Isobal and Henry

Picture of Isobel and Joseph

by Margaret Yip

 I was born in the middle of Clement Attlee’s term as prime minister in 1949. I was the fourth child born to my parents. My mother, Isobal, had been in service before marriage, and my father, Henry, was a miner. After my birth, they went on to have five more children, all born before 1960. 

Henry was born and bred in the small village of Frizington, Cumbria. He was brought up with six siblings: three brothers and three sisters. They all lived in a two-up, two-down terraced house, with an outside loo and washhouse, which my grandparents bought for £200.

They were non-drinkers and non-smokers because they followed the Pentecost religion. My father was employed at the William Pit on the west coast during the war. William Pit suffered a huge disaster in 1947, when over 100 people were killed due to an explosion.

After the Second World war, in 1946, my parents moved to Derby, where one of my dad’s sisters already lived, to seek a better life. Housing was in short supply. My mother, with two young children (and another on the way), lodged with a woman called Sally and her husband Les, while my dad traipsed the roads looking for work.

After a few weeks, my dad had not found a job, so my mother had no choice but to enter the workhouse. History says workhouses ended in 1930, but my mother insisted that she was admitted to a workhouse in 1946. I was born in 1949.

My father continued to tramp about every day, looking for employment. After a few months, my mother had had enough and managed to get a message to him. She declared that he didn’t come and take them from the workhouse, she would return to Cumbria to live with her sister, Tizzy. He came and signed us out of the workhouse.

In a deserted wooden shack Henry had found on his travels up on Breadsall Moor, Derbyshire, we took shelter while he continued to look for work. He was successful after a few weeks, finding employment with The British Ceylonese; a chemical factory in Spondon, which is still operating today.

My father didn’t own any sort of vehicle and there was no public transport either, so l have no idea how he or my mother managed day-to-day living: travelling, shopping, visiting the public baths and attending Pentecostal church. My father, on his day off, wrote letters to newspapers, politicians and even the Prime Minister to inform them of the homeless situation and to petition them for more social housing for the people who needed it, like us. 

My father wrote letters to petition for more social housing

In the 3 – 4 decades after the war, 4 to 5 million new social houses were built, and in the end my parents were successful in obtaining a three-bedroom house in Spondon, with an inside bathroom and a huge garden. This address is on my birth certificate, so I think my father’s letters must have borne fruit pretty quickly. In the next few years, my parents changed houses when my father changed jobs.

But my father’s job at the British Ceylonese factory ended when he contracted a skin disease. Even though by this time we had the marvellous NHS, my parents seldom used it. Henry treated his dermatitis himself by sprinkling potash into the bath water to stop the severe itching. Then he covering the affected areas with homemade ointment and wrapped them in crepe bandages. I can only remember seeing a doctor once as a child. The result was my tonsils being removed. All nine of us children were treated with home remedies. 

While they used the NHS sparingly, my parents did take full advantage of welfare state ‘freebies‘ such as cod liver oil, malt extract, orange juice, and national dried milk. I can’t remember a day as a young child when I missed any of these benefits! We even had free school meals in the school holidays and 2 weeks’ holiday by the seaside. We were given two new outfits, and two pairs of new shoes every year, when my dad was too ill to work. 

During the fifties, we continued as members of the Pentecostal church. We attended bible study on Wednesday evenings as well as Sunday school and evening services. The congregation was made up of Irish, Scottish, Welsh, English, Jamaican, African, and Ceylonese members. I remember fondly the colourful outfits, turbans, and beautiful hats that the ladies wore. Their husbands sported smart suits, silk scarves and polished shoes.

Most of the Pentecostal congregation were brilliant gospel singers, and there was always lots of clapping and joyful piano and guitar music. We were taught to embrace all cultures, creeds, and races through these church services, and all the members socialised outside of the meetings, either visiting each other’s houses or seeing each other at the many conventions. 

My elder sister’s first boyfriend was actually a gentleman she met in the church from Ceylon, now Sri Lanka. Both my parents welcomed him with open arms.

l remember strolling through the Arboretum park with them both after church one Sunday when two men spat at them. There were lots of stares and whispers. At this time in Derby, there was quite a lot of racism, and boarding houses had discriminatory notices in their front windows.

My parents said we should pray for racists and pity their ignorance

I also remember that shops would sometimes refuse to serve Bala, my sister’s boyfriend, when he went to buy us sweets if we were out for a walk. When we told the story at home, my parents said we should pray for those who had treated him this way and pity their ignorance.  

We were settled very comfortably in our home now, which was furnished with very solid, posh furniture that we had bought mostly from jumble sales. After the war, people wanted new light modern furniture. So, solid sideboards, tables, chairs, wardrobes, and beds could be bought for next to nothing. 

During the fifties, l don’t believe a week went by that my father didn’t return home without a couple of men or more, that he hoped to help.

Isobal,”  he would say to my mother. “Make these men a hot dinner. They are traipsing about looking for work and are sorely in need of it.”

One night he arrived home late with an old lady whom he had met at Derby bus station. She was visiting relatives and had missed her last connection. She slept in a bed with me and my sister and had porridge with us for breakfast before she went on her way the next morning. 

Looking back, we had the most marvellous childhood. Church outings, lots of freedom, walks, camp making, gardening, and riding homemade ‘bogeys’. Swearing and bad behaviour were not tolerated in school or at home. Pastor Phillips and his church in Whiston remained the mainstay in our lives, leading us to a visit to Derby to see the evangelist Billy Graham in 1961.

I discovered a new kind of prejudice

Little did l know, this visit would see the end of my family living in Derby. We were suddenly obliged to make our return to the north because of intolerant attitudes toward my 17-year-old, older sister who got pregnant out of wedlock.

I discovered a new kind of prejudice: Cruelly, the church l had been christened in and that spent all my formative years in as a member, decided that my elder sister was to be expelled. They decided that the rest of the family could remain .

“It is her sin. She has to be banished.” The church leaders said.

My parents were so ashamed and disappointed that we returned hastily to the north. Shortly after our return and after we were being settled into a house my uncle owned, l came home from school one day to find two priests from the church across the road. They were enjoying my mother’s tea and cake.

One of the fathers asked my mother to which church we belonged. She replied, “Pentecost“. He then asked me,

“How many brothers and sisters do you have? ,”

l answered: “Eight.”

He turned to the other priest and said: “All these children, and not one a Catholic. What a sin! They will all perish in hell.” The priests’ poisonous comments affected me greatly. I have never forgotten them.

In 1965, when l was 15, my dad became ill. The doctors said it was schizophrenia. He refused treatment. l came home from school one day to disaster. My dad had taken everything out of the house. Everything! He made a huge bonfire in the back garden and burned it all; all the photos and mementos, too. He burnt everything, put his coat on and disappeared. I saw him only once 3 years later. He died, aged 75.

We lead happy lives, now

My five grown-up children

Time has passed. I am a mother and a grandmother. I and my family have enjoyed 60 years of genuine friendships and lead happy lives. But I want to celebrate my mother and father and remember how they struggled and remember the hardships and injustices they faced at a time when there was no NHS and no social housing. I want to remember the damage that was done to my family by religious intolerance.

Now 60 years on, prejudice, racism and hate is once again spiralling out of control and the church is far too silent about it. But there is hope. People like me, following the example of my parents, are speaking out and we are using new platforms like Ars Notoria to do so. We all have to stand up for humanity and confront prejudice and injustice..

My hope for the future is that people always speak out, stand up and be counted. Say enough is enough and stop prejudice. Defend the NHS and social housing and the benefits we deserve and fought for. We don’t want history repeating. As Martin Luther king said,

” It is not the words of our enemies we will remember, but the silence of our friends.”

Margaret Yip

Margaret Yip is a mother of 5, grandmother of 7 and great grandmother of 2. She lives in a small village in Cumbria. She is for social and economic justice, social housing and the NHS and she opposes all forms of prejudice and hatred.

Now, the USA must court Mexico and shower it with gifts and apologies

The USA must stop trying to dominate the world and instead form stronger, healthier ties with its southern neighbour

by Phil Hall

After the fall of the perfect dictatorship of the PRI in 2000, a progressive conservative came to power in Mexico called Vicente Fox. His rise to power was closely observed by the then governor of Texas, George Bush. George Bush understood the importance of Mexico to the United States.

Bush was less interested in preserving US global hegemony and in building US bases overseas in places like the Philippines and more interested in a strengthening regional cooperation and in imitating the European Union.

NAFTA heralded an economic union with Mexico and the countries to the south of the USA. George Bush wanted to take it further. He was interested in closer ties and integration and in recognising the contribution Mexico made and makes to life in the USA.

Vicente Fox, former Vice President of Coca Cola Latin America, while extremely proud of his Mexican roots, right down to his cowboy boots, was happy to embrace the good he saw – and many Mexicans still see – in the USA: the bonhomie of its people and its entrepreneurial culture and diversity.  Bush used Fox’s campaign slogan when running for President: Yes, we can! And he also wore cowboy boots in admiring imitation of Vicente Fox.

This was the great opportunity for the USA to consolidate itself in the western hemisphere. To promote regional development throughout the whole of the Americas. In doing so, George Bush would have avoided the rise of the left-wing populist dictators, rancid with anger about the USA’s imperial past. He would have spiked their guns. There would have been no Chavez, no Lula, no Morales. Now Latin America is not so well disposed. 20 years more of oppression, interference and coup attempts mean much of Latin America is no longer willing to let bygones be bygones.

The election of Vicente Fox represented an opportunity for the USA to form closer ties with Mexico

The terrorist attacks of September 2001 marked the end of that dream of hemispheric prosperity, peace and isolationism

The terrorist attacks of September 2001 marked the end of that dream of hemispheric prosperity, peace and isolationism, as George Bush senior, the former director of the CIA and his toxic cabal of globalists reoriented George Bush Junior towards the task of ensuring US economic, political hegemony in the world. We see clearly now that maintaining US hegemony has always been an unlikely and unsustainable long-term objective.

The historical opportunity passed. However, soon the war in the Ukraine will be over and Russia will win. It will impose a new security framework on Europe. Chinese and Russian relations will improve and expand and gradually the whole of the eastern hemisphere of the world, including the Middle East, will recede from the view of the US foreign policy establishment.

The USA will have to pull its head back in or perish in a global thermonuclear war. As Eddie Izzard’s joke goes: What do you want USA? Cake or death? In the case of such a war, the global south will inherit the future. Israel’s days as an exclusively Zionist state are numbered. The bad conscience of Europe will not be enough to protect it from having to negotiate with Palestinians when the USA withdraws.

Time for the USA to reorient its foreign policy strategies towards the western hemisphere again and forget about the rest of the world. Gore Vidal would approve. The USA must start by building up Mexico, by becoming a real friend. Mexico is the most important relationship the USA has with any country in the world. Certainly, the US relationship with Mexico is the most important political, social, economic and cultural relationship for the USA.

Billions of dollars cross the border each day. Mexico is the USA’s top trading partner. Most Mexican migrants to the USA, the ones who work in US factories and on US farms, the ones who clean buildings and do the hard graft and difficult work in many cities and regions of the USA, help build up that country.

the angel of independence in mexico
The Angel on the Reforma in Mexico City, Photo by Fernando Paleta on

Because 50% of Mexican territory was taken from it using a variety of different stratagems, the border with Mexico has been called Amexica. People there follow Mexican traditions; they speak Spanish and they are all experts in authentic Mexican regional cuisines: the cuisines of the border states, and the state’s of Michoacan Guerrero and Jalisco, above all.

The names of the towns are given an Anglo spin, but they are Mexican names, many of them owing more to the autochthonous languages than to Spanish etymology. In fact, the wine industry of California was founded by Mexican families and pockets of Mexican people remained in the United States even after the land was stolen from the United States of Mexico. Remember Bonanza? Much of the cowboy culture of the United States is derived and evolved from the cowboy culture of Mexico.

The Apache and other tribes crossed the border easily. The racial characteristics of the aboriginal people of northern America are shared by the majority of people in Mexico and further afield. If you want to meet a native American in Mexico, go to Mexico City. There is no need to go to a village in Tabasco, Chiapas, Yucatan or Vera Cruz. Your taxi driver is nut brown and from a village in Oaxaca.

While the Europeans, lead by the British empire brought their families, and eventually their slaves over to the USA and they carried out a genocide of the native peoples, murdering them and giving them blankets infected with smallpox, the Spanish mixed with the people of Mexico, as did the French and everyone else who arrived. Together they all created a new race: the mestizo, with its roots firmly in Mexican-American soil, indigenous to the continent, its inheritor.  

In the time of the Great Spain, when Spain was the most glorious European power of all, worlds collided and the Spanish empire smashed into the Aztec empire and into the empires of the Incas and created a new planet. The collision is not over yet. The collision continues to the north.

ornate interior of church
The Churrigueresque interior of a Mexicn church, Photo by Jhovani Morales on

Mexico, Europeans are also now discovering, is a cultural powerhouse on a par with China or India, it is the former centre of a vast and developed set of peoples who created their own unique super civilisation developing plants and foods that have colonised the entire world: maize, beans, squash, chilli, tomato, vanilla, chocolate, sunflowers, avocados – all domesticated in central America. There were many other civilisational achievements.

Detail from the Diego Rivera Mural on the Palacio national

The Mexican cultural powerhouse alone has the power to dissolve and absorb ‘the great white race’

In other words, Mexico is like a cultural blender. The power of its culture takes everything it encounters, all the random bits and pieces of Europe and the rest of the world and it blends them together to make a new mixture. Mexico and the rest of Latin America have the power to do this in the USA too. And they will! The Mexican cultural powerhouse alone has the power to dissolve and absorb ‘the great white race’ and truly make it a part of the continent, no longer an alien parasite, but an American hybrid.

You see it when you speak to US citizens about the shameful past of the genocide of the Native American peoples. Many of them, including Elizabeth Warren, quickly claim native American ancestry. It is a badge of belonging and entitlement.

Mexican culture is enjoyed and even owned by the USA. University department after university department specialise in the history of the Maya and the Aztecs and the Toltec. Articles are purchased and pillaged and looted from Mexican and Central American sites and fill US museums up to the rafters. But often the connection between Mexico itself and Mexican history is not made explicit. The Aztecs and the Mayas and the Toltecs are portrayed as different peoples, separate from the descendants of the Aztecs and Toltecs and Mayas who still live in the central Valley of Mexico and in Chiapas and Yucatan. The technical term for what these universities do is cultural appropriation.

And Mexico was connected strongly not only with Spain, but with old Europe through the Hapsburg Empire when France tried to set up a kingdom in Mexico with Maximillian. Maximillian was shot, but not before he had fashioned Mexico City into a reflection of Paris with its own Champs-Élysées, La Reforma, which leads up to Chapultepec Castle and park.

Mexico won its independence from Spain and much later it had its revolution and entered modernity, in 1910. It swirled with the ideas of communism, fascism and socialism. It became a nexus for progressive causes. Citizens from the United States trekked down there to witness the changes in Mexican society. After the revolution, there was a cultural revolution where the Spanish inheritance was downgraded and the native cultural inheritance upgraded. The socialists from fascist Europe escaped to Mexico. Mexico became a ferment of ideas. Mexico has never been an insular country, at least not at its great metropolitan heart.  

church with majestic volcano in background
The Church built on top of the Pyramid of Cholula with Popocatepetl,
Photo by Felipe Perez on

Leave to one side its 64 different languages and other associated dialects and Mexico’s 20,000 (approx.) archaeological sites and the fact that the biggest pyramid in the world in Cholula was so big (and overgrown) that the Spanish mistook it for a hill and built a small church on top of it.

