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Showing posts from 2014

Moon Poets

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My publisher has put out another anthology, for which I have written a chapter. It is a collection of pagan poetry by six authors: myself, Beverley Price, Tiffany Chaney, Lorna Smithers, Romany Rivers, and Martin Pallot. It's available through any good bookshop at £4.99 and has something for almost everyone's tastes.
It's always a pleasure to receive the advance copies and see ones work on the page. My selection includes poems inspired by the mythology of Greece, the Northern climes, China, Egypt and the Celts. I will record one for the YouTube channel and upload it in a couple of days.
Beverley (who lives near me) and I will be holding a book launch after the midwinter madness is out of the way. Watch this space for more details.

More Halloween tales

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A friend of mine is continuing a Halloween tradition of hosting a gathering of people to read each other ghostly short stories by candlelight, whilst enjoying a drink or two. Sadly I cannot make it to London for the gathering, so thought I would contribute a virtual story. This is "Kecksies" by the rather under-rated Marjorie Bowen. Her collection of Gothic tales, "The Bishop of Hell & other stories", is well worth a read and heartily recommended.
If you've not come across her work before, it's in the tradition of M. R. James ~ creepy rather than gory, with the malevolent frequently weaving its way into the everyday and mundane. Much of her work, like this particular story, is set wholly or partly in the 18th century, an age of rakes, goodwives and beldames.


Happy Halloween

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A spectral tale for Halloween, drawing on Irish folklore and revising one of Hans Christian Anderson's most nauseatingly twee stories. If I can string three brain cells together, I might record another tale on the day itself.


A Suffolk Tale

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This is my version of a story about the cunning man of Ipswich, a genuine 18th century figure known as Old Winter or sometimes Doctor Winter. He appears in my crime anthology, A Dangerous Place. The story in the book is one of my own invention, whilst the recorded story here is a traditional folk tale mentioned in a number of sources.
To my imagination Old Winter is the spitting image of British character actor Geoffrey Bayldon, but I'll leave you to dream up your own face for him.


New Anthology

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Pleased to say that I have recently heard that a poetry anthology to which I have contributed about ten poems will soon be out on the shelves, should any of you wish to order a copy (from on-line companies or, better yet, local bookshops).
Moon Poets is published by the same publisher as my previous books and features work by a number of excellent poets, some of whom I have met and heard perform (such as Lorna Smithers). More details on the book to follow.

Elemental, Dumbledore

I'm not a massive fan of the elemental framework that Empedocles and others built up, or the four humours promoted by Galen and other medics. It strikes me as rather too simplistic. However, it does form a convenient tool for exploring ideas. Much is made in education of learning styles, but we might as equally talk about teaching styles.

Earth teachers (Jung's sensation function)  are practical people who prefer to demonstrate skills which students can then emulate. Not that I've ever attended such a class, but probably best suited to teaching pragmatic crafts like carpentry, car mechanics or catering. The hands-on approach to mastering the implementation of talents.

Air teachers (thinking function as Jung would have it) develop the intellectual approach, uses the tools of chalk and talk to stimulate the minds of students. Discussion and debate are regular features of the air/thinking class. Air teachers are those who find their own specialism fascinating, and convey that…

Anyone Here?

A few days ago I accompanied a friend who lives halfway up an Essex mountain to attend a clairvoyant gathering near where he lives. Without being too specific, this was not a Spiritualist Church but a meeting in a hired village hall. They have different psychics taking the stage each month, and this particular one was a lady hailing from one of the cultural epicentres of that county.
After a vaguely Christian prayer, the evening's guest medium launched into her patter and delivered various messages to random people in the audience (neither I nor my friend being on the receiving end of any Words from Beyond).
My friend had been several times before, but this was my first visit and I was there as an observer more than anything. It's an interesting thing to watch in so many ways, and brings many questions to mind. Even the most devout believer must accept that there is an element of performance involved in any public display, and there were certainly times when it felt as if we w…

Wooing giants

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Still riding on a wave of joyful memories from Eastern Angles 'Ragnarok' play, I decided to record a Norse myth. This one is the tale of Frey and his wooing of the giantess Gerd. It's unusually romantic for me, so I might have to record something else suitably bloodthirsty or sinister.


