Paul Buckingham, Blog, philosophy, 19th century newspaper articles, photos of Annecy and Prague

Paul Buckingham

...a view across the lake

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Welcome to my web-site.  On it you will find some thoughts about current affairs under the heading 'Point of View' and various thoughts on philosophical topics.  I add to them when I can.

I have also included a selection of extracts from newspapers of the 19th century. They shed an extraordinary light on how life was lived by ordinary people.

As a bonus there are some photos of Prague and also of Annecy, its lake and the surrounding mountains.  Annecy is a beautiful mediaeval town in the French Alps.

I should be happy to hear from you with your comments*, but in any event hope that you will enjoy your browsing.

Paul Buckingham

Cucumbers on the Roof

A slightly updated version of an essay which I see I originally wrote in September 2006, some months afer recovering from open heart surgery - I was evidently in reflective mood!

Until I was almost 3 years old, my parents, my elder brother and I all lived in my grandparents rented house at 4 Burnaby Street, Splott, Cardiff (the house on the right in the photo).  John was born in 1944 and I was born a couple of years after WWII. A few years ago, as usual, the mothers came to us for Sunday lunch. They covered most of the last century and part of this, and so from Zeppelins to e-mails. My mother was recounting the story of how one day she heard my grandmother shouting for help from the garden.

There was an air-raid shelter dug into the ground. On its roof was a thick layer of earth which was piled up as additional protection. In the spirit of ‘Dig for Victory', my grandmother had planted cucumbers on the roof and had gone out to dig the patch over. She had dug her spade in only to find that she had made contact with the casing of an incendiary bomb, which must have fallen harmlessly in the previous night's air-raid. Fortunately it did not go off in response to my grandmother's direct hit either. My mother, in her official, albeit, as she saw it, somewhat unlikely, capacity as the air-raid warden for Burnaby Street, ran down the road to the telephone box in order to call the bomb disposal squad - and they made the incendiary device safe.  It's the sort of event in life that stays with you despite the passage of very, very many decades.

Later that week, I was standing by the sink of one of the houses we let to students at Birmingham University. I was washing from my hands the dust from an old wardrobe which I had been breaking up. It's a glamorous life being a bloated capitalist landlord. We needed to replace it and there was no way we could get it down the rather narrow staircase in one piece. It had come with the house, and I think had been got in to the bedroom many years previously via the old sash window, which we had replaced with the usual double glazed unit. And so I suppose the dust I was washing away represented, in some sense, the history of that house.

When we meet someone new, of course, they have no idea what our history is. The people who have featured in our lives over the years know the part of our history which they have shared with us and whatever-else we choose to tell them, but friendships come and go and, during even the longest friendships, there are things which will have happened of which the friend will not be aware. As we lose relatives, those who were there when we were children, their knowledge of us disappears at the same time. And so, after a while, there is no-one who really knows everything which has happened to me and how I reacted to all those events: not even me. I, who lived through it all, cannot remember everything which has happened to me. My memory of my own life is necessarily very selective.

But there is a sense in which everyone knows my history, because the events in my life and how I dealt with them, together with that accident of history, my genome, have made me the person I am today. And so someone who has only known me for a short time sees me for what I am now, rather than seeing who I am through the distorting lens of what I was in the past. For there is no doubt that it takes some time for us to adjust to the changing personality, the maturing, the altered circumstances, of our friends.

It takes even longer, however, to adjust to our own changing personalities. My initial reaction, for example, is still to think of myself as the tongue-tied adolescent I was, with, now, just an artificial veneer of self-confidence. Which means, I suppose, that I, like many others, suffer at least a bit from imposter syndrome, in that I have difficulty in accepting the new reality: although still not an actual extrovert, I find it rather strange, even artificial, to realise that I have long since ceased to be timid and, instead, am probably at my happiest when having a good conversation. In fact the real difficulty now, after so many years as a lawyer, is persuading me not to express my opinions!

Which all goes to underline the need to move on from the past. The question is much more what I am going to do today and tomorrow. The past has its share of stories which are worth telling, but the present is where we live. And so I guess that we should take a look at ourselves every so often and reflect on who we are now and what our strengths and weaknesses are, so that our past does not impede our future. We should wash away the dust.

Paul Buckingham

26 February 2021

To read my essays on other topics, please click here

25 October 2019
Whilst visiting Johnstown Castle in Ireland, just prior to Halloween,  I was privileged to meet the Honourable Member for the 18th century who graciously consented to be photographed in a recumbent position.


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