Wise men and clever apes. Read all about it.

books, culture, earth, government, history, Life

History of the world Andrew Marr

“Writing a history of the world is a ridiculous thing to do.”

opening sentence of Andrew Marr's introduction.

This is worth sticking my neck out for –  read this book to improve your life.  Whoa!!!! That is a big statement, but seriously though, if you thought you had a grasp of how the world ended up here in the 21st century, you are probably missing something.   This is so readable that I think it should be proscribed reading for every youngster worldwide.  It provokes wonder and curiosity in every chapter.  If you are the person reading this who has always hated history, you won’t anymore.  History is not just about dead people.  It informs our present in ways we don’t understand until we learn why we do, think the things we do and think.  There is another reason to read this book – it is about human achievement, and it offers reason to hope that the challenges ahead of our species and planet can be met by using the lessons from history and the increase in know how.  What we cannot neglect are the lessons written therein, how power is used and abused, how communication is used and how ‘ civilization works’.  Drawing upon the stories of yesterdays , can we avoid a dystopian recurrence of another Dark Age?  Probably.

‘the better we understand how rulers lose touch with reality, or why revolutions produce dictators more often than they produce happiness, or why some parts of the world are richer than others, the easier it is to understand our own times.’

I watched the t.v series, which admittedly had it’s flaws, but overall was also fascinating, and led me to the book.  Now you can have it all, and for the price of a cup of coffee!!  We are living in amazing times and if you do one thing this month to improve your life, order this book. I’m not on commission.  Honest.  If you don’t like reading or don’t like being told what to do by a middle-aged , curious , British female you could as an alternative go the the links.  Or as well. Just saying.









Manger of Incidentals

Art, books, illustration, literature, poetry, United Kingdom



A stunning poem came my way, and I had to feature it in my latest book project.

For you, here is the  poem

We are surrounded by the absurd excess of the universe.
By meaningless bulk, vastness without size,
power without consequence. The stubborn iteration
that is present without being felt.
Nothing the spirit can marry. Merely phenomenon
and its physics. An endless, endless of going on.
No habitat where the brain can recognize itself.
No pertinence for the heart. Helpless duplication.
The horror of none of it being alive.
No red squirrels, no flowers, not even weed.
Nothing that knows what season it is.
The stars uninflected by awareness.
Miming without implication. We alone see the iris
in front of the cabin reach its perfection
and quickly perish. The lamb is born into happiness
and is eaten for Easter. We are blessed
with powerful love and it goes away. We can mourn.
We live the strangeness of being momentary,
and still we are exalted by being temporary.
The grand Italy of meanwhile. It is the fact of being brief,
being small and slight that is the source of our beauty.
We are a singularity that makes music out of noise
because we must hurry. We make a harvest of loneliness
and desiring in the blank wasteland of the cosmos.

It became the focus and inspiration for my exploration of a new book project.

This handmade small book is a lovingly crafted individual piece of work that attempts to reflect the wonder and the majesty of being human through poetry, observation and artwork. It features as it’s main focus a poem by Jack Gilbert. This is a poem that reflects my own feelings of paradox and powerlessness in a complicated, curious world. That is why I have called the project ‘phenomenon’, drawn from the poem /

Jack Gilbert may not be as known to the English audience, but his poetry is inspired by the likes of Ezra Pound and T.S .Eliot, and he combines a meticulous use of language with the control of a master, so that the reader is drawn in and can feel meaning. That is the power of good poetry, the encapsulation and distilling of ideas and feelings, in an attempt to communicate meaning.

I chose Kandinsky’s ‘Circles’ as the visual accompaniment to the poem, and for me it works wonderfully well. I wanted to marry these visions of expanse with the historical expressions of how the universe was once depicted.. We live in an expanding universe, and a personal world of continual renewal and exploration. Human’s have always experienced the world as an environment of change, and it is our challenge to develop methods to sustain ourselves and our companions on this fascinating planet .

If you want to see more of my hand made books you don’t need to go far, there are some featured in this blog on My Etsy Page.


‘Ignorance and presumption rebuked’

books, history, literature, philosophy

Could it be that Petrarch had the same concerns seven hundred years ago without the advent of social media? Some things change, some things stay the same.  Considered to be the father of humanism, and to instigate the Renaissance, Petrarch embodied a new and vigorous way of thinking, disdaining the centuries preceding as a time he dubbed ‘ the Dark Ages’.  I would have wanted to have sat down and shared a meal with him.  His father chose for him the study of law, which he deplored and left.  He favoured contemplative study, and looking back to the classicism of Ancient Rome and Greece, creating a body of writing as fresh and as cogent today as when he wrote them.

