Tuesday, 29 September 2009

The Mystery of Death Descends Upon Rolf Harris

One of Australia's most vivacious and aimiable comedians, Rolf Harris is best known for his whacky, tongue-in-cheek songs and cartoon antics.
It came as quite a shock, then, when I heard him breaking down on the radio, unable to speak for crying.
He was speaking to radio 4 about the time he met his hero, the Welsh artist Kyffin William, who recently died. Relating the story, his friend's absence seemed to become all too real for Mr Harris. He couldn't control himself and, each time he tried to speak through the knot of tears lodged in his throat, his sorrow only deepened. His tears conveyed not only a deep pain, but a very visceral realisation of the fleetingness of life. Perhaps this is what also happens at funerals: people are crying at the sudden realisation of their own fate; not only crying for the person they have lost but that which they have lost them to. And perhaps by the same token memorials also serve to reinforce our own sense of immortality.

People You Meet

It's true: you don't have to go to meditation guru's in India to receive spiritual inspiration or advice for living, often the person sat next to you on the bus will be just as inspiring.
And such was the case last night when I was sat on a train to Chorley. The lady sat opposite told me she wakes up at 4am every morning and goes downstairs to be greeted by hundreds of pairs of pleading eyes belonging to the injured hedgehogs she rescues and re-habilitates, before releasing back into the wild.
What's more, she's done this for almost twenty years and without a single day off, a holiday or any kind of payment.
In her arms is a tiny, 6 inch black kitten that had been left on her doorstep recently. Her "patients", she told the couple who had sat down opposite her, go through one thousand tins of pet food every month.
Incidentally, she is also considering entering next year's X-Factor, having once sang in front of the Queen Mother. And apparently John Thaw used to write to her, having been touched by the work she does for the injured animals.
The young couple sat listening were so amazed they didn't take a single sip of the can of lager they were sharing.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009


Half asleep on a deserted strip of shore, the glimmering sky-blue seas send me, in a reverie, to the tropics – until I hear the faint bleating of a sheep and the rusty drone of the ferry coming into port. I awaken again to the tiny, Hebridean island of Iona - a place full of enticing contradictions: industrious fishermen passing contemplative monks on the road, placid cattle dangerously close to the tempestuous Atlantic seas, and the smell of sea-salt, lavender and the ferry's chain oil, carried eastward on the prevailing winds. Looking out in any direction, the blue immensity of the sea is interrupted only by distant islands, silhouetted on the horizon. Among them, Staffa, with its columnar basalt and volcanic caves that inspired Mendelssohn to write the “Fingal’s Cave Overture”. Weather-exposed peninsulas branch out, laced with quartz, gneiss and marble that were fused together by ancient, volcanic streams and have been polished by the waves, wind and moonlight ever since. Less than a mile in width, Iona served as a stepping stone for Christianity in the 1st century AD, when the Celtic church spread from Ireland into mainland UK and eventually throughout mainland Europe. But today stillness pervades: the sound of the waves slips into silence; moored fishing boats lazily rise and fall in their own sad rhythm; nets of tiny birds, no bigger than butterflies, flit by as one; and huge cumulus clouds languorously shift across a sky of flawless blue. Iona had one more blessing for us. A gasp of excitement as we waited for the ferry; looking round, we saw a crowd pointing out to a huge Minke whale breaching the water, a mid-air trail of sea-spray arcing in its wake. For around thirty minutes the island stood still, awestruck. Even the locals stopped what they were doing and smiled helplessly in amazement.