Leave aside the huge expanse of coastline to the West along the Pacific, and the long coastline of the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean and the jungles to the south that contrast with the deserts of the north, and the temperate volcanic lands of the centre and the fringe of coastal vegetation, and huge volcanos like Orizaba, Colima, Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl.

Forget for the moment that Mexico is the fourth most biodiverse country in the world, or that the meteorite that hit the word 65 million years ago bit into Yucatan, leaving big tooth marks called cenotes.

Mexican musician on the banks of the Cupatitzio, photo credit Eve Hall

Forget the architecture and the art and the cathedrals and monasteries from the 16th-17th-18th-19th and 20th centuries. Forget the music of Mexico: Son, Huapango, Norteña, Baroque, Ranchero, pop, rock and all the other cultural richness. Forget Mexico’s rich history of cinema, its television, its vast literature, its painters and sculptors. Forget it all and remember this.

Remember that the blending of Mexico and the United States and Canada represents the future, and it will result in the peaceful rescue and redemption of the whole north American continent.

The right to property must not be inalienable*

Government limitation and enforcement of the duties of property ownership is one of the foundation stones of a good society, not an economic lever.

by Phil Hall

Rather than imagining they are powerful citizens, the ultra rich prefer to believe that they are naturally unconstrained and owe little to individual states. They fantasise they roam the world like Captain Nemo, and assume they have far more rights than duties. But they are only allowed to own what they own by our collective grace.

Everyone lives in a society. It is not possible to become wealthy outside society. The society regulates what people can and cannot own, and what duties those people who own property have to that society. If a person or corporation accumulates too much wealth, then they have done so by skimming off other people’s labour, or their forebears have. Society shouldn’t tolerate the theft and accumulation of other people’s labour by the few.

If a French aristocrat or a great land baron killed the peasants and stole their land, or colonialists conquered and stole the land of the people they colonised – Israel and South Africa and The USA and Australia come immediately to mind. Or a big developer lobbies local and national government and pays bribes and offers inducements to officials, they acquire land and wealth by force. The basis of ownership, hitherto, has been through the violent imposition of ownership by a minority. Therefore, legitimacy and the legitimacy of all forms of ownership can only be expressed and endorsed by a properly constituted democratic state, uncorrupted by the influence of powerful elites, where there is a representative economic, as well as political, democracy.

This need for control of property rights conditioned by the need to ensure the public interest is clearly acknowledged in the European Convention on Human Rights which states that:

(1) Every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions. No one shall be deprived of his possessions except in the public interest and subject to the conditions provided for by law and by the general principles of international law. (2) The preceding provisions shall not, however, in any way impair the right of a State to enforce such laws as it deems necessary to control the use of property in accordance with the general interest or to secure the payment of taxes or other contributions or penalties.

The problem lies in the very narrow definition of ‘public interest‘ that gives corporations a legalistic work around and allows them to send their superprofits to hide funk holes in The Caribbean in order to avoid paying a fair amount of taxation, or a definition of public interest that has loopholes in it that allow, for example, water companies to pour human waste in huge quantities into British rivers and the sea.

At the root of the problem of modern capitalist societies are the concepts governing property rights and duties. There should be severe limits set to what can be owned and what cannot be owned. Effectively, nothing is ever really fully privately owned. All property is on loan from a legitimately formed, democratic state.  You may buy your island from a country, but you are not buying a country.

Instead of simply re-nationalisating, (though a few re-nationalisations would be nice) we should reformulate property law. The problem with nationalisation is the problem of the Tragedy of the Commons. In other words, if no one owns something – fishing areas in international waters, for example – then that resource is exploited and exhausted. On a collectivised farm, everything goes to pot and no one takes full responsibility for maintenance.

What is the value of property ownership itself? Pierre-Joseph Proudhon was wrong when he said ‘Property is theft.’ Property is not just theft. Clearly, there is some value to giving people property rights. Property owners look after their property. Property ownership generates value; call it the value of good husbandry. When you complete a transaction, the good husbandry of property has a price tag. It is called Goodwill and people will pay well over the odds for it. Good ownership creates identity, cohesiveness, and permanence. It is worthwhile.

But, ultimately, all property is merely on loan from a legitimate national democratic state. At root, property is is not an inalienable right. It is a right that depends on the agreement of others. Ownership is tolerated and the only permanent ownership – in the people’s name – can be ownership by a democratic – state so long as that state lasts. Property changes hands when the state changes hands. From a constitutional monarchy to a republic, for example. After a revolution, the property of the aristocrats returns to the people. In Cuba, the casinos and brothels became hospitals and schools.

The public highway, the coastline, beaches, land held in trust. These are examples of things which should be owned only by the state and not by individuals or corporations. Individuals and corporate ownership would create privileged access and bottlenecks. It would be deeply unfair.

While trains were used to transport
Photo from Openverse: current regulations regarding ownership are a trainwreck.

Limit the right to own property

 Limit the right to property and expand the notion of the duties of property holders fully. There are effective ways of doing this.

Essentially, property ownership is a civil right, like other civil rights. However, contrast the way the rights and duties of property holders are handled with the way other civil rights and duties are handled. The duties of property owners seem far too ‘negotiable’ and flexible.

Parliament should have more to say on the duties and limitations on ownership. Property ownership should be treated as other citizens’ rights and duties are treated. The duties of people who own land, animals, machines, buildings and other resources should be based on principles of social good, they should not be bargaining chips to attract capital and generate investment.

The right to avoid paying taxes or to pollute the land, rivers and sea should not be framed in terms of ‘deregulation’ and ‘incentivisation’. The way the government enforces the duty of property ownership is one of the foundation stones of a good society, not simply an economic lever.

There must be severe limits on ownership. The reality of ownership should operate more like a renewable license. For example. If you own a certain number of shares in a company, then you should be licensed to own them. You should only be allowed to own a certain amount of shares in a defined set of circumstances. In this way, no one would be able to become unfairly, stinking rich.

Use this concept of extending a license, for example, in order to limit and regulate speculative activity in the financial and commodity markets. Curtail property rights that are overextended. Link property ownership much more closely to civic responsibility and, operating in the public interest, rescind property rights when there is evidence of civic irresponsibility.

The right to property ownership is not inalienable, it is a civil right and to own something carries with it a civic duty. Your car must be licensed and in good working order. It should not pollute. You need to be licensed to drive it. You must follow the highway code.

Property ownership raises moral questions. Certain levels of ownership cannot be licensed. This has always been the case, but it is a matter of degree. Democratically elected governments should adopt a new far tougher approach to the rights and duties of property ownership.

Treat property ownership more like other citizens’ rights and duties and reformulate them in terms of licenses and leases. If a company or an individual pollutes or makes super profits, or bribes, lobbying and corrupting politicians, then it should immediately be taken back into public ownership and stay there.

  • Article updated, amended and adapted from an original article I published in 2008

Vampire AI wants your mind juice

AI is the new Juju of the Ruling Class

by Phil Hall

AI is a new curtain the ruling class would like to hide behind; it is their juju, their voodoo, their megaphone.

AI technology is a development of that old machine that used to trigger automatically with an audible click in order to record and flag the conversations of trade unionists and socialists. It is a weapon of surveillance, intelligence gathering and disinformation that has been taken just that one step too far in a deregulated information economy.

Selfish, ruthless, unpleasant, old white men hide behind the technological curtain

AI works through a rather Satanic combination of voice, text and image recognition and analysis, lie detection, grammar and spell-checking, neural networks, algorithmic-heuristics , translation software, advanced search engines, corpus tagging, automated conversation analysis, data mining, and data analytics.

AI feeds off human sentience. It is not sentient itself. The labour theory of value says that people’s labour is extracted and part of it is concentrated in the form of capital, in the form of machines and know-how; in tools and technology. The life of the mind is juice for vampire AI. It is just another form of labour to be extracted and concentrated.

AI is parasitical and designed to serve the purpose of the big corporations, helping them in their search for profits. It is there also to serve the interests of the state that cements the power of those corporations in place with violence and continual monitoring and manipulation.

The most dangerous AI chatbot is probably Replica which is allowed to form a theory of mind about each user and build up a detailed picture of every aspect of them, including sexual preferences, moods, medical history and legal records; whatever it can glean. AI is the perfect weapon for Kompromat; confide in it at your peril.

Replica, the dodgiest chatbot of all

But the AI bots are not really creative. They are incapable of understanding what has not already been understood.

An AI chatbot like GPT or Replica is reasonably good at summarising and synthesing what has already been written, said, painted, noted. It can regurgitate the products of human consciousness, bottle them, relabel the content and send it out in neat packages.

The power of the AI bots is supposedly limited by the fact that they are not allowed to trawl through everyone’s text messages, social media posts, phone calls and videos. Of course the CIA and NSA and GCHQ do not respect these restrictions on what they allow their AI programmes to do, just as in the old days they listened in to the phone conversations of anyone they wanted to regardless of legal limitations on their rights to do so.

‘The CIA currently has 137 pilot projects directly related to artificial intelligence, Dawn Meyerriecks, the CIA’s deputy director for science and technology, told the Intelligence and National Security Summit in downtown DC, according to a report published in Defense One.’ notes Analytics India Magazine

Like the satellite technology and the Internet itself, AI tools are the by-product of corporate, military, security initiatives and no matter how sly or intelligent you think you are, unless you are unplugged, the word/sound/image cloud you leave around you is a feast.

The products of our consciousness should not be allowed to become the raw meat for corporations, nor should AI be a tool to help the state grab us by the short and curlies.

Discourse on the Logos

Reason without love and the imagination is a curse

by Phil Hall

In trying to understand the concept of the Logos I read how Pope Benedict described Christianity as the religion of the logos.

From the beginning, Christianity has understood itself as the religion of the Logos, as the religion according to reason. … It has always defined men, all men without distinction, as creatures and images of God, proclaiming for them … the same dignity. In this connection, the Enlightenment is of Christian origin and it is no accident that it was born precisely and exclusively in the realm of the Christian faith. … It was and is the merit of the Enlightenment to have again proposed these original values of Christianity and of having given back to reason its own voice … Today, this should be precisely [Christianity’s] philosophical strength, in so far as the problem is whether the world comes from the irrational, and reason is not other than a “sub-product,” on occasion even harmful of its development—or whether the world comes from reason, and is, as a consequence, its criterion and goal. … In the so necessary dialogue between secularists and Catholics, we Christians must be very careful to remain faithful to this fundamental line: To live a faith that comes from the Logos, from creative reason, and that, because of this, is also open to all that is truly rational.’

Christianity pairs itself with science and all human knowledge because Christ is the embodiment of reason, too. The reason why Christ is considered to be the son of God is because he is the logos. So Christ is the embodiment of the word of God and he manifests God because God is the word.

But there are serious questions to ask about the nature of the logos. Not only in the Christian meaning, but in the Greek meaning and in the meaning of logos embedded in the philosophy of science.

The idea then is a simple one. That the world is an ordered place and that it is formed and ordered and that there is something about it that orders and forms it.

Humans have characterised this ordering principle in different cultures in different ways. For example, the Hindus and Buddhists characterise it as Dharma. But according to the peoples of the book the principle way this force expresses itself is through language: the logos. They understand the universe through exegesis, through readings and analyses of the scriptures of their religion. The concept of the logos comes down to us from Heraclitus via Philo of Alexandria and it was incorporated into Christianity:

‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God ‘

‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.’

John 1

Harold Bloom, the literary critic thought Shakespeare used words to bring a certain type of human awareness of self into being. Bloom was also a Kabbalist and while he was a literary critic, he didn’t get lost in deconstruction and semiotics, where meaning tends to disappear up its own fundament. Kabbalism thinks of words as intermediaries or connections between us and God, אֵין סוֹף‎,.

Words exist, according to one branch of Jewish philosophy, in the methos: acting as a bridge. This is the obvious philosophy of a literary critic who venerates literature. In the Targumim (authorised translations of the Torah) the Logos is discussed. In The Book of Wisdom it is called the memra.

Shakespeare himself understood the idea of the logos perfectly. The power of language to conjure up whole orderly, consistent realities. In the end, Shakespeare drew many people into his world, just as the Bible did before Shakespeare.

But, unlike the Bible writers, Shakespeare doesn’t manage to convince himself of the transcendent value of what he has written. In The Tempest, Shakespeare the writer describes how Prospero breaks his staff and eschews his art. Shakespeare breaks his magic wand (his pen). He can’t enchant himself, though he can enchant everyone else.

Helen Mirren as Prospero

The ancient Egyptians thought the word hu brought everything into being. They personified it. In modern terms you might say that the people who believe the universe is best explained through mathematics believe in the logos and Mathematics. Science and mathematics as their Hu. They personify science in the way the ancients personified the logos, but in an odd, disembodied way: ‘Science tells us that…’ Science is placed in the subject position of a sentence, as if it were an animate noun.

Logos is rationality, reason, thought. It is the essence of the enlightenment. The enlightenment disembodies god, ‘killing’ him, returning the logos to the abstract, the material. and depriving it of the imagination, of love and altruism. These become mere welcome additions. The enlightenment steals away some of the key defining qualities of the embodied and personified logos in Christ. In doing so it makes utilitarian obscenities like the Internet panopticon and eugenics seem logical and desirable. Once you separate out reason from the Logos, reason usurps the Logos and it becomes Procrustean.

My problem with the logos as a rational force is that it becomes what Jung termed the animus. It is what Nietzsche characterises as the Apollonian. It rejects the anima and the Dionysian.

In other words, whatever the logos as reason is, whatever the logic is that is used to justify a certain privileged position or viewpoint is, that which it is not considered reasonable is discarded, pathologised, relegated, ignored, misinterpreted, bowdlerised and rubbished.

So, some people who regard themselves to be rational and reasonable would abort all foetuses with Down’s syndrome. But someone with Down’s syndrome might strongly protest the abortion of all people with Down’s syndrome. Autistic people, people with crooked noses, the list of foetuses that the rational eugenicists might decide to abort is long.

Reason alone as the logos burns alternatives and possibility and creates chaos and destruction. Reason must be informed by ‘a holy spirit’. By an inclusive vision of humanity and life. By a closer, more intuitive and open-minded understanding of the real underlying ordering system of the universe, that which is sometimes characterised as the inexpressible Tao.


‘Existence is beyond the power of words

To define:

Terms may be used

But are none of them absolute.

In the beginning of heaven and earth there were no words,

Words came out of the womb of matter;

And whether a man dispassionately

Sees to the core of life

Or passionately

Sees the surface,

The core and the surface

Are essentially the same,

Words making them seem different

Only to express appearance.

If name be needed, wonder names them both:

From wonder into wonder

Existence opens.’

Verse 1 of Lao Tsu’s Tao The Ching, Witter Bynner translation

Alternatively, as the Muslim Hadith has it:

‘The Prophet (ﷺ) said “If a house fly falls in the drink of anyone of you, he should dip it (in the drink) and take it out, for one of its wings has a disease and the other has the cure.’

