It’s hard to be brought down when you have a balloon

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Original drawing by Ernest H.Shepard

A.A. Milne’s timeless quote and story of a young boy’s escape into the fantasy world of One Hundred Acre Wood, re-launched its endearing characters back onto the world’s cinema screens recently. My daughters were hooked from the opening scenes when we went to watch the new Christopher Robin last Thursday night – as was I.

Winnie the Pooh, and his delirious gaggle of enchanting friends, have a rousing message for their viewers, in director Marc Forster’s languid adaptation, which is this: don’t take life too seriously.

Now. Throw-away statements like these are relatively passé. This is not a new phenomenon and no doubt wikipedia can help us with affirming who, in fact, was the world’s first free thinking philosopher, conjuring up similar Pooh-esque invocations.

Feel-good monikers are all around us. Emblazoned on the front of T-shirts, and the sides of coffee mugs, today’s life-affirming messages come in all forms of delivery: podcasts, seeping directly through the ears of the day-dreaming commuter; celebrity endorsed morsels of wisdom saturating social media feeds; hell, these days, you can believe in the power of five suitably inspiring words so much that, for twenty quid, you simply tattoo their message under your skin. The heady combination of a few letters being powerful enough, for some people, that they are prepared to literally embody the sentiment for life.

The podcasts and the public statements, the inky reminders, the free speech blog-festing – each medium echoes the other, when it comes to framing these small momentary slices of wisdom, attempting to impart – as they do – a large, lifetime worthy cake-sized portion of advice.

Some days, as consumers, we detest these saccharine nuggets, with their overwhelming and irritatingly smug placements, in the middle of our Wednesday mornings. We detest their presumption and elitist codification, their lineation, their naivety.

On other occasions, and in other moods, we’ll share the love. Retweet the hashtag, apply the shoulder shrugging GIF, as the closing salutation to an inane whatsapp exchange, instigated by a work colleague asking us “how our week was going?” or if we were “enjoying hump day” – “At least Monday is over” – “Don’t take life too seriously, it’s Friday!”

This sodden landscape of social media – with its squelching footprints of metaphor and philosophized jingle – conspires to cover us in what Monty from Withnail and I might have described as “beastly mud and oomska”: and it is relentless. And why? Because it’s impossible to always take life less seriously.

Even Winnie the Pooh has moments of despair.

Perhaps a despairing moment comes for us within 60 seconds of waking up in the morning? Just the thought of the day ahead. The chairing of a meeting. The reading of a news headline. A sky-less view out of a window. Burnt toast. Joint pain. Angst about the future. Guilt about the past.

The truth is that we rely on these constant reminders to punctuate our routine, and help us side-step the rabbit warren of contemplation. Temporarily, we press pause and we pivot our imagination.

The novelist Iris Murdock once said thatone of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats“. I like that a lot, because there is no denying it: everyone is guilty as charged when it comes to small treats.

Murdock also wrote that “A deep motive for making literature or art of any sort is the desire to defeat the formlessness of the world and cheer oneself up by constructing forms out of what might otherwise seem a mass of senseless rubble.” 

Isn’t that compelling, too?

Murdoch is one of many writers who have looked to make sense of an ever changing world in a way that, without ego, offers up, as she puts it, a ‘construction of forms’. An alternative pattern of ideas and ideals, a perspective that has authenticity and charm.

Much of her writing, and that which other writers and artists and story-tellers have laid down, reflect a similar fascination with this very subject. Questioning what we know about life and, time and again, unpacking what it means not only to feel weighed down by life, but also what it means to counter that.

Winnie the Pooh could be one embodiment of that ‘counter’ weighting that we all need and from which we can all learn. A fleeting throw back to a more innocent time of our lives – as children – when it was not a requirement to be seeking outlets to ‘pivot’.

As softly spoken and whimsical as Milne’s affectionate lead character appears, his is a frighteningly effective call to action: for playing pooh-sticks, for going on “adventures”, for curating the comradery of an impromptu tea-party. Flying that balloon.

Just as the adult Christopher Robin inevitably realizes, everyone needs these small treats, these heart-warming, guilt-free, post-it note reminders that reach down deep and remind us of what we all ostensibly know – which is that we will never truly “grow up” in the way we think we are supposed to.

We will try, but we will forever fall short. And that is the beauty of our story.

“Yn cofio”

Myra
Myra was awarded a degree from the University College of Swansea in 1943

W.O.M.

In worshipful duty,
Some four score years ‘n’ ten
(And five still more)
Devoted to a doctrine of
Deep unwavering love;
Committed values, truthfully pure,
For better or for worse:
One lady, Myra.

In charitable duty,
Some four score years ‘n’ ten
(And five still more)
Bestowing civic pledges
Unto all, with tempered calm,
A curing tonic past,
So future selves will certain thrive:
One lady, Myra.

