Friday, May 29, 2009

Robert Henryson

Seamus Heaney has recently translated some of Robert Henryson's poems. Heneryson lived in Dunfermline in the second half of the fifteenth century. Here's one of Henryson's poems:
The Taill of the Cok and the Iasp (translation not by Heaney)

Ane cok . . Flew furth upon ane dunghill . .
To get his dennar . .
Scraipand amang the as
He fand ane jolie jasp


This . . jasp . .
Betakinnis perfite prudence and cunning . .
Quha may be hardie, riche and gracious?
Quha can governe ane realme, cietie or hous
Without science?
It is riches that euer sall indure . .
Ga seik the jasp . . .

A cock . . Flew out onto a midden
To get his dinner . .
Scraping among the dirt
He found a pretty jewel
of great value, precious

This . . jewel . .
Signifies perfect wisdom and knowledge . .
Who can be bold, wealthy and kind?
Who can avoid danger . .
Who can govern a kingdom, city or house
Without knowledge?
Knowledge is the sort of wealth that will
last forever . .
Go and search out the jewel (of knowledge)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Dragon Boat festival

Today is the fifth day of the fifth lunar month in the Chinese year and is the Dragon Boat Festival in Hong Kong, China and Taiwan. It is held in honour of Qu Yuan, a popular Minister in the state of Chu, who lived from 340-278BC, during the Warring States Period. Qu Yuan was a paragon of virtue in the corrupt court of the King of Chu but his downfall came when he advised the King not to go to war with the state of Qin and he was forced into exile. He travelled, taught and wrote for several years and his poetry is famous. Hearing that Chu had been defeated by Qin, he fell into despair and threw himself into the Milou River. His last poem reads:

"Many a heavy sigh I have in my despair,
Grieving that I was born in such an unlucky time.
I yoked a team of jade dragons to a phoenix chariot,
And waited for the wind to come,
to soar up on my journey."

As he was so loved by the people, fishermen rushed out in long boats, beating drums to scare the fish away and throwing rice balls into the water to distract the fish from eating Qu Yuan's body.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Bruce Lee playing table tennis

is the link to watch. Apologies for being unable to insert the video into my blog.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


King Lear invited me, my father, my goddaughter, the lovely Sophia, and a couple of friends on a tour of the battlefields of the Somme. We were staying in Albert, whose basilica is shown in these photos, as it is now and as it was in early 1915 when the golden Virgin Mary was knocked asunder in the War. KL was an excellent guide and it was very moving to see those corners of French fields which are forever England or Canada or South Africa. All credit to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission for keeping the memorials in such good condition and to Lutyens for his beautiful designs.
We revived our spirits with a tour of Veuve Clicquot's cellars in Rheims. Madame Clicquot was widowed aged 27 in 1805 and made a great success of her husband's champagne business, selling thousands of bottles to the Russian Tsar. The cellars are 30m deep and 23km long. Her love for champagne was certainly not detrimental to her health as she lived until she was 89. Sante!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Outlandish expenses

Today's FT remembers the legendary expense claims from the foreign correspondent, James Cameron. When he was working in the Middle East he cabled London to ask for a four figure sum to cover the cost of a camel which he'd needed to report on something. The London office was outraged and cabled back, "Despatch camel home soonest." They heard nothing from him for a few days and then received his next expense claim: "For burial of dead camel, £1000."

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

St Paul ctd

The second seminar on St Paul's letters was looking at his first letter to the Corinthians. Here he discusses the sanctity of the body, which he regards as a temple of the Holy Spirit, and the resurrection of the body. Chapter 13 is probably the most famous part of the letter:
"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not Love, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not Love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not Love, it profiteth me nothing.
Love suffereth long, and is kind; Love envieth not; Love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, Seeketh not her own, Is not easily provoked, Thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
Love never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, Love, these three; but the greatest of these is Love."

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Cornish champagne

I was unimpressed by sparkling Shiraz in Australia. They told me that it was ideal accompaniment to Christmas turkey but to my palate it tasted like fizzy Ribena. Has anybody tried Cornish champagne from Camel Valley? One of their white wines won a gold medal at this year's International Wine Challenge. I tried to buy some in Waitrose but they said it's only stocked in the Cornish shops.

Monday, May 18, 2009


The Septuagint is the first Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, made in Alexandria between the third and first centuries BC. The traditional story was that Ptolemy II Philadelphus (285-246BC) organised the project and gathered together 72 Jewish scholars on Pharos Island so that they could concentrate on the task in isolation. Modern scholars no longer believe that this was the case and think it was translated in stages over a longer period of time. The books within the Septuagint are not in the same order as those of today's Old Testament and it contains some of the apocrypha, including the Books of Tobit and Judith.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Money talks

A friend of a friend was looking forward to his birthday party. He'd booked a restaurant in a hotel and invited all his friends well in advance. A couple of weeks before the party, the hotel called him, "Mr X, is there any possibility of changing the date of your party?" "Definitely not!" he replied. "It's all arranged." The hotel rang again the following day: "Mr X, if you could change the date of your party to any other day, we would pay for all the drinks." He thought about this offer, discussed it with his girlfriend but finally decided that since the date had been agreed with so many people, it would not be at all convenient to rearrange so he rang back and said, "No thank you." A couple of days later he had a call from the hotel manager: "Mr X, forgive me for being impertinent. We have had a request from a celebrity who wants to book the whole hotel on the night of your party. This person would like to know if you have a mortgage on your house and, if so, how large it is." Mr X disclosed that his mortgage was £65,000 and agreed to cancel the party for that sum. He received a cheque in the post for £65,000 signed by....David Beckham!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Dashed hopes

