Pain, worry, and shame

Yesterday the knuckle of my left index finger was hurting. I couldn’t type normally, or hold a cup of coffee.

Twenty years ago this would have been a painful knuckle, end of story. But I’ve reached the age where my trials are tripled:

PAIN. I didn’t like the pain. Same as twenty years ago.

WORRY. There have been hints lately. Is this an early sign of arthritis or some other chronic condition of old age?

SHAME. Absurdly, this may be the worst of the three. I don’t want to hurt, and I don’t want to be old, but most of all, I don’t want to be perceived as old by others or by myself. If I have arthritis, that lands me in a new category for all the world to see. I’ll suffer twice the pain, please, if it can be pain with no significance.

[6 January 2015]


The Dutch East India Company was the most powerful company the world has ever known. It was the first multinational corporation and the first to issue stock, and had the power to wage war, found colonies, negotiate treaties, execute convicts, and mint coins. It was much bigger than the English East India Company and for a century was the main conduit of wealth into northern Europe. It made the Netherlands fabulously rich, brought tea and coffee and chocolate into our lives, and transformed Amsterdam and Jakarta. It founded Cape Town. It founded New York.

In Amsterdam last week, we went to the VOC museum, which is large and excellent and includes a spice trading ship we crawled over from fo’c’sle to quarterdeck. There were twenty or thirty other tourists at the museum.

Vincent Van Gogh was a Dutchman who lived 37 years and produced beautiful paintings, including striking self-portraits. The story is well known of his dramatic final years, featuring a quarrel with Gauguin, mutilation of his ear, commitment to a mental institution, and death from a gunshot wound. In Amsterdam we went to the Van Gogh museum too. There were two or three thousand other tourists there.

[8 January 2015]

My nine-year voyage around the world

My sister and I spent nine years of our childhood on a voyage around the world by land and sea.

This statement is true, though we didn’t notice it until our father pointed it out to us. The first leg of the journey, in 1956, was on a passenger ship crossing the Atlantic from England to the USA, when our father was returning from a sabbatical at Cambridge. (In America we paused to spend eight years as kids growing up in a suburb.) The rest of the journey unfolded in 1964-65 during his next sabbatical. First we drove across the USA and took a freighter to Australia. Seven months later we sailed to Athens by passenger ship. Trains and a rental car got us to Holland, and finally, a ferry to England completed our circumnavigation.  (Shortly thereafter we flew to Boston and commenced the remainder of our lives.)

A nine-year voyage around the world!  I am Marco Polo, I am Magellan!

[6 December 2014]

Gluten-free communion

Kate and I and her parents attended midnight service last night in Iffley’s beautiful Norman church, St. Mary’s, and I learned a fine point of Anglicanism in the early 21st century. It seems that  communicants who prefer gluten-free wafers may mention this to the vicar, who will accommodate them accordingly. Note how neatly this option reflects the fact that the Eucharist is merely symbolic. If the wafer actually turned into a piece of the body of Christ, gluten wouldn’t be an issue.

[25 December 2014]