Tufted Duck

tufted duck 1At WWT Slimbridge the other day there was a largish population of tufted ducks. These ducks are pretty common in the UK, easily identified by the characteristic white side and the tuft at the back of the head. The female is much less distinctive, so is less easy to identify (see above link).

The pale blue-grey beak adds an attractive touch of colour to the otherwise essentially monochrome male. In the right light, there is also a suggestion of green on the head. You can see this and the tuft better in the following.

tufted tuft



James Robertson

james-robertsonI was sorry to learn that James Robertson is to no longer produce his regular newsletter or maintain his website, This is a great shame, but one can well understand it at the age of 89.

I first came across James at Schumacher Lectures in Bristol, maybe in the 1980s, and was inspired by his ideas on economics and the money system, which originated in a career at times closely associated with UK governance. This inspiration has continued over the years since then, in his articles, books, talks, seminars and then his regular newsletters – Turning Point 2000 up to the turn of the millennium, and his regular email newsletter since then.

James’s ideas deserve to be more widely known. I won’t try to summarise; the following from the front page of his website gives a good idea. This truly does indicate a necessary component of a New Renaissance, as indeed James said in his Knutsford Lecture in the 1990s.Read More »

The Hidden Life of Trees

hidden life of treesPeter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees is one of those books that change the way you look at things – the world of trees and forests in particular.

Starting off as a conventional forester, he gradually became aware of the real life that was going on around him, rather than just seeing the trees as objects to be managed.

Trees are complex organisms that live in families, nurture each other, respond to their environment, live in symbiosis with other beings, have a circulation and a food system, move in response to environmental change – indeed they are complex social organisms just as we are. It’s just that their timescales are different – much more extended than ours, just as our timescales are much more extended than those of the mayfly.

The timescale for forests and their tree families measures in the hundreds and thousands of years. When we destroy an ancient forest, we are destroying an ecosystem that has taken many hundreds of years to establish. Most ancient forest in Europe is already destroyed through man’s ignorance, so it is imperative to retain those that remain – they are literally irreplaceable. New planting starts a new process of building up an ecosystem, but who knows if the insects, microorganisms and fungi (let alone the fauna) will ever re-establish themselves.

Wohlleben explains how forests act as a water pump, creating the clouds that give rain to landlocked interiors of continents. Without trees there would be far more desert.

Forests have a calming effect on weather, soak up heavy rains avoiding flooding, absorb masses of carbon dioxide (particularly the older trees), provide the environment for massive biodiversity… There are so many benefits.

And then there are the benefits of simply walking in the forest. Most of us have experienced its wonderful calming effect at some point. I guess that’s because at some level we can sense the majestic life in these great beings.

As more and more virgin forests across the world are destroyed by commercial interests, such as for growing palm oil or animal food, the loss and potential dangers are surely clear. Climate change demands that we need more forest cover, not less, to help alleviate the increase in CO2 and its effects.

The book contains a lot more insights than my brief comments suggest. Do read it. Superb!

Light and Dark

chair legsThe low winter sun lights up one of these chair legs in our kitchen. Just for a few minutes. Time for a quick shot, then gone.

Two identical chair legs look so different, depending on the light.

Just as we see others, particularly those we do not agree with, ‘in a different light’. Republican vs Democrat, Conservative vs Labour, Christian vs Moslem, Brexit vs Remain, White vs Black, ourself vs someone who wronged us…

At heart, we’re all the same, and the psychological task of life is the same, to first cultivate, then grow beyond, ego… Living in community. Seeing the positive in others, as well as their ignorance. The light and the dark.

Growth vs Sustainability

It is one of the main dilemmas of our time. Economic growth is seen by governments and people as essential. If the economy falters then there is unrest and governments get thrown out.

Yet economic growth is creating unsustainable demands on the ecosystem – pollution, global warming, resource depletion, and so on. The two do not appear to be reconcilable. We know all this.

There has to come a solution. If we leave it to the earth’s natural systems, we may well not like the result. We are getting a taste, as extreme weather events become more common, plastic pollution becomes increasingly pervasive, species extinctions accelerate. Refugee crises, population migrations and epidemics are likely to get much worse.

