Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Don't read this book! But read another!

I’m a bit concerned that I’ve lost my way a little with this blog. I originally wanted to use it as a means of scribing my thoughts on books I had read, films that I’d seen and maybe the odd painting I’d enjoyed. Whilst this remains the primary purpose, I have started to pontificate somewhat of late, and whilst that is likely to happen again, (it’s obviously in my personality!) I feel it’s important to get back on track and fortunately I have finally defeated Nostromo by Joseph Conrad!

It has taken me about four weeks, and it is so heavy that you are physically drained after reading about five pages, and there are four hundred and fifty of them! Not since Charlotte Brontes Jane Eyre have I felt that a book was more about the author justifying their existence through using flowery loquacious language than about entertaining the reader.

The heroic Garibaldo accepted Nostromos abrupt departure with a sagacious indulgence. He remembered his own feelings and exhibited a masculine penetration of the true state of the case.

No, I haven’t a clue either.

I think the story is an observation of how the rich can misguidedly abuse the poor by raping their land (in this instance extracting silver) whilst justifying this by giving prosperity and peace to the natives. The central character is poor but works for the rich who are dependent on him, and rely on his vanity such that he doesn’t realise that he is being abused. Anyway, the penny drops and he looks to even the score but then he gets shot!

Don’t read this book. Please, please don’t read this book. Take the total of 24 hours (plus) which it will take you to read it, go paint a wall and watch it dry.

I’ve moved on to something a lot easier: A John Grisham. I have to be candid here and admit that if I could be any kind of author it would be one like Grisham: A rich one! By 2008 he had sold over 250,000,000 books!

It’s an interesting contrast, but whilst Conrad is acclaimed as one of the greatest british writers (err he was Polish) it has been written that his biography could have been called ’30 years of debt, gout, depression and angst’ culminating in a low point of a failed attempted suicide in 1878! Yes he kept his literary integrity, but it didn’t bring home the bacon!

I’m reading The Appeal by Grisham, and even the font size and width of the margins make it such an easy read. I started it on Sunday and I’m already on page 200. It really is for the masses, but it’s an enjoyable yarn and is that not at the heart of reading? But that’s the beauty of books, just like art and music, its all about choice and taste and we don’t have to stick within one genre. I love the variety but I fear that stories will ultimately be forgotten: When you buy a book and have read it, it remains physically on your bookcase, or leant to a friend, or even given to a charity shop. The point is, it continues to physically exist with the potential to be enjoyed again, and again and again.

But now, the book is under threat from the accursed Kindle (no I don’t like them!) and I’m concerned that stories, like music, will become disposable & forgotten, trapped beneath layers of download, and ultimately discarded when the memory gets full. You can’t smell a Kindle, wonder whose scribbles and underlines they are in the margins, pass it on, donate to a charity shop, have a favourite bookmark (which isn’t a bookmark but a ticket or receipt to something that brings a fond memory to the forefront of your mind) and you can’t show off your collection of Kindles.

Do the decent thing today, go buy a second hand book, or lend one out, or buy one as a gift for somebody. What’s that you say? My Birthday, why, its 4th April. Any orange-spined Penguin Classic will do!

Friday, March 22, 2013


I’ve just returned from  a few days in Tenerife courtesy of a mate who invited and paid for 100 of his friends to fly out and stay four nights in a hotel, and to celebrate his fiftieth birthday at his luxury villa.

This colourful character had certainly seen some highs and lows along the way before striking gold and making his fortune. This was mirrored by the selection of guests who ranged from wealthy to modest, passive to ‘cross me at your peril’

Significantly I hadn’t seen my friend for nearly twenty years and so it was something of a shock to receive an invite, but as the expression goes: ‘You don’t look a gift horse in the mouth’ and so off we went.

Incidentally, what an odd expression this is! Its meaning relates to the inspection of a horses teeth as this is an indicator of the health and therefore value of a horse. It would indeed be rude to do such a thing to the gift in front of the giver.

Once landed, we were informed that the hotel ‘had a bug’ and we were being moved to apartments in a different part of town. It was no step down in quality and was indeed a treat, offering spacious balconies to admire the bay, bars, gyms, swimming pools etc, and, because the English were coming, a cooked breakfast.

Did I drink my fair share of lager. Again, you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

Sadly, there is one thing that money cannot buy, and although the party was great, the company entertaining and the lager cold, one by one we all fell victim to the bug. For anyone of a delicate disposition I will not describe the symptoms, but needless to say, one couldn’t stray too far from your room.

