Secrets of Happy Family Life

2189. Husband and Wife.—Being hints to each other for the good of both, as actually delivered at our own table :— 2190. Hints for Wives.—If your husband occasionally looks a little troubled when he comes home, do not say to him, with an alarmed countenance, " What ails you, my dear ? " Don't bother… Continue reading Secrets of Happy Family Life


Strange Angels

This CD is one of several I picked up free at the Wycombe Counselling Service. Someone had left a pile of cds in a spare room with a note saying help yourself, with a little tray for donations to maintain the service. Before introducing Strange Angels,  please permit me a rambling digression. I worked there… Continue reading Strange Angels


"As of February 2023, Rumours has sold over 40 million copies worldwide, making it the sixth best-selling album of the 1970s, and the 12th best-selling album of all time." (Wikipedia). I'd never heard of Fleetwood Mac until their first hit, the instrumental "Albatross", released in 1968. and though Rumours came out in '77, I never… Continue reading Rumours

For you, on my birthday

It's my birthday (eighteen backwards) and I'm feeling fine, thanks to our blessed NHS and all its pills keeping me alive day by day, especially their gift of Codeine as and when needed—which is quite often. Coming to the point, I have a small set of CDs and books, so precious that when I lost… Continue reading For you, on my birthday

A cryptic crossword, explained

Cryptic crosswords are a British invention. The first ones were printed in the Daily Telegraph. Unless you have knowledge of British geography (especially rivers, counties and towns), games (especially cricket), past prime ministers, abbreviations. you'll flounder helplessly. The English language has an impressive range of metaphoric expressions, some of which you can see here. We… Continue reading A cryptic crossword, explained

Escaping from a Festival

We're a bunch of old friends from University days, on our way to somewhere in Wales, in an old Land Rover. Without our copy of The Readers Digest Book of Roads (400 pages), cross-referenced to signposts, we'd have had no chance. Our route takes us up hill and down dale, in a maze of narrow… Continue reading Escaping from a Festival

Eagle Flew Out Of the Night

Waking up at 3 am, I find a song playing endlessly in my head. Not just the tune, but some of the words too. It's one of the most extraordinary popular songs, more potent than anything by Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen. Peter Gabriel has his own explanation for how it hatched in his mind… Continue reading Eagle Flew Out Of the Night

‘Fitness’ in the Design of Form

Postscript Here's an overview of the author's life and work on YouTube:   Many years ago, when I worked at Zeus-Hermes, I read a piece in Computer Weekly mentioning Notes on the Synthesis of Form. I couldn't get a copy anywhere till I bought one on an obscure shelf in the world famous bookshop, Foyles.… Continue reading ‘Fitness’ in the Design of Form

In Bed This Morning

Transcribed from our conversations and my scribbled notes Part 1 We both woke up at the same time: 6:40. I often wake at 5.30 and read till she wakes at 6.30. I had a strange dream of living in a foreign land. Where am I? What am I doing here? But then I discovered my… Continue reading In Bed This Morning

From my desktop

This one's for Cindy. Despite the distance between us—she lives with family near St Louis, Missouri—we've kept in touch for many years by email, and she's made lots of comments on posts here. ----- I shall look no further for inspiration beyond my physical desktop. As bought from Ikea to fit in this corner position… Continue reading From my desktop

Planning One’s Endgame

When I set my mind to it, this head is crowded with enough memories to spend the rest of my life writing it all down, supposing I aim for two hours a day. But how do I know which bits will be of interest to future generations?. Modesty, probably false, wants to add "if any".… Continue reading Planning One’s Endgame

Bel and the Dragon

We had planned a day out walking in Flackwell Heath, near High Wycombe, but the next bus wasn't due for an hour. Another bus was waiting for passengers to Maidenhead, so we got on that. We decided to get off at Cookham, where I knew a nice pub that I hadn't been in since 1965,… Continue reading Bel and the Dragon

