Friday, 15 December 2017

ROBERT PIRZIG'S 'ZEN AND THE ART OF MOTORCYCLE MAINTENANCE' - CELEBRATING A MAVERICK PHILOSOPHER

'Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance' by Robert Pirsig was first published in 1974 and caused a literary sensation. It became a million-selling classic - one of the must-read books of the decade. I gave it my best shot but got no further than the first few pages. The narrative seemed tedious and the philosophy that was interwoven within the story too difficult for me to get my head round. I remember thinking that I needed to teach myself some philosophy before picking up Robert Pirsig again.



Decades rolled by and I did get an education in philosophy - part-time study at the University of East Anglia, one evening a week between 2003 and 2005, led to a Certificate in Philosophy. And that was followed by three years part-time study between 2006 and 2009 with the Open University which led to a M.A. in Philosophy. So the ground had been prepared when this year, in late April, I read an obituary for Robert Pirsig. He had died aged 88 at his home in Maine in the USA on Monday 24 April.

The Guardian had interviewed him in 2006 and Pirsig had said:
'It is not good to talk about Zen because Zen is nothingness. If you talk about it you are always lying,


Thursday, 7 December 2017

JAGO STONE ONLINE - IN THE SALESROOM AND THE STUDIO

Every month since August this year, I have produced a Mailchimp Newsletter for those who are interested in the Jago Stone story. The Newsletter is free - to get your copy, all you need to do is complete the simple form on this page - press here for the link. There are around fifty subscribers at present. I make sure there is novel material in the Newsletter that has not appeared before in my blogs.

Incidentally, when you look at the link you have just pressed, you will see that there are now twenty published Jago posts that I've written since January 2016, including the four American Connection blogs that have now been reissued through the websites of USAF Upper Heyford veterans. The first three of these four posts have gathered nearly 2,000 more views in the last three weeks. Jago was commissioned to paint pictures by scores of the American flying crew on tour over here - and these guys and their families took his work back across the Pond to hang in their own homes.

In the course of this blog, I would like to share with you the fruits of one of the 'gifts' that has come to me online. About three months ago, I got an email from Google informing me that there was an online auction coming up in which one of the Lots included paintings by Jago Stone. Apparently, at some point in the past, I has pressed a key to indicate that I wanted to be alerted if such a development occurred. I've never taken part in an auction before online - in fact, my first auction experience had been in Penzance earlier this year - see this blog here  - when I bid for the Jane Sand and Claire Healey paintings that now grace our walls. It proved to be an interesting experience. Here is one of the four fruits that came my way.


The School House of Piddletrenthide , Dorset - Jago Stone (1983)


I was told online that I could enter a bid in advance for the Lot 419 in which I now knew there were four Jago paintings and three other items. I had no further information about the nature of the other items, nor any details nor pictures of the Jago paintings. I was too busy to attempt to find out any

Sunday, 3 December 2017

ROB DONOVAN AND THE ST IVES RUNNING CIRCUIT - DOWN THE HILL

Yesterday's blog brought you up the hill. Now, with some delight and anticipation, I'm ready to turn round and make my descent. It takes around twenty minutes to reach the top; fifteen minutes to run back down - with faster or slower times depending on fitness, mood and weather conditions. There's a car parking area at the top of the hill and a National Trust 'Little Trevalgan' sign.

First glimpse of St Ives Bay in the distance - and a breath-taking realisation of how high the run has taken me


Making that turn, brings the sweeping panorama of the St Ives bay into view.

The town sign adds a sense of boundary - and now I'm looking across the bay to the Hayle sands - Godrevy is out there, the rock and lighthouse, a tiny white pillar highlighted by a bright winter sun


Running downhill has its own technique and pitfalls, as well as its singular joys. To be free and gifted with such views makes the heart sing - and sometimes I will release a whoop of pleasure. I am loathe ever to lose this wonder of motion and land- and sea-scape.


A view that speaks for itself - you might just be able to make out the tower of St John's in the Field, the church that I pass twice-a-day on the Ella dog-walk 


As for the dangers, I took a tumble this summer. I was around two-thirds down the hill running on the right-hand-side, facing on-coming traffic, wearing as ever my high-visibility top. I had already safely negotiated the couple of blind bends where I will cross over the road to maximise my chances of being seen by motorists. Coming towards me, and slowing, was an open-topped double-decker tourist bus. I could hear that there was a vehicle coming down the hill on the other side, also slowing. I slowed too. The bus had almost stopped as I gently jogged past it, my left shoulder almost touching its bodywork. It had such a presence. I lost my focus on the ground beneath me. Suddenly I was falling - instinctively to my right and into the undergrowth away from the bus. I landed well as I have done in past years when falling - and breathed a sigh of relief that my Fifth Year (Year 11) gym lessons had included a term of judo. I've learned the art of self-protection when thrown off-balance.

As I picked myself up and reassured the car-driver who had stopped behind the bus and got out to see that I was alright, I looked behind me and saw the pot-hole at the edge of the road. I had failed to observe the peril before sinking my foot into it and tumbling.

As you descend, the view of the sea shrinks until suddenly it has vanished.


