Life Stuff

The Luddite and The Intellectual Hermit

A Luddite and an intellectual hermit walk into a pub.

“What will you have, gents?” asks the barman.

“Possibly an aversion to the deceptions of progress,” the Luddite replies.

“Sorry, sir,” says the barman, “we don’t do those fancy cocktails.”

The Luddite

Sorry, that’s a bad twist on an old joke. Two things recently had me thinking about the way of the world today. First was an announcement that the team I work for is invited to experience the developments of another team involved in producing virtual reality solutions. In case we are in any doubt as to what this involves, the email included a couple of images, one showing a scene which could be a screen capture from a very dull video game, and the other some bloke, looking blindly towards the ceiling, wearing a set of Oculus type goggles.

Unusual for me, I can’t raise much curiosity or enthusiasm for the prospect. In my imagination I can predict the illusion of experiencing being on the inside a very bad video game, the trick being the screen’s eye view adjusts according to feedback from the relative position of the goggles. As with a magician’s trick, when you work out how it can be done, it loses all potency to be awesome.

Or, to put it another way, reality does the trick way better: the scene around us is brilliantly rendered, and it all moves about precisely as we move our senses relatively to it. The only thing is we take it all for granted and there’s no smack about the chops moment, no “awesome!”

Though really I feel my slight aversion to this stems from a building annoyance that “expert” people in my field are surrendering their imagination to the machines, and we are obliged to follow suit. I’ve met those now who can’t visualise from concepts and basic drawings – they need to see the 3D model. Visualisation was once an essential skill in the job. In a generation, it will be obsolete.

The Intellectual Hermit

I saw another inspiring article in the news yesterday. It was about hermits. Real life, modern day hermits. Haven’t you ever once in your life contemplated a life as a hermit?

The story focuses on two quite different hermits. The first is Christopher Knight who, in 1986, aged 20, took himself off to a wood in Maine, USA, never to be seen again for 27 years (actually, he did meet a lost hiker once and exchanged a simple “hi”). He lived in a tent, stole what little he needed to survive and thus he was caught in a trap by the police investigating these thefts. He said his decision to hide away was a desire to be alone, free of the world. There was no incident, traumatic, shameful or otherwise, in his previous life which caused this; it was just in his nature.

The second hermit is the Christian, Sara Maitland, who lives alone in a self-built house on a moor in Scotland. The reason she gives for her chosen lifestyle is ecstasy. Solitude is “total joy”, she explains. You know, I can relate to that.

Even so, I don’t think I could handle it for a prolonged length of time, never mind a whole lifetime. It’s not the risk that solitude can easily tip over into loneliness; you could just pack it in and move back. It’s the physical hardship which appears to come with it – working for survival. Unless, like Knight, you steal.

An idea then came to me about intellectual hermits. In his poem, To Althea, from Prison, Richard Lovelace, incarcerated in Gatehouse prison for political dissent in 1642, around the time of our English Civil Wars, writes the final verse,

Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage:
Minds innocent and quiet take
That for an hermitage.
If I have freedom in my love,
And in my soul am free,
Angels alone, that soar above,
Enjoy such liberty.

I can’t think of anymore to add to this notion of freedom, in love, soul and mind, except let us contemplate that thought for a while.


On Hermits – why this man became a hermit at 20 (BBC News stories)

To Althea, From Prison (Richard Lovelace, 1642) – (wiki)

images: “Occulus” wearing guy (top) and Sara Maitland, in Scotland (below)

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Colour me blue, or green, or anything you like.

Prof. Brian Cox’s recent documentary series, The Planets, on our solar system neighbours was brilliant though short and sweet. It’s on the iPlayer for the best part of a year so watch it if you can. It’s mind boggling and it makes me think how could there possibly be life anywhere else. As for humanoid aliens, especially ones which speak fluent English with American accents, no chance!

As I watched it n the BBC app, it threw up some other suggestions I might like and one of those is a documentary about colour. I watched two episodes and it’s okay, maybe a bit superficial scientifically but entertaining and well produced (link below).

