(XII) ECCENTRIC COUNTRY – ENGLAND

Peter Milward


Weblisher: BriFrancis, 2008

 CONTENTS

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Preface:  English Humour in Pictures

 

Part I.  Ancient Eccentricities

1.       The Whale Stone

2.       Mysticism in Cows

3.       The Stone Dance

4.       A Dark Lighthouse

 

Part II.  Monuments of Madness

5.       Craziness from the Cradle

6.       The Ruins of Time

7.       Poetry amid Penury

8.       Play amid Ruins

 

Part III.  Castles in the Air

9.       Another Ruthless King

10.    Aftermath of a Masque

11.    Sheep at a Banquet

12.    Soldiers on Guard

 

Part IV.  Mad Mansions

13.    Disney in Cheshire

14.    The Haunted Hall

15.    The Shambles

16.    The Crooked Hall

 

Part V.  Holy Follies

17.    Converging Lines

18.    People on Pinnacles

19.    An Inclining Chancel

20.    The Spire and the Window

 

Part VI.  Queer Carvings

21.    Jacob’s Ladder

22.    Mediaeval Sumo

23.    An Indian Boy

24.    A Strange Saint

 

Part VII.  Comic Graves

25.  A Grave Figure-Head

26.  An Acrostic Epitaph

27.  The Church Cat

28.  Dead as Donkeys

 

Part VIII.  Unique Universities

29.  Funny Faces

30.  Spikes for Students

31.  Pig with Wings

32.  Fire!

 

Part IX.  Inspiration in Inns

33.  The Flying Horse

34.  The Fighting Cocks

35.  First and Last

36.  The End of the World

 

Part X.  Peculiar Publicity

37.  Touting for Tooth-Paste

38.  Bend or Bump!

39.  Upon My Sole!

40.  Private Property

 

Part XI.  Floral Folly

41.  The Anchor in Flower

42.  Sesame Street

43.  Floral Time

44.  British Bonsai

 

Part XII.  Animal Antics

45.  Cowardice of Cows

46.  Crossing the Road

47.  A Dog in the Water

48.  A Circular Cat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  The Simplicity of the West 

 by Peter Milward

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 AAFX: History of Christians in Japan  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LINKS

Who is Peter Milward?

Genesis of an Octogenarian

Blog Brittonia

All About Francis Xavier

BriFra

Who are the Jesuits?

Joining the Jesuits in Japan

About

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 A Lifetime with Hopkins  by Peter Milward

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

     Jacobean Shakespeare
by Peter Milward

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shakespeare the Papist by Peter Milward 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 Arise My Love by William Johnston

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part XII.  Animal Antics

 

   45.   Cowardice of Cows

The eccentricity of the English doesn’t end with the people, but it extends even to the fauna and flora of the country.  If it appears even in the flowers, when the flowers are taken up by human beings, it inevitably makes an appearance among the animals, especially the domestic animals.  And first let me speak of the cows, as I myself belong to the Year of the Cow.

 

Somehow, it seems to me, the cow is the most eccentric of animals.  Not that she tries to be eccentric, like many Englishmen of my acquaintance.  She rather goes out of her way not to attract attention.  But precisely therein lies her undoing.  She is eccentric even in her avoidance of eccentricity.  For the sure way of falling into error is to go out of one’s way to avoid falling into that error.  The sure way of doing something you don’t want to do is to tell yourself again and again, “I won’t do it! I won’t do it!”  And sure enough, you do it.  In the same way Shakespeare’s King Lear kept on telling himself, “I mustn’t go mad! I mustn’t go mad!”  And sure enough, he went mad.

 

Ever since I came to Japan, I have come to realize my “cowishness”.  I was indeed born in the Year of the Cow.  So I have come to study the behaviour of cows, not so much in Japan, where we have few cows, as on my occasional tours of England.  So I may now claim to be an authority on the psychology of cows – in which expertise I suppose I have few competitors in the academic world.

 

Even before I came to Japan, while I was still engaged in the study of English at Oxford, I held many a conversation with the cows I came across there.  It was just a silent conversation without words, with nothing more than an exchange of mutual glances.  So when I arrived in Japan, I was happy to find that I had been born in the Year of the Cow.  Subsequently, on return visits to my native country with my camera, I have taken more pictures of cows than of any other animal.  In any case, there are so many cows in England, and they are always so photogenic, as if waiting for someone to take their pictures.

