Letter to Menoeceus by Epicurus

Thought-provoking extracts from a favourite text; the whole thing is worth a read if you have the time. (URL below)

Letter to Menoeceus by Epicurus
In this letter, Epicurus summarizes his ethical doctrines:
Epicurus to Menoeceus, greetings:

Let no one be slow to seek wisdom when he is young nor weary in the search of it when he has grown old. For no age is too early or too late for the health of the soul. And to say that the season for studying philosophy has not yet come, or that it is past and gone, is like saying that the season for happiness is not yet or that it is now no more. Therefore, both old and young alike ought to seek wisdom, the former in order that, as age comes over him, he may be young in good things because of the grace of what has been, and the latter in order that, while he is young, he may at the same time be old, because he has no fear of the things which are to come.

[…] Pleasure is our first and kindred good. It is the starting-point of every choice and of every aversion, and to it we come back, inasmuch as we make feeling the rule by which to judge of every good thing.

And since pleasure is our first and native good, for that reason we do not choose every pleasure whatsoever, but will often pass over many pleasures when a greater annoyance ensues from them. And often we consider pains superior to pleasures when submission to the pains for a long time brings us as a consequence a greater pleasure. While therefore all pleasure because it is naturally akin to us is good, not all pleasure is should be chosen, just as all pain is an evil and yet not all pain is to be shunned. It is, however, by measuring one against another, and by looking at the conveniences and inconveniences, that all these matters must be judged. Sometimes we treat the good as an evil, and the evil, on the contrary, as a good.

[…] When we say, then, that pleasure is the end and aim, we do not mean the pleasures of the prodigal or the pleasures of sensuality, as we are understood to do by some through ignorance, prejudice, or willful misrepresentation. By pleasure we mean the absence of pain in the body and of trouble in the soul. It is not an unbroken succession of drinking-bouts and of revelry, not sexual lust, not the enjoyment of the fish and other delicacies of a luxurious table, which produce a pleasant life; it is sober reasoning, searching out the grounds of every choice and avoidance, and banishing those beliefs through which the greatest tumults take possession of the soul.

Of all this the beginning and the greatest good is wisdom. Therefore wisdom is a more precious thing even than philosophy ; from it spring all the other virtues, for it teaches that we cannot live pleasantly without living wisely, honorably, and justly; nor live wisely, honorably, and justly without living pleasantly. For the virtues have grown into one with a pleasant life, and a pleasant life is inseparable from them.

A lament for Patrick Gordon Smith

My mother and father discovered our neighbour, dead, this (tuesday) morning, slumped on his kitchen floor behind his front door so that it had to be forced to be open.

Patrick Gordon Smith – not hyphenated, but treated as a double-barrel name – lived two doors along from my parents, and was an significant influence upon my life right from our arrival back in the UK in 1978, through to when I left for college in 1985, and beyond.

He was a quintessentially English character; long-limbed, mild mannered, silver haired and perpetually dressed in proper shoes, trousers and a long-sleeved shirt with collar, he was cast from a mould of WWII military aviator whose values and behaviour are unseen – and barely understood – in this day and age. Fans of Dad’s Army would, with some fairness, compare his style to that of bespectaled John LeMesurier, but with a rather less wily air, more at-ease with himself, with a hint of Naval swagger but no bravado.

Pat was WWII ex-RN Fleet Air Arm and flew “Stringbags” (Fairy Swordfish Torpedo / Fighter-Bombers) off of the Ark Royal; I believe that he was in-on the hunt for the Bismark, but not based on the Ark Royal at that point. Stationed in Malta for a while. I also believe he finished up as a Wing Commander or somesuch.

I never pressed him about his war experiences because we shared another interest entirely: birdwatching.

His slightly betweeded love for all matters avian – porting everywhere his 1950s vintage copy of Peterson-UK and a pair of Barr & Stroud 8x30s, dressed in a muddy-brown smock – was an inspiration to me. Trips to Slimbridge, trips to Cley and Mins, regular weekly hauls up the A38 to the rather less-well-known-than-now reserve of Upton Warren… We must have spent several hundred (often freezing and rained-on) hours in each others’ company, or comparing notes after expeditions on our own; he always gave his time and advice freely, rarely took umbrage or became angered at anything, and when he did tended to express in terms of “being a bit miffed”.

One of the happiest moments of my birdwatching life was the time that I felt that I had managed to “give him back” a worthy experience; through another birder I learned that a nest of Quail had been discovered a few miles to the north of where we lived, in Doverdale fields. In the summer evening half-light we drove out there, I led us to the spot, and after a few too-long minutes a Quail emerged like some shrunk-in-the-wash Partridge, no bigger than a fist, perched on a hummock and began to display with its repetitive “twit-wip-wip” call.

Patrick couldn’t hear it – with age he was becoming progressively more deaf to high frequencies and was also partially blind in one eye, the other deteriorating through glaucoma – but we tracked it, we nailed it, we saw it we did, confirming the species observation by the frequency of the bird’s wingbeats as it flew off.

