Monthly Archives: December 2013

New Year’s Eve in Togo

Camping in Lomé, TogoDinner at our campsite in Lomé, Togo. On New Year’s Eve a pistol fired from a ship just off-shore announced midnight. We linked arms with Australians, Dutch, Germans and New Zealanders and sang ‘Auld Lang Syne’ beneath the dark palms and a tropical sky, the roar of breakers in the background.


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Happy New Year

calvin-hobbes-new-years-resolutionsA new year is a time to look back, as well as forward. Earlier I found some notes I wrote on this night three years ago. Then I’d just returned home after seeing in 2011 at The Anything Goes Orchestra New Year’s Eve Wine and Cheese Party, where I was teaching a ‘fun jive’ class as well as supplying the Cheese Board (with a range of special guest cheeses).

It was a good night enjoyed by a lively, enthusiastic audience. Although when midnight struck for an instant you’re standing outside watching the celebrations, remembering past New Years, and past dreams. But just a moment’s melancholy. After all, I still have dreams. Many of which may be discussed in mixed company.

I’m spending this New Year’s Eve a little differently, but similar thoughts arise…

    New Year’s eve is like every other night; there is no pause in the march of the universe, no breathless moment of silence among created things that the passage of another twelve months may be noted; and yet no man has quite the same thoughts this evening that come with the coming of darkness on other nights.” — Hamilton Wright Mabie

With this in mind, I felt it might be appropriate, again, to consider other’s thoughts on hope and friendship. And optimism…

    It is difficult not to believe that the next year will be better than the old one! And this illusion is not wrong. Future is always good, no matter what happens. It will always give us what we need and what we want in secret. It will always bless us with right gifts. Thus in a deeper sense our belief in the New Year cannot deceive us.” — Kersti Bergroth

OK Kersti, I’ll try to go along with that… a question of dealing with acceptance and perceptions? Hmm.

Of course, at the turn of the year we are expected to make resolutions; to recognise our flaws and shortcomings and resolve to change them and grow towards some ideal…

    Every new year people make resolutions to change aspects of themselves they believe are negative. A majority of people revert back to how they were before and feel like failures. This year I challenge you to a new resolution. I challenge you to just be yourself.” — Aisha Elderwyn

And again:

    We spend January 1 walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives… not looking for flaws, but for potential.” — Ellen Goodman

Ah, “potential”… such a potent word, and one that made a regular appearance on my school reports. (Though possibly not because my teachers spotted some bud which may have been nurtured towards excellence? I suspect it’s one of those handy catch-all words that teachers use when they can’t think of anything else to say.)

But perhaps there’s some kernel of potential within us all. I like to think so; it’d be a little depressing to think that this is it for me, improvement-wise!

Nevertheless, as the above two quotations suggest, maybe we’re sometimes too hard on ourselves. It’s a cliche to say that we must love ourselves before we can truly love others, but then cliches don’t become cliches without a touch of truth.

Perhaps the answer is to choose resolutions that are achievable, and which acknowledge our humanity and our desire to bring joy into our own lives, the lives of those around us, and to those who may not be around but who are in our thoughts.

As Winnie the Pooh so memorably put it: “You can’t stay in your corner of the forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.”

Nevertheless, despite what we’re told, “Year’s end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us.” (Hal Borland)

Of course the assumption there is that experience does bring wisdom. My feeling (experience?) is that although experience accumulates with daunting rapidity, wisdom accrues at a much slower rate.

Or perhaps that’s just me. Maybe the best we can hope for is that a little wisdom will eventually result from experience. My six-month trans-African journey, for example, certainly gave me enough experience to last a lifetime. But much of what I learnt from that took months, even years, to make the transition from knowledge to understanding. But…

    “I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

    Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.

    So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

    Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.

    Make your mistakes, next year and forever.”

— Neil Gaiman

Of course a new year brings thoughts, often hopes, of change and renewal…

    “The real things haven’t changed. It is still best to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasures; and have courage when things go wrong.” — Laura Ingalls Wilder

With lots of love and all good wishes to all for 2014. May it bring you the best.


    I get by with a little help from my friends.” John Lennon

You are

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Two Quotations

“If you asked me for my New Year Resolution, it would be to find out who I am.”

— Cyril Cusack


“I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”

— Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

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Ah love… how absurd
how much we put inside
so small a word.


