Parkgate and Mostyn House School

The village of Parkgate on the north bank of the Dee Estuary presents a beautiful aspect on a sunny day. The continuous quay of what was once a port, before it silted up, gives a fine aspect on the white buildings set against the nature reserve of the estuary itself. On this occasion we saw lapwings, marsh harriers, great egrets, kestrels, and varous ducks and geese.

The most striking building is Mostyn House School, which I’ve photographed before (for example in this post). This time I looked for more detailed shots against a stunning blue sky.

History of Mostyn House School

The building was not always thus, and has an interesting history. The original building was a hotel for 100 years, linked to the success of Parkgate as a holiday resort, when there was had an outdoor lido. The Mostyn Arms Hotel even had a ballroom. In 1855 the hotel was sold to one Edward Price of Tarvin, who moved his school to Parkgate, but the structure was deteriorating.

“I have never seen such a horrible hole in all my life…” was the comment in 1863 when a new owner’s wife, a Mrs Grenfell, first saw it.

By 1899 the building, again according to her husband, was a ‘decrepit, insanitary wreck’. It was pretty well rebuilt over the next ten years to become the building we see today. A fine job they did, but clearly the building is not as old as you might think!

The school closed in 2010 and the building was subsequently converted to apartments. See timeline.

Obstacles

A great reminder from Walden on seeing obstacles in the right way. It’s so easy to see them negatively and become stressed or discouraged. Yes we do have a choice in how we frame them. Thanks, Hdavey Thoreau.

Words from Walden

O is for Obstacles

“Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off the goal” -Henry Ford-

If everyone is overcoming obstacles, the question becomes, what kind of obstacles do you want to overcome?

Obstacles that are put in our path to make us stronger. They are a whisper from the versions of ourselves saying – ‘hey, over here, keep going,this way’

Obstacles are the Universe asking ‘how bad do you want it.’

Then, purposefully setting up obstacles designed to male us stretch and grow.

Obstacles allow us to fail forward so we can determine what we want and what we don’t.

If we run into an obstacle and we decide to quit the thing we’re chasing because of the obstacles; the truth is that we didn’t really want it in the first place. Which is a great awareness to have because we can move on…

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At the National Memorial Arboretum

A sunny day was forecast, so we decided to visit the National Memorial Arboretum, near Lichfield, Staffordshire. The arboretum is part of the Royal British Legion, dedicated to passing on the baton of remembrance of those who served and suffered in Britain’s wars. We did not have any great expectations, other than for a pleasant day out in the sun at a memorial that is but 20 years old.

What a revelation, we were blown away by the rural setting, the trees and natural areas, and particularly the art works that have been created as part of some of the memorials, evocative of many of the less considered victims of war. Most are connected by tarmac paths. And the dog could go most places.

Here’s a small selection showing favourite images from our walk.

Particularly sobering was the large memorial (top left), containing the (around 16,000) names of all those who have died since 1945, in the many wars that the UK has engaged in over my lifetime. Was this all really necessary?

Yes, the experience does bring home the reality and the futility of war.

We will go again.

Featured image is a detail of the police memorial (bottom left), rotated 90deg.
Looks pretty ordinary until you catch the sunlight at the right angle!

Modes of knowing

In his magnum opus, The Matter with Things, Iain McGilchrist identifies Henri Bergson as a major contibutor to the understanding of the way we human beings know about the world.

Essentially, there are two modes of knowing, which I will characterise in a word as intuition and rationality. Intuition is to do with direct perception of the world and understanding what is needed; rationality is to do with language and analysis, rationalising about the world. Intuition ‘presences’ in the world; rationality ‘re-presents’ the world in its own terms.

These two modes were well understood by many thinkers of the past. In the early 1900s these included Bergson, William James, Einstein (see featured quote) and other quantum pioneers. In earlier times, for example, the Romantic movement of such as Wordsworth and Coleridge strove to emphasise the continued importance of direct perception in an encroaching world of rationality. The two modes are also well understood in the world of astrology, where the planet Jupiter represents the faculty of direct perception/ intuition, whereas Mercury represents rational/ analytical intelligence.

What neurologist/psychologist/philosopher Iain McGilchrist adds to this picture is the correlation of the intuitive intelligence with the right brain, and of rationality with the left brain – emerging from modern studies in neurology.

Humans evolved with these two different capabilities because they were necessary for survival. For instance, a hunt might have involved analytical planning to get in the right place to hunt, but intuitive perceptions of the dangers posed by other wild animals in the area. We rely on the combination of these two intelligences.