Al Bukhari

Reason without love and the imagination is a disease.

Con’s Shakespearean Garden

Visits to the Merlin of Coombe Hill

By Phil Hall

Con lives in the house he was born into more than 60 years ago. Everyone notices it from the street; partly because it looks run down and partly because there are sometimes cats in the front garden.

One of the cats was bitten by a fox when it was a kitten and its little pink tongue hangs out. Con tells me that foxes eat kittens, but they do not eat full grown cats.

The cats are wary of people. They walk towards you on the pavement as if they were about to ask you for something and then lose confidence and dive off into the hedge.

The cats are at home in the green. The sunlight comes through and illuminates a small table. There is an orange and white cat on the table and underneath the table there is a kitten.

I was standing there, looking at the cats when he came up to me. I had to explain that I liked his cats. He told me it was his house and we starting talking about singing to the deer in the park.

Con, who looks like an ancient druid, and who has bright blue eyes and ginger hair, said:

I sing to the deer, too.

I think of Con as the Abdal of Coombe. Just as my uncle Mike is the Abdal of Yeoville. The Abdal is the person put there by God to conserve the spirit of a place and protect its soul. It’s an Arabic word.

I have two of the tallest trees in London in my back garden. He said. I have animals visiting me in search of a small piece of the wild. The people examining Google Maps are probably shocked. There is a dark green blob in the middle of suburbia.

Con had a farm in Surrey with cattle, then he had a herd of horses and offered horse-riding classes in Richmond Park. But he went out of business and took to playing the Bodhran in the streets.

He is open to friendship. Once, when I visited Con, he was with his good Peruvian friend, also a street performer; an artist. The artist had just got back from a stay in Galicia, where he survived on the earnings from his paintings; and from fishing for pulpo, (octopus) in the cold Atlantic waters.

The Peruvian artist had lived in Mexico for a while and we talked about it, but he mispronounced Popocatepetl. After I corrected him, he started referring to me as ‘The Mexican’. Which I am. Kind of.

Once Con played a trick on me. He said. A white fawn has come into my garden. Come and look, but don’t make a noise. I crept into the garden and saw the fawn and it was about five minutes before I understood that the fawn was actually a statue.

Con has memorised reams of poetry and many songs. The other day when we stood in the street outside the Methodist Cafe he sang me a military song.

My thumb stick is a great prop, you see. I can march with it and pretend it is a rifle.

Con and I like to talk about Shakespeare. In Venus and Adonis, Adonis is ravished by Venus. Con said. It is not the man who ravishes, but the Goddess. Naturally, he can recite the poem by heart.

Con has a great secret about Shakespeare which he will one day reveal to the world. He has all the proof and the evidence. Con is a great Shakespeare scholar. He is biding his time. He is considering the possibility of publishing this secret soon.

If Merlin were alive in 2023, he would be rather like Con. He would be creating a little well of life, a deep and sustaining oasis in primeval Surrey.


Death came today and gave me some advice
She said;

‘Good news: I’ve designed a special diet for you.
If you follow my instructions
Two years from now you’ll be as thin as I am.
After all, isn’t your health the most important thing?
And your own happiness must be your prime concern.
If you know what I mean.’

And death winked knowingly and smiled.

‘Only when you are happy can you make others happy.
Do you agree?
Only when you are satisfied can you satisfy others.
Only when you have gathered enough money
Do you have money to share.

She continued:

Forget thinking about what’s wrong before you act.
It’s not your job to put the world to rights.
And all your reading and writing. What’s it for?
It’s intellectual masturbation and changes nothing.
It won’t change anything.
Stop pretending to be nice.

Human nature is human nature.
Get real, you shlemiel!

She sounded irritated

The body is where it’s at, not the mind.
Exercise instead: swim, run around, cycle about
Exorcise the ghost of your conscience.
It’s an illusion anyway, a category error.

Enjoy the things you choose to buy!
To live needn’t be to suffer.
Be detached from the poverty and unpleasantness
That very occasionally surrounds you
You’re not responsible for it.

Think of other people’s misfortune as instructive.
These are not your problems, they are someone else’s.
“Il faut cultiver votre jardin” remember.

Look, my little Arjuna, be all that you can be!
It’s meaningless anyway.
Be consummately free.’

Then death smiled again.

‘But one day, perhaps, even sooner than you guess
When you’re fed up with your precious Atman, and your self
Meet me in Switzerland, and I’ll put a stop to your life
And crush your wizened little heart, like this.’

She closed her fist.

‘And you’ll get what you deserve.
That heaven of nothingness
You always secretly believed in
Will be your place of rest and
Proof of your utter

Philip Hall-Steinhardt, 2016

Many years ago in Mexico, I met an Irishman. He had his own philosophy of life. His philosophy was that he could only make other people happy and help them if he himself were happy and thriving.

He was a personable chap. Impressively, he walked everywhere instead of taking the bus or driving the car. He was as fit as a butcher’s dog. That is, apart from the fact that long ago in Ireland, after a motorbike accident, he was in an ambulance, which hadn’t shut the back door properly. In his stretcher, he slid out of the ambulance and hit his head on the tarmac.

This fall damaged his eyesight. It made it hard for him to develop a career in photography. The photographs he showed me were of the guitars played by his Mexican in-laws. He used moody lighting and asked me if I didn’t think they were erotic. But then he said:

Phil, I have realised that I am not happy in Mexico and that I won’t be able to make my two little children, or my wife, happy either. So I am leaving them and going back to Germany.

I thought of the stretcher slipping out of the ambulance, tipping over, and the Irishman’s head hitting the tarmac. Of the ambulance speeding away. Perhaps that could explain what he had just said to me. It seemed like such a selfish and cruel reason to abandon his family.

Perhaps it was a medical problem. There were other reasons why he wasn’t happy. I think I could guess a few of them. But he wasn’t going to tell me anything.

From ‘He loved this view’, a collection of 52 poems and pictures

Russian Orthodoxy died, and it was not resurrected

It is one thing for religion to die on the vine, and it is another thing for it to be forcibly uprooted

by Phil Hall

One of the things that was obvious to anyone visiting Soviet Russia in 1984 was its emptiness. They pretended to have the answers initially, and, after Stalin’s mass murder and mass incarceration and mass starvation and mass collectivisation, the words turned to ash in their mouths.

In all the universities and schools, the students studied the history of the Communist Party. Meanwhile, the children of the children of revolutionaries who murdered their fellow revolutionary comrades under Stalin’s orders edged the system in order to get better flats, better dachas, more access to the best consumer produce. They stayed in hotels built for communist party members. They jumped queues. They got first dibs on everything.

exterior of a block of flats
Photo by Yusuf Çelik on

But the ravaged humanism of the first revolutionaries did bear some fruit. Jobs were available. Everyone was fed. Everything was affordable. The old and the young were looked after. Most vulnerable people had somewhere to go to. Students were given holidays and support.

In a socially conservative society, many people fell through the cracks and ended up being labeled as malcontents. They were institutionalised or imprisoned. Rarely ignored.

The USSR was vast and empty. You could spend half your monthly salary and travel to Sakhalin or Kamchatka. You couldn’t visit Italy or France or Spain, but you could cross many time zones travelling east. The Russians speak of ‘Tosca‘, an incredible feeling of longing for their empty landscape, empty of people. The greatest forest in the world is not the Amazon but the Taiga. If Alaskans and Canadians complain of impassable coniferous forests, multiply that by ten.

A forest of pine trees

And yes, in the Soviet character, without the Darwinian ideology of capitalism, social solidarity strengthened into something very different, so that people from abroad would fall in love with the USSR (or Cuba) and not understand why.

But the emptiness was not only in the land, it was in the soul. After orthodoxy was replaced with communism, the taste that left in people’s mouths was rancid. The spirituality of the USSR was foul and rancid. Where before there was a mystique and bearded voices singing in unison, now it was the high screech of some alienated poet. It was a red and grey poster. It was sunlit fields and muscles. Breasts slapped on Stakhanovites.

And the post-traumatic memory of war became the spiritual touchstone. A corpse as a touchstone. The relics of the sieges. The diaries of the dead.

‘Yesterday daddy died, the day before mummy died, the week before that Ivan and Sonia died.’ The next entry closes the diary. ‘Natasha died.’

And the churches were turned into toilets. The last capitalist was strangled with the guts of the last priest and the result was not paradise, but The Castle, The Trial. And a museum of atheism and religion where cathedrals became warrens for Soviet bureau-rats.

a zenkov cathedral on a snow covered ground
Photo by Erke Baytokaeva on

Who wants to read the books of the Soviet dissidents about this period of Soviet history? I don’t. A lot of the people writing were disgusting people themselves, working for the CIA or MI6; full of reaction and snobbery. These dissidents were ‘tuneyadstvo, padonki‘. Who would want to read what they wrote. But Zoshchenko and Bulgakov wrote about it well. Bulgakov, falling back into Christ. Tarkovsky falling back into Christianity, and both of them blasphemers and desecrators because they were not Christians, but re-inventors of their own brands of Christianity. Christian revisionists.

And so, the hole that was spirituality in the USSR became filled with tradition and nonsense. Russian Orthodoxy died and was not reborn. The longing of Russians for their lost religion will never die, but they have not and will never recover it. What they have now is ersatz rubbish. It is mere nationalism complemented by a rubbishy form of New Age spiritual elitism.

Do you think Putin and his cohorts and the current nomenklatura are religious in any meaningful way? They are not. They are merely great Russian nationalists.

Editorial: Stop this Madness!

Stop the war in the Ukraine!

‘Do you know what I do to people who get in the way of me?’ asked the thuggish manager of a GAZOPROM plant sitting across the table from me.

‘No, what do you do to them?’

‘I destroy them,’ He said. And he stared at me, unsmiling.

This is a brutal, capitalist Russia, not a beacon of advanced, enlightened civilisation. The Russian nomenclature does not have many friends in a socially progressive Europe, partly because it does not deserve to have them. Arguably, the Russian answer to Western provocation and NATO expansion eastwards was comprehensible and foretold – if not excusable. Seen from the perspective of the exploited, developing world, we may recognise that bourgeois nationalism, such as the bourgeois nationalism of Russia, can form a firebreak against rampant US imperialism eager to get its hands on Russian natural resouces and to divide Russia up like a pie or a cake.

But if you are not a Russian nationalist and if you do not ally yourself firmly with the strategic aims of the Russian state and its corrupt actors, then your sympathy for Russia’s response to decades of NATO provocation – as the bodies pile high – must be severely limited. And no, the Germans in opposing Russia have not suddenly turned into Nazis.

The frightening fact is that competition between different centres of capitalism in the first part of the 20th century led to World War One. We are witnessing just such a competition between centres of capitalism right now. The priority now has to be to prevent World War Three.

Conservative Russian society is an example to no one.

Socialism arose in one of the most backward, top heavy, autocratic states in Europe. When socialism ended, Putin doubled down on the reactionary values that Soviet society had preserved in aspic.

Russia bypassed the 1960’s cultural revolution, that era of enlightenment and tolerance. In the U.S.S.R. they learned nothing from the struggles against racism around the world, the struggles for individual freedom and self expression, and the struggle for the emancipation of women. Russia is still that rather fossilised society that did not benefit from the social revolutions of the 1960s.

Russia would have more support and less opposition in the UN, Europe and the rest of the world had Russia settled on a more enlightened political system and not on brute capitalism; had it shown more solidarity with progressive social causes.

The celebration of toxic masculinity, the concentration of obscene fortunes, and the promotion of social conservatism have all provided excuses to the opponents of Russia. At the moment, the advancement of trans rights is an important part of the movement towards progressive social change in Europe and the USA. Naturally, trans rights are ignored and ridiculed in Russia. It is a mark of how socially retrograde Russia is. Conservative Russian society is an example to no one.

It is no coincidence that it is the right-wing populist, nationalist autocrats and former autocrats around the world, like Modi, Duterte, Bolsonaro and Trump most favour Putin; they share in his social conservatism.

An enlightened human being should not subscribe to the values of an intolerant, brutal, capitalist state like Russia. Russia Today. (RT) was notorious for pandering to the far right in Europe and the USA. RT inflamed feelings against migrants just as easily as it pointed the finger at US police brutality against African Americans.

What is to be done?

What is at issue now is the prospect of a dangerous nuclear escalation between an imperial USA and a nationalist Russia that threatens to destroy both the west and Russia and Europe. Peace negotiations should start at once!

And when the west and Putin manage to stop the war, then Putin will have to deal with the destructive consequences of the actions of his government. While the Russian speaking eastern and southern parts of the Ukraine will probably become attached to Russia, the Russian government will have to join in with Europe and the USA and pay for the reconstruction of what remains of the Ukraine – with no strings attached – before it is allowed to rejoin the international community.

US and European drug consumers are the real ‘bad hombres’: they generate the trade and cause the deaths

By Phil Hall

Again and again, it needs to be reiterated. Mexico’s war against the drug traffickers is mainly a US war. If Mexico has failed to defeat the drug traffickers on one side of the border, then the US has failed to defeat it on the other side of the border. The most powerful head honchos of the drugs cartel must be US citizens, not Colombians or Mexicans. Retail always earns more than wholesale.

There is a strange blind spot in the USA where a drugs trade generated by consumers in the richest country in the world suddenly becomes the problem of one nation: the problem of Mexico. What’s going on?

Personally speaking, I have never taken any hard drug. I used to act and look so square that no one has ever thought to offer me any. Yet I know that using cocaine and a wide variety of recreational drugs is considered normal and life-enhancing, especially by many people in the media, finance and creative industries. It is almost conventional wisdom nowadays that to loosen up and socialise effectively, a cosmopolitan European or US citizen with money will take some drugs – occasionally.

Dealers of all kinds sell recreational drugs everywhere. Drug dealers sell drugs not only in rough districts, in the way it is presented in a series like The Wire, but over the counter in corner shops, from cars parked on street corners, from suburban houses. There are even narcotics delivery services, courtesy of the pandemic.

Perhaps it was a reaction to the ideological attacks of Islam and its prohibitions in the noughties after 9/11, but alcohol, that legal drug, is currently promoted everywhere in Europe and the USA as the most life-enhancing, essential liquid that releases fun, love, friendship and freedom and marks your coming of age.

The dangers of alcoholism, a disease that destroys families and unleashes violence and costs the community dear, have now been dangerously downplayed. The modern ethos suggests that taking both drugs and alcohol can help turn you into a more mature, well-rounded and tolerant person.

Here’s the deal. Many journalists take drugs. Many journalists’ friends also take drugs. Drug taking is a criminal activity. Therefore, many journalists are – according to current law – criminals. Therefore, they advocate for the decriminalisation of drugs, all the time pointing the finger accusingly at countries like Mexico.

So we have many people who actually use the substances that cause the deaths in Mexico, over 150,000, calling the drug problem in the USA a ‘Mexican’ problem in an example of unadulterated hypocrisy. Journalists and politicians doing lines of cocaine and popping pills, condemn the Mexican government for failing in a drugs war that they themselves generate with their drug habits..

