From Yu to you. Nine Follies.

culture, Life, Thoughts



A long time ago, so the legend has it,  a young man followed in his father’s footsteps and made such a good job of engineering the Chinese landscape to prevent the catastrophic flooding that plagued their land, that he was made an Emperor.  Not a bad promotion, but one he declined at first ,  agreeing when he was aged 53 . To put a date on it, we are talking about two millennia before we started counting time as a positive number.

One of the few men to earn the posthumous accolade of  ‘the Great’, Yu was applauded by Confucius amongst others as a deeply virtuous and moral man.  Few records exist from the time, and ballads were a predominant measure of popular thought, this is one  verse of many ballads at the time praising Yu for giving the people back their land to farm,

Very grand is Mt. Liang,

     Its cultivation being made possible by Yu.
     The waters of the Fung flow on to the east.
         Through the meritorious work of Yu.
     The people of the four quarters have the same
         opinion; He is truly a great ruler.

Yu had a right hand man, chief minister Kao-Yao who was responsible for defining the codes of behaviour .  I particularly admire his list below – what society would not benefit from such a list?  Though I suspect the list came a long time after, since there are virtually no historical records from that period in China.

The Nine Follies:

• To think oneself immortal
• To think investments are secure
• To mistake conventional good manners for friendship
• To expect any reward for doing right
• To imagine the rich regard you as an equal
• To continue to drink after you have begun to declare that you are sober
• To recite your own verse
• To lend money and expect its return
• To travel with too much luggage

Further reading :




Work in progress, with William Morris

Art, books, culture, literature, philosophy

willima morris birmingham mmuseumHow gorgeous is this?  William Morris led the Art and Crafts movement during the 1860’s in Britain. His politics led him to be the leading representative of libertarian Socialism for a time, but his abiding love was for the arts and literature.  Friends with the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, he married Jane Burden, who became the Jane Morris with whom Dante Gabriel Rossetti was besotted with, and with whom she had a long lasting affair during her marriage to William.

William Morris’s love for decoration led to the wonderful fabric designs that continue to be used world wide, rich with the imagery from nature and the brilliance of his use of colour.

What may be lesser known about the man was his deep interest in medievalism, and his gothic interest in fantasy led him to write ‘A Tale of the House of the Wolfings and All the Kindreds of the Mark ‘.  This tale may have been the precursor of the modern fantasy genre so popular today.  The story influenced the great J.R.R. Tolkein who referenced it as an important  influence on his work of art ‘The Lord of the Rings’.

William Morris


The following illustrations are by Edward Burne Jones for William Morris’s unfinished book of ‘The Earthly Paradise’. Morris carved most of the wood blocks himself, and these were rediscovered in the 1960’s.

Charon's Fee. edward Burne Jones illustration of William MOrris Cupid and Pysche From The Strory of Cupid and Psyche  by William Morrisillustrated by Edward Burne JOnes, Psyche throwing herself into the river From The Strory of Cupid and Psyche  by William Morrisillustrated by Edward Burne JOnes, Psychein the garden From The Strory of Cupid and Psyche  by William Morrisillustrated by Edward Burne JOnes,This artist, writer, thinker reaches out from his time to my own, and inspires my own interests in medieval illumination and typographic interest alongside political aspirations of a shared human vision to incorporate the individual in a collective experience of beauty and wonder.



Movers and shakers

Art, culture, poetry


We are the music makers,

And we are the dreamer of dreams,

Wandering by lone sea-breakers,

And sitting by desolate streams;

World-losers and world-forsakers,

On whom the pale moon gleams:

Yet we are the movers and shakers

Of the world for ever, it seems.

With wonderful deathless ditties,

We build up the world’s great cities,

And out of a fabulous story

We fashion an empire’s glory:

One man with a dream, at pleasure,

Shall go forth and conquer a crown;

And three with a new song’s measure

Can trample an empire down.

We, in the ages lying

In the buried past of earth,

Built Nineveh with our sighing,

And Babel itself with our mirth;

And o’erthrew them with prophesying

To the old of the new world’s worth;

For each age is a dream that is dying,

Or one that is coming to birth.

A breath of our inspiration,

Is the life of each generation.

A wondrous thing of our dreaming,

Unearthly, impossible seeming-

The soldier, the king, and the peasant

Are working together in one,

Till our dream shall become their present,

And their work in the world be done.

They had no vision amazing

Of the goodly house they are raising.

They had no divine foreshowing

Of the land to which they are going:

But on one man’s soul it hath broke,

A light that doth not depart

And his look, or a word he hath spoken,

Wrought flame in another man’s heart.