However, contrary to what you might think, there is no symmetry between the two in terms of their function. Intuition grounds us in the real world; rationality theorises about it. Our intelligence is powerful because the two co-operate – intuition suggests an approach; rationality evaluates and proposes the way to go; then intuition confirms – intuition is the Master.

The disturbing thing about left brain rationality, spotted by Bergson and others, is that it does not necessarily see the need for grounded intuition at all. In this extreme case it usurps the role of the right hemisphere, the intuition and the connection with the real world. The map becomes the territory. A world of abstraction is confused for reality itself. This was the theme of McGilchrist’s previous book The Master and His Emissary – the left brain messenger taking over and ignoring the right brain connection with reality.

Looking at today’s world, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that this is essentially what has happened to humanity in the large. Our connection with reality, with planet earth, is being slowly destroyed by the left-brain machinations of politics, capitalism, business, technology, consumerism. It will all end in tears for many people and many species of life; indeed it already has.

Yet we still each have those intuitive right brains and there will always be those who know the way to go, who love nature, the earth, their fellow beings, who fight the good fight against left brain extremism. This is the dance of life, and the peculiar destiny of human beings…

The first traffic jam on Broadway

I’ve owned the book Time and Free Will by French philosopher Henri Bergson (1859-1941) since university days – but regretfully never quite got around to fully reading it. It still resides on my bookshelf, awaiting the day… I was also interested in American polymath William James, and did at that time read some of his work, including The Varieties of Religious Experience, which proved quite influential. These philosophers were reverently referred to by other thinkers I was also reading at university, notably Colin Wilson’s then-popular The Outsider. So I was quite interested to come across this story about Bergson in Iain McGilchrist’s seemingly infinitely giving book The Matter with Things.

In 1907 Bergson published the book Creative Evolution, which built on Darwin’s idea of evolution, but rejected ‘natural selection’ as the main means of progress, proposing instead the idea of the life force, or elan vital, which was notably the source of human creativity. It seems that these ideas generated great interest in the US at the time, related as they were to the work of William James, who had died two years previously. Bergson was invited to Manhattan to give six public lectures on ‘Spirituality and Freedom’.

It is said that the lectures were well over-subscribed, and the number of vehicles trying to gain access caused the very first traffic jam on Broadway. This was actually two years before John D.Herz started the first Yellow Cab Company in 1915.

According to an essay by historian Larry McGrath both Sigmund Freud’s 1909 and Bertrand Russell’s 1914 visits to the US met with popular excitement similar to Bergson’s. How different from today, when such major thinkers largely do not meet with such popular acclaim. It appears that it was perhaps the scientists, such as Einstein, who took over the public imagination.

It’s not really my purpose to explore why this might be the case, in this brief post, but I will be coming back to Bergson in a future post, as his ideas are strikingly relevant today.

Featured image of Henri Bergson by unknown photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

That was 2021 on this blog

My favourite photos from posts of 2021

These were the individual posts, if you’re interested: Towards Tywyn, Sun going down at West Kirby, Sunset at Barmouth, Chinon, Black pine canopy, Common gallinule

My favourite wordy posts of 2021

Most viewed (2021)

As ever, the most viewed probably depends on the vagaries of search engines and my choice of keywords. The top two were the same as in 2020!

Most liked (5 years)

At least the top entry suggests that this exercise is worthwhile.

A happy new year to you all!

Squirrel on roof

It’s boxing day. A grey squirrel has appeared on the back neighbour’s roof. It’s sitting on the hip iron and hasn’t moved for half an hour. How did it get there? Maybe jumped from the neighbouring roof?

What on earth is it ‘doing’? Obviously, nothing. Maybe sizing up the jump to the nearby hedge… Eventually, the neighbour makes a noise and it moves, but still hangs around on the roof until it begins to get dark.

The next day, no evidence remains. Squirrel must have survived whatever leap he took to get off…

The pics are taken from ground level with my Panasonic TZ80 super zoom.

Metaphor, Map and Model

Metaphor

1. a figure of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable in order to suggest a resemblance…
2. something used, or regarded as being used, to represent something else; emblem; symbol.

dictionary.com

Metaphor is the basis of language and related creativity. While this has always been apparent in the arts and literature, it is perhaps not so readily associated with other fields.

Just consider the two domains of thought that have dominated Western cultures for thousands of years: religion and science.

Religious texts are full of metaphor pointing towards the great religious and spiritual truths that can never be precisely expressed in language. Religions become problematic for human society when these texts are interpreted literally, rather than metaphorically. Then fundamentalism becomes a big problem, as it was for centuries in Europe and still is in many parts of the world. In the terms of Iain McGilchrist’s book The Master and His Emissary, the Left Brain Emissary has usurped the function of the Right Brain Master.