I met a woman the other day who'd been a member of a racing syndicate with a very successful horse. He'd won a number of races in the UK so they decided to enter him for a race in Dubai. They all decided to fly over to watch the race and to take a box at the course. Races in Dubai are in the evening to avoid the heat. They gathered in their box and sipped their champagne. The race began. Their horse was not running well. Their horse was not going to win, in fact he was going to finish in last place. He was indeed last. He crossed the finishing line and then collapsed and died. They wept in their box.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

St Paul

Winchester Cathedral has organised three seminars on the letters of St Paul, led by the Reverend Philip Seddon, lecturer at The Southern Theological Education and Training Scheme. The first was last night, on Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians. This letter is particularly interesting as it is the earliest document within the New Testament, dating from 49-50 AD. It should be read in conjunction with Acts chapter 17 (written around 80 AD) which describes how Paul, Timothy and Silas preached in Thessalonica, converting many people but caused such an uproar amongst some Jews that they were forced to flee. They went to Athens but Paul later sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to see how the Christian community was getting on and in his letter, written on Timothy's return, he says he is delighted with their progress and gives them encouragement, advice and hope. It is not known who preserved this letter for posterity.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Nonsense of the day

Do you like green eggs and ham?...
Not in a box.
Not with a fox.
Not in a house.
Not with a mouse.
I would not eat them
here or there.
I would not eat them anywhere.
I would not eat green eggs and ham.
I do not like them, Sam-I-am.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Electoral process

The continuing furore about MPs expenses and references to "the public's losing confidence in their elected representatives" should be put to the test. Complaints have been made in the last two General Elections about low voter turnout. Why don't they add a box on the ballot paper which says "I have no faith in any of the representatives who are up for election"? If that statement were to win the majority of the votes in any constituency, all the candidates would have to be replaced and the election refought.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Early science fiction

Lucian of Samostata wrote "True Story" in the second century AD as a satire of Greek and Roman historians who portrayed myths as being factual events. At one point in this novel, the protagonists' ship lands on the moon and Lucian gives this description of life on the moon:

"When a man becomes old, he does not die, but dissolves in smoke into the air. There is one universal diet; they light a fire, and in the embers roast frogs, great numbers of which are always flying in the air; they then sit round as at table, snuffing up the fumes which rise and serve them for food; their drink is air compressed in a cup till it gives off a moisture resembling dew. Beauty with them consists in a bald head and hairless body; a good crop of hair is an abomination...There is a large mirror suspended over a well of no great depth; any one going down the well can hear every word spoken on our Earth; and if he looks at the mirror, he sees every city and nation as plainly as though he were standing close above each. The time I was there, I surveyed my own people and the whole of my native country; whether they saw me also, I cannot say for certain. Any one who doubts the truth of this statement has only to go there himself, to be assured of my veracity."

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Waiting for Godot

I was the first to arrive for a 12.30pm lunch meeting at the Metropolitan Hotel in London yesterday. I sat down at a beautifully laid round table for 10 in the centre of a large private dining room, enjoyed a tomato juice and caught up on my e-mails. By 12.40pm I was still the only guest. At 12.45pm the waiter told me that the company was delayed in traffic and the lunch had been postponed until 1pm. He brought me another tomato juice. At 12.50pm the broker hosting the lunch arrived. "Hello, WW!" he said, "I didn't know you were coming to this lunch." I assured him that my place had been confirmed by his secretary. He introduced me to a couple of the other guests who'd walked in and one gave me his card: he worked for Wind Tower Consulting. "Why is Wind Tower Consulting interested in a Chinese food company?" I muttered to the broker (who used to be a colleague of mine some years ago). "WW!" he exclaimed, "You're at the wrong lunch!" The broking house was hosting two private lunches at the hotel. I raced upstairs to find that "my" lunch was well advanced: I'd missed three-quarters of the company presentation and the main course.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Death by bombes

I made a bombe the other day. I do not have a bombe mould so I was reduced to lining a glass bowl with homemade milk chocolate ice cream, freezing it, respreading it to the top of the bowl before it was completely frozen, refreezing it, filling the centre with my dark chocolate ice cream and refreezing it. The problem was getting it out of the bowl for my belated St George's Day feast. I loosened the sides with a knife but it would not come out. I banged the bowl with my fist. It would not budge. I asked my boyfriend to apply his force to it and, behold, it emerged. Useful things, bombe moulds...and boyfriends.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Philosophy of the day

Alain de Botton, the French philosopher, says that in order to cope with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, he recalls two quotations. One is from the Roman philosopher, Seneca: "What need is there to weep over parts of life? The whole of it calls for tears." The other is from the French moralist, Chamfort: "A man should swallow a toad every morning to be sure of not meeting with anything more revolting in the day ahead."