And so, here I sit, having just eaten for the first time in 60 hours. Unsure now whether the pain in my stomach are hunger pangs or a continual evidence of the unwelcome guest in my intestines.

Three years ago I visited Haiti, a full ten months after the earthquake devastated the capital Port au Prince and claimed the lives of an estimated 220,000 people and injured a further 300,000. In addition, a further 216,000 were infected with cholera. We left a week before the outbreak, and were later emailed by a doctor who told us that many of the people we had met were now victims of the disease and no more.

It remains a profound memory which will stay with me for the rest of my life, and one which cannot be allowed to not alter the way I think, speak, behave in this world for it taught me the meaning of privilege.

But there is wealth in Haiti for the chosen few.

Take a look at this photo. This good looking chap has his back to the presidential palace. Perhaps the most ostentatious building on the island? And yet, like my friend in Tenerife, has found that no amount of money can completely protect from the forces of nature or malady.

It never hurts to be reminded of our frailty. I love the parable of the rich fool which can easily be misconstrued as God being a killjoy and resenting success:

And he told them this parable: The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain.  And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”   But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

There’s nothing wrong with success, or wealth, but accumulation can’t be the only reason we are here? Surely there has to be more? We need to have a purpose in life. Don't we? Obviously I have a sense of purpose as a Christian, which gives me a sense of direction, but purpose is something we all should have isn’t it?

There is enough want, need, injustice, sadness, sorrow, pain, ill health, disaster for us to find something to want to change. We don’t have to travel to the other side of the world to make a difference (though some may be called to) as long as we have something! What's your purpose?

Monday, March 11, 2013


There’s a bit of a craze at the moment for a certain kind of man and a certain kind of woman to attempt these ‘Off road, test your mental and physical limits, whilst getting very muddy in the process’ races. I’ve not quite determined what the male collective is, but I’m guessing for the females its ‘dyke’ (Am I allowed to say that?) My mate Pete commented that he didn’t think his wife would attempt one to which I replied that I didn’t think I knew any women who would want to attempt one!

These races have testosterone fuelled titles such as ‘Tough guy’ ‘Tough mudder’ or ‘Survival of the fittest’

Anyway, I duly found myself on Sunday at the starting line of ‘The Devils Challenge’ in Barton Le-Clay which was advertised as involving running through fire, being electrocuted, crawling under barbed wire, 8 miles of off road running, and of course the obligatory mud and puddles.

Oh, and it snowed.

Photo: An enjoyable, cold, wet and very muddy Psycho Run at Devil's Pit. Great fun
This is not an aggressive pose, this is me frozen to the spot!
I’m not going to write about the disappointment that they didn’t have fire, and running through the electric cattle prods was a complete non-event (it reminded me of a twisted Japanese game show where they poured a non-flammable liquid but which smelt of petrol, and then made the contestants jump through a hoop of fire) as everyone was trying to avoid these wires whilst (in a kind of perverse, totally non sexual way) I was excited about being electrocuted and so ran through with my arms akimbo, and felt nothing!

No, if there was anything that this rather pitiful event did for me, it was that it got me thinking about my own sense of worth. Some people determine their worth through material success, the size of their house, their postcode, their car or where they holiday, whilst for others it is perhaps about relationships, and in particular those that involve the opposite sex, & yet for others I guess its power or influence.

The point is, I’m wondering if, as I fast approach fifty, whether I am seeking validation through trying to be fitter, stronger, faster, more defined than my peers?

I’ve noticed this in some of my actions recently: Firstly, I’m spending too much time at the mirror, vainly, and in vain, looking for definition in my arms, whilst scanning the arms of similarly aged men, and, worse, I met a chap in the gym last week who I had a right laugh with until we started talking about Half Marathons and I realised that his best time was 8 minutes faster than mine. 8 minutes!!! We can never be friends! (Is this the equivalent of a woman going to a party and discovering someone in exactly the same dress?)

 As a Christian I’m meant to attain validation through knowing God loves me irrespective of how (or who) I am. I do truly believe this, as I experience that same feeling towards my children. It doesn’t really matter what they do, there’s a ‘cant help loving them’ emotion which prevents estrangement. In our state of mere mortality, there must become a point when the little axe murderer goes just too far, and I wouldn’t want to put this to the test, but even then, if the prodigal son sought forgiveness, would it be refused?

