memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

Archive for August, 2012


(The following two posts are extracted from my memoirs THE WAITING ROOM pub. January 2011).


During the course of my second brain procedure I died.

I heard the surgeon calmly call the time of my death and the nurses disconnect me from the various machines and screens which had been monitoring my existence, wash my head and change my bandages, straighten me out and fold my hands decorously over my heart. Then the last of them quietly left the operating theatre and I was left in silence.

The silence deepened as the floor beneath my bed opened and slowly and soundlessly my bed descended on hydraulics, the flaps of the floor, now the ceiling, closing smoothly above my head. I found myself in a sort of crypt and my dream started to turn into a nightmare.

To stay the series of shuddering images and visions and in order to fix them in my mind, I will attempt to describe the vast vault.

It stretched away to a horizon in the same dreary flat monochromatic tan colours of the desert under a dull sky (even the sky was sand-coloured). The bed on which I was lying was in a murky cave giving out onto the landscape and had pieces of furniture carved out of sand around it: a chair, a table and a pré-dieu in front of a tablet or icon. There were figures about the place too – silent sand-effigies, one kneeling at the pré-dieu and the two others standing at the foot of the bed – inanimate, frozen.

Outside the hospital I heard the fire-engines’ sirens giving two mournful wails; of course, I thought, with the logic of dreams – one for a birth and two for a death (one for a girl, two for a boy, three for sorrow and four for joy).

Presently I noticed some stairs cut out of the inevitable sand ascending to a door in the ceiling. Sometimes a doctor would appear in his white coat and begin to descend the stairs slowly and backwards, the image was smooth and coherent at first but began to break up towards the bottom of the stairs, like a person flickering jerkily in a flashing strobe-light … then he was at the top of the stairs again and would repeat the backward descent … an extraordinarily sinister manifestation.

The horror of my situation grew on me.

Presumably the morticians would presently fetch me from this sullen hall.

I despaired.

Northener in a Latin World

Melodic intonation therapy


Poverty of language manipulation

Show me someone speaking

In a monotone

And I will show you

Someone using language

Rather than intonation

To convey meaning.

(From the gospel according to Thomas)

When the going was good


Still a sad glamour clung to Travel in those days

The coal-fire in the cold-stone waiting-room

Of a draughty Yorkshire branch-line station

The 8.00 pm boat-train from Victoria

Rocketing through the dark Kent fields

Arriving at gull-shrieking salt-air Dover.

Orly at dawn waiting in the transit-lounge

For the tense flight across the glittering sea

And on to the hot sands of Africa.

I took advantage of my freedom.

I went when the going was good

And arrived at a dry stony place.


Handsome is as handsome blogs

A blog (a portmanteau of the term web log) is a discussion or information site published on the World Wide Web consisting of discrete entries (posts) typically displayed in reverse chronological order so the most recent post appears first. Until 2009 blogs were usually the work of a single individual, occasionally of a small group, and often were themed on a single subject. More recently multi-author blogs (MABs) have developed, with posts written by large numbers of authors and professionally edited.

MABs from newspapers, other media outlets, universities, think tanks, interest groups and similar institutions account for an increasing proportion of blog traffic. The rise of Twitter and other micro-blogging systems helps integrate MABs and single-author blogs into societal newstreams.

Blog can also be used as a verb, meaning to maintain or add content to a blog.

Although not a must, most good quality blogs are interactive, allowing visitors to leave comments and even message each other via GUI widgets on the blogs, and it is this interactivity that distinguishes them from other static websites. In that sense, blogging can be seen as a form of social networking. Indeed, bloggers do not only produce content to post on their blogs but also build social relations with their readers and other bloggers.

Many blogs provide commentary on a particular subject; others function as more personal online diaries; yet still others function more as online brand advertising of a particular individual or company. In education blogs can be used as instructional resources. These blogs are referred to as an Edublog.

A typical blog combines text, images, and links to other blogs, Web pages, and other media related to its topic. The ability of readers to leave comments in an interactive format is an important part of many blogs. Most blogs are primarily textual, although some focus on art (art blogs), photographs (photoblogs), videos (video blogs) or music (MP3 blogs), and audio (vlogs podcasts).

Microblogging is another type of blogging, featuring very short posts.

As of 16 February 2011, there were over 156 million public blogs in existence and in the exponential nature of these things the number might very well have double since then.

Feel small?

I do.

Here are some flowers.

Extinct meat

Lunch today was roast dinosaur

Primordial chunks of meat

Inexpertly hacked from

Some monstrous haunch


I guess that such creatures

(Miniature pterodactyls)

Thought to be extinct

Are still reared for meat.


Bred in dark satanic pits

In the primitive hinterland

Of countries such as this one

And secretly distributed to

Mental asylums and

Old folks’ Homes –

Institutions with minimal

Culinary ambitions and

Undemanding palates

Blunted by age

And misuse.


Yes, I suppose that’s

The only possible explanation

For today’s lunch.

My Delphin Virgil

Another old family book is the OPERA of P. VIRGILII MARONIS published in London 1759 (a reprint of 1722 folio edition).

