Thursday, April 30, 2009

In the Kensal Green Cemetary

In the Kensal Green cemetary
I sat down and wept
over the graves both kept and unkept

Fresh earth

Bunches of artificial flowers like bright
Easter eggs drew us in
to read plaques dedicated to loved ones
"gone to sleep"
watched over by statues of the madonna
and little garden gnomes

Song birds

Vines engulf crooked stones,
mausoleums and baby angels
slowly being reclaimed by the earth
obliterating permanence
in an ironic overturning
of why they were there in the first place

Mown grass

Like piano keys the white stones
mark the places of young men
who died a long way from home
believing in something
that had little to do with them

All that life.

- London, April 2009

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Virtues (for the virtue project)

Western Virtues include temporance, prudence, fortitude and justice

Temporance: habitual moderation; can be interpreted as people who take what they need and give the rest away
Prudence: exercise of sound judgement; modern usage has come to mean caution
Fortitude: courage
Justice: fairness

Christian Virtues include faith, hope, charity (love)

Faith: belief in trustworthiness of something or someone
Hope: belief in a positive outcome
Charity (Love): unlimited loving kindness toward all others (not about benevolent giving)

Jewish Tradition

Virtue seems to be all about compassion - love others as a parent loves a child; "that which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow" (Hillel)

Muslim Tradition

The central theme of virtue seems to be about acceptance, mercy, compassion

The longer list includes: prayer, repentance, honesty, loyalty, sincerity, frugality, prudence, moderation, self-restraint, discipline, perseverance, patience, hope, dignity, courage, justice, tolerance, wisdom, good speech, respect, purity, courtesy, kindness, gratitude, generosity and contentment.

Hindu tradition

Altruism (selfless service), moderation, honesty (to self and others), cleanliness (of the body), protection (of the Earth), universality (tolerance and respect for all), peace (of manner), non-violence, reverence (for elders and teachers)

Bhuddist tradition (and here it gets more complicated because there are lots but they seem to come down to four main ones)

Loving kindness, compassion (hope that a person's suffering will diminish), altruistic joy for self and others, equanimity (accepting all sentient beings as equal; learning to accept positives and negatives equally)

Key questions:

Christianity and Hinduism seem devoid of anything specifically about compassion although maybe Christian thinkers would put compassion into charity?

Where does forgiveness fit in? Maybe it is not a virtue at all but something else? If something else, what is it? Who believes in forgiveness? All of them? Or just some of them? And if they believe, who do you forgive?

Tolerance - not mentioned in Christian or Jewish traditions explicitly. Wrapped up in something else or not applicable as a virtue?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Behavioural Change: The Way out of this Mess? (for the virtue project)

A series of interviews on virtue

The project is a response to the current financial crisis, the causes of which continue to be widely explored. Which ever way you look at it, greed and envy feature prominently. There is no clear view regarding how we are going to move out of the recession and overcome the broad range of personal and societal troubles it has brought to light. Fiscal easing means very little to most people - we need to start by changing ourselves.

We know that "acts of virtue" have a powerfully positive impact on us. The time is right to develop and present a practical understanding of virtue: what it is, what it does to us, and how to "do" it. To that end, I will be interviewing well known people who are leaders in their fields of writing, religion (broad spectrum), neuro-science, and psychology to explore what they understand by virtue and the role it plays in our lives, spiritually, physically, and psychologically.

People all over the country, in all walks of life, are frightened by the current financial crisis and they do not know what to do. They are hunkering down, taking fewer risks, and bringing less and less of themselves to their personal and professional lives. This isolation contributes to a downward spiral that will be increasingly difficult to reverse. Many people feel they are not in control of their lives and have no power to improve them. However, what almost everybody can control is their own behaviour.

The reality is that most attempts at change are unsuccessful because people don't know what to do differently "on Monday morning" to realise the benefits of changing. The graphs, charts, and accompanying speeches that communicate the perils of maintaining the status quo, or the benefits of changing it, may provoke an emotional reaction and even a genuine desire for change, but are simply not practical enough to be helpful.

