REALITY CHECK

‘Behind every horse, every pig or human being, there is the “idea horse,”  “idea pig,” and “idea human  being.”

Plato came to the conclusion that there must be a reality behind the “material world.” He called this reality the world of ideas; it contained the eternal and immutable “patterns” behind various phenomena we come across in nature. This remarkable view is known as Plato’s theory of ideas.’

Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder

On a perfectly lovely Sunday morning, my partner and I wandered into our favourite local cafe on Portobello Rd and sat down for coffee and our usual Sunday morning appraisal of the week we had just left behind us and the week that lay ahead. Stoking herself up for this conversation she went to the counter to order breakfast. I found us a table and gazed around the cafe in my usual way, taking random photo’s with my camera of a ‘Typical Sunday Morning in Local Cafe.’ Sad, I know, but it’s  kind of an obsession of mine, they tell me, to take photographs of absolutely everything, all the time.

What I didn’t realise at the time was that I was actually taking photographs of something I really needed to see. Something that was so foreign to me that I failed to recognise it. Something that, in reality, bore barely any resemblance to something I have lived with an idea of for over a decade.

In the book ‘Sophie’s world’, on the subject of Plato’s theory of ideas  Jostein Gaarder talks of the bakery and the way it can have gingerbread men, gingerbread horses, and gingerbread pigs because every bakery has more than one mold. That one mold is enough for each type of gingerbread cookie. Yes. But what happens when when you try to push a mere gingerbread human into the mold of a magnificent gingerbread horse?

Kind of what happened in this case, as it goes. It breaks and crumbles.

Awaiting my partner, my eye turned to a woman sitting opposite me, a little way across the room. She was eating breakfast, hungrily, her eyes were down and she was totally absorbed in the plate before her. An older woman, stylish, alone, crumpled and very slight in build, there was something about this woman that reminded me of someone I had once known, intimately, over a decade ago. Dismissing the idea that this might be her on the basis that the woman I had known hardly ever ‘ate’ anything, was tall, statuesque and broad shouldered and certainly wasn’t of this woman’s countenance in any way, I turned to my approaching coffee almost ready to forget what had caught my eye.

Almost.

Curious about that ‘something’ that reminded me of someone I had once known, I turned back, picked up my prescription dark glasses in order to see this woman more clearly – and saw her. No, I mean, I saw her. Maybe,for the first time ever.

Had she not told me this. Had other’s not warned me when I first met her that what I was seeing was a creature of my own creation. In my own defence I must add, not just my own creation – many had seen her the way I saw her. She was fairly legendary amongst certain circles. However, had this woman herself not laughed at me when I told her what I saw when I looked at her.

Now, if a ‘gingerbread woman’ projects herself in a particular way, behaves in a particular way and gets known-of in a particular way, then one might, just might, be forgiven for trying to squash her into the mold of a magnificent ‘gingerbread horse’, Not so?

But I’m making excuses for myself here, and it wont do.

As I gazed at this woman sitting across the room from me in that crowded cafe, as I absorbed her demeanour and processed all I was seeing, I  began to recognise certain gestures, expressions, a style and remnants of a ‘signature’ I had once known. Reality. Before me was the reality of someone about whom I had held ideas and who I had tried to contain in a mold into which she had never quite fitted.

When I wandered over to her with ‘Of all the cafes in all the towns why did you have to walk into mine  . . .’ she laughed. In her laughter I caught fleeting glimpses of the woman I had known. As I stood there laughing myself, I found myself talking to a person – not an idea. Not a concept. An actual woman. Someone I wasn’t sure I had ever seen clearly before . . .

Jostein Gaarder goes on to tell us that Plato found mathamatics very absorbing ‘because mathamatical states never change.’  He goes on to describe how one person might pick up a pine cone in a forest and say it is ‘completely round’ whereas someone else might argue that it is slightly flattened on one side. On the other hand, you can say with absolute certainty that the sum of the angles in a circle is 360 degrees. ( Of course, an ideal circle which might not exist in the real world but which you can certainly visualise. )

In short, Jostein says, we can only have inexact conceptions of things we perceive with our senses.

HA!

