Genius at the Château du Close Lucé

Some men and women show such prodigious genius, standing head and shoulders over all their fellows, that they almost seem part of a different race. Leonardo da Vinci was such a man.

After a leading career in Renaissance Italy, where his genius sparkled over many fields of endeavour, Leonardo spent his later years in Amboise,  by the River Loire,  at the service of the French king François. At this time he lived at the Château du Clos Lucé, now a museum that we recently visited.

We found this museum interesting in giving some insight into Leonardo’s later life, and particularly his innovative designs and engineering that prefigured many modern inventions – helicopters,  bridges, flying machines, pumps, armaments etc etc. This is reinforced by walking around the surrounding gardens, really a rather splendid shady park, containing examples of modern realisations of his designs.

However, there is little emphasis on his contribution as artist. Luckily, there was an exhibition From the Clos Lucé to the Louvre, in the exhibition hall, focusing on the three major works of art that Leonardo brought with him when he came to Amboise – La Giaconda, The Virgin, The Child Jesus and St Anne, and St Jean Baptist … and that enigmatic smile. This gave a much more balanced picture of this supreme Renaissance genius.

So, the Château du Clos Lucé is well worth a visit, but even more so while the exhibition is still there (until 15th November 2016).


Bourges Cathedral

Approaching Bourges from the west, the city is overshadowed by the great bulk of this massive gothic building. It’s an old favourite that we have visited a number of times on our way through France. Friend Alf had introduced me to it when he was just ‘plus de soixante ans’ and got his first age-related reduction in climbing the tower.

The apparent thick walls and large number of flying buttresses visible externally are testimony to the massive engineering needed for a building of this scale.


As we entered the nave, I was immediately drawn upward by the sheer height of this soaring gothic space – 37m high by 15m wide. This, I believe, was the intention of these spaces, drawing you ever upward into the higher mental/ spiritual areas of the                                                                                                                                           mind, away from the the concerns of the day-to-day ‘monkey mind’. Towards that ‘clerestory’ level of the top windows of clear light, symbolising the clear inner light of spirit.

inner aisle

There are two side aisles, the inner aisle having similar upward drawing qualities, being rather narrow but still 21m high. The overall effect of these two and the nave is for me the most special characteristic of this particular gothic masterpiece.

Around the ambulatory at the back of the choir are some magnificent stained glass windows, reminiscent of those at the roughly contemporary Chartres cathedral, but here more predominantly red than the blues of Chartres.

There is a combined ticket for a guided tour of the crypt and climbing the tower, but sadly no longer any reduction for ‘plus de soixante ans’. The large crypt contains stonework defaced and broken during the wars of religion and the revolution – in common with many religious buildings. Alf was always amused by the human buttocks that were carved into one of the pillars down here, opposite an image of a rather shocked face on the other side – unusual humour in one of these deeply religious buildings.

Despite its height of nearly 400 steps, the climb of the tower is relatively easy – even Alf made it with his damaged knees. The steps are wide compared to many, so there is not that tight enclosed feeling, with adequate space for passing anyone going the other way. Surprisingly, the view from the top, over rooftops and the surrounding countryside, is little changed over the past 27 years.

Yes, we’ll definitely visit again when we’re in the area.





The usurpers

Next day, a grey heron was surveying his territory when we first looked out onto the River Dordogne over breakfast. He stood stock still, upright, as if checking out what was going on around.
Then he would begin to stalk fish, creeping like a cat after mice (featured image). Then the sudden pounce, and fish swallowed in a trice.

Later in the morning he’d gone, replaced by a couple of wading men, fly fishing. The predator who has usurped nature’s king beasts at the top of this and almost every food chain. No birds to be seen,  all driven away by the intrusion. 

Clearly, fly fishing is a skilled occupation and gets you into the heart of nature, an image spoiled for me on seeing a fag hanging from the lips of one of the fishermen. 

And they did appear to throw back any fish caught – surely a minor form of fish torture.
Late afternoon the fishermen had gone. The wagtails returned, feasting on flying insects, a flock of goldfinches swarmed into bushes and onto rocks. The heron returned and resumed fishing.

