Riding through the glen?


It’s a tough gig, appearing in front of a huge crowd just when the fire alarm’s gone off and attention is anywhere but in your direction. How, in such circumstances, does one make a mark?

A full, Covid-19-dominated-year-on from assuming the office of Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition, the role has been revived by virtue of his infinitely courteous, constructive scepticism. Better briefed and more attentive to suasive dissection of detail, his is a positive contrast to the chaotic exhibition of hubris across the Despatch Boxes. 

Sir Keir Starmer, QC

While it seems unlikely <– the Rt. Hon. Sir Kier Starmer, QC has ever held ambitions of swash-buckling his way along Westminster’s endless corridors of power, perhaps you agree that there

appears to be something of –> the Errol Flynn about his energy and manner?

A top role for the Irish actor was Robin Hood … (Robin? Thieeevin  more like) … the notion of giving to the poor funded by the rich would seem more closely aligned with a politician’s nod to a just society. 

For our international readers, you know that the Leader of the Labour Party has been in post since Spring 2020. A former Director of Public Prosecutions [Sheriff of Nottingham?!] he entered Parliament in 2015 whence he represents Holborn & St Pancras: not quite a glen but compassing genial slices of Hampstead Heath, Regent’s Park along with all of Bloomsbury. Seems fertile hunting ground to re-balance social EQuity&EQuality&EQ. That’d make a mark.


Not 42: For two … ?


Caution: it’s not entirely clear whether what follows is a consequence of too much time slooshing about or arrives as crisp enquiry.

The last line of Heaney’s knockout poem Postscript often materializes when soft buffetings catch the mind or heart offguard, blowing it open.

Well, here’s a case in point which mebbie one of his friends, family or informed fans can help clarify. Is it possible Douglas Adams was being more romantic and less numeric when he discerned the Answer to be 42?

There are written accounts of how, haphazardly, this immutable solution dropped into him, thence onto the sheet of paper.

But was it, in fact, shorthand for – or a typo that should have read 4 2For Two?

As simply everything tastes better when it’s shared, one can clearly see For Two might answer the question at the centre of every Life, Universe and Thing.

We’d welcome your thoughts.

Here then, for its own sake of ‘glorious exultation’, is …


And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightning of a flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you’ll park and capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.

Seamus Heaney, 1998


Sturgeon unfilleted


Artus Wolffort c. 1620                                   Andrew: Scotland’s saintly Patron

When Nicola Sturgeon appeared before an enquiry of her fellow MSPs, Members of the Scottish Parliament grilled her as an Isle of Man kipper.

Did you watch any of the footage? We did and it seemed as evident as any evidence ever given that it was a straightforward account of facts – although without any kind of malign insinuation which can occasionally colour testimony when besieged by an attacking force.

We were puzzled Commentors suggested she was doomed. We listened with our eyes and ears and hearts and minds – not with a sense of touch as it was telly but we were touched by the patience exhibited. It yodelled to us that the First Minister, who testified for Eight hours without notes seemingly, relied on memory. Imagination lets us down as it fails to preserve order in the mind whereas memory allows for contiguous reflection and recollection to flow in an orderly manner.    

Appointed by Alex Salmond in 2013 and reappointed by Ms Sturgeon to the role of Advisor on Ministerial Code, one might think it plausible James Alexander, SC would be torn asunder by divided loyalties. Yet, Mr Alexander has found the First Minister innocent of breaching that very Ministerial Code with reference to allegations of sexual harassment by her predecessor.

The fishyness of this affair has been kept fresh and sweet-smelling by the very matter-of-fact approach the First Minister took, with no carping from the side-lines but patient attendance on due process.

When we published this a month or so ago, we had no real confidence of justice being done. We are simply thrilled to have been wrong.


Safe Arbor


© Gary Turner                                                                 “Here and back again”

You know when something snags your inner eye and causes the imagination to effervesce?

