and no doubt shoot them, then surely history tells us that inevitably, a new elite will take their place and that elite is unlikely to be happy living with much less power, influence and wealth than the previous lot. Few are the leaders anywhere who want to live, in material and ideological terms, like the more modest of those they rule.

How could contemplative practice possibly help?

Because it can change so much about what we are, how live.  More next time.
 (He's looking dubious because I'm not entirely one of his flock. Hang in there, Rowie, I'll get to the point eventually.)

superficial surfaces? Monet and Vermeer

I think it was Oscar Wilde who said that only superficial people disregard the surface of things - and if he didn't, then he should've.

R4 on Monet just now - he was, apparently, criticised by some in his old age for not capturing the eternal, always painting the surface of things.

Fatuous comment.

Nothing is eternal; but the sense of the eternally changing yet changeless, the sacred in the ordinary, can only come to us through our senses and our mental states. Then, we can - perhaps - be with something beyond ourselves.

What could be more superficial and ordinary, and yet more thoroughly profound, than Vermeer's milkmaid? She is simply pouring milk from a jug. 

Somehow, somehow, Vermeer puts her so completely in her present and therefore in ours, that the moment seems fleeting, and yet permanent. He captures the paradox of the present moment. 

She, him, the jug - all dust and fragments now. But we are still watching her face, and the milk. Now.

(It doesn't work if you just glance at it, does it? There's no trick, it's not an optical illusion to look at for a moment in a Facebook post before moving on. It's worth finding a decent reproduction. But even this little image can work for you, I hope...)

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

alive, alive-oh?

Don't miss the delights of watching the Strandbeest in action. Is it alive? No, we know it isn't, but it looks as though it is, in such a lovely way.

So, what is alive, what is inanimate?

We know, usually, when an animal has died. The life has gone out of it. A body may be full of bacteria that are very much alive, but the animal itself is not. The energy processes working together to sustain what we call a life have stopped interacting. The whole system may still contain life, but it is not, itself, still alive.

We think we know the difference between living and non-living. At the time of writing, I'm living. My pen isn't.

This essay:

begs to differ. It is certainly true that I am (and you are) a particular set-up of atoms and molecules, just as a lump of granite is.

Life, the writer argues, is a concept we lay over the top of things in the world, and the boundary between living and non-living seems less clear-cut than I used to think. The old teaser falls into place here: "is a virus a life form, is it a plant, an animal?"  Or is it inanimate?

I think we have to fall back on the sort of argument people often call "common sense." Or, we all know what we mean by....

We tend to recognise a kinship between the entities we call "living," they are patterns of energy in forms that we recognise and use the word "life" to describe. Crystals may also exhibit, as he argues, characteristics that are often quoted as "lving" - they are formally structured, they grow - but they are not the sort of phenomena we generally use the word "living" to refer to.

The article is, I think, only drawing attention to the intrinsic and unavoidable clumsiness of the concepts we use all the time. They are essential but not, of course, perfect. (One reason meditation is so valuable is because it allows conceptual thinking to fall away for a time.)

But there is a valuable insight in the article; if we want to feel more at one with the universe that generated us, if we want to dissolve the alientating sense of separateness from the world out there that some of us feel sometimes, it may help to know that logically, we are no more than a particular set of atoms and molecules, interacting and ever-changing. 

In one sense, we are in common with oak trees, crystals and star systems. The same stuff. The way we are organised and interact, we call "alive." The way a brick is organised, we call "inanimate." But then, is a planet alive? A star?

Ouch. Time for tea....


Thursday, 17 November 2016

Time Doesn't Exist

What a daft statement. NASA can aim space vehicles with millisecond accuracy to meet up with each other millions of miles from Houston. You can buy a watch for £40 that cordinates with sattelites and crystal vibrations and, er, stuff (?) and is accurate to a millisecond. 

But: an airline pilot writes that from 40,000 feet up you can watch the sun's shadow creeping across the planet, and you realise time zones, sunrise etc are a matter of geography, a matter of positioning in the universe - positioning which changes all the time. Our sense of time and how we measure it is a product of change in the positioning of stars and planets, of electrons and protons etc. It's entirely relative. (Look, I know this is all blindingly obvious to science brains, but I'm quite new to this stuff, so cut me some slack, genius!)

We know that time's arrow moves only forwards. We know that we are time-constrained, like all organisms. Like all matter. Our consciousness can only be time-structured; we cannot really deal with eternity, understand it in any conceptual sense. Did you, as a kid, look at the sky, or the bedroom ceiling, and think or say "for ever" over and over again, until you had to stop it because it still didn't fit with anything you knew? (Yes, ok, I still do it sometimes..)

Do you now think, as I do, that we are all change, only change, from moment to moment, and that's only very crudely measurable by statements about time? 

"I used to think that..." "I used to like the taste of..." But it would not be possible to say exactly when such a change happened, or when it began to happen and finished happening.