Then we were supremely privileged by a rare royal visitor. A kingfisher appeared in trees on the opposite bank, then came down to a rock within camera range. He stood still, iridescent, intent. Then a sudden flash into the water, another fish swiftly swallowed. Then back on the rock, to repeat the process. Some days you are just blessed.

In a world overrun with humans shouldn’t we be giving back more of these still semi-wild places to their natural predators, while we still can?


More wagtails

The  River Dordogne at Beaulieu is quite similar in a way to the River Ure at Redmire Force. Fast flowing, shallow water over a variety of stones and rocks.

Here too, wagtails are in abundance, no doubt attracted by the insects hovering over the water. Today I’ve seen yellow, grey and pied wagtails. They seem to go around in small groups, so there are usually a small number together. This one’s a pied wagtail.pied_wagtailbeaulieu

As it happened, along came a Dipper, happily dipping into and out of the water  – very difficult to catch a photograph other than with tail sticking up out of the water. This was the best I managed. dipper_beaulieu



Changing France

We’ve visited France regularly for over forty years, mainly on camping holidays. Over that period many changes have become noticeable. 

First there was the annual ritual of getting the insurance green card, the GB sticker, the headlamp beam converters, and painting the headlights with special yellow paint, just for France – all now gone apart from the beam benders. But now there’s the yellow jacket, the alcohol detector and adequate warning triangles. 

Then there was the dreaded ‘priority to the right’ at almost any junction, now just on non-priority roads and in towns. And the very frequent ‘chaussée déformée’ and ‘nids de poule’ signs on most country roads, where you found yourself on an extremely bumpy road surface with an alarming camber – which explained those ‘rock ‘n roll’ Citroens, but are mercifully mostly gone today.

The great thing was that each town and large village contained a bar for coffee, a tabac for Le Monde and the weather forecast, and a boulangerie where you could buy baguettes and not much else – but all but the bar closed for at least two hours over lunch. And there was probably a small restaurant. The towns would also have grocer, butcher, chemist and so on.

It was with dismay that we watched year by year the spread of the now-ubiquitous hypermarkets and smaller supermarkets, and the gradual closing of most of those earlier conveniences. Yes the new outlets are more convenient with greater choice, but the heart and bustle was gone from now-deserted towns and villages, just to return on the weekly market day that has still retained a foothold in many places.  

Nowadays, the roads into towns are lined with commercial/industrial units, just like the US. And you have to drive everywhere, just like the US – progress?

Featured image of artichokes on a market stall, Nonancourt

Meaning of Brexit

I feel like I’m struggling to grasp the meaning of Brexit. Why would a country give up on 40 years of endeavour in the noble cause of greater European integration, that has bought peace to a warring continent for two generations? Indeed,  I ask why?

But have the people actually detected, after all these years, that the project was flawed and is actually irredeemable? I do not share this belief, but there has certainly been evidence pointing in that direction. 

It seems clear that the EU has collectively chosen to prioritise ‘free movement of labour’ over its other supposed cherished principle of subsidiarity. And it was substantially this that led to the Brexit vote.

The lesson for the UK is that it must retain, in significant degree, its own freedom of operation  (sovereignty). The lesson for EU countries, and for Brussels, is that they must listen more to the real feedback from their peoples, and be willing to change. Just closing ranks and saying ‘blah blah blah, nothing must change ‘ is a recipe for ultimate failure. 

So we all await the next stage of this drama, more gripping than any box set.

Evolution’s Purpose

What if there was a book that

  • provides a model of evolution that applies to outer and inner – objective and subjective
  • thus reconciles science and religion/spirituality, showing how their historical differences came about, and how primitive materialism can be transcended
  • gives a context for the ‘culture wars’ in the US and elsewhere, and outlines how they can be transcended
  • explains why areas such as the middle east present such an intransigent problem
  • gives a story of development of human societies that is convincing and explains why such things as democracy are so difficult to transplant to other parts of the world
  • gives a philosophy of hope, with a vision of an emerging spirituality and a realistic approach to getting there
  • shows how the good, the beautiful and the true provide the attractive direction of human development
  • explains why the so-called, traditional, modern and postmodern elements of society find it so hard to get on, and what is the transcending evolutionary process that can pioneer the way forward
  • shows how the dialectic is a fundamental part of the evolutionary process
  • puts evolution at the centre of the story of life, the natural world, the universe and everything
  • gives the hope that we are on the threshold of a New Enlightenment.

evolutions_purposeWell there is such a book. It’s all laid out, and more, in Steve McIntosh‘s Evolution’s Purpose.

