memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

Archive for May, 2016

And death shall have no dominion (2)

Living in an old people’s home, as I do and being still relatively young (60-ish), I have strong intimations of mortality. Regularly, at a rate of about six or seven a year, one of my old colleague…

Source: And death shall have no dominion (2)

Inside every fat person

It is said that inside every fat person there is a thin one screaming to get out I have just seen something on TV about the UK having the dubious honour of heading the ranking for the most obese wo…

Source: Inside every fat person

Obsessive Compulsive

The world is divided into two classes of beings – those who, on sitting down for lunch,  automatically adjust the position of their knives and forks, move their glass half a centimeter to the left and centralize their plate in some totally imagined pattern of cosmic symmetry and those who don’t.

We are not born with this disorder; we don’t think, as a fetus in the womb, I know, I might try something different this time around, I might try being an obsessive compulsive – sounds like a lot of fun!

During our childhood when our natures begin to manifest themselves this preoccupation with order is seen as a virtue – it’s called being tidy.

Then, as we grow older, our minds arrange things into compartments, the walls of which we find increasingly hard to breach.

It is known that the interaction between the two hemispheres of the brain differs according to gender. While your male brain plods deliberately from side to side, your female brain flits seamlessly from left to right and back again in a zany fashion.

To really understand OCD you have to think male, take a few paces to the end of the street, turn right between the pylon and the hedge, go along a narrow lane and you will come up against a high stone wall.

It’s on the other side of that wall.


Hic Natus Est Nicholas Saunderson

Easily the most remarkable and distinguished man to be born in our village Thurlstone was the blind mathematician Dr Nicholas Saunderson L.L.D., F.R.S. Born in 1683, he was my great-great-great-gra…

Source: Hic Natus Est Nicholas Saunderson

An all-seeing God (2)

The day of the confinement arrived. It was a dark threatening evening; distant thunder muttered in the mountains and lightening flickered silently over the plain. In the village, people hurried in …

Source: An all-seeing God (2)

An all-seeing God (1)

The idea behind the following little tale I shamelessly borrow from one of my heroes – Roald Dahl.

Once upon a time there lived in Austro-Hungary towards the end of the 19th century a family of five – father, mother and three children.

They lived in a country village near the German frontier, where the father worked as a customs official. The family was staying at an inn, the Gasthof Zum Pommer, with its pretty orchard of apple trees at the back. While the father went to work every day at the frontier post, the three children attended the local village school and the mother, who was very pious, busied herself around the village with good works and worshipped daily at Mass in the church.


One day the mother found herself to be expecting another child.

In those days Society and the Catholic Church in general, and her authoritian husband in particular, all conspired against her to produce babies – a task to which she was neither physically nor temperamentally suited. She was a thin nervous woman and her previous two pregnancies had ended in miscarriages. She decided to visit her friend the priest at the church and confide her fears and doubts to him. She explained about her abusive husband and trembled lest the birth should be problematic.

–          Put your trust in God, my daughter and let us kneel down and pray for the safety of your unborn child.

So she and the priest knelt in the church and prayed fervently and she derived spiritual comfort therefrom. Before she left the priest blessed her and urged her to say a novena of her rosary each day.

(To be continued)

Great great-uncle shoots tiger in cave

My great grand-mother, Annie Horsley, was born on Nov. 27th 1854 at Pallamcottah in Southern India, where her father worked as civil engineer; he held the rank of Colonel in the Royal Engineers. She was the youngest child, having one older sister and five older brothers. On  their father’s retirement at the surprisingly young age of 41 – a reorganisation of the Indian Army making many officers redundant, Annie’s mother’s two brothers-in-law, Col. William Cantis and Col. Archibald Young both retiring on Pension at the same time – the family returned to England and settled in Canterbury.

Canterbury Cathedral Large Restrike Etching by Anonymous

Canterbury Cathedral at the time when the boys were there.

All the five boys were sent to the ancient King’s School, in the precincts of the vast candle-lit Cathedral. They were contemporaries with their cousins John and Stephen; Canon Horsley recalls how they were all identified in order, in the old manner, Horsley Primus to Horsley Septimus. Of these seven boys, all but one – Canon Horsley himself – passed their working lives abroad in the service of God and the Queen, so strong was the family tradition. Annie’s eldest brother William entered the Indian Civil Service from Cambridge and after a career as forest officer served as a judge in the state of Hyderabad.

He has left a vivid memorial of himself in a series of letters from India which he wrote to his father between 1870 and 1891. The conditions of the correspondence were ideal – an affectionate son writing to a father who had lived almost the same life, and would follow every detail with interest and knowledge. There is an old typescript of the letters on rice-paper (perhaps made up for the father) which is in my brother Gamaliel’s possession, well worth reading for themselves, not merely as family records. They provide in fresh authentic detail, the raw material that Rudyard Kippling was to work up into some of the finest of his elaborately polished short stories. According to family tradition an episode from William The Conqueror – presumably the goat feeding – was furnished by Horsley’s experiences in famine relief; and many parts of the finer story The Tomb of his Ancestors – including the local setting – seem to come straight from the text of the letters. What contact there was between the men is not clear, but contact there must have been.

William Horsley was a good talker, who in later life loved to hold his hearers with tales of forest and hill. Stories of bison-hunt and tiger kill, and of his carefree days as a bachelor forest officer, on his own in his little kingdom in the Satpura hills, an un-mapped forest 200 miles from to end; and the occasion when he, along with an Indian tracker, silently pursued a wounded marauding tiger until they cornered it in a cave whereupon he entered the cave and shot the tiger.


There may be significance in the dates; Kippling settled in England in 1889; Horsley retired in 1892; The Day’s Work was published in 1894. (I have a 1st Edition of it).

William Horsley died in 1915.  A fine photograph brings before us the splendid old man. But even better is the poem in which his daughter evokes …


Tiger stories told to me at night by the fire in the library

Light, deflected from the reading lamp, falls close,

Cutting angles on the muscled hand, 

Glittering on the  glinting greying hair.

His tired eyes, wrinkled be the Indian glare,

Stare at the big guns resting on their stand …

My father´s face remains forever fixed, 

His features burnt in steel. 

His tired eyes do not see me,

They reveal steep wooded ghauts,

Ravines drenched in rain.

The Angolan Bar

During the time that I lived in Estoril in the early 80s, in a street behind the Hotel Paris there was a small, dreary failed shopping centre, in the empty concrete bowels of which, we came across …

Source: The Angolan Bar

The History of the World (2)

Oh god, I hope they don’t see me! I’d seen two men, not even acquaintances – I’d only ever spoken to them once before in The Beefeater Bar in Cascais, push their way through the glass doors and loo…

Source: The History of the World (2)

The History of the World (1)

One day I picked up from the table in the staff-room a thick paper-back book with the grand title of The History of the World. I looked at the back to check that it wasn’t the fancy title of some k…

Source: The History of the World (1)

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