Reviewing Ragnarok

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Tonight I joined some friends for a trip out to the Hush House (once used for testing aircraft engines) on the old RAF Bentwaters base, where the Eastern Angles theatre company staged another of their amazingly inventive productions. This time it was 'Ragnarok', which incorporated quite a number of the Norse myths that lead up to the war to end all wars, including the building of the walls of Asgard by the entertainingly lustful Mason, Loki telling the saga of Thor's crossdressing wedding, the gory loss of Odin's eye, and snippets of several others.
If you get the chance to go and see this, I urge you to do so. The staging is extremely resourceful and imaginative (a trademark of this theatre company), with wooden structures that wheel about and slot together to create a variety of features which the cast clambered about and used in all manner of entertaining ways. The lightning and music are evocative and brilliantly judged. The scenes in which Odin consults the seere…

Uncle Carbuncle

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This is my first venture into children's poetry, which first appeared in 'Bard Song'. I have since written a follow up for the nameless children's next adventure with their eccentric uncle (yet to appear in print) and have a third planned. Carbuncle is based on one of my childhood cinematic heroes, Peter Lorre. The story was originally written for my godson Oscar as part of a hand-made book of stories, some of which I may one day send off to my publisher. The dog that appears in the poem is one of Oscar's real life pets, and the journey up White Horse Hill did actually happen many years ago (though not quite in the way it appears here).
I've no idea if children actually like this poem (never having read it directly to any), but it has received some positive response from adults so far. Maybe someone could read it to their sprogs and let me know the response?


Thunder Hags

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With all the talk of Scottish independence I thought I'd record a tale from the Highlands. Viewers will be relieved that I did not attempt one of my unforgivable Scottish accents. The original version of this story appears in MacKenzie's "Scottish Wonder Tales" which dates back about a century, though the stories are meant to be traditional ones going back much earlier.


Pooka's Pageant 2014

Saturday just past was our annual gathering at Pooka's Pageant, a celebration of polytheist religion through the performing arts. The weather mostly held out for us, with only a couple of cloudbursts. Numbers of people attending were not as good as in previous years, though the quality of performances was excellent. I especially liked Rachel O'Leary's use of a framing device to string a number of stories together, and think I may try doing something similar myself in future.
As the amount of money raised for the charities (Hare Preservation Trust and the Husky Rescue) was minimal, I will be running a storytelling evening on World Animal Day in October to drum up a little extra cash for them (watch this blog for details).

Taoist Tales

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I have posted this poem on the blog before, in written format, but thought I'd do a spoken version as well. It's from the 17th century Chinese myth of Hu Tianbao, a lowly soldier who fell in love with a pompous Imperial official who scorned his advances and had him battered to death. The Gods decided to transform Hu Tianbao's soul into a minor deity, Tu Er Shen the Rabbit God, and he became the patron of male love.
The temples were popular around Fujian province, before eventually being suppressed. Recently his worship has been revived and includes at least one temple in Taiwan.


C'est la vie

The weekend just gone I ought to have been at the Grey Mare pagan camp in the New Forest, but was unable to get there due to a lack of dog sitters (and insufficient time to get the beasts vaccinated, as is the prerequisite now, in order to put them in to kennels). I was very much looking forward to going, catching up with old friends and generally relaxing, storytelling etc.
In a novel or film or New Age book, being blocked in one area of life invariably turns out to be because the Powers That Be are redirecting one to something else. Did I need to be kept in Ipswich this weekend so that I could find that million-pound winning Lottery ticket, bump into my future husband, or save the house from burning down? Apparently not. I did some rather humdrum things round town, went to the pub, and attended a nice druid gathering one afternoon, but nothing crucial or life-changing happened to me in Ipswich last weekend.
Storytellers and spiritual gurus invariably want life to make sense, want th…

Nehalennia

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A short poem (featured in Bard Song) dedicated to the goddess Nehalennia, guardian and anima of the North Sea and those who travel on it. Historically, She was worshipped by the early Germanic and Celtic tribes, and later the Romans as well. These days all sorts of nationalities give honour to Her. The poem blends elements of several mythical traditions, reflecting this multicultural aspect of the goddess.
She used to be reverenced annually by modern pagans in Suffolk, but that rather fell by the wayside a few years back when people's lives became too hectic. Maybe one day it will be revived.


