Tag: London

The Magi for the Epiphany

Saturday, 6 January, 2018 1 Comment

Something unexpected took place in Bethlehem and the otherworldly magi, who “appear and disappear in the blue depth of the sky”, are doing their best to comprehend the incomprehensible. It’s a long way from Bethlehem to Bloomsbury, but that was where William Butler Yeats was living in 1914 when he wrote The Magi. In a mere eight lines, he follows the journey of the three wise men with “ancient faces” that resemble “rain-beaten stones”, who are forever watching and waiting, “all their eyes still fixed, hoping to find once more” the thing that will satisfy their search for meaning.

Is Yeats saying that the world has yet to discover the meaning of Christ’s brief time on earth? Is it so that we cannot be fulfilled until “the uncontrollable mystery” is decrypted? Today, the quest for the secret of “the uncontrollable mystery” is increasingly fervent. Anthony Levandowski, for example, is the “Dean” of a brand new Silicon Valley religion called Way of the Future that worships artificial intelligence.

The Magi

Now as at all times I can see in the mind’s eye,
In their stiff, painted clothes, the pale unsatisfied ones
Appear and disappear in the blue depths of the sky
With all their ancient faces like rain-beaten stones,
And all their helms of silver hovering side by side,
And all their eyes still fixed, hoping to find once more,
Being by Calvary’s turbulence unsatisfied,
The uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor.

William Butler Yeats

Yeats uses a series of “s”-sounding words — stones, stiff, still, silver, side by side, unsatisfied — to paint a picture of the mysterious Magi, who wear “stiff, painted clothes” and “helms of silver”. His use of alliteration and repetition underpins the characteristics of the “unsatisfied ones”. On this Feast of the Epiphany, let us hope that they, and all of us, find some satisfaction this year.

The Sacred Heart Lamp


Barcelona for the AIR

Saturday, 7 October, 2017 0 Comments

Vincent Laforet is a French-American director and photographer and one of the most influential people working in contemporary photography and film today. His AIR project is a collection of high-altitude aerial photographs taken over 10 of the world’s most iconic cities: Barcelona, Berlin, Chicago, Las Vegas, London, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Francisco and Sydney. This is Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, with its arrays of perfectly honeycomb-like blocks.

Barcelona


Rhymin’ and rappin’ with Big Ben Jonson

Sunday, 6 August, 2017 0 Comments

Ben Jonson The great English playwright, poet and actor, Ben Jonson, died on this day in 1637. He wrote what is considered his first important work, Every Man in His Humour, in 1598 and in a 1616 production one William Shakespeare appeared in a leading role. Shortly after the play opened, Jonson killed Gabriel Spencer in a duel and was tried for murder. He pleaded “benefit of clergy”, which meant he was allowed to face a more lenient court by proving he could read and write Latin. Jonson spent only a few weeks in prison, but shortly after his release he was again arrested for failing to pay an actor — not Shakespeare. Life was turbulent for Ben and all those who knew him.

Were he alive today, Big Ben would be a successful rapper, no doubt. He’d love the bling, the booze and the booty and his rhymes would be golden, and platinum. See, the rhymin’ came easy to Big Ben J, which is why he had mixed feelings ’bout it. Yo!

A Fit of Rhyme against Rhyme

Rhyme, the rack of finest wits,
That expresseth but by fits
True conceit,
Spoiling senses of their treasure,
Cozening judgment with a measure,
But false weight;
Wresting words from their true calling,
Propping verse for fear of falling
To the ground;
Jointing syllabes, drowning letters,
Fast’ning vowels as with fetters
They were bound!
Soon as lazy thou wert known,
All good poetry hence was flown,
And art banish’d.
For a thousand years together
All Parnassus’ green did wither,
And wit vanish’d.
Pegasus did fly away,
At the wells no Muse did stay,
But bewail’d
So to see the fountain dry,
And Apollo’s music die,
All light failed!
Starveling rhymes did fill the stage;
Not a poet in an age
Worth crowning;
Not a work deserving bays,
Not a line deserving praise,
Pallas frowning;
Greek was free from rhyme’s infection,
Happy Greek by this protection
Was not spoiled.
Whilst the Latin, queen of tongues,
Is not yet free from rhyme’s wrongs,
But rests foiled.
Scarce the hill again doth flourish,
Scarce the world a wit doth nourish
To restore
Phoebus to his crown again,
And the Muses to their brain,
As before.
Vulgar languages that want
Words and sweetness, and be scant
Of true measure,
Tyrant rhyme hath so abused,
That they long since have refused
Other cæsure.
He that first invented thee,
May his joints tormented be,
Cramp’d forever.
Still may syllables jar with time,
Still may reason war with rhyme,
Resting never.
May his sense when it would meet
The cold tumour in his feet,
Grow unsounder;
And his title be long fool,
That in rearing such a school
Was the founder.