If you’re familiar with the work of Ken Wilber and Steve’s other books on ‘Integral Philosophy’ you may not need to read it. But this is really great philosophical stuff.

This sort of approach is a fundamental part of the New Renaissance, as I prefer to call it. This book gives an idea of how it could just come about through the conscious development and gradual transcendence of each person from their own starting point – despite those who are just not interested.

[A great subject for my 100th post.]


The Dialectic

When he was (then) my age (now) my dad used to say that, over his working life of fifty years for the same firm, there was one constant. The company was in the process of either centralising or decentralising, and it swung between one and the other. I suspect he was observing a dialectical process.

The dialectic method dates back to ancient Greece and Socrates. Its modern formulation is attributed to Hegel, via the philosophical historian Chalybäus, although the concept has suffered to some degree by its relationship with the thinking of Marx and Engels.

The philosophical dialectic is summarised in the formula ‘thesis-antithesis-synthesis’, the synthesis representing some accomodation and transcending of the polarity between the thesis and antithesis. You might take as an example the Northern Ireland agreement where there is an accomodation between the concepts of United Ireland and Union of the north with Britain.

Evolutionary philosophers such as Ken Wilber and Steve McIntosh see the dialectic as a model of the evolutionary process itself – how life evolves. In the evolution of thesis to antithesis to synthesis, life moves on to higher forms that accomodate and incorporate earlier forms. Each synthesis is the start of a new turn of this spiral, and gradually more complex forms emerge.

Read some of their work if you want to know more about this, eg Evolution’s Purpose by Steve McIntosh.

Featured image is part of a tapestry ‘Dialectic’ by Brussels Manufactory
(Workshop of Jan Leyniers) 1660,

via Google Art Project and Wikimedia Commons




Political crisis?

One of the frustrations that led me to start this blog was that there are problems quite apparent with current Western countries and the world ‘system’ that were essentially being ignored or sidelined by current generations of politicians – climate change, inequality, financial crash inadequately addressed, over-influence of corporations, uncontrolled movement of people, and so on…

Of course, these frustrations are shared by many, each with their own different emphasis. This is what has led to the rise of, to name a few: UKIP, Brexit, Corbyn, Saunders, Trump,…

It was refreshing to read Martin Jacques’ article in The Guardian, The death of neoliberalism and the crisis in western politics, which succinctly identifies what is going on. We are actually seeing a crisis in the globalising neoliberal order that has dominated for 30-40 years, since ushered in by the rise of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Every system/paradigm has built-in limitations and contradictions that eventually clarify the need for its own transformation, so it comes as no surprise.

A system founded on self interest and without fundamental moral foundations is not likely to last beyond a generation or so.

Martin Jacques is well known for his book and TED talk on China. It was in 1966 that Robert Kennedy popularised the supposed Chinese curse ‘May he live in interesting times’. Kennedy went on to say:

“They are times of danger and uncertainty; but they are also more open to the creative energy of men than any other time in history.”


Featured image of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan at Camp David 1984,
courtesy of White House Photographic Office, via Wikimedia Commons

A Way of Being

a way of being coverThis post is based on a review of Carl Rogers’ book A Way of Being that first appeared in Conjunction, magazine of astrological psychology, November 2013.

Those interested in counselling will be familiar with the work of Carl Rogers, one of the founders of the modern approach of person-centred counselling. You may have even read some of his numerous publications, such as Client Centred Therapy. His ideas are of much broader interest as they are relevant to personal relationships in general.Read More »


Inglorious twelfth

UK readers will be aware that there has been a bit of a fuss recently related to the start of the grouse shooting season on the 12th August – glorious to some, inglorious to others – and a heavily supported petition to parliament. If you read an earlier post of mine on shooting snipe, you’ll have no doubt where I stand on the issue.

In his Guardian article, George Monbiot clearly summarises the political issues, and in particular the great lengths the vested interests are going to protect their business.

It is of interest to consider why people shoot grouse, and why they defend their pursuit so vigorously. Psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs provides a useful model to do this.

