I love this word. It means… well, as is so often the case with Greek words, it has a spread of meaning. It speaks of proportion, fairness and moderation. It is a question of what is appropriate, or fitting – like lagom. It is, in fact, the antithesis of taking more than one’s share. John V Taylor, in his book Enough is Enough, uses the word equipoise, meaning balance.

Beam and feet (close shot)“It is not poverty but balance we are after, and balance, I believe, may well mean for us in the affluent countries a reduction in our standard of living. But it would be an absurd exaggeration to say that for three-quarters of our population in Britain a reduction of standard would come anywhere near poverty.”

People tend to shy away from the idea of a reduction in their standard of living, but it is worth noting that ‘standard of living’ and ‘quality of life’ are not the same thing. ‘Standard’ refers largely to the physical, most notably wealth – how much you have, and how much you have compared to those around you. ‘Quality’ is more about how good your life is, rather than how many ‘goods’ you have.

This is rather like the difference between absolute and relative poverty. Absolute poverty is how little you have compared to what you need. Relative poverty is how little you have compared to those around you. I have always thought it strange that developed countries make such a to-do about so many percent of their population being under the poverty line, when the line is set as a percentage of the average. That means that if everyone in the country had their income doubled overnight, exactly the same number of people would be under the poverty line. Useful as an indicator of inequality, yes, but it doesn’t really say much about how many people are actually in genuine need – to my mind, a much more important thing to know.

Thomas B. Kennington - The pinch of poverty - Google Art Project
Moderation isn’t a slump in your quality of life. It doesn’t limit your enjoyment of the world. As the philosopher Epictetus said, “If one oversteps the bounds of moderation, the greatest pleasures cease to please.” Eating chocolate is a pleasure. Eating an entire block of chocolate results not in pleasure but nausea. Having nice things is a pleasure. Having your house so stuffed full of nice things that you can’t see most of them, let alone have room to appreciate them, is not a pleasure but a source of stress (and much unnecessary housework).

Moderation, in short, is not a miserly form of self-denial, but a way to more fully enjoy your life. But it can be very hard! It’s a struggle sometimes even to remember that we don’t have a duty to have, when our world is so geared to continual growth – the complete opposite of moderation.
John Taylor illustrates: “to take another example which is no flight of fancy, a well-known company produces 9 million articles a year, knowing that the demand for and actual use of these articles cannot exceed 5 million. The further 4 million are necessary for ‘growth’, though they meet no need. They have to be pushed (with a commission on sales) as courtesy Christmas presents which other firms may buy to distribute to their business associates. But any system of accounting which can describe as ‘growth’ 4 million articles thrown new-made into waste-paper baskets must be deliberately blinding itself to the reality of the whole.”

Papierkorb 2009
To look at it metaphorically, moderation dines well and ends the meal enjoyably replete. Consumerism – well, consumerism is Mr Creosote. Continual growth cannot go on forever. The After-Dinner Mint of Doom is coming. Of course, it doesn’t have to be doom all round. Some changes may be forced upon us in time, but most of us in the developed world currently have the ability to make our own choices about how much we consume, of what.

Perhaps it’s time to say, “Thank you, I’ve had enough.” Or, as a friend of mine taught her children to say, “Thank you, I have had an elegant sufficiency.” More cake? More toys? Thank you, I’ve had enough. What about some more clothes, or another little gadget – you don’t want to fall behind the times! Thank you, I have had an elegant sufficiency.

Of course, good manners can – and should – extend further than a polite refusal. Perhaps it’s time that we started asking questions of others at the table. May I help you to a share of these resources? Allow me to offer you a fair price… Can I serve you with some clean water?

Glass-half-fullἐπιεικής is not the boring middle-of-the-road. It is the pathway to a beautiful life, not only for us, but for others. And that’s why I love it.

Death to the Common Cold! Three Things that Don't Help and Five that Do

Having had a sort-of-but-not-quite cold for the last, oh, three months, I am about ready to get out there with a flamethrower and start frying some viruses. Are you with me?

Defense.gov photo essay 080911-A-8725H-067

Ok, I’m not really planning to let loose with a flamethrower, nor with the weapon of my (literal) dreams: the flamooka. (Flamethrower + bazooka. Yes, this is the kind of thing my subconscious mind comes up with while I sleep.)

Here are some other things that don’t work:

1) Joining the wackos who advise drinking home-made bleach as a cure-all. For one thing, there’s the risk of chemicals exploding in your face; and for another, why drink something you’d hesitate to use on the kitchen floor? Yes, it’ll kill any germs it encounters, but so would a flamooka, and you don’t see me swallowing one of those, do you? No, you don’t.

2) Taking antibiotics. The common cold is a virus. Antibiotics are useless against viruses, and taking them will only wipe out the beneficial bacteria in your system, leaving you open to anything that might stroll in. Not to mention that unnecessary antibiotic-taking is a leading cause of antibiotic resistance, which is how we get lovely things like untreatable necrotizing fasciitis (do not click unless possessed of a strong stomach).

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) Bacteria

Don’t take the antibiotics – or me and my flamooka are coming after you. If you want the placebo effect, swallow a tic-tac and tell yourself it’s a cure-all. Or pour a little white meths on a sugar cube and swallow that. It might not help your cold, but rumour has it that it makes you unattractive to bugs, so you’ll at least have one less thing to worry about.

3) Buying a cute, cuddly little model of the cold virus (also comes in pillow size!) and sticking pins into it. A useful way to store your pins, perhaps even some relief to your feelings, but of no proven health benefit (alas).