Sailing into WebSpace

A while ago I created this website. It was before the days of blogs. I used some free kind of web design software. It was harder to use than blogger or WordPress, or so it seemed at the time, but provided some lovely backgrounds. The site is You can view it from any browser,… Continue reading Sailing into WebSpace

The day Jack Kennedy died we danced to this again and again ... It was a Thursday evening on November 22 in 1963. I'd graduated that summer with a mediocre BA Hons from the University of Birmingham. I'd had some adventures after that—see this post for example. There was lots more. I'd earned a few quid selling ice-cream at… Continue reading The day Jack Kennedy died

Good Vibrations, good migration

 Revised on October 3rd Things have changed in my body & psyche. One is the worse for wear, the other has recovered after 6 weeks of insanity, diagnosed as an infection of the brain which like the common cold has cleared up by itself. During those 6 weeks my head ran wild ("Freak Out!") scaring… Continue reading Good Vibrations, good migration


The ghost of Christine Keeler is returning to public view, in the form of a TV series now on BBC, and a forthcoming exhibition in London, which I heard about through Natalie D'Arbeloff's blog, in which she says Christine Keeler was, in that story, simultaneously absolutely powerless and absolutely powerful. She was neither victim nor… Continue reading Face-to-Face

Life-story, part 1

I want to tell the story of my entire life up to the present: the bare-bones series of events, with no fanciful embroidery. Let it be like a series of chess moves without the expert commentary. Let it be like a dispassionate ship's log. Let the facts tell their own story. As far as possible,… Continue reading Life-story, part 1

Eleventh Child

I woke in the night after a dream, went downstairs to jot it down in the great leatherbound book from Margaret in Canada; then went back to bed and slept again. On awakening once more in the morning, I jotted down another dream. I tried to polish up the drafts into something coherent, but it… Continue reading Eleventh Child

The girl who torpedoed the Government

We met on a summer afternoon in ’59, two 17-year-olds, Pisces born within days of each other. We discovered we had much in common. Both from fatherless backgrounds, lacking any proper home. Each had been granted a single talent, you might say, in compensation for the lack. As her father-figure Stephen Ward said, she had… Continue reading The girl who torpedoed the Government

Passion and Society

The present train of thought started 54 years ago with a red book. Technically it was shoplifting but I thought of it as using the campus bookshop as a lending library. In mitigation of the offence, I returned it stealthily to the original shelf ten days later. That was the hard part, very scary. I’ve… Continue reading Passion and Society

The Gordian Knot

Carved on the St. Madoes Stone in Perthshire, Scotland (9th Century) A Celtic knot made from one continuous line The sword is not just a symbol of killing. In the days before stainless steel, a sharp bright sword was a symbol of value and power. Famous or magical swords had names. Excalibur is raised out… Continue reading The Gordian Knot

Fingers and Moon

I was dumbfounded: confounded and struck dumb at the same time. It was a congenial place to be, I discovered, being content to stay there a while, sheltered in the dignity and grace of not knowing, that is, shedding false knowledge. . . . First published on July 15th 2015 and reissued to complement Natalie… Continue reading Fingers and Moon

Jua Kali

It’s spring and that creates a fruitful restlessness in me, a primitive, profound and timely desire to die to my old self and be resurrected. It’s too inward, physical, dynamic and inchoate to be directly described, so I am left speechless. It doesn’t make sense to call it writer’s block, for that would imply the… Continue reading Jua Kali

The Horoscope

After replacing my old bookshelves, I was restless for more domestic improvements, so launched into tidying up a collection of papers I’ve been carrying around for years, and throwing away the dross. That’s when I found a document dating from December 1974, which I’ve taken care not to throw away throughout the vicissitudes of 40… Continue reading The Horoscope

The happy ending

Three years ago today, on a certain occasion, I received this gift bag A couple of weeks ago I had a visit from my headmaster*. He’s long dead of course, but dreams have something in common with memory and ghosts—which the French call “revenants”—returning ones. With no difficulty, they can span the passage of time.… Continue reading The happy ending