So it’s important to consider possible solutions. One is put forward by Positive Money in their excellent research paper Escaping Growth Dependency, just published. They argue that the debt-based money system is a major factor driving the growth imperative, and reform of this money system is essential as part of the solution.

They propose adding a new tool to the Central Bank’s toolkit: ‘sovereign money creation’, and preventing banks from creating money altogether. Thus money as means of payment is decoupled from money as a source of credit.

The paper suggests that such a change could ‘open the door to a transition to a sustainable economy’. I’m all for that!




“Without Vision the People Perish…”

Proverbs 29:18 King James Version

The above quote was one of the inspirations behind our original lectures on Visions of a New Renaissance, and it remains just as important today.

It strikes a particular chord with me having just watched the gripping film Darkest Hour, which portrays Winston Churchill working his way towards the vision that he ultimately expressed to parliament and the British people, inspiring them to resist the Nazi tyranny.

Cassandra Vieten of IONS has published an excellent post Creating an Inspiring Vision for Our Future, which indicates the importance of a vision that will inspire people on the way forward to a better world. She refers to the example of Dr Martin Luther King, whose inspiration continues to motivate people today. Vieten says

In his book “Stride Toward Freedom,” King noted that the outcome of nonviolent resistance was the Beloved Community – not an idealistic utopia free from conflict, but a community ruled by agape which he described as “understanding, redeeming goodwill for all,” or an “overflowing love which is purely spontaneous, unmotivated, groundless and creative.” He said

“It is this type of spirit, and this type of love that can transform opponents into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.”

In these divided Brexit / Trump times, how the UK and US need to transform the current deep gloom of the divisive old age into the ‘exuberant gladness of a new age’. How could it be other than a vision based on agape?

Geography and Stupidity

The breakout of WW1 is a haunting occurrence for those of us born in the dying days of WW2, which finally brought an end to the European conflict begun in 1914, leading to the peace of the European Union since then.

How did that prosperous and confident Europe of the late 19C descend to such a self-defeating process?

It seems the answer lies in geography and stupidity. Read More »

Vanity and Happenstance

Archduke Franz Ferdinand was heir to the Habsburg Monarchy, Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary. On 28 June 1900 he married Countess Sophie Chotek. The Countess was too lowly placed for an imperial Habsburg marriage, so did not become her imperial highness, and their children did not have the right of succession. She was not allowed to sit by the Archduke’s side on public occasions.

Franz Ferdinand was irked, but there was one loophole – his wife could be by his side when he was acting in a military capacity as Inspector General of the army. Thus it was that, in 1914 on their 18th wedding anniversary, he inspected the Bosnian army in Sarajevo, in an open carriage with his wife by his side.

With hindsight this was not a good plan. Bosnia was recently acquired by the Habsburgs and there was unrest from young men who wanted it to join Serbia instead. Several conspired, aiming to assassinate the archduke. They were young and inexperienced and there were several blunders.

By accident the archduke’s chauffeur took a wrong turning and had to turn round. One of the conspirators just happened to be there, saw them and shot the couple. Thus began a World War that was only fully resolved 31 years later.

Did it all really begin by chance? Some would say otherwise.

This story is told at the beginning of AJP Taylor’s book ‘The First World War’, an engaging read first published in 1963. I well remember Taylor’s articles in the Daily Express around that time – he was one of the great popularisers of history and then very controversial.


It’s a dull mid-January day in Anderton Country Park. All the vegetation seems dormant, apart from the brilliant yellow of the occasional gorse bush in flower. Not a huge mass of colour, but enough to brighten the spirits at this time of year, and gives a nice composition.


This is presumably a Common Gorse, which flowers roughly from January to June. This seems to complement the Western Gorse, which flowers late summer and autumn (also Dwarf Gorse). As a result, you can see Gorse flowering in Britain most of the year round.

Mass murder in our green and pleasant land

I can only endorse this impassioned cry…

Eyes in the back of my Head


This has been brewing for some time and now it’s time to shout it out. I’m both sickened by, and sick of, news of our wildlife – animals, birds and native trees – being killed off.  They are being killed off by various different organisations in our green and still relatively pleasant land. And all of them seem to have intentional murder and the destruction of the natural world and environment in mind.