So, instruments of destructive chaos and cuddliness aside, what’s the plan of attack? How shall we rise up and conquer?

1) Rest. Don’t rise up, and conquer. Rest is good for what ails you, whatever that may be. (Except bed-sores.) This is why people are put in induced comas, although this may be a bit of an overreaction to a common cold.

The London Blitz, 1940 MH26395 2

2) Liquids. Especially hot liquids. Especially hot lemon, honey and ginger. (Nothing like a hot ginger for medicinal purposes!) Chili is another excellent ingredient, I hear, although I am seldom desperate enough to overcome my wussiness in the face of burning tastebuds. Garlic is another healthy additive, but you may find it makes the drink taste odd. Remember there is always water, which is good for you and tastes just as good if you let it get cold.

3) Fresh fruit & vegetables. Preferably not genetically modified to grow legs and dance the tarantella, or whatever it is they get them to do these days; and not covered in any sort of -cide, because -cide means kill, and who needs a killer vegetable when they’re sick?

Grimaldi and Vegetable

4) Fresh air. Preferably with rain, hail and mist not included – getting cold doesn’t give you a cold, but it certainly doesn’t help. Consider: all the air in here has been circulated through your lungs and is thus all germy and yuck. Get rid of it and get in some fresh stuff.

5) Exercise. Can be combined with the acquisition of fresh air, but don’t overdo it. I know, it looks like I’m contradicting #1, but trust me, there is a balance to be found. Obviously, this balance involves a nice big fat rest sitting as close as possible to the fulcrum while a brisk little walk hangs off the far end.

Coincidentally, all these things are good for you the rest of the time too, which will save you going to the trouble of making new habits when you in due course recover.
Of course, there is nothing new in all this: it’s all Just Like Mother Made (except the flamooka – unless you had a very exceptional mother).

Old woman in Kyrgyzstan, 2010

What’s the ancestral wisdom relating to colds in your family? Let’s pool our knowledge – together let us make the cold uncommon!

Disclaimer: Ancestral wisdom is not always smiled upon by medical authorities. Seek medical advice when ill, and don’t request (or accept) antibiotics for a virus.


They say that everyone needs something to do, someone to love, and something to look forward to.
But what if the looking forward takes over? What if you are living for the day to come, instead of the day you have?

I was reading the archives of A Cat of Impossible Colour recently and this post rang a bell with me. In fact, for a few minutes there I was a full peal of bells (except quieter).

Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Paris nef nouvelles cloches

Number four especially struck a chord – can you strike chords with bells? Students of campanology are welcome to advise.

As you are no doubt aware, I eagerly await the day when the DDJ and I can permanently part company. Among my circle of friends and acquaintances (but not workmates, for obvious reasons) I am becoming almost a joke about it.

But as Andrea Eames (A, or quite possibly The Cat of Impossible Colour) says:

“There is no magical point in the future at which everything will fall into place and be perfect. If I’m going to be happy and do the things I want to do, I have to do them now. I can’t wait for everything to be harmonious. For example, saying “I can’t possibly write a novel now, the house is a mess. I’ll wait till we move” is silly because when we move things will be in even greater chaos for a while. And then something else will come along to help me procrastinate. So my insight here is: there is no point in the future when I will be slim, fit, have perfect skin and hair, have harmonious relationships with everyone in my life, be fulfilled, happy, tidy, clean and generally perfect. It’s impossible, and striving for it will only make me anxious.”

I can’t wait for Someday, as deeply as I long for it, as much as it seems all my troubles would evaporate in the face of that dawn.

A new dawn

I have to live now.
I have to write now.

I have long struggled with the feeling that I have to have every other part of my life in order and under control before I can be permitted to write. Particularly the housework.

I have been getting better of late at putting the distraction of dust aside in order to use what time I have to write (although there are those who feel I may have the fulcrum of this particular balance rather too far to one end).

But the truth is that I’m never going to get all those plates to spin. My house is never going to look like this.

Showhome Living Room

I remember being distressed almost to the point of tears when I was told, in my mid-teens, that adult life didn’t contain enough time for all the things you Had to do, let alone time for the things you actually wanted to do. I would still like to believe that isn’t necessarily true, but right now, that’s how it seems to be.

I do not have the time – and/or energy – to work full time, keep house, maintain relationships with friends and family near and far, deepen my spiritual life and write.
At some point I have to come to terms with being labelled a failure in some parts of my life – even if the label is only inside my own head.

FAIL stamp

And maybe it won’t always be this way. Maybe balance is waiting just past the horizon, if I just keep trying.

But I believe that I should write, and I am quite certain that almost nothing else will get me out of bed half an hour before dawn, with the frost whitening the grass and my fingers almost too numb to grip the pen.

La bohème

I don’t get out of bed in the morning so I can go to a job I don’t like. I don’t get up so my house will be sparkly clean, or even a particularly nice place to be, as much as I would like it to be. I don’t get up for the Oughts.

I get up so I can write. So I can make one tiny step in the right direction. So no matter what else I achieve or don’t achieve, no matter how insignificant the constituent parts of my life may seem, I wrote. In this at least, I did not fail.

I did something that was important to me, and it may not have been much, but I did it. And I will keep doing it, even if that half hour of darkness is all I ever get. I will keep taking those tiny steps, as long as circumstances prevent me taking longer ones.


Because I can’t wait for Someday, as much as I long for it to appear.
I have to write now.
Because now is all I have.