Begging for Giveness


Epiphany: dissolving the veil of perception behind which floats understanding. The Twelfth day of Christmas is when three magi, wise enough to make a detour on their return to the Orient, happed on the stable in Bethlehem. Today marks the end of the sacred fortnight.

This fresh Decade started violently. That don’t bode well.

However, if we learnt anything from the last twenty years, it is that evolution has quickened its pace and we aren’t catching up: melting ice-packs, smelting forests, oceanic plastic, drastic resourcelessness. We’re choking ourselves.

Consumption: de-link consumption from status and we augment the quality of what we produce in virtue of needing less of it. This gives the Earth a chance to catch its breath.

If I knew how to beg, I would sink to my knees and encourage all within earshot to look inside and share what they find. Giving of oneself opens the windows in ventilation of being meaningfully useful. Call it prudence or self-interest or humane or kind: all terms apply equally.

Giveness is not yet a word: might it become a deed?

Listening to what the inner life murmurs seems never more apposite by virtue of what, ever more clearly we discern, awaits us.

Older than time


Image         Jack Charles born at the Cummeragunja Mission, NSW in 1943

This is Jack Charles. With a face older than time and a gaze of steady seeing, alas he died recently.

His life was crammed to spillage with criminality, art and struggle, he spent most of it mutely accommodating the wrongs inflicted on him by the institutions of his day: that is to say the system.

Eastern Australia has become an inferno of bush fire, vapourizing the trappings of Western industrialization and culture: it must be excruciating to watch, terrifying to live through.

At Mallacoota on the tip of promontory along the coast of New South Wales, people were driven by fire into the sea where they waited for the wind to change direction.

The last twenty years, which began with such hope and fizzing excitement of gorgeous potential, have not ventilated thinking with the steady wisdom one might have hoped.

Rather, the fresh Millennium is a pock-marked portrait of our excesses. These two decades comprise the Globe’s picture in the attic.

A Criticality is the term for the worst event imaginable. We’ve arrived at a new term: criticalities.

At the time of writing, the fireworks have just leapt from Sydney Harbour’s bridge. Wouldn’t it be ravishing if all peoples took a moment to gaze into their hearts and act on what they see?

Shall we and Twenty Twenties be kinder to one another?

Curiosity and kitten heels


Image                                                           Pretty much as it appears today

Spoiler Alert: if unfamiliar with central London, you’re going to have to take our word for it.

You know the block that spans Shoe Lane to Kingsway between Fleet Street and Holborn, pretty much all in EC4 and still totally Dickensian?

Within it lie Royal Courts of Justice, Lincoln’s Inn, London School of Economics & Political Science, Soane Museum and … the Old Curiosity Shop. Yes, there was such a place inspiring Dickens’ novel that he published in weekly installments through 1840/41.

Rarely do we actually do something next door which others travel around the world to see – Lord knows why but it appears in our DNA not to bother – yet th’other day, while having the treat of wriggling through from the City to West End, the time opened up in front of me to slide roundly through the portals of the Shop.

I’m not sure what I was expecting other than Little Nell valiantly dusting a corner and Grandfather wearily bustling in an ante-room.

An inscrutable Oriental figure unlocked the door a while after knocking and drew back to reveal something entirely magical. Dainty, hand-made shoes & occasional threads – shirts mostly – draped with careless cool through the crescent shaped Shop which is barely the size of a slice of the type of cake from which a person leaps in rosey surprise.

It is a most curious shop. It is creakingly old. It was a Dickensian experience. I am still floating from knowing that in these dismal days of our global disgrace, there continue such places, immune to faddish post-modernism and which hold themselves together by virtue of mysterious self-possession.

Twenty Twenty is almost upon us. Here at The Materials, we hope your Christmas is a-flowing with humanity, that kindness abounds and swelling all opportunities to be meaningfully useful is embraced.

It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Breadth of Nature


Our three heroes and the Toad, illustrated for Kenneth Grahame’s 1908 treasure by Ernest H Shepard

The Wind in the Willows is one of those enchanting tales in which one finds all human life: that is to say, the full panoply of personable characteristics is laid out with gorgeous humanity.

We concentrate on the thin-skinned Toad, the proud and loquacious Toad, the gracious and affable Mr Toad, the …

Part of Toad’s irresistible appeal is the charmingly frank-while-often-only-fleeting-acknowledgement of his excesses. Deep within his substantial form beats a kind and generous heart and that generosity of spirit makes him, somehow, immutably unimpeachable.

© Estate of E.H. Shepard

After splashing about in the pool of his own hubristic harmartia, it dawns on the traffic-quelling Terror that his passions lead nowhere but downfall. Brushes with prison, mottled-arm-barge-women, Wild Wooders (and loyal friends) show that doing the right thing for the long-term is always the right thing to do, no matter how hard it seems in the short-term.