Let me say, then, that I detect in your writings a constant effort to make a display…… As Seneca has said, it is unseemly for a grown man to go gathering nosegays; he should care for fruit rather than flowers. ….
You seem to take delight in exploring new regions, where the paths are unknown to you and you are sure to go astray once in a while or fall into a pit. You like to follow the example of those who parade their know ledge before their doors, like so much merchandise, while their houses within are empty. Ah ! it is safer to be something than to be always trying to seem to be. Ostentation is difficult and dangerous. Moreover, just when you are most desirous of being deemed great, innumerable little things are sure to happen which not only reduce you to your true dimensions but bring you below them. No one intellect should ever strive for distinction in more than one pursuit. Those who boast of preeminence in many arts are either divinely endowed or utterly shameless or simply mad. Who ever heard of such presumption in olden times, on the part of either Greeks or men of our own race ? It is a new practice, a new kind of effrontery. To-day men write up over their doors inscriptions full of vainglory, containing claims which, if true, would make them, as Pliny puts it, superior even to the law of the land. But when one looks within-ye gods! what emptiness is there! So, in conclusion, I beg you, if my words have any weight, to be content within your own bounds. Do not imitate these men who are all promise and no performance; who, as the comic poet has said, know everything and yet know nothing. There is a certain wise old Greek proverb that bids everyone stick to the trade that he understands. Farewell.

Francis Petrarch (1304 – 1374)
Familiar Letters
From James Harvey Robinson, ed. and trans.
Petrarch: The First Modern Scholar and Man of Letters
(New York: G.P. Putnam, 1898)

PhisickAgainstFortune Petrarch254 dialogues attempt to explore the effects of good and bad fortune on the soul. This is Petrarch’s book of practical philosophy, completed in 1360, A German illustrated version was published in August 1532 and remained in circulation for two centuries having a significant cultural impact .

Griselda by Petrarch

Petrarch was very taken by a story told to him in the Italian vernacular by his friend Boccaccio and was so struck by it that he felt the need to retell it in Latin. this became the Story of Griselda, in turn admired by Chaucer who Petrarch may or may not have met. Chaucer related the story as part of his Canterbury Tales, known as the Clerk’s Tale.

One of the features of Petrarch that strikes me is his introspection.  This is not a popular character trait in modern times, where speed of response and immediate gratification is seemingly moulding a different sensibility to the human condition.  But I like him all the more for demonstrating that and for producing work of lasting importance.  During his life he chose to explore a mountain, and contemplated who to take with him, settling finally on his younger brother. This would not be an easy ascent, and at the summit he reputedly drew upon a book of St Augustine for inspiration or solace , and according to his record the book fell open at this point, 

And men go about to wonder at the heights of the mountains, and the mighty waves of the sea, and the wide sweep of rivers, and the circuit of the ocean, and the revolution of the stars, but themselves they consider not.

Back to Petrarch;

“I closed the book, angry with myself that I should still be admiring earthly things who might long ago have learned from even the pagan philosophers that nothing is wonderful but the soul, which, when great itself, finds nothing great outside itself. Then, in truth, I was satisfied that I had seen enough of the mountain; I turned my inward eye upon myself, and from that time not a syllable fell from my lips until we reached the bottom again. […] [W]e look about us for what is to be found only within. […] How many times, think you, did I turn back that day, to glance at the summit of the mountain which seemed scarcely a cubit high compared with the range of human contemplation […]”

Thanks go to http://petrarch.petersadlon.com/books.html for his insight into a fascinating member of the human race.

