Saturday, 14 January 2017


Women want a man more than they want feminism.

And, of course, men want a woman.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

The Shortcomings of Scientific Rationalism

If scientific rationalism were sufficient there would be no need for art, music and poetry. For explanation is a poor bloodless thing. What humans crave is enjoyment for, through this, they apprehend more than through mere reason.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Fairfields - the Dementia Home

A corporate advert for a dementia home
Makes dementia sound a jolly ride.
Such happy music, and upbeat tones,
Who wouldn't wish to step inside?

A credit to the industry
Inviting your applause,
Rejoicing their priority
Is never theirs but yours.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Antidotes to Extreme Rationalism - quotations on the status of reason

"I enter thoughts of this kind in this account because they arise when I am confronted with nature. If thoughts are simple experiences arising from common sensation, they are sometimes worth putting down. I hope I have Reason on my page. But not ratiocination, not thinking before I experience. It is Wordsworth's "feeling intellect' that holds interest for me. The old adage 'I think therefore I am' is less helpful than the other way round, 'I am,' that is 'I experience, therefore I think.' Wordsworth held that ecstasy is the highest form of thought, since it is the nearest we get to communication with truth."

J Stewart Collis - "The Wood"

"One of(Michael Oakeshott's) most famous anecdotes was about a rationalist and a non-rationalist seeing Helen of Troy. The non-rationalist would marvel at her beauty, at the elegance of the necklace of pearls strewn carelessly around her neck. The rationalist would want to arrange the necklace properly before he could admire it. Taking the world as it is is what Oakeshott recommended: present laughter over utopian bliss."

Andrew Sullivan on Michael Oakeshott from "Taking the World as it is" in The Spectator

"...the fact that our intelligence is not the subtlest, the most powerful, most appropriate instrument for grasping the truth is only one reason the more for beginning with the intelligence, and not with an unconscious intuition, a ready-made faith in presentiments. It is life that, little by little, case by case, enables us to observe that what is most important to our hearts or to our minds is taught us not by reasoning but by other powers. And then it is the intelligence itself which, acknowledging their superiority, abdicates to them through reasoning and consents to become their collaborator and their servant."

Marcel Proust "The Fugitive" page 7 (Everyman's and Millennium Library edition)

"The heart has reasons which the Reason does not know."

Blaise Pascal

"James’s critical genius comes out most tellingly in his mastery over, his baffling escape from, Ideas; a mastery and an escape which are perhaps the last test of a superior intelligence. He had a mind so fine that no idea could violate it…. In England, ideas run wild and pasture on the emotions; instead of thinking with our feelings (a very different thing) we corrupt our feelings with ideas; we produce the public, the political, the emotional idea, evading sensation and thought…. Mr. Chesterton’s brain swarms with ideas; I see no evidence that it thinks. James in his novels is like the best French critics in maintaining a point of view, a view-point untouched by the parasite idea. He is the most intelligent man of his generation."

TS Eliot on Henry James

Of Mere Being

The palm at the end of the mind,
Beyond the last thought, rises
In the bronze decor,

A gold-feathered bird
Sings in the palm, without human meaning,
Without human feeling, a foreign song.

You know then that it is not the reason
That makes us happy or unhappy.
The bird sings. Its feathers shine.

The palm stands on the edge of space.
The wind moves slowly in the branches.
The bird's fire-fangled feathers dangle down.

Wallace Stevens

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Letter from Venice (30) 16-11-16

The late November morning is icy cold but the sun is warming the promenade as it rises and the horizon is shrouded in mist. The Bar Angio, which I have chosen for a farewell americano, has its terrace on the final sweep after the Riva degli Schiavoni, the Riva San Biasio, which means that it looks back towards the great Venetian triumvirate from the east.

In the first cluster I can see the tips of all five domes of the Basilica, the lagoon-facing facade of the Palazzo Ducale and the gold tip and green roof of the Campanile rising behind them. Directly opposite San Giorgio presents its back and flank to me behind a palisade of masts, with its own campanile. Equidistant between them are two dove grey domes and stone cotton reels of the Salute gently softened by the morning haze. This softening makes me think of the gentleness of Italian manners I have encountered. Every time a vaporetto docks and ties up, the young man or woman opening the bar gate to allow embarcation will always step first onto the pontoon and take the arm of the elderly and people in the seats set aside for the infirm and aged rise instantaneously to give them up. These things are seamless and unthinking. When I was obliged to spend a week in the ancient hospital, having entered via accident and emergency in the clothes I stood up in, I was poorly equipped for a stay. An elderly porter arrived to wheel me, in the surgical gown I had been lent, to the radiography department. He refused to leave the ward until my feet were covered and knelt down to put my heavy black brogues on my naked feet. Later, as I sat in a chair to discuss my case with a Doctor, a nurse placed a clean pillowcase on the floor to rest my feet on. Such gestures are nothing other than natural and speak of an inbuilt disposition that Italians have towards others.

