The great seer and me
A long time ago, Paul Brunton and me were good companions, though he was not aware of it. Brunton was writing books about ancient religious beliefs that were unknown to me at the time. I bought one.
I was a simple soldier serving His Majesty in Cairo. Brunton impacted on me when I read that book to such a degree that I wrote to him and asked - warning: I did say 'simple' soldier - how I might become a PhD? He was one and it sounded grand. I had no qualifications that could possibly lead me to such eminence, but I was not to know that.
I never got a reply, but, inspired by his writings, I inspected, and entered, a pyramid, since it was handy close by, and there I sleuthed. It was quite dark in there and a bit gloomy and I prodded and probed in particularly mysterious areas as I carried out my Bruntoneque manoeuvres in search of Truth.
Eventually, I found what I wanted. Feeling carefully along a dark wall deep in my dungeons I detected something soft, pliable. It could have been anything: a pharoah's hat, a religious scarf of some kind.
I shoved the object inside my Army jacket and hit broad daylight again with a feeling of elation and closeness to my hero, Paul Brunton, Ph.D.
I made sure when I left the pyramid and recovered the object from its place close to my heart that no-one was watching. And then I had the sort of feeling you might have if you fell off a cliff. I hit rock bottom in my relatively short life because it was an ATS stocking. What was she doing losing a stocking in there for heaven's sake? The mind not merely boggles: it runs riot.
Well here we are, decades later - him dead, me having just ordered a book of his entitled A Search in Secret India. I looked him up:
Paul Brunton, pen name of Raphael Hurst (21 October 1898 – 27 July 1981), a British theosophist and spiritualist. One day, he had "an experience of genuine enlightenment which changed him forever". He described it:
"I find myself outside the rim of world consciousness. The planet which has so far harboured me disappears. I am in the midst of an ocean of blazing light. The latter, I feel rather than think, is the primeval stuff out of which worlds are created, the first state of matter. It stretches away into untellable infinite space, incredibly alive."
I can't say I have ever come remotely near one of those visions, but then, I am not a PhD.
Maybe the ATS girl who deposited a stocking in a crevice of a pyramid was having some sort of vision at the time. Best not to come to any conclusions about that. Common decency. I am sure Mr Brunton would agree.
Life in the fast lane
There you all are, safe, sound and untroubled, and me a jangle of nerves. Why? Because just for a moment I thought I was about to make national headlines by exiting this troubled earth in a hurry. Come this way - mind the dog; he doesn't bite - and I will describe to you how the plot thickens...
My drive is 80 yards long and runs parallel with a main road. Result of that is a steady deluge of rubbish from passing cars or cycles. So I walked to the top of the drive with one of those sticks with a mechanical claw on the end and began to collect. It was mostly cardboard coffee cups with the occasional plastic bottle, together with straws and odd unidentifiable objects. However, there you are: I gathered the lot in a big plastic bag and headed for the bins. There I sorted out the pile. And there lurked the horror.
I was picking and sorting now by hand. Cardboard and paper to this bin, plastic to that bin. And at a half-way point, I glanced at what I was holding in my right hand - a thin package about four inches square containing something white, covered in cellophane, and bearing the word in big letters: AEROFLOT. Aeroflot, I know well enough, is a Russian airline.
I had visions of becoming a national celebrity, one more victim of a haphazard nerve agent tossed into oblivion by a careless agent. Death and glory. That was the positive part. The non-positive parts were little yelps of terror as I headed for the wash basin and a steady run of hot water.
What should I do? Phone the police? Take a long shower. I actually began to feel queasy. A nasty sort of feeling was taking hold. I lay on the bed for some time. I composed myself for The End. And then I thought more deeply: there was something vaguely wrong. The affliction was not grabbing me like I thought a nerve agent might: the culprit could, then, have been the rice I ate in my lunchtime creation. I had an idea that rice could be years old, perhaps even an antique, when I looked in advance at the packaging. Tentative relief leading to end of horror. I was stricken, as my turbulent digestion revealed to me, by something that could be quickly remedied.
As I write this, the rice is in the bin together with all the flour I could find which must be ancient, too; and all I have left in my food cupboards is what I bought myself in the recent past.
