Manchester Attack

For weeks, I’ve been growing more and more angry and exasperated when I’ve been watching television, on account of all the lying, bickering politicians, reporters and supporters. Today, I’ve been hearing stories of little girls with plastic bags burned into their skin and hair, with nails blown into their faces by a bomb, along with most other horrors you’d care to imagine, so I’d give anything for this not to have happened and to be back instead to simply complaining about grown men and women slagging each other off.

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Theresa May, Fox Hunting and the Decline of Christianity

Last week, Theresa May revealed that she has always been in favour of fox hunting, then a few days ago, her party’s published manifesto included a commitment to allow Conservative members of Parliament a free vote on the issue, should the Tories win the forthcoming election. This decision caused outrage and revulsion in many quarters, but I can’t help seeing this apparently self-serving decision in a slightly different light, as I shall describe after I’ve briefly run through some of the more obvious conclusions that can be reasonably drawn from what we now know.

As others have pointed out, there is perhaps an unprecedented degree of hypocrisy at work here, but such a thing is hardly unusual or remarkable in our modern era, when the approval ratings for politics and for all politicians have never been lower. With this woeful track record in mind, it breaks new ground in sheer gall for the prime minister to rule out a second vote on Brexit or on another Scottish referendum on independence, especially when both these votes were so close, yet to allow another vote on whether or not to legalise fox hunting once more, when all the polls I’ve seen show that something in the region of 85% of British voters are firmly against blood sports.

Perhaps there was a time when I would have been outraged by these things, but now, I cannot help but be amused when I see that the Conservative party are vociferously accusing their bemused Labour counterparts of wanting to take Britain back to the 1970s. After all, in 2017, nothing says that you’re a modern, progressive party more than announcing to an incredulous world that you want to reintroduce the barbaric practise of setting a pack of dogs on a wild animal for the pleasure of a few onlookers, but as I’m not the one seeking re-election, I will assume that Conservative party strategists are confident they know what they’re doing and are not going to make fools of themselves.

There are many political issues worth exploring in far greater depth, but I am far more interested in one aspect of Theresa May’s enthusiasm for fox hunting that no one has yet described and delved into, at least not as far as I’m aware. The prime minister is famously the daughter of a vicar, so before I’m accused of unfairly singling out an aspect of her character or history, I would simply say that this matter was covered and indeed highlighted as a positive virtue on page 17 of Friday’s Daily Mail, a newspaper that has shown itself to be Theresa May’s single greatest champion among our media thus far.

If being the daughter of a vicar somehow brings Theresa May qualities that prove useful to her and to the country, then she deserves all the credit going, while any success she achieves in the political arena should reflect well on her faith. On the other hand, I surely cannot be the only person who has more than a passing interest in Christianity, primarily on account of the extensive research I did for my 2009 book, who finds the practise of setting dogs on wild animals for the pleasure of a few onlookers to be completely at odds with the teachings of the central figure in Christianity.

Christianity is in sharp decline in Britain and this 2016 article from the Spectator is as good a summary of the matter as any that I’ve seen recently. I am no analyst, but it seems to me that if Christians are now a minority in Britain, as the figures tell us, and if a small minority of something like 15 or 20% of the population are in favour of blood sports, then a leading Christian figure such as Theresa May is notably going against the tide of history by publicly aligning herself with a pastime that the overwhelming majority of people in Britain view with revulsion.

Most of the indications that I’ve seen suggest that Theresa May and her Conservative party will win at the next election, although I personally doubt that her backing of fox hunting will have made much difference either way if this proves to be the case. However, while the Conservative party may turn out to be in power for the next five years or so, hunting foxes with packs of dogs and with terriers for the depraved practise of digging out continues to wane in popularity, especially among young people.

Unless some kind of miracle occurs, it seems to me that Christianity in Britain is on the way out as well, so when the history of this apparently doomed religion comes to be written, then I strongly suspect that Theresa May will be judged to have played a significant part in the emptying of Britain’s churches and in failing to inspire a new generation to fill these houses of worship, an odd legacy indeed for a churchgoing vicar’s daughter.

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In Loving Memory of My Friend Tariq

Around six years ago, I had the spectacular good fortune of being introduced to Dr Tariq Idris, who was well-known at the time as a cosmetic dentist practising in London’s prestigious Harley Street. I met Tariq at a time when I’d been abandoned by the dental profession and I was in a very bad way, having been driven almost literally demented by the incessant pain I was suffering. As such, I had become extremely suspicious of and hostile to dentists, so I frankly doubted that our meeting would end well for either of us, despite the glowing recommendations I’d heard about Tariq , who had had a number of high-profile celebrities as his grateful clients over the years.

