I came across the following lines in a book, Be Happy: 170 Ways to Transform Your Day, by Patrick Lindsay, and although I’m not generally one for sentiment, the lines struck me as being something more genuine than that, not least because they do not overlook the hard, but rewarding, work that goes into making a relationship work:

“To have a soulmate, you must be one.  It’s usually a natural selection: soulmates find each other. But you must be receptive.  It’s a beautiful, rewarding friendship, with a strong spiritual element.  It can’t be manufactured or forced. To find yours you must look outwards, not inwards.”

The lines also reminded me of something I read in another book, Thanks For The Tea, Mrs. Browne, a memoir published in 1998 by the late Phyllis Browne, whose husband, Noël, the one-time health minister, did much to reduce the threat from tuberculosis in Ireland and was behind the controversial Mother and Child scheme that effectively brought down the inter-party government in 1951.   Writing of her relationship with Noël, she says:

“I believe that just because you are married, you do not own your partner.  We did not believe that either of us had to change our ways to please one another; we were both free souls, yet fortunately wholly dependent one another.  What one lacked, the other supplied. We thrived like plants in each other’s garden.”


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Great Pop Songs: Sabotage

Sabotage was the first single taken from the Beastie Boys’ 1994 album Ill Communication.  A rapcore number – combining traditional rock instruments with turntable scratches and fuzz-bass guitar – the song is perhaps best remembered for its accompanying homage video, directed by Spike Jonze.  Rolling Stone ranked the song #480 on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and it features a notable scream out of its breakdown from Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz, who at that time felt deep frustration with the behaviour of paparazzi.   There is a driving force, a relentlessness, about the song, matched by rather than overshadowed by Jonze’s adrenaline-filled video.  At college, no one had a clue how to dance to it, but Sabotage was a floor-filler every time.

Beastie Boys were white rappers for sure, but they weren’t trying to pretend to be black.  Instead, they brought their own punk sensibilities – having started as a hardcore punk band – to bear on hip-hop, for which they had a profound respect and of which they had deep knowledge. I remember (You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!), from debut album Licensed to Ill (1986), being the only record of my youth that my parents expressed absolute disgust at, which, of course, made it all the more exciting. Paul’s Boutique, the 1988 follow-up to Licensed to Ill, was not particularly well-received in commercial terms on release, but is seen in retrospect as a seminal hip-hop album, owing to its heavy use of sampling and intricate multi-layering.   The band was to the fore in the development of digital sampling in rap.

The band’s long-term future remains uncertain following the death in May 2012 of Adam Yauch, who used the stage name MCA.  The other surviving member of The Beastie Boys, with Horovitz, is Michael Diamond (Mike D).

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Karen Armstrong

“Religions have always stressed that compassion is not only central to religious life, it is the key to enlightenment and it the true test of spirituality. But there have always have been those who’d rather put easier goals, like doctrine conformity, in place.”

Karen Armstrong at Compassionate Seattle

Karen Armstrong speaking at the Compassionate Seattle event, Seattle, 24 April 2010. This image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license Original by: Seamus Rainheart


“Oedipus had to abandon his certainty, his clarity, and supposed insight in order to become aware of the dark ambiguity of the human condition,” from The Great Transformation: The World in the Time of Buddha, Socrates, Confucius and Jeremiah.


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The Five Worst Movies I’ve Seen

I will admit, there are likely worse movies than the ones I’ve included in my list, but they are the ones that left the worst taste in my mouth, that had me scrambling for the exit doors of the cinema or the DVD control at home.

Titanic (1997): a coca-cola ad at sea.

Armageddon (1998): a coca-cola ad in space.

Who’s That Girl? (1987): It’s Madonna, trying and failing to act, again, so who’s that girl? Who cares! Reviewing the movie for The Schenectady Gazette, Dan Dinicola wrote ‘it numbs you to death with its moronic platitudes.’

Gerry (2002): I like Matt Damon. I like Casey Affleck. I like Gus Van Sant. So what could be wrong with Gerry, in which Van Sant directed Damon and Affleck as two men stranded in the wilderness? Well, the short answer is everything. This is a movie you can put on fast forward for almost its entire duration (I did this) and you’d still get as much out of it, which is nothing.

