R.I.P. Ruby

Our dog, Ruby, aged 14 years, died at home on 31st January. She had chronic kidney disease and was not eating or drinking. She was unable to get up in her bed and was sleeping all the time. She died in my arms peacefully, unafraid and surrounded by familiar things and smells. She was my best friend and will be desperately missed. We are bereft.

Ruby finds the joke of life exceedingly funny

Ruby Ponders a Daisy. Is it edible?

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Best Books of 2018

These are the best books I read in 2018. Some were published earlier than this, but were read by me in this year. Because I am blind they were all read to me, either by a friend or on audiobook, so sometimes the quality of the reader affects my pleasure in a book. However, I do not claim these to be necessarily the best books, but I can at least say my judgement is completely disinterested. No-one has bribed me in any way! I don’t have enough readers.

So, in alphabetical order:

 

Simon Armitage, The Unaccompanied. Selected poems.

Julian Barnes, The Noise of Time. A biographical novel about the Soviet composer Shostakovich. A good description of artistic life under Stalin by one of my favourite writers.

Mary Beard, Women and Power, A Manifesto. A short collection of two lectures on the subject of women and politics

Deren Brown, Happy. Yes, this is by the stage magician. It is a detailed description of classical stoicism and how to use it in the modern world. It sounds like a self-help book, but is much more serious than this..

Noah Harare, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. By the author of Sapiens, the bestbook of the century so far. This is not as good, but worth persevering with.

Jeremy Lent, The Patterning Instinct. History of Homo Sapiens through comparative anthropology and linguistics. Fascinating comparison of Eastern and Western thought processes.

George Mombiot, Feral. His book about re-wilding. It changes your view of landscape and conservation.

Chris Packham, Fingers in the Sparkle Jar. Early autobiography of this naturalist. By necessity it concentrates on his autism.

Michael Palin, Erebus, the Story of a Ship. Arctic and Antarctic exploration in the first half of the 19th Century, and the tragedy of Franklin’s search for the Northwest Passage. Palin can write as well as tell jokes.

Richard Powers, The Overstory. A massive novel about the twin strands of the growth of trees and of immigration into the USA. It was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, and I think it should have won. Beautiful and poetic, if a little long. Good holiday reading.

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Cruising

Now I am approaching my dotage, all my friends seem to have abandoned their traditional holidays for the cruise ship. No longer are they to be found lying on the beaches of the Mediterranean, or drinking rough red wine in their gites or camping in the south of France with their children. Their kids have gone to University and their bodies are all going south, so showing those same bodies on Greek beaches is no longer an option. They are no longer fine figures of men or women. Disneyland can no longer be justified and climbing in Yosemite has become impossible.

Now they all go on cruises, where the food is all free and the service all silver. No longer do they need to change the fuses by torchlight in an old French fuse box. The hitch-hiking of their youth has been replaced by a floating 5-star hotel with stabilizers.

So has the time now come for me to pack my sea chest and wear elasticated waists? Do I need to dig out my wedding suit and see if it still fits? Does the Captain’s table wait for me? And what does my bank have to say about it?

 

What is the appeal of the cruise ship for us all? Suddenly, we find ourselves with some spare cash. Our children are all off getting debts of their own and for most so-called Seniors the mortgage has been paid. It has to be our patriotic duty to spend money. The economy needs us.

Cruise ships are top-notch hotels with top notch food and top notch entertainments by actors and dancers fresh out of college and in need of that Equity card that experience on the ships will give them. To go on a cruise means much-needed support for the hospitality and entertainment industries. Indeed, if we still built ships in Glasgow or Liverpool the same could be said for the shipbuilding industry. But we don’t.

I do get this cruising thing, though. It’s the bit tacked on to the end of life when you can, for a fortnight or so, have what you want and play at being the Lord and Lady. For two weeks she can hold a long cigarette holder and wear pearls, and he can sport a monocle and wear a tuxedo. It is possible to visit far-flung and exotic cities with the minimal trouble so necessary at this age. It is almost as though you can sit in your deck chair while great cities are wheeled in front of you. Lots of them, in case you missed them when you were young. Or were too drunk to notice.

Today, Rome; tomorrow, Athens. Next day, Alexandria. The civilisations sweep by and are ticked off the list.

It is a noble thing to do, as the final destination begins to loom on the western horizon.

When I started to look more closely at what was available and was comparing one Panama hat with another, I noticed there were ships that offered “experiences”. Experiences seem to be a new idea. We’ve never had them before, it would seem. This is a whole new thing.

These seem to be what I might be after, as an old man, but not a very old man, and as a disabled man who still believes he is more than his disability. And to add a certain urgency to the search, my wife will soon be hitting one of those birthdays that I will be expected to mark with something special. A box of chocolates and a bunch of flowers will just not do.

The time seems ripe for a nautical experience.

And they are there if you look for them.

For those of us with salty childhood dreams, fired by old sea dogs like Francis Chichester, or Alan Villiers, or Joshua Slocum, there is the Royal Clipper, a five mast square-rigged sailing ship, based on the German Preussen, built in 1902. It is the largest tall ship in the world, and in the summer it cruises the Mediterranean, then crosses the Atlantic to cruise the Caribbean in the winter. I fancied the Atlantic crossing from Lisbon to Barbados, but my wheelchair let me down here. Dammit

Royal Clipper

 

would be an experience.