My background is not journalism, but business. I was a partner in a global consulting firm, working mainly in financial services. To that end, I bring a practical understanding of the difficulties of corporate and personal change and a deep appreciation of the conflicts inherent in the modern (corporate) culture. I also happen to believe in the goodness of human nature and its infinite ability to adapt and grow. I genuinely believe the results of this project will provoke debate and inspire individuals to change for the better, and help them to do so.

You can view the names of people who are participating in the interview process at:
Contact list and log of progress (virtue project)

You can view a comparison between the major religious faiths' understanding of virtues:

Virtues (for the virtue project)

You can view emerging findings:

Emerging Findings (very very draft and incomplete)

To read summaries of the interviews please click on your chosen link:

Summary of the interview with Stephen Venner, Bishop of Dover

Summary of the interview with Reverend William Taylor

Summary of the interview with Father Nadim Nassar

Summary of Interview with Canon Precentor Jeremy Davies

Summary of interview with Dan Winder

Summary of Interview with Lucy Beresford

Summary of interview with Martin Vander Weyer

Summary of interview with Peter Manning

Summary of interview with Rob Taylor

Summary of Interview with Imam Asim Hafiz

Summary of interview with Dr Yazeed Said

Summary of interview with Matthew Taylor

Summary of interview with Mark Goodrich

Summary of the interview with Nigel Seed, QC

Summary of Interview with Jonathan Aitken

Summary of interview with Professor Janet Reibstein

Summary of Interview with Ed Kessler

Summary of Interview with Mandeep Kaur

Other interesting links:

Jeremy Davies used our virtue conversation as a basis for one of his sermons in Salisbury Cathedral:

Tokyo subway

Elderly woman
Shopping in translation -
Beautiful flower

- Tokyo, 2009


Blossom makes me smile
It even makes the suburbs
Look enviable.

London, March 2004

At Night

The full moon hangs in a cloudy sky
And jazz pours like thick cream into the night.
Dogs howl a discordant chorus.

I reflect.

A complex lock is of infinitely more interest
To the discerning eye.
And once opened,
In a smooth and slippery turn of the wrist,
Remains complete,
In the hands of its possessor.

- St Cristobal de las Casas, November 2003

In Dubai

The bright blue Arabian sea
Washes a stone white shore.

In the distance
Cranes erect houses
On a palm tree made of sand.

- Dubai, February 2004

At the Bayonne

Smiling down at me,
The great faces confess apologetically
That they know the secrets of the world.

But their tongues are of stone,
And so they cannot tell me.

- Siam Reap, December 2002

In the church

Crosses of flowers and flickering candles
Carpet the floor of the church.

At the feet of the virgin
A lone Indian man kneels, weeping silently,
His sombrero by his side.

His bundles surround him
And his tears, running down ageless cheeks,
Are illuminated by her neon crown.

- Oaxaca, November 2003


My heart against your back
Draws me still.

I would let my head fall back with a sigh.

- London, October 2002


Scrubbing with a brush
A woman washes the walk
Her store is open

- Japan, February 2005


Snowflakes on water
Hundreds of tiny fishes
Coming up for air.

- February 2005


In the far distance
Ink on an overturned brush
Black birds in a tree

- Japan, February 2005

On Love

Hold me like soap.

Grip me gently
As we rub along together.

Grip me too hard
And I shall slip between your fingers,
Lost forever,
At the bottom of the bath.

- London, February 2007

On the Kidderminster Train

She was a tiny, white haired lady weighed down with carrier bags, plain clothing and age. Her feet, clad in sensible, heavy shoes and sturdy brown tights were long and wide and her hands and wrists were thickened by struggle and hand washed laundry. She did not move quickly but she did not move slowly. She moved easily and steadily, looking this way and that for the best place to sit; like a bird.

She sat next to me.

“Is this the train to Kidderminster?