Allow me to wheel out Thomas Stearns once again:

Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

 I think neuroscience can demonstrate that memory is a matter of re-establishing neural pathways as we remember; that we remake the past in the present each time we remember something. Memory is not, to state the obvious again, a file we open with the same memory in it unchanged, every time we want to revisit the past.

In other words, if we "falsify" (change, re-interpret) the past it's because a memory can only be a present event. And obviously enough, the future can only be imagined, planned for, in the present. 

Those plans, those "if I do this tomorrow, then..." scripts we run, may affect, or bring about, what happens in the future. "I'll catch the 09:20 train tomorrow" and lo! It turns out I do catch it. But a plan isn't an event - the train may be cancelled, I may change my mind.

So the past and the future only exist in the present. But the present immediately becomes the past. A thought is past the moment it occurs. So: time exists, past and future only exist, in the present, yet the present vanishes the second (half second? 0.0006 of a second??) it occurs. 

Meditators aim to be in the present, to bring their minds back to the present. (I guess it's similar for those who pray. Or Quakers who don't so much pray in verbal formulations, but sit in silence with the Spirit. Never mind for now what Spirit.)

So mediators are aiming, without striving of course! - to be in the present moment. Which doesn't exist. It doesn't exist as a measurable state. It's a state of being, not a measurable unit. It's transcendent, except that's a verbal category, too, and there is really nothing to transcend.

Time to bang my head against a paradox, and see if that's useful: meditating can take me to a state of being entirely in the present. But the present doesn't exist. 

So what is it that is between past and future, in a universe of constant change?

Nothing. Welcome to the void. To the present beyond words. 

"If all time is eternally present
  All time is unredeemable."

"A mind free of thought,
    merged within itself 
    beholds the essence of Tao ("the Way")
A mind filled with thought,
   identified with its own perceptions,
   beholds the mere forms of the world."

But such wordless perceptions, such states of being, can be scary, because they show us that the self - our selves, me dammit, is not the separate and coherent thing we think it is. We are flux. Everything flows, constantly. Stillness is either a relative position, or an illusion. 

And, TS again, "human kind cannot bear very much reality."

Nevertheless, maybe, just maybe, the world around us would be a better place if more of us spent more time in that ego-dissolving, non-timemeasurable, wordless state of being.

"Tao and this world seem different
    but they are one and the same
The only difference is in what we call them."

because "A name that can be named is not The Name."

So a little more of The Name would help us in this world of ordinary names.

I don't know about you, but my head is beginning to ache. Time for lunch.


Friday, 28 October 2016

belief, and a pre-lived leper.

There is a lot more to the power of a word than its dictionary meaning. We may need to let go of words and verbal concepts at times, for example in meditation, but other than that, words are where we live, and our language/s shape our concepts, feelings, our view of the world. Many words do so from a long way back.

Take 'belief," for example. It's not an easy word sometimes. Do you believe in Jehova/Allah/God? That Jesus was God's son?  Do you agree with, sympathise with, accept a set of beliefs? Differing beliefs about The Big Stuff (God and all) can run a rift through a family.

There are two groups of words, as is common in modern English, around the concept of belief. There are those from the Latin "credo," I believe, eg incredible, credulous. 

Let's leave those to one side for now; more of the time, we use words such as belief, believe. They come from an Old English root "leof," related to "lufu," love.

"Leof" is used in the first English poem "Beowulf" to mean pleasant, dear, beloved."Lief" came to mean willing, something we liked or loved to do.

In Chaucer's Pardoner's Tale, the Old Man who wants his  life to end bangs his staff on the ground and says "Leever Mooder, leet me in!" "Dear Mother, let me in!" He's ready for his grave.

So in its very make-up, drawn up from its roots, "belief" involved something dear to us, something we love, something or someone much valued. 

Not merely something our intellects allow us to agree with.

And yet we argue over beliefs, we analyse people's beliefs, we bring the bright and narrow beam of reason to shine on them. Someone said to me the other day that belief isn't a matter of rational analysis, it's a matter of what you commit to - because it is lief to you. It suits you, it's dear to you, you like to do it.

Here's the paradox in this approach, though: it opens the door to, - well, a load of bollocks, you might say, seen from the middle-of-the-road, sensible world view most of us like to think we have.

A recent Doonesbury cartoon neatly skewers the wildly improbable narcissism sometimes to be found in this age of believe-what-you-like. 

A young woman is telling her partner that in previous lives she has been a middle-kingdom midwife, a Babylonian astronomer, a holy Roman empress, a leper in fin-de-siècle Marrakesh. She's finally realised that what these past lives had in common, what "connected them to the divine spark of my higher self," was that each of them always tried to look her best. Her partner's reply? "That's one plucky leper."

It's often not too difficult to puncture for ourselves (though not for the devout)  the beliefs of others by using reasoned argument or just a laconic putdown. But does it matter what other people believe, if they would as lief have it so? If the belief is useful to them and harmless to the rest of us?

It seems to me that it's what people do with and because of their beliefs that matters. Someone said ages ago, "Your freedom of thought and action stops an inch from the end of my nose." Or should do so, whatever you believe.