By the time I passed the field where the mechanical hedge-cutter was at work, the guy in the cab had completed his work by the road-side and was engaged in cutting and trimming on the other side of the field. I reflected on how much has changed with the coming of this machine-culture. Once, those same hedges would have been shaped and cut and managed by local farm-hands, five or six or more working for a couple of days. Now the work is completed in a brutal but effective fashion by one man sitting in a cab manipulating levers in half-a-day's shift.


The sea has all but gone - and so too has the life in my battery. This turns out to be my last shot! Note the road-spray from the hedge-management. 

         
I am loving every minute of my descent down the hill but I am becoming anxious about my camera. I didn't check the battery before leaving and I have been turning it on and off rather a lot. Sure enough, I discover I am out of juice.


To bring this double blog - Up and Down the Hill to Little Trevalgan - to a conclusion, I thought it would be interesting to check my running diary and share with you how many times I have actually run this training circuit in a particular period of time. Remember, the intensive preparation for marathon and half-marathon races is done between Marazion and Mousehole along the coast - a fact that has suddenly sparked an idea for a photo-image blog in the future!

April 23 2017 - heading for the finishing-line in the London Marathon - a Cornish-trained boy comes home

In 2017, I've made this Little Trevalgan journey 44 times on 32 separate days - sometimes there have been double and occasionally triple circuits. This is the year when I've notched-up another London Marathon and another Oxford half-marathon. Thank you, my local training circuit, for your part in such adventures.




Saturday, 2 December 2017

ROB DONOVAN AND THE ST IVES RUNNING CIRCUIT - UP THE HILL

This blog gives me the opportunity to share some of the thoughts and feelings that I experience on my local training run. Today, I set out for a run with a difference knowing that it would be a record slow time. In fact it was 49 minutes; usually it takes from around 34 to 37 minutes depending on my fitness and the wind and the time of year ... and so on, by way of excuses. But I was clutching my camera in the palm of my hand and I had previously thought through my stopping places for camera shots. A cold and bright December day - the first of the month - a brilliant backcloth.

First stop, up the steep Stennack hill, to look across to the wooded area on the left just past the fire station and the Leach Pottery. Through the trees, in your imagination, to a bustling mining landscape 180 or so years ago. This is the site of St Ives Consols, developed on a large scale by James Halse in the 1820s and 1830s. The mine that made him a fortune - tin was selling at £35 per ton around 1810 and increased in value still further in later decades - contained some large and unusual ore formations known as 'carbonas', which when excavated, produced large caverns, whose roofs had to be supported by massive timbers. In April 1843 a workman's lighted candle stuck against a beam in the fabulously rich 'Great Carbona' and caused a disastrous fire which burned for six weeks, destroying that section of the mine. The mine closed in 1875 but some work continued in the upper levels after that. Total recorded returns - 1827-1892 - were recorded at £1,024,467, with tin production during this period amounting to 16,400 tons.

In your imagination, through the trees and down, hundreds of feet, below the ground ...


None of those miners would have lived to the age I am now. The mine owner and the share-holders most probably did.

Bearing right - onwards, up the hill - still a pavement on the left-hand side of the road for a few hundred yards

We've reached the junction at the top of the Stennack hill. Bear left for the A30 connection into Penzance. Carry on to the right taking the B3306, the coastal road to St Just twelve miles away. The hill continues upwards to the car parking lay-by at the summit, known as Little Trevalgan. I reckon it's about  a mile and three-quarters from our home to this Little Trevalgan turning-around point on my circuit.

The pavement is there still on the other side of the road


A hundred yards further on and I've reached the entrance to Hellesveor farm and hamlet. The slurry smell is breath-taking - the poor farmer lost stock during calving a couple of years ago to a virus that most likely came from dog poo. Our Ella was not to blame but her old running circuit has had to be shortened. Now I look for the rhythm that will see me continue gently upwards to Little Trevalgan.

Little Trevalgan in the far distance - more on the mechanical hedger in a while ...


I can begin to see the hill that carries that name up on the horizon in the distance. In 1964, the St Ives artist, Peter Lanyon, aged 46, crashed into that hillside in a gliding accident and died later in a Taunton hospital. He had taken up gliding five years earlier in order to "get a more complete knowledge of the landscape". His movement through abstract expressionism, and particular absorption in the Cornish landscape, made him one of the most important talents in post-war Britain.



The mechanical hedger is responsible for my breath being taken away a second time - this time
by the sweetness of the fragrance from fresh-cut wood. The steepness of this hill is a constant reminder of the importance of breath control for a runner.

Little Trevalgan - looking down the other side of the hill towards the Atlantic sea


I've reached the summit. There's been, as always, a determined effort to reach the top of the hill. I've been so absorbed in the effort, I've forgotten to take any more pictures! The last five minutes of running has the steepest gradients in the training exercise. This view from the summit, with its glimpse of the sea again, is magnificent. And now there is the delight of turning around and running downhill. Just a moment of mental pause to reflect on the fact that when I'm fitter I do this circuit three times: 36 minutes; 37 minutes; 38 minutes - a total continuous running time of 1 hour 51 minutes.