The Phantom Menace (1999): Arguably, Attack of the Clones is the worst of the three Star Wars prequels (Revenge of the Sith is tolerable, which really isn’t saying much). But as long as I’ll live, I don’t think I will ever experience the same intensity of disappointment as I did coming out of the cinema after seeing The Phantom Menace on its release in 1999. I don’t mean I’ll never be as disappointed in another movie. I mean I’ll never be as disappointed….full-stop. George Lucas hadn’t directed a movie since the original Star Wars in 1977 when he helmed The Phantom Menace. About five minutes into the movie, it’s clear to see why he should never have been let near a movie camera again. More controversially, the movie has been criticized for what are seen as racist undertones in respect of some of its characters, most notably Jar-Jar Binks and Watto, the junk-shop owner with the Yiddish accent.

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Paddington Bear and the power of narrative for children.


From the Archives:

Originally posted on Wordy discussions:

Paddington Bear CD ( Image: author’s own).

The Observer gave away a free CD on Sunday last, featuring four stories starring the children’s character Paddington Bear.  Good old Paddington, with his jar of marmalade, funny hat, and blue duffel coat.  I fondly remember the television series, adapted from the original books, from my own childhood.  Produced in 1975, it was frequently rebroadcast in the 1980s, when I would have seen it.

Paddington had come from “darkest Peru”, although he spoke, of course, with a clipped English accent.   He was taken in by a sympathetic English family, the Browns, who named him for the famous London train station where they had first met him.   Attached to Paddington was a note, which read “Please look after this bear, thank you”.  Once he was ensconsed in the Brown household, Paddington embarked on various adventures which highlighted the fact that he…

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Richard Ford


Richard Ford at Göteborg Book Fair 2013, by Arild Vågen This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.


“There’s a lot to be said for doing what you’re not supposed to do, and the rewards of doing what you’re supposed to do are more subtle and take longer to become apparent, which maybe makes it less attractive. But your life is the blueprint you make after the building is built” – Richard Ford.


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On Being an Introvert

2013-06-09 19.36.37Read through this blog (if you dare!) and you’ll find there’s not a whole lot of me on it – an insight here, a personal reflection there – but the posts are more of a reflection of my interests than me personally. That’s the way I prefer it.  Not that anyone should use Mad Men’s Don Draper as a role model, but as he remarks in one episode ‘I am the greatest? Not if you have to say it.’  (Oh God, he’s banging on about that show again, says imaginary reader). But, by its nature, this post has to be personal.  In 2012, Susan Cain, an American writer and lecturer, published Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Reviewing the book in The Guardian, Jon Ronson wrote ‘I read much of Susan Cain’s book shaking my head in wonder and thinking: “So that’s why I’m like that!”’ My own reaction was the exact same.

So what’s it like being an introvert?  The first thing to say is that many people confuse introversion with shyness.  They are two very different things. I am not shy. But because I’m introverted, people often confuse it for shyness or, worse still, indifference.  Who likes someone being indifferent towards them? I know I don’t. Cain herself has expressed the view that society has a cultural bias towards extroverts. That is almost certainly the case for the U.S., although I would suggest that the moment someone starts acting as if there is a bias against them – and I’m talking subtle biases here (racism, for instance, is not a subtle bias) – they put up walls between themselves and the rest of the world.  They create exclusivities where exclusivities shouldn’t really exist (after all, there’s a little bit of an extrovert in us all – in fairness, Cain acknowledges this) and they are in danger of putting themselves on a ‘woe is me’ pedestal. But let’s assume for a moment that Cain, is correct and society is biased towards extroverts. How do I go about changing that? The most important step for anyone is to explain to themselves who they are – and to leave external challenges and sources aside for a moment. It’s a cornball thing, but change comes from within.

Introverts have a preference for lower-stimulation environments. That is certainly true, in my case. If I have to spend too long in a high-stimulation environment, especially one I’m uncomfortable in, I become edgy. For me, a high-stimulation environment can be something as straightforward as a crowded restaurant where the tables are close together. I start to become distracted and if I’m in company, it starts to look as if I don’t want to be there. I may very well want to be with the person who I’m spending time with, but the environment is too uncomfortable for me. Of course, there are other factors at play and I’m loath to attribute every character tick I have to introversion. I was brought up to regard dining as a rather formal thing. For instance, I would never think – even if dining alone – of eating in front of the television. I remember, as a boy, being taught by a relative how to drink soup properly – moving the spoon away from me to catch the soup before bringing it back, small spoonfuls at a time. I was equally amused and bemused.  But guess how I still drink soup? So you could say I mind my P’s and Q’s when I’m eating.

