In Herat people don’t hassle, they are gentle courteous friendly, the city is made of mud yet is colourful all day because many stores sell coats carpets bags shirts pants hats capes belts of colour — Pomegranates melons nuts dates cucumber cakes cookies golden sweet sticky sewer sun glistening on down the side of the  street.

The hotel room is bare, just a carpet on the floor, but soon we fill the room up with sleeping bags, cases, knapsacks all arranged for sitting on. Clearwater on the tape, bleary eyed frizzy head smiles digging the music…Raga in the middle of a Donovan song minutely examined with my open ears, I feel small dancing running between the notes—

On the walls are sad notes about how people have been overdosing on hash, grotesque drawings, poetic attempts expressing passing good feelings, taken so much more lightly it seems than those frights on the other side of the spinning wheel—

While the sun goes down behind the ruins of a mammoth mosque described by Marco Polo, a sliver of the same white moon rises almost above the sunset, which explains to me that the sun is somewhere under my feet standing on this huge globe, and is casting the earth’s shadow across the moon. The earth turns hugely from the west around to the east. If you are always right you go round in circles. But if you don’t mind being wrong you might get straightened out.

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A morning walk, quiet, just watching a horse being shod. Hoof held between experienced knees, chunks of hoof cut off around the shoe, six nails knocked in…

Bang – Bang – Clangggg! Two men wielding heavy hammers, strike red-hot metal, making spades. One man holds a hammer out to my hand, he is wearing old grey pants and a singlet, sweat beads his brow, his hair matt black, and he lets it go suddenly as I grasp the handle… then he shows me his biceps with arm bent, now with arm straight, hmmm still big.  Impressive biceps, proud man. A kettle is put on the fire, a swarthy youth is sitting cross-legged above the fire doing his job, pumping the bellows , the sparks fly the fire glows white.  A piece of hash appears which Biceps heats on a piece of scrap metal over a little pile of coals he takes from the fire with a shovel, then he grinds it into a powder, and dips his fingers in some water and lets the drops fall onto the powder…and he makes a paste.

The kettle is removed and green tea is added. Cups materialize, and some hot fresh bread. Nary a word is spoke. Breaking the hardening paste into little pieces which look like mouse dung he signals for some tobacco, I give him two cigarettes. He empties one tobacco tube and mixes the little pieces of hash with the tobacco in the palm of his hand. One of the other men is now pouring out the tea…Now, Biceps scoops up the mixture into the empty tobacco tube and nimbly twirls the end.

At this moment the boss arrives, frowning a little, for smoking on the job is not really allowed…but, we can have a few puffs anyway because this is special.  And, we may also drink some tea and eat some bread. After ten minutes break, Biceps indicates that I had better go, so I go, and he picks up his hammer and…BANG!!!…. CLAANNNNGGGGGG!!!  he is back at work watching the hard hammer-head make impressions in the hot piece of metal, and little orange sparks appear on the surface of the metal and bounce and fizzzz, and disappear.

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Downstairs in Kandahar, the Ramadan festivities are on. Set out from a corner of
the room, the musicians, tablas, a sitar, harmonium, and tamboura and an old man
with a short white pointed beard and a blue tin dish turned upside down, staring
and nodding he taps with his fingertips occasionally using his fingernails for a
high ticking sound.

A blind man is sitting cross-legged in the midst of the musicians singing at the very top of his voice, stretching his neck, with those strange half-tone and quarter-tone wailings…the instruments and tablas keeping a free yet disciplined rhythm. The old man is nodding and staring into a middle distance as if acknowledging someone in the audience only he can see. I can follow his hands through the whole stanza always the same, fingertips here
now fingernails…perfect! He seems unaware of his hands, only his beat.
The sitar is racing racing in some other dimension than speed.

