memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

Archive for October, 2012

More Painting Therapy

Oh, these chilly late October afternoons when the days draw shorter and I have dress warm, dear,  as my mother used to urge us and tomorrow’s yet another dratted public holiday and I’m feeling low and moan, moan and whinge, whinge.

I decide to start a new painting – that always cheers me up. Accordingly I wheel myself up to the first floor to my atélier, take up a fresh sheet of gummed A3 paper and sit in front of it for about five minutes, my mind as blank as the paper in front of me … I pull myself together and sweep a confident pencil stroke diagonally the paper and then another and a shorter one and then I’m off.


The next afternoon I enter the uncomfortable world of colour. The picture is indicating organic growth of some sort (there are no straight lines; I have denied myself the comfort of my trusty ruler).


Next day I’m two minds about whether to carry on with it or abandon the wretched thing and just bin it but being irredeemably lazy I settle for the former in the hope that my retrieval skills can rescue it.


The final afternoon sees me doing some major tinkering, touching up, colour adjustment and generally fiddling about with it. At ten minutes to four I stop, spray it with a cheap and rather nasty-smelling hair fixative and call it a day.


Waiting for Sandy

The city braces itself

Battens down

And waits

Fearing the tide surge

When Sandy hits

He worries

His campaign flounders in

Wall Street awash

His concern is visible.


Meanwhile safe in Ohio

They make hay

While the sun shines

He urges them with repulsive lips

He nets them into expeditionary war

He can’t believe his luck

Another ignoramus

In the White House


Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight

Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene

I’ll see you in my dreams


Sometimes I live in the country

Sometimes I live in town

Sometimes I have a great notion

To jump into the river and drown


Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight

Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene

I’ll see you in my dream

(American folksong)


My Lyre of David

I have occasionally wondered about the relationship between Psalter, Lyre and Music.

(Get a life, will ya!)

The word psalms is derived from the Greek Ψαλμοί (Psalmoi), perhaps originally meaning music of the lyre or songs sung to a harp and then to any piece of music.

From psallein play upon a stringed instrument and then to make music in any fashion.

No historical personage comes more readily to mind than the biblical King David when the word harp is mentioned. Yet the instrument, kinnor, translated harp in the King James Version of the Bible, was not a harp at all, but a lyre. The other stringed instrument David played, nevel, translated as psaltery by the KJV, was likewise not a psaltery, and it may not have been a true harp either.

Vocal melodies and instrumental accompaniment at that time were commonly conducted using gestures of the hands and fingers. Apparently the Hebrew Scriptures were sung to melodies conducted by a gestural system, for a transcription of such gestures is still found in the Hebrew Masoretic Text. Indeed I believe that to this day the Torah is sung, rather than read, in some synagogues.

Be that as it may let us turn our attention to my copy of the LYRE OF DAVID

Of this my father recorded that:

Lyra Prophetica

Davidis Regis





… Londini MDCLXIV 


Inscribed: Gamaliel Milner (name also in Hebrew letters) and Westminster School.

A word by word analysis of the Psalms printed entirely in Hebrew and Latin, it was acquired by my grandfather while he was still at school; the book was already two centuries old (1664). He took his Hebrew studies very seriously and read from the Hebrew Bible regularly until the end of his life. (Not bad going for a Church of England vicar!) He has inserted the 18th century Milner book plate.

The print is clear, clean and crisp and easy to read although I doubt if it will appear on Kindle.

I had the book rebound in full leather at «my» book binders in Oporto in 2000 and as usual a very fine job they made of it.


I like to heft it in my hands, savouring that four-centuries-old-book smell and admiring the binding – this is good for another couple of centuries, I think.

Martian meteorite (pops out for some milk)

You certainly took your time getting here.

Did you change at Clapham Junction?

Did you fail to get off at Kings Cross?

Or did you take the scenic route 

Stopping to admire the way

The sun gilds Saturn’s rings

With a chilly burnished glint.

Did you perhaps join the belt

For a few centuries?

(Did you remember the milk?)


There are still gaps in your story

The odd thousands of years

Unaccounted for.

