My walk was the walk of a human child, but my heart was a tree.

"Whenever you see an oak-tree felled, swear now you will plant two."

12/28/14 08:44 am - UKIP and bias

Odd thought: many people have noticed that the BBC and others give undue bias to UKIP over the Greens. Something odd is going on, and people have often suggested a UKIP mole. But I wonder whether it's actually someone from the Labour Party. UKIP is likely to split the Tory vote; the Greens are likely to take people from the centre-left. So centre-left voters are unlikely to be distracted by UKIP and unlikely to hear from the Greens, putting Labour in a good position to win the election. (Of course there are those who think UKIP is a centre-left party, but then they'll learn the truth when they hear them speak.)

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12/23/14 02:07 am - Gentle Readers: the sun come up from the south

Gentle Readers
a newsletter made for sharing
volume 2, number 8
22nd December 2014: the sun come up from the south
What I’ve been up to

Mostly preparing for Christmas— thank you to all of you who sent cards!— and rewriting the Gentle Readers website, though it's not yet ready to go live. And Kit has put together an entry in the Inclusive Advent calendar about welcoming people who are chronically ill.

Also, because it's the time of year to reread The Dark is Rising, and I've been thinking about the new volume of Gentle Readers beginning in January— I'm planning to put a review in each issue of a book I've loved, past or present, mostly but not exclusively children's and YA books. If you have suggestions for books you'd like reviewed, do let me know.

A poem of mine

SOLSTICE

Perhaps I might compare... oh damn it. No.
It's four, and it's already almost night.
The land lies suffocated under snow:
they say "the dead of winter", and they're right.
My life's on hold until the first of May:
until that morning comes I have to cope
with dragging on through every darkened day.
July will come: I have to live in hope.
No. You're the one I'm missing, not July.
Yours is the warmth, not April's, that I miss.
I miss your smiles far more than May, and I
lie longing, not for June, but for your kiss;
I'm cold and tired. I don't know what to do.
Shall I compare a summer's day to you?

A picture

I thought you might like to see what my notes for an issue of Gentle Readers look like, so here's today's:

https://gentlereaders.uk/pics/gr-mindmap

Something wonderful

In Asia Minor, sometime around the year 55 of our era, a baby was born; he was soon afterwards sold into slavery, taken to Rome, and given the name Epictetus (Ἐπίκτητος). He couldn't walk, so his master sent him to learn to read and write instead; he thrived in academia and ended up as one of the foremost philosophers of his age. Eventually his master freed him, and Epictetus set up his own philosophy school.

https://gentlereaders.uk/pics/epictetus

Epictetus was a Stoic: that is, he believed the important thing in life is to learn to act and react appropriately. You can't expect to be fully in control of your possessions or your body, and you certainly can't expect to control other people, but you can learn to be more in control of your own mind and your own reactions. For example, suppose you're a tennis player; however hard you train, you might never win at Wimbledon, because of things you can't control: luck, the weather, the performances of other players. But being the best tennis player you can be is within your control, so it's a more appropriate goal to aim for. If you do manage to learn to react to everything that happens in the most appropriate manner for that thing, Epictetus says you will have achieved happiness (εὐδαιμονία, eudaemonia, "good-spiritedness").

We don't have any of Epictetus's own writings. But Arrian, one of his pupils, wrote up his lecture notes in eight books called the "Discourses", four of which have come down to us; he also produced a short summary often called the "Enchiridion", which simply means "handbook". That's a good place to start reading. There are several good translations; the one at the link was written by the rather wonderful Elizabeth Carter (1717-1806).

Many people have learned from Epictetus's ideas in the last two thousand years, but perhaps one of the most surprising is the second-century Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, himself no mean philosopher; though they never met, the emperor cited Epictetus's influence repeatedly in his writings. In around a hundred years, Epictetus had gone from slavery to being the teacher of the emperor of Rome.

Something from someone else

This is a good song for the winter solstice. "Ellum" is an obsolete dialectal form of "elm"; its habit of dropping branches on people is noted also in White's The Sword in the Stone, where the tree adds, "The cream of the joke is that they make the coffins out of me afterwards." Unfortunately for the landscape, but perhaps fortunately for our skulls, the elm has become nearly extinct in England since Kipling's time.

A TREE SONG
by Rudyard Kipling

Of all the trees that grow so fair,
Old England to adorn,
Greater are none beneath the Sun,
Than Oak, and Ash, and Thorn.
Sing Oak, and Ash, and Thorn, good sirs,
(All of a Midsummer morn!)
Surely we sing no little thing,
In Oak, and Ash, and Thorn!