The funny thing about colour is it probably doesn’t exist. Or, I should say, it didn’t exist until life developed eyes. And not all eyes: the earliest eye probably only distinguished between light and dark; then there are eyes which only see in monochrome shades. Even the human eye is limited, only able to detect light within the band known anthropologically as visible light. Only some critters, it is thought, see beyond that.

And even within the so-called visible light, different people see different colours. This idea came home to me this week when I was looking over a drawing with a colleague. It showed a floor plan of a building where each of the rooms was coloured corresponding to its use. A key to the side of the drawing explained what each colour meant bit there were so many room uses that some of the colours were indistinguishable at a glance.

My colleague pointed to a room and said it wasn’t clear what kind of room it was; it could, he said, be either one or other shades of green. This struck me as odd. I couldn’t determine which type of room it was either but to my eyes the colour was definitely one of the two shades of blue.

Admittedly it wasn’t lapis lazuli, more the colour of a clear morning sky with a little pollution. But it wasn’t green, no way. Or was it?

I had an odd notion that I could reproduce near enough the exact colour by mixing primaries, blue, red and yellow – pigments, not light, of course. But then the colleague would agree it was mixed perfectly, but he would still see it as green.

So, remember, when we’re visited by those little green men from outer space, they might actually be blue. Or, quite possibly to their eyes, deep x-ray-ultraviolet.


image (top): No. 61 (rust and blue) by Mark Rothko

Colour: The Spectrum of Science (BBC TV)

Doing Almost Nothing for the Environment

Last weekend, firing up the Mountfield, I took aim and cut as graceful an arc as I could with a mower having a fixed wheel on each corner. We are “wilding” part of our front lawn and I was striking the dividing line.

It’s a trend. Now that we’ve started, we notice quite a few gardens have done it, many with an advanced growth of red poppies, cornflowers, and daisies. I expect there are other wild plants in there too though too short and too far away to see.

To speed things along, ready seeded turf can be laid, or you can sow wildflower mixtures from a seed packet. It’s much more interesting to watch how things develop by nature, I think, though there is a temptation to give it a helping hand. Of course, some intervention is necessary to stop the dominant weeds taking over, like dandelions. Though it can be a very useful plant – and not that unattractive I think – a lawn full of dandelion heads gives the ready impression of a neglectful gardener rather than a wilding one.

Already after seven days there are swaths of clover, buttercups, clumps of violet flowers – which I think are curiously named “self heal” or “heal-all” – and those ubiquitous small daisies kids sometimes make bracelets from. The grass itself is also putting up a variety of seed heads which normally wouldn’t see the light of day given regular mowing. Nature is having a small field day.

The point of this, and the reason we’re doing it, is the first hand experience of not seeing the normal quantity of insects here these past Summers. There are a number of uncertain reasons for this: unduly successive cold and wet Summers, excessive and discriminate use of “pest” controls, exotic diseases, trophic disruption and habitat loss.

Where have the bugs gone? Remember the Summer’s when you had to wash down the car windscreen after a jaunt through the countryside? I tell you, I can drive practically all Summer without needing to do this now.

Understandably, humans have a innate aversion to insects and for agriculturalists and gardeners historically they’ve been enemies no. 1, 2, 3 and beyond. Yet many insects are crucial to our survival, and all of them play important roles in a self sustainable ecological system. It’s fair to say we cannot know if the removal of any one seemingly insignificant bug has a big knock on effect, perhaps quite literally the butterfly effect.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to seeing what happens to our third of lawn left uncut – apart from digging out any rogue dandelions. And I don’t have as much grass to mow weekly, which is a very welcome bonus as well. Every bit helps.


hey, that image is not my wilding lawn but something I’d like to achieve.

The Unfathomable Workings of Memory

“Warner!”
The name just popped effortlessly into my consciousness like a long forgotten disc might drop randomly onto the platter of a mechanical jukebox. It made me feel like dancing…

He used to be this guy I worked alongside decades ago and, up until now, I could only remember him as Tom. His face, however, remains as a composite of several similar faces I have met over the years and will stay so, unless I happen to see him again. It’s unlikely and as the passing years have grown long, soon I’m wondering if he is still alive. I believe there’s a good chance but probably I’ll never know.