In familial duty,
Some four score years ‘n’ ten
(And five still more)
Etched on generations now,
Festive beams of straight-laced talk,
Seven lettered praise.
In earnest, gentle kindness:
One Auntie, Myra.

Myra

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Winifred Olive Myra Copleston
(28 January 1923 – 4 June 2018)

Bubble Reputation

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Ma and Pa’s Wedding Day

Happy Birthday to my late Grandpa – Stanley Bishop. Son of Syd Bishop, a butcher from Ruislip, Greater London, Stanley Bishop (aka “Pa”) was born during the First World War, on a Thursday, exactly 103 years ago today. He went on to serve in the Second World War, by which time he had met and fallen in love with my Grandma, Edna.

One anecdote my brother and I grew up on, around the significance of the 27th day of the month, was that our own father, Peter, was born to Stan and Edna on 27th November 1949, followed by my arrival on 27th April 1975, and then my brother, Matt, was due to be born on 27th January 1978. Matt was late though (a February 1st vintage, in the end) although by all accounts he arrived quickly and full of gusto.

Dates often produce serendipity. Writing this from our home in Saigon (a city liberated by the Viet Cong a mere 72 hours after I arrived in the world, on 30th April 1975, a date which continues to commemorate the end of the various wars of that era) I was, this morning, musing on the fact that it was during this particular last week of May, a quarter of a century ago, in 1993, that I put down my pen in what was my last “A” level exam, and stepped out of the school’s Great Hall and into a new chapter of my life.

That I was born 3 days before the end of the American-Vietnam War, and that 25 years ago this week I finished high school, are not, I grant you, the most precise and brilliantly serendipitous coincidences. In any case, that last exam paper was on Shakespeare’s “As You Like It”. A play I enjoyed watching again earlier this year, whilst Issy and I were back in Melbourne.

“As You Like It” is a witty and insightful tale, its cross-dressing protagonists fumbling about in the Forest of Arden, getting into various romantic scrapes. The twist of having the traditional all male actors taking on the female roles of Rosalind and Celia – who then spend the majority of the storyline pretending to be men – is one of those great examples that defines Shakespeare’s lasting appeal: that of an ‘alternative framing’ which has continued to be utilized in various art and literature ever since.

Another timeless page from the play is Jacques’ famous speech about the ‘Seven Ages of Man.’ Jacques’ descriptions of each Age (the full prose is pasted below) and his overall conclusion about the circle of life – from “mewling and puking” to “a second childishness and mere oblivion” – are packed full with observations and philosophies. Indeed, the numeric “7” itself is a number much quoted across cultures. Days of the week. Deadly Sins. Years of bad luck (for mirror damage). “Lucky number” seven.

Even my seventh paragraph, containing seven words.

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Anyway, as I enjoyed this Jacques passage again, it was the soldier “seeking the bubble reputation” on which I alighted.

In the context of war, bubble reputation could be a reference to the fleeting nature of the honour or the fame that a solider experiences in battle. Essentially, a temporary thing, bursting like a bubble.

Another explanation I’ve seen is that Shakespeare meant for the word bubble to infer “a person deceived by an empty project”. In other words, a soldier signing up to a war that had been ill conceived.

You’d need a lifetime to collect everything that has been written about ill conceived wars or about the sheer hopelessness of war: from the various canons of WW1 poetry, penned whilst my Grandpa was a child; to those crafted about WW2, a conflict in which both my grandparents served, and from which my father was then an infamous “baby-boomer”; to the angry outpouring of the millions of people who took to the streets (during the time of my parent’s own courtship and wedding) to protest against western interventions in Vietnam; right up to the viral nature of how online communications, in the 2018 arena, connect a far greater number of us than ever before, in a collective disdain for war and for conflict.

Others might counter this by persuading that meaningful change, without some form conflict, is simply not possible.

The debate here will no doubt run on, and on.

What is not up for debate, is the reality of the scale of the current ongoing conflicts around the world: from countries where enlisting in the armed forces is compulsory for its citizens (a “necessary way of life”); to those where young children are stolen from their homes to serve in anti-government splinter cells, or are fleeing for their lives, away from conflict, and without their parents; to those countries whose reputations for initiating conflicts, over centuries past, has granted them a place in the world pecking order to make decisions about when and where to repeat the process again; or, still, to countries whose political agendas continue to cause slow, protracted crises, so much so that living in a ‘state of conflict’ has simply become the definition of ‘normal living’.

Whatsoever the context, I find this definition of Jacques’ “bubble reputation” (ie that of an “empty project” causing “deception”) striking.

Just how many of the world’s current conflicts could be said to epitomize this notion?