Were you befuddled by solar gas

Or did you take time out

On some dark drifting orb

To ponder on the purpose

Of such a long voyage

Orbiting the question

Spinning like a coin

Pour la gorge


Did you have a crisis of Faith?

A cold realisation that the belief

You once held was a lie

When did you opt to drop the pilot

Splitting away from the main body

And decide to your own way

With no direction home?


And what were your impressions

When you finally felt the acceleratory

Tug of our gravity

And slammed,

A flaming fireball

Into our stratosphere

And fell,

An alien rock,

Onto our desert?


And above all what took you so long?

What time do you call this?

You’ve been gone for 700,000 years

For God’s sake;

Too many cosmic rays

I’ll be bound;

You even hit the wrong planet

Shame on you.

(And you forgot the milk).

Between you, me and the gatepost, dear

You might not believe this but I have little better to do after lunch than to come up here to my atélier that I’ve made for myself in the book-museum, which is situated (open-plan) directly above and separated from/by a waist-high parapet to/from the entrance and reception area.

So I’m obliged to concentrate a fraction of my attention in ignoring the mind-bogglingly uninteresting and unwanted information and opinions often expressed in ringing/rasping tones beneath me (gobby cows).

Another smallish part of my brain is occupied with a new sketch/painting;

A while ago I gave up searching for a new style – this isn’t an Art Course after all; so I curve the curves and colour the colours in my usual self-indulgent fashion.


There was a teacher, I remember, in the school in Lisbon all those years ago, middle-aged, pleasant and with the forceful delivery of a person born and bred in Dublin.

If she had a fault it was that she was frankly a bit of gossip; she would lure one into a corner of the staffroom and start in a loud whisper with the words: between you, me and the gate-post, dear …


Tomorrow is the 8th birthday of the Home so the Bishop and other nobs are visiting us plebs for lunch (different food, mind you – reminds me irresistibly of the prefects and masters troughing away at The High Table, raised up on a dais in the Refectory at school).

Eight years, eh – between you, me and the gate-post, dear it looks and feels like rather more …


Between you, me and the gate-post, dear, I sometimes get sick of living in an Old People’s Home and wish I lived in a Young People’s Home instead.

What a commotion down there!

Mouthy mares!


Back in my room now and I’m watching the dénoument of Amanda’s trial in Italy – what a result!

I think I’ll name the painting after her.


Wordlessly searching

Where would we be without speech?

We’d get by thanks.


Where would we be with only few words?

As a fallen leaf

In the autumn wind


Dancing and swaying

In the equinox

With no direction home.


Where would we be with no words?










My Biblia Sacra

About the weight, shape, size and density of a small brick, the BIBLIA SACRA published in Basle in 1591, has landed into my hands, in transit on through the generations of our family.

Already well over four centuries old, it once belonged to Joseph Addison (1672 – 1719)* and was bought second hand by my great grandfather.

My father was surprisingly terse about this diminutive but venerable old Bible (perhaps in his case it was an embarras de richesses); heaven knows his library contained a dozen or so Bibles of various shapes, dates and sizes (including one translated into Maori)!

Inscribed on title page –  (E) Libris  Jo. Addison

                                      –    Summa niti pulchrum

And in an earlier hand    In manibus Domini 

                                                 Sortes meae.

Some neat underlining and notes by an earlier reader have been cropped by the binder, probably before Addison acquired the book. This reader, a serious scholar, corrected some surprising misprints. I think the second motto must be his. Addison’s sounds more philosophical than religious.

As this book has a bookseller’s note it must have bought second hand, probably by my grandfather. He would certainly have annotated it had it been an old family bible. He acquired a modern edition of the Vulgate when he was at Oxford.

My father, who had the binding repaired, told me that he had had Addison’s autograph verified at the British Museum.

*Joseph Addison 1672 – 1719 essayist and politician, associated with Pope, Dryden and Steele with whom he founded the Spectator; he was satirised as Atticus by Alexander Pope. In 1717 he was appointed Secretary of State under Sunderland but later resigned his post because failing health.

Nice old map of Paradise.

