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.