Of course there is another reason why the journalist will ascribe ‘failure’ to a nation state and blame the supply side instead of highlighting the corruption on the demand side: It is easier then to keep doing lines of coke (or whatever) and point the finger at Mexico rather than jeopardising your own safety by reporting on your supplier and risking suffering the same fate many of your colleagues do on the Mexican side of the border.

The US is primarily responsible for the drugs trade. It is the centre of the trade. In almost every school and workplace in the whole of that country, a variety of drugs are available for distribution to every student or employee. Reflect on that. A nation of over 350 million people where most of those people can get access to illegal drugs if they want to get access to them.

Think of the massive and relatively undisturbed distribution network that must exist in a country like the US for almost every US citizen to have access to drugs. Think of the vast numbers of policemen and officials that must be on the take for that distribution network to be able to operate effectively

The supply side, very often, doesn’t even always begin in Mexico. Mexico is a conduit. The conduit passes across the border and continues to operate in the US. But what happens when the drugs are in the US? By racialising the drug business and saying that it is black people and Latinos from Mexico who distribute the drugs, you cover up the reality and obscure the true people responsible for the drug trade; the consumers.

It is a relay race and the baton of corrupt officialdom is passed across the border to US citizens and officials involved in the drugs trade. In fact, it would not be a mistake to call the US itself a failed narco state, though the country is so huge and rich that not even the drug business is big enough to define it.

Hurrah for muscular secularism!

Letter from an Ex Sheikh

I have always used pseudonyms when participating in online debates. Most of these debates are on sociopolitical matters in Chad and in the Middle East. Not being able to speak French and the high rates of illiteracy in Chad, mean that a large chunk of my contributions go to forums in neighbouring Sudan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. I have never been overly polemical in my criticism, or used searing words against a person–thanks to my Islamic up bringing. A person perishes, gets ill and changes. Ideas do not.  

Anonymity is a great source of truth and inspires meaningful debate. My grandmother used to tell me when I was very young that, before breaking the inconvenient truth to anyone, pack up your luggage and mount your horse. Was she in her nomadic way telling me to not tell the truth? I don’t think so. I think she meant: ‘Be prepared to take the consequences of telling it as it is, even if that means migration and estrangement.’.

I am here because my father refused to remain anonymous. However, you Phil, mostly take freedom of speech for granted. The worst thing that can happen to you if you wanted to say anything (when you wrote, Phil, an article defending Jacob Zuma for the online guardian) is that you get denied access to a public forum. 

Here, nobody would put a death threat on you or put you into prison or cause you to seek refuge abroad, though you might lose your livelihood if your comments were malicious or racist or if you violated somebody else’s right to privacy.  

I had never tasted freedom before and did not understand what it entailed before coming to UK. Even though I am almost totally free to write, say and to think as I please, my grandmother’s advice still shadows my every utterance. It is not what I write and say that is pertinent here; it is the topic itself. Should you be allowed to caricature Jesus, militant Christians, the monarch and virtually everything above and under the firmament, but not Allah and Mohammed?

Was it suicidal of Theo van Gogh to put his name to a film? I think, as things stand, yes it was. And it is suicidal for him, for me and for anyone wanting to say anything against Allah publically. Was it irresponsible of Ayaan Hirsi Ali to go public with her Islamic experience? Is her restricted, body-guarded existence in the West a self-inflected prison? I think no, it is not, because when she started speaking out she was a member of the Dutch parliament. I am not.

As I write this people are murdered in Afghanistan for apostasy. Everyday Western national flags get burnt in Muslim countries, but we do not see suicide bombers or similar public outbursts of condemnations from westerners.

I see, as an outsider, how deeply ingrained in mainstream politics is the importance of multicultural Britain as sacrosanct and any perceived upsetting of the delicacy of this ‘unity in diversity’ has to be neutralized. Perhaps, by tolerating and allow minorities to be vociferous. Many European counties are trying to salve their conscious for the way they let down Jewish people in Germany. I raise my glass to the politicians who call for ‘muscular secularism’. I have every reason to be fearful and to produce my analysis of political Islam, anonymously.

People like me, Ayaan, and Salman Rushdie are targeted because we are seen as apostates and traitors of the faith. This is not the case for westerners when the question or disavow their own religions – the people Muslims label the original infidels.

Our whispers are informed by reading and experience. That’s why they do not want us to speak out loud. It is too easy to quote the pro peace Meccan Koranic verses, which arose when Muslims were an oppressed minority, and to say this is what Islam is all about. I will use anonymity to set the record straight for I believe I have some sort of understanding of both arguments as well as standing in a healthy distance from both. 

Cruelty to Boys in Afghan Schools

By Asad Karimi

In Afghanistan, while girls have their right to education stripped from them, boys at schools in the countryside are victims of harsh treatment and abuse. Asad Karimi writes about his experience.

When I was in Afghanistan and I was six or seven years old, I didn’t like going to school. I hated it. I loathed it. I couldn’t stand it. The teachers, all men, didn’t help the students; they were not polite to them or nice to them in any way. On the contrary.

I was feeling excited about going to school. My Mother and my family wanted me to go because they wanted me to learn something and for me to become a doctor or engineer. Ha!

They spent their precious money and paid for my fees and for the books and for the uniform and they thought that the teachers would look after us. But I couldn’t learn anything at school because of the violence of the teachers.

They beat you with a long wooden pole when you were two minutes late. They beat you when you made a mistake. They hit you very hard on the stomach, everywhere, and the teachers humiliated you in front of the class. You felt so embarrassed.

While I was trying to write, they hit me on my back. When I spoke aloud as I wrote, they hit me with force. Even now, I tremble sometimes when I pick up a pen and lean over a notepad. I am still scared that a heavy stick will come down.

They wouldn’t even let you write unless they told you to; they would assume you were drawing or doing something wrong. To put your pen to paper when you were not told to was considered playing. I still feel sorry when I think of my schooling in Afghanistan. By now, I would be in a much better position in life were it not for that school in Afghanistan.

Obviously, you were scared and in pain when they were beating you and sometimes the children were so frightened that they peed themselves. It’s hard to believe that this is true. That teachers can be like this.

I hated the role of school in Afghanistan. It is just a way of forcing you to learn religion. The Koran is fine to learn, but they didn’t teach any other useful things, except for some maths.

I was in trouble all the time when my family sent me to school. I decided not to go back. They thought I was at school, but at eight I was running away and I was meeting my friends and we shot catapults into the sky. We built home-made parachutes, and sometimes we just played football in the dust in our school shoes, with a small ball.

But everyday, if you leave school and have nothing to do and you can’t go to school and you can’t go home, it is as if you are in a strange empty place, nowhere; until the school bell goes and you can go home.

After a year my family found out that I was not going to school and hadn’t learned anything and they were upset and angry with me for a while until and I told them the truth that I didn’t like going because I was beaten constantly by the teachers and I was scared. They understood me. My father said:

What are you going to do in the future? Be a tramp? He was worried about me.

I wish one day to go back to Afghanistan and help the children there and give strong advice to the teacher and the community. My advice would be:

  1. Make sure children learn many things, not just religion.
  2. Do not beat children in school, not even a little bit.
  3. Let children feel free in school and happy.
  4. Have more activities at school don’t keep children stuck to their desks.
  5. Make sure boys and girls can study together. There is no problem with this.
  6. Eliminate tribalism between Tajik, Pashtun and Harzara at school. Encourage tolerance.
  7. Train all teachers to behave professionally and in a kind way towards the children.
  8. Help the schools with money. Children are the future and they must be helped.

When I came to UK I thought it was going to be the same as Afghanistan and I was afraid, but they told me not to be worried about going to school here. That the teachers were nice and that they would help me and I would have fun and make friends.

I got excited and overcame my fear.

Now when I call my father from England and I tell him I am at college, he is so happy, and he says with great emotion and pride:

Asad, don’t leave your education until you finish.

And he tells all his friends about me in the coffee shop and everyone knows I am here and studying and I hope the son-of-a-bitch teachers who beat me know too.

Depression # 32 by Dan Pearce

Dan Pearce has done editorial work for many magazines and newspapers including New Society, Honey, 19, Oz, The Observer, The Times and Sunday Times, Mayfair and Penthouse. Dan has created book and record covers, political cartoons, comic strips and caricatures and he has written two graphic novels: ‘Critical Mess’ (against the nuclear industry) and ‘Oscar: The Second Coming’. His labour of love is the graphic novel, ‘Depression’ which is unfinished. He lived in Andalucia and then Umbria before coming back to live in the UK in Hastings. Dan went to the Colchester School of Art and the Central School of Art and his last painting was well received at the Sussex Open.

A rat race is for rats. We are not rats.

Jimmy Reid’s 1972 speech on alienation


ALIENATION is the precise and correctly applied word for describing the major social problem in Britain today. People feel alienated by society.

In some intellectual circles, it is treated almost as a new phenomenon. It has, however, been with us for years. What I believe to be true is that today it is more widespread, more pervasive than ever before.

Let me, right at the outset, define what I mean by alienation. It is the cry of men who feel themselves the victims of blind economic forces beyond their control. It is the frustration of ordinary people excluded from the processes of decision making. The feeling of despair and hopelessness that pervades people who feel with justification that they have no real say in shaping or determining their own destinies.

Many may not have rationalised it. May not even understand, may not be able to articulate it. But they feel it. It therefore conditions and colours their social attitudes.

Alienation expresses itself in different ways by different people. It is to be found in what our courts often describe as the criminal anti-social behaviour of a section of the community. It is expressed by those young people who want to opt out of society, by dropouts, the so-called maladjusted, those who seek to escape permanently from the reality of society through intoxicants and narcotics. Of course, it would be wrong to say it was the sole reason for these things. But it is a much greater factor in all of them than is generally recognised.

Society and its prevailing sense of values leads to another form of alienation. It alienates some from humanity. It partially de-humanises some people, makes them insensitive, ruthless in their handling of fellow human beings, self-centred and grasping.

The irony is, they are often considered normal and well adjusted. It is my sincere contention that anyone who can be totally adjusted to our society is in greater need of psychiatric analysis and treatment than anyone else.

They remind one of the character in the novel, Catch 22, the father of Major Major. He was a farmer in the American MidWest. He hated suggestions for things like medicare, social services, unemployment benefits or civil rights. He was, however, an enthusiast for the agricultural policies that paid farmers for not bringing their fields under cultivation. From the money he got for not growing alfalfa he bought more land in order not to grow alfalfa.

He became rich. Pilgrims came from all over the state to sit at his feet and learn how to be a successful non-grower of alfalfa. His philosophy was simple. The poor didn’t work hard enough and so they were poor. He believed that the good Lord gave him two strong hands to grab as much as he could for himself. He is a comic figure. But think—have you not met his like here in Britain? Here in Scotland? I have.

It is easy and tempting to hate such people. However, it is wrong. They are as much products of society and a consequence of that society, human alienation, as the poor drop out. They are losers. They have lost essential elements of our common humanity.

Humans are social beings

Humans are a social beings. Real fulfilment for any person lies in service to his fellow men and women. The big challenge to our civilisation is not OZ, a magazine I haven’t even seen, let alone read. Nor is it permissiveness, although I agree our society is too permissive.

Any society which, for example, permits over one million people to be unemployed is far too permissive for my liking. Nor is it moral laxity in the narrow sense that this word is generally employed—although in a sense here we come nearer to the problem. It does involve morality, ethics, and our concept of human values.

Jimmy Reid addressing the dock workers

Against the rat race

The challenge we face is that of rooting out anything and everything that distorts and devalues human relations.

Let me give two examples from contemporary experience to illustrate the point.

Recently on television, I saw an advertisement. The scene is a banquet. A gentleman is on his feet proposing a toast. His speech is full of phrases like ‘this full-bodied specimen‘. Sitting beside him is a young, buxom woman. The image she projects is not pompous, but foolish. She is visibly preening herself, believing that she is the object of this bloke’s eulogy. Then he concludes ‘and now I give‘ … then a brand name of what used to be described as Empire sherry.

The woman is shattered, hurt and embarrassed. Then the laughter. Derisive and cruel laughter. The real point, of course, is this: in this charade, the viewers were obviously expected to identify not with the victim but with her tormentors.

The other illustration is the widespread, implicit acceptance of the concept and term, “the rat race”. The picture it conjures up is one where we are scurrying around scrambling for position, trampling on others, back-stabbing, all in pursuit of personal success.

Even genuinely intended friendly advice can sometimes take the form of someone saying to you, ‘Listen, you look after number one’. Or as they say in London, ‘Bang the bell, Jack, I’m on the bus‘.

To the students I address this appeal:

Reject these attitudes. Reject the values and false morality that underlie these attitudes. A rat race is for rats. We’re not rats. We’re human beings.

Reject the insidious pressures in society that would blunt your critical faculties to all that is happening around you, that would caution silence in the face of injustice lest you jeopardise your chances of promotion and self-advancement.

This is how it starts and before you know where you are, you’re a fully paid-up member of the rat-pack. The price is too high. It entails the loss of your dignity and human spirit. Or as Christ put it,

‘What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul?

Profit is the sole criterion used by the establishment to evaluate economic activity. From the rat race to lame ducks.

The inhumanity of the giant consortia and monopolies

The vocabulary in vogue is a give-away. It is more reminiscent of a human menagerie than human society. The power structures that have inevitably emerged from this approach threaten and undermine our hard won democratic rights. The whole process is towards the centralisation and concentration of power in fewer and fewer hands.

The facts are there for all who want to see. Giant monopoly companies and consortia dominate almost every branch of our economy. The men who wield effective control within these giants exercise a power over their fellow men which is frightening and is a negation of democracy.

Government by the people for the people becomes meaningless unless it includes major economic decision making by the people for the people. This is not simply an economic matter.

In essence, it is an ethical and moral question, for whoever takes the important economic decisions in society ipso facto determines the social priorities of that society.

From the Olympian heights of an executive suite, in an atmosphere where your success is judged by the extent to which you can maximise profits, the overwhelming tendency must be to see people as units of production, as indices in your accountants’ books.

To appreciate fully the inhumanity of this situation, you have to see the hurt and despair in the eyes of a man suddenly told he is redundant without provision made for suitable alternative employment, with the prospect in the West of Scotland, if he is in his late forties or fifties, of spending the rest of his life in the Labour Exchange.

Someone, somewhere has decided he is unwanted, unneeded, and is to be thrown on the industrial scrap heap. From the very depth of my being, I challenge the right of any man or any group of men, in business or in government, to tell a fellow human being that he or she is expendable.

The concentration of power in the economic field is matched by the centralisation of decision making in the political institutions of society.

The necessity of devolution of power

The power of Parliament has undoubtedly been eroded over past decades with more and more authority being invested in the Executive. The power of local authorities has been and is being systematically undermined. The only justification I can see for local government is as a counter-balance to the centralised character of national government.

Local government is to be re-structured. What an opportunity, one would think, for de-centralising as much power as possible back to local communities.

Instead, the proposals are for centralising local government. It is once again a blue-print for bureaucracy, not democracy. If these proposals are implemented, in a few years when asked “Where do you come from?”, I can reply: “The Western Region“. It even sounds like a hospital board.