But surely science is different, you exclaim – it’s objective. Piffle! In essence, science makes mathematical models of the real world. And what are these models but metaphors that reach towards the underlying reality. Scientific fundamentalism becomes a problem when the scientist believes that the model accurately describes the real world, rather than being a metaphor, leading to losing touch with reality itself. The map is not the territory (another metaphor).

Of course, science’s handmaidens technology and modern capitalism have this problem in spades. It is not a huge leap to suggest that this Left Brain dominance has significantly contributed to today’s ecological and climate problems, and to the mealy mouthed response to these problems so far.

It’s all metaphor really!

Inspired by Iain McGilchrist’s magnum opus The Matter with Things.
Featured image includes a quote from Genesis I, King James version.

The Bake Cake Saga

I just fancy some fruit cake like we used to make it years ago – a Cranks boiled fruit cake. I reject the obvious strategy, which is a campaign of hints to She Who Knows All in the Kitchen (SWKAK). I can do it myself! After all, I’ve done it before, many years ago.

First, find that old Cranks recipe book, in the pile of forty-year-old recipe books in a cupboard. Browning pages, broken seams… A diversionary thought, as I realise that the last time I saw old battered heirlooms like this was when clearing out the cupboards of various deceased relatives. Oh dear!

At last, here it is: Cranks Boiled Fruit Cake. Let’s set to.

First, to boil up the dried fruit in ‘butter’. There’s not enough mixed fruit, so throw in sultanas and raisins. No dates or dried apricots – more sultanas and raisins. No brown sugar – granulated will do. No orange to grate – a lemon will do. No apricot jam – how about strawberry and rhubarb! And there must be minimal butter – some old rejected Trex, some veggie spread and a bit of butter make up the amount. There we go – boil it up.

In the meantime, beat the eggs and add some brandy. Now, where is the brandy – last used on last year’s Christmas pudding. A long search eventually finds it in stored away in the garage. Then, shock horror! The boiled fruit needs to cool down before the eggs are added. Cake availability time is now well past the intended lunchtime.

Prepare the dry ingredients – flour and spices, all of which are in stock, but I do wonder how many decades ground spices are supposed to last…

The fruit mixture is still pretty warm, when impatience forces the issue and the egg mixture is slipped into the fruit. Fortunately, it doesn’t result in sultana and raisin scrambled eggs. The dry ingredients are ‘folded in'(?) Now, where’s the cake tin? There’s the 6-inch tin for little cakes but this needs the 8 inch. After a long search I ask SWKAK. “I told you I threw that rusty thing away years ago.” Then she comes up with a suggestion – “why don’t you use this baking dish.” I’ve never heard of baking a cake in a pot dish before, but there we go – line it with greaseproof paper, tip the mixture in and off we go.

It’s supposed to take 90-120 minutes. At 85 minutes I check and it seems to be ready – the inserted knife comes out clean. Apparently, I didn’t allow for it being on fan, but my theory is that a flatter cake cooks more quickly. Now we have to wait for it to cool.

According to SWKAK, I did it all wrong. Should have lined up all the utensils and ingredients before starting, then it would have gone like clockwork. NOT. It was far more fun my way – a voyage of exploration!

And the cake is delicious!

John Polkinghorne

I was sorry to learn of the death of John Polkinghorne in the recent college magazine Trinity Review. John was my director of studies in Applied Mathematics in the early 1960s, the only director of studies I can really remember from my time at university – which says something. He was very approachable and human, although I must record that he did not in the end succeed in inspiring me to a career involving Applied Mathematics.

I subsequently intemittently followed John’s career at a distance, with interest. Although a physicist specialising in quantum mechanics, John “baffled many of his fellow scientists by believing that advances in his field in the 20th century had made it easier to believe in God… he thought it was no less an article of faith to believe that atoms moved according to some hidden law of nature, as many other scientists did, than it was for him to believe they moved according to God’s will.”

In 1979 John left academia to take holy orders, eventually becoming the vicar of Blean, near Canterbury. He later became dean of Trinity Hall, Cambridge and a prolific writer about the intersection between science and religion. He was knighted in 1997, but as a clergyman was not called “sir”.

As well as being a fine human being, John was yet another example of the long parade of quantum physicists who have stressed the importance of reconciling science and religion/spirituality, in direct contradiction of the materialistic beliefs of many of today’s so-called scientific disciplines. See eg my post on Mystical Scientists.