I’ve only got one eye. And I’m over 80. So they don’t let me out much any more.

What with only one eye.

I’ve got a husband at home and he’s 89. Imagine - 89.

He’s got no legs.

One cut off at the knee, one at the groin.


89. Can you imagine?

We’ve been married 62 years.

We love each other.

We live in a bungalow on my daughter’s land. It was our land - the farm and the house. It took two and a half years to build the bungalow. Council took two and a half years - and my husband having no legs and had to be lifted up every step. But we live there now and the doors are especially wide for his electric chair.

Runs on batteries.

Do you know batteries?

My daughter has 6 children. 25, 23, 21, 19, 17 and then she got pregnant again after 14 years. Oh she was well out, didn’t know what to do, cried every day, thought about an abortion. She was over 40. I said I didn’t agree because it is against my religion. So now she has a son - a real little farmer he is.

They love him.

We had a farm in Wales in the hills.

Bad land.

We were very poor and couldn’t let our son farm with us even after he went to agricultural college.

He passed.

There just wasn’t enough land.

Well, my husband’s parents were still alive and we bought a farm in 1956 with the guarantors of a bank and eight years ago it was all paid off! We gave half to our children by a deed of gift.

It’s theirs now.

I was a Londoner and moved to Wales when I got married. I thought I’d have to leave him I was so homesick. So every time I’d get a bout I’d come back up to London, or he’d take me and I’d stay for five or six weeks and then my father would say: “Right, time to go back.” And I’d stay there eight or nine months until the next one. And this went on until the first child.

I looked after 300 chickens. I had to work. The farm was so poor we would not have been able to support ourselves. The money from the chickens was mine.

Then we bought some land here. 17 acres and a farm house.

It’s ours now.

My son has 70 milk cows and he visited his dad in the hospital every day. Imagine! I went every afternoon and the grand children took turns.

It’s because we love him.

When he had to go in the second time he thought his time was up.

“No it’s not.”

That’s what I told him.

And he was well enough to come home for Christmas.

He didn’t want to go back and I said we’d have to hire a private nurse. He cried because he didn’t think we could afford it but my son said: “If the doctor thinks you can stay home then you will stay home.”

He’s over 80 you know.

Is this Kidderminster?

If you can just help me down. I don’t like steps and they don’t do my lungs any good.

Right now give me a kiss.”

- London, 1993


Among the young lovers
and old ladies with umbrellas
there was a holy man.

A pulpy, middle aged woman
responded to the question:
“Is this the train to Preston?”

She had ash blonde hair.

Ash blonde.

The colour of fire that has burned,
of leaves once they have turned,
of people who are dead.

- London, 1993


“An FT please”
I say to the man in the market who sells papers.
I am loaded down with goods, on my way to the car, to get breakfast, to buy coffee.

I think I am being polite.

“Good Morning,” he responds and asks sincerely, “How are you today?”

And suddenly, I am shamed.

- Toronto, March 2009


We hitched a ride
On a boat going North.

The elderly ladies giggled
And tugs pulled barges full of gravel.

An old man sang sentimental songs into the microphone.

- Thailand, December 2005

The intersection

A lady is at the intersection in a bobbly hat and slippers,
Begging under the hot sun.

She stretches out her hand:
Money for food,
Money for my children.

Her brown eyes are listless,
And her face is as wrinkled as an apple.

- Johannesburg, November 1992

The Man

There was an elderly man in a brown suede jacket which covered his hips
and a big woolly hat from under which
showed the smallest, thinnest fringe of fine hair.

It was translucent almost
it was not grey
and it stopped above the fray
of his collar.

His face was patient
in the manner of one who has accepted his age.
It was a kind and gentle face
ruddy with the cold.

He carried a stick
and moved slowly, picking
up flowers in pots and examined them.
He poked at the soil
with his thumb and gazed at the foliage
and the blossoms.

He did not see the passers by
but one of them saw him
and she wondered what he knew.