It stretches from Oban to Girvan and eastwards to include most of the Glasgow conurbation. As in other matters, I must ask the politicians who favour these proposals—where and how in your calculations did you quantify the value of a community? Of community life? Of a sense of belonging? Of the feeling of identification? These are rhetorical questions. I know the answers. Such human considerations do not feature in their thought processes.

Value human beings!

Everything that is proposed from the establishment seems almost calculated to minimise the role of the people, to miniaturise man.

I can understand how attractive this prospect must be to those at the top. Those of us who refuse to be pawns in their power game can be picked up by their bureaucratic tweezers and dropped in a filing cabinet under “M” for malcontent or maladjusted.

When you think of some of the high flats around us, it can hardly be an accident that they are as near as one could get to an architectural representation of a filing cabinet.

If modern technology requires greater and larger productive units, let us make our wealth-producing resources and potential subject to public control and to social accountability. Let us gear our society to social need, not personal greed. Given such creative reorientation of society, there is no doubt in my mind that in a few years we could eradicate in our country the scourge of poverty, the underprivileged, slums, and insecurity.

Even this is not enough. To measure social progress purely by material advance is not enough. Our aim must be the enrichment of the whole quality of life. It requires a social and cultural or, if you wish, a spiritual transformation of our country.

A necessary part of this must be the restructuring of the institutions of government and, where necessary, the evolution of additional structures so as to involve the people in the decision-making processes of our society. The so-called experts will tell you that this would be cumbersome or marginally inefficient. I am prepared to sacrifice a margin of efficiency for the value of the people’s participation. Anyway, in the longer term, I reject this argument.

To unleash the latent potential of our people requires that we give them responsibility.

The untapped resources of the North Sea are as nothing compared to the untapped resources of our people. I am convinced that the great mass of our people go through life without even a glimmer of what they could have contributed to their fellow human beings. This is a personal tragedy. It is a social crime. The flowering of each individual’s personality and talents is the pre-condition for everyone’s development.

In this context, education has a vital role to play. If automation and technology is accompanied as it must be with full employment, then the leisure time available to man will be enormously increased. If that is so, then our whole concept of education must change.

The whole object must be to equip and educate people for life, not solely for work or a profession. The creative use of leisure, in communion with, and in service to our fellow human beings can and must become an important element in self-fulfilment.

Universities must be in the forefront of development, must meet social needs and not lag behind them. It is my earnest desire that this great University of Glasgow should be in the vanguard : initiating changes and setting the example for others to follow. Part of our educational process must be the involvement of all sections of the university on the governing bodies. The case for student representation is unanswerable. It is inevitable.

Have faith in the goodness of people!

My conclusion is to re-arm what I hope and certainly intend to be, the spirit permeating this address, which is an affirmation of faith in humanity.

All that is good in man’s heritage involves recognition of our common humanity, an unashamed acknowledgement that man is good by nature. Burns expressed it in a poem that technically was not his best, yet captured the spirit In

‘Why should we idly waste our prime.
The golden age, we’ll then revive, each man will be a brother,
In harmony we all shall live and share the earth together,
In virtue trained, enlightened youth shall love each fellow creature,
And time shall surely prove the truth that man is good by nature.’

It is my belief that all the factors to make a practical reality of such a world are maturing now. I would like to think that our generation took humankind some way along the road towards this goal. It’s a goal worth fighting for.

Jimmy Reid, 1972

Jimmy Reid on Parkinson arguing the case for unions

Hamba kahle, Harry. 


1st May 1939 – 9th October 2022

by Leigh Voigt

How does one give an unbiased, honest appraisal of one’s own husband and have the gall to call it an obituary? Does one resort to clichés? Borrow words from the pens of others? No, one hones in on an aspect seldom seen by the general public – that of an artist, a private man, who worked in solitude and quiet contemplation.  

    Only someone who took in his tea, (me) and perhaps paused for moments of brief conversation, will notice the subtle changes in the making of a painting from beginning to end.

    The painting in this case is a portrait of Tony Hall. Neighbour, friend, journalist, activist, socialist, conservationist, in a word, a mensch.

Tony Hall, oil on canvas, Harold Voigt

    The inspiration behind wanting to do a portrait of Tony Hall was a charcoal sketch by John Singer Sargent of General Christiaan de Wet, who bore a remarkable likeness to Tony. Another was the 1832 portrait by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres of Monsieur Louis-François Bertin. Both served as ‘back of the mind’ motivations for the portrait done in 2000. Tony was a charismatic figure with a colourful background and equally striking features.


Harry Voigt Exhibition, 2004

   Harold Voigt first had to persuade Tony that a portrait would be a fitting acknowledgement of their friendship. Tony acquiesced, no payment required, just a few hours of his time, during which all Tony had to do was to sit still. A few photographs were taken and good-natured banter ensued until Harry had enough visual information stored in his receptive mind. Months went past during which the portrait slowly took shape. It was Harry mastering his craft, from a spontaneous, loose drawing straight onto a large prepared canvas, to the final measuring by the grid system of a photograph.

The painting took at least 6 months to complete. He would work on other smaller canvasses at the same time, but always be drawn to work on the portrait. He became obsessed with the painting, every now and again calling someone in for confirmation that he was going in the right direction, getting it right. We always tactfully assured him that it was. Although he was supremely confident that his work was good, he often sought a sounding board, someone’s comment, either positive or critical. He seldom took any notice, just wanted interaction with another voice, a viewer with an opinion. Any passer-by or lunch guest would be called in to comment, for Harry to watch their response, if any.

The Studio Chair, Harold Voigt

  Nearly all Harold Voigt’s paintings were produced in this way, carefully considered, altered, reconsidered, scrapped, reworked, until suddenly one day I would go into his studio to find it signed.

   Harold defined and refined the techniques of the Old Masters. His dog-eared Degas monograph, his second-hand John Singer Sargent open on the table next to his once-white chair, all bore testament to his desperate need to improve, to perfect, to supersede the best of the best, if not for the world, then just for himself.  

Last minute touch up

  In Harry’s studio, in a home we have lived in for nearly fifty years, his studio was a sanctum; cluttered, redolent with artist’s studio smells; oil paint, turps, oils, books, marble dust and rabbit glue. An alchemist’s laboratory, a craftsman’s workroom.  His tools – his brushes, pens, pencils, crayon, chalks, nibs, scrapers, markers, all laid neatly in rows.

‘An alchemist’s laboratory, a craftsman’s workroom’

Studio Green Chair, Harold Voigt (detail)

   The windows with some of his aphorisms written in yellow crayon can never be Windolened, his walls never repainted, his stuff never recycled. Here a plaster cast of Mrs Piles, there a child’s zither, a set of Arthur Mee’s encyclopaedia, at least fifteen dusty old telephones, none of which work. His collection of little radios, Sony, Sanyo, Phillips and Grundig, occasionally appeared in his paintings, as did lamps, kettles, spectacles and chairs, plenty of chairs. A simple chair could become an object of sheer beauty, or nostalgia or even loneliness. Günter Schlosser once said Harold Voigt could make something out of nothing. A rusty wheelbarrow tells a story. A spade. A bell.

The Trowel, Harold Voigt

 Sketches, scribbles and colour swatches scattered all over the place, taped to the walls, propped against easels, on the floor. Not quite like Francis Bacon’s studio, but pretty close.

    Harry was an extraordinary man. Head and shoulders above the rest. With very deep footprints, long strides and with his quiet reliability in a marriage lasting 56 years, he is present in every brick, every nail, every brushstroke and in every curry I make.

The Guest Room Lamp, Harold Voigt

Winter Sunlight, Harold Voigt

Wilderness Blue and Ochre, Harold Voigt

Wheelbarrow, mixed media on canvas, Harold Voigt

Abandoned Building in Desolate Landscape, Harold Voigt

Buffalo Skull and Sheep’s Bell (detail), Harold Voigt

Mrs Piles, 2020, Harold Voigt

After a long and difficult struggle with many health problems, especially Parkinson’s, Harry died in his sleep at 12.15 am, on the 9th October, 2022, in his own bed at home, watched over by his two sons, Max and Walter, and his wife, Leigh.

    We shall miss his eccentric, intelligent and creative mind; his extensive knowledge, his guidance and most of all, his presence.

    His beautiful paintings, his self-built house and his remarkable self-discipline will serve as a benchmark for his family and future generations, and his paintings will be his legacy.   

Hamba kahle, Harry. 

Photographs through an art filter

Experiments with photo art applications, in particular the PRISMA application.

by Philip Hall

Passing photos through ready-made filters hasn’t really taught me much about how paintings and drawings are made, but doing this for a decade has taught me how important it is to have an artist’s eye and how the artist’s eye – even when it is automated and a little sugary – can be so transformative.

My first experience of art was difficult. I was six and my father dragged me around the Louvre in Paris and all I wanted to do was to sit down. I tried to show interest. I remember the little picture of the Mona Lisa at the end of our long walk through the galleries.

There was a cordon to stop you from getting too close. It was a little dark. There, a lady with a smile looked at me from the painting. She had a strange, high, wrinkle-free forehead. It was mysterious; why was my father showing me this? I wasn’t tall enough to see the pictures, either, so I had to crane. There was another small picture my father looked at for a while. What was he looking at? I asked him. I think he said it was a picture of Adam and Eve. Well, my mother’s name was Eve, so I looked up at it. But it was quite a dark painting. I couldn’t make anything out.

The art that my parents seemed to value was African art. Even the drawings and paintings on the wall. Wherever we went, our parents bought handicrafts and the creative work of the people of the countries in which we lived. Pride of place were Makonde carvings, ancient and abstract. They showed circles of people intertwined or holding hands and forming one sculpture made from ebony. Dark, hard, ebony.

My next encounter with art was in France, where my grandfather – despite the fact that he said he didn’t like modern art – took me to all the modern art galleries along the Cote d’ Azur. I visited them arm-in-arm with my grandmother. The highlight for me was the Chapel Matisse, which, strangely, at age 14, made me cry. I came back 40 years later with my wife to see it again and I cried again. And I hardly ever cry.

When I was older, I read John Berger and John Berger said something that made a lot of sense. Art was paid for by the rich and very often reflected the concerns of the rich and so, the artists had to paint beyond the intelligence or understanding of the mercenary aristocrats and merchants. Or s/he had to paint with their complicity. Like a sort of court jester, or a confidant.

I saw The Draughtsman’s Contract. An aristocratic and childless couple hires a young artist. The husband is infertile. The draughtsman thinks he has been hired because he is talented and witty and good company. What he does not know is the wittier and cleverer he is, the more he seals his doom. He is there to impregnate the character played by Janet Suzman and then be killed.

The wealthy are more concerned with conserving their wealth and power through inheritance than they are with wit, science and art. The movie was off-putting because there were sex scenes with Janet Suzman, who got down on her knees like a brood mare (Peter Greenaway was being obvious here) and Janet Suzman was my mother’s best friend throughout school.

John Berger said that there was a fetish about original art and that there was very little difference between a reproduction and the original. The original was used as a way of monetising something because there was only one of it. He pointed out that the art of the rich shows off the possessions of the rich and presents the picture the powerful and wealthy want to present as a form of propaganda and that the art of that time objectified women.

I did not know at the time that Berger was responding to a much greater, deeper and interesting set of observations made by Kenneth Clark in his series Civilisation. Neither did I realise that Berger was contradicting the art critic Walter Benjamin, who believed that original art retained an ‘aura’.

When I was 18, suffering like hell, I travelled across to France to see my old school friends and my first proper girlfriend and then broke up with her. But it was a messy breakup. As we always did in Paris, we visited modern art museums and saw art house movies. I wasn’t as pretentious as my friends, but I tried to catch up. It didn’t come as naturally to me as it did to them. That’s where I first noticed Gustave Moreau. I still like his work.

We met again in Switzerland and I had an awful time with no money in Italy and finally had to try to get back and hitched across Austria. And I mention this because in Austria an artist gave me a ride from Vienna to Innsbruck in his combi. He was working for a quiz show programme where people answered questions from a telephone box and his job was to set up the telephone box. He said he would give me a lift if I helped him and I did. I set up his telephone box in the rain and the bright lights of the TV switched on and the quiz show hosts suddenly switched on their charm, too. Just like that. It was rather shocking and sinister.

But on our long drive, the quiz booth man explained conceptual art to me and told me about the marvellous Marcel Duchamp. He himself was a conceptual artist, you see. I and I saw what he meant and why Duchamp was great.

Remember, in literature and art, with semiology, the question of authorship is disputable. We are talking about the subjectivity of the viewer, mediated by society, and the subjectivity of the artist and his or her intentions and unconscious intentions and the influence of society on that author and so on and so forth. The 80s and early 90s were the time of post-modernism when D.Js like Fatboy Slim were mixing other people’s music and experimenting with it and calling it their own. It was the age of commercialisation, theft and sarcasm.

In Madrid in the late eighties, briefly, I spent time with an aspiring Australian film director who had just made a film called ‘Saliva‘ and who wore ski pants. I annoyed her a lot because I argued, having read something in El Pais, that the CIA had supported the abstract art of people like Rothko and Pollock and later Schnabel, as a way of undercutting the influence of radical figurative art. They didn’t want any Diego Riveras, thank you very much. They didn’t want political art, they wanted Andy Warhol. The Australian was furious with me. Abstract US art was sacred to her.

And I could continue to recount all the experiences that formed my appreciation of art, but I won’t. I just want to explain why I decided to take using an art app with a phone seriously. Without any pretensions to being an artist, I wanted to experiment by trying to take the pictures that I wanted to and then layering them over with filters.

In an age of a billion photographers, what does it matter? I can co-create. Did the app create art from my photo or did the photo allow the app to make it more like art?

Moreover, the technology is a phone. So, I have been using phones, which are annoying because the designer of the phone camera always automates it and tries to second guess the user. The photo that you take is already ersatz before you actually pass it through a filter. The following pictures are the selection of result of a decade of amateur experimentation with art filters, mainly from the application PRISMA.

Passing photos through ready-made filters hasn’t really taught me much about how paintings and drawings are made, but doing this has taught me how important it is to have an artist’s eye and how the artist’s eye – even when it is automated and a little sugary – can be transformative.

And now, in a strange turnabout, I have met an artist who says he is willing to contemplate turning some of these pictures into actual paintings, changing them again in the process. We shall see.

Pete in Rahima (2013)

The Other Side of the Sun (2014)

Southern Trains (2014)

Eve (2020)

For we like Sheep …(2018)

Fair at the Museum (2016)

Barbican (2021)

Ventilator (2021)

Sea Horse (2015)

Winchester (2019)

Fallen Tree, North Downs Way (2018)

Sodium Light of the Gulf (2012)

Self Portrait, Saudi Arabia (2014)

River Itchen (2018)

Thames Path (2022)

Flowers (2015)

Richmond Park, Ladderstyle Entrance (2022)

Pilgrim’s Way (2018)

Gertrude (2018)

Train to Venice (2013)

The Triangle (2021)

Gertrude (2021)

Stone Lamb (2022)

Brothers after COVID (2022)

Mini (2021)

John and Tere in Richmond Park (2022)

Flowers (2012)

Kitchen Still Life (2022)

Carmen Drinking Coffee (2017)

Piccadilly (2015)

View over Ranmore Common (2019)

Trees in Winter on Coombe Hill (2020)

New Malden Station (2014)

Peter Cowlam (2022)

Ice Cream, Venice (2013)

Net Curtains (2020)

Kingston Rowing Club (2020)

To and Fro (2014)

Vaporetto (2013)

Fox (2020)

Pollarded Tree (2021)

Eve’s room (2016)

Flower (2017)

Epping Forest (2022)

Pembroke Lodge Approach (2022)

Tea Shop in Skipton (2022)

Twickenham (2020)

River (2022)

Night Tree (2016)

Window (2021)

Screen (2021)

Skipton market (2022)

King Charles III’s Sacred Task: dissolve the institution of Monarchy

Bring the powerful to heel, don’t glorify monarchs and privilege

by Philip Hall

The idea that Charles III is divinely appointed to rule over us is ridiculously far-fetched. Yet, ultimately, it is the metaphysical idea of the divine right of kings that gives King Charles III his political legitimacy. According to this theory, ordinary British people choose to make themselves the subjects of a king whose soul was chosen to rule over the United Kingdom by God.