I immediately warmed to Tariq, but not just because of the supreme care he took in the course of his work. He was considerate and understanding to a fantastic degree with me, which is no small feat considering that I’ve got good reason to believe that I was quite possibly the most fearful and difficult patient he’d encountered. I was grateful beyond words to him for treating me like a human being, but we stayed in touch from the very first, not just because I was his patient, but because he was such a warm, likeable, amusing, considerate and well-informed man.

I am deliberately making this account brief, because I intend to write about Tariq at far greater length another time. For now, I was fascinated to learn that he applied the principles of the Golden Ratio and the Fibonacci Sequence to his cosmetic dentistry, so there were many times when Tariq and myself talked long into the night about these matters. We discussed other things as well, such as our shared love of Pink Floyd and black dogs, but I cannot hope to do justice to the full breadth of Tariq’s learning and interests here, nor will I try.

I’m 57 years old and for as far back as I can remember, I’ve had an extremely robust sense of humour, something that’s occasionally got me into deep trouble, but Tariq was responsible for playing the funniest practical joke on me that anyone has ever managed, which is an astonishing achievement and the memory of it still makes me explode with laughter and grin like an idiot. I could continue for hours yet and one day I will, but for now, I’ll simply say that for all his many wonderful qualities, not least his warmth and kindness, I loved Tariq like a brother.

I last spoke with him just a few weeks ago and as ever, he was brimming over with curiosity and happiness as he enthused about life in general and about a forthcoming project in particular. He was planning to leave the country for a little while, so I imagined that I’d be hearing from him shortly after his return, but instead, I was appalled to receive a phone call from a mutual friend last Monday to tell me that Tariq was critically ill in intensive care in a hospital in the north of England; on Wednesday, his life support was turned off and on the Thursday, the following day, Tariq was buried in keeping with the tenets of his devoutly-held Muslim faith.

At my age, I’ve known what I suspect is at least my share of tragedies and bereavements, but Tariq’s loss is absolutely brutal, not just to me, but to his young family and to all his many other friends, as well as to all those who profited from his professional skills. For most of the time, I think of this man that I loved like a brother and I smile, because of the countless reasons I have to be happy that I knew him, but every now and again, my eyes well up, the hot tears flow unchecked and I simply cannot bloody well believe that he’s gone, so I find myself cursing a malignant fate that stole him from us at such a young age.

This isn’t what Tariq would want, so I’ve applied myself to trying to write the briefest of eulogies that will do his memory some remote semblance of justice and hopefully please anyone else who knew him, who happens to pass by this site.

“Atque in perpetuum, frater, ave atque vale”.
“And forever, Brother, hail and farewell”.

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The Fox’s Daylight Blessing

For several years, when I’ve sat outside my back door after dark, gazing up the length of my rambling garden into the long grass and the shadows around the distant outbuildings, I’ve often been visited by a fox, meetings I’ve recorded on this site at least once before. This creature has sometimes chosen to get to within three feet or so of where I’m resting in my chair, before sitting down in an unhurried fashion, wrapping its tail around its haunches and staring silently at me for a few blessed minutes, before eventually rising once again and slipping away into the “foothills of the night”.

After each magical visit, I’ve found myself slightly out of breath, possibly because I was subconsciously holding my breath for fear of making a noise, disturbing the creature and thereby breaking the spell. However, I’m more inclined to believe that being in the presence of one of Britain’s most iconic and demonised wild animals is akin to a religious experience, as far as I’m concerned, but I can only speak of how I feel after such encounters.

Earlier today, on May Day afternoon, I was preparing a meal in my kitchen when my son Jack softly called my attention to a previously unseen vision, that of a large fox quietly climbing the steps into my garden from just beneath the window where I was standing. This fantastic creature then stared through the window at us, seemingly without a care in the world, just three or four feet away.

I quietly urged Jack to get his mother and sister from the front room, so that they too could see and share this wonder for themselves. By the time everyone had crept back into the kitchen, our visitor had moved away and was leisurely inspecting some of the higher reaches of our garden, as you can see by the photos that my daughter Tanith took, at the top and bottom of this post.

It so happened that shortly before this creature appeared, in broad daylight, I had learned some dreadful news that brought me to tears, not about my own well-being, but concerning a terrible misfortune that has befallen one of my dearest friends; someone to whom I am furthermore indebted beyond description for their kindness to me, at a time when I needed it most.