Toad’s quintessential self comprises vivacious appetites, eruptive joie’d’vie and a compassionate empathy for the plight of others. His nature wraps around a breadth of character which spans cheerfully guile-less charm to rogue-ish intrigue. He is never mean-spirited, spite-full, mercenary nor spineless. This, mebbie, is why we never tire of his derring-do’s?*

You’ll notice we haven’t mentioned the #Resident of the United States in these pages for a while.

* grammatically, do’s is clearly a shocker but we can’t work out how it ought be written.

Beyond bee-leaf


© Felix Fornoff                                                        “Leafcutter bee (Megachile) offspring develop in nests made from ovate leaf cuttings thoroughly      arranged in multiple buffering layers by their mother bees. Dr Fornoff is Chairman of Nature Conservation and Landscape Ecology at University of Freiburg. He says: “The pigmentation of the pupas’ eyes indicates the approaching end of metamorphoses & arrival of the spring of their lives.”

Most climate conversations I hold with deep sceptics usually include the expression ‘It’s the ecology, stooopid’. I daresay that might explain why doors close: but na’er mind that now.

Much more important is the gallery of award-winning images recognized in the British Ecology Society‘s Photography competition.

There are many others which can be found here yet from this it’s impossible to peel one’s eyes. The picture’s perfect clarity and composition are wondrous: yet that which clamps the mind to the imagination is the staggering complexity of the Leafcutter Bee. Have a really close look.

Could you make something so perfect for your offspring? You, with your 150+ IQ, centuries of civilization and guaranteed final salary pension scheme?

The natural world asks nothing of us but to leave it alone. Rather than learn from it, all we do is destroy it. It is beyond belief.

When evidence of such sophistication meets the eye, mind and heart, ought we not be persuaded to rethink how we function?


Writers’ loss


© TES                                  Children’s unbridled joy amid Victorian education

There’s something splendidly heroic in battling the decline of grammar. Specifically, uses of grammar’s vital indicator,  th’apostophe.

As former journalist and sub-editor, John Richards’ refined grasp of language propelled his creation of the Apostrophe Protection Society in 2001, then aged 78. He cites his age and ubiquitous indifference to its correct usage as reasons now to close it down.

We empathize: attempting to evangelize to a higher standard is often an exhausting, Sisyphean process. Whatever matters to one’s heart and head is often a purely personal perspective and no matter how truly one upholds its implicit values, it’s likely one’s alone – or in vanishingly select company – in the endeavour.

Being told there’s a better way grates: discovering it for oneself appears an entirely different proposition. Why is that? Might it have something to do with self-esteem?

Glorious though the English language is, most school children only learn of grammar’s role and its rules when studying Latin or German. Things we ought to know and don’t become immensely difficult to acknowledge as … it makes us feel stupid? But who knows everything?

Is it a throw-back to a Dickensian world where only those who might pay were educated: were they assumed to hone their grasp of language’s architecture during conversation around the dining table, in virtue of which grammar was seldom taught?


Meaning is captured by language and subtlety by grammar: biddova generalization that, but you take the point?

To distill finer meaning from literature, using all  instruments at our disposal, ever more refined understanding materializes. As others may dash to the bottom, what prevents us joining J Richards Esq in staggering to the top?

Being Humane


© Ian Berry / Magnum Photos       Jonathan Miller and small person, 1967

Jonathan Miller died today.

The cascade of avalanching tributes seems just response to a well-lived life garlanded by accolades yet shaken off as petals.

He gave a talk at Birkbeck entitled ‘Here’s looking at you, kid’ whose poster was that image of Bogart & Bergman from Casablanca.

By some very puzzling co-incidence, after he’d finished, he came and sat next to me in the audience while the College Master thanked him for the exposition.

Up until that moment, he’d always appeared an effusion of complex ideas simply explained, seeming to possess the molten self-assurance of one whose ‘incontinent wit’ could resuscitate the joy in any audience.

I have a Swedish nose which was also on the poster advertising the event. Maybe that’s why he wandered into the empty chair beside me? But he then asked with a sincere question in eye and cheek: “Was that alright?”

© Warner Bros

The vaulting architecture of his mind might have been grasped by Brunelleschi but as ignorant, grubby under-graduate, I decided the appropriate response was to play to my strength rather than his. So I smiled at him the kind of smile that hoped to convey all was well in the world. His tense shoulders relaxed and a grin spread across the India rubber of his face.

So, not merely the polymath’s polymath as a clever soul commented today, but a Being as humane as his body that questioned. Lucky for us he lived in our life-time.