And therefore today is thrilling,

With a past day’s late fulfilling.

And the multitudes are enlisted

In the faith that their fathers resisted,

And, scorning the dream of tomorrow,

Are bringing to pass, as they may,

In the world, for it’s joy or it’s sorrow,

The dream that was scorned yesterday.

But we, with our dreaming and singing,

Ceaseless and sorrowless we!

The glory about us clinging

Of the glorious futures we see,

Our souls with high music ringing;

O men! It must ever be

That we dwell, in our dreaming and singing,

A little apart from ye.

For we are afar with the dawning

And the suns that are not yet high,

And out of the infinite morning

Intrepid you hear us cry-

How, spite of your human scorning,

Once more God’s future draws nigh,

And already goes forth the warning

That ye of the past must die.

Great hail! we cry to the corners

From the dazzling unknown shore;

Bring us hither your sun and your summers,

And renew our world as of yore;

You shall teach us your song’s new numbers,

And things that we dreamt not before;

Yea, in spite of a dreamer who slumbers,

And a singer who sings no more.





The poem in it’s entirety doesn’t appear often, and that is one of the reasons I wanted to make a handmade book with it at the centre.  The first three stanzas are well known and loved, and Elgar was so moved he composed a work for it. It cannot get much better than that can it? He wasn’t the only artist wanting to pay homage either. I had known the line

“We are the music makers, we are the dreamers of dreams” for some time, and like me, others have been entranced by it and used it in novels and lyrics.  It has a lyricism that evokes feeling , it connects with some longing that lies at the heart of being human.  A longing that arises from nowhere, not knowing  a destination , a longing that is unlikely to be gratified, a longing that creates a desire inside to produce, replicate, grow, become something other than the meagre entity we appear to ourselves.

And so we all continue to sing our songs, and dream our dreams, and when we forget to do so, we are less than we want to be.  In my world, I create connections between writers, between artists, between receivers.  I do it because it pleases me, because words resonate, and the messages are worthy of repeat. IMG_8368IMG_8362 IMG_8370


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.   






A tale of a tailor’s son and Louis XIV’s precious globes.

Art, culture, history, Science





boatsThis is a story of how a son of a tailor made the King of France a very proud man indeed.  Louis XIV was already enjoying the glory attached to ruling France in a time of massive growth and enrichment.  What better present to further please your monarch than a stunning pair of globes reflecting the mastery over the earthly and heavenly spheres.  At least, that is what Cardinal d’Estrees had thought on witnessing the globes that the Duke of Parma had.


The Duke had commissioned  a set of terrestrial and celestial globes and so impressed with the  results, he made the man in charge of the commission his theologian.  That’s where the son of a tailor enters, as he was the man in question, one Vincenzo Coronelli, born in 1650 , the fifth child of a tailor.  He was accepted as a young man into the Conventual Franciscans, studying theology and excelling in  astronomy and Euclid.  While he was working as a geographer, the commission came in from the Duke, and the rest as they say, is history.  So the Duke of Parma’s marvellous globes now had to be surpassed in their wow factor, since the Cardinal was currying favour with the King, and no-one wants to let a king look anything less than, well, the best.


And they were; technically astounding, the terrestrial globe and the celestial globe weighed in at about 2.3 tons each, measuring 3.87 diameter, so quite a handful.  Coronelli put a hatch in the back which allowed thirty men to be in the globe at any one time.


Coronelli went on to have success in his academic career as well as building a successful company supplying globes throughout Europe, and died at the age of 68.  Quite a stretch for the son of a common tailor. The application of hard work married to a strong intellect will always astound , and I am continually in awe of how far men can go.  He did however fall out with the pope over some overspending issues. Oh well, can’t be all plain sailing.


We are left with the lovely globes, which are on display at the Bibliotheque nationale de France. The globes are not only a remarkable achievement from a scientific viewpoint, at the time, but also as an artistic interpretion of the world, and of the stars.  In fact, even then the scientists would have been biting their tongue at the level of scientific understanding, but as a work of art they are gorgeous objects. I have chosen some images taken from them and available from the online exhibition at the National Library of France.



terrestial globe terrestial globe 2 terrestial globe 3 celestial globe celestial globe3 celestial globe 2 celestial globe 4

Default settings: avoid and reset with David Foster Wallace.

blogging, culture, philosophy, Thoughts

know thyself‘In the second machine age, the challenge to the human world is mental rather than physical. As the gadgets become more intimate and the scanners more powerful, it is our inner worlds that are being transformed. Perhaps they are even being destroyed. The perpetual connection and distraction of our lives now are the opposite of Stevens’ solitary thinking time or Dickinson’s isolation in her room. Connectivity is replacing creativity on Facebook and Twitter.’