Well . . . I have to confess, my senses certainly had a lot to do with what I’d perceived ten years ago. Everyone said it, I came to suspect it and finally, ten years later, I came to see it. Returning to our table,  I gazed at the photo I had inadvertently taken of this woman in the cafe that Sunday. Finally, I could see.

So, it’s your turn now. How do you think other people perceive the ‘reality’ of you? If you want to drive yourself really crazy, ask yourself how you perceive the reality of yourself . . .

BREXIT: my opinion

What sad times we live in now.  I don’t know which stars crossed where, but it seems to me the world has gone mad.  Brexit.  In my lifetime, short of a third world war ( now increasingly possible it seems ) nothing will be this huge.  Brexit is shattering, devastating and now there shall be consequences of which we will be learning more and more with each passing day.

For what it’s worth I felt proud and blessed to live in a country called the UK – inclusive then of Ireland and Scotland who it seems will both be detaching themselves from our apron strings at their earliest opportunity.  I gladly swore loyalty and devotion to the Queen of  what I considered to be a great and noble country and I didn’t do that lightly.

On my mothers side I have a lineage which goes back to great, great English grandparents who hailed from and around Poole in Dorset for generations.  I grew up with English literature, art, architecture, values and a religious background of Quakers in our family. There’s not much Vera Lynn I don’t know, nor Noel Coward, nor Flanders and Swann to name but a few.  I grew up knowing all the words to The White Cliffs of Dover and I could tell you all about nailing little metal bottle tops to the floor – ( thank you, Flanders and Swann).

I was also very happy to embrace the rich history, beauty, culture and the whole Ethos of Europe.  Not just Greece, but Italy, France, Germany and Austria where in fact I worked in various Trade Fairs around Europe for years.  I am eternally grateful for those wonderful jobs that took me to those beautiful places and for the opportunity that gave me to meet people from other European countries who so greatly enriched my life.  It saddens me beyond words to know that it will no longer be possible for English people to go and work in these beautiful countries.  I am sad for the young people and the little children I know and love who have just had future opportunities and possibilities radically diminished by an older generation of people who are seemingly loathe to leave their armchairs to travel as far as the local shops, let alone around Europe.

I’m simply devastated that we have severed ties to those beautiful countries completely forgetting what some of those countries did for England after the Second World War, Greece included, in terms of loans and agreements following the terrible crash that hit this country.

I’m stunned that Cornwall voted OUT when it was Cornwall for whom the EU did the most and I am appalled by a rampant desire to isolate this country against its allies. Forgetting that only 27 years passed between two world wars and the decades that have passed since the last one, thanks to the EU, there seems to be neither awareness nor concern about the fact ( Lest we Forget ) that divided we fell as +60 000 people perished when European fought  European.

Is no one asking why Russia encouraged us to Brexit and are we truly to applaud ourselves for doing as Donald Trump said we should do.

We live now in a deeply divided country.  A country in which old friends who previously might have agreed to disagree realise that fundamentally their core values are so profoundly opposed they can no longer communicate at all.  This has brought us to the brink of something, and we shall soon find out to our detriment what this something is.

My dearest friend Gavin Cutler summed it up very beautifully for me in a text when he wrote to me as follows:

“Hello to you from teeny-tiny li’l England all alone and divorced from beautiful Europe and drifting away with every tide.”

Christmas Trees!

 

Christmas tree 2

Are our Christmas Trees a reflection of who we are and where we are at in our lives?

Think about it:  Above we have a bare, white, stark tree – no leaves, because it is artificial of course.  Yet  it is slender, and elegant and unique in it’s own slightly arty way.  Judging by the way these white trees have been selling out all over town they have become a very popular choice.

So why?  Why would this tree be so popular?  Perhaps because it is a blank canvas on which absolutely anything can be written.  So, when we decorate this tree with pretty things, or even beautiful things, is this a reflection of what we are doing for ourselves?  Are we perhaps feeling a bit like a blank canvas in need of  a bit of  “decorating”?  Look at yourself in the mirror.  Of course we do.  Especially at Christmas and for all those special occasions ahead of us.  After all,  why not.

Or is it a bit deeper than that?  Is it that we find perhaps that we live cluttered lives and the last thing in the world we want to do is clutter up our lives more.  Perhaps we just want to bring order and a little control into the chaos.  This way, we carefully select the exact decorations of our choice to place them very precisely on every branch with absolute control over their position.  Is this something we kind of wish we could do with ourselves?  Be pretty, attractive and perfectly positioned in our lives?