It seems an inordinately long time since we sat in a circle with a class of Year 4s speaking into creation a chain story. This image strikes us as yodelling its demand for 24 bambinos to adopt one frame each [I’ll take 5,2 please] and create myths to swing from its branches.

If you swagger to these pages regularly, you’ll know our quarter century focus on Listening: so we hope you’ll forgive the synaesthetic meldment of Listening-to-images-of-a-mighty-oak over the course of its seasonal, wardrobe-changing year*. The deep-rooted stability such glory of creation exudes communicates an immutable, existential otherness soothing fraught anxiety: it leaves one weak at the knees.

At root of all we do is teaching folk … of any age … how to Listen. So tell us: what does this calendar whisper to you?

NB the g-Lorious image/idea/modality was tweeted by @garyturner who runs xero.com.


Sporting chance of winning at life


© RKO Pictures             Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire in balance

It’s a happy collision of chairos – everything having it’s appropriate time – with preparation, such that their balanced waltz glides through to infuse Understanding.

To what do we refer?

Emotional intelligence/literacy/resilience/courage is what.

The Pestilence, in whose grip the world wriggles for freedom, appears to have created … or opened up …the space-time to reflect on matters of crucially fundamental significance yet which in less fraught times lag in the ‘leave it til later’ drawer.

How, and the grace with which, we manage our response to the traffic of our lives appears increasingly recognized as pertinent to its successful navigation.

Rather than witter on here, be encouraged to listen to EQ pin-up, Daniel Goleman in dialogue with Simon Mundie whose empathic warmth to the principles and practises emotional intelligence champions does much to cheer our cause.

Don’t tell me the Score [BBC Radio 4 podcast, 4.iii.21] is a genial wander through all that we here, at The Materials, have promoted over 25 years for the winning at life.


Holyrood screen


© MBM                               Not quite the Holyrood Hills, but Edinburgh Castle

It wouldn’t be remotely surprising were it to win big at the Oscars. Surely someone’s already started on the screenplay as this sorry saga unfurls? To what do we refer? The mighty demonstration of hubris by movers- & ex-shakers at Holyrood, the Scottish Assembly’s historic hub, of course.

We know none of the facts which helps directing focus on responses as, how we do something is how we do everything.

You know when a pal asks for your help – they tell you they’ve messed up and need you to back them up on something? And because the two of you go way back, you agree for the sake of friendship though it means putting yourself in the firing line should things turn sour.

Isn’t it infinitely disappointing when – and it’s happened to all of us – your pal begins to delude themself of their innocence and defends their actions by attacking yours?

In Hollywood, it’s usually the case that the bad guy gets his come uppance and the good guy is recognized as having taken the route of discretion the better part of valour. Alas, as the curtains part on Holyrood’s dismal theatrics, we hope integrity, honour and truth ventillate the souring scene before us as there’ll be narry a rude screen as protection from the flow of dessicated trust and kindness.


Penny for’um


Image courtesy of West Midlands Express & Star

It is exactly Fifty years since the British Isles embraced decimalization of the currency: Pounds, shillings and pennies morphed into coinage of lesser value, smaller notes and for those too young to grasp the logic of 240 old pence comprising a Pound, a shattering relief the new system was at least comprehensible.

Everything in 1971 seemed woefully old fashioned. A penny for your thoughts might have seemed hyper inflated while inconceivably dated customs appeared impenetrably set into the decade’s foundations as the general weight of sombre deference crushed innovation, spontaneity and joie’d vie.

Then, on Fifteenth February (the Ides of February!) all changed in the nation’s pockets and purses. We checked Hansard: it was a Monday and all that’s recorded is The House met at half past Two o’clock. One might have thought Chancellor of the Exchequer, Anthony Barber would have had something to observe or remark, but who are we to judge?

In the intervening years, the shilling* the tooth fairy once left has doubtless been superceded by a Fiver and the hape’ny which went the way of the Dodos isn’t missed. [For those of a nervous disposition, look away now. They withdrew the half-penny in …. 1984.] [* For those of an ancient disposition, it might actually have been a Sixpence: which transformed into 2½p, somehow.]