 

Yet whenever I have approached a cow to take her picture, I have the feeling she wasn’t expecting it at all.  Cats, I often find, like to have their pictures taken – so long as they aren’t stray cats.  Dogs will look fixedly at the camera, but they won’t run away.  Sheep find a certain fascination in the camera, perhaps thinking it is something to eat.  But cows, whenever they notice me pointing a camera at them, look the other way and turn their backs on me.  I’m sure it isn’t any rudeness on their part, but only their embarrassment.  Evidently, they don’t like to have their pictures taken.

 

I have many pictures to prove this point.  In almost all of them the cow is looking away from me, and sometimes a whole field of cows is looking away from me.  They just don’t want to face me or my camera.  Perhaps if I was all alone, without a camera, and just looking into their eyes, I mightn’t bother them.  They don’t mind a wordless conversation with human beings, especially if the being was born in the Year of the Cow.  But what they dislike is the sight of a camera.

 

The only way, therefore, of dealing with cows in order to take their picture is to steal up to them from behind and to take their picture before they are aware of it.  This is what we call a “candid camera”.  And this is what I did on one occasion at Bolton Abbey in Yorkshire, and it was very successful.  I was on my way to see the abbey ruins beside the river Wharfe, when I noticed a pair of cows standing in the field with their backs to me.  So I stole up behind them, and just as I passed them, I took out my camera and pointed it at them.  Before they could move or register any other reaction, I pressed the shutter and captured them in a slide.  They looked so embarrassed!

 

So here you see them, standing side by side in the field, with the abbey wall behind them.  You also see the path down which I walked from “the hole in the wall” through which one has to pass to reach the ruins.  One of the cows is larger than the other, and I guess that they are mother and daughter.  Before my arrival they were no doubt gently grazing on the rich grass of the Wharfe valley.  But then they must have sensed the vibration on the ground from my approaching feet, and were petrified with the fear of impending danger.  They remained petrified as I stole round them and took their picture.  Poor things!  I felt so sorry for them, but happy for myself and the Japanese to whom I could now show such a slide.

 

What I have to show in them isn’t just their embarrassment or their shyness, but also their cowishness, which is their inner nature as cows.

 

 

46.   Crossing the Road

A sight common enough to motorists in the English countryside – one that gives rise to frustration, if they are in a hurry, but fascination, if they are Japanese tourists – is the sight of cows or sheep crossing the road.  It is something you never see in a city like London, though I understand it isn’t uncommon in a rural city like Dublin, on the other side of the Irish Sea.  In England it is something you have to be prepared for, if you don’t want to be taken by surprise.

 

On my various pilgrimages round the British Isles over the past thirty years I have got quite accustomed to this phenomenon.  I have witnessed it time and time again, and on several of those times I have recorded it with my camera.  On one occasion it was of cows crossing the road on our way to Exeter – in the same journey as that which took us to Morwenstow and the British bonsai.  Then, though the cows didn’t seem to be in a hurry – they never are! – we didn’t have so long to wait, since they were just coming out of one gate on one side of the road and going into another gate on the other side.

 

On the other occasion, which took more time and about which I wish to speak at more length, the animals were sheep.  They weren’t just crossing the road but coming into the road in front of us – a friend of mine and myself, as we were driving through the Lancashire moors.  They continued up the road for some time, before their shepherd with his dog directed them to the gate on the other side of the road.  It took quite a time for those sheep to go up the road and in at the other gate, even with the dog yapping at their heels.  So I had plenty of leisure to take a picture of them, without having to cause them the least embarrassment.

 

Anyhow, we were in no hurry.  We had come for a nice quiet drive on the moors, and here was as good a spot as any for getting out of the car and admiring the scenery around us.  The movement of the sheep up the road, urged on by the faithful sheep-dog, made the scenery all the more enchanting and typically English.  So far from the wait being an exercise of my patience, I could have stayed there forever, watching the sheep and the dog amid such a lovely landscape.

 

As for the sheep, I wonder if I may call them, as I call cows, eccentric animals?  They aren’t as cowish as cows, but they are at least sheepish, which comes to almost the same thing.  Yet when it comes to cameras and having their pictures taken, I find that sheep usually look in my direction with an inquisitive look in their eyes, whereas cows only look away in embarrassment.  In either case, they are following their natural instinct, which is to follow the herd or the flock.  Yet with sheep in England, I can’t help recalling the accusation made against them by Sir Thomas More in Utopia, that these meek animals are eating men.  For their daily meals they need such an expanse of green grass, and so they drive men away from the land and into cities, where the poor often die of starvation.