What else do I fancy?

The Norwegian shipping company Hurtigrutenoffer some variations on the Norwegian fjords theme. They run daily mail ships from Bergen in the south right up to Vardo in the far north, calling in at dozens of villages and towns on the way. This is not a cruise, but a working ship. It carries the mail to isolated villages and farms, it takes local passengers from one fjord to another.

They have ice-strengthened expedition ships which go to Svalbord or Greenland, or you can sail through the North-West Passage from Greenland to Alaska in the wake of Franklin and Amundsen.

MS Loferton of the Norwegian coast by Paul Morlee

These are experiences, too, but I don’t really like being cold. However, the chance to see polar bears in the wild before they become extinct, or the Northern Lights, or just the darkness of a non-polluted night sky is enticing.

Which kind of holiday shall I choose, now my hair is grey and critically endangered? I did the globe-trotting in my twenties, which seems about right. I camped and built sand castles in my thirties, which also seems right. In my forties and fifties I discovered the deep satisfaction that came from going to the same Greek village every year. Now it is time for some experiences, before it’s too late, before I hit the metaphorical iceberg.

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Here We Are Again

I have just got back from my autumn Zen retreat at Crosby Hall, near Liverpool. Friends and acquaintances are under the impression that this is a relaxing experience, that maybe I go there for a week of cleansing food and lettuce water, long saunas and soothing new age music. It is nothing like this.

In some ways it is the hardest week of the year, involving long hours of silent meditation, chanting in Japanese, getting up at 5 am, strictly vegetarian food, silence, and much mental wrestling with an illusory ego.

I am not relaxed when I get home; I am exhausted.

But what I have done is de-stressed. Life has become very simple and stripped down. It takes a couple of hours to realise this. Suddenly the world is full of frantically loud speech, I have to witness the madness of traffic or trains, and then, as the final blow, I hear the news on the radio and see the chaos of moving pictures on the television.

Suddenly, the world of bombs and guns, Brexit and Trump, fireballs and football floods in through screens. I am reminded of that lyric of Prefab Sprout: Once more the sound of crying is number one across the earth.

Nothing has changed, nothing has been learned, it seems, while I have been away, except now it seems more obvious to me why people seem so stressed and unhappy.

Sometimes I think all it would take is for everybody to spend a bit more time in silence.

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Desperately Using the Window

New Departure

I am still writing frantically, taking advantage of this window in my cancer treatment before I get too tired to write.

This is my first book of 2018, called Extreme Thinking. It is my first foray into humour, so I am nervous that my sense of humour might be too obscure. I hope not!

The publisher’s blurb says:

 

Extreme Thinking is a part of the English tradition of light-hearted parodies that includes Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome, The Ascent of Rum Doodle by W E Bowman, and I An Actor by Nicholas Craig.

Welcome aboard for this light-hearted trip around the relatively unknown activity of extreme thinking. Thinking as a sport has been known variously as meditation, mindfulness or Philosophy. Extreme Thinking, however, involves thinking where no thoughts have been before. It is high altitude thought, and not for the faint-hearted. Steve compares it to Himalayan climbing.

He describes the various elements of the sport. Here you will find the madness and wisdom of millennia, and scattered warm-up exercises from Japanese haiku, Zen koan, the Bible, riddles and jokes and television football commentary. If you make it alive to the end, you will have some glimmering of understanding of the words of the extreme thinker, Robert Descartes, who quipped, “I think, therefore everything is”.

 

As usual, it is available from Amazon, price £4.50, 104.

 

 

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Photo Needed

I’m in the middle of writing a humorous book comparing thinking to mountain climbing. The title will be “Extreme Thinking”. Connections will be made between rock climbing, mountaineering, trekking, meditation and philosophy. It is good-natured and tongue-in-cheek, in the genre of “The Ascent of Rum Doodle”.

I’m looking for a photo of the high Himalayas for the cover, and would be really grateful if you could let me use one of yours, if you have one. You will receive full credit in the book.

I know some of my readers are walkers and climbers, so I just thought I’d give it a try. Please forgive the cheek.

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Xmas Gifts

Double Christmas

 

Christmas has come at last, with two fantastic presents.

The first wonderful gift was the return of Ruby from hospital. She is not completely herself yet but getting better all the time.

The second gift is the final publication of The Curious Comedy, my autobiography. This masterpiece is now available on Amazon, price £9.00 or equivalent, ISBN-10: 1543218954, ISBN-13: 978-1543218954

Publisher’s blurb:

: All of us are mediocre men and women, yet, at the same time, we are little wonders of creation, made from the dust of stars and galaxies. Steve Hobson examines his life from the point of view of this paradox, looking at how we construct ourselves from vague and unreliable memories, and how we fight to keep our individual bits of stardust together. The account is by turns both funny and political polemic, with half-digested bits of science, philosophy and history mixed in. All of it is viewed through what are often constructed memories and so-called alternative facts, but the end result is insightful and painfully honest.

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