The job writers do.

blogging, books, illustration, literature, poetry

Anne Corr Card illustration


I’m not sure this is quite true at the moment, I am listening to the singing birds as they trill their hearts out at the back of my house, and I do know what Christina Rossetti was getting at when she said it.  The truth is, I like the sentiment, and when I’m not feeling it, it helps to see the words in print to connect me to the memory of the feeling.  Does that make sense?  I have been thinking alot about this lately, the job that writers do.  In my life I can say it has been critical to my sense of who I am.  I would not have opened up my thoughts and feelings to the extent that I have were it not for the courage, resilience and imagination of authors like Golding, Jeannette Winterson, Ali Smith, Shakespeare, John Donne, Tolstoy. The list is long.  How does a writer feel about the impact they have on a fellow human beings life?  Sometimes I want a line to them directly, just to say thank you. Anyway, I love the fact that years, sometimes decades or centuries after their death, there is a connection that links me to them. A line, or a passage, and I want to use it in an illustration, or a card. Fantastic. Connections- I come back to this word time and time again. It thrills me how the whole world has an interconnectedness, and I want to bring attention to it.  So we all have some perception about how time and place are not barriers to feeling shared humanity. Just saying.

“..how to walk a clean path between obscenities.”

Art, books

Yala Yal Gibbs Tjungurrayi

‘Do you come to art to be comforted, or do you come to art to be reskinned?’ she asked in a 2003 interview with Jeanette Winterson.

The ‘she’ mentioned is one Ali Smith, novelist extraordinaire.  Ali Smith was born the year after me, and it is always interesting reading a contemporaries view of the human experience.  Reading Ali Smith is like submerging in a more real world than the one I live in.  This is why reading excites me so much when the writing is so good you want to be there.  Or aroundabouts, not necessarily in the middle of.  But the things she writes speak more articulately to me than the world around me does. Increasingly I find myself an uncomfortable fit in a perplexing world of paradoxes.  It is a world where we know more about the laws governing the universe than we have ever known before, and yet it is one that apparently is content to live at the surface of reality, less capable or desirous of teasing out meaning.

Ali Smith touches on this with the deftness and lightness of touch that invites you to the party. I want to keep reading and I don’t want to finish because when I finish it I have to re-emerge into today and the here and my now. Not always as stimulating I have to say, thinking about dragging the hoover, which isn’t a hoover its a Dyson but you will know what I mean. That’s the  puzzling and delight of language. I use a word to describe a machine which is generically understood by the manufacturer of one of the original machines, but my machine is different and engineered by a more recent manufacturer.

So what I need to advise you is this – read ‘There but for the’ and I can almost guarantee you will find something in it that will delight you.  Do I want to be Ali Smith?  Probably . Well , I want to have her talent, and the energy and drive to work at finding a voice as compelling as hers.  It entertains, it stimulates, it challenges, what’s not to like?

And as an aside, ‘There but for the… ‘ is one of my mantras.  It has been a running commentary in my head since I was born into language.  Great mantra, because it invites empathy and compassion at times when I might be feeling bad tempered, or  mad.

If you want to read about the book there is a review here, but it is dusty compared to the book.  Dive straight in, and forget the observations. It would be THE best read for a book group as it brings up lots of talking points to get controversial over.


Go back to the title of the post; this is the morality behind all good art, all good human endeavour –  the attempt to find a way of living our lives cleanly amongst the greed and envy of the human species,  how to find wonder and glory and love amongst the debris from terror atrocities such as the young man hacked to death by a fellow human wielding a machete, just one example . Ali Smith relates an incident of such horrific violence . I won’t tell you more, only that it connects me to what I value about being human, our interconnectedness and reliance on one another as a species.  I want to tell her.


The Sanctuary of Trees

Art, blogging, books, Life, philosophy, Thoughts

trees book Anne Corr Trees book by Anne

I have spent the morning trying to engage with the trees opposite in an attempt to lift the mood.  An encroaching blackness threatens, and a roam with the dogs listening to the birds seemed the most likely candidate to help.  Hesse speaks volumes to me,  and his reflections on trees perfectly encapsulate my feelings about them.  Wondrous entities offer solace, peace , mystery, who wouldn’t be moved by the serenity of trees?

Herman Hesse wrote too about the mind set that is my companion through life, a propensity for melancholia and self annihilation   He wrote best about it to my mind, in Steppenwolf, in which his protagonist reveals the reality about the  ‘suicides.’  These are people not necessarily prepared to commit the physical act, but those with a psychological bent of mind that sees no difference between the states of being and non-being, and therefore search for meaning while in a state of being.  The futility of life is a constant melody that plays throughout the mortal existence. I wrote a more thorough piece about Steppenwolf here,


This seems to be a post about depression, but it isn’t. It is about realism, about being able to accept the flow of mood, and to live within that flow . It’s about my learning how to handle that river of human beingness without being overwhelmed by my natural propensity to depression. It’s about living well, and not just surviving.