It is dedicated to Serenissimi DELPHINI

My father writes The original Delphin was I think the son of Louis XIV. He never reigned of course, Louis being eventially succeeded by his great-grandson. This classical series was widely used in the 18th century.


There is also a card in my great-grandfather Gamaliel’s careless writing:

This copy of the Delphin Edition of Virgil has my Grandfather’s name in it & and also that my uncle W P Milner. Unfortunately I took it to Westminster School & another boy there spoiled this book by cutting the binding – GM

That’s not only thing that this boy spoiled:


His favourite medium seems to have been ink!


Thus staining the look of this compact little volume:

And this future Magistrate or Bishop or Member of Parliament really went to town on Dido’s feast:


We can see in close-up that the future Rural Dean couldn’t resist embelleshing or making an improvement on Dido’s natural charms:

More defacement from our future Editor of  the Times includes decorating the word BUCOLICA

And drawing a couple of suggestive bubbles over Aenis’s head during the Council of Love was just too difficult for our future Rector of St. Andrew’s to resist:


And no comment about this one from the future Director of The National Gallery:

(By the way the erudite and knowing referencing from the text to each illustration are great-granfather’s work).

So when I got to the fold-out map of Mare Nostrum I feared the worst but my fears were unfounded.

But more seriously the rest of the text is decent and readable. The text & side-commentaries & foot-notes are all in Latin and book itself is dedicated to a French prince, so when my father wrote about a wide readership he meant a trans-European one, wherever there existed that class of people, the members of which felt obliged to impose on themselves a Classical Education.


My grandfather Hugh Cantis Milner, who cared about such things, had the book rebound although if one looks carefully one sees that the spine  and red title panel (see above) is the original 18th century whilst the side-boards are early 20th century.

So six generations of my family (father-to-son) have owned this VIRGIL and soon it will be over to one my sons…

I have carried on the family book-binding tradition – I found an excellent Book Binder’s in a narrow street in the old centre of Porto and over the years I had about a dozen of my father’s old family books bound including this tiny Hyrogliphic Bible for children:

The illustrations are sweet little wood carvings:

Wit of the week

Samuel Johnson by Joshua Reynolds

It is wonderful when a calculation is made, how little the mind is actually employed in the discharge of any profession.

Dr. Samuel Johnson

Life is a roller-coaster

After being struck down for the first time with one of these cerebral tumors, for a while my life slipped through a series of dramatic cracks in time.

I was on a roller-coaster.

Stomach-churning plunges into the broiling abyss were followed by heart-soaring rushes, like a lark I soared into the great blue yonder. I was the pebbly sandy tide surging forward and then being dragged back at the mercy of the moon.

Hospitals and care-homes witnessed my triumphs and then my falls from grace. I was convulsed, my limbs twitching in spasms before being medicated back onto the dreary plane.

In short, I was not my usual self.

I went back to work after the first time – you’re cured, mate, the doctors said, and indeed I believed that I was. The habit of control was still strong in me and I itched to take up the reigns again. We agreed Lisbon and I, that I would not have a regular teaching schedule but that I would do the odd private student and ease myself back in gently.

No such luck, no sooner had I allocated all the intensive courses (it was September, the last the three summer-course months) than I got a call from Lisbon: could I possibly give an hour a day in-company to the three young probationers who worked in the Chambers of the Company Lawyer, which happened to be located in the Rua dos Clerigos?

So next day after lunch I went round to the office which was housed on an entire restored floor of an old 18th century stone building in the old historic part of Porto. The offices were extremely tastefully restored, laying bare the original granite where possible, white walls and gleaming polished wooden floor with minimal furniture; one waited on a low chunky sofa and leafed through glossy art catalogues from Sotheby’s and Christie’s; the collection of paintings displayed discreetly around the reception was dominated by a large sea-battle-scape featuring the blowing up of the French flag-ship L’Orient at the battle of the Nile, one of Nelson´s decisive fleet engagements leading up to Trafalgar. It was a glorious painting in a rich carved gold frame signed by an artist at the top of his game – Sir William Beechey R.A

(I could have committed murder for that painting).

So I started going there every day after lunch to increase the language skills of the three charming young lawyers. I found that, decrepit as I felt myself to be, at least I had not lost the ability to make women laugh – that particular chip in my brain had remained intact. From time to time I chatted with their boss, a tall, burly urbane gentleman, whom I already knew slightly (he was our company lawyer) and expressed my admiration for his Beechey. I mentioned diffidently that the same painter had executed a full-length portrait of a member of my family, an earlier and much simpler work painted in 1794 at the beginning of Beechey’s career before he got his knighthood and became a member of the Royal Academy.


As for the language course, it turned out one might say satisfactory and my life settled back onto an even keel.

Going sailing

She sheered off

Heeled over

Slanting away to leeward

Wind-taut sail

Cutting through the rippling water

Accelerating smoothly

Elegant and beautiful

Her gurgling hull

Leaning gracefully into

The pea-green seas.


He stood on the sloping deck

Balancing easily on bare feet

He could feel

The living ship

The thrust of her

The song the of the wind

In her rigging

She was his


She was his



Quote of the day

All murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.

Mons. de Voltaire

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