On fresh air alone

If you want to go somewhere and enjoy an undisturbed smoke I suggest the Nineteen-Fifties. If you were actually around at the time, it’s no problem—wings of memory will take you and your membership remains free for life. Otherwise you need to be escorted as a guest. I’ll do my best to take you to… Continue reading On fresh air alone

A Coney Island of the Mind

This is for you, dear poet of my youth, still 23 years and 21 days older than me (therefore 95), still here with the rest of us, enabling me to write this with a possibility it might reach you. I would say I’ve admired you from afar, but it’s not true, for I spent fifty… Continue reading A Coney Island of the Mind

Perspectives and Remembrance

This post is one of several recently rescued and restored from Blogger, where it was published on May 11th, 2014. The emblem of this blog is a weathervane with a gilded Centaur, standing above a cupola on top of the 18th century Guildhall, in the market square of this fictional town of Wye Vale, built… Continue reading Perspectives and Remembrance


Days pass quickly, like the view from a speeding train; or from this footbridge, under which I hear the roar and clatter of a train below, watch it round the curve and disappear into the tunnel, leaving emptiness and the memory of its presence. Externally, each day resembles the one before; but so much happens… Continue reading Blessedness

Me and the Little Rock Nine

My Headmaster’s great vision Now that my birthday’s out of the way—it’s become a family event, this year bigger than last—the most exciting thing going on in my life is Winter’s retreat and Spring’s approach: the great drama of the seasons. I like it when nothing more than that is happening, for then I can… Continue reading Me and the Little Rock Nine

Prophetic words from 1976

In 1976 when I wrote the essay below for a competition, it was already possible to link computers by telephone line, but an international structure, eventually called the Internet, wasn’t established till 6 years later. Its use was limited to academics and technical types keeping in touch, till Tim Berners-Lee invented the World-Wide Web, nine… Continue reading Prophetic words from 1976

Hitching to Heaven

There are things in my past I prefer not to revisit, as mentioned in comments on the previous post. ‘Cult’ comes from the Latin cultus, worship. In certain contexts it refers to “a relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister”. I was involved with a cult… Continue reading Hitching to Heaven

In memory of George Whitman, 1913-2011

I once spent a few weeks as George Whitman’s guest in his bookshop opposite Notre Dame in Paris. Today I heard of his death on the news. I’ve mentioned him three times on this blog: in May 2008, May 2009 and Feb 2011*. It has always been difficult to write about the man himself, for… Continue reading In memory of George Whitman, 1913-2011

In the thistle field, at dawn

I lie in bed watching dawn’s rosy fingers light up the house opposite, creeping lower as the hour advances. This street is narrow, its houses joined together (‘terraced’) in a continuous chain on both sides. You’d think there’d be scant room for the low-slanting rays to penetrate. But our house is near the street’s eastern… Continue reading In the thistle field, at dawn


The other day I was writing about being nineteen and somehow feeling the same way fifty years later. But it was a mysterious feeling because I could not adduce a single instance of nineteenhood to illustrate my point. So it is a coincidence that I first discovered Wittgenstein at that age. Discovered is hardly the… Continue reading Wittgenstein

A modest school reunion

I often “dwell in the past”. It’s a fabulous museum, where you can look at the same exhibits time and again, and discover new ones you hadn’t noticed before, and see the familiar ones from new angles. My fondness for this pastime owes a lot to my sense that I didn’t live my life fully… Continue reading A modest school reunion

A fig-leaf for David

My previous post wound up with the words "I got a job as assistant to a cinematographer making an educational movie about Michelangelo. But that’s a tale for another day." It’s the 6th of August 1962. I’m sitting on the steps outside the Duomo, Florence’s cathedral, trying to work out whether I’m a student, an… Continue reading A fig-leaf for David

At Mrs Jenkins’