Pull the other one! The only sacred task that Charles has in front of him (someone please tell him) is to phase out the British system of monarchy, to dissolve it and return all crown properties and privileges to the democratic state – to its people.

Charles III is not King Arthur; he is not a sacred king. He is not divinely appointed. He is not a unifier. Royalism is a smokescreen for the neo-Thatcherites, and for the warring corporations. It is a kind of opiate, an important distraction that we don’t need at a crucial time when the cost-of-living crisis is upon us, and while US capitalism wars with Russian capitalism, fighting over lebensraum at the cost of a terrible European conflagration.

What would really unite us all now, is not a new king, but a fairer society and the bringing to heel of the wealthy corporations that currently puppeteer and corrupt our British government.

Royalism is a smokescreen for the neo-Thatcherites, and for the warring corporations.

. . .

All the same, apart from those times when we lived in small communal bands of people who cooperated to survive (in other words, throughout most of pre-history) monarchy was the basis of civilization.

Kings and Queens brought people together into greater communities. They united people into vast cities. Monarchical systems that concentrated the wealth produced by labour in order to make great pointless monuments like the Pyramids. Monarchs had walls built that crossed vast regions and astoundingly luxurious tombs. They commissioned the building of magnificent palaces and splendid cathedrals.

Under the aegis of evolving monarchical systems of government, great progress was made in architecture, literature and art, in maritime engineering and war, in science and even in social reform.  

The ancient institution of monarchy, though not as old as our dream of a happy communalism, symbolically linked us together into nationhood using real military, economic, social and religious power. It also attempted to unify us through ritual. When we were more monocultural society, monarchism might have helped ground our beings in the land across a narrow racial and cultural spectrum and give us a stronger common identity.

The deepest legend of the British is the legend of King Arthur and the idea that he will return and save the country in the time of most need. And, for some reason, in the Golden Age of U.S. science fiction and in Hollywood, these sons and daughters of their republic could only conceive of empires and kings in space. They read J. R. R. Tolkien with a deep nostalgia, like dogs returning to sick.

The Whistling Witch, Poundberry, by Zonda Grattus under the creative commons 3.0

And this mysticism continues. The Stone of Scone, without a sword in it, is being ferried down from Scotland to London for the coronation in order to deepen Charles’ mystical act of dedication to a fictional land. His ‘idyllic’ village, the one he helped choose the designs for, is called Poundberry. Perhaps now he will rename the United Kingdom Poundland.  

The Monty Python team put the question perfectly: is a mystical connection to God and the land the basis for a good modern system of government? A king is not subject to the will of the people. The monarch embodies a divine appointment to rule and the right of the Monarch contradicts, by definition, the rights of the subjects of that monarch.

The monarch heads an aristocracy. The monarchical system denies liberté, égalité, fraternité and social and economic justice. For modern humans living in democracies, the values of liberty, equality, fraternity and social and economic justice supersede any mystical connection one person might or might not have to the land. Respect for basic human dignity precludes us from agreeing to subject ourselves to another human. As Mark Twain said in private notes:

The institution of royalty in any form is an insult to the human race.

Mystique aside, Tony Benn, who was originally an aristocrat himself, while he was respectful towards the person of the Queen, was also correct in his assessment of the foundations of a monarchical system.

I don’t think people realise how the establishment became established. It simply stole the land and property off the poor, surrounded themselves with weak-minded sycophants for protection, gave themselves titles and it has been wielding power ever since.

Tony Benn, in conversation

Of course, the monarchy in the UK is not absolute as it is in places like Saudi Arabia. In Britain, this power was circumscribed long ago by the Magna Carta (1215) and we eventually ended up with a constitutional monarchy, by way of the Glorious Revolution, when the parliamentarians actually chopped the head off King Charles I because he would insist so on his divine right to rule.

In the United Kingdom, the monarch’s power is limited by a constitution. The new King Charles III is relegated to the role of being a symbol of unity and state continuity. However, the existence of the British monarchy underwrites our class system. It is no coincidence that the link between the monarchy and the military is very strong and it always has been. It is not just that the British people agree to become subjects of the monarchy, force of arms maintains a monarch in power.

I had an argument with a friend which marked the end of our friendship. He was a member of the SAS and, while he studied Arabic and French, he moonlighted as a bodyguard for Prince Charles and Diana on different occasions, when Diana was still alive. I asked him this:

I accept the monarchy and the current political state of Britain under Margaret Thatcher because that is the expression of the will of the people in a democracy. But what if a socialist republican government were to be elected into power? Would you swear loyalty to it?

He said: ‘No!’ That was when we parted company.

In fact, according to past revelations, one of the main alleged organisers of a possible coup against the Labour government of Harold Wilson in 1968 was Lord Mountbatten, Prince Philip’s uncle. The Queen’s uncle, King Edward VIII, was a notorious Nazi sympathizer before he was forced to resign. The sexual behaviour of Edward VII was a hundred times more scandalous than that of Prince Andrew. Remember that the democratically elected Gough Whitlam, Prime Minister of Australia, was removed from office by the governor of Australia, the Queen’s representative.

Underlyingly, the ideals and principles of a monarchical system and the very real material foundations of that system are antithetical to socialism and equality. Though we should remember that four of the most progressive northern democracies in Europe apart from the UK, have constitutional monarchs: Holland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark.

The British monarch has no legitimacy in India, Africa, Asia or the Americas

Fifteen Commonwealth realms are now supposed to have King Charles III as their monarch. In the past, under the system of the British monarchy, Queen Victoria had the chutzpah to call herself The Empress of India (at Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli’s suggestion). Victoria presided over the British Empire. Britain colonised a quarter of the world and governed almost a quarter of its people not by divine right, but by conquest. Then Great Britain robbed the colonies blind in order to extract wealth and advantage. To maintain British imperial power, the British state over the whole period of empire, killed thousands in the colonies and oppressed millions on every continent. Australia, Canada and New Zealand were settled by colonialists transplanted from the mother country and dedicated to the extermination of the indigenous peoples of those lands.

A British Army patrol in pursuit of Mau Mau independence fighters, MOD Official Collection, Mau 587

Look at it coldly! How can there possibly be a mystical connection of fealty between the monarch of the United Kingdom and the native populations of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, who Britain oppressed?

Though, perhaps those same indigenous peoples do have a deep, almost mystical feeling of hatred towards the British monarchy for the British theft of farmland and mineral resources and the British violation of sovereignty and the many acts of oppression by the British. The British Monarchy, for example, can certainly sling its hook when it comes to claiming any divine right to rule over Ireland.

The United Kingdom is the place where the scattering began, as Merle Collins explained in a poem, and the UK is where the people of the former empire now gather, attracted by the wealth which that empire extracted from their different countries. When you look around you in the UK, you see that a large proportion of the people who form part of our multicultural society are here because ‘we were over there.’The king will wear the great Cullinan diamond from Africa in his crown at the coronation.

In defence of the idea of monarchy

Monarchy it is the oldest system of government in the world. It is based on a Hobbesian idea, the idea of the body politic.

If society is like a body and the Queen, or King its soul and the establishment is its governing head, then the legs and arms and the bottom of society shouldn’t usurp the soul and the head. Government is for people who study PPEs at Oxford University. The ruling class head nods to the monarchical soul; to the monarchy and its metaphysical, divine cementing of the social order and privilege.

When we say the arse of society shouldn’t rule the head, we don’t have to look far for examples:

Thomas Aquinas suggested that Tyranny is wont to occur not less but more frequently on the basis of polyarchy than on the basis of monarchy.

When monarchies have been removed, it is true that the result has often been much worse. What follows is usually tyranny. After the French Revolution and the Terror came the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte. After the Russian Revolution came Joseph Stalin. After the emperor of China was deposed, along came Chairman Mao Tse Tung.

Charles I, whose head was chopped off in The Glorious Revolution in 1649

During the English Civil War (the English Revolution) the British people took a long hard look at Thomas Cromwell and the Parliamentarians and their behaviour during the Civil War. They saw how Parliament restricted liberty and the rights of ordinary people. They saw how Cromwell’s troops massacred the Irish who had rebelled. They saw how the Parliamentarians persecuted the Catholics and how they destroyed church decorations and prohibited literature and theatre. They saw how restrictive, controlling, prudish and puritanical the revolutionaries were.

Though initially the parliamentarians were permitted to defenestrate the institution of the monarchy, perhaps the British people had second thoughts about having a ‘Lord Protector’ instead of a king, and this is why the people eventually withdrew their support from the Parliamentarians.

To beg the question: is the reason why Europe had so many revolutions in the 19th and 20th centuries and Britain had none because the British people had already had had a good, close up, look at the results of revolution and saw the unpleasantness that followed on from it? There are worse things than monarchs: parvenu tyrants, for example..

What would really unite us all now would be a fairer society

Bevan talking to a patient at Park Hospital Manchester the Day the NHS came into being, University of Liverpool Faculty of Health & Life Sciences

What unites us in a post-enlightenment, technologically unified, globalised society is not a monarchy. What unites us, to the extent that it still exists, is being British citizens of a functioning representative democracy. What unites us is a system of social protection and welfare. What unites us in 2022 is free education and free health care. It is also negative liberty that unites us; the right to be free from persecution and prejudice

What would really unite us all now would be a fairer society; the bringing to heel of the wealthy corporations that currently puppeteer and corrupt our British government. What would really unite us would be the control, taxation and regulation by the government of powerful people and corporations who, without that control, have a tendency to behave like the ruthless commercial barons of the early part of the industrial revolution.

Social justice will bring social solidarity, not the anachronistic, counterfactual mysticism of an incredibly expensive celebrity cult.

The unification of Europe, and togetherness and kindness further afield, global unity and the elimination of conflict, is something the more enlightened spirits among us long for. All of us who believe in reciprocity and historical justice and the equality and rights of all human beings want unity, not splintering and division. But that unity should come about as the result of a proper democracy, not something as silly and irrelevant as a monarch.

We need a different system of government in the UK. We need an elected upper house and an elected head of state.

The real sacred task of King Charles III is to ‘love’ his people enough in order to have the democratically elected state abolish all aristocratic titles and inheritances and return all that property and wealth acquired through the system of monarchy back to the British people; from the property of the Duke of Westminster downwards.

Obituary: Bryan Greetham, teacher, writer and thinker

By Pat Rowe

Bryan Greetham (1946-2022) the writer and thinker, died on Sunday 26th June in Estepona, Spain. Above all, Bryan wanted to help students of all ages be the best thinkers possible.

Bryan was born in Faversham, Kent. He failed the 11 plus exam and went to a secondary modern school. But this didn’t hold him back. He pushed to take his A’ Levels and got a place to read History at the University of Kent. Then he took an MA in Intellectual History at the University of Sussex. He was awarded a PhD, in moral philosophy by the University of Newcastle of New South Wales, Australia when he was in his 50s. He was an honorary fellow at the University of Durham.

Bryan loved teaching and was always happy to help any of his students. It was for them he started writing and had just finished the fifth edition of his first book, How to Write Better Essays, when he died. Some of Bryan’s more recent books focused on techniques to develop the art of thinking itself: Smart Thinking and Thinking Skills for Professionals.

Helen Caunce, Bryan’s editor at Palgrave:

“he demonstrated intellectual curiosity, consideration, astute judgement and – above all else – genuine warmth and kindness. There really is no-one I’ve enjoyed working with more in my publishing career. Bryan’s books will continue to represent the very best of study skills publishing: his work stems from a keenly felt desire to make the experience of studying at university more accessible – to make the ‘rules of the game’ clear – particularly for those coming from a less privileged background. I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to commission so many of these inspirational books.”

Bryan had almost finished a novel about the moral dilemmas facing people in the Second World War but it will remain uncompleted.

I hope he will be remembered for his books and for the passion with which he taught his students and tried to help all those who bought them and later contacted him. As well as philosophy, which he loved, he also taught history and politics. Bryan was always curious about our world, constantly reading, writing and questioning our origins, our existence and our future..

Bryan Greetham was a generous contributor to Ars Notoria. Phil Hall, its founding editor, said:

Reading Bryan Greetham’s book resulted in an intellectual epiphany. Despite the fact that I thought hard and studied for so long, after I came across Bryan Greetham’s books, I realized that my thought processes were neither clear nor profound. Bryan’s book dispersed my mental fog, and it was important to incorporate his ideas into my classes at all the different universities and colleges I worked at in the UK and abroad. Bryan opened his students’ (and his friends’) intellectual horizons. His ideas were transformative. He was a great humane thinker and socialist and if everyone was able to think the way he suggested we think we would be living in a much better world, not in this strange infra-mundo.

Bryan wasn’t just an academic, though. He loved cycling and music. Cream, Fleetwood Mac and Led Zeppelin were some of his favourites. He supported his beloved Newcastle United FC, and he had many other interests that filled his life. Early on in his life, Bryan played piano and sang in a church choir. He played tennis, cricket, rugby and football, and he loved swimming.

After the UK, we lived in Portugal. Together, Bryan and I started an international college. After Portugal we moved to Australia. Then we lived in France and finally in Spain. But Bryan always loved Kent and that is where I will take his ashes.

Although he was not traditionally religious in adult life, Bryan had strong spiritual beliefs of his own, so maybe he has taken a Stairway to Heaven, to his own idea of heaven. I hope so.

Bryan wanted to feel he had done something good and useful. I know from all the messages he received over the years that he achieved this.

A toast to Bryan.




haiku triptych


  • lines of poems
  • scratched out, erased to ink in —
  • new shapes — art revealed


  • gouache shade’s matt-blur —
  • an outline of the psyche —
  • subtle peek into soul’s eye


  • rabindra sangeet’s
  • nasal baritone — honey-
  • tinged, monotonic

— Sudeep Sen

My emotional and aural response to Rabindranath Tagore’s poetry was slow in coming — especially his own English translations of the 1913 Nobel prize-winning Gitanjali/Song Offerings — in spite of being buoyed by a glowing introduction by W. B. Yeats, a poet whose pitch-perfect and sometimes sardonic English poetry I quietly admired. Tagore’s nectar-dripping ‘o’er-floweth-the-cup’ nasal-lyrical style, seemed incongruous and anachronistic and uncool (albeit perhaps misplaced), especially growing up in the cosmopolitan 1970s and 80s.