I did try to Google his name and scrolled down, as much as I could bear, looking for a recognisable face amongst the endless mugshots of strangers. Unless you’re searching for the bleeding obvious, search engines are an utter disappointment now, a complete waste of effort. Too superficial, populist and trivial. Like the arm-banded kid too afraid of the deep end.

The point about Tom, why I remember him, albeit vaguely, is that he was a rare deep guy. Even in the twiggy branch of the knowledge industry in which we were employed, he impressed me with his erudition and free-thinking. He was an interesting guy to talk with.

But how and why does the memory do that; why does it play such games. I hadn’t forgotten his name, as I thought for years, it was just misplaced somewhere in the grey matter. Buried. And, yes, jammed: I could almost sense a physical blockage and the frozen cogwheels up there if ever I try to recall a name or a word. Memory is a mysterious function but I bet Tom Warner would understand something about it.

Oh, no!

Sheesh! I hope I don’t live to regret it but I’ve accepted a bit of work, succumbing to a little flattery from those responsible. I find, when sat at a desk, working, I have more moments of inspiration for blogging but less time to write anything up. Still, with an hour’s commute at each end of the day, I’m listening to more music.

I can’t say too much about the job but It’s the usual “fools rush ahead” fiasco and something about it put me in mind of the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dyke – that’s a levee thing for holding back the sea.

Googling it, I’m surprised to find it isn’t a Dutch story at all but an American myth. It’s a story within a story and features in the 1865 novel, Hans Brinker, or, The Silver Skates: A Story of Life in Holland, by American writer, Mary Mapes Dodge.

The poor boy isn’t named but the story goes that when walking past a section of dyke, he discovers a hole and bungs a finger in thus saving the whole of Holland from a tragic flood. He remains there all night, freezing cold, until the grown-ups come looking for him, rescue him and fix the hole.

So, that was me this week, feeling like an unnamed boy with a finger in the hole. But nobody came to rescue me.


In my first week at work, I was invited to go “plogging” at lunchtime. This is, apparently, where you go jogging and pick up any litter and rubbish you see on the way.

What will they come up with next? “Blogging”, where you run along, thinking up daft things to post?

Talking to Strangers

Thanks to umanbn (Mark Hodgson) – whose drawings blog I follow – for highlighting the Humans of New York project, which is fascinating. Brandon Stanton is a photographer who explains the project in his “About” page;

“Humans of New York began as a photography project in 2010. The initial goal was to photograph 10,000 New Yorkers on the street, and create an exhaustive catalogue of the city’s inhabitants.”

In essence, he takes someone’s portrait in the street and gets them to tell their story, a little bit about themselves, and transcribes it below their picture. I see some of those guys are really keen to talk. They must feel a need to tell their story. It’s probably a good deal.

What began in NY has now extended beyond the US; I’ve been reading a few pieces from within Europe. People from all over, happily talking to a stranger with a camera.

I don’t know if he’s approached any Londoners. It’s been a while since I thought about myself being a Londoner but casting my thoughts back, I’m not sure many would easily reveal their personal history to a complete stranger. We hardly dare make eye contact. London is a busy, crowded place and you have to create a kind of privacy within.

It reminded me of a time in my youth when I had to use the public bus to get to work. Normally, you’d look for two empty seats together so you sat alone; if there wasn’t any, you might prefer to stand in the aisle rather than take a seat beside a stranger. But sometimes you’d take a chance, especially if the journey was long.

So I sat down besides this guy, a very vocal, slightly drunk, probably, middle-aged Irishman, and he immediately began telling me his life story. When he felt he’d exhausted that subject, he went on to tell me my own life expectations – even though he didn’t know me from Adam! He invented all kinds of bollocks, all of it implausible. I mean, I ought to be famous by now, as rich as Croesus, and a great political statesman to boot. It was excruciating at the time – but funny afterwards.


I’ve just remembered, our BBC have done a similar thing with The Listening Project, a series of short interlude pieces recorded for radio. I think they set up a recording booth in a chosen place and people go in, often in pairs, to talk about themselves.

The whole world wants an opportunity to talk, it seems. They ought to start a blog.