Last night I watched My Left Foot, in which Daniel Day-Lewis plays the real-life Christy Brown, born to a family of thirteen in a Dublin slum with severe cerebral palsy. To his parents, it’s out of the question that he should be abandoned in an institution, but they cannot afford the home care and treatment… Continue reading At Mrs Jenkins’

Intrinsic goodness

Back in the Sixties, I first came across some mysterious expressions from the other side of the Atlantic. I was working for a British company whose main rival was IBM. Both companies had built up a customer base selling punched-card equipment based on the nineteenth-century inventions of Herman Hollerith and his one-time colleague James Powers.… Continue reading Intrinsic goodness

Hole in the head

Phineas Gage was swift, capable, responsible. He was physically fit and a leader of men. These qualities made him at the age of 25 a supervisor on a Vermont railroad construction project; and might have helped him rise through the ranks to a senior management position in that branch of engineering. But the smooth track… Continue reading Hole in the head

Encounter in a landscape

Belatedly, I discover that manual work is better than being desk-bound, better for the soul—and the world too, probably. But first some words to continue from yesterday’s set of photos. One of them shows part of the track I walked: down the hill through the nature reserve where the wild roses grew, then through high… Continue reading Encounter in a landscape

Cherrydown (1)

Anno 1956 Aetat. 14 This post picks up my childhood memoirs from where Norfolk House (5): Fog on the Solent left off. We moved to a 1930s semi-detached house, “Cherrydown”, 8 Parkhurst Road, Newport [here photographed August 2008—it hasn’t changed since 1956]. For the first few days, my bed was in the dining room, which… Continue reading Cherrydown (1)

“The Head’s sermon”

A school-friend I have not seen face-to-face since the late Fifties has finally sent me a photocopy of an anthology of writings and drawings from that era. I thought it was mostly my work, but not at all, and my pieces were amongst the worst-written. The best pieces came from our freethinking maths master Mr… Continue reading “The Head’s sermon”

Fog on the Solent (Norfolk House 5)

Royal Yacht Squadron, 1921: Norfolk House would be behind tree at right of church tower The Solent may have been the busiest sea-lane in the world and the most varied in its traffic. There were ferries between the mainland and our Island; the Royal Navy base at Portsmouth; the transatlantic liner port at Southampton; the… Continue reading Fog on the Solent (Norfolk House 5)

Norfolk House 4: Vignettes

In “Nest of Dreams” I referred to awakening sexuality. A boy, especially if he has come into contact with no girls, doesn’t necessarily associate his burgeoning virility with those giggling, teasing creatures. It doesn’t surprise me that some take the other direction and stay that way. In my case, wet dreams had always been accompanied… Continue reading Norfolk House 4: Vignettes

Norfolk House 3; the Back Story

Bungalow in Australia, with one of my “mothers” Beth said I was teasing, in my post Norfolk House (2). It’s so long since these memoirs were interrupted (since early September) that I ought to tell you The Story So Far. I have a head-cold today, but let us give it true dignity and call it… Continue reading Norfolk House 3; the Back Story

Norfolk House 1

(continued from here). . . Norfolk house was pulled down long ago. We moved there from Powys House, a tall granite Victorian building which still stands, a mile from Queen Victoria’s holiday home at Osborne. Norfolk House was in West Cowes: an Edwardian mansion with broad veranda and balcony overlooking the Solent, that busy strip… Continue reading Norfolk House 1

The school yard

Me; the bullied boy; Rasmussen That aerial photo of the school helped arouse many memories, which in my life seem to be fastened upon places more than upon people. In that respect, I am more of a cat than a dog. I’m more introverted, solitary, not made to hunt in packs and defer to the… Continue reading The school yard

King James I School

At the school there was a Scout Troop in addition to the Cadet Contingent. At some point in my bookish diversions I had read Baden-Powell’s Scouting for Boys and been seduced by it just like millions of others world-wide. The essence of this seductive power was contained in the bush-hat, the neckwear and the badge-adorned… Continue reading King James I School