Seated on a ledge all around the dusky room are men in baggy pants and long shirts and
turbans, eating grapes and pomegranates. A swarthy youth has a water-pipe and a beautiful chain-mail pipe bowl which he fills with a hash and tobacco mixture,
lights it, sucks…blows out a plume of smoke, smoothly, lifts the long pipe
stem and blows up it…another plume of blue – pooff and offers it to a customer
who takes a couple of tokes and hands the swarthy young man an Afghani –

The music rises and dives for several symmetrical stanzas which seem to
take the shape of a shining mosque with minarets, the blind singer sits between
verses, on the bridge, eyes closed nodding his head to the resting rhythm, right into it
of course, like Ray Charles, a brother, a musical brother, with all the
soul in the world. At the end of the set his friend comes to lead him from the
stage, and he is smiling, the whites of his eyes rolling, the open smile of the
blind man…

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In the book “Autobiography of a Yogi” I read that, according to The Hindu
Scriptures, one Day of Creation is 4,300,560,000 of our years.  This is based on the idea that when any heavenly entity rotates once, that is its day.  For example, it takes Venus 243 of our days to rotate once.  And it takes our universe 4.300,560,000,000 earth years to rotate one time.

Six of these Creation Days add up to 25,803,360,000 of our years, and this seems quite long enough to accommodate Darwin’s theories of evolution together with Creation theories.  Science talks about 4, 600,000,000 years as the probable age of the earth these days, as scientists get to know more.  And science has also been realizing that we are made of star-dust, and gold, for a few decades now.

The life span of a whole universe, according to the ancient seers, is 314,159,000,000,000
solar years, or “One Age of Brahma”.  It seems to me that there is a convergence of science and religion going on, and when the two meet we’ll probably have the truth of the matter, in a way that everyone can entertain.

So, in terms of critical analysis, what does The Bible mean by the word “Day”?

Have a good one.

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English As A Foreign Language

As an English teacher, I have seen the some evidence of that old saying that if you were taken to China at one month old, you’d grow up speaking Chinese fluently. Noam Chomsky put forward the idea that we generally have a ‘black box’ inside, which is available to learn any language we are exposed to, particularly as an infant (infant means ‘non-speaker’).

I have seen many Asian pupils become excellent English speakers, and, importantly, writers and readers, able to comment at length on poems and books, and their own thought processes. Meanwhile, I have also seen many English pupils who are severely limited in these skills, as well as many who are also excellent.  It seems to me therefore that – other things being equal – the home environment, and the aspirations of the parents, still must be the greatest deciding factor in their children’s success with language, and subsequent school performance.

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A Matter of Life and Death.

The thing is that unless someone can tell us definitely what death actually is all about – you know: is there reincarnation? for example. Does the spirit inhabit the body and then leave it at death and go to another dimension? Or, is it all about the body, and when that stops everything about you is all over? Unless someone can unequivocally answer those questions, I don’t think anyone can make correct laws which, by their nature, would be based only on opinions, not scientific facts. Therefore, it seems to me that whether to stay alive when you feel like dying, must be a personal decision, based upon one’s own philosophy or religion. The same can be said of abortion. Until the truth can be demonstrated, and painful as if may be for the onlooker, each individual has to take their own responsibility for their actions, based upon what they care to believe. This freedom does not rule out discussion for any individuals on these topics, and might eventually lead us to a greater understanding of these questions.

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It’s an old Chinese curse: “May You Live In Interesting Times”.  Of course, it does depend upon what you consider interesting. Are MP’s cheating on expenses interesting? Are riots in major UK cities by people who cannot get things they might need, and/or are taught to
crave, interesting? How about the hidden effect of the Sykes/Picot treaty on the
last 90 years of Middle East history. Rivetting, no?

What about the people attempting to turn Europe into one country, with themselves, oddly enough, as the government…is that what is considered interesting? WW3 with money?
And finally the starving millions in Africa – they are interesting, too. If they were all fed, as they could be within a week, and if all those other problems were solved with honest human intelligence, tell me, would planet Earth suddenly become an uninteresting place?

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