Trees have helped to show me how.

Have a weekend of good things, go find them, whatever they are for you.

What do I know?

blogging, books, culture, history, Life, literature

montaigne essays

William Hazlitt remarked on the subject of Montaigne that he was the ‘first to have the courage to say as an author what he thought as a man.’

Who was he and why should you care?  Because he was one of the first freethinkers and influenced not only policy making in his lifetime, but showed subsequent thinkers and writers a way of  being in the world.  His motto was ‘ What do I know?’ – a fashionable phrase at the moment, but then a radical statement that open mindedness can only lead to new knowledge, new perceptions. Remember to think about Montaigne in the context of his history, and you will be amazed by his humanism, and his acuity.  I think I am in love, And this is a man who did not mind sharing his shortcomings, one of which was a small penis. Though I suppose everything is relative.

This was his secret – he wrote as though in dialogue with his soul mate, as though he was sitting across from him sipping a glass of wine and warming his feet on the fire.  He was intimate. He shared.  And what  a lot he had to share,  a life of fascinating experiences, I can only show you by giving a very potted biography.

His father belonged to the  nouveau riche in France, and Montaigne was born 1533 into a century of discovery, intrigue, political upheaval, and scientific exploration. The world was changing. As a father, he wanted Montaigne to grow up  into inheriting an estate requiring the skills of an astute manager, thus he sent his son to be weaned by a wet nurse, and he subsequently spent his formative years within a very ordinary family. Montaigne was to understand first hand the needs and preoccupations of the common man. From that early upbringing he was then brought back into the Montaigne household where he had a German tutor who was to converse with Montaigne only in Latin, along with the rest of the household. Latin was a requisite for French aristocracy, and if Montaigne was going to lift the family’s status it was imperative that he could converse in it as his first language. It meant Montaigne could read all the classical scholars without translation. At the age of 6 he was sent to a prestigious establishment for his education by the best tutors, some of the leading humanists of the day. Montaigne went on to study law at the University of Toulouse.

His young adulthood was spent amongst policy makers, and it was around 1559 that he met the man who was to become so important to him, a relationship as powerful as one we would view as romantic love. In the context of the time, men turned to other men for the companionship of intellectual and spiritual sharing; these two shared a common understanding that formed the foundation of a fulfilling, satisfying friendship. Etienne de La Boétie, the friend, was to die early aged 3,2 about 4 years after meeting Montaigne. He had written a radical piece about how tyrannical rulers should be stripped of power. Montaigne wanted to include it within his own essays, but realised his work would be censored if he did so, and included some of his poetry only.

He retired from public duties relatively early in life, aged about 38, and decided to study and record his thoughts from the comfort of his tower.  He liked his own company, and although married, he and his wife had separate living quarters.  He had travelled fairly extensively, had met the pope, and was friendly with Henry of Navarre, accepted at courts both Catholic and Protestant.  These were very troubled times politically , requiring tact and diplomacy when abroad.  France was in uproar, and atrocities were being committed in the name of religion.

When he retired to write, he drew upon his extensive knowledge of the classical authors, particularly enjoying Plutarch. Seneca and Lucretius.  He favoured a stoic distancing from the melee of upheaval, and passed on his understanding that man has no absolute’s, but is reliant on his identity with a cultural context.  He was asking the question ‘ How should man live’, and he brought to this search a stoicism and a sympathetic imagination.  Contrary to popular belief he postulated that   ”The laws of conscience, which we pretend to be derived from nature, proceed from custom; ‘  and ‘in short, to my way of thinking, there is nothing that custom will not or cannot do’.

He wrote about himself and about the human condition. He wrote from an anthropological viewpoint before the word itself was considered.  He influenced the thinkers and policy makers of the time, consorted with kings, yet radically wrote in a manner that was to inform with honesty about his life, and his times.  He didn’t view himself as a philosopher foremost, but he formed the philosophies of life fro subsequent thinkers.  A writer of perceptive observation and witty, poetic style,  his legacy can inform modern statesmen and policy makers.

I have posted previously on Montaigne, and the extremely good book that Sarah Bakewell wrote


Thanks to Melvyn Bragg and Radio 4 for a great programme this morning , Listen if you can!