— rjh


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Sometimes too much. Sometimes just right.

And you’re gonna love your life
Or babe, someday you’re gonna have to cry.

“All you really have that really matters are feelings.” – Janis Joplin, from an interview, 23 March 1967.

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I had love once in the palm of my hand.
See the lines there.

—  John Wieners, from ‘A Poem for Painters’.

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Christmas Memories

Compliments of the SeasonI remember in my days as a choirboy going carol singing — be-cassocked and lantern-carrying, blond and pink-cheeked, my boyish soprano piercing the frosty night air — as we trudged behind the Rector through the Christmas streets (or at least the wealthier bits; for the youngest, sweetest choirboy carried a collection box. It was a big responsibility for me). We ended up at the Big House where we were invited in to ‘sing for our supper’ — mince pies and chocolate log and a thimble-ful of sweet sherry for the older boys. And something stronger for the Rector and Choirmaster.

Then on Christmas Eve to bed early to be woken by my parents at 11.00 to get ready for Midnight Mass. St Giles Church on the hill in Sandiacre, candle-lit and holly-strewn, and haunt of a barn owl whose ghostly swoop caused many a heart to race after night services.

Midnight Mass actually, as I recall, started at around 11.30, timed so that just after midnight there would be several seconds of silence. As if nature paused, waiting. Then the choir would burst out with ‘Christians Awake, Salute the Happy Morn’. So evocative those old carols; I remember my early, childish romanticism being stirred by the desolation of the start of ‘In the Bleak Mid-Winter’. And ‘Adeste Fideles’, sung in Latin to a layered part-arrangement. I suppose we were what was called ‘high church’… bells and incense. We probably goes some way towards explaining why I think that if you’re going to have a religion it should at least seek to instill a sense of the numinous? I was brought up on the language of the King James Bible and the Book of Common Prayer, and some recent substitutions seem like ‘dumbing down’? Dunno. There are things that should be felt — glimpsed — and cannot be conventionally understood and analysed — such as spirituality, advanced calculus and the appeal of line dancing.

After Midnight Mass, back home. Steps ringing through empty streets. To bed, then up early. A stocking at the foot of the bed to open before breakfast… egg, bacon, mushroom, fried bread, because it was Christmas. Back to Church for the morning Christmas service (after an anticipatory glance at the presents under the tree, awaiting our return). On the way we’d look out for the children with new bikes, scooters, roller skates. Probably feeling a little smug that our present-unwrapping was still to come. This was always quite a ceremony, a pleasure prolonged. Presents handed out one by one in rotation. And we’d all watch each recipient — my mother, father, sister June, cousin Trevor who usually spent Christmas with us (his older sister Ann would stay with our grandparents) — open their present, sharing the pleasure, before moving on.

There’d be three family Christmas parties: one at ours and Aunt Kathleen’s alternately Christmas Day and Boxing Day, then the following Saturday at our grandparents. All followed a similar format: a late lunch then silly games (after the Queen’s speech, if it was Christmas Day), then high tea, which no-one really wanted ‘cos we’d been nibbling on dates, nuts, chocolates and tangerines all afternoon. But there were crackers, and after tea a small ‘Christmas Tree Present’ for everybody.

Then down the road to the Cratchett’s with a goose for Tiny Tim…

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First Thing

“First thing we should do / if we see each other again is to make / a cage of our bodies — inside we can place / whatever still shines.”

—  Nick Flynn, from “forgetting something’

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December 26, 2013 · 12:37 pm

Beyond Limits

Photographs taken on a September afternoon during the Sotheby’s exhibition of contemporary sculpture in the gardens of Chatsworth House, Derbyshire. The music is ‘Childhood Memories of Winter’ by Rick Clarke

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Silly Verse for Grand Kids

Said Maggie to Mummy, “I think
Today I will dress all in pink,
Except for one shoe,
That has to be blue
To match the Ribena I drink.”

* * *

Said Harley one day to his Dad,
“At rugby I’m really not bad.
If if play up to scratch
I’ll be man of the match.
(But if not, I’ll still be quite glad.)

* * *

There was a young man called Harry
Who said to his Dad, “Please carry
Me. His Dad said, “Cor blimey,
You really do try me.”
And bought him a donkey called Gary.

Happy Christmas to all!

— rjh

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