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The meaning of remembrance and a better future

In the UK, Remembrance Sunday is a significant event to honour those who died during the world wars. This year is of special significance because it marks 100 years since the armistice ending the First World War.


When I was young, our school went on a trip to Belgium to visit former battlefields and cemeteries. The most striking thing was the realisation that easily I could have been born 100 years earlier and faced the prospect of going to war. I have always been grateful for being born in a time of peace and not have to face the challenges of that generation.


Once, I watched a long documentary about the First World War. One striking thing was in the first episode. They interviewed Bertrand Russell (a famous pacifist who was later sent to jail for later campaigning against the war) Russell noted that when war was declared he couldn’t help but notice and feel a wave of enthusiasm for the war sweep the whole nation – like an external force. He was shocked to be aware of and feel this enthusiasm in the air, even though his whole nature was personally against war. Perhaps the war was the unstoppable culmination from many years of inner aggression and striving for supremacy amongst the powerful nations.


Often I have thought – how would I respond if I was a young male in 1914? The over-riding feeling is gratitude I don’t have to make a choice. I am not a pacifist – there are times when it is necessary to fight – but also I do not believe you should fight simply out of patriotism or because your government tells you to. Continue Reading →


Loch Lomond meditation

Around the turn of the century, the great yogi Swami Vivekananda visited Britain. He gave lectures and taught the basics of yoga and meditation to British seekers – Vivekananda was one of the first to bring the great spiritual traditions of India to the West. He stayed several months and it included a trip to Loch Lomond, where he chose a spot on the lake to meditate.


Loch Lomond, with the sun temporarily disappearing behind a block of mist and cloud.

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Constable’s Hay Wain in Flatford via Todmorden

Last week I was in Yorkshire. When in Yorkshire, I often like to cycle into the picturesque Yorkshire Dales – picture postcard villages, limestone crops and sweeping meadows.


Littondale, Yorkshire Dales.

But this time I was drawn to the rugged industrial towns and moors of Calderdale – the windswept moors above Haworth and the old industrial towns of Todmorden and Burnley.


Just out of living memory, this part of the world was at the heart of the industrial revolution – with cotton and steam transforming the world. Yet, this once brave new world now stands forlorn as industrial history; derelict buildings stuck in the wrong age; the odd chimney retained as a tentative tourist attraction for towns struggling to cope with relentless economic change. Continue Reading →


Non-violence and the problem of slugs and snails

I have a dilemma. This year I’ve taken more interest in gardening, and have bought a few plants. The problem is that there has been an explosion in the population of slugs and snails. The garden is being decimated by these small creatures.


You wake up in the morning and new plants and old daffodils are mere shreds of their former selves, slugs greedily leaving a trail of their feasting.

It presents me with a dilemma – what to do about the slugs? Continue Reading →


Overcoming religious intolerance

My father works in a book charity shop. He came across this old book “The Justice of the Peace” – MDCCLVII (That is 1757 if my Latin is up to scratch). This was a very different period. A time in history pre-French and American Revolutions, a time before any meaningful industrial revolution.


It was interesting to see and feel a book 259 years old – still in quite good condition. There is always a thrill to books, but especially hard-backed books that are quite old.

It is a book about the laws and customs of the time – a guide for justices of the peace who dispensed local justice. I was a little surprised about the content. The first page I opened was a big chapter on “Popery”. In those days, there were strict anti-Catholic laws. To say or hear Catholic Mass could lead to one years imprisonment. Continue Reading →


Trainspotters meaning

I am reading a book – Platform Souls ‘Trainspotter as 20th Century Hero” by Nicholas Whittaker

Whittaker was a train-spotter when growing up in the 1960s. He tells of his fascination in watching steam trains and also how the decline of the railways and steam, completely changed the view of train-spotters, from a young hip hobby – to be the butt of jokes, eventually immortalised in a film about heroin addicts.

A train-spotter is defined as:
“A person who collects train numbers as a hobby.”
In the 1950s and 1960s, train-spotting was a very popular hobby for British boys who would stand on platform edges to catch the huge range of steam engines that were working the British railway system.
Train-spotting was very much the ‘FIFA football’ (or ‘Call of Duty’) of the 1950s. It was cool, and thousands of young children would spend much of their spare time hoping to get glimpses of the steam trains, passing through. It was also a little risky, with the eager train-spotter, sometimes ‘bunking’ railway sheds to catch the numbers of engines in their sheds. Train-spotters were tolerated, if not encouraged by the train authorities.
However by the early 1970s steam trains had disappeared from British railways, to be replaced by more modern, less charismatic, air-conditioned, safety-conscious mass produced trains. The decline of the romance of the railways also changed the view of train-spotters. Trainspotter jokes soon became a staple of society. This once popular hobby, has come to mean something very different. In fact ‘train-spotter’, now almost universally creates a derogatory image of a lone, anoraked, socially deficient loser, who hasn’t anything better to do.

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