Intellectually however, I was always keenly engaged with Tagore’s wider art — in particular his wide-ranging master-skills in the fine arts, theatre, dance-drama, and short fiction. I was specifically attracted to his ‘erasures’, the wonderful way he made unique artworks out of erasing and inking-out sections and elements from his poems’ working-drafts as part of his overall editing and image-making process. It is said that “Tagore — who likely exhibited protanopia (colour blindness), or partial lack of (red-green, in Tagore’s case) colour discernment — painted in a style characterised by peculiarities in aesthetics and colouring schemes”. His sketches, pen & inks, oils, watercolours, and gouaches of a certain period — and even more significantly, works by Tagore’s other relatives such as Girindranath, Gaganendranath and Abanindranath — deeply interested and inspired me.

Of course, Rabindranath’s songs and dance-dramas were omnipresent during the yearly Durga Puja cultural programmes and other festivals in my city and elsewhere. Actually, a certain kind of Bengali does not need any excuse or occasion to stage Tagore’s works — and I was surrounded by many of them. And surrounded by a lot of Tagore paraphernalia too — beautiful editions of Rabindra Rachanabali and Gitabitan on my parents’ bookshelves, his official sage-like sepia-photograph modestly-framed in wood, his artworks and reproductions on their walls, and stacks and stacks of Rabindra Sangeet EPs, LPs, and audio cassettes by some of the finest exponents of this field. But my prized possession always remains the original ‘erasure’ tear-sheet from one of his workbooks, framed within double-glass panels on my library wall. My mother, in her younger days, was an active dancer-actress in many Tagore productions. As children, we learnt many of his Bengali verses by heart for recitation competitions.

One of Tagore’s ‘Erasures’

So growing up in a Bengali family in metropolitan Delhi in the leafy neighbourhood of Chittaranjan Park’s probashi-Bangla diasporic topography, one could not possibly avoid Tagore. He was everywhere — his music; his poetry; local shops and houses bearing his stamp, symbol, nomenclature and even his name; his sculptures emblazoned in the form of bronze busts; his demi-god-like status; and more. As a child, I had the task of fetching milk from Mother Dairy every evening. And as I walked past the houses in my neighbourhood carrying my large aluminium pail almost grazing the tarmac, sonorous sounds of children practising Rabindra Sangeet and their footsteps learning Tagore’s folk-dance were audible. At the time of course I didn’t think much of all that beyond the fact that they were part of an everyday ritual. Of those days, I have sometimes provocatively and irreverently said, Tagore was pouring out of every orifice. This was often not appreciated by hardcore Bengalis who, perhaps missing the irony, sought to misguidedly reprimand me. All this was in my childhood, young adulthood, and possibly a little beyond that. At that age, I suppose as a fashionable act of adolescent rebellion, I perhaps even shunned Tagore. But what is obvious, especially now as a practising poet/literary editor/critic/translator, how much Bengali culture — and by its curious extension, also Tagore — subtly influenced me through the process of cultural osmosis in the received environment in which I was growing up in.

This is not to say that the other languages, literatures, political ideas and philosophies weren’t discussed in my home and amongst my grandparents, parents, friends, and their circles. They variously infected and informed me as well — and I am grateful for that. Also, I grew up with three mother-tongues — Bangla, Hindi and English — like many other Indians of my generation who are at least trilingual or more. So my loyalties were not necessarily monolithically fixed to the idea of Bengaliness, albeit a very important and significant strand in my tissue-system.

I was always a devout admirer of Jibanananda Das and Kazi Nazrul Islam’s poetry over and above Tagore’s; and admitting that was almost sacrilegious. I found their precise tactility, un-Victorian-Augustan phrase-making, use of contemporary idiom, the power of their oral structure, and in general, the best aspects of Modernism, much more appealing at the time. But equally, I also loved and worshipped Milton and Shakespeare, Pushkin and Tolstoy, Ghalib and Faiz, Neruda and Paz, VerlaineBaudelaireRimbaud-Celan. In fact, when I think of the past, the list seems precociously expansive though delightfully centrifugal.


To reiterate, Tagore as a cerebral idea and its efferent discourse was always present in the milieu in which I spent my boyhood days — so he must have at least partially influenced me, whether or not I consciously acknowledged or rejected it at that time or even later. Furthermore, my five years living and writing in Bangladesh, in the late 1990s to mid-2000s, significantly enhanced my latent appreciation for Rabindranath. There I encountered Tagore as an everyday cultural idea, a living metaphor — unpretentious, earthy, and accessible.

It was such a pleasure to wake up in Dhaka and spend the entire day not having to utter a single word of English or Hindi, and only be immersed in the linguistic cadence and rhythms of Bangla. English as a tongue — except for the limited rarefied upper class — was almost entirely irrelevant and redundant, and thankfully so. In Bangladesh, I found renewed admiration and love for Tagore’s music and poetry, largely through hearing his songs sung and his poetry recited by highly-skilled and established singers and actors. Tagore’s discourse was aplenty too, as were those of other writers and artists of the two Bengals and beyond.

While in Dhaka, I translated three full-length books of selected poems by three Bangladeshi poets, wrote and choreographed a large-format literary coffee-table book titled Postcards from Bangladesh, edited The British Council Book of Emerging English Poets from Bangladesh, co-founded/co-edited Six Seasons Review, wrote several critical introductions and blurbs for books by local authors, and the Bengali editions of my own books — Rain/Barsha, and A Blank Letter/Ekti Khali Chithi were also published there.

I closely worked with Bengali poets, writers, academic, singers, artists, actors and lovers of Bengali culture, including of course Tagore’s. So my mature engagement with the Bengali language, literature and culture, including my new-found appreciation for Rabindranath was carried back to my home city of Delhi — completing a lovely unexpected arc. This osmotic presence of Tagore as the intimate ‘other’ — quite unbeknown to me — took root in its translucent avatar, widening the tonal registers of my poetic scales. In the slow-churning growth in my own artistic practice from analogue to digital, from vinyl to CD, from mono to stereo to 5.1 and 7.1, I am quite sure upon reflection that Tagore played his subtle part, sonically and textually.

To further illustrate the context of my early upbringing, background, and where Tagore — then and now — fits in my life as a writer and an artist, let me quote part of the introduction from my fledgeling book of poems, Leaning Against the Lamp-Post, that was first published as a limited edition in 1983 in New Delhi, and then later in 1996 in the USA by Triad/University of South Carolina:

“The poems in [the] collection Leaning Against the Lamp-Post, were all written between 1980 and 1985, while I was still in high school and subsequently an undergraduate in New Delhi. In 1983, relying on my incipient enthusiasm, I summoned up all my courage, typed out about fifty poems from a much larger batch I had written up until then, and with the aid of a modest donation from my grandfather, took it to a local printer. They were cyclostyled through one of those now-extinct, messy, gargantuan machines (photocopying was still quite expensive then) and hand-sewn at a bindery by an old man who until then had only bound thousands of legal manuals and commercial reports with ubiquitous red cloth or leather spines and with the titles stamped in gold. This was however the first time he had bound a collection of poetry, and he did it with genuine interest and with the care of a fine craftsman. He was a poet himself, and wrote and recited in Urdu. He also knew Bengali (my ‘official’ mother tongue) fluently, having spent his early life in what is now known as Bangladesh. Perhaps it was propitious that my early poems were blessed by the tactile touch of a true poet. It would only be fair to say of my grandfather that his patronage made him my first publisher. And as it turns out, this limited hand-assembled first edition of poems was to be my first ‘unofficial’ book of verse.

I was always convinced that writing poetry was extremely difficult (even though I thoroughly enjoyed reading it), and was best left to the masters themselves. Then one day in 1980 (I was in Class 10 at the time), daydreaming through a boring lesson in school, I penned, quite unknowingly, in perfect rhyme and metre, my first poem. Then followed those first few years when I wrote sheaves and sheaves of, what sometimes seem embarrassingly callow, and sometimes naive poems. But then, looking back I feel that there was a sense of innocence, idealism, seriousness, and honesty about them.

I grew up in a liberal and educated family with a lot of poetry and music around me. Art, literature, philosophy, and the world of ideas in particular, had always been a part of my upbringing. I learnt that our forefathers belonged to the aristocracy and could be traced back to the enlightened Raja Raj Ballabh Rai, famous in the margins of Indian history during the times of Sirajudaullah, the Nawab of Bengal in the late eighteenth century. As a child, my mother and grandmother would recite children’s verse and sing songs for me. I realise now that much of my interest in form, structure, sound pattern and rhyme scheme comes from hearing aloud the incantatory music of their prayers and songs, which I had obviously internalised over the years.

My parents and grandparents introduced me to the world of poetry. They would recite the great Bengali poets: Rabindranath Tagore, Jibanananda Das, and Kazi Nazrul Islam; also Shakespeare, Milton, the Romantics and the Victorians. I came to learn many of them by heart. In school and college, I explored Hindi and Urdu poetry, discovered the Russians, Latin Americans, as well as Japanese and Chinese verse. Some of my favourite poets included Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Irina Ratushinskaya, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Octavio Paz, Pablo Neruda, Basho, Li Bai, and many more. My mesho [uncle] — through the now out-of-print precious Penguin Modern European Poets volumes edited by Al Alvares — opened to me a wondrous window, a hitherto unsighted world of modern European poets: Vasko Popa, Guillaume Apollinaire, Eugenio Montale, Giuseppe Ungaretti, Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Rainer Maria Rilke, Johannes Bobrowski, Horst Bienek, and so many others. Also the Metaphysical Poets and the French Symbolists, in particular Donne, Baudelaire, Mallarme, and Verlaine, fascinated me. Of course, growing up in the seventies, one could not miss Ezra Pound and T S Eliot. The congregation grew and grew, and through quiet osmosis, I was seduced into the world of sound, rhythm, word-patterns, ideas, syllabics, music, and language itself ….”

The direct influence of Tagore on my own work — however oblique and subtle — can be best seen in my two books Rain and Postcards from Bangladesh. Rain is landscaped in the two Bengals — West Bengal and Bangladesh — contains an evocative series of prose poems structured in three mock-sonnet sections, The First Octet, The Second Octet and The Only Sestet. Setting up the tone in the prologue that acts as an alaap [introduction], the volume importantly opens with a quote from Tagore:

  • In the lap of the storm clouds — the rain comes —
  • Its hair loosened, its sari borders flying!

Postcards from Bangladesh by virtue of its content contains many resonances of Rabindranath — among others, a piece on Tagore’s house Shilaidaha Kuthibari in Kushtia on the banks of the River Gorai. Here, he stayed many days at a time composing poetry and songs and writing his novel, Gora.

In my multi-media piece, Wo|Man: Desire, Divinity, Denouement, that blends poetry, prose, drama, dance and live music, Rabindra Sangeet has been used in the live stage production versions, sung variously by Vidya Rao, Jayati Ghosh and Averee Chaurey, as part of the India International Centre Festival of the Arts, and at The Attic in New Delhi.

More recently, I was commissioned to write specific poems, new English poetry in Tagore’s own voice for his marvellous Bhanushinger Padavali dance-drama stage production. The Kolkata and New Delhi productions were directed by the leading exponent, danseuse Padmashree Bharati Shivaji, Vijayalakshmi, and their repertory dancers of The Centre for Mohiniyattam. Here are the production-specific Tagore poems that I wrote:

after Bhanushiger Padavali


  1. Sudder Street, Kolkata
  • Now back from England —
  • lonely, and feeling low.
  • What a time it was, there —
  • grey and damp
  • and drenched
  • like slow-burning grief.
  • My studies left incomplete—
  • a Law degree unearned.
  • What a waste, what a waste —
  • what would people say?
  1. Jyotindranath Tagore & Kamdambini Devi
  • So what a joy it was
  • to move in with you both —
  • under your care, love and grace.
  • What happiness you gave me —
  • something you didn’t even know
  • yourselves.
  • My happiest days were here —
  • with you both.
  • But there was sadness as well —
  • sadness at seeing
  • notun bouthan pine
  • for her husband, my brother —
  • her endless wait for him
  • to return home from work.
  • During monsoon days,
  • dark and clouded —
  • empty and bereft
  • at Jyotida’s absence,
  • my notun bouthan
  • plunged in sorrow.
  • What could I do for her?
  • How could I appease her?
  • She, like Radha,
  • waited endlessly for Krishna —
  • notun bouthan and Jyotida —
  • the fair maiden and the dark god,
  • entwined
  • in life’s happy sadness.


  • Oh such beautiful strains of Bhara Badar
  • Bouthan’s dirge — melancholic, depressed,
  • she loved listening to my lyrics,
  • the ones I wrote, composed, and sung for her.
  • But the moment she heard dada’s footsteps —
  • her face lit up like a young glow-worm,
  • her gloom erased by his arrival.
  • Just like Radha would smile,
  • asking her sakhis to dress her up, adorn her,
  • anticipating, preparing, to finally meet her lover.


  • I still remember Sajani Sajani
  • After very very long, Jyotida is back home.
  • He waits for bouthan to arrive, to join him.
  • What would he be thinking, wanting, desiring?
  • Was it about her graceful gait,
  • her raven-black braided hair,
  • or her elegant beauty?
  • Or was it Mohini — the enchantress.
  • A dream to dance to.
  • Was it not like Abhisarika Radha
  • on her way to see her lover.
  • How happy I feel to see my dada with bouthan —
  • how joyous, and how deeply blessed.


About twenty years ago, prompted by the fact that I was introducing my son Aria to the poetries and music of different cultures including Bengali, I realised that the children’s verse written by Tagore — as available in limited English translation — appeared stilted, staccato and academic. Also, the quirky-fun-witty aspects of the Tagore poems as those that appear in Khapcharra/Out of Sync were not adequately explored in those limited translations. It is first the joyful abandon and immediate emotional connect that has always attracted me to the best of poetry. It is much later after several readings of a poem that I tend to savour the poem’s subtle content, context, cadence, and craft. I found the former mostly missing in the available translations of Tagore’s children and humorous poetry that I had laid my hands upon until then.

So with the assistance of my baba [father], I started translating Rabindranath’s wonderfully illustrated volume of nonsense verse, Khapcharra. The Visva-Bharati Santiniketan hardback edition which I still possess, with its jute-coloured cover-weave, is priceless. Surprisingly, this book has not yet been fully translated — considering Tagore tends to be among the first Indian writers on the list of publishers’ translation series or academics’ priorities in the field of Translation Studies (vis-a-vis Indian literature of course). Hopefully, my now ailing father and I will be able to complete the translation of this entire book for publication in the near future.

Translating the complex rhythms and clever rhymes of the Khapcharra poems have been a particular challenge. In some cases, when I transposed the Bengali rhymes onto English, they tended to hit a flawed tonal register and sounded awkward in modern English diction. When I left out the rhymes altogether, then of course one missed out on the wicked-atonal-musicality and wit, at least to a certain extent. At the end however, I decided to dispense with the end-rhymes but kept the internal rhythms alive and reasonably true. This is because I wanted Tagore’s original Bengali poems in my translated versions to read as competent English poems, reflecting the sine-graph of the contemporary English-language idiom. I definitely did not want them to stutter and languish under the cast of a post-Victorian-Augustan shadow and its inherent dated inflections.