Ben Johnson (1572 – 1637)


Going to Dunkirk

Thursday, 27 July, 2017 0 Comments

Going to the new Christopher Nolan film, that is.

The British retreat to the coastal French town of Dunkirk in late May 1940 was a key moment of the Second World War. Several hundred thousand British and Allied troops were encircled by the Germans. Had Hitler attacked, he would have captured a quarter of a million men, stripping Britain of its army and putting enormous pressure on London to enter into peace talks with Berlin. But the Germans didn’t attack. Their nine Panzer divisions stopped outside Dunkirk. And the British were able to start their evacuation from the beaches with the result that most of the their troops got home. Some 300,000 men were rescued — two thirds British, the rest French.

As the exhausted troops were disembarking along the south-eastern coast of England, the five members of Winston Churchill’s War Cabinet met on 27 May to discuss entering into peace negotiations with Germany. Churchill was passionately against any such move, but the foreign minister, Lord Halifax, was for talks as he felt England’s negotiating position was stronger with France still in the war. He also believed that Britain’s goal should not be to fight Germany, but rather to preserve as much independence as possible in a peaceful coexistence.

During the following day’s Cabinet meeting, however, the tide turned in favour of Churchill when he declared absolutely that there would be no surrender, and that as long as he was in office, he would never negotiate with the Nazis. “If this long island story of ours is to end at last,” he declared, “let it end only when each one of us lies choking in his own blood on the ground.”

He was thinking of the 68,111 killed, wounded or captured British troops at Dunkirk.


The Foreigner, the trailer

Thursday, 29 June, 2017 0 Comments

Tuesday’s post here, Jackie Chan goes to war with the IRA, featured a poster advertising the upcoming film The Foreigner. Now, here’s the trailer.

Directed by Martin Campbell (Casino Royale), and starring Jackie Chan, Pierce Brosnan, Liu Tao and Katie Leung, The Foreigner sees 63-year-old Chan kicking ass in his role as a father determined to avenge his daughter’s murder by Irish terrorists. What makes the film topical is that much of the action takes place in London, scene of recent terror attacks, and Liam Hennessy, the character played by Pierce Brosnan, bears an uncanny resemblance to Gerry Adams, allegedly a member of the IRA Army Council and thus responsible for atrocities such as the Harrods bombing in 1983.


Jackie Chan goes to war with the IRA

Tuesday, 27 June, 2017 0 Comments

The Foreigner is an upcoming British-Chinese thriller starring Jackie Chan, Pierce Brosnan, Liu Tao and Katie Leung. In the film, Chan plays the role of a humble restaurant owner in London’s Chinatown who’s on a mission to track down the Irish terrorists responsible for the death of his beloved daughter. Chan is forced to push his physical and psychological boundaries beyond the limits to find and bring to justice the shadowy Foreigner (Pierce Brosnan) coordinating the IRA terror campaign. Any resemblance between Pierce Brosnan and Gerry Adams is coincidental, of course, but between now and October, when the film is released, much will be written about Adams, allegedly a member of the IRA Army Council and thus responsible for atrocities such as the La Mon restaurant bombing in 1978.

The Foreigner

Directed by Martin Campbell and produced by STX Entertainment, the film is based on Stephen Leather’s novel The Chinaman. Leather wrote the book while working as night news editor on the business desk of The Times in London. At the time, the Provisional IRA terror campaign was at its height, and the book is loosely based on the IRA bombing in 1983 of the Harrods department store in London.


We kill, you light candles

Wednesday, 7 June, 2017 0 Comments

We now live in a state of what a Dutch friend of Theodore Dalrymple’s calls “creative appeasement.” This, Dalrymple argues, gives terrorists the impression of a fragility that is easy to break. “They perceive ours as a candle-and-teddy-bear society (albeit mysteriously endowed with technological prowess): We kill, you light candles. The other day I passed a teddy-bear shop, that is to say a shop that sold nothing but teddy bears. I am sure that terrorism is good for business, but the teddy bears are more reassuring for the terrorists than for those who buy them to place on the site of the latest outrage.”