It was a privilege to have known him.

Featured image of Trinity College, Cambridge by Mahyar-UK, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Sun going down at West Kirby

After Parkgate in the morning we walked by The Marine Lake at West Kirby, with the sun slowly declining over the Clwydian Hills – another spectacular setting.

Not long after low tide, the water was soon covering the sand between West Kirby and Hilbre Island. You can walk there and back, but only at the right place and the right time!

A sunny morning in Parkgate

Parkgate looked wonderful on sunny Wednesday morning, the old quays looking out over the Dee Estuary Nature Reserve towards North Wales and the sea.

Wildlife there was aplenty, but you needed binoculars for most of it – the marsh harrier patrolling, the kestrel hovering, the mass of lapwings landing, the great egret hunting, pools ringed by basking ducks… Just the grey heron was close and still enough for a reasonable photograph (featured image).

And the old Mostyn House School is always so photogenic.

The thing thing

The thing is, we tend to think in terms of things – for everything (!)

Reality is something else. Everything is connected. There is no unique thing. Thingness is a model, approximating to reality. We could call it thing theory; some might call it materialism.

Psychologically we have an unfortunate tendency to confuse the map with the territory, so we think that things are more real than reality itself. Yet Quantum theory debunked thing theory many years ago.

Reality is more akin to interconnected processes – for example the human process interconnected with the earth process, interconnected with the solar system process, and the galactic process…

Does it matter? Yes, because we appear to think we can manipulate things without considering their interconnections, with our reductionist, materialistic mentality. The effect is only too obvious in what we are doing to the natural world. For example, the UK HS2 rail project replaces a complete ecosystem with a few trees planted in a load of freshly laid soil, and thinks that’s fine.

Of course, in daily life, thing theory works quite well on a practical basis, as does flat earth theory. I sit on a thing chair on a flat earth and eat a thing meal on a thing plate with a thing knife and a thing fork. We just need to know the limits of our theories and models, and when they cannot and should not be applied.

From the perspective of neuroscience, the left brain is very good at things and theories, but not very good at flow and interconnected processes. That’s when we need the right brain. If lefty has taken over completely (the Emissary usurping the Master) then ultimately we destroy every ‘thing’.

Inspired by Iain McGilchrist’s books The Master and His Emissary and The Matter with Things.
Featured image of billiard break by No-w-ay in collaboration with H. Caps, via Wikimedia Commons

A systems problem

Global warming and climate change are symptoms of a systems problem in the organisation human affairs. At a gross level we could characterise the system as having four key elements: sovereign nation states, a fairly ineffectual United Nations, the global capitalist system, and the mass body of modern science and technology.

The scale of system change required is massive and fundamental. It is unlikely to be achieved top-down. It requires change in all these areas.

COP26 set some directions and targets, but not really adequate to address the need. But well done to those involved. What is clear is that the current rich and powerful form a huge brake that resists and will resist the changes needed.

So hang on to your seats. It’s going to be a bumpy ride. But the thing about nature is (and we are part of nature) it does evolve, in an intelligent manner, at all levels, from the smallest components of life. Some form of humanity will emerge in some form of synergistic relationship with nature.

What we don’t know is just how bumpy the ride might get, and just how long it might take. It’ll always be true that for each of us it’s the living right here, right now, that matters, and doing the right thing.

Featured image of hurricane from free photo library.

Restoring the natural order

Once, we human beings were immersed in the dreaming of the world, just as the plants and animals. Our brains had two hemispheres, which were equally immersed, equally perceptive of and involved in our interconnected world.

Then, we created language and the ability to reflect. Gradually, the left side of our brain began to specialise, to separate out and lose contact with our livingness, an ability which was retained in the right brain. The right brain was grounded in the body and sensing the world; the left brain increasingly concentrated on abstraction and manipulation of the world. Being interconnected, they formed a wonderful partnership, but it was the right brain that was grounded in living, was the Master, served by the left brain.

But the left brain became ever more powerful in its schemes and manipulations. It invented science and technology and the duality of subject and object. The subjective was ‘in here’, and the objective was ‘out there’, and the latter could be measured and manipulated by science.

The problem was, the left brain began to think it was more important – than the connectedness, the beautiful, the moral, the intuition grounded in right brain experience. What was important was the re-presentation of the world, not the actual experience. Even that, subjectivity itself, would eventually be explained away by materialist models. Art was just about concepts, not beauty. Justice was about laws and punishment, not what was right. Might was right in the politics of ‘interests’, which even purported to justify obscene warfare. Money was the supreme value. Science could be directed without making space for inspiration. Education was to prepare for making money. Intelligence was an abstraction that could be mechanised.