Anyone close to the young lady who "knew" she had once been a Babylonian astronomer and a fashion-conscious Morrocan leper might worry about her well-being - I doubt many of us would want to spend too long with someone who talked such tosh - but it would probably be harmless for the rest of us. 

Some beliefs may be seen as more of a risk to unbelievers than others, of course, and more likely to topple over into destructive action, especially when religious belief becomes intertwined with politics, territorial struggles and visions of power.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

How to disagree in a civilised manner, when to avoid the opposition: a middle way from Maalouf and Buddha, sort of

Thanks to the website "Brain Pickings" for these insights:

“To approach someone else convincingly you must do so with open arms and head held high, and your arms can’t be open unless your head is high,” the Lebanese-born French writer Amin Maalouf wrote in his timeless, increasingly timely reflection on how to disagree

It is in times as divisive as ours and as sundered by conflicting perspectives that the mastery of such intelligent, kind-hearted, and considered disagreement emerges as a supreme art of living. To respond in a reactive culture, to marry firm moral conviction with a spirit of goodwill and the porousness necessary for appraising other perspectives in order to evolve one’s own, is a Herculean feat of character. 

And yet there are instances in which it is unsound to engage with another whose values are so antithetical to one’s own that the collision is bound to shatter one’s sanity rather than build common ground." 

Wise words for our times, in which we seem increasingly polarised; we Facebook opinions around our friends and our "friends," not seeming to realise that we we are often merely shouting into an echo-chamber. (Facebook is a lousy medium for political exchanges, since it consists of short, often shouty declarations from individuals, plus links to things they agree with. A lot of it seems to me to show a need for reassurance, and also a degree of showing off how many ways we can agree wittily or aggressively with what's already been stated,) 

We Tweet even shorter minimanifestos of for-and-against around the planet.  And in Mr Trump's case, we decide the election has been rigged before it happens.

Being a member of the clickocracy is much easier and quicker than being a functioning part of a democracy, an individual open to genuine debate and discussion, in which individuals can disagree without reaching for an electronic blunderbuss, in which people of opposing views can still like each other.

A friend of mine, a long-time member of the Labour Party, said she could no longer support Mr Corbyn, but she expected she would lose old friends in the Party over it. That is sad, in the full sense of the world.

This is the same world in which we call those whose views and politcal acts we disagree with "fascists" or "Trots." (Note to self and the world - never call anyone a fascist unless they really do support a totalitarian militaristic one-party state system based on racial purity and genocide. It's a gross insult to all those who suffered under fascism. And stop being hysterical about differences of political opinion and action that are minor, compared to the difference between our society and fascist Italy/Nazi Germany.)

Apperently Buddha said something like "if you encounter people who are agreessive and bothersome, and not open to reason and calm exchange of views, then it's best to avoid them." (Er...I may have adapted the quote a little.)

Maalouf gives us a mature and useful view of how to approach each other, and a practical view of when it's best to disengage. We surely very much need this vision in our daily, social and political lives.


Monday, 17 October 2016

Peripheries, centres, home part 2 - Tim Winton and WA

What is peripheral and what is central are, obviously enough I suppose, relative terms. When we moved back to North Wales, a Southern English friend said "but it's very remote." It's a long way by UK standards from there he lives, and he clearly saw it as a periphery. But where we live now is about as far from Manchester airport as Bristol is from Heathrow.

When as a student in 1967 I rented a delightfully primitive cottage from an Anglesey farmer, we were settling the rent in his kitchen and he asked me where I was from. To cut a longish story short, I said "London." He nodded, said "I went there - once..." and left it hanging in the air. It seems once was enough, for him. London was a distant periphery to his world, his preoccupations, responsibilities, interests.

Not that I want to set up one of those pointlessly polarised north-south, us-and-them arguments. Southerners, I've found, can occasionally arouse resentments at worst and piss-taking at least amongst Northerners, just by being Southerners. And let's not even get into Welsh/English stuff... Let's stick, quite neutrally, to ideas of centres and peripheries, home and away.

Five years later, in Grundisburgh, Suffolk, Joe Pike the osier (basket-weaver) who looked and sounded like someone from a previous century, asked us where we lived. "Waldringfield," we said. His face lit up, as he told us that when he went there, someone was selling oranges on the river-bank; "yis," he said, "I bin there once." It's about eight miles from Grundisburgh to Waldringfield.

In the eyes of the world, London is more significant than Grundisburgh, of course, and that's not just its size. Scienceartseducationtradegovernmentfinance. But surely what we do is set up our own centres, to which other places seem peripheral, unknowable, even, no matter what the world tells us.

The novelist Tim Winton

 is not only Australian, he's from the West Australian coast, where he still lives and writes. He's lived and travelled abroad, but he's a creature of this coast - which is huge, and mostly, outside Perth and a few other smallish coastal towns, very empty. "Underdeveloped," as people who want to make money out of a place might say. It's about as far from Albany on WA's southern coast to Karratha, on the northern coast, as it is from Santiago de Compostella, the NW corner of Spain, to Amsterdam.