Lughnasadh poem

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This poem, which appears in my second book Bard Song, was originally written for a Lughnasadh ritual several years ago. It is based on the myth that the goddess-queen of ancient Connaught (or Connachta as it was then) saw that her people, the Fir Bolg, were starving because they were poor hunters and lived in a densely wooded and marshy area which was ill suited to them. Tailtiu went forth and cleared the land (deforestation sits ill with modern pagans of course, but bear with it) so that her tribe could have farmland and feed themselves. At the end of the clearance she keeled over dead with exhaustion and was duly buried. Her devoted foster-son, Lugh, instituted a funeral feast in her honour which became an annual event. For reason's that are never entirely clear, the festival becomes named after the man who instituted it rather than the woman for whom it was set up.
The poem was read this afternoon at the Pagan Heritage Day discussed in an earlier post. The myth serves as an in…

Heritage Day 2014

Today was The IPC's open day, intended to have the dual purpose of raising a positive profile of paganism amongst the wider community and of providing people new to paganism (and pagans new to the area) a road in to the local community. The same people who invariably volunteer to help run the kitchen and help out did so once again ~ where would we be without them? The mayor and his consort turned up and spent an hour with us, asking loads of questions and expressing a genuine interest in what was going on. This has always been an important function of Heritage Day ~ establishing our presence within the wider community, that we are part of civic life rather than a bunch of eccentrics in our own isolated bubbles.

This year we changed the format, stepping down the size and number of the static stalls and displays and introducing discussing panels themed around topics that we hoped would be of relevance. The idea was to make it more like a mini-convention and so draw in pagans from ne…

A little bit very violent

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Continuing the narcissism, this is my first attempt at recording a story (with croaky throat, battling off the germs of other people) on YouTube. The tale is a late written one, and somewhat bawdy and violent for any shrinking violets who may not cope with such things. There are a couple of mistakes halfway through, but I didn't want to have to record the whole thing again so am hoping if I don't mention them nobody will notice.....
It's a fun story and one that we (Clan Ogma, the druid group of which I am a part) performed live at Colchester's Leaping Hare pagan convention some years back. If anyone wants more academic or mystical reflections on the meaning and influences on the tale, I can write more of that later. For the moment, I'll just leave you to experience, and hopefully enjoy, the saga itself. If the response to this is positive, I will add more stories at a later date ~ both Celtic ones and those from further afield.



Glutton for punishment

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A second recording, this time of one of my own poems from Bard Song.


An experiment

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At the suggestion of my friend Pól I have created a YouTube channel to record stories, poems etc. that can be used partly to promote my books and increase sales, but also hopefully to help promote our local storytelling group. Plus I do know some people who have trouble reading (being dyslexic) and have often asked if recordings can be made available. I'm not the most technologically minded person, so this is all rather new and strange to me. Being the first recording it is probably full of mistakes and flaws but, if people want more and I am in a position to record more, hopefully they will become more polished in time.

This first recording is not my own poetry, but one of my favourite Shakespeare sonnets.

Eisteddfod 2014

Today was the fifth Suffolk Eisteddfod, an event I have been organising for several years now out at West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village near Bury St Edmunds. The event was smaller this year than previously, due to the difficulty in drumming up enough interest from competitors. We had a decent turn out in terms of viewing public, and the weather was more bearable (for me) than the sweltering conditions last year.
The performances were of a high standard and, where some people compete in more than once, it is interesting to watch how their performance skills mature and develop over time. Sometimes the growth of skills is remarkably quick.
Beverley Price won the poetry contest with a very assured poem about a traumatic relationship, and Rachel O'Leary won the storytelling with a tale of the moon goddess's descent into the mires, blending elements of the myth of Inanna confronting her sister Erishkegal with a traditional Fenland story of the moon being kidnapped by boggarts.
The two wo…

Little bit of politics

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During a week's holiday in Ireland I found myself being volunteered to tell stories at an evening entertainment geared towards introducing tourists to Irish songs, dance and Gaelic poetry. I can't remember ever feeling nervous about a performance before ~ but I suddenly had the sort of angst that Joyce Grenfell described in one of her biographical reflections when she was booked to perform in Vermont and wanted to do a sketch involving a local accent (she was fine doing it in any other country... but how would the native react to hearing a foreigner imitating their accent?)
I've told Irish myths and stories a hundred times over, sometimes with one or two Irish people in the audience. Yet the prospect of telling Irish tales in Ireland in front of so many natives raised the embarrassing prospect of watching them cringe every time I mispronounced a character's name ~ and given the range of dialects in Ireland, however I said the names was bound to sound wrong to at least…

Beauty and the Beast

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Many readers will doubtless have one or more works by Marion Zimmer Bradley on their shelves. Whilst she became a Christian in the latter years of her life, she had a tremendous impact on the emerging pagan community of the English-speaking world – most especially through her Avalon stories. Bradley has now joined the ranks of those tarnished celebrities whose unsavoury sexual tastes have been exposed during the last couple of years. Her ex-husband and fellow author, Walter Breen, had himself been arrested for child molestation in the early 1990s and died in prison. Recent claims by Bradley’s daughter, Moira Greyland, have declared that not only was the late author aware of what her husband got up to but, to some extent, participated with him. How accurate such claims are it is hard to assess, however many pagans on the Net are declaring that they will clear their shelves of her books, feel unable to ever read them again, and so forth. Without dwelling on the specifics of this case, the…