I bear his name

I’m clearing things out and waiting to move to another house and it’s a jittery time for there are delays and dramas, so I cannot write anything coherent. On the other hand I can’t do anything practical till things clarify. Meanwhile I discovered this photo whilst gathering old papers together and deciding what to throw… Continue reading I bear his name

Some rare photos

This one is late ’50 or early ’51. I'm in my stepfather's 1938 Hillman Minx, my mother in the front passenger seat. My half-sister stands outside. The reason I'm not wearing glasses is that my short sight had not yet been identified. They noticed at school around this time and the headmaster's wife* drove me… Continue reading Some rare photos

My new school

a: headmaster’s lawn (archery & other photogenic activities for school prospectus & to impress special visitors) b: school yard, cadets' parade ground etc c: bicycle shed d: WCs e: urinals f: Nissen hut (housing three classrooms) g: Headmaster’s study h: Form III (my first classroom) i: Assembly Hall j: kitchens k: (off picture) the Cadet… Continue reading My new school

New day-school

My most vivid memories are not of the first days at my new day-school, as you might think, but of coming back home each afternoon. I’d been five years at boarding-school and could not imagine a greater luxury. Let out at 3.45, I’d arrive home from a country-bus ride, ravenous. My mother let me cut… Continue reading New day-school

The Wooing of Blackett

English divorce in the early Fifties wasn’t a sedate exchange of paperwork between lawyers. If you wanted to contest it—there was every reason to do so—you had to appear in court, and risk your pain being turned into Sunday morning entertainment by reporters from the News of the World. This humiliation happened to my mother… Continue reading The Wooing of Blackett

The headmaster’s wife

Lying awake at night, it’s as though I can draw back a curtain to expose deep alcoves of memory. It takes a little perseverance. Suddenly I recall that “perseverance” was a favourite word of Monty Brummell-Hicks, the scary headmaster of my prep school, that place I was sent for ten or twelve weeks at a… Continue reading The headmaster’s wife

Days at boarding-school

What distinguishes man from the other animals? I wish I had made a note of all the answers I’ve read. Perhaps someone somewhere has compiled a long list of them. Well here is another for the collection. What distinguishes man from the other animals is the vast spectrum of “normal”. Unlike ducks and pigeons, we… Continue reading Days at boarding-school

Back Home from Hospital

The pianola When I reached home from hospital I was pleased to find I had a proper bedroom. Well, it was my baby sister’s room. Her cot had been moved to my parents’ room and I was assigned a mattress on the floor but I luxuriated in its sparse furnishings and relative comfort. I soon… Continue reading Back Home from Hospital

Released from hospital

It takes effort to wrestle the facts from memory. I thought that it was summer when I came out of hospital, and that it had been a six-month stay. But I was discharged in time to see a long queue outside a tobacconist / candy store in Harold Place, Hastings. The public record confirms that… Continue reading Released from hospital

If I burn to death, they’ll be sorry

Drawing by Sally Faye Boarding school* for all its rigours was a respite from the neglect and loneliness of home. I find it difficult to speak of either, but our goal---yours and mine---is to be entertained and edified in the catharsis called human life. Merrion House School was a red-brick house once owned by Sir… Continue reading If I burn to death, they’ll be sorry

I still dream of that voyage

I’m not finished with the mv Rangitata, which brought me as a four-year-old from Fremantle to Tilbury. The Rangitata hasn’t finished with me either. Our acquaintance was a six-week voyage sixty years ago but memories can still be triggered; the shuddering vibration from its engines, the smells of hot paint, engine oil, bleach, disinfectant, sewage.… Continue reading I still dream of that voyage

How I learned the truth

How I imagined my father Image source: Dolores (Continued from previous post) My mother’s beloved Singapore roadhouse was called The Gap: a prophetic name. After the war, it was nothing but a gap; one that she mourned forever and never really replaced. The gap in my life was a father. When I met him fifty… Continue reading How I learned the truth