A friend of mine has a plastic tree that looks like a real tree.  She did not choose it herself, but she was involved in the decorating of it.  On this tree are the most extraordinary,  eclectic decorations – nothing conventional – a very jazzy Father Christmas who appears to be surrendering, just hanging there from his hands with a look of abject resignation.  An Elf , also jazzy, appears to be frantically climbing to the top of the tree in a bid to escape from it.  Coloured red, white and purple  baubles hang off  branches here and there, and the tree is coated in thick silver tinsel ( to hide the flaws? ) and lit in garish, multi-coloured lights.  For all it’s oddness, this tree is warm and interesting and very amusing indeed.  This friend would say that on many levels this tree is pretty much a perfect reflection of her life right now.  Mixed up relationship, frantic responsibilities with children and a constant need deep within her to escape from it all!

Now what about those elegant trees – those rich, full opulent trees –  tall and dense, and decorated in only gold, or only silver, draped with all sorts of golden or silver beads or bows and lit tastefully in a way that implies fullness and luxury.  These are surely trees that reflect the lives of those who have them.

I have another friend for whom every decoration is lovingly and painstakingly hand made by herself, her husband and her children and believe it or not, the tree is actually lit with actual candles.  I do not know how it does not burn down, but magically it doesn’t.  Yes – as you have guessed, this friend works from home and lives a frugal yet comfortable life.  Her tree, more than any of the above mentioned, truly does reflect her life and their lives as a family.

Finally of course, there are folk who just rush out, buy a tree and put whatever they have on it without much thought or consideration at all.  This too, might well be a reflection of themselves – doing what they feel is right and has to be done, but in the fastest most uncomplicated way possible.  Do you know people like that?  I do.

So ask yourself this – do you KEEP your old decorations?  Are you that kind of person?  Do you keep things, safely wrapped away never to be seen until the following year? Or do you spend and end.  I mean – do you go out, buy less expensive decorations and dispose of them to replace them afresh next year?  Is that who you are?

Take a look at your tree and see what it says about you.  OH, and of course most of all, have a perfectly WONDERFUL Christmas – wherever you are, whoever you are, and whatever your Christmas tree looks like!!

 

 

 

Lighting the Corners of My Mind

Umhanga GREAT pic

About my dad: Part 1.

 

Imagine a young Greek man.  A fit, handsome father.  His style, that of old-school 50’s.  His shoes polished every single day – including weekends.  Piercing blue eyes set against jet black hair and strong Greek features.  A volatile man.  A man of whom one of his most remarkable features is his voice – deep, rich and warm like dark molasses. Also a literary man – a man with whom I first read from Pygmalion in his study in a place called Umhlanga Rocks, a million years ago now. 

Our house was on a corner.  It stood high on banks which were covered in soft lilac flowers called Storm lilies.  These flowers had thick, bright green stems and long, succulent, darker green leaves.  These pretty flowers were called Storm Lilies because their petals would magically open about ten minutes after it had rained. 

Surrounded by bushes my father built walls around our house.  Some to separate the bush from our house, some to prevent the sandy banks from sliding into our garden and one long, low red-brick wall demarcating our property from the plot of land that lay over the dunes and deep within those bushes behind us.  We had a nice patch of land there that we called our garden – mostly sand – with short grass growing lightly across it when it rained.  In the summer the grass was yellow.  In the rainy season it was dark green and very sweet to eat.  In this garden my father built me a Wendy House out of creosote poles.  I loved the smell of that sticky, black creosote.  I also had a swing and parallel bars in this garden.  An active child, I loved swinging myself up onto those parallel bars and swinging back down again from my knees.  Once, I pulled myself up the swing chains to the bar across the top, hooked my knees over it and swung backwards and forwards from up there only to fall and split my forehead open on the seat of the swing  below.  But that’s another story.