As I board the final 4.1 vaporetto the boat lurches as it leaves the landing stage and I tumble down the steps leading to the forward cabin, wrenching a shoulder I tore just before coming to Venice which, until now, therefore, I've been unable to have treated. I lean against the wall by the steps, experiencing a wave of pain in my shoulder. The young boatwoman who just untethered the boat is immediately at my side with her hand on my other shoulder asking me if I wish to sit down in the wheelhouse to recover. For a moment she becomes the genius of the place. I explain that this particular ailment existed before my tumble and I thank her before sitting in the cabin. As, for the final time during my stay, the boat pulls round the eastern end of the city, I see disappear, last of all behind the pine trees of Sant'Elena, the dome of the Salute.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Letter from Venice (29) 16-11-16

On my last day of visiting I enter the Accademia at 10.30am. It seems mercifully under-populated and I am able to see the Bosch triptychs and sit and look at much Tintoretto, Carpaccio and Tiepolo before encountering a large art-studying group and guide. I listen in for a while.

In the late afternoon section of the Italian day when all of the shops are open I continue my three week long search for a barber. I’ve been told there is one in the Calle di Stagneri near the Rialto. I had been before but found the shop shut up. Today it is open but, before I sit down, the youngish barber tells me that it is on appointment only. I ask him if there are any others hairdressers in the vicinity. He directs to me the Salizada San Lio. I head to the cold, busy and brightly lit thoroughfare and, being tempted to buy canoli in a little bakery shop, ask where the barbers is. Locating it, I enter the little shop which is wood-panelled and centred around a tiled pillar with two sinks on two of its sides. There is a single female barber. She is middle-aged and wears white coat, lipstick and an almost bouffant hairdo. The customer in the chair and the one waiting are both taciturn and elderly Italian men. A younger family enters with a mop-haired small boy on a scooter and in need of a haircut. The place is now very crowded. When it is my turn to take the chair I tell the hairdresser how hard I have found it to locate a barber. She tells me she is the only female barber in Venice and gives me a copy of a press article about her. Her name is Irene Pitzalis. She took over the business after her father, a Sardinian called Giovanni Pitzalis, died last May having run the business from the Salizado San Lio since 1968. From the age of eight his daughter accompanied him in the shop, at first allowed to wash hair and, later, to learn how to shave customers. Irene, in the article, says she wouldn’t be able to deal with all the gossiping involved in women’s hairdressing and so is happy to be in her business. She cuts my back and sides as I ask her to but the top looks a little Danny Zuko as I emerge once more onto the Salizada clutching a hand-written receipt for 15 Euros.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Letter from Venice (28) 14-11-16

Arriving by boat to Piazza San Marco even further underwater, during the time of a ‘super-moon,’ than the previous day, I negotiate the square via the duckboards and join the elevated queue waiting to enter the Basilica. I chat to two Americans, democrats from California dismayed by the recent election result in their country. Once inside the ancient building I am struck by the understated glittering and gloomy mystery of the place. On the arches and under five onion domes four square kilometers of golden mosaic forms the ceiling. This floats in gentle obscurity above the dusky marbled shadows of the walls and columns and the undulating floors composed of toothed circles of polychrome marble and glass patterning. With it’s velvety Islamic exoticism the place out-rivals any frisson Harry Potter can supply. I climb to the Museo Marciano above the entrance porch where I see ancient mosaic fragments close up and the original Quadriga – the four padding, turning, nostril-flaring and champing bronze horses stolen by the Venetians from Constantinople. They are green, dull yellow, brown and covered in scratches. I buy ceramic mementoes of the wonderful floors of the Basilica and, after contemplating for a while, from on high on the Loggia dei Cavalli, the flooded Piazza, descend to the Narthex and the way to the exit. As I leave I photograph the polychromes of the Narthex floor through the foot of water that covers it. No water had infiltrated the Basilica proper.

I descend to the Riva degli Schiavoni where a boatload of Vigili del Fuoco (Firemen) consult with two policemen wearing waders. The boat is navy blue and has flickering blue lights. The Vigili wear black beanie hats and dark fatigues hooped with luminous strips. A wooden pontoon between four piles, usually used by the Motoscafi taximen, has been battered by the rising seas. The seaward end is crazily positioned at right angles to the remaining portion connecting the pontoon to the land. As the sea is so high the landward end is under water and, as each wave comes in, the sea rises suddenly between the horizontal planks spattering a sudden spray around the legs of the Vigili as if someone is spraying their feet with machine gun fire. Using large jemmies, hammers and rope they eventually detach the broken section of pontoon working partly from their boat and partly off the safe section. At one point a Vigile loses his balance and falls onto the errant piece of pontoon. He is pulled back by his colleagues before he slips into the sea. Eventually, a rope attached to the broken section, the Vigili all climb back into their boat and tow it out to sea leaving the damaged remnant of the pontoon encircled with warning tape and out of use. I watch seawater leaking and bubbling up through the pavement of the Riva before boarding the boat for home.