The 1970s bridged the United Kingdom into a different age. It suddenly seems a very long ago. Just have a squint at this sizzling promo!


Never too old to care


Illustration: Naomi Hands-Smith       Captain Tom walking into the rainbow

The death of Captain Sir Tom Moore from complications of Covid-19 was announced on Candlemass, the very middle of winter.

This redoubtable soul, responsible for £40 million* donated to NHS Charities Together, talked of others but not about himself. He worked for others, cared for others and thereby, united the country in cheerful thanks for his quintessence. * total inc. Gift Aid

The Chief Nursing officer for England, Ruth May observed his view was “you’re never too old to care”. A centenarian’s perspective is long enough to discern what really matters in life. Sir Tom seems to have distilled from all his years that giving of oneself in caring for others is the best use of vitality, vigour and compassion.

Caring builds muscles for caring: in virtue of which, his cheerful disposition radiated something beyond. Thinking about others to the extent he did inspired the nation to do the same. Beyond the vast sums he raised therefore, the example this genial, dignified soul set illuminates how each of us might shine.

Knight Bachelor                                                                  1939  – 1945 Star                                                                Burma Star                                                                          Defence Medal                                                                    War Medal 1939 – 1945.    God speed, Captain Tom.



Presidential arrival follows Trademan’s exit*


Changing of the Guardians: Presidential-Elect team arriving at the Capitol

It seems a mad mingling of ‘aeons-ago’-&-‘like-yesterday’ that North America was kidnapped. The four years we’ve been holding our breath, lest the disturbance of air add to the ricochet of policy direction, has shown there are enough people whose sentience maps over the contours of sombre reality to restore sanity.

The weight of exhaling is over.

This is how we saw things before the last Administration took office in 2016 and six weeks later remarked that analysis seemed woefully justified.

Sustaining an injury leaves a mark: the bruising left by the #Resident’s tiny little hands may take a while properly to heal.

Soothingly, yesterday’s inauguration of President Biden seems, prima facie, a decisive start of that healing process. Emotionally intelligent words were used: integrity, compassion, truth, empathy and listening.

Along with Vice President Harris there appears fresh ventilation of hope and with it, vaccination against the dismal exhibition of moral and political vaccuity to which the American people have been subjected.

The shattering relief a new chapter has begun needs to energize us for the battle and on-going trauma of the global pestilence which is so far from over. We need unity of purpose, a globally united state of kindfulness.

* remember when?


Last post for Whitehorn


© Image  Katharine Whitehorn, writer, journalist, guru, mother & wife

In 2015, for an Iconoclasts mini-series of Theard Side of the Coin, the very gracious Katharine Whitehorn CBE was the subject of one programme. It was announced on Saturday she has died, aged Ninety two.

Interviewed in her basement kitchen, she demonstrated through the pace of her words a consideration which rested across the wide horizon of her long, thrilling, audacious life.

A trail blazer who enjoyed the opportunities Fleet Street afforded to a bright young thing in the 50’s, she took in her stride the sky-high obstacles which convention seemed content to allow. I’m sure they were extremely vexing at the time but when asked, she brushed them aside as merely a reality to be conquered.

Madly in love with her husband long after his death and maternal to her core, Miss Whitehorn was sharp and stylish as a scimitar whose wisdom came from a no-nonsense compartment of kindness while her compassion seemed to slop over the rim.

She did much to promote opportunities for female journalists by getting on with the job, weaving herself into its fabric rather than becoming a knot-to-be-messed-with sort of writer. Deeply feminine, she used her platform to benefit others, not as a shouty plinth.

Hear for yourself what majesty soaked through her voice by a life lived to the outer edge of its generosity of spirit and vitality: a redoubtable, genial, thoughtful writer

God speed, Katharine Whitehorn  17.iii.28 – 8.i.21