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The sea

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Image from Pixabay“I’m not in control of my muse. My muse does all the work.”

Ray Bradbury

I have in anterior posts (of which this is but the most recent instance) attempted to shed some light on that most mysterious and wonderful process by which creative acts such as writing and composing are effected.

I say ‘attempted’ – of course – because beyond simply reporting anecdotally my own experiences I am no more able to explain the phenomenon than is anyone else. Should you doubt that any such examination is more than likely to fall short you might care to Google the phrase “How does the creative process work?“. You will discover – as did I – that the first page of results alone contains the following ‘definitive’ responses:

  • The four stages of creativity” – preparation, incubation, illumination, verification – (apparently!)
  • The five stages of the creative process” – preparation, incubation, insight, evaluation, elaboration – (some crossover at least)
  • The creative process – six working phasesinspiration, clarification, distillation, perspiration, evaluation, and incubation – (hmmm!)
  • The ten stages of the creative process” – the hunch, talk about it, the sponge, build, confusion, just step away, the love sandwich(!), the premature breakthrough, revisit your notes, know when you’re done – (blimey! That’s…er… different!)

I stopped at this point for what are probably pretty obvious reasons.

And yet… and yet… None of these earnest theses comes close to elucidating an experience that I seem to encounter with increasing frequency – one in which I start out with a firm idea in my mind only to find that the act of creation takes on a life of its own and I end up with something almost entirely antithetical to that which I had originally intended. At the risk of boring the gentle reader I should like to share the latest such instance.

I am currently working on a couple of songs that are intended to complete a brief collection whose inspiration – or motivation, should you prefer – has been my recent exodus from the country of my birth. I had been making good progress on one such of these with the notion in the back of my head that it might turn out to be a gently whimsical look at the love of the island life – the which is of course shared both by many Brits and by those who live on Vancouver Island or in the Gulf Islands.

When it came time to concentrate on the lyric I turned – as is my habit – to the InterWebNet to pursue some lines of research of relevance to the subject. A busy day of chasing leads suggested that the following (amongst others) might be significant:

  • Shakespeare – ‘Richard II’,’The Tempest’
  • Tennyson – ‘Ulysses’
  • Rabbie Burns – ‘To a Louse’
  • Churchill – ‘The Island Race’

An article by Open University senior lecturer, Nigel Clark, entitled ‘An Island Race?‘ – chimed with my initial intention of focusing on the creative tension implicit in living on an island surrounded by the seas – the which afford both a powerful means of defence from attack but simultaneously the path by which such a nation might venture forth to explore (and mayhap  to ‘conquer’) the rest of the world.

It was another article, however – “Is England too Good for the English?“, by Oxford University’s Austen Saunders – that changed the tenor of my song. Saunders exploration of the illustrious ‘John of Gaunt’ speech from ‘Richard II’ majors on John’s view that the English – as a result of Richard’s politicking and fiscal mismanagement – are no longer worthy of the “other Eden” that is ‘England’ itself. It is impossible not to recognise an immense resonance between this somewhat melancholy conclusion and the state in which the United Kingdom finds itself today. The song that eventually emerged from my subconscious thus turned out to be a lament for this sorry state of affairs rather than the amiable whimsy that I had intended.

Should the gentle reader be one of those who does not view the current situation in which Great Britain – and in particular, England – finds itself to be as dire as I have described – then I wish you well.

I hope that you still feel the same way in five year’s time…


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Photo by Andy Dawson ReidThis happy breed of men, this little world
This precious stone set in the silver sea
Which serves it in the office of a wall
Or as a moat defensive to a house
Against the envy of less happier lands

William Shakespeare – Richard II

Finding myself in want of some new t-shirts (yes – I am of the breed of unreconstructed hippie that still prefers to dress in sandals, jeans and a comfortable top well into my seventh decade!) but not caring much for the choice of overpriced designer-labelled or eyeball-scorchingly be-slogan-ed apparel on offer on the high street – I turned as ever to the InterWebNet to discover what might be available out in the wild – so to speak.

I was looking for something with a nautical flavour – such being to my taste – and by good fortune it seems that the seafaring style is very much “in” at the moment – whatever that might signify.

What it did presage – of course – was the need yet again to skirt the worst excesses of the ‘designer’ end of the rag trade – but this time online. Fortunately – however – I soon found myself delighting in the pelagic pages of one of my favourite small-scale outfitters – Quba & Co – who are based out of Salcombe in Devon. If you haven’t come across them before I do encourage you to take a moment to examine their wares – commencing mayhap with the ‘Company History‘ page on their website, which explicates their ethos rather well and should give you a good insight as to why they appeal to me.