- London, March 1994

The man who sang

There’s a man who stands and sings by the river.

The colour of a country night with a full grey beard and shiny white teeth,
He pours his heart out to the tide.

At first I thought he was some kind of nutter.

An old boy mumbling to himself in a baggy t shirt
With a banana in his hand.

And then, he opened his mouth.

- London, Summer 2003

The man with the gulls

I see a man alone on the bridge.

Wrapped up against the cold
In a grey wool overcoat and a red chequie scarf,
He has a bag of bread at his feet.

Picking up some bread
He throws it into a sky so bright
I have to squint.

The gulls catch it in mid air
And as I pass him he greets me,
Asking if I would like to join.

- London, January 2004

The other side of the glass

At four in the morning
The shadow people move
On the other side of the glass.

They mop.
And the water on the floor
Shines in the light of a single bulb.

It is a lonely occupation
For the benefit of those
Still sleeping.

- Bangkok, , December 2005

The Pig

The pig in the Chinese graveyard
Is as grey as the old broken stones.

It roots among the rubbish
Too fat to walk through the open gate
Onto the road with taxis and dogs
And skyscrapers that jut out of the ground
Like giant crystals.

- Bangkok, December 2005

The River (very much in draft I think)

It was a warm evening.

The blue lights of the Blue Anchor
were not reflected in the river
because the tide was down.

He talked to Tony
about antique cars and motor racing
she danced with Cyril
to Elvis playing on a radio.

The river rubbish glowed dully in the neon shine.

- London, August 1991

The river ran its course

He was on the yellow sofa flooded with afternoon light.
She faced him
Probing him thoughtfully with her eyes,
Memorising his face gently with the tips of her fingers.

“Reveal something to me”, she did not say.
And he did not.
With a little frown that crinkled the corners of her eyes,
She told him she could not do this anymore.

Sitting in a rocking chair
In the middle of the jungle
While the rain dripped down
And the monkeys chattered
And the river ran its course.

- Palenque, November 2003


I like the feeling
Of not knowing
Where my fingers end
And yours begin.

- Bangkok. May 2004

Under Bangkok

I counted boxcars
On a Bangkok night,
Underneath the elevated highway.

A fruit seller waited patiently
His papayas on melting ice.

The elderly beggar man
Slept on broken concrete,
His face turned to the wall.

- Thailand, October 2006


This morning I was served tamales
By a woman who’d been beaten
Near the street where eight crosses made of marigolds
Stretched out
To protest
Against the impact
Of the ignorant
On the innocent.

- Oaxaca, November 2003

Without Words

I wish you could see through my eyes just this once.


My eyes well up with tears.

You move me the way landscape does:
Without words.

- Boston, January 2004

Swedish Spring

Bits of varnish flake off
as I slide the knife over the rough
wood of last summer's paddle

The smell of varnish and tar
mix with the North wind that comes from far
away where there is still snow

Here where the grass is brown but the buds are small
you plant,
singing to the tiny green shoots to make them grow.

- Stockholm, April 2009

Peter Pan

You come in the door with wind in your eyes
and a fish under your arm
dreaming of the sky.

Dirt under your nails, you dig up something to eat
and cut a flower for the table,
singing to the dishes left over from lunch.

You strut and pose
declaim and proclaim
posit and argue
speak and talk
play and cajole
think and write.

You are fragile and uncertain,
seeking affirmation
and one thousand other things.

It is not your shadow that worries you.

- London, April 2009


In the apple tree of my childhood
You sat across from me
All tangled blonde hair
And bloody knees

I remember wrapping up long grass in leaves and smoking it
To imitate our mothers who were absent until meal times

We had an underground fort
And an igloo
Leeches in the lake and
Salt in the shaker

The child you were
Has become the man you are:
An addict. Cynical and fearful. Alone
With neither apple trees nor friends to sit in them

Douglas. Dougie. Doug.

At what point between the garden and the house did I lose you?

- London, April 2009