Winton writes what I think are very fine novels, and he is known and celebrated around the world. His novels are mostly set in rural/coastal WA; he is, as one critic wrote, a man "of the littoral," a fisherman, surfer, writer, naturalist. 

WA is peripheral even to many Australians; there are fewer people living in WA than there are in Wales, and the population density is 0.9 people per square kilometer. (Says Wikipedia.) In Wales it's 148, and very much higher in England, of course. WA, even Perth itself, is the one place many visitors to Australia don't get to. So you could say it's on the edge of most people's consciousness as well as on the edge of a continent.

In his collection of essays "Island Home" Winton describes how in his youth, Australian references in novels risked seeming merely local and parochial - possibly incomprehensible to readers in Europe or America, the great "centres" of literary awareness and production. Or worst of all, quaint - like the occasional Aussie entertainer on BBC children's TV in the 50s. Tie me kangaroo down, sport, indeed. Anyone else over 65 remember Shirley Abicair?
                                                                  I rest my case.

What Winton has done is what any powerful "regional" writer does - make his region a centre. Hardy's Dorset, Dickens' London underworld, George Eliot's Midlands. He uses his context and makes it open out to people who have never visited it. He makes that context absorbing, specific yet also relevent anywhere in the world where a reader enjoys his books. 

Winton's local identity he takes further, in his own life, by arguing for a re-alignment of Australian attitudes, away from seeking to master the environment (the huge challenge for early European settlers) towards accepting and giving, being a part of it; he draws on and champions Aboriginal cultures' understanding of the natural world. He has fought, fiercely and successfully, as part of the movement to stop the exploitation of the Ningaloo Reef, WA's equivalent to the Barrier Reef.

Winton writes interestingly, in "Island Home," of how he came to think that he could reach a wide readership despite filling his work with local references - flora, fauna, land-forms. I often have to look them up, and I like that sort of independent, take it or leave it attitude. His world matters as much as, say, Ian McEwan's London, because he has written it out across the world.

What, I hear you cry, has all this to do with my usually meditative themes? 

Because the whole idea of centres and peripheries might be superficially useful, but it is ultimately problematic - potentially misleading and restrictive. As an old boss of mine used to say (when the waste products hit the ventilation arrangements) "well, OK, but we are where we are." 

Winton didn't become an Aussie import somewhere else, in one of the great litrary capitals. He made where he was a node of awareness, let's say, rather than a centre.

Maybe each of us, wherever we may be, is a node of awareness. Looking for the centre somewhere else in some other time is a false trail. (On the practical level, in the age of the internet this is even more obviously true.) We haven't all got Winton's power to bring a geographical edge into the centre of the consciousness of people all around the world. But each of us can turn away from a fruitless quest to be somewhere else that seems more important.

Someone I know well, living in Delhi, said he wanted to travel more widely in India. Natural enough, of course. But he also said he wanted to see "the real India." But the real India, for him, was what he saw every morning when he opened his eyes. The other India was merely a future possibility. We need to keep it real, whether we are in Bloomsbury or Greenough WA. 

Hats off to Winton for doing just that in his books, e.g. "Dirt Music," "Breath," "That Eye The Sky," " The Riders," (set in Ireland, if I remember well, which is only an even bet) "The Turning" (stories) "Eyrie" (set in a tower block but still I think, in WA - I haven't read it yet) and "The Shallows," set in a fictionalised version of Albany, the last whaling town in Western Australia, where Winton spent part of his youth.

Friday, 7 October 2016

Home: centres and peripheries from Australia

I'm away from home at present, in fact just about as far away as I could get on this planet, apart from a trip even further to New Zealand. (I wish, but the world is full of lovely places, and you can't see them all, even if you were prepared to ignore the environmental consequences of long-haul flights.)

Looking out over the ocean at Coogee Beach, past a few offshore islands, there's nothing between me and South Africa, and behind me the nearest city with more than 100,000 inhabitants is Adelaide, over 2000 kilometers away.

So you could say I'm peripheral to my home at present. 

Australia can seem very like home - they speak English, with an accent we're familiar with in the UK. You find familiar brands on the supermarket sheves, HMQ adorns the banknotes, etc etc.

Links are strong - there are loads of recently-arrived Poms in the Perth area, and for the less recently-arrived, there's still links with home. Grandparents ("grandies") visit, links are maintained with families ("rellos.")

 These family links are not just a Brit thing of course; there are very many different home countries amongst first and second generation Australians. 

 So although this place can seem quite familiar to first-time visitors from the UK, there are all the cultural generalisations "we" and "they" indulge in, with regard to social interactions and norms. We poms are tentative and over-polite; we say sorry when we needn't, we over-complicate simple things, and we whinge when things are more different  from expectations than we think they should be. (I think that might be less likely now than it used to be.) 

And yet poms can also seem brusque and unfriendly with strangers, in shops etc. We don't say "Hi, how're you goin'? Or "how are you today?I'll have a...." We just say "A flat white please." Uptight, hurried. Such things are fairly easily dealt with, though a nicely-brought-up pom, especially a female one, might need to work a bit at being assertive enough.