 

Still, I can’t blame the poor sheep, but their human owners who find sheep bringing in more profit with their wool than men.  After all, what do sheep do but follow the guidance of their leader, or the sheep-dog who comes up from behind, or the shepherd who tells his dog what to do?  There is a whole chain of command, rising up from animals to men, till at last we come to him who is responsible for it all, and for all the ruin done to the calm English countryside.

 

Yes, up above there is a hidden evil as well as a hidden eccentricity, in the human beings who control the destinies of England.  But for the time being I prefer to keep my eyes on the countryside below, on the scenery and the animals.  They are all so good, so charming, and so eccentric in the English way.

 

Once again, I may ask, what does “eccentric” mean, if not removed from the centre?  And where is the centre of England, if not in the city of London, and the other large industrial cities?  Those centres are so ugly, so noisy, so smelly, so grievous to the spirit of man, whereas the countryside, especially on the moors, is so beautiful, so peaceful, so delightfully eccentric on the distant circumference.  There in the city, everything is artificial, unnatural, inhuman, but here in the countryside a man can find himself in his natural setting and rest in peace.  From a human viewpoint this may seem eccentric, as each man is naturally his own centre, but from a divine viewpoint it is the centre of everything.  It is the truth that “God made the country, but man made the town.”

 

 

47.   A Dog in the Water

Everyone knows the saying about the dog being “man’s best friend”.  The dog is such a faithful animal.  At least, he is so faithful to his master.  Such is his fidelity that he isn’t afraid of keeping his master awake all night, if he thinks there is some danger lurking in the neighbourhood.  Such is his fidelity that he remains true to the memory of his master even after the latter has died, especially when he (the dog) is still surrounded by former friends and acquaintances.

 

At the same time, to people other than his master, especially to strangers, the dog isn’t so friendly.  Sometimes he merely looks at you suspiciously, as though challenging you to come closer, if you dare.  Sometimes he contents himself with a vociferous bark or two, before turning his attention to another possible source of danger.  Sometimes he even attacks you, if you seem to be an intruder.  Of course, he takes positive pleasure in attacking a poor bear tied to the stake in the old sport of bear-baiting.  He has no sense of danger to himself, so long as the bear is tied securely and there are other dogs to join him in the fray.

 

Still, I have no wish to dwell on the defects of the dog.  For who is without sin or defect of any kind?  Let him who is without sin cast the first stone at the poor dog!  In any case, the dog has received such shabby treatment at the hands of men – I won’t say women – not least in the pages of English literature.  So now let me say something to his credit, something that may make him appear as no less eccentric – in a good sense, of course – than his dear master.

 

During my English childhood we always kept a dog at home, not one but several in succession.  We were particularly fond of a Sealyham called Mickey, and we loved to play with him on the Common.  At that time he was just a puppy, and just the right age to play with us, for we were hardly older than him.  We would throw sticks for him to fetch, which he always did with great gusto.  At other times, we would race with him, and though he was so small, he could always keep up with us and even outrun us.

 

Not only in Mickey but in all dogs, not to mention puppies, I find a deep instinct for play, especially play with human beings.  The cat may keep to himself and even despise his master, like the contemptuous cat in Soseki’s famous I Am a Cat.  But the dog is never so happy as when he is in the company of men and the children of men.  He loves exercise, but the exercise he prefers is when he can take it with his master.  He will wait in the house all day, in patient expectation of the moment when he spies his master picking up the lead as a sure sign he is going to take him for a walk. Then how energetically he wags his tail, till it seems his tail may come off!

 

Such was the dog I once came upon in a park near the city of Salisbury, with its splendid cathedral.  I had gone there with some Japanese companions for a picnic lunch beside the river Avon.  After lunch we were strolling along the riverside, when we caught sight of this dog plunging into the river just ahead of us.  His master had thrown a ball into the river for him to fetch, and he had accordingly plunged in to fetch it.  Here was a wonderful opportunity for me to take a picture of the dog before he could notice me and glare at me as a potential enemy.  So I took him just as he was emerging from the water and climbing up the bank with the ball securely between his teeth.

 

He hardly noticed us.  He was so pleased at having successfully retrieved the ball for his master.  He was after all a golden retriever, and a handsome specimen of his breed.  I couldn’t help thinking what an example he gave to us all, and not only an opportunity for me to catch him with my camera.  He gave an example not only of fidelity to his master but also of fondness for play.  And in his case play was one with exercise, exercise not for its own sake but for the sake of play.