1. Physiological

At the lowest level are basic needs necessary for physical survival. Here grouse would be shot for food. Today, only possibly the odd poacher would be operating at this level.

2. Security

At the next level are needs for safety and security. Financial security comes at this level, so this is a significant factor in today’s grouse business – the gamekeeper protecting his salary by sometimes nefarious means, the moor owner protecting his business eg by attacking environmental organisations.

3. Social – Belonging, Love

We can perhaps categorise three major social groups that are into grouse shooting – the traditional landed aristocracy, led by the royals; the ‘sportsmen’ who actually see this as a skilled sport; and the newly moneyed who do it because they can, and it differentiates them from ‘ordinary people’.

4. Esteem

The same groups gain recognition and appreciation of their fellow shooters, so are also at this level.

5. Self-actualizing

This is the highest of Maslow’s original hierarchy of needs. Self-actualizing people are self-aware, concerned with personal growth, less concerned with the opinions of others, and interested fulfilling their potential. I suggest that few people at this level would be interested in shooting birds, except perhaps for balance of nature reasons.

6. Self transcendence

In his later work Maslow realised there is an additional, spiritual, level where the concerns of the individual ego are transcended, leading to altruism and concern with the general good. This includes being an integrated part of the natural world, so forget shooting birds.

Taking this perspective, and seeing that humanity and societies generally are moving in a direction up the hierarchy (but not without the odd step backwards), we can take comfort in the fact that grouse shooting will eventually be banned in the UK, just as have many other abuses of the animal world over recent centuries.

If living in the UK, maybe you should sign the petition.

Featured image of a shooting party in Wrest Park 1929





If you read my post on goodness, truth and beauty, you will know that I attach great importance to these three fundamental values. Not surprising then, that I was delighted to have the recent opportunity to go to the show ‘Beautiful’ at the Aldwych Theatre, London.

The West End does these blockbuster shows superbly, and it was indeed a beautiful experience – superb set and production, a well told story, evocative music and singing.

It tells the story of Carole King, the precocious 1960s songwriter (with then husband Gerry Goffin), who became a world class singer in her own right with publication of the album Tapestry in 1971. It is quite amazing how many pop songs have had Carole King involved in their writing.

This provides a nostalgic, informative and entertaining evening that most will enjoy.

This 2-minute video tells the story of Carole King’s unscheduled appearance at the London opening night of ‘Beautiful’ – good for King addicts.

Featured image part of the pre-show set of ‘Beautiful’ at the Aldwych Theatre, London


Grace and Favour

Gerald Grosvenor, sixth Duke of Westminster died on 9th August, aged only 64. I happened to be present at several events he attended in Manchester during the 1990s. He was a keen supporter of local business in the north west of England and I was fortunate to become one of the judges of the annual  Duke of Westminster Awards. At the award ceremonies the Duke was usually present,  he was introduced as His Grace, the Duke of Westminster. He was indeed a gracious man and usually gave an appropriate and amusing speech, with that easy assured confidence imbued into the British aristocracy.

That he was not inwardly so confident was indicated by his evident chain smoking, which was probably a contributory factor to his early death. It is said that he would rather not have inherited the huge responsibility of managing the family fortune and took this responsibility very seriously, which was probably another factor – there must be a burden in being psychologically set apart from your fellow citizens.

I once attended a reception at Eaton Hall near Chester, the ancestral country estate, and suitably opulent for such a rich family, with a reputed wealth of over 9 billion pounds – built up through the favour of kings and queens over many centuries. The duke was obviously very confident and polished in the small-talking routine of being introduced to all the guests, and a pleasant time was had by all.

Media reports suggest that little of that wealth will be paid in inheritance tax as it is held in trust. Also, the law of primogeniture means that it will mostly pass to the duke’s son, rather than to his daughters.

Now I am not necessarily in favour of dismantling these historic estates. However, large inheritance of this scale clearly gives a highly privileged life – and money makes money, which gives power over others and increases inequality. Society needs a way of levelling the playing field over time, which would be achieved in some degree by a reasonable level of death duties on the estate. As for it all going to the male heir – come on, get real, this is the 21st century!