–          Well golly gosh and we all thought that it was in Utah or Florida or Arizona or somewhere else in God’s chosen land … turns out it was in Mesopotamia between the rivers Euphrates and Tigris; well be darned … let me see what’s that region called these days? Wiki it for me, will ya Chuck?

–          These days it’s called Iraq, Mr Secretary.

–          Whoops!

BIBLIA SACRA – printed in BASLE in 1591

Karma and painting

How to restore order out of mental chaos and paint a meaningless picture at the same time.

I have a theory that painting symmetrical shapes randomly is both soothing and therapeutic.

First you take a piece of gummed A3 paper and a pencil and then (staying firmly inside your comfort-zone) you play around for about an hour and come up with this:


The next day you start to colour it in. you are unsure about the colours but are vaguely thinking yellow and green. You use a water-colour wash and by the end of the hour your uncertainty is showing.


On the following day you decide to deploy the acrilics.



And finally after doing the fine brush work and just generally fiddling around with it and tidying it up you consciously decide to stop before you spoil it any further.

You sign it and then pause to give it a name – Asymmetry.


Letter from Portugal

Picture the scene: it’s the 5th October 2012, a public holiday to commemorate Portugal’s metamorphosis from a tired old Kingdom into a brave new Republic in 1911.

It’s a sunny day and the populace is gathered in front of the balcony on which the President, Sr. Anibal Cavaco Silva plus entourage is waiting for the raising of the proud standard of the Republic – The Portuguese Flag.

Slowly it rises but hang on a minute, something’s wrong! The flag is upside down, the wrong way up or reversed!

Oops! What a blunder! What a gaffe! (Someone’s going to lose their job tomorrow).

The symbolism of this little incident was not lost on anyone. The reversed flag is (literally) emblematic of the Portugal’s reversed fortunes which are mired in financial, political and social crisis.

But still, hey, things are not all black are they?

For the National Assembly felt prosperous enough to be able to vote for five new top-of-the-range Audi cars for the ruling party’s ministers.


The fact that the Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is a billionaire and a prominent member of the Mormon Church and who increased his fortune by setting up a company which preyed on smaller companies, took them over and then broke them up (Greed is good! proclaimed Michael Douglas In the best Wall Street tradition) gives the Mormon Church a slightly unsavoury air.

You scratch my back

And I’ll help you with your tax returns

Proselytizing zealots

Determined thick-skinned young men

In ties and white

Drip-dry shirts

Perform feats of ubiquity

Barnsley, Avignon and Bruges

Popping out from behind a rock

In the Sahara desert

Accosting me as I lounge on a bench

In Espinho’s street 19


Is this your boy?


Oh wow, how old is he?


Oh wow, what’s the little fella’s name?


Oh wow, and are you British?

English actually




The Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS) was founded by the visionary prophet Joseph Smith Jr. in Upstate New York toward the beginning of the 19th century. Initially outlawed, he and his band of followers wandered through various states seeking Zion or the New Jerusalem in order to build their Tabernacle/Temple, a latter-day Moses leading his tribe to the Promised Land of milk and honey.

After Smith’s death in 1844 the Mormons followed Brigham Young to a salt lake in what would become the Utah Territory.

In the early days of the Church polygamy (plural wives) was practised – Mitt Romney’s great grandfather had three wives and consequently literally hundreds of descendants, one of whom might very well become the next president of the United States of America.

God bless America

(God help the rest of us)

 While we’re on that subject, do you realize that they are Christian extremists in the heartlands of America who hold the whimsical belief that God (the Divine Creator) has singled out their country for special favour.

(During medieval times examples of this delusion are legion. At the battle of Agincourt (1415) both sides, the English and the French, were firmly convinced that God was on their side).

At what exact point of that continent’s million-year-history God made this choice is not clear. Presumably not before the 18th century – obviously God can’t have meant the indigenous Indian tribes who had been roaming those Great Plains from time immemorial … look what happened to them!

What is slightly scary about such people is the way they fly in the face of accepted science and indeed general knowledge.

And why not choose Ethiopia, Malaysia or Tibet? What’s wrong with Argentina, New Zealand or Croatia?

In short, God bless the Ukraine!

(As well as America, of course).



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