Here's a big difference - the approach to town planning, and the results of that. Huge areas of single-storey detatched houses each on a fair-sized plot stretching out for miles around cities and towns. Such suburbs, if spacious and quiet, can look lovely, especially in gentle early-morning sunshine. Looks like a good life could be lived here, a very different life from anywhere in the UK.

And then there's the environment. Early arrivals (intruders) from Britain looked for similarities, and didn't find them. Early landscape painters tried to do Australia in the  subdued colours of the Italianate style. In the later 19th century and early 20th century, people started painting Australia rather more in its own terms. It looks quite sudden, in the National Gallery of Australia. Artists like Walter Withers and especially Tom Roberts, who painted outback scenes, let the sun burst through; hot colours rampage under a blinding blue sky. It's dusty and sweaty in the sheep-shearing shed. They didn't want their pictures to look European. 

All the time, of course, Aboriginal artists were painting their dream-time visions, as they have been doing for many, many thousands of years, but that is - another story. 

Australian birds are splendidly different - fast, noisy, many are brightly-coloured, and they are surprisingly difficult to spot properly. Even the crows mock more harshly than back home. As for the red-tailed black cockatoos, as they sit scrawking and screeching up in a eucalyptus, cracking gum-nuts open and chucking the leftovers down around your feet....a punkish sort of dandy.

This is wildflower season, and it's been a late wet spring, so now the wildflowers are splendid. It's not the soft green setting of spring flowers back in the UK though; it still, even in a park or a reserve, looks like Aussie bush, though with spectacular flowers.

 Feeling at home in Australia in one sense is easy for us, with family here, and after eight or nine months living here spread over 18 years, there's a degree of familiarity that overcomes most of the superficial confusions of focus. 

But many of these thoughts arise from comparisons; they may be  enjoyable and interesting to me, but they won't of themselves make me feel at home. The way to feel a quite different at-homeness comes from a few minutes meditation. Let the comparisons and the challenges to the emotions die away. Even amongst family here, it is possible to feel a  brief longing for the familiar.

Being in the moment here is the same as being in the moment back home, or anywhere. The present is the present wherever you are, and it's in that mode of being that I feel in the place, part of everything around me. Then the eucalypts sway in an always familiar breeze, and the ocean - salty and bouyant, fierce like every ocean - sparkles now and everywhere.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

dear readers, followers and Traherne

I'm very pleased to have a new follower and a new reader. Welcome, and thanks for stopping by.

If you feel there's anyone you know who might possibly get something other than a headache from reading this stuff, please feel free to draw them into our waterwords. 

And do comment if you'd like to - always welcome. It can even lead to dialogue - it used to on my old blog "mortality branchlines." I think you have to have a Google account to comment, and I never like suggesting products to people, but Google owns about a third of the planet anyway, so I give in. It's not too arduous a business getting an account.

I'll leave you for a short time with these lovely words from Thomas Traherne, who makes the point so wonderfully that each of us is of the entire universe.

In the 1600’s Traherne wrote, “You never enjoy the world aright, till the Sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens, and crowned with the stars.

how to be a poet - or...

(to remind myself)
by Wendell Berry
Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill — more of each
than you have — inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your poems,
doubt their judgment.
Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.
Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.

"Shun electric wire" and "stay away from screens," good advice and probably what I'll be doing for a while. I'll be back - but please don't you stay away from What the Water Says screens!

Monday, 12 September 2016

Home, part 3

(This one may get a bit preachy for you; if so, just flee...It also rambles a bit, but one tried, one tries...)

So we are a restless species, looking for a home, and not just when we have to. I knew a man who had a good job - vice-principal of a nice college, in the days before things got a wee bit more challenging in the 90s. When I told him I was leaving to work abroad for a couple of years, he said that he'd often wished he'd chucked it all up and done something similar. Even he, who seemed very contented, could feel restless, wishing he'd tried a new home.

Americans (USA variety) have so many road books and films, so much space and distance. In "The Electric Muse" Rob Young contrasts the US road myth as a way of finding roots and belonging somewhere else - a horizontal journey - with an English inner and vertical journey. Back in the mind and in the music to the past as a state of mind.  Young moves on from this to write about the folk revival in terms of classical composers like Vaughan Williams and Moeran, who used folk tunes in sophisticated compositions, and then on to the folk-singer's revival we're still in the middle of. Looking for a musical home.

So maybe it's this:

vs this:

or this:

Looking for a home, on the road to LA if you're from midtown Illinois, amongst the travelling people and their songs if you're Sam Lee. (Forefront, above) In the uncertain but ancient past of the Horn Dance. (Dig the, it's too easy to laugh. They are in pursuit of something significant for them.)

I don't mean to suggest that folk singers and travellers on Route 66 are all wracked with uncertainty; I just want to move on from that idea of outer or inner journeying to find a home, to the psychological and spiritual dimension. The greater journey.