In spite of all the institutional structures and global governance systems, established after WW2 to prevent such a thing happening again, the United Nations (one of the main institutions created as part of this process) recently claimed that the world is in the midst of the worst humanitarian crisis since 1945.

In the four countries of South Sudan, Yemen, Nigeria and Somalia, the UN estimates that as many as 20 million people are facing starvation and famine.

For the (approximately) 6 million Syrian refugees – a fifth country to add to these statistics – who no longer live in their home country, it is estimated it will be 25 years until they might safely return.

So, on this 7.5 billion person world stage of ours, what part, what action, are we each prepared to follow through on, in the face of humanitarian crisis and the nature of its conflicted genesis?

The truth is that there are many ways to act and to bring about action (some mentioned on here recently) and to play a “part.” From writing to marching to joining movements to the honest discourse exchanged with those young people yet to embark on their second ‘Age.’

And, I believe it is the union of these acts, their voice, their grit, and their steely coalescence, which can provide – as a military operation itself would – all that is necessary.

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Get Up, Stand Up

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Image credit: http://www.cesie.org

This time last week I was waking up in Tbilisi, a tad dusty from an extended evening’s drinking with a colleague of mine, a Dutchman named Gerard, who has been living there for a while, and who naturally felt it appropriate to show me a variety of places, for the short time I’d be staying in “his town”.

We begun the night hosted by CARE’s local team, at a Georgian restaurant, where each new plate of food was brought out under a fanfare of live music and dancing, along with rounds of increasingly hearty toasting.

Post-dinner, and several watering holes later, I found myself sampling the country’s famous “cha cha” – a sweeter version of the grappa I’ve had in Italy – which came as a welcome tonic, given my stomach walls were still adequately fortressed with cheese and carbs, enough to keep out the most stubborn of digestifs.

We decided, bleary-eyed at this stage, to hit up one more venue close by – a favourite “low-key” bar of Gerard’s. Upon arrival we found it morphed into a darkly lit techno den, complete with strobe effects and a whole new type of Georgian dancing, quite distinct to what we’d witnessed over dinner. Nonetheless, we indulged in a nightcap, and then left for home, our ears ringing.      Continue reading

The Wizard

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One of the wonders of memory recall (for me, at least) are those flashbacks of a incident or a feeling from years gone by, that momentarily render all other things you are doing or thinking mute, for just a fleeting couple of seconds.

When this happens, I tend to drop out of the present moment and gawp pathetically out of a window, allowing the sensation to take hold. The kind words of a teacher, rain on tarmac, the excitement of passing your driving test, scoring a goal, watching live music…

I’m in Dubai airport – again – and all abuzz at Costa Coffee having just watched the last ever live show of Black Sabbath on the plane. Musical memory recall of the sharpest and sweetest kind.

The Sabbath were not quite on the plane. That would have been too spectacular, even for the stuff of dreams – Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler, bobbing in the aisles, whilst deftly plucking out the chords to Paranoid, and dividing the collective musical tastes of the passengers in a bizarre, stratospheric instant.     Continue reading

One day

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One day,

The wind beneath the wings of a soaring bird
will be felt on his face.

The scent of a crashing wave
will touch his soul.

The freedom of a child at play
will melt his eyes.

And the choices made by a woman living a life free from inequalities
will stir inside of him such unequivocal calm that

he, too,

will soar in the skies,
move with the ocean,
embrace freedom,
and choose to be all these things,

Every day.

A Poem by Flo

That was Vin Pearl

Remember that time when we hopped into a red cable car and threw shells in the gaps and into the sea.

Remember when we zoomed on the rainbow 🌈 water slide and we both arrived at the bottom at the same time.

That was vin pearl.

Remember that time when we got lost because we tried to find a rubber ring for the lazy river.

Remember when we were in the lazy river⛲️ and we saw pyramids in Egypt while relaxing in our rubber ring gliding through the water.

That was vin pearl.

Remember the time when we had freezing cold water melon lolly’s and they were in a tube.

Remember that time when the water melon lolly’s 🍭dripped all over our swimmers and we smelled like water melon.

That was vin pearl.

By: Florence
For: Jasmine


Just seen this sweet poem that Florence wrote for a friend of hers at school, about a trip they took to ‘Vin Pearl’ resort earlier in the year.

Go, all those young writers out there!

 

September

A blast of vacuumed heat before the
Metallic shuffle obediently find their seats
Among strange faces and familiar fare:
Screens, blankets, solace.

I linger inside the terminal.
Warmed by embalming recall of
A month’s journey –
Scaling Sapa’s peaks,
An utterance of life-affirming words,
The Comradery of new friends and horizons.

My feet take fresh steps towards the plane and
In a single and unexpected second,
I feel it.
The core of something changed and now fixed:
Anchoring, purging, reinforcing.

This is me and I am enough.

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