 

This reminds me of the similar lesson associated with the mission of John the Baptist, to turn the hearts of adults to children, so that those who have grown old – I almost said “odd” – in sin may recapture something of their original innocence.  Yet what John the Baptist teaches us at the beginning of the New Testament, I find taught all unconsciously, and all the more effectively, by this golden retriever in his enthusiastic play with his master.  From a human viewpoint he may seem eccentric, far removed from the city centre, but from a divine viewpoint he indicates the centre of all things, rising as it were from the river of baptism.

 

 

48.   A Circular Cat

“It’s raining cats and dogs” is a common enough saying concerning a downpour of rain.  In a human context, especially in the context of home, cats and dogs are always together.  The dog may be the more faithful animal, and the cat may even despise his master.  But while the dog is content to remain in his kennel out of doors, the cat belongs indoors.  For the dog the climax of the day comes when he finds his dear master ready to take him for a walk.  He loves the open air and exercise, especially in company with his master.  But the cat prefers to stay at home.  Or if he walks abroad, it is by himself, intent on some nefarious mission.  Anyhow, it is the cat rather than the dog who makes the home complete, especially in winter when there is a log fire blazing in the grate.

 

So now I have spoken about the fidelity of the dog, whether in life or death, I must add a few words about the homeliness of the cat.  In my boyhood, as I have said, I was surrounded by a succession of friendly dogs, though the one I most remember was Mickey.  We never had any cats till I grew up and left home.  Then my family – my mother and three brothers who remained at home – took up an interest in a certain cat.  He wasn’t their cat.  He belonged to a man in another house up the road.  But he was so friendly, especially on seeing what was laid before him – a plate of raw liver.  His appetite won him over, and he became such a frequent visitor to the house, it was almost as if he was one of the family.  We hadn’t chosen him, but he had chosen us – for what he could get out of us.  He was quite selfish about it, and he didn’t take the trouble to hide it, but we didn’t mind.  After all, isn’t it the nature of a cat to be selfish?

 

Whenever I brought groups of Japanese to England on my literary pilgrimages, I would leave London to the end of the pilgrimage.  This was partly because I wanted to show them the beauty of the English countryside to begin with, and then we might go on to London to see the famous sights of the capital.  Then I would excuse myself, on the plea that a guided tour of London was out of the question for so many together, and they had better see the city sights for themselves in small groups.  In fact, this was my opportunity for leaving them in London and taking a rest at home in Wimbledon.  Then I would be able to see the family cat again.

 

Whatever may be the case with other cats, this one had no objection to being photographed.  Indeed, when I brought out my camera for him, he seemed to welcome the idea of having his picture taken.  He even consented to adopt various poses for me, as if he were a fashion model.  And he was so photogenic.  For one picture he curled up on the grassy lawn, making a perfect circle with his tail curving back to his head.  So he became what I call a circular cat.

 

Now what, I wonder, is the symbolic significance of this circularity in a cat?  For one thing, he may symbolize my return home after a long absence in the East, so that where I began I may also end.  For another, coming as I do from the East, I am reminded of the ancient Oriental symbolism of the serpent forming a circle with his tail in his mouth – which signifies eternity, transcending linear time.  But in the cat’s mind his chief reason is, I am sure, his desire to be petted, since the proper way of stroking a cat is circular from the head down and then round till you come to his tail.

 

In the end of this book of mine, therefore, I come back to where I began it, in the circular form of Stonehenge.  There what I emphasized wasn’t so much the concentric circularity of the stones themselves as the eccentric oddity of the Whale-Stone standing at a distance by itself.  And this warns me that, if I draw too much attention to the circularity of the family cat, I am departing from the main thesis of this book, which is eccentricity.  So in the end I have to ask the question, how do I find eccentricity in the circularity of the cat?

 

Needless to say, as I have said, the cat only adopted that circular form as a temporary pose for my camera.  In almost every other respect the cat is as eccentric as any other English animal, if not more so.  Not for nothing is he called, by Rudyard Kipling in one of his stories, “The Cat That Walked by Himself.”  In contrast to the cat, it is surely the dog who walks at the centre of things with his master, while the cat remains by himself, eccentric to the last, even or especially at home.  He may seem so homely and domestic, curled up in front of a blazing fire in winter.  But he remains aloof and alone, his thoughts – insofar as he has any thoughts – elsewhere.  Maybe he is thinking to himself, “Here I have no abiding city, here I have no abiding home.”  And here, I may add, is the essence of English eccentricity.

 

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END of Peter Milward's

ECCENTRIC COUNTRY -- ENGLAND

(c) Jesuits of Japan, 2008

Weblished by BriFrancis, 2008, Tokyo

Contact: brifrancis[at]gmail.com