Otherwise why would they do it? You need to have an intention to do something when it’s as organised as this mass murder is.

Let me elaborate. And imagine explaining some of this to a child. Children learn from the natural world and celebrate nature. It’s one of their first ways into appreciating and enjoying other life species. Children’s story books are full of tales of woodland creatures, birds and wildlife.

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World Economic Forum

So the annual shindig of the world’s rich and powerful is soon upon us, 23-26 January at Davos-Klosters, as usual.

Its theme is Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World. The overview context is impressive, and I note that it has 7 female co-chairs. The website claims that the WEF process is having a positive impact (it is much more than just Davos.) It appears to be addressing the right sort of issues, but has the state of the world actually improved in the nearly-50-years of the Forum? There has been progress in some areas, but the current situation on global warming and pollution, and increasing inequality, let alone the ongoing disasters in the Middle East and Korea, suggest there is so much more to do. Obviously, the influence of this one organisation/ process is limited and the vested interests preventing progress are so strong.

We should at least wish WEF well, with honourable intentions. The Lucis Trust suggests a theme for meditation, from the impressive Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of WEF, to send helpful energies to the forum in this time of world need:

Our collective responsibility must be to develop  new models for cooperation that are not based on narrow interests but on the destiny of humanity as a whole.
Worth trying.

The Pigeon Tunnel

the pigeon tunnelNot my usual sort of fare, but I quite enjoyed reading John le Carré’s book The Pigeon Tunnel, a collection of stories and reflections on the events of his life, and particularly those that inspired his books, some of which I have read an enjoyed.

The story behind the book’s title is typically interesting and disturbing, but I won’t steal the author’s thunder by recounting it here. In fact I found the book itself somewhat disturbing, in that it casts light on the murky world of spies and intelligence that lie in the shadows of the political world where we are only usually aware of surface events.

The content ranges through the story of the people on whom were based some of the main characters in le Carré’s fiction, his experience of spying and the impact on political events, insight into some of the major UK traitors including Kim Philby and George Blake, and fascinating background on some of the main characters and events of the politics of his time, including Gorbachev/Yeltsin/Putin, Arafat and several British prime ministers.

Altogether a fascinating read.

Spider silk mystery

While watching the roosting birds come in as the sun gradually descended down to the level of the hills at Parkgate, I became aware of all these lines that had appeared in the grass of the marsh – apparently long strands of spider silk lit up by the very low sunlight behind them. The more I looked, the more the grass seemed to be covered in lots of long strands of spider silk. So I took a photograph.

parkgate spider web

You can see the left-right yellowish line clearly in the photograph. Now, what puzzles me is, how can a single strand of spider silk appear so thick on a photograph?Read More »

Lighting effect

An interesting example of the effect of low winter sunlight on a building – Mostyn House School at Parkgate, Cheshire.

Most of the black/white contrast has gone from the image on the left, shot towards the sun, which was to the right. The image on the right, taken at the same time of day with the sun behind the camera, shows perfect contrast. These images reflect what the eye was seeing.

Mostyn House School was a school from 1854-2010, now converted to private apartments.

A Brexit citizenship story

The following quote is from the Facebook page of a French person living in the UK and trying to obtain UK citizenship, because of Brexit. Why does the UK Home Office and the Post Office, and their operatives, feel it necessary to be so obstructive, awkward and unhelpful? It is not necessary and not in the traditional British spirit of tolerance.

I am very, very angry.

In the process of my citizenship, once I have received the letter requiring me to do so, I have 15 working day to go to the Post Office and register my biometrics. If not, my application can, and will, be rejected. I have received the letter on the 4th, and duly went to Cambridge Central Post Office today, to register.