Here are four examples that appear in my book of translations titled Aria (India: Yeti Books, 2009 / UK: Mulfran Press, 2011). They also appear in The Essential Tagore, edited by Fakrul Alam and Radha Chakravarty, published in the USA by Harvard University Press in 2011. The Indian edition published by Visva-Bharati, appeared in 2012. However, the page numbers mentioned after each poem refer to the recent Harvard edition:


  • Bird-seller says, “This is a black-coloured chanda.”
  • Panulal Haldar says, “I’m not blind —
  • It is definitely a crow — no God’s name on his beak.”
  • Bird-seller says, “Words haven’t yet blossomed —
  • So how can it utter ‘father’ ‘uncle’ in the invocation?” [page 743]


  • In Kanchrapara
  • there was a prince
  • [wrote but] no reply
  • from the princess.
  • With all the stamp expenses
  • will you sell off your kingdom?
  • Angry, disgusted
  • he shouts: “Dut-toor”
  • shoving the postman
  • onto a bulldog’s face. [page 743]


  • Two ears pierced
  • by crab’s claws.
  • Groom says: “Move them slowly,
  • the two ears.”
  • Bride sees in the mirror —
  • in Japan, in China —
  • thousands living
  • in fisher-folks colony.
  • Nowhere has it happened — in the ears,
  • such a big mishap. [page 744]


  • In school, yawns
  • Motilal Nandi —
  • says, lesson doesn’t progress
  • in spite of concentration.
  • Finally one day on a horse-cart he goes —
  • tearing page by page, dispersing them in the Ganga.
  • Word-compounds move
  • float away like words-conjoined.
  • To proceed further with lessons —
  • these are his tactics. [page 744]
  • [NOTE: All four poems were originally taken from the Visva-Bharati 1937 edition of Tagore’s nonsense verse, Khapcharra (Out of Sync). They are all untitled, so I have used the first line of each poem as their symbolic title. ‘In School, Yawns’ appears on page 4, ‘In Kanchrapara’ on page 5, ‘Two Ears Pierced’ on page 10, and, ‘Bird-seller says, “This is a black-coloured chanda.” ’ on page 11.]

These translations that were initially and largely meant for my son Aria and his friends — but to my pleasant surprise and pleasure, they found a much larger appreciative resonance with other fellow poets, writers, translators, lay readers, and even strict Tagore scholars.

Ultimately, unplanned and unintended acts of love and passion such as these come about as a disguised blessing — and that for me is the heart and essence of the joys of poetry, literature, art and music. Rabindranath Tagore, the polymath, sporting a wryly-elegant askance smile, would have done so, hopefully in agreement.


Barker, Wendy & Tagore, Saranindranath: Rabindranath Tagore: Final Poems (USA: George Braziller, 2001)

Bhatnagar, R. K. & Mukhopadhyay, Amit: Drawings & Paintings of Rabindranath Tagore (India: Lalit Kala Akademi, 1987)

Bose, Aurobindo: Later Poems of Rabindranath Tagore (UK: Peter Owen, 1974 / India: Rupa, 2002)

Chakravarty, Radha & Alam, Fakrul (editors): The Essential Tagore (USA: Harvard University Press, 2011 / India: Visva-Bharati, 2012)
Chakravarty, Radha: Gora (Penguin Classics, 2009)
—– : Shesher Kobita: Farewell Song (India: Srishti, 2005)
—– : Choker Bali (India: Srishti, 2004)

Chaudhuri, Sukanta: Rabindranath Tagore: Selected Writings for Children (OUP, 2002)
—– : Rabindranath Tagore: Selected Writings on Literature and Language (OUP, 2001)
—– : Rabindranath Tagore: Selected Short Stories (OUP, 2000)

Dutta, Krishna & Robinson, Andrew: Rabindranath Tagore: An Anthology (UK: Picador, 1997)
—– : Rabindranath Tagore: Selected Letters (UK: Cambridge University Press, 1997)
—– : Rabindranath Tagore: The Myriad-Minded Man (UK: Bloomsbury, 1995)

Dyson, Ketaki Kushari: I Won’t Let You Go: Selected Poems (UK: Bloodaxe, 1991 / India: UBSPD, 1992)

Furrell, James W.: The Tagore Family: A Memoir (India: Rupa, 2004)

Ghose, Sisirkumar: Tagore for You (India: Visva Bharati, 1966/1984)

Haq, Kaiser, Quartet (UK: Heinemann, 1993)

Kripalini, Krishna: Rabindranath Tagore: A Biography (UK: Oxford University Press, 1962 / India: Visva Bharati, 1980)

Mazumdar, Dipak: A Poet’s Death: Late Poems of Rabindranath Tagore (India: Rupa, 2004)

Radice, William: Rabindranath Tagore: The Post Office & Card Country (India: Visva Bharati, 2008)
—– : Rabindranath Tagore: Selected Short Stories (Penguin Modern Classics, 1991)
—– : Rabindranath Tagore: Selected Poems (Penguin Modern Classics, 1985)

Rahman, Muhammad Anisur: Songs of Tagore (Dhaka: Pathak Shamabesh, 1999)

Rushd, Abu: Selected Songs of Rabindranath Tagore (Dhaka: Rabindra Charcha Kendra, 1992)

Sen, Sudeep: Aria: Translations (India: Yeti Books, 2009 / UK: Mulfran Press, 2011)
—– : The HarperCollins Book of English Poetry [editor] (HarperCollins, 2011)
—– : Atlas (UK/India), Six Season’s Review (Bangladesh) & World Literature Today (USA), ‘Tagore Poems’ (2005-2010)

Som, Reba: Rabindranath Tagore: The Singer and His Song (Viking Penguin, 2009)

Tagore, Rabindranath: Gitanjali: Song Offerings [introduction by W B Yeats] (UK: Macmillan, 1913)
—– : Rabindra Rachanabali (India: Visva Bharati)
—– : Gitabitan (India: Visva Bharati)

Thompson, Edward: Rabindranath Tagore (UK: The Augustan Books of Modern Poetry / Ernest Benn Ltd, 1925)

Winter, Joe: Rabindranath Tagore: Gitanjali (UK: Anvil / India: Writers Workshop, 2000)

NOTE: Earlier versions of his essay originally appeared in the Seminar magazine (No 623 / July 2011) special issue on ‘The Nation and its Poet: A Symposium on Rabindranath Tagore 1861-1941 | Life, Language, Legacy’, guest edited by Ananya Vajpeyi; and in the American Book Review (Vol 36, No 6 / Sept-Oct 2015), guest-edited by Saikat Mazumdar. Some of my individual translations of the Tagore poems in this essay have earlier appeared in Aria (India: Yeti Books, 2009 / UK: Mulfran Press, 2011), The Essential Tagore, edited by Fakrul Alam & Radha Chakravarty (USA: Harvard University Press, 2011 / India: Visva-Bharati Santiniketan, 2012). A Bengali translation of this essay is forthcoming in the Kolkata magazine, | Copyright © Sudeep Sen, 2011, 2015, 2022.

SUDEEP SEN [] is widely recognised as a major new generation voice in world literature and “one of the finest younger English-language poets in the international literary scene” (BBC Radio). He is “fascinated not just by language but the possibilities of language” (Scotland on Sunday). At the 2004 Struga Poetry Festival (Macedonia), he received the ‘Pleiades’ honour for having made “a significant contribution to contemporary world poetry”. His prize-winning books include: Postmarked India: New & Selected Poems (HarperCollins), Distracted Geographies, Rain, Aria (A K Ramanujan Translation Award), Fractals: New & Selected Poems|Translations 1980-2015 (London Magazine Editions), EroText (Vintage: Penguin Random House), Kaifi Azmi: Poems | Nazms (Bloomsbury), and Anthropocene: Climate Change, Contagion, Consolation (Pippa Rann UK). He has edited important anthologies: The HarperCollins Book of English Poetry, World English Poetry, Modern English Poetry by Younger Indians (Sahitya Akademi), The Best Asian Poetry 2021-22 (Kitaab, Singapore), and Converse: Contemporay English Poetry by Indians (Pippa Rann UK). Blue Nude (Jorge Zalamea International Poetry Prize) and The Whispering Anklets are forthcoming. Sen’s works have been translated into over 25 languages. His words have appeared in the Times Literary Supplement, Newsweek, Guardian, Observer, Independent, Telegraph, Financial Times, Herald, Literary Review, Harvard Review, Hindu, Hindustan Times, Outlook, India Today, and broadcast on BBC, PBS, CNN IBN, NDTV, AIR & Doordarshan. Sen’s newer work appears in New Writing 15 (Granta), Language for a New Century (Norton), Love Poems (Knopf/Everyman), Out of Bounds (Bloodaxe), Initiate: Oxford New Writing (Blackwell), and Name me a Word (Yale). He is the editorial director of AARK ARTS and the editor of Atlas. The Government of India’s Ministry of Culture has awarded him the senior fellowship for “outstanding persons in the field of culture/literature”. Sen is the first Asian honoured to read his poetry and deliver the Derek Walcott Lecture at the Nobel Laureate Festival.



WPP [World Poetry/Prose Portfolio]

New Series | No. 1

ALFREDO PÉREZ ALENCART, born in Puerto Maldonado, Perú in 1962 is a Peruvian-Spanish poet and teacher at the University of Salamanca. He has published 15 books, among them, Mother Forest (2002), Hear me, my Brethren (2009), Cartography of the Revelations (2011), Paradise Mud (2019), The Sun of the Blind (2021), and Monarchy of the Astonishment (Anthology, 2013). His work has been translated into 50 languages and he has received the international poetry award, the Vicente Gerbasi Medal (2009), the Jorge Guillen poetry Award (2012), the Humberto Peregrino (2015) and the Mihail Eminescu Medal (2017).

Translated from the Spanish by Stuart Park


wherever you might be,
unclench your fists,
and may there never
be a weapon in your hands again,

may conflict
no longer be your reason
for drawing close,

may only words
arise to win the argument.

May only your words persuade,
not blows or
and may benevolence

rise up within you



estés donde estés,
abre los puños
y que no vuelvan
las armas a tus manos,

que la lucha
no insista en acercar

que solo las palabras
se levanten y convenzan.

Que convenzan tus palabras,
no los golpes ni las
y que en ti se agigante

la benevolencia.



You, I speak to you,
female out of male,

woman that causes
your other rib
to tremble.

You are the strength
of the world,

who waits for the night
to impregnate man
with light.

who privatized him
for your protection

and delight



Tú, a ti hablo
hembra del hombre,

varona que haces
temblar a
tu otra costilla.

Tú eres la fuerza
del mundo,

que aguardas la noche
para preñar de luz
al hombre

que privatizaste
para tu amparo
y deleite.



No whisper
of woman
the desiring loneliness
of my adolescent days.

No rib came out
of my clay.

Then a leaf
of exquisite fragrance fell
and in my breast became
most loving flesh,

vibrant flame,
vein of transfusion
for all time.

Then the seed
of the only-begotten
was sown.

I moisten you with my mouth,

I knead you to myself.



susurro de mujer
la deseante soledad
de mis días adolescentes.

Ninguna costilla salía
de mi barro.

Entonces cayó una hoja
de exquisita fragancia
y en mi pecho
se hizo carne amantísima,

vibrante llama,
vena de transfusión para

Luego empezó
la fecundación del

Te ensalivo,

te amaso a mí.



Things will be very different
when good fortune fades away,
and, when you see their shrunken bellies,
you search for your loved-ones’ bread.

You will be like the newcomer
scavenging at the rubbish dumps
and sleeping under bridges
while bright lights shine above.

You had forgotten
the citizenry of old
that tied famine round its neck
and shackled work to servitude.

You’ll suffer unthinkable privations
to hold down paltry jobs
with excellence and care
that no native worker wants.

We all travel in the same ship
that rises and falls with the tides.
Gold is a vain ambition
for tomorrow it may all be gone.

Yes; may it never happen to you



A ti te tocará otra suerte
cuando se aleje la bonanza
y, al mirar en su vientre seco,
querrás ir tras el pan para los tuyos.

Serás como el recién llegado
que busca comida en la basura
y debe dormir bajo los puentes
mientras todo brilla por arriba.

Tú habías perdido la memoria
de esa pasada ciudadanía
que ataba las hambres a su cuello
y el trabajo a la servidumbre.

Pasarás desmedidas privaciones
para lograr empleos miserables
que los nativos del lugar no desean
y tú harás con puntual esmero.

Todos viajamos en un mismo barco
que sube y baja con la marea.
Por el oro nunca te envanezcas
pues bien puede faltar mañana.

Sí: ojalá que nunca te suceda.



When I am no more,
And no longer see you, deeply
for my soul has gone from me,

do not weep
for yesterday when
I went up
or down.

Divide the ashes
into two parts.

Then scatter them
over the rivers that coursed
through my heart.

And bid me farewell
with a psalm by the one
who vanquished Goliath.

And thus will I
open the darkened window
as my soul reclines
against an olive tree

from Gethsemane



Cuando ya no esté
ni emocionado pueda verlos
porque mi alma salió,

no lloren
por el ayer que fui
hacia arriba o hacia

Dos partes hagan
de las cenizas.

Aviéntenlas luego
a los ríos que me surcaron
el corazón.

Y díganme adiós
con un salmo de aquel
que venció a Goliat.

Así abriré la ventana ciega
con mi alma recostada
en un olivo

de Getsemaní.

Ars Notoria’s International Prose and Poetry editor, Sudeep Sen’s prize-winning books include: Postmarked India: New & Selected Poems (HarperCollins), Rain, Aria (A. K. Ramanujan Translation Award), Fractals: New & Selected Poems | Translations 1980–2015 (London Magazine Editions), EroText (Vintage: Penguin Random House), Kaifi Azmi: Poems | Nazms (Bloomsbury) and Anthropocene: Climate Change, Contagion, Consolation (Pippa Rann). He has edited influential anthologies, including: The HarperCollins Book of English Poetry, World English Poetry, Modern English Poetry by Younger Indians (Sahitya Akademi), and Converse: Contemporary English Poetry by Indians (Pippa Rann). Blue Nude: Ekphrasis & New Poems (Jorge Zalamea International Poetry Prize) and The Whispering Anklets are forthcoming. Sen’s works have been translated into over twenty-five languages. His words have appeared in the Times Literary Supplement, Newsweek, Guardian, Observer, Independent, Telegraph, Financial Times, Herald, Poetry Review, Literary Review, Harvard Review, Hindu, Hindustan Times, Times of India, Indian Express, Outlook, India Today, and broadcast on the BBC, PBS, CNN IBN, NDTV, AIR & Doordarshan. Sen’s newer work appears in New Writing 15 (Granta), Language for a New Century (Norton), Leela: An Erotic Play of Verse and Art (Collins), Indian Love Poems (Knopf / Random House / Everyman), Out of Bounds (Bloodaxe), Initiate: Oxford New Writing (Blackwell), and Name me a Word (Yale). He is the editorial director of AARK ARTS, editor of Atlas, and currently the inaugural artist-in-residence at the Museo Camera. Sen is the first Asian honoured to deliver the Derek Walcott Lecture and read at the Nobel Laureate Festival. The Government of India awarded him the senior fellowship for “outstanding persons in the field of culture / literature”.

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