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Dalrymple address the powerlessness of our leaders in a piece titled Terror and the Teddy Bear Society. Snippet:

“Another source of comfort for terrorists is that after every new atrocity, the police are able to arrest multiple suspected accomplices. That suggests the police knew the attackers’ identities in advance but did nothing — in other words, that most of the time terrorists can act with impunity even if known. Here, then, is further evidence of a society that will not defend itself seriously. This is not just a British problem. The April murder of a policeman on the Champs Elysées in Paris was committed by a man who had already tried to kill three policemen, who was known to have become fanaticized, and who was found with vicious weapons in his home. The authorities waited patiently until he struck.”

The lambs, and the teddy bears, are now at the mercy of the wolves, lone and in packs.


Indiscriminate wickedness in London

Thursday, 23 March, 2017 0 Comments

The sheer evil of fanatics like the one responsible for yesterday’s terror attack in London is incredible. The crowded places they pick and the massive suffering they inflict suggest a mindset that’s beyond comprehension, but in an attempt to learn something, anything, about their strategies, this blogger turned to The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror by Bernhard Lewis, which was published in 2003. He writes:

“For the new-style terrorists, the slaughter of innocent and uninvolved civilians is not ‘collateral damage’. It is the prime objective. Thanks to the rapid development of the media, and especially of television, the more recent forms of terrorism are aimed not at specific and limited enemy objectives but at world opinion. Their primary purpose is not to defeat or even to weaken the enemy militarily but to gain publicity and to inspire fear — a psychological victory…”

Concerning the willingness of the perpetrators to kill and maim the innocent and the ruthlessness with which they execute their missions, Lewis asks if any of these actions can be justified in terms of Islam. The answer is a clear no, and he adds:

“The callous destruction of thousands in the World Trade Center, including many who were not American, some of them Muslims from Muslim countries, has no justification in Islamic doctrine or law and no precedent in Islamic history. Indeed, there are few acts of comparable deliberate and indiscriminate wickedness in human history. These are not just crimes against humanity and against civilization; they are also acts — from a Muslim point of view — of blasphemy when those who perpetrate such crimes claim to be doing so in the name of God, His Prophet, and His Scriptures.”

After the 9/11 massacre in New York, the response in the Arab press was, to quote Lewis, “an uneasy balance between denial and approval”. Let’s hope that the responses to yesterday’s outrage will be clear in their condemnation of this “indiscriminate wickedness”, this “blasphemy” and these ongoing “crimes against humanity”.

Bernard Lewis


Brexit: What would St. Patrick do?

Wednesday, 15 March, 2017 0 Comments

St. Patrick Background: St. Patrick was born in Roman Britain. Where exactly is a matter of debate. Claims have been made for England, Scotland and Wales as his birthplace. According to the Confession of St. Patrick, he was captured by a group of Irish pirates at the age of 16, enslaved and then held captive in Ireland for six years. Good Christian that he was, he forgave his captors and the Irish in general. He then set about converting them and his success rate was a remarkable 99.9%, it is said.

What Patrick could not do, however, was help the Irish to understand that they needed to stay on good terms with their neighbours in Britain. The Irish of the fifth century saw the “big island” as place to plunder or to dispose of their excess people and problems and little has changed since.

Foreground: The Republic of Ireland joined the European Economic Community in 1973 on the same day as the United Kingdom and this was no coincidence. Dublin depended greatly on food exports to the UK and being outside the EEC zone would have meant tariffs and quotas affecting its most important market. It was a pragmatic decision, therefore, but there was an element of romance as well in that many in the Irish establishment hoped that the deal would weaken the Anglo-Irish relationship in favour of Europe. And it all turned out for the best in the end. Ireland got lots of lovely subsidies from Brussels, local politicians upgraded to luxury junkets, inward investment from the USA flowed like champagne at Cheltenham and the benefits of Britain were untouched. Note: Irish citizens living in the UK are treated as British citizens in all but name.

St. Patrick But all this changed, utterly, with the Brexit vote. The cat is now among the doves, as peace-loving Patrick might have said. Once Article 50 is triggered by the UK government, Ireland will have to face the fact that it depends on the US and UK consumer so much that almost two-thirds of it goods and services will go to markets outside the remaining EU 27 members. Paddy is now confronted with the conundrum that while he’s commercially and culturally part of the Anglosphere, he’s told by his elites that he should feel closer to Brussels than Boston and it’s giving him headaches. Then, there are the bills.