Untold Tales

A lifelong Doctor Who fan, I was saddened by the death of actress Elisabeth Sladen in 2011. For those not in the know, she was one of the most popular female companions to have appeared on the show, accompanying Jon Pertwee and later Tom Baker ~ she even had her own short lived spin off show back in the day. When the series was revived, she returned to make a guest appearance alongside David Tennant before being given a successful spin-off on children’s TV. She led a gang of teenagers who defended the Earth from alien threats. The teenagers were an ethnically diverse bunch but, in reading about the actress the other day, I was surprised to find that they would have become even more divers, had not Ms Sladen’s untimely death lead to the cancellation of the show. The teenager who played her adopted son, Luke, was scheduled to come out as gay in a future episode. It was surprising to read that this would have made Luke the one of the first gay central characters in any BBC children’s sho…

Having a Ball

It's been a long day, and I'm feeling a trifle tired now ~ but happy and reflective. The Bibliomancer's Ball, whilst not as packed out as it could have been, was a quiet success. We paid for the hall and made just over £40 for the Ipswich Hospital CCU.
It was good to finally put a face to some people I have known via Facebook. Apparently Mercury is retrograde or something, and it certainly started out with computer chaos and what appeared to be a wiped memory stick with a lifetime of pagan talks, workshops etc. Thankfully we had our very own technomancer present, Will, who resurrected the dead after engaging in his arcane arts and conjured forth PowerPoint presentations from the UnderVoid. My electronic memories continue to dwell in my brain extension, though I shall be crating back-up copies for future reference.
Lorna Smithers gave a fascinating talk on the inspirational nature of landscape and its attendant folklore in inspiring poetry. Maybe there are poems about Ipswi…

What's it all about, Alfie?

The meaning of life is a topic that has taxed the greatest (and the least able) minds since the dawn of human existence. It was brought to mind again recently in a discussion with a friend who suggested that having a meaning to one’s life was vital to good mental health. Numerous psychologists, philosophers and scholars agree that both a sense of purpose, and the degree of spiritual reflection that precedes finding a purpose, are highly beneficial. It is better to have a sense of why you are here than to merely trudge from day to day in a largely pointless routine. In fact, many have argued that just having a purpose in itself is actually far more important than the exact nature of the purpose.
One of the key questions in the matter of meaning is the source of that meaning and what is actually more than a linguistic nicety ~ doe we discover the meaning of our lives, or create it? That is to say, is the meaning already determined (whether by a god, Wyrd, karma or anything else) and ther…

Sublime recapitualtion?

The malevolent old librarian Brother Jorges, in Umberto Eco's brilliant 'Name of the Rose' famously expresses his fear and resentment of inquiry and innovation, favouring instead the sublime recapitulation of established biblical truths.
Historically there are two main approaches to storytelling, which strike me as being heavily influenced by social class. The bards, skalds and so forth that used to entertain the royal and aristocratic courts were often known for memorising enormous poems or stories. This is not so much storytelling as it is recitation, a memorised script performed regardless of audience. Essentially hearing such a teller perform is no different from hearing an actor give a Shakespearian soliloquy... though often with less individualistic intonation and allusive inflection of the words. There are quite a few modern performers on the storytelling circuit who recite rather than tell. It normally involves an admirable feat of memory but, too frequently, erects…

The People of Peace

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Late yesterday I returned from a thoroughly lovely weekend in Glastonbury attending the 50th anniversary OBOD gathering. I'm not actually a member, but was encouraged to go by several friends who are, in order
to meet new people and broaden my social horizons. Which it most certainly did.
Not being terribly organised I left booking a B&B rather late and the town was swamped, so ended up in one of the villages. It was a nice place to stay, but slightly limited sociability in terms of relying on a friend to drive back there rather than staggering back after making merry.
Thankfully there was plenty going on during the day, and I found myself drawing inspiration from things that could be included in rituals back here in Ipswich ~ such as the rolling chants (though that would most likely need lots more people than we have to be really effective).
On Friday I attended an LGBT group, which was far better attended than I think anyone had expected, with some interesting and thoughtfu…