RD Laing talked about "ontological insecurity;" Buddhists talk about "Dukkha," perhaps too easily translated as "suffering." According to John Peacock, the root of the word is in something closer to discomfort and unease, the idea of a wheel that doesn't fit properly on its axle and gives you a queasy sort of ride.

Meditation can help us spend some time in the present, out of the stream of wanting and dreaming and planning, of wishing we were somewhere else, were something else, out of a state of recurrent unease. It is a training in reducing dukkha. It won't show us a new home - it's not so much a revelation of a new heaven and a new earth,  it helps us to be where we are. Ultimately, it refers I think to (another tricky word coming up) a mystical state, non-verbal -  both in time, as everything is, and out of it.

Eliot says it is:

"Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline."

He also tells us
"I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time."

It's not that we spend our meditation time entirely there, it is simply that meditating without striving; recalling the restless mind to the present (usually using the breath); moving our attention back to the present and what is happening now, can have a cumulative, slow but powerful effect. It can put us in a different relationship with the present, giving us a wider sense of what is real. It can make us feel more entirely at home in ourselves and where we are.

It's not stasis, it does not abolish conflicting impulses and pressures, we don't grind to a halt in some phoney self-willed pretend-nirvana. But we can feel, if we persevere, if we expect nothing and strive for nothing, we can feel less existential unease, less ontological insecurity.

Accepting our present state doesn't mean all is perfect in a perfect world. Nor does it mean we should simply give up trying to make material matters better for ourselves and others. But it surely means we are more fully in our world, not at a slight angle to it. We can feel of our world, not outside looking in and wondering if somewhere, down Route 66, there's somewhere else, more perfect for us.  

Eliot again:

"Home is where one starts from. As we grow older
The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated 

Of dead and living."


"We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time."

I think the physical journeying, the mythical explorations, can merge with the mental, spiritual journey.

In "Learning to Fall," Philip Simmons writes:
"We seek that sure ground of our being and our doing, the home that withstands the vagaries of time and chance and change."  

I'd add that we cannot overcome time chance and change, we have to accept that we are exactly those things. The paradox is surely that we can only be at home by acknowledging it, by living in the understanding that home always changes with us.

Simmons agrees with Eliot, that "in the end we return home by recognising that we're already there. Indeed our true home is within." 

He quotes Marcus Aurelius: "Look within. Within is the fountain of good. And it will ever bubble up if thou wilt ever dig." 

Finding this fountain of good, adds Simmonds, "we discover that no land is foreign, no matter where we go we are never strangers. We return home to the place we never left."

So we aren't boll weevils. We can only feel at home if we are at home in ourselves. My route to that home is meditation, and some reading. What's yours?

Friday, 9 September 2016

Inuit "Sila," and the still point of the turning world

If we feel underlying unease, anxiety sometimes, about being our individual selves in a world out there that seems not-us, separate from us, then maybe we are looking for a way of being that is more unified with the rest of our world. (Not everyone feels that sense of unease, I'm sure - or they sense it but don't know what it is?)

It's one thing to understand intellectually that we are the same stuff as the rest of the universe, just assembled differently for a life-time. It may be another thing to live and feel that oneness with It All and Now.

According to Emma Thompson's daughter Gaia,  above right, who's been campaigning with her mum to try to protect the Arctic sea ice, the Inuit word "sila" means "weather;" but it also means "oneness" and "consciousness."

Ms Thompson remarks "says it all, really." Er...says what?

Well, it suggests to me the Inuit culture has built into its language the understanding that being at one with the weather, the turning seasons, is the same as being truly conscious, aware of what we are. At one with the world.

Understanding and being with the range of meanings in "sila" is how we feel ourselves to be part of and the same as the rest of the universe - if we will allow ourselves to feel it, to live in that state. 

So much can prevent us from being at one, leaving us uneasy, insecure in our separateness, scared by our own mortality. So much boils down to our being "distracted from distraction by distraction."

I don't want to idealise the Inuit people - I don't know much about them for starters, and they may be just as over-busy and preoccupied with inessential but appealing stuff as we are, though I doubt it. 

We live where we do and as we do. Nevertheless, even in amongst our stuff-filled headlong lives, we can make little corners of consciousness in which feel an underlying sense of unity with the universe. We are at one anyway, all the time, but we hide our awareness of it. 

Autumn is a good time to feel part of the endless change, part of the weather, the seasons, the turning world. May that feeling help us to find the still point that is changeless change.

Are we boll weevils? - home part 2

Remember the song about the boll weevil? "He's a-lookin' for a home.." which is why he devastated the cotton crop.

 I attended the boarding school I mentioned in my last post for nine years, which means that for over half of each year I didn't live at home (i.e. my parents' house) but had to seek something homely, somewhere I could feel I belonged, at the school. In a sense, it meant that for nine years I was from two places, not one. 

EM Forster described the poet Cavafy as "standing absolutely motionless, at a slight angle to the universe." I think many of us know that feeling, and I've come to feel now that maybe most of us feel that at times; whatever reason we may locate for such feelings, it may simply be part of us. 