In 2014, Ireland became a net contributor to the EU. Dublin paid €1.69 billion to Brussels and got €1.52 in return. After the UK leaves and the EU needs to pay those bills, Ireland will be expected to put more in the pot. Then there’s last year’s EU decision against Dublin’s cosy tax arrangement with Apple that could cost €13 billion. If all those giant US companies in Ireland are no longer able to dodge tax and if their companions in London are no longer able to ship their UK turnover across the Irish Sea to be taxed at a much lower Irish rate, the luck of the Irish might run out. But there’s more.

Much of Ireland’s exports are transported through British ports on the west coast, then across the mighty motorways that Paddy helped build before leaving British ports on the south and east coasts for EU destinations. When the UK is outside the Single Market and Customs Union there will be serious administrative and financial challenges to getting goods to their EU markets without quicker and cheaper alternative routes. And the combination of being outside the Schengen Agreement and the Common Travel Agreement means that the Britain’s borders will begin at Ireland’s ports and airports.

Tricky.

People scoffed recently when Lord Kilclooney wrote in the Belfast News Letter that Ireland needs to consider its positon in the EU, but his advice should not be dismissed so lightly. He concluded: “The two alternatives are for the Republic to get special status within the EU or for the Republic to exit the EU the same day as the UK — that would mean there would be no problems at the border and would eliminate the damage now being caused to the Southern Irish economy.”

Paddy doesn’t want to hear this, of course, but Saint Patrick would whisper in his ear what Louis MacNeice once said: “World is suddener than we fancy it.”

St. Patrick


Champagne and a bicycle thanks to John Huston

Friday, 3 February, 2017 3 Comments

And so we come to the end of a week of postings inspired by the upcoming sale of Luggala, that legendary estate in County Wicklow now on offer from Sotheby’s International Realty for $29 million. At the centre of these recollections has been the fortunes of Claud Cockburn, a charmingly Communist English journalist who made Ireland his home in the late 1940s and then eked out a dicey living with a rugged Underwood typewriter.

All changed, utterly, when he met the Hollywood director John Huston at Luggala and sold the film rights of his novel Beat the Devil. The story of when the cheque for £3,000 arrived was told beautifully by Claud’s late son, Alexander, in Corruptions of Empire: Life Studies & the Reagan Era. Snippet:

“After my father had agreed with Huston to take the money up front we travelled to London for a couple of weeks. I remember sitting in a hotel room with my mother and father and their friend Maurice Richardson, waiting for the cheque to arrive. I don’t think we could go out until it did. There was a call from downstairs and in came a waiter with an envelope on a tray. There was silence as my father opened it and then volleys of cheers as they danced about passing the cheque from hand to hand and shouting for champagne. I was ten and not interested in champagne.
‘Does this mean I can have a new bicycle?’ I shouted up.
‘Yes, yes,’ they beamed down. ‘Of course you can have a new bicycle.'”

UPDATE: “The Guinness trust behind the sale of the €28 million Luggala Estate in Co Wicklow has indicated it will consider offers for the 5,000-acre property that will allow custodian Garech Browne to live there for three months annually.”

Luggala


Song of the Year: And Dream of Sheep

Tuesday, 20 December, 2016 0 Comments

“Little light will guide them to me.” The line has a special relevance at Christmas, and the terror killings of innocent Christmas revellers in Berlin lend it extra poignancy. And Dream of Sheep by Kate Bush is thus deemed our Song of the Year.

Prior to her 22-date run of sold-out London concerts in 2014, Kate Bush spent three days submerged in a tank filled with water. The goal was to create a sense of authenticity while making a video for And Dream of Sheep, a song about a woman lost at sea. The clip — which features the singer strapped in a lifejacket, hoping to be rescued — was created for her return to the stage, during which she performed The Ninth Wave, her 1985 song cycle.

Although originally released on Hounds of Love, the song has been reworked and the new version appears on Kate Bush and the K Fellowship: Before the Dawn, a live album that captures her 2014 show on three CDs and four vinyl albums.

“Little light shining
Little light will guide them to me
My face is all lit up
If they find me racing white horses
They’ll not take me for a buoy
Let me be weak, let me sleep and dream of sheep.”

Kate Bush