That was a good day.

I didn’t see Pat much after I left for college and then work; his birding trips tailed-off after hearing and sight defects made it less fruitful. As was his habit, he and my parents would get together on saturdays and do the Daily Telegraph crossword over dinner, phoning up family and sharing the clues and solutions in a joint social-event / race / intra-family war.

Apparently his deterioration recently became more serious after he finally became too disabled to drive; my mother attributes much of this to loss if independence, and I can see merit in this view. Yesterday – monday now – feeling poorly, he booked an appointment to go to the local medical centre, and my dad was to taxi him there at 0845 the next morning.

Sunrise came, Dad went to pick him up but found the front door locked, with a note stuck in the window for Pat’s cleaner; Dad cast-around, tried to find if Pat’d gone to the doctor’s under his own steam somehow, called Pat’s son, after an hour my Dad (82) himself was on the verge of attacking the front door with a sledgehammer when Mum found the spare key we kept. She unlocked the door and pushed, but nothing moved.

It was only while she was shoving the door hard that she had the horrible realisation of what might be blocking it, and putting her head around the door confirmed the body. I’m glad that Dad was there too, because he’s seen enough death – also WWII – to be able to cope level-headedly.

The police arrived later – they’d got lost – forced entry, arranged ambulances and examiners and so forth. As ever, the traditional response of Muffetts to emergency services personnel is to feed them endless mugs of tea – which gave Mum something to do; she (fortunately) like the rest of us is pretty bombproof on these occasions, and also saw to fielding Pat’s son when he arrived.

The general opinion was that Pat had dropped in his pyjamas while fetching the morning milk – a bowl of muesli, a sliced banana, cutlery on the sideboard bearing witness. It appeared to have been over quickly.

I hope it was quick. He deserved quick. It’s a pity that death takes no measure of gallantry or kindness, nor necessarily gives you the opportunity to, erm, properly dispose yourself for other people to find you.

Oh well – there are certainly worse ways to go.

Mum told me this evening that she feels a bit “steamrollered” by events, and will be having “a jolly stiff drink” before bed. Dad likewise, although he seems more nonplussed than anything. They’ll be OK. They’ve lived through worse.

And me? Well, I, too, shall have a small toast to his rememberance, before I turn in. It’s not my tragedy – it’s Pat’s, and the world’s.

Gentlemen (birdwatchers or otherwise) of PGS’s ilk are themselves rarities nowadays, and for this reason if no other I mourn his passing; yet I have much more reason for I owe him much of my knowledge of Natural History, and some of the best times of my youth.

I shall miss him, and my parents have lost a crossword-partner. In my family, that statement expresses a sentiment that it is not possible to put into words.

At least I knew him.

Weekend fun.

Overall, a very pleasant weekend.

Friday evening I went to see HuunHuurTu (Tuvan folk band) at the Royal Festival Hall, supporting a 20-voice Bulgarian Women’s Choir, and a trio of Modern Jazz nutters from Moscow & Stockholm.

It was a bizzare fusion of music, and worked well – solos and combined efforts, sax and scat-singing backed by the women’s choir, hybrid steppe cowboy-songs and russian folk, and a stonking set of modern Jazz with piano, sax, coronet and a 4-meter long Alphorn.

Impressive stuff, done with rhythm and humour; I am hoping that HuunHuurTu come back for a solo tour, though, because they deservedly got the most applause of the crowd.

Most of the rest of the weekend was given over to friends, movies, motorcycles and experimental gastronomy; a mate from work took delivery of a shiny red Ducati 748 and went blasting all over the place at speeds of up to 130mph. I turned up at his place on my freshly washed 125cc trailie, which though positively wimpy compared to his sportsbike, towers above the same. We had a nice chat, and then I went out for a potter around the locale. Stopped in on the Hartlands, and sorted out the next few weeks socialising.

The food included haddock poached in cream and butter served over mustard mash; banana and muscovado crumble with cognac – and on sunday, chicken breast in pancetta, braised with spirit molasses and chili, and served with green salad and a wholewheat crouton. I am not satisfied with the latter – needs a bit more kick, garlic maybe.



is it me, or…

…is the “don’t auto format” option, slightly broken? sometimes I look at my previous posting, and it is manually formatted as I intended. Other times, and it gets superformatted and looks chunky.

small world, good music.

Well, the They Might Be Giants at the London Astoria tonight, proved three things to me:

  1. You’re never too old to have a happy childhood.
  2. It’s a very small world.
  3. Irrespective of the views of some of my friends, I must have had the words Nice Guy, Chivalrous, And Safe Too tattooed on my forehead in a script legible only to women. I can think of no other excuse…

The queue – which I joined an hour before the gig, and hence was at the front – was a living history of geek chic throughout the past 20 years, and being at the front got me a prized front-and-centre against-the-fence position.

There was I, standing with a woman on either side of me; to my left, blonde and pretty, a German who works as a media analyst for RTL (a TV station) and who has seen the band live some 40 times. She is over to the UK and booked to follow the band around the UK and attend every gig.