This post does not – however – concern male fashion, though the seed for it did emanate from the pleasures that I clearly obtain from all things related to the sea. Although I have spent a certain amount of my time over the years ‘messing about in boats’ (nowhere near enough time of course!) I have never actually owned one. This will – I firmly intend – be rectified when we move to BC. To my very great pleasure the Kickass Canada Girl has indicated that she will willingly join me on a Power Squadron course once we arrive in Victoria preparatory to us taking to the waves together.

Now – I am aware that a great many of those who live on Vancouver Island are themselves boat-owners and also that these craft are predominantly used for the purposes of fishing. I never have been an angler and nor do I have much interest therein – although I did gain some valuable insight into the pursuit courtesy of the Girl’s cousin who introduced me to the practice of throwing out a couple of lines and then sitting back with a beer… not that I am suggesting for a moment that this is customary amongst British Columbian fisher-folk.

There are, of course, many reasons why – over the centuries – the Brits have been drawn to the west coast of Canada, and in particular to the islands. Much of this surely stems from the fact that both races – as island folk – share a common love for the sea and alike feel the draw of the ocean. I have doubtless quoted John Masefield before in these posts but make no apology for repeating these lines from ‘Sea Fever’:

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking,
I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.


Incidentally – the oft-quoted phrase that I appropriated for the title of this post is not without interest itself, in that its exact origins are not at all clear. My thoughts ran first to Shakespeare – and in particular to the celebrated John of Gaunt speech from Richard II that is quoted at the top of this missive. When that presumption proved erroneous I resorted once more to the InterWebNet.

Other than a (doubtless worthy and fascinating) tome documenting 135 years of the history of British bicycle racing the most numerous references I could find were to Winston Churchill. The extract from his ‘History of the English Speaking Peoples’ is actually titled ‘The Island Race’, and though Churchill is widely attibuted as having ‘frequently’ used the phrase in the form prepended by the pronoun rather than the definite article I could find no categorical reference thereto. It seems that the usage has simply evolved because it is actually too good not to have done so.

Bully for that, I say…


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Levellers'_ManifestRealize that everything connects to everything else.

Leonardo da Vinci

Proof yet again – if proof were needed – that all things within our consciousness are bound together by a common strand and that even when one is unaware of the fact connections are being made which only become apparent after the event…

To whit…

I wrote a couple of posts some few weeks or so ago on the subject of the chancellor – George Osbourne’s – speech to the Tory party conference – under the banner “The World Turned Upside Down“. I chose this particular appellation largely on the back of the quotation – by Pope Alexander VI to Lucrezia Borgia – that I had used as the strap line for the second of those posts.

The phrase itself is well known but – as is sadly all too often the case – I had not at that point adequately considered its origins. I later felt moved to look it up – as I should have done in the first place.

The World Turned Upside Down” has its origins as a ballad (of uncertain authorship) which dates from the 1640s. It was penned as a polemic against the puritan parliament’s edict that Christmas should be henceforth be regarded as a solemn religious festival – thus banning the kind of pagan celebrations with which we are now familiar.

The ballad should not be confused with the considerably more modern ditty which bears the same title but which was written in 1975 by Leon Rosselson and later recorded by Billy Bragg. This song is in turn frequently confused with the “Diggers’ Song” (also known as “Levellers and Diggers“) which is another 17th-century ballad, inspired by the Digger movement and composed by Gerrard Winstanley.

Leon Rosselson took the title for his song from the synonymous book by the Marxist historian, Christopher Hill, the subtitle of which is “Radical Ideas During the English Revolution”.

The period of chaos that marked the English Civil Wars – the ‘English Revolution’ – that confrontation between the monarchy (with its belief in the divine right of kings) and parliament (determined to establish democracy – however primitive in form) re-invigorated a radical tradition that had previously been rigorously suppressed whenever heads had been raised above the parapet. A variety of movements – the Diggers, the Levellers, the Ranters, the Quakers (very different in nature to the movement we know today) and the Fifth Monarchists – flourished for a brief but significant period.

“All well and good” – I hear you say – “but what has this to do with connections?”

Well – the period immediately following the civil wars – the protectorate of Oliver Cromwell and the subsequent restoration of the monarchy – is also know as the Golden Age of Piracy. These historical strands are – without doubt – interconnected, there being solid grounds for believing that the rise of piracy was at least partially rooted in English radicalism…

…and it just so happens that I have recently been reading extensively and widely on the subject of piracy – for an embryonic project to which I will no doubt return within these posts before too long.

Altogether now – “Arrrrr!”…

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