All in all, a tempestuous, horrifying day and I hadn't even been away from the house.
Sorry, Mr Putin. Definitely not your fault.
Hard times? We're lucky!
These are hard times to be alive. Droughts for some. Floods for others. Threatening words from world leaders about trade, and mass destruction... on and on into the bleakness of this century. But hang on. We are lucky. I came across this description of life in Lancashire pits, around 1840:
"The state of affairs is uniquely summed up in the words of an eight year old girl. She was a trapper, that is, she sat in a hole near the door, at the pit bottom, opening and shutting it by means of a piece of string. This was ventilating. Those who did the work were usually between ages five and eight. 'I have to trap without a light,' she said, 'and I am scared. I go at four, and sometimes half past three, in a morning and come out at five and half past in the evening. I never sleep. Sometimes I sing when I have light, but not in the dark. I dare not sleep then.."
Ronald Carter, blacksmith
Violet Carson (Ena Sharples)
"The magic of Shakespeare swept me off my feet. Then I'm back to 'Ee, by gum' in the Street. It trapped me. It made me, if you like: it has gone all over the world. But it has destroyed me, because nobody sees me or anything about me."
Dame Gracie Fields & me
(Railway Children)L S Lowry (above)
"You're not getting your ball back," she used to shout. "You'll kill somebody, you lot."
The crucible (climbing)
copyright: Geoffrey Mather 2017
(collected in one spot) On growing old So there they were - Hollywood dominating the world with its Clark Gables, Jean Harlows, Spencer Tracys, Garbos and Bogarts, tears in its eyes, inventive, vulnerable, blessed by climate, limos and money but tormented, insecure and edgy as fledglings in nests. Bennett's art is to take the apparently trivial - his mother's views of "her betters" and so on - and make them meaningful in much larger ways. Miss Shepherd tested all his beliefs and inhibitions one by one. The two of them existed together, but in worlds apart, like aliens. And yet, I suspect, it was the sameness that reached furthest into the writer's psyche. His long essay on Miss Shepherd is superb. Even on the second reading, I was laughing out loud, to the disgust of the dog,, and in the next sentence feeling for Bennett's own agony. So you have this magic formula, where the relationship between two people over 20 years can match the life experiences of us all.
"I am all for the unusual on Page One. I do not read stories of the type headed ' Bandits gag, tie up woman' very much nowadays because people are always gagging and tying up women. Such incidents are as common as gas-oven suicides."
became editor of the Daily Express in October, 1933, a position he held for 24 years until 1957. During his editorship sales peaked at two million in 1935, over three million in 1944 and four million in 1949. Each day he wrote a bulletin. It was compulsory reading for members of editorial staff. Here are many of those bulletins.
+ Molloy of the Mirror + Clive James + Churchill + Big-ego words + Vanishing language + Noam Chomsky's words + Great words of great events
In spite of his own eccentricities, he wanted the world to behave as he expected it to. Big companies, shops, waiters and hotel managers were his normal fodder. He terrorised them. When he snagged a coat on something protruding in Woolworth's, he said to the manager, "This is an expensive coat." "I can see it is," said the manager. "I noticed it when you came in." "Right," said Brian Duff, "I expect you to pay for it. And I don't want it invisibly mended because you can see it."
Sir James Scott Douglas (gossip columnist)
When an editor complained of his booking into an expensive London hotel - the Dorchester as I recall - at the firm's expense, James merely said, "Where else can one entertain one's proprietor?" and the matter was hurriedly concluded, since no-one was prepared to phone (the late) Sir Max Aitken, who bossed the place at the time.
I asked Jim (I always called him Jim, to be perverse, though it was obvious that he was entitled to James) to find out something one day - on the phone, I emphasised - and he said, "Oh yes, I shall ring" - go on, guess - "...Uncle Essex." It made me wish I had an Uncle Oswaldtwistle
James had a habit of living extravagantly and encountering hard times, which is how he came to be a journalist. Both conditions were once almost fundamental to the job.
Pub Talk with Peter Thomas
Dudley Doolittle (comic),