The story of an unhappy Doge.

books, earth, history, illustration

Willima Frazers 19th centrfrf Willima Frazers 19th centrf Willima Frazers 19th centr fhgyWillima Frazers 19th centrf


Spending the day researching and producing my latest project.  Whilst wandering in virtual space through the exhibition space at the British Library, I came across this beautiful 19th century copy of an older map of the world.  The detail is breathtaking, and the map itself records not just the geographical understanding of that time, but also the belief systems that dominated the European viewpoint in the 1400’s .

In  William Frazers 19th century copy of a map made in 1450 by Fra Mauro, South is at the top, and thus appears upside down to us.  Europe is top right , Africa below, Asia to the right. When the original was drawn the Europeans had not yet discovered the Americas or Australia.

Fra Mauro was commissioned by the Venetians to produce the map, but the Doge was unhappy at the small size of Venice in relation to the world. He was reported to say ‘ then make the world smaller’. Twas ever thus.  But glad to say he didn’t get his way.

Mauro placed the Garden of Eden outside the world, unusually for the time as it was generally portrayed to be in the extreme East.  Theologians were pondering where paradise could exist on earth, and in Mauro’s map Eden is linked symbolically to the world through the landscape and the four rivers flowing through the walls.

The elements are represented by the diagram in the top right, earth is brown and green, then water followed by fire and the outer ring of air.

In the left hand corner is the diagram of the Ptolemaic system, an antecedent of the map of the solar system. This understanding was generally accepted until the 16th century , when astronomers put forward alternative theories.

The exhibition is now closed, but the online link is http://www.bl.uk/magnificentmaps/map2.html

Willima Frazers 19th centrfrfs




A writer’s view of falling in love.

Art, books, culture, Life, LOVE, Thoughts, United Kingdom
Quotation from Jeanette Winterson

Quotation from Jeanette Winterson

Thanks to brainpickings for showing me Jeanette’s great response to being asked to write for young people on big topics.


Envy and Greed – the dust of the world.

Art, books, illustration, Life, literature

Joris Hoefnagel 16 th century flemish

Flee from the press, and dwell in truthfulness,
Let your fortunes suffice, though they be small;
For hoarding breeds hate, and status ambiguousness.
The mob’s filled with envy and blinded by wealth overall.
Desire only things which meet needs most crucial.
Control yourself well, if you’d be others’ gauge;
And the Truth shall you deliver, of that be not afraid.

Haste not to redress all crookedness
Placing trust in her who turns like a ball.
Great good comes from spurning busy-ness;
Beware then, not to kick against an awl;
Don’t strive like a crock against a wall.
To subdue others’ deeds, you must yourself first tame,
And the Truth shall you deliver, of that be not afraid.

That which you’re sent, receive in humbleness;
Wrestling after this World is just begging for a fall.
This is no Home. It’s naught but Wilderness.
Forth, Pilgrim, forth! Forth, beast, out of your stall!
Know your true country! Look up! Thank God for all!
Let your spirit lead, and hold to the High Way,
And the Truth shall you deliver, of that be not afraid.

Modern version of Chaucer’s ‘Truth’


Fle fro the pres, and dwelle with sothefastnesse,
Suffise thin owen thing, thei it be smal;
For hord hath hate, and clymbyng tykelnesse,
Prees hath envye, and wele blent overal.
Savour no more thanne the byhove schal;
Reule weel thiself, that other folk canst reede;
And trouthe schal delyvere, it is no drede.

Tempest the nought al croked to redresse,
In trust of hire that tourneth as a bal.
Myche wele stant in litel besynesse;
Bywar therfore to spurne ayeyns an al;
Stryve not as doth the crokke with the wal.
Daunte thiself, that dauntest otheres dede;
And trouthe shal delyvere, it is no drede.

That the is sent, receyve in buxumnesse;
The wrestlyng for the worlde axeth a fal.
Here is non home, here nys but wyldernesse.
Forth, pylgryme, forth! forth, beste, out of thi stal!
Know thi contré! loke up! thonk God of al!
Hold the heye weye, and lat thi gost the lede;
And trouthe shal delyvere, it is no drede.

Therfore, thou Vache, leve thine olde wrechednesse;
Unto the world leve now to be thral.
Crie hym mercy, that of hys hie godnesse
Made the of nought, and in espec{.i}al
Draw unto hym, and pray in general
For the, and eke for other, hevenelyche mede;
And trouthe schal delyvere, it is no drede.