Oak of the Clay lived many a day
Or ever Aeneas began.
Ash of the Loam was a lady at home
When Brut was an outlaw man.
Thorn of the Down saw New Troy Town
(From which was London born);
Witness hereby the ancientry
Of Oak, and Ash, and Thorn!

Yew that is old in churchyard-mould,
He breedeth a mighty bow.
Alder for shoes do wise men choose,
And Beech for cups also.
But when ye have killed, and your bowl is spilled,
And your shoes are clean outworn,
Back ye must speed for all that ye need,
To Oak, and Ash, and Thorn!

Ellum she hateth mankind, and waiteth
Till every gust be laid,
To drop a limb on the head of him
That anyway trusts her shade:
But whether a lad be sober or sad,
Or mellow with ale from the horn,
He will take no wrong when he lieth along
'Neath Oak, and Ash, and Thorn!

Oh, do not tell the Priest our plight,
Or he would call it a sin;
But— we have been out in the woods all night,
A-conjuring Summer in!
And we bring you news by word of mouth—
Good news for cattle and corn—
Now is the Sun come up from the South,
With Oak, and Ash, and Thorn!

Sing Oak, and Ash, and Thorn, good sirs
(All of a Midsummer morn):
England shall bide till Judgement Tide,
By Oak, and Ash, and Thorn!

Colophon

Gentle Readers is published on Mondays and Thursdays, and I want you to share it. The archives are at https://gentlereaders.uk, and so is a form to get on the mailing list. If you have anything to say or reply, or you want to be added or removed from the mailing list, I’m at thomas@thurman.org.uk and I’d love to hear from you. The newsletter is reader-supported; please pledge something if you can afford to, and please don't if you can't. ISSN 2057-052X. Love and peace to you all.

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12/22/14 08:36 am - Summer

"Oh, do not tell the priest our plight, or he would call it a sin;
But we have been out in the woods all night, a-conjuring Summer in!
And we bring you good news by word of mouth, good news for cattle and corn:
Now is the Sun come up from the South, with Oak and Ash and Thorn."

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12/20/14 11:56 pm - Write a story about the sum...

A primary school test asked me "write a story about the sum 6+4=10". I had no idea what it was asking me to do, so I made a guess and wrote "One day 6+4=10 went for a walk. Then it came back. The end."

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12/16/14 09:37 pm - Region mapper

Something I've wanted to do for a while: You know those sites where you can fill in which states/counties/whatever you've visited? I'd like to generalise that. You could zoom to a particular area and it would say "counties of Wales" or "police force areas of Wales" or "wards of Salford" or whatever. Then when you chose one you could colour the regions in as you wished, and make a key. And then you could save them as SVG or PNG, both with enough metadata that you could reload them back into the site and get your editable state back. Some sort of integration with Wikimedia Commons would be nice too. What do you think?

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12/16/14 01:59 am - Gentle Readers: the strangest whim

Gentle Readers
a newsletter made for sharing
volume 2, number 7
15th December 2014: the strangest whim
What I’ve been up to

I've been dividing my time between writing, contacting potential literary agents, and being asleep-- this last because they're trying me with a new antidepressant. So far it seems to be going well, but time will tell.

Two special offers for your attention, especially if you're looking for last-minute ideas for presents:

1) Because my partner Kit and I are still both too ill to work, I've reissued Time Blew Away Like Dandelion Seed, a collection of over a hundred of my poems. You can buy the paperback from Lulu. A signed and numbered hardback edition is also in the works: I'll let you know when it's ready. (The best regular way of supporting Gentle Readers, and me, financially is still through Patreon.)

2) My good friend Katie, who is a talented photographer as well as a nursing student, was due to study in the Netherlands next semester, but then she was unexpectedly sent to Finland instead. The Finnish cost of living is rather greater than the Dutch, so she is selling prints of her work to make up the budget shortfall. Please do go and check them out.

A poem of mine

FOR NIGHT CAN ONLY HIDE

When once I stop and take account of these
that God has granted me upon the earth,
the loves, the friends, the work, that charm and please
these things I count inestimable worth;
when once I stop, I learn that I am rich
beyond the dreams of emperors and kings
and light is real, and real these riches which
exceed the worth of all material things...
   when thus I stop, I cannot understand
   when few and feeble sunbeams cannot find
   their way into that drab and dreary land,
   the darkness of the middle of my mind.
yet darkness cannot take away my joy,
for night can only hide, and not destroy.

Something wonderful

The City of Westminster is one of the towns that make up Greater London. In 1672, its population was growing very fast, and builders were anxious to buy land for housing. George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham, owned a mansion in Westminster called York House, and he agreed to sell it for demolition and redevelopment. The price he named was £30,000-- around £6 million in modern money-- plus one extra condition: all the streets built on the land had to be named after him.