There are people who seem very good at making themselves at home wherever they are, and others who never seem entirely at ease with their dwelling, their social setting, their environment. They are perhaps not at home in themselves, suffering from what RD Laing* called "ontological insecurity," uncertainty as to the reality of their existence in the world. 

"Ontological insecurity refers, in an existential sense, to a person's sense of “being” in the world. An ontologically insecure person does not accept at a fundamental level the reality or existence of things, themselves, and others. In contrast, the ontologically secure person has a stable and unquestioned sense of self and of his or her place in the world in relation to other people and objects." ("Encyclopedia of Identity," Jackson and Hogg)

Seems to me the contrast is over-stated. We can swing between one state and the other, and I reckon most of us are, at times, or all the time, boll weevils, lookin' for a home. Wanting to feel at home, in themselves, wherever they are. And material well-being may not of itself be a final answer.

Perhaps its that searching impulse that makes us love alternative homes, hideaways, tree-houses, sheds, dens. Small boys I know love making a den, then they tend to sit in it for a bit, lose interest, and wander off. They've made a little homeliness for themselves, then they move on. Whereas it seems slightly more grown-up boys often stay in a shed, a personal base, for rather longer....
It may be that this den-making, this search for an extra bit of home, however content or well-balanced we may be, is a relatively superficial manifestation of a more profound need. 

A home is after all, where you belong. The need to belong, emotionally, intellectually, instinctively, is powerful. People will sometimes land up not in a nice homely cotton boll, but in something dangerous and destructive. 

OK I'm not going to attack "religion" now, but I will just distinguish between religions (social structures, codes and commandments) and spiritual needs - a conflicted word for me, "spiritual," but let it stand for now. 

Let's say a sense of profundity, connectedness, belonging. Established religions may supply that spiritual need for many people - and for others it is not at all what they need, if they are to feel connected to something greater than themselves. And maybe that connectedness is a common and profound need.

*Laing, if you don't already know this, was an influential and controversial figure in 1960s psychiatry and libertarian left thinking. His theories about mental illness were - radical, and dismissed by many in the field.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

A final home?

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us..."

So, pretty mixed, then - like my school-days, at a boarding school that no longer exists. My brother went there too. (There is a mindfulness/Buddhist point to all this, it won't be just reminiscences!) 

We were down there recently to scatter his ashes, as people say. Not a very accurate phrase, but more of that anon, if you really want it! We stood atop of this noble pile of chalk:

Much has changed since the more-than-half-a-century since I was at school. The top of the Down was quite an important military site during WW2, and had several pill-boxes and large gun emplacements (no guns.) It was all fenced off "WD" (MoD) property, so of course we felt obliged to break in and make dens up there, before getting chased off by the shepherd/caretaker and his dog.

The site is now open, they've built a pub up there, and there are people wandering about at will - it's all National Trust. And there are no sheep. The flora is beautifully varied, the grass is long, it bends and sighs in the breeze, and I nearly trod on a bloody great adder, a thing of great if slightly chilling beauty.

So it's not as exciting or adventurous for me as it was 57 years ago, but it's a much pleasanter, more beautiful place. The view of the school site from the top of the Down and on across the Solent to where my brother was stationed for some his time during his National Service and, much later in life, where he came to live:

Something about a life coming full circle - which might feel like a cliché stated baldly like that, but it certainly didn't at the time. Something about home, about significant places. He had been very much at home in this part of Britain.

It was the right place for us to do this, no question about that. There was no "he" to know this of course, though he had chosen the spot himself, and in any case, symbolic action is of itself powerful for those taking part. 

In one sense the dead have neither opinions nor rights, so that if we felt he had chosen something destructive, dangerous or unpleasant to be done with his ashes, we would probably have not followed his wishes. Yet the impulse to carry out someone's wishes after they have died is strong in most of us; that is surely because it "feels right" to us who still live; the symbolic action worked for us. 

And I think that was because there was a sense of rightness about it, for him, and from what we all knew of his life. It was, to be blunt, the right place, a transitory home, for what was left of him; it is now a location for our thoughts and memories and feelings about him.

"Home" is a huge concept. Many people in the world have been driven from their homes by violence or poverty, so I feel pretty lucky to have the home I live in, a place that helps me live with and bear the sort of sadness and loss this day on the Down might represent. 

But I want to get a bit further in to the idea of home, than merely home as where one lives, however good or bad that may be. 

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Women boxing and "Beginner's Mind"

I don't much like boxing. I don't "object to it" as people like to say, sometimes a little self-importantly. If two people want to hit each other, and risk brain damage, and other people want to pay to watch them do it, then provided there are reasonable safeguards, help yourselves, as far as I'm concerned. I just don't particularly want to see you in action. 

When I was growing up, there was a strong taboo against men htting women (of course it went on, it simply wasn't generally acceptable. Hopefully, it's still generally seen as unacceptable.)  

Coupled with that,  and apart from scratchy/slappy sorts of "cat-fights," women didn't often hit each other, as far as I could tell. (Not in public, anyway...) That's simply how it was.