To my right, brunette, perky and cute, a Brit who has seen the band live 27 times. She’s a journalist, and is booked to follow the band around the UK and attend every gig.

And finally there is me, a TMBG virgin.

A pleasant three-way conversation sprang up when I put these two in touch with each other – they were astonished at the amount of overlap of attendance (“Fillmore Hall in San Francisco in ’95?” “Yes!”) yet never having met each other – and I seemed to get “adopted” as the band newbie and chatted (and listened in) at length on the history of TMBG gigs over the years.

The warm-up band was competent, fun even, but a little too serious perhaps; there was then an overly-extended break to the recorded soundtrack of Oklahoma!, in which further chatting with my new brunette friend revealed:

  1. Her name was Amy
  2. she was apparently writing this up for GQ and Bride’s Monthly (!?!)
  3. and yes, she also liked The Divine Comedy
  4. and also a band called The Cardiacs
  5. Oh My God, yes, I know Jim Finnis
  6. [He’s] a friend of my ex-fiance, Nige[l]
  7. So, how do [I] know Jim?

…which was about the time I swung around out of shock, only to find Narenek peering at me from the depths of the audience.

I really wonder, sometimes, how far one would have to go in order to not be within (say) 5 miles of someone who has not met, slept with, lived with, or worked with, someone from the circle of friends I know from my college days, to a depth of twice-removed, say.

Anyway – I shall leave the TMBG review to Narenek – suffice to say it was a foot-stomping spectacular and I enjoyed myself thoroughly, whilst alternately being tugged or snuggled-up-to by the girls on either side of me in order to stop people cutting into “our” slot in the fence, and simultaneously fending-off the crushing, drunken, beer-swilling mob to our rear. One guy was particularly pissed, smiling like a loon, handing out Lockets lozenges, drunkenly punching the air (and us) with his fists, and “grinding his genitals into [Amy’s] backside” for some time, until with a little surreptitious shin-kicking from my walking boots, he left.

The gig wound up well; I bade my new ladyfriends goodnight, fought my way out, and – in a pique of suicidal nostalgia – purchased a kebab from a notorious take-away that was known as “Dying-Greasyus” in my UCL years. It was just as vile as I remembered. Caught the tube, and the penultimate train home.

Funny old thing, life.

Oh, and while queueing, I think i saw Strange Behaving Dave, too. Or his twin. Something like that.


most of my postings tend to be on mondays.

interesting times

I still feel ridden by bugs. This is possibly caused by my crashing out after gardening yesterday, sleeping until 1am, and then spending the morning hours until 0500 coughing + reading the new pratchett paperback. Two more hours sleep and thence hot-showering myself into consciousness and into work for a meeting to be informed of the shortlist. I was hoping to observe the meteor shower on sunday morning; no such luck – however, I saw it at its peak a few years ago, fireballs scorching the sky, and the memory of these pleasant events will comfort me for some considerable time.


well, my 7-dvd compilation of carl sagan’s “cosmos” arrived today… it will be a wrench not to be up until the wee hours watching it all. now i just have to work out why i got hit with 40 quid import duty.

unexpected pleasures

an amazing weekend.

friday night, i was looking at two days of gardening and a degree of boredom; chatting on irc with telsa we mused at not having seen each other for months, and thus i ended up with a sudden invitation to see telsa and alan in swansea. checking my answer-machine the next morning, i further discovered an previously missed invite to a fireworks party in malvern for the sunday night.

therefore i went from nothing, to a jam-packed weekend of interesting events in the space of 12hrs flat.

saturday morning was a rush of gardening and housework, making the place fit for visitor habitation and for a future garden-waste-dumpster-skip episode. then (1) sling telescope into car, (2) grab sleeping-bag, (3) grab whisky and wine and (4) grab change of clothes, followed by (5) a rapid drive up the m4 to swansea.

we – me, telsa and alan – talked hacking, gossip, linux, food, cooking, trips to australia, icelandic booze, amusing canadians, and a pile of other chitchat, ate good food, and listened to weird music until 0200, whence to bed in the top-floor spare room with ensuite fridge and futon.

slept-in the next morning, more chat and a bout of concerted scone-making made a pleasant and entertaining start to the day.

drove hence to my sister’s place in droitwich, lunch, swapped plans for a visit to canada next year, her new car, and absconded to the parents. tea and browsed dad’s colonial-era memoirs. jumped in the car towards dinner, and drove to chris and donna’s place in malvern.

food, interesting people and fireworks++. i got to be “range safety officer” knocking-out all the expended fireworks to a safe location (long pole at arms length) and lighting the way for chris (who was setting them off). we had a box of “normal sized” ones, followed by a huge skyrocket and a fountain of commercial-show dimensions. the last two thundered off the hills and must have been heard two miles away. ended the evening, unsticking the car of one of chris’s colleagues frm the mud outside the house.

finally made it home at midnight. all in all, a most unexpected time, and very pleasurable too, seeing old friends.