Yet still the right brain was there, belittled, but grounding and connecting. The denied connection with nature as it was slowly and systematically debased, exploited, polluted. The failed left brain dominance was showing its true colours as climate breakdown and pollution got a grip, species began to disappear, a stream of plagues burst forth on the earth. It was time for the right brain to take charge again, a new interconnectedness, a new caring for nature and others. The science and the money became once again harnessed to the good of all, no longer driven by the fearful band of rich and powerful left brains who almost destroyed it all. Education aimed once again to uncover the destiny of this particular soul on earth.

What made this happen? Well it was the natural order of things. The over-specialised left brain could not in the end cover up the effect of its own defects. The mass tragedies stirred the human soul, and the balance changed.

Inspired by Iain McGilchrist’s books The Master and His Emissary and The Matter with Things.

Hailes Abbey

We visited Hailes Abbey last summer. This former Cistercian abbey near Winchcombe, Gloucestershire, was founded in 1246 by Richard, Earl of Cornwall, elected King of the Romans and brother to King Henry III. The abbey soon acquired a relic of the (supposed) Holy Blood of Christ, ensuring that it became a popular place of pilgrimage.

Of course, Hailes Abbey was surrendered to Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries, in 1539. All that remains today, in a peaceful country location, is romantic grassy ruins – very pleasant to stroll around and admire the Cistercian architecture, and much enjoyed by the dog.

We come across Cistercian ruins all over England. The massive extent of Henry VIII’s Dissolution is really brought home by this Wikipedia entry listing all the English Cistercian Abbeys.

Hailes Abbey is now managed by English Heritage on behalf of the National Trust.

The White Ship

Charles Spencer’s book The White Ship tells the story of the first Norman kings of England, and the shattering effect that one event – the sinking of a ship – had on the course of English history.

Of course, 1066 is the one date burned into the mind of every English child – when the Norman invasion by William the Conqueror effectively turned England into a province of Normandy, and the land of England was shared out between William’s favoured knights.

The job of every king at the time was to produce a male heir. If there was more than one boy, there was often conflict between the brothers. William had three sons, so there were years of conflict after his death in 1087, complicated by the fact that the English Channel split the ‘nation’ or empire.

Eventually William’s youngest son prevailed to become the dominant monarch, King Henry I, of the re-integrated country. After the final battles on the continent that assured his dominance, Henry returned to England from Barfleur in Normandy in late November 1120.

Henry and his wife Matilda had just one son, William Ætheling, and a daughter Matilda. There were also a number of illegitimate sons. Henry left for England early evening, on a favourable tide. William was to follow Henry back later in the evening, on a faster, White Ship, along with many of Henry’s supporters and heroes of the campaign. The story tells how drunkenness and revelry led to the ship running aground on rocks off Barfleur, losing all but one on board.

Henry I now had no male heir. The rest of the book details the contortions as he tried to get his daughter Matilda accepted as the next monarch, and the ensuing conflict and anarchy after Henry’s death in 1135, between his nephew, Stephen of Blois, who actually became king of England, and Matilda based on the continent. When Matilda’s son Henry took on the battle, Stephen was eventually forced to concede that this Henry should become the next king, Henry II, who became a dominant monarch in 1154 in the same mold as William and Henry I.

Similar tales have been recorded over the ages – the problems of succession, the intervening of natural disaster or folly. This one has a particular ring about it, at a key point in the history of England, Normandy and associated territories. It is well told by Charles Spencer in this book.

Featured image of the White Ship was produced in 1321, public domain.

Barmouth viaduct

We were out of season in Barmouth, and the railway bridge/viaduct over the Mawddach Estuary was closed for refurbishment work.

The bridge/viaduct was constructed of timber in the 1860s, and is being repaired over 3 years using similar materials, except that concrete is used to protect vulnerable wooden parts from attack by marine worms. In season, passengers and cyclists can cross over, which I recall doing with the children many years ago. It is quite a tourist attraction, and rather photogenic.

Towards Lleyn

The view from Barmouth beach to the north, towards the Lleyn peninsular, was not as spectacular as that towards Tywyn on this particular occasion, but not bad at all. The peninsula was slightly misty, giving a more dreamy look with the pastel colours of the sky. Quite a surprise, as I was not expecting much from this shot, handheld in fading light.

The hills you can see would be those behind Pwllheli and Criccieth (try pronouncing those names).

My lesson here is that it’s always worth trying shots to the side of that glorious sunset, as well as directly into it.