Recently I caught bit of Olympic women's boxing (between events I would be more likely to enjoy.) It was this sort of thing:

 It turns out a GB female boxer did well in Rio.

I commented to the room at large that I didn't like boxing, and that in particular, it still seems strange to me - unsettling - to see women thumping each other with enthusiasm. A younger member of my family pointed out that this was a sexist comment. Which indeed it was.

There is absolutely no reason why women boxing should be more unsettling than men boxing. But our emotional and psychological make-up is about a lot more than reason.

My feeling came from my upbringing, the cultural context of my early years. It seems to me important to acknowledge the power of one's personal context, the power of the story of years gone by. 

We don't free ourselves by denying the reality of the past, individually or collectively.  It's no use simply disapproving of or denying the existence of where we come from. To do so is destructive of our self-development, it hinders change.

The way to keep growing is surely to acknowledge and integrate where we come from with where we are now. In Jungian terms (I think...) I need to bring together memories and dreams with my present ego, if I am to realise my true Self, a much wider and more profound state of being than my noisy little social ego.

Buddhists sometime speak of approaching the present moment with "beginner's mind." See it new, in the now. Let go of conditioned responses.

TS Eliot (again, sorry..)   

"There is, it seems to us,
At best, only a limited value
In the knowledge derived from experience.
The knowledge imposes a pattern, and falsifies,
For the pattern is new in every moment
And every moment is a new and shocking
Valuation of all we have been. "

I take him to mean knowledge as in knowing things. 

Deriving understanding from acknowledging my past story and integrating it with my present being: that must be how to free off the mind, how to use "beginner's mind." That's how to live in the pattern, "new in every moment."

I can't approach the present with beginner's mind if I ignore or repress my feelings about female boxing, rather than to acknowledge them and have a think about where they come from . 

To ignore or deny such feelings would be phony, it would leave me stuck to the old attitudes more firmly.

So well done you, in Rio:

 But I still don't want to watch you, and if I do, it will probably still make me uneasy!

(We're inconsistent creatures, aren't we? I'm as happy to watch women's judo as men's. Maybe with women's boxing there's something in there about women's faces getting hit? H'mmm. Interesting. But as for taekwondo - whoever's doing it - how boring is that?)

Saturday, 30 July 2016

country and town, Canned Heat and Cavafy

Sitting in a cafe just round the corner from where I used to live, I took this shot of a road that was part of what I used to call home. I loved it here; our children grew up in this city. My coffee break was intensely nostalgic. Yet I clearly remember wishing we lived in the country instead. And now we do.

Here's another recent shot of a grandson in a big unspoilt open space just a couple of miles from the inner suburb shown above. It's all "the city."

I'm sure I could be content in the city as well as in the country, provided I saw city living as the path, the reality for me, rather than fantasising about another life than the one I was living...After all, I lived in the city for 23 years- though we did get away to the countryside when we could.

It's the work of staying with the present that would make it feasible - along with not having a rigid idea of what is city and what is country. I've read that suburbanites moving to an agricultural area are often dismayed by the noise and smells of the working countryside.

Here's a rather stern poem about the danger of avoiding the reality of where you are:

The City, by C. P. Cavafy

 "You said: “I’ll go to another country, go to another shore,
find another city better than this one.
Whatever I try to do is fated to turn out wrong
and my heart lies buried as though it were something dead.
How long can I let my mind moulder in this place?
Wherever I turn, wherever I happen to look,
I see the black ruins of my life, here,
where I’ve spent so many years, wasted them, destroyed them totally.”

You won’t find a new country, won’t find another shore.
This city will always pursue you. You will walk
the same streets, grow old in the same neighborhoods,
will turn gray in these same houses.
You will always end up in this city. Don’t hope for things elsewhere:
there is no ship for you, there is no road.
As you’ve wasted your life here, in this small corner,
you’ve destroyed it everywhere else in the world."

Dreams of escape, whether from town or country, lead us away from living as fully as possible wherever we are. Wherever we go, we take with us who we think we are. Maybe that's what we need to change, if we want a real escape - what we think we are.

This rather feeble song from Canned Heat has classic rural escape fanatasy in it, back-to-the-country hippiedom.
"I'm going up the country, babe, don't you wanna go?
I'm going up the country, babe, don't you wanna go?
I'm going to some place where I've never been before.

I'm going, I'm going where the water tastes like wine.
Well, I'm going where the water tastes like wine.
We can jump in the water, stay drunk all the time.

I'm gonna leave this city, got to get away.
I'm gonna leave this city, got to get away.
All this fussing and fighting, man, you know I sure can't stay."

I was pleased to leave the traffic, the haste and the noise of the city behind, "the fussing and fighting;" any of us might have good reason to move on from the city, but it needs to be agood reason. Idealising somewhere else than you are is surely a recipe for unhappiness.


(Dunno about you, but I much prefer "On The Road Again" with its loping rhythm and buzzing, slightly sinister backing.)