The news was so shocking in its nature that I still find it hard to believe, so I was terribly upset earlier, shaking my head and trying to come to terms with the appalling details I’d just heard. Nothing could banish this sorrow, but the unexpected sight of this wonderful fox almost literally coming to visit me could not help but lighten my mood and prevent me from indulging my natural reaction, which was to bury my head in my hands and weep.

Now, I do not know if the fox I saw today is the same creature that’s sometimes visited me by night over the course of the past few years. Nor do I know if it was anything other than a cosmic coincidence that I should see a wild animal that was absolutely guaranteed to lift my spirits, at such close quarters, so shortly after I’d received the worst news I can remember in a long time. Short of letting himself in through the kitchen door, then jumping up on one of the kitchen surfaces, he or she couldn’t have been much closer to me, and I know that they could see me through the old glass from where they paused outside, by a rosemary bush that graces that corner of the garden.

All things considered, I think it’s stretching the bounds of coincidence beyond all credulity to consider that after nearly a decade of living here, a wild animal should appear no more than a few feet away from me in broad daylight, just after I’d been informed of some news that threatened to corrode the soul. I don’t pretend to know what exactly happened in those mystical few minutes earlier, but I choose to believe that some small part of creation was moved by my plight, and sent a beautiful creature as a sign, to console me. It’s possible – though some would say it’s certain – that I was fantastically lucky, nothing more, but either way you look at the matter, life can be indescribably beautiful.

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The Moonlandingz

A few nights ago, I drove down to Exmouth at midnight, a leisurely journey along deserted, switchback roads that took something like twenty-five minutes, although I must admit that’s a guess, as I wasn’t paying attention to the passing of time. For company, I had my daughter Tanith and we spent the entire journey bathed in the moon’s strange light, listening to Interplanetery Class Classics, the new album by the Moonlandingz.

I don’t believe I possess the skill to review albums, or any other form of musical output for that matter, so I won’t try. Two of my long-standing friends – Neil Jeffries and Morat – are very good at this kind of thing, to the extent that they’ve both made a deservedly handsome living from it for all the decades I’ve been lucky enough to know them. Tanith herself reviewed the Moonlandingz’ album for Delinquent Magazine and what she wrote was re-tweeted by the band, but I don’t propose to try to add to this sum total.

Instead, I’ll simply say that I greatly enjoyed listening to what I can only describe as the deranged but melodic psychedelia of this album. There was something about the lonely drive to the seashore at midnight, drenched all the while by the Moon’s “doubtful and malignant light”, that made it seem to me as if Time briefly stood still and if I were somehow part of an old X-Files episode whose name remains tantalisingly out of reach, like standing on the threshold of a long-forgotten dream.

Unusually, the music and the mood it generated stayed with me after I left my car and while I wandered the shore at Exmouth with Tanith for thirty minutes. At such a gloomy, liminal spot, I would have usually found myself quietly singing Moonlight Drive by the Doors, or watching the eternal waves lap at the darkened sand at my feet as I summoned to mind verses by Keats, Blake or Coleridge.

I remember reading how Michael Crichton disliked the Tarot on the grounds that he felt it was “someone else’s dream” and this was an observation that struck a profound chord in me, because I always like to create my own visions rather than have one created by someone else paraded before me like a video. This time around, however, the soundtrack to my wanderings on an empty shore was the subdued gurgle of the waves by moonlight and the demon tunes from “someone else’s dream”, and very pleasant it was, too.


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The Shallows’ Heartfelt Chime

I do not feel as if I have the weight of the world on my shoulders, but I try to take a regular interest in current affairs, so it follows that there should be occasions when the news is not of a nature to lift one’s spirits. On Sunday night, what I saw on the television seemed to be a weary, unforgiving procession of deaths and subsequent funerals, brought about by brutal means such as stabbings, nerve gas, bombs and mowing innocents down with a motor vehicle, so it was one of those occasions when it seemed as if the sorrow felt by thousands elsewhere in the world ebbed silently from the screen into my living room.

Yesterday afternoon, despite the bright and invigorating sunshine, I found my thoughts inadvertently returning to these gloomy matters, so I digested them all as best I could, then I made a point of pausing on a bridge across a stream or river just a hundred yards or so from my home, as I returned from wandering the meadows and woods further afield.