Tomorrow, I'll take you back down.

Correction - made on Monday 4 December:

Just by chance, I was reading David Whittaker's book 'W.S. Graham & Cornwall' this morning and came across the fact that Peter Lanyon's tragic gliding accident did not happen at Little Trevalgan - although there is a memorial plaque there - but at Dunkeswell aerodrome in Devon. Surviving the accident he was confined to bed in the Taunton hospital with a cracked vertebra and died, without warning, four days later from a blood clot. Apologies for the error.










Friday, 17 November 2017

MY FRIEND, DAVID SIGGERS

Authors look for stories to tell. They seek pegs on which to hang the meanings they weave from their observations and reflections.

I have a peg for this blog. He is a real flesh-and-blood hook. He lives in the London Borough of Brent in what used to be called a council-house and he spends his life in a bed attached to various pieces of equipment that support him during the day and night. Occasionally, in an emergency, an ambulance will arrive and speed him across London to St Thomas' hospital across the Thames from the Palace of Westminster - and then some days later return him to his Willesden home. Let me introduce you to David Siggers who was born on July 9, 1960 when I was nearing the end of my first year at Dartford Grammar school in Kent.

David aged around seven - with Christine, his mum - Wembley stadium in the background - David notes that at the time the Siggers family were the only family living there - the whole area had been brought up by Brent council so they could knock all the houses down and build one big housing estate - hence the rather dilapidated background - the whole area was a playground of empty houses and gardens! David comments that he is standing, in his plimsolls (it's all trainers now!) on tiptoe. A classic sign of a child with Duchenne's muscular dystrophy.  


I first met David in the early 1980s when I was teaching at Aylestone Community School in Brent. The school that I had joined as Head of History in 1977 was now offering its Sixth Form (Years 12 and 13) teaching to adults from the local community as well as its internal students who were aged 16 and over. David was in my GCSE History 'O' level class for one year - and passed with a Grade A. The following year, he entered my GCE History 'A' level class and took the exam after a


Monday, 23 October 2017

ONE, TWO, THREE, EYES ON ME! - NEO-LIBERAL SCHOOL DISCIPLINE

Not for the first time - see for instance this post in praise of James Meek , I am indebted to the London Review of Books - the LRB - for inspiration. The title for this present blog is taken, in part, directly from the LRB article of 5 October 2017, written by George Duoblys on 'the new school discipline'. I inadvertently first wrote 'the new school nightmare' and then realised my mistake. My subconscious had taken control of my fingers. The shock engendered by reading this piece by Duoblys left me determined to share my feelings with you through cyberspace but I needed time to recover. The beliefs and practices that underpinned a working lifetime in the classroom - my thirty-plus years of public service - are under attack as never before. And I'm only now catching up with this new reality.

There is a parallel here with the neo-liberal assault on the NHS and the provision of social care. Only in that area, I was up-to-speed - see my posts in praise of Dr Youssef El-Gingihy's excellent analysis of the Tory conspiracy to privatise our health service: 'How to Dismantle the NHS in 10 Easy Steps'. But nearly ten years have passed since I was an actor in the classroom and I had little idea of the consequences of the changes in the structure of our schools that Tory politicians, with Lib Dem support for five years, have engineered since 2010 - and New Labour pioneered before that.

My 1st Year (Year Seven) form in my Brent comprehensive - 1978 - plus two non-members on the back row, extreme right, who turned up unnoticed by me for the photo opportunity. I remained this group's form tutor for the five years of their secondary schooling. They did well.  


Let me take you for a ride through London academy classrooms in the twenty-teens. George Duoblys is our conductor. Until December last year, he had been working as a physics teacher at the City Academy in Hackney, a brand-new comprehensive built to replace a school notorious for ill-discipline and gang warfare. I applaud the fresh start approach - who wouldn't? - although I have


Sunday, 15 October 2017

JAGO STONE AND JEREMY CORBYN - OXFORD DISCOVERIES IN OCTOBER 2017

'The Road to Corbyn' talk at the Redwing Gallery in July 2017 given by the author
Yesterday's blog told the story of my Oxford Half-Marathon last Sunday. Today's post is focused on literary matters, specifically my first book: The Road to Corbyn and the biography of the artist, Jago Stone (1928-88) that I am researching and writing at present.

First, let me explain about my monthly MailChimp Newsletter that's designed to bring those who are interested in the biography of Jago Stone up-to-date with developments. At present I have 41 subscribers and 29 'Opens' so far for the October edition. Here's a link if you haven't signed up for these free Newsletters - 'Jago' MailChimp Newsletters. Do please open the October edition and read if you haven't done so already. I am using the Newsletter for two purposes: first, to get information to those who are most interested even before I post material on my blog - and second, to give publishers and agents when I approach them from January 2018 a sense of the public interest in this project. Some of the material in this blog is taken from the latest Newsletter but by no means all.

Before we left for Greece at the beginning of September, I did put the finishing touches to the first six chapters - around 28,500 words - of 'Jago', the biography of Jago Stone, and circulated copies of that