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Posted by Walter Mason on Thursday, 29 October 2009
Inspired by Morning Coach, I recently noted down my Top 5 Favourite Books, and made a resolve to read them every year. Of course, I don't really need to re-read any of them - each of them has been so important in shaping my life that their contents have become a part of my personality.
Nonetheless, I think it's a good idea to constantly re-connect to what has inspired and formed you.
So it is that I am re-reading, for the fifth or sixth time, Nancy Mitford's exquisite autobiographical novel The Pursuit of Love. It's officially my favourite book of all time.
Now, I hear some of you gasp. How could he rate something so slight as his favourite book? But many of you will be familiar with my contention that the breezy and most easily read books are normally the hardest to write. In my humble opinion, Ms. Mitford is one of the great geniuses of the English Novel, and should figure prominently on every writer's bookshelf.
She is much, much funnier than Waugh or Wodehouse, though I think she probably rates equally with E. F. Benson, whose books she admired to the point of obsession. She is also a brilliant chronicler of upper-class Britain - probably the best. Her characters, mostly drawn from life, are always briliantly sketched, and the jokes are relentless.
Nancy said that it was growing up in a big family that caused all the Mitford sisters to cultivate humour, character and a great sense of fun. And indeed, its interesting to note that two of her sisters, Jessica Mitford and the controversial Diana Mosley, were also accomplished writers.
The Mitfords, of course, are these days something of an industry in their own right - there are countless biographies, collections of letters etc., and I understand that a Mitford obsession is de rigeur amongst certain classes of American.
My own fascination dates back to when I was a child and saw the first ever BBC adaptation of her two novels of childhood - The Pursuit of Love and the wonderfully named Love in a Cold Climate. I was instantly drawn into the peculiar Mitfordian world. The character Cedric, a flamboyant queen, I found particularly intriguing. One didn't see many overt homosexuals on Australian television in the early 80s. As far as I know this series remains criminally unavailable on DVD, and I still wait for the day when I can see it again.
Along with her lifelong friend, Evelyn Waugh (the bulky collection of the letters between the two is another favourite book of mine), Mitford saw that the only really great sin was being dull. Everything else was forgiveable if you were fun. It's a sentiment I can't help sharing, and its one that informs her delightful fiction.
Posted by Walter Mason on Tuesday, 27 October 2009
I've just been home to North Queensland to celebrate my granddad's 80th birthday, and while I was there I took the opportunity to visit the Halifax Uniting Church.
This tiny little church was once the local Methodist chapel, and it has a long association with my family.
It was here that my beloved late grandmother, Ethel Mary Barrett, played the organ, and ran at various times the Sunday School and the Methodist Youth League.
It was re-built in the early 60s, and is an almost perfect example of 1960s Australian Protestant Church architecture, with its clean lines, its retro touches referencing the by-then deeply unfashionable art deco, and its utter simplicity.
The church was constructed with side doors that could open up onto the wrap-around veranda, thereby taking advantage of any passing breeze.
My mother recalls many hot mornings sweating away in the little church. It still remains resolutely un-airconditioned, thus perfectly embodying the Methodist spirit of its original builders.
The interior decor is extremely low-key, with simple polished wood pews and rails and a couple of banners that change with the liturgical season.
Being in that little church gave me such an amazing feeling - a feeling of continuity, of deep connection with my history.
And of course, wonderful memories of my beautiful Grandmother, who I miss so very much.
Posted by Walter Mason on Tuesday, 20 October 2009
My wonderful friend and colleague Maggie Hamilton has brought out the most remarkable book on a most interesting topic - Fairies.
Maggie will be speaking at the New Church in Roseville on Friday the 11th of December at 7.30pm about the fascinating story behind the book, and I hope you'll all come! The evening is free, though donations will be accepted for the Loving Arms orphanage in Nepal.
The new book, Meeting Fairies, is a collection of writing about fairies made by R. Ogilvie Crombie (or ROC, as he was affectionately known), a modern-day mystic and one of the founders of the Findhorn community. He was convinced of the reality of Fairies, and in fact had many encounters with them.
Maggie had access to ROC's archives and private papers, and has assembled a magical book that explores the message of the nature spirits, and their importance in Western mythology.
Meeting Fairies - an Evening with Maggie Hamilton
The New Church
4 Shirley Rd
7.30pm Friday December 11
Entry by donation - all proceeds go to the Loving Arms Children's Home in Nepal
Posted by Walter Mason on Tuesday, 13 October 2009
One of the Buddhist Bodhisattvas that is constantly represented in temples is Ksitigarbha. Commonly known as Dia Tang (Viet), Di Zhang (Ch.) or Jizo (Jap.), Ksitigarbha is an important figure in the popular religious life of Mahayana Buddhists.
Ostensibly the protector of the Underworld, Ksitigarbha serves as the point of prayer and worship for those seeking to memorialise their dead relatives, particularly those who were closest to them. Prayers and offerings to Ksitigarbha are considered particularly powerful because he is capable of interceding with the Buddha on behalf of those prayed for. Much of the mythology surrounding Ksitigarbha is mixed up with the stories of Maha Moggallana from the Pali Canon, in which one of the Buddha's most gifted disciples is given a vision of Hell, and there he sees his own mother. He subsequently appeals to the Buddha to help his mother, and the Buddha finally agrees.
Mahayana Buddhists use this story as evidence that prayers and offerings made in Ksitigarbha's name are important to the spiritual welfare of deceased family members, and especially so during the Feast of Ullambana (Vu Lan), normally held around August, and the second most important celebration on the Buddhist calendar.
In his Japanese form as Jizo, Ksitigarbha has transformed into a sweet little child. Some suggest that this infantilisation of the Boddhisattva's form is connected to the modern practice of purchasing and installing a Jizo statue at a Buddhist temple in memory of an aborted child. On memorial days women visit the temples and offer toys and candy to the statues of the Bodhisattva, and he has slowly come to represent the spirit of childhood itself.
In more traditional statues Ksitigarbha is represented carrying a staff, the top of which has six rings attached. Each ring represents one of the Buddhist Perfections - kindness, morality, patience, persistence, attention and insight. The six rings jingle as he travels, thereby sending the sounds of the Perfections throughout the universe. And the staff itself can be used to open the gates of hell, ultimately liberating the poor souls he is charged with protecting.
A shrine to Ksitigarbha is present in most Chinese and Vietnamese Buddhist temples. IN a small temple it will normally be to the left of the main shrine, but in larger temples it is normally situated in a separate room or building, which serves as a memorial hall for the dead.