The developers agreed, and set to work. Soon they had built George Street, Villiers Street, Duke Street, and Buckingham Street, at which point they were running out of naming possibilities, with one small alley yet to be named. Thus, in a moment of desperate lateral thinking, they gave it the ingenious name of Of Alley.

Something from someone else

Chesterton wrote quite a few poems about depression. I like this one particularly because it starts humorously-- literally using gallows humour-- but once it's drawn you in, it ends on a serious point about hope. Ballades are a difficult form, but Chesterton makes it look easy, though in fact he's made it even harder for himself by his choice of rhymes. It's conventional to address a prince at the end of a ballade, who is often assumed to be the Prince of Darkness (i.e. Satan): thus the end of the poem is about the downfall of evil, and perhaps the Second Coming.

BALLADE OF SUICIDE
by G K Chesterton

The gallows in my garden, people say,
Is new and neat and adequately tall.
I tie the noose on in a knowing way
As one that knots his necktie for a ball;
But just as all the neighbours— on the wall—
Are drawing a long breath to shout "Hurray!"
The strangest whim has seized me... After all
I think I will not hang myself today.

To-morrow is the time I get my pay—
My uncle's sword is hanging in the hall—
I see a little cloud all pink and gray—
Perhaps the rector's mother will NOT call—
I fancy that I heard from Mr. Gall
That mushrooms could be cooked another way—
I never read the works of Juvenal—
I think I will not hang myself today.

The world will have another washing day;
The decadents decay; the pedants pall;
And H. G. Wells has found that children play,
And Bernard Shaw discovered that they squall;
Rationalists are growing rational—
And through thick woods one finds a stream astray,
So secret that the very sky seems small—
I think I will not hang myself today.

Prince, I can hear the trumpet of Germinal,
The tumbrils toiling up the terrible way;
Even today your royal head may fall—
I think I will not hang myself today. 

Colophon

Gentle Readers is published on Mondays and Thursdays, and I want you to share it. The archives are at https://gentlereaders.uk, and so is a form to get on the mailing list. If you have anything to say or reply, or you want to be added or removed from the mailing list, I’m at thomas@thurman.org.uk and I’d love to hear from you. The newsletter is reader-supported; please pledge something if you can afford to, and please don't if you can't. ISSN 2057-052X. Love and peace to you all.

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12/14/14 01:28 pm - major rode ahead

I can remember going through that stage fairly clearly. I was about five, and I'd read a cracker joke at a party that said:
Knock knock.
Who's there?
Major.
Major who?
Major road ahead.
This is because there used to be road signs that said "major road ahead", but I didn't know this-- they'd been obsolete before I was born. I assumed it meant that a major in the army rode ahead of the rest of the soldiers. That seemed a bit odd, but when I told my parents the joke, they laughed. Can anything compare to that moment when you make someone else laugh on purpose? So I told the joke again the next day, and it somehow wasn't funny any more. Clearly, then, I had to learn new jokes, but how? I determined to experiment by changing the joke slowly to see whether I could work out what made the original joke funny. My first attempt was:
Knock knock.
Who's there?
Major.
Major who?
Major curtains.
Of course when I told my parents that joke they laughed as well because of the surrealism, which made constructing a hypothesis about the nature of humour rather difficult.

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12/11/14 10:04 pm - Wordsworth

For an English Lit GCSE assignment I wrote the diary of a policeman who was following Wordsworth around the Lakes in the belief he was a Napoleonic spy. At one point our hero attempts to get the suspect to prove he's a poet by quoting the piece he's working on. It goes:

"Behold her, single in the field,
Reaping and singing by the hedge;
Reaping and singing by herself;
It really sets my teeth on edge.
Her notes are flat; it gives me pain
To hear her solitary strain."

"If she improves," he adds, "I may revise the stanza."

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12/11/14 02:32 am - Time blew away like dandelion seed

A few years ago, I collected 110 of my poems into a book; I'm bringing it back into print for a few months in order to pay bills since my partner and I are both too sick to work. You can buy it from Lulu in the UK, US, and many other countries-- usually it's US$20, about £12, but at present it's discounted to US$17, about £11.

There will also be a numbered and signed proper hardback edition of fifty; I'll be doing that through Kickstarter and announcing it later this week.

Let me know if you have questions. And tell your friends!



Reader comments:
“It's happy, sad, funny, thought-provoking and occasionally groan-worthy.”
“Overflowing with beauty, sadness and joy.”


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