Featured image cropped from one by Allan warren, via Wikimedia Commons



Le plus ca change

Beep… beep……. beep… The irregular sequence signals commuters checking out at the Oyster terminal on their way home from work. It is early evening at Hayes and Harlington station, a ramshackle work-in-progress as work on London’s Crossrail (Elizabeth Line) continues. Tired looking commuters, perhaps more male than female, emerge and stride purposefully towards the High Street. A young woman is apparently shouting to herself as she walks erratically across the pavement and into the new strategically placed Tesco Metro – I guess she is having a difficult phonecall.

We are staying at a similarly strategically placed hotel, handy for both Heathrow Airport and Crossrail. I am taking the early evening air for a leg stretch and wander up the appropriately named Station Road, a typical London high street, once the village of Botwell, which became the town of Hayes, which was in the county of Middlesex until it was abolished in 1965 (I remember the fuss), and is now in the London borough of Hillingdon.Read More »


Soil, Soul, Society

“Soil is the source of all life… All life comes from the mother soil and returns to her…
If my outer body is soil, then my inner being is the soul. As I cultivate the soil to grow food for the body, I take care of the soul and cultivate love, compassion, beauty and unity to realise the harmony within and without.
When I am at ease within, I am at ease without… Through caring for soil I am a member of the Earth community and through caring for society I am  member of the human community…
…the trinity of Soil, Soul, Society is a way of saying in three words that we are all related, interconnected and interdependent. This is a trinity of wholeness and unity of life in its myriad forms.”

soil_soul_societyThe above words are taken from the forward to Satish Kumar’s new book Soil, Soul, Society: a new trinity for our time. They express the essence of what is in the book.

I have over perhaps four decades read much written by Satish, in his various books and Resurgence magazine editorials, and have heard a number of inspirational talks by this modern purveyor of wisdom.

The book contains little that is actually new to me, but does provide a good summary of Satish’s approach to the world and his three major themes. He shows how these came about through the inspiration of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain philosophy, the special influence of Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore and E.F.Schumacher, and the organisations that have flowered through these special inspirations. Along the way we find a passionate critique of modern Western civilisation and its unsustainable focus on economic growth at the expense of the natural environment and individual and social wellbeing.

The need is for a renewed focus on Soil, Soul and Society, reconnecting with the wisdom of ealier, sustainable, societies.

If you are familiar with Satish’s thinking, this will enable you to drink once more from his well of wisdom, reconnect with earlier inspirations. If you are not so familiar, the book provides and excellent introduction and overview. It is beautifully written in an inspirational style, and the ideas are so important today.

Today we are reaping the results of 50 years of these ideas being essentially ignored by mainstream political and media thinking and kept at the margins in various charities. How much longer can this continue, as we grapple with the unsustainable effects of that mainstream – notably inequality, lack of a stake in the ‘good life’ for many people, environmental degradation and global warming? No doubt this is a subject I will return to in future posts.

See also Satish’s TEDx talk.



The Golden Rule

“In the golden rule of Jesus of Nazareth, we read the complete spirit of the ethics of utility.
‘T0 do as you would be done by,’ and ‘to love your neighbour as yourself,’
constitute the ideal perfection of utilitarian morality.!

John Stuart Mill

The golden rule is a philosophical and religious guideline, lying at the heart of the world’s religions. It is clearly necessary that the majority of people abide by it to a significant degree in order for a society, and indeed the world, to function in a liberal and democratic fashion.

But what about those who do not apply it, who get a ‘free ride’ on the back of those who do – think of thieves, frausters, tax evaders, or even those who will not have children vaccinated against life-threatening diseases that are almost eradicated. daniel_klein_every_timeThis and many other interesting philosophical questions is raised in Daniel Klein’s 2015 book Every Time I Find the Meaning of Life They Change It. I doubt this could be called a serious philosophical work, but it certainly provides an entertaining tour through some of the issues that philosophers have considered over the centuries, starting with the Ancient Greeks and up to the modern day.

Klein covers the thinking of modern American psychologist/philosopher Joshua Greene on the golden rule. We have two fundamentally different ways of making moral decisions – fast and instinctive and slow and deliberative [right brain/left brain]. In fast instinctive mode we automatically apply inborn altruism (golden rule) to our family and tribe; in slow and deliberative mode we apply it to everybody (greatest good of the greatest number – logical). It is suggested we try to get the two modes to talk to each other. Of course, this is similar to the the left-right brain reconciliation aimed at in Iain MacGilchrist’s book The Master and His Emissary.

