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Caveat Lector - let the reader beware to 30th March 2021

by Alan Russell 4 months ago in satire

Fact checking, nationalism, racism, English essays, pon asinorum and learning with horses

Another brilliant creation from Gemma Gill of Peg's Pony Pictures

"Observation is a dying art" - Stanley Kubrick


Our local Member of Parliament, The Right Honorable Sir Desmond Swayne MP, like many of his fellow MP's publishes a regular BLOG. There is an extract shown below:

Extract from Sir Desmond's Blog

Quite clearly Sir Desmond accuses the Derbyshire Police of “crass stupidity” over the act of “poisoning” a lake in Derbyshire to deter visitors.

I did challenge the author of this accusation with information from a reliable source about the non toxicity of the dye that he referred to as poisonous. The other challenges I raised were that the "azure lake" was on private property and was in fact was a toxic soup of chemically infiltrated water that would affect people in much the same way as coming into direct contact with neat bleach. It is those very toxins that make the water azure blue and so attractive to visitors.

He closed the correspondence with "I have nothing to add".

Header picture for "The Member of Parliament and the Poisoned Lake


A while ago I picked up “Selected English Essays” edited by W Peacock first published in 1903. Sadly, I did not get the first edition but there is immense satisfaction in handling pages and reading words over 100 years old and wondering who else had been there before me. The essays included in this volume date from 1561 (Francis Bacon) to 1894 and Robert Louis Stevenson.

The one essay I chose at random was “On Taste in the Choice of Books” written by Henry Fielding (1707-1754). During the five pages this essay covered the author drew a line of thought and style from Lucian (circa AD 185) through to Jonathon Swift, Miguel de Cervantes and Francois Rabelais. Lucian was one of the first writers to use sarcasm, comic dialogue and was prepared to “ridicule all sobriety, decency, virtue and religion”; a forerunner to the satire of Swift, Defoe and more recently a publication here in the UK titled “Private Eye”.

Within the first two pages Fielding’s words had me searching the internet to read about the writers he mentioned and looking up words and Latin phrases in the various online dictionaries and encyclopedias we can all access via our portable devices. That to me is what good writing, as with any other art form should do; interest, challenge, stimulate and makes us want to find out more.

From this reading I came across the Latin expression "pon asinorum". The definition is further down in the section "Horse Riding".

There is no finish line for learning.


At a micro level during an informal conversation, socially distanced of course, a rather frightening undercurrent of nationalism surfaced from an unexpected source. I say “unexpected” because having met this person a couple of times I came away with the impression that they were quite intellectual and liberal. How wrong I was.

Our conversation found its inevitable way to COVID. I said something about an outbreak of the virus in Poland which has been named the “British Variant” for whatever reason. The other’s response was that it was wrong any variant of this nasty virus should be referred to as “British” as we had the best virologists and epidemiologists in the world working on finding cures for it.

To this person referring to a variant taking hold overseas as “British” was an insult and anyway “how do they know it came from her? It could have come from the fifteen hundred people who crossed the English Channel in rib boats last year that got here illegally and then been transferred to Poland”.

If that were the case then my question would be "If it came into the country with illegal immigrants then how could it be exported when they are not allowed to leave the country as a result of their status?" I did want to ask the question but didn't as from previous experience any such challenge is dismissed as being "liberal", "elitist" or "you don't want to believe everything you see in the media".

Not only was this incident an example being nationalistic but there was an even nastier undercurrent of racism which reminded me of a program on BBC 1 earlier in March 21.


The reason this has come to mind recently is that on 8th March 2021 the BBC aired a program named “Panorama” which is a regular thirty-minute long form news report on one specific subject. This edition was about “racism” and was presented by Naga Munchetty. As a person whose parents come from Mauritius and India she was reporting from the inside, from what it is like to be the victim of racism. I use the current tense deliberately as it is quite clear the issue is still with us and causes serious divisions in our society.

Just as Fielding’s essay on books created interest, challenged and stimulated this; edition of Panorama did all of that but from a perspective of making me feel uncomfortable and coming away from the program carrying thoughts about the subject. That to me is good journalism which should be supported and encouraged. It should never be stifled, suppressed or censored.

There is a link to this program at the end of this article.


Me and my bestie "Benney"

Over the recent weekend I rode Benney, the equine included in the header picture, under the guidance of a different instructor. Benney, as always, when he first enters the arena is resistant and needs quite a bit of encouragement.

“Walk – NO, not doing that. Oh alright maybe. Trot – NO NO NO I will make you feel absolutely useless in front of everyone. Oh bugger, you’ve got the schooling whip…..don’t you dare.”

I did. Just the slightest of tickles on his hindquarters.

He became a ball of pent up energy that wanted to work but most importantly have fun, and we did. The lesson lasted forty-five minutes and at one point a reached what Fielding referred to as “pon asinorum”.

In all learning processes which are often referred to as “learning curves” there comes a point or moment where what was thought was an almost linear progression towards greater knowledge where the student when learning something feels like they are not learning. In fact, they feel like any newly acquired knowledge is being sucked out of them. Confidence falls, anxiety takes over, learning stops and then the light; the acquisition of knowledge returns.

After about thirty minutes I reached the “pon asinorum”. I could only remember two out of three reasons we use our legs when riding, my hand, leg and eye co-ordination became random and disjointed. The instructor, with years of experience, must have seen this and called a time out. We chatted about equine bio-mechanics and some riding theories. Then we started working and it all came together.

Oh, the three uses of the leg are to go forward, to bend and lateral movement. You see, I did learn.

I really like the phrase “pon asinorum”. Having reread Fielding’s essay at least five times I have not found a suitable phrase to describe Benney as “a bit of monkey” but I still love him to bits.

Alan Russell
Alan Russell
Read next: Why Denny's Is the Perfect Starter Job for a Cook
Alan Russell

I am a very lucky person. I live in a beautiful area,the New Forest,have a happy home that I share with my wife and two felines. More,much more than this I travel many highways,to interesting places and meeting interesting people.Carp diem.

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