The biometrics system is broken.
No, they don’t know why, it just does not work.
No, they don’t know when it is going to work, if ever.
No, there is no other place in Cambridge or Cambridgeshire where you can have your biometrics taken.
You have to go to either Norwich or Colchester.
No, you can’t check with Colchester or Norwich that this is in fact the case, or that their own systems work, because Post Offices don’t have phone numbers.
No, they can’t do any kind of attestation or certificate stating that there was a delay because of their lack of required facility.
No they don’t care.

I will therefore have to go to either Norwich or Colchester this Saturday (probably dragging my children along), in the hope that an hypothetical biometrics system hypothetically works there. I am lucky to be in a position to do so. What if I did not have the money? What if I did not have the time?

I usually try not to post anything either political or critical of the country where I have, after all, chosen to live. But the whole residency and citizenship applications process, the shambolic state of the whole system and of various administrations, the complete lack of care, empathy and knowledge of a great number (not all, of course) of public agents are really trying. Really, really trying.

Heaven forbid that a major international centre like Cambridge should have a working biometrics system. Heaven forbid that, in case it fails, something should be done to replace or substitute it. Heaven forbid that Post Offices should start thinking that they are, I don’t know, centres of communications and be contacted from other cities.

End of rant. Still angry.

Who wouldn’t be?

Yet another Brexit related disaster.


One of the delights of living is Cheshire is the occasional visit to Parkgate, a pretty village facing onto the marshes of the estuary of the River Dee. I remember visiting in the 1960s and seeing the most spectacular of sunsets.


Parkgate has an interesting history, and provides a pleasant walking promenade along by the marshes, which are an RSPB reserve. There are plenty of birds to be seen, albeit usually at some distance. The biggest high tides are always popular, as the birds are driven closer to the land, and the occasional rodent emerges from the marshes to escape the rising water.Read More »

Everybody knows

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows

Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied
Everybody got this broken feeling
Like their father or their dog just died

Everybody talking to their pockets
Everybody wants a box of chocolates
And a long stem rose
Everybody knows…

So much in the words of a song, by Leonard Cohen.

Listen to it on YouTube.

Pic by Rama via Wikimedia Commons.

The mystery

Individual consciousness is undeniable.

The existence of other consciousnesses and the external world is the only sensible basis for living.

According to cosmologists, space-time began with a ‘big bang’ and things gradually evolved into increasing complexity. At some point life emerged, and eventually so did individual consciousness.

So what happened/ what was the cause of (or ‘before’) the ‘big bang’? Does the question have any meaning?

And it leads to the question what if life/ consciousness did not exist?And how could it have started?

At which point the brain hurts.

There is always a mystery at the heart of existence! Some call it God.

Featured image is a universal timeline from NASA, via Wikimedia Commons


How the Renaissance Began?

the swerve coverHow did the Renaissance begin? If we knew that, it would surely be useful in understanding what is needed for a New Renaissance. Well here’s a book that claims to give an answer: The Swerve: How the Renaissance Began by Stephen Greenblatt.

In a way, it does, although I suspect this is a gross over-simplification. Roughly, the story is that a very clever man Poggio Bracciolini, one time right hand man of a disgraced pope, discovered and had copied key texts that had been preserved over the centuries by monks regularly copying manuscripts.

The key text, De Rerum Natura (On The Nature of Things), by Roman philosopher/poet Lucretius contained explosive ideas that, once they began to circulate, overcame the stranglehold of the church on European ideas and led to the explosion of creativity that was the Renaissance.

In particular they directly influenced men such as Marsilio Ficino, Botticelli, Raphael, Giordano Bruno, Galileo, Thomas More, Machiavelli, Montaigne, Shakespeare, Francis Bacon, Dryden,  Isaac Newton, Darwin, Thomas Jefferson, and on and on…Read More »

Brexit turkey evidence

More evidence of Brexit turkeys voting for Christmas in this Birmingham University Regional Paper on the economic impacts of Brexit, reported in today’s Guardian. What the paper aims to analyse is “the exposure of regions in the UK and the EU to Brexit, via an analysis of the nature and scale of their trade linkages”. (The paper itself looks rather complex – not easy reading.) The featured image shows the paper’s illustration of the level of impact by region.

Key findings include:

So it’s pretty clear who has the strongest negotiating hand in the forthcoming trade talks.