John Aubrey


An English biographer and philosopher of the 17th century, his work was largely undiscovered until the 1800s. A new biography by Ruth Scurr, John Aubrey: My Own Life written in ‘his own hand’ is getting good reviews.

Here is a taste…Aubrey, a self-effacing, modest man, was a brilliant oral historian, who treasured the minutiae of everyday life and took care to exclude himself from his biographical research. Scurr says, “he knew he was inventing the modern genre of biography”, and his obsession with what he took to be the truth makes him a very modern figure. He said he was after “the naked and plaine trueth, which is here exposed so bare, that the very pudenda are not covered, and affords many passages that would raise a blush in a young virgin’s cheeke”. He was sometimes criticised for being “too minute” (trivial), but Aubrey’s answer was that “a hundred yeare hence that minutenesse will be gratefull.” He was a man who trusted in posterity – and thus posterity rewards him.

Pen portraits of famous Englishmen told in an irreverent style sounds interesting. I have ordered Ruth Scurr’s book from the Guardian.

What Freedom

Freedom is a noble ambition for many and a struggle against oppression for some. In Western liberal democracies we cherish the notion that our freedoms are protected. But how vulnerable are they in today’s volatile  economic battleground?

The United Nations and NATO were established to end conflict and bring nations together to resolve conflict. However, as we have seen in Ukraine, Syria, Afghanistan, Turkey and numerous conflicts around the world, military power is still favoured over international diplomacy and negotiation.

Here in Belfast the peace process has been largely successful. Some dissident groups and paramilitary organisations continue to live in the past, but disagreement is resolved politically, not by force of arms.

The separate communities of nationalists and unionists are still suspicious of each other, and their political representatives play the ‘them and us’ game. Sinn Fein are accused of using the Equality agenda to “get the bastards”, the DUP refuses to back an Irish Language Act, and has provided the controversy over a green energy scheme prompting another election in less than a year.

The peace dividend here not only promotes trade and encourages investment, but allows young people the freedom to associate with diverse communities of people. Gay rights, respect for foreign cultures and those with disabilities are issues that are work in progress. But there is a healthier climate to encourage freedom for all, as long as we continue to jaw jaw rather than war war.

Twitter Politics

Twitter is ideal for executive pronouncements. 140 characters to make a fool of yourself, bitch about your opponents or massage the egos of your yes men.

One of DJ’s most successful yes men is Reince Priebus who latched onto power with consummate skill. He is now White House Chief of Staff. He had one go at curtailing DJ’s more ludicrous outbursts about characterising Mexicans as rapists. He won’t be doing that again any time soon, he knows what side his white bread is buttered.

The constitutional battle between the POTUS, the Federal Judiciary and Congress is crucial not just for Americans, but internationally. Can one rich bully rule without the checks and balances devised by the US Constitution? That’s my tweet for today.

Fortune Cookies and Confirmation

What do you get your niece as a Confirmation gift? I had scoured local Antiques shops for inspiration but decided against the silver items on display. Luckily I found the very thing in an Asian supermarket.

The Chinese dragon head on a spring is certainly a very colourful gift.While I was at it I bought a beautifully decorated tea cup/bowl and a box of fortune cookies.

We went to Deano’s. The aged steak was beautifully cooked and the company convivial. My niece liked her presents and the miscreant joined us from the local bar.

My fortune cookie said words to the effect that you can’t gain wisdom if you’re too busy talking. The others thought that most apt given that I had been running off at the mouth for a bit.


It’s a Funny Old World

Alternative facts, fake news and ‘so-called judges’ are terms that have entered into the crazy new order of Western politics. The truth has become the first casualty of populism.

Comparisons have been made with arch propagandists from the totalitarian school of hoodwinking the people. But this is a new breed determined to sweep away the career politicians with their slight bending of the truth. Truth has no currency with the populists unless it fits their agenda.

Fantasy politics is taking off in the USA. The executive can dispute facts, disseminate untruths, vilify refugees and attack the judiciary, and its supporters seem to think that’s what it was elected to do. If they continue to imprison journalists for reporting on protests, they will be the envy of despots worldwide.

Meanwhile Putin is displaying the same kind of executive despotism. The latest lunacy is a move to decriminalise acts of domestic violence. If no bones are broken, perpetrators may avoid a prison sentence. Those who inflict cuts and bruises will be punished by fines instead.

Valentine myths

Take your pick, St Valentine was either martyred for disobeying an edict by Claudius II prohibiting marriages and engagements, or else he restored the sight of a Judge’s daughter and the Judge converted to Christianity.

There might be some credibility to a military leader prohibiting marriage. The myth suggests that monogamous relationships would weaken the Roman army with soldiers fearing for their lives in battle and worrying about their unprotected wives and children. Married men may have been excused military service. So if Valentine was conducting marriages in secret and Claudius found out, he would have been a bit miffed

In any event, martyrdom for Valentine was accompanied by great brutality. Valentine was tortured, beaten to death and hanged, which seems excessive.

My own contribution to the forthcoming love fest appears on the odd ode or two page on this blog – Dancing in the Waves.

Superb Superbowl

What a game! The Falcons were up by 25 points and it looked like the Patriots were done for. One incredible catch by Edelman and a couple of 2 point conversions and it was 28 all after regular time.


The legendary Tom Brady then found his receivers open and making catches. An opening drive that gave the Patriots a seemingly impossible win.

I’m glad I got up in the middle of the night to watch this one with fast forward speeding through the stoppages and Lady Gaga’s half-time show.