There was a garden below the house too.  It spread along a sloping stretch of land that ran below the driveway on either side.  We called it the Orchard.  Well, it wasn’t really an orchard.  But it did have a great fig tree with the broadest trunk and lovely wide, smooth, pale blonde branches to climb along.  It had thick, rubbery, bright green leaves and it offered us sweet, dark figs.  We also had a mulberry bush in the Orchard.  From this I would eat the sweetest mulberries and collect silkworms to put in a shoe box to take to school.  There was another wide, sprawling and very untidy tree in our Orchard, but it was alive with parasitic plants – vines that clung to its trunk and wound their way around its branches.  I found it a little unsettling.  It was a very old tree – the branches were too thin to climb and it bore no fruit.  Around the base of this tree grew dark red orchids with deep green leaves.  I don’t know what this tree was called – the whole concept of parasites made me itch and I found it a little too dark,  even oddly menacing.  It felt to me as though this tree were full of African spirits from hundreds of years gone by.

My father planted some pretty, more delicate trees in the Orchard – a lemon tree for example, that bore fruit.  A fiddlewood tree too – which was the only tree whose leaves changed to brightest oranges, reds and golds when the season changed.

Along the side of the house my father built a pergola and covered it with a truly magnificent golden shower.  This vine created a canopy of orange and gold flowers from which one would pluck the stamen and suck on the honey sweet liquid that dripped from its surface.

Around the garage grew canna’s and orchids and a very pretty tree with red flowers that hung like Japanese lanterns.  This tree had the lightest branches bearing fronds for leaves that swayed like giant fans in the wind.  I was fascinated by this tree, although I considered it a little too delicate to play around.  On one side of the garage grew a night orchid.  Two giant flowers sang the most perfect duet from their long, thick stem – two heads touching as they swayed in the night air.  These beautiful white flowers bloomed only at night, radiant beneath a full moon and shining brightly against the night sky.  I had a very special relationship with these night orchids – but that is another story.

A long, cool verandah stretched across the length of our house.  My father built a pretty, low white wall along it made from Spanish bricks to stop us from falling off and rolling down the bank below.  From here I would sit for hours watching the waves of the Indian Ocean as they crashed and rolled in towards the shore.

Between our house and the ocean lay a small makeshift sandy road and thick, wild bush.  All sorts of things went on in that bush at night.  As we were one of only a handful of houses sprinkled around the area in those days it was quite scary to hear the sounds of people drinking, fighting and making love in those bushes at night.  On one occasion loud screams and angry shouts emanated from those bushes.  To my terror, my young father came flying out of the house, leapt over the wall and raced into those bushes waving a sjambok and shouting above them all.  I thought he would surely be killed.

He returned unscathed – merely annoyed that I was still awake.

My father had a friend with whom he formed a local Am Dram Society called The Lagoon Players – in reference to the wide lagoon that lay in the bushes a little way beyond our house.  You could reach the lagoon through the bushes and reeds, or if you walked along the beach.  Surrounded by tall, thin yellow and light green reeds topped with bright orange heads, this lagoon area was inhabited by many rare species of birds and was internationally protected from development for that reason.  If you arrived there quietly in the very early hours of the morning and waited in total silence and stillness you would be rewarded by the sight of pink flamingo’s rising from the surface of the lagoon to greet the dawn.  It was a magical place – embraced by huge sand dunes along the beach and held safely among the reeds.  My dad would take me there at night so we could see the great pool of light made by the moon as it shone across the surface of the still water.  Accompanied by fireflies burning brightly amongst the leaves, we would walk back stealthily, carefully parting tangled monkey ropes so as not to disturb either resident monkeys or snakes.

The Lagoon Players met at our house on Sunday nights.  Comprised of aspiring actors and a few English ex-pats who had experience of theatre in London this amateur dramatic society would meet to read from plays selected by my father.  I was very young and I do not remember the names of all the plays.  Rather, I recall being in awe of the very words being read from various plays – words for example, such as “pusillanimous” held great power in my mind and I was so proud to be the only person in my junior school who could use such language with confidence.  I also recall feeling deeply honoured when asked to play two notes on my baby grand piano to sound a BELL for one of those plays!  Oh, the drama of it, sitting upright and still as a mouse at my piano awaiting my cue!  How proud I was to get it right.  I loved those Sunday nights – loved hearing those plays read out against a backdrop of crashing waves, there in our beautiful, isolated house.

So it was, when I came to be sitting with my father in his study in Umhlanga Rocks, enacting my own first play reading of Eliza to his Professor Higgins.