I see plenty of Christians who obviously don’t feel sufficiently validated by God’s love alone, and who remain driven, shriven, misgiven and riven rather than forgiven! This is something of a tragic state of affairs and it would be easy to blame parents, dodgy vicars or denomination and we certainly live in a blame culture, but let’s be honest, Christian or no Christian, we all seek, no, crave our fellow mans’ approval or admiration. But what are we frightened of? In John Eldridges excellent book ‘Wild at Heart’ he focuses on the mask that we all hide behind, although he places this vow, to never reveal the true us, firmly at the door of our Fathers (something I’m not sure I agree with) but I will confess that I do hide behind the mask, making sure that certain aspects of my life, my personality, are safely concealed from public viewing whilst conversely presenting an image of my self in a light which is favourable to others.

Andy Flannagan puts it this way in his song Ego:

'I’ll take the glory, but skip the pain, Edit the story to fit my frame.'

Yeah, you got me there Andy.

I deduce that one of the reasons for writing this blog is to start to melt the wax mask, so that the true Jon is revealed. I hope you still like him.

Sunday, March 3, 2013


I’m in the middle of reading Nostromo by Joseph Conrad, (he of the novella ‘Heart of darkness’ which I own but have yet to read.) I’m about a third of the way through and I haven’t enjoyed any of it. There appears to be no plot, the descriptions are laboured, and I’m not even sure of the context of the story, but I think it is somewhere in South America in the distant past.

Its one of those 'red sauce, brown sauce' questions. If you get a few chapters into a book and you realise its not for you, do you a) Give up, and start something else, or, b) Soldier on, you will not be defeated!
I am firmly in the second camp, although a biography on Maria Callas and her Greek shipping magnate lover nearly beat me once.

A week ago I visited clients in Warwick, & in preparation for my trip had researched the town for second hand bookshops. To my delight, in close proximity to each other, there were two, and so after bidding my leave of the clients, I went with an air of expectancy, armed with a few pounds and intent on purchasing a handful of paperbacks. I was surprised but unperturbed when I was informed by the proprietor of the first shop that ‘there was no call for paperbacks!!’ but to my disappointment, the second fared no better. Nothing could be found on my ‘to buy list’ and so, simply on the basis that my Heart of darkness is a silver leafed Penguin, picked up Nostromo as a match.

I have spent the weekend decorating my study and I now have my bookcases back and there are boxes opened everywhere as I try to put them into different piles: Classics, sport, religious, travel, bio etc. I have an unsightly fusebox to hide and I need to cover it up with a poster. Even I believe the young female tennis player scratching her backside is a tad dated (depending on your age, that will either be a nostalgic moment or a..nathema!)

Or perhaps the course adaptation of DaVinci’s Vitruvian Man?

I couldn't find the 70's poster version? Do you remember it??
I think I have found the perfect print which I intend to purchase. What do you think?

Its called 'The Huguenot on St Bartholemews Day' by John Everett Millais. I’ve always had a soft spot for the Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood for no other reason than their paintings are either pure illusion, fantasy, fancy but first and foremost unashamedly quixotic!

When I worked in London, if I was having a tough time I would walk to St Pauls Cathedral in my lunchtime & just sit and stare at Holman Hunts 'Light of the World' Its sixteen quid to get in to St Pauls now. It's a church (for God's sake!)

The Huguenots were sixteenth century Protestants living in predominantly Catholic France. Their differences had risen to a staggering level of violence which culminated with thousands of Huguenots being massacred on St Bartholemews day. The lovers could be star crossed Romeo & Juliet characters of different houses, or they could be both protestants, but the mans love of his God is greater than his love of his fiancée and so he gently refuses to wear the white arm band which would signify his allegiance to Rome. His passion is the reverse of hers whereby her love of her man carries greater weight than her love of her god. Or perhaps, understandably, knowing what brutal consequences await, she is driven by fear.

I love the way his left hand gently cups her face, there’s a finality in their parting, but its noble and that’s a character trait we all aspire to. To place our faith, our principles, our passions over a relationship is one short of the ultimate sacrifice and perhaps later that very day, he will pay the ultimate price to?

But at a very base level it simply screams romance. Its not a girl thing. I think we all crave relationships which involve valour, idealism, intimacy, desire, a dragon to slay, a knight to the rescue.

I hate motivational posters, but when I look at this painting I am inspired to make a stand. To grasp a passion to which I can say ‘this is what I’m here for, this is what I have been put on this earth to achieve.’ It certainly beats a girl scratching her bum!