A perfect example of a high-stimulation environment is a school. I was a good student, polite and hard-working, but I disliked school, a lot.  It wasn’t that I was disinterested in school or was a moody teenager (although we all had those moments). No, I actively disliked school – I actively thought, a lot, about how much I disliked school.  A few months ago, I had a conversation, with a teacher, about school and whether I used to stay behind after last bell for the extra-curricular stuff.  Not that this was my actual answer (politeness in company being an essential!) but to use a certain phrase “did I f..k.”  At 4 o’clock, I was out the doors of that place as fast as I could go.

To be fair, secondary school was much more preferable to primary school because at least there were five to ten minute breaks between classes, where I could gather my thoughts and “regroup” for the next round – a breathing space. I’m still like that. At formal occasions, weddings for instance, I will leave the table more often than anybody else, even if it’s for just two minutes at a time. I am very careful not to appear impolite and I can sit for as long as I need to but I actively plan the little “breathers” that I know I will need throughout the day. If someone isn’t aware of their own personal dynamic, it can become a huge source of frustration to them, and others, and I wondered in school why I wasn’t like everyone else (others would wonder too).  Now?  I don’t think I’ve asked myself that question in years ‘why am I not like everyone else?’

An interesting aspect of Cain’s book is her section on what is known as Free Trait Theory. Devised by former Harvard psychology professor Brian Little, Free Trait Theory explains that although we are born with certain personality traits, traits that subsequently get culturally reinforced, we can and do act out of character when we feel the need to do so. Referring specifically to introverts, the theory goes that introverts have the capability to act like extroverts for the sake of work, or people, they consider as being important. So, I was able, at age 16, to stand in front of a group of people and speak, off the cuff, for 15 minutes because I was asked to do so by someone I respected and because I felt the occasion demanded it. Was I nervous?  Not particularly.  Had I spoken like that in public before? Yes. Have I spoken like that in public since? Yes.

Cain also references work carried out by research psychologist Richard Lippa into so-called self-monitors, introverts who are especially good at acting as extroverts. A self-monitor is able to modify their behavior to the social demands of a situation and does so by looking for cues to tell them how they should act – a “when in Rome…” sort of thing.  I would consider myself a high self-monitor.  The unfortunate thing is that high-self monitors have been found to be better at lying then low self-monitors.  I am a very bad liar probably because one of my watchwords is integrity.  I don’t like being lied to, so I go out of my way not to lie to others. Besides, Brian Little has an explanation. He regards self-monitoring as an act of modesty and the person accommodating themselves to the norms of a particular situation because why grind everyone down to take account of your needs and concerns?

I suppose you could call high self-monitoring a fake-it-to-make it strategy but that wouldn’t be right.  In one sense, I would compare it to going into an interview where you will be asked the standard questions, such as ‘what are your weaknesses?’ Can you imagine being asked that question in the course of a normal, everyday conversation? No, of course you can’t. But because the situation demands it, you adjust yourself to it and you answer the question.  Besides, there is compromise, which, used sensibly, is a wise thing.  To quote President Barack Obama: ‘A good compromise…….is like a good sentence; or a good piece of music. Everybody can recognize it. They say, “Huh. It works. It makes sense.”‘

So, self-monitoring can be useful, but only if used judiciously. Overdo it and disaster can strike. Believe me, I’ve been there (although not anytime in recent memory). You have to accept who you are and if you’re an introvert, there’s no point in accommodating yourself to the extent that you start to deny entire aspects of your personality.

Introversion checklist:
• You prefer to spend your social energy on those who matter to you the most, preferring a glass of wine with a good friend than going to a party full of people you don’t know.
• You think before speaking.
• You thrive on solitude, without necessarily being a loner.
• You experience flow when concentrating deeply on a subject or activity that is of great interest to you.
• You’re a good listener and a highly-skilled observer.
• You are highly empathic and likely sensitive to lapses in your own behaviour and their consequences (let’s face it, many people, extroverts and introverts alike, are empathic).
• You were probably labeled shy as a child and can feel nervous when you think you’re being evaluated – a work review, interview or a first date, for example.
• You prefer environments that are not overstimulating and are not great at handling information overload “in the moment,” needing time instead to reflect.
• You can drive alone for hours, even without the radio (my car radio broke three years ago and I’ve never replaced it).


  1. Susan Cain’s Quiet website.
  2. Susan Cain’s TED talk.
  3. Introvert Retreat – a good site with articles and various links.

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