There are several good reasons why I chose to linger at this tranquil spot, one being that a body of water I’ve long thought of as Blueboy’s Pool lies a mere thirty feet downstream of where I was standing. I feel nothing but pleasure when I recall all the many times that I went to this place with my black dog, as I’d mostly just stand there basking in the sunlight and the marked serenity of this spot, sometimes watching dragonflies dance around me while Blueboy splashed in the crystal waters, drinking, cooling himself down, then leisurely exploring the overgrown banks on each side of the pool.

I do not have the pleasure of Blueboy’s corporeal company anymore, but his memory never fails to give me a warm glow, while I long ago discovered that there are all manner of benefits to lingering in this blessed place, regardless of the hour or the season. On this occasion, I immediately found myself captivated by the strange music generated by the waters beneath, and the most prominent notes came from a short distance upstream from me, in the photo at the top of this post, on the left.

This river lies in a flood plain, so most of the surrounding fields are cut with deep ditches to help the waters drain away on the frequent occasions when this landscape becomes a lake. One of these ditches emerges from the fields roughly twenty feet upstream from me, so although I could not see any ripples on the side of the river from what must have been a small waterfall disrupting the surface, it was clear to me that a small stream was dripping down from the bank and across some hidden obstacles to produce a never-ending ripple of high-pitched notes, the liquid equivalent of cheery birdsong.

Unless you have been fortunate enough to experience such a thing for yourself, it is almost impossible to convey just how uplifting such a bright melody can be, as these notes generated by the passing or falling of water possess the ability to calm the troubled breast and to make the soul glad. I do not know how long I stood here, breathing in slowly and deeply through my nostrils, enchanted by the river’s song, luxuriating in the sun’s warm rays and the gentle breeze on my skin, but there belatedly came a point when I realised that the music I could hear and which delighted me so much did not emanate from the single source I’ve described.

I gradually became aware of a single note that regularly appeared as a counterpoint to the melody from the hidden waterfall, but it was deeper in tone to the bright ripples and drops burnishing the air upstream. I soon located its source, which was the regularly-forming crest of a wave brought into being by the quickening current hurrying over a large stone, plunging down a few inches before encountering another stone that forced the water back upwards. Every few seconds, the unwieldy crest would tremble, then drop back into the trough upstream and while there was an accompanying merry gurgle from the tumbling waters on each side of the falling crest, the main body in the centre produced a sweet and echoing chime as it fell.

I do not care to analyze these things too much. The reasoning and rational part of me realises that many factors were at play here, such as the time of day, the temperature, the position of the sun, the volumes of water in the ditch and in the stream, the preceding weather that had brought these things about and numerous others. I do not suppose that any supernatural agency was at work here, but at the same time, I doubt that any human hand could reproduce the magical music produced by the elements, which had the direct effect of inducing a state of serenity and bliss in me, the fortunate observer and hearer of these unfettered, Arcadian things.

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The Stonehenge Tunnel – “This is the business we have chosen”.

Once this latest farce has run its full course, I would imagine that most observers would regard the saga of the Stonehenge Tunnel to be little more than another short-lived episode in the history of the ruins on the plain, one that’s undistinguished by any drama on a par with that which accompanied the Battle of the Beanfield or the more recent removal of the Ancestors, to name but two other notable events.

To present the story in its most Lacedaemonian form, the UK government proposed building a tunnel beneath the Stonehenge landscape, but this course of action looks unlikely to go ahead in light of the singular opposition that’s arisen to the apparently ill-conceived scheme. Most notably, the harsh wording of the criticism of such an enterprise from groups including archaeologists, ICOMOS and others is unprecedented and while Stonehenge has long been famous for arousing passions, the visceral opposition from so many quarters is unique and in my considered view, it means that the plans for the tunnel will soon be dropped.

I am inclined to agree with Tim Daw in his assessment, when he pretty much states that the plans for the tunnel being dropped in the face of ferocious and entirely predictable opposition is the outcome the government desired all along. If this is indeed the case, then it lays bare at best a horrendous miscalculation on the part of some of those who vocally supported the tunnel, and at worst some vested interests that I can only speculate upon.

The Stonehenge landscape is of incalculable valuable to us all, regardless of our individual views of its true nature and origin. It follows that all those who seek to preserve it, let alone to exalt it, will find their individual and collective rewards soon enough, whereas those who choose to despoil this wonderful place for their selfish, short-term ends will endure eternal and lasting scorn as the legacy of their ill-advised efforts to diminish one of the undisputed Wonders of the World.

“The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.”
Omar Khayyam.

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