Humans of New York

The Listening Project (BBC)

image of two people on bench in Osaka, Japan, by Andrew Leu via Unsplash.com

Ivory Towers

“I have always tried to live in an ivory tower, but a tide of shit is beating at its walls, threatening to undermine it.”

wrote the French writer, Gustave Flaubert, in a letter to the Russian author, Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev. Thanks to Lit.hub.com, a blog I follow, for this quote.

It’s a timely quote as it does reflect a sense of the world I see today.

I was interested in the term Ivory Tower. It isn’t literally a tower made from ivory but refers to the colour. A symbolic colour of noble purity, Wikipedia tells us. It is mentioned in The Song of Solomon, part of the Old Testament; “Your neck is like an ivory tower”. Quite a long neck, then, and in no literal sense being an abode.

But it probably didn’t originate in the O.T. and its use is found littered throughout time.

Modern usage has modified its sense to convey the idea of a person isolated from common experiences rather than, as Flaubert probably had it, simply striving to live a more virtuous or meaningful life. Of course, in his case, no doubt he sees the average person’s preferences as being part of the “shit”.

Social media has provided the platform for free speech and democratic expression from all quarters of the free world. People say what they want. Is it fair to regard any of it as “shit”? The trouble is, I suppose, this idea of “the will of the people”; is this today’s “shit” that’s beating at the walls, the utter certainty and determination of the plebiscite?


The picture is an altered image of Broadway Tower which is near here. It is actually built in Cotswold limestone which has turned a beautiful, deep and mellow honey colour with time, something which is peculiar to the Cotswold stone around about the county of Worcestershire, in the north west of the area.

”I’m too old for this sh*t”

The above phrase, or variations on it, is probably the worst line of film dialogue ever, but more on that later.

Many moons ago, before the millennium even (yikes!), I found myself working alongside a fellow freelancing engineer called Dave. He was at that time, shall we say, mature in years but not old in mind. We got on very well. I remember this one time he told me how he still felt in spirit that he could run onto a football pitch and chase the ball around for forty-five minutes though, in reality, he knew this couldn’t be done. Being a lot younger, I didn’t really understand the feeling he was describing but I’m beginning to now.

The trouble in our job is that we spend our best years driving a desk, and worse now, working at a fixed gadget which holds everything you’re likely to need to do your job effectively without ever moving 97% of your muscles. Every day, nine hours back to back. Looking back, this is a cause of much regret to me. If I was in the business of offering careers advice to young people I would say, steer clear of office based work! We’re not made for it. (I have other reasons for advising this but that would be for another post.)

Since deciding to give up regular work last autumn, I find myself being a lot more physical. Naturally, I’m on my feet a lot more and only this past month I’ve dug over the vegetable plot, man-handled eight-foot six by eight railway sleepers into a raised border and, a couple of days ago, installed a new rotary clothes dryer. The dryer required the holding tube to be embedded in concrete to a depth of two feet, and I guessed the hole needed to be at least eighteen inches square. Surprisingly, this took five and a half loads of hand mixed concrete, in quick succession. Where it all disappeared to in that gluttonous void I can’t imagine but, together with it being an exceptionally hot day, it took its toll on the old bod, wasted by years of sedentary work.

One of my pleasures is cycling. I have a road bike but I’m mindful, if not slightly anxious, about my health and ability to ride up the many hills around us. I’ve read of a few cases here of cyclists found collapsed by the roadside in remoter places – it’s no joke. Fortunately, I think, I’m biased towards optimism though this may easily be my undoing, but I’m not ready to utter that most overused line in Hollywood quite yet.

Roll ‘em: Robert Johnson & how to properly pack a bag

Down to the crossroads.

My Youtube suggestions unearthed an old documentary on the legendary delta blues musician, Robert Johnson, yesterday. It had up till now escaped my notice but if you’re at all interested in the blues genre, it’s well worthwhile. (Link below.)

The label “legendary” or “legend” might be bandied around too casually these days as if it equates to just being famous but in Robert Johnson’s case, it is arguably apt.