To me, this question is one of values and levels of consciousness. As we reach levels where empathy and compassion become fully conscious drivers, we will all perhaps achieve behaviours more consonant with the golden rule. We are not rule-based computers.

Do read Daniel Klein’s book for an entertaining tour of philosophical ideas.


Crazy UK energy markets

When I was brought up there was one gas supplier ‘the corporation’ and one electricity supplier, which eventually became the National Grid. You got a regular bill and that was it.

Then came the Thatcher privatisations of gas in 1986 (Tell SID) and electricity in 1990. By default you got the same company as supplier – British Gas or regional electricity company.

Over the years things got more complicated, in the name of competition, overseen by an energy regulator. Suppliers merged, were taken over, and new ones came along. Tariffs got ever more complex. As far as I can see, a tariff is a mechanism to get you to pay more for your energy to increase their profits, unless you have the vigilance to notice there is a better tariff available from your own or other supplier. Judging by energy company profits, this scam is highly effective.

The regulator appears to do little but tinker with the ‘market’ mechanisms. But is this actually a sensible market?

Go to a real market. Stalls rely on loyal customers and treat them well accordingly. Energy companies essentially rip off their customers and exploit any tendency to loyalty – it’s not a real market.

The regulator will say we should ‘shop around’ and change suppliers if we don’t have a good deal. Who has the time or inclination to play this silly game on a regular basis?

We have changed suppliers only once – eventually tiring of the exploitation of British Gas and MANWEB/Scottish Power. We chose one of the new environmental/ethical suppliers Ecotricity, with a commitment to a single tariff – and intend to stick with them as they are not just about making money but actually trying to reduce our dependence on carbon, vital today.

I must admit that the emergence of new suppliers such as Ecotricity and Good Energy has been one of the positive benefits of the energy privatisations. But did we really need to go through such nonsense and profiteering to achieve this?

Featured image adapted from Ecotricity website



The great escape

Our dad used to take us to Sincil Bank to see Lincoln City play in the then Second Division of the English football league – every other Saturday afternoon at 3pm. We also sometimes went to see the Reserves on the alternate Saturdays. The biggest event that happened in that time of growing up with ‘The Imps’ was the great Escape of 1958.

It all began on a snowy day in March. Lincoln were playing Cardiff City. Already relegation was looming, and Cardiff were leading 3-0 at half-time. What a relief it was for us when the referee abandoned the game at that stage; we had another chance.

With 6 games to go, City were at the bottom of the table and relegation seemed certain. In theory they had to win all their remaining games to have a chance of staying up.

Records show that they then beat both Barnsley and Doncaster 3-1, Rotherham 2-0, and then Bristol City 4-0. We started to believe it could happen. Then a 1-0 win against Huddersfield.

On the last day it was between Lincoln and Notts County to go down with Doncaster. And it was the replayed game with Cardiff. What a game it was. We were euphoric as Cardiff were convincingly defeated 3-1 – the Imps now seemed invincible. Forwards Roy Chapman and Ron Harbertson, recently signed by magical manager Bill Anderson, were our heroes. Then the news came through that Notts County had failed to win. Lincoln had escaped!

It might have been a cup final, the crowd jumped over the low wall and rushed onto the pitch to congratulate the players. Us too.

Anything seemed possible after that.

Lincoln City FC Official Archive


1966 world cup final

1966 World Cup Final 

Can it really be 50 years since that special day when England won the world cup? For me, it was the natural culmination of a childhood where football was a dominant influence, even in provincial Lincoln. 

Those were our heroes, especially Bobby Moore and Bobby Charlton. And it all came good after heart stopping drama, watched by the nation on the recently widespread television – in my case the future in-laws’ front room in Peckham.

In 1970 the dream ended, through misfortune and that magical Brazilian Pele. Another world cup and I just had to give up that strong emotional attachment to the fortunes of an increasingly frail team – it was too much.

Things were never the same again. The English league joined the charge to obscene rewards for players, and paradoxically the national team’s performances never again approached those heady heights. 

Well, did it matter? At the end of the day, it’s only a game!