Bryan Appleyard confronts the new reality facing our species. David Foster Wallace, the highly rated American author who was overwhelmed by his depression also tried to confront the more negative consequences of modern connection with technology. He accepts the more desirable aspects that accompany it,

“Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the centre of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it.”

And goes on to say

“The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.”

Wallace was determined to stay as close to his vision of being human as he could, and this involved a deal of confronting the difficult complexities that perplex all of us. How to steer our way through the world and retain a view of humanity that is compassionate left him bereft. It is that willingness to engage with an imperfect world that is the challenge of everyone. What Wallace saw was that a vast portion of mankind refuses to do that, and turns against any view or practise that does not reflect their own. Worse than that, a huge portion of them exploit the greed, ignorance or poverty of others. That view of mankind becomes untenable, and more so when there is recognition of faults within oneself. He was frightened by the default settings that he perceived amongst American culture, and warned against them,

“The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.

They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.”

The counter practices to these default settings have been recognised by seers and philosophers across ages and cultures, and include mindfulness and acceptance. They occupy the same emotional and spiritual spaces in our psyches as religion once addressed, and still does. It is a tragedy that he died so young, since he had messages of deep import and was a voice to a generation. Those messages have been handed down by Tolstoy, Einstein, Thoreau, Tagore, but he had the authority of living in the age of now. That is always a powerful hand.

“That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.”

Further reading

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!

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.

Bloody Valentine

blogging, culture, LOVE, Thoughts

st valentines day massacre

Are you building up an expectation around Valentine’s Day? It may be misplaced, historically speaking Valentines frequently referred to martyrs, rather than a lusty hopeful courtier. Nevertheless, taking the more prosaic view that Valentne’s Day will provoke in you either butterflies of eager anticipation, or the dismissal of the disinterested, there exists the cold brutal truth that Love will not actually help you. That isn’t to say it isn’t worth throwing your hat in the ring, but if you want to be happy or rich or satisfied, then love isn’t the equation you thought it was. Look around, trawl your memory bank and reflect on your own and your friends experiences. A more realistic contemplation about the nature of love may propel you into a possibility of a future with a loving partner. Firstly, when did Love really make you happy? Feeling the emotions around a partner that excites may lead you to feelings of anticipation, thrill, joy but just as likely, promotes anxiety, feelings of inadequacy, jealousy, lack of control. Love, when it works , brings about the conditions that allow you to feel bolder, brighter, smarter. You end up being bolder, brighter , smarter, not because of love, but because loving a partner that supports your qualities enhances them. We all know about loving a partner that brings you down, it’s a spiral of descent into Hell. So know that when Love works, it doesn’t look ugly, or spiteful, jealous or violent.

Mmm, that ‘being in love’ that is mimicked across billboards, posters, films, songs, cartoons, what is that all about? Well, it exists. For a time. Give it say, eighteen months or so, and the chemical cocktail that has exploded in your brain will start to have less power. The torrent of emotion quells , and knowing that just may propel you both into preserving a loving alliance that relies on companionship and friendship as well as the heady passionate embrace. It’s the reason some people are addicted to serial monogamy, finding it difficult to move away from the thrill of the chase, the power of the early tumult. And it is also possibly the reason arranged marriage has been an alternative model for choosing life partners in some cultures. Therein lies an understanding of the long haul.

But the cocktail is an enticing one, perhaps the recipe for which will never be known. Of all the mysteries of life, Love is surely the greatest? Indefinable, incapable of being imitated, love is hand in hand with truth. If we kid ourselves we love, the truth invariably raises its head. Of course we kid ourselves mainly in ignorance, wanting to believe in the love object, desperate to be completed by the other. Yin to the Yang. To love well, we have to be as truthful with ourselves as it is possible to be. Often in the course of living and working , getting up and carrying on we veer away from ourselves, somehow alienating ourselves from the parts of ourselves that need to be cultivated and nurtured. That’s why it can feel as though you have come home when you meet the person who brings out the youness in you. Not very scientific I know, but to love healthily, cultivate the youness in you. Inhabit that space and love finds it. Bearing in mind that Love comes in lots of shapes and sizes, and not necessarily as a homo sapiens holding a ring or red roses. It might be piano shaped, or abstract , equations that hold the answers to the universe. Enjoy Valentines Day, without the hocus pocus thrown out by the restauranteurs and card manufacturers. And without the massacre (please).

Illustration from