So, in a nutshell for those who may be unaware, I shall attempt a precis of the salient points. Johnson, then known by his step-father’s family name of Spencer, aspired to be a musician, and not a farmer or farm labourer as was the usual work of his peers. His early attempt at music was to hammer nails into the outside of his mother’s house and string three wires between them and wedge a bottle under to provide tension; then he would pluck those wires to make music.

He would visit the bars and juke joints to hear the travelling musicians. He begged, amongst others, Son House, a loan of a guitar to practice on. But, according to House, the neighbours complained of the noise and so the guitar had to be taken away form him and subsequent begging turned down.

And here’s the legend part: Johnson took off, it’s not sure where, for six or seven months. When he came home, he begged to show how he could play. Of course, they feared the worst but it turned out he could not only play but play better than anyone around. It was said of him that he must have traded his soul to the devil to be able to play so well in such a short time.

He became an itinerant performer and a successful one. He was invited to Texas to record his music – 29 songs recorded off one mic in a hotel room, straight onto a disc. He was, by all accounts, a nice person but he had a thing for the ladies and it is suspected that he was poisoned by a jealous husband of one of his lovers. Or perhaps a jealous woman. The poison was hidden in a glass of whiskey handed to him during a performance. He died in pain the following day.


I followed her to the station, with a suitcase in my hand.

I had heard the stories before but there was a little gem within that made me smile. It was recounted by his travelling companion and fellow guitarist, Johnny Shines. He said Johnson had a routine of rolling up his suit, together with a white shirt inside, and carrying them around in a paper bag. When he put on his suit – presumably for a gig or a date – his clothes looked as if they were freshly pressed.

Why does this interest me? Well, for a while now, I’ve been rolling my clean shirts to put away rather than folding them, and when I pack to go away, I roll most of my clothes up. It seems to work, saves space, and avoids the creased look.

I got this tip from the Gentleman’s Gazette guy, Sven Raphael Schneider, the urbane, dapper dresser also featured on Youtube. Then, a while ago, I saw this packing diagram on Pinterest. It’s the new thing! Or the old thing, if we think about Robert Johnson.

For sure, it’s the small things in life which can bring the most pleasure. 😁


Can’t You Hear The Wind Howl? | The Life and Music of Robert Johnson (youtube)

The Road Gang

We are settling into village life more and more and I received a nice email thanking me for my participation in the village tidy up. There were about a dozen of us meeting up last Saturday morning. We each had a pair of gloves, a hi-vis tabard, a plastic sack and one of those extended picker devices operated by a trigger so we didn’t have to keep bending down. Then we scattered to different points of the compass to pick litter.

The last time I went on litter patrol was at school. Then, it was seen as a punishment for some trivial felony, like refusing to wear a school cap or picking one’s nose in religious education. Although there was the ecological and aesthetic benefit to school, the purpose behind it was more humiliation.

But on this occasion it felt good and worthy. It helped that the morning’s weather was mild and sunny, and my stretch of road offered high views across the fields where there were sheep and lambs and cattle.

It was a big sack and I was worried I’d not fill it and look like a worthless newbie on my debut. So I busied myself with every speck of paper and dog end I could spot while my companions strode forth and were soon almost out of sight. I needn’t have worried; a little past the village welcome sign, I found all sorts of discarded detritus. Mostly, it was the expected soda pop cans, coffee cups and drink cartons, occasionally a takeaway container and a burger meal bag. I did find the broken remains of a car accident which filled up the sack to breaking point – I knew then I wasn’t to fail.

The oddest things I picked up in the space of an hour were, a large medicine bottle with a prescription label, an empty economy bottle for hair conditioner, a plastic box for small tools – the places for pliers, screwdrivers, wrenches etc. were clearly indented – a race competitor’s number label, 106 – I hope she or he wasn’t disqualified for losing this – and a pair of cut down denim jeans.

I got the hand of the extended litter picker eventually but I will say a thank you to all those considerate individuals who crush their cans before throwing them out the car window. Crushed cans are a lot easier to pick up with an extended litter picker than uncrushed ones – these tend to slip away as soon as they’re clamped. So, thank you crushers! A little thoughtfulness in a world of mindlessness makes life a little better.

Yeah, right.