In old oaks

"The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St George to kill the dragon." G. K. Chesterton
Professor Dawkins has been in the news yet again, this time suggesting that telling fairy tales to children might be pernicious and encourage them to believe in the sorts of things which he has made a lucrative second career out of loudly disapproving of. I find anyone who rides their hobby horse with such interminable vigour gets a trifle wearing after a while, but that aside I am quite convinced that he is wrong upon this matter. Admittedly I must declare my own deep rooted bias.
The world is a magical and wondrous place, and human society would be a great deal happier if we could all allow each other the freedom to experience that sense of awe in their own way (rather than railing because they too unscientific, or insufficiently Christian, or followers of the wrong brand of Islam etc.)
Aside from his constan…

To have or to be

The English language has many curiosities, which sometimes interact with psychological theory. How we describe our own or define other people's identities is one of those areas.
English does not tend to distinguish between enduring and transient states when it comes to matters of identity. I am ginger. I have always been ginger and, whilst it's possible I might one day be grey-haired or bald, the rest of my body will be decidedly ginger. Given the attitudes of wider society to us red-heads, my hair colour has become very much part of my sense of self. It's more than a mere hue, defines me far more than does my eye colour.
I am middle-aged. My sense of age is, sadly, also a part of my identity. I wish it wasn't, but that's a separate issue. Despite what some people might tell you, I wasn't always middle-aged. Once upon a time I was young! If I keep on drawing breath one day I will be old, maybe even ancient. To define someone by their age using the same language…

Local tales

The Ipswich Pagan Council is holding its annual ritual to honour the Lar Praestite (Guardian Spirit) of the town on May 25th, the anniversary of the signing of the Royal Charter in the year 1200. This year we will be starting with a procession (well, genteel amble) along the river from the docks and finishing at Yarmouth Road before adjourning to a hall for a ritual and meal.
The meal, to which people are encouraged to contribute local produce, will be accompanied by various members reciting poetry and telling stories inspired by Ipswich and its legends. I shall probably include a story of one of my favourite and reputedly real local characters, Old Winter the Cunning Man (who features in a story in A Dangerous Place). Between now and the 25th I shall also be researching other snippets of local folklore to include. Suggestions of Ipswich lore from readers are welcome!

Echoes

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I encountered someone today who bore a strong resemblance to another person that I used to know (and loathe) many years ago. Initially I thought it was the same person with a couple of extra stone piled on, and then I realised the voice was different and the new person was a bit too tall anyway. However, I still found myself responding cautiously to this stranger, expecting those vindictive and unpleasant personality traits of the thankfully long-since avoided original.
So a mini "exorcism" is required for me to let go of unpleasant memories enough to see the real person and not the echo. On the positive side, I'm sure there is a short story idea there about the power of memory to possess the present!
Logically I know that there is no reason to suppose that these two people share any more than a similar bone structure, but the ghost of the former overshadows the latter. Advertisers and spin doctors have long since known that evoking positive (or negative) memory associa…

The Bibliomancer's Ball

I am organising a function on Saturday 14th June at the Oddfellows Hall in Ipswich, partly as one of a series of events marking the 20th anniversary of the Ipswich Pagan Council, and partly to help promote local pagan authors. Tickets are £4, with any profits going towards the Ipswich Hospital CCU (contact me for tickets). My publishers, Moon Books, will be having a stall there.
I'll be talking on some of the issues facing pagan storytellers and poets, plus telling some stories towards the end of the day. Not completely decided which stories yet, and am open to requests! I shall be selling and signing my own books, if anyone wants a copy.

The programme is as follows (subject to revision):


10.00am - Welcome 10.15am - Beverley Price, "Poetry of Darkness" (Main Hall) 10.15am - Joanna Van Der Hoeven, " Nemetona, Goddess of Sacred Space" (Garden) 11.15am - Robin Herne, "Word Weaving and Tale Spinning" (Main Hall) 11.15am - Silvia Rahmani, "Magic in Germany…

King of the Fairies

Every year for the last 15 or so the druid group that I am a member of has performed an Insular Celtic myth at the Leaping Hare convention in Colchester. The story we performed this year was that of St Collen's encounter with Gwynn app Nudd on Glastonbury Tor. The story itself is really quite short, so we expanded it with an earlier incident from Collen's life in which he battled a Pagan King.
Despite being low on numbers due to illness, we were thankfully supported by two friends who joined us at the last minute to provide some musical accompaniment. A picture or two will be posted in due course.

Though short, the story is redolent with imagery that is (like any symbolism) open to interpretation. One particular aspect is the livery sported by Gwynn's courtiers ~ one half red and the other blue. The saint alleges it is the fires of hell combined with the coldness of being cast out from the love of God. The balance between fire and ice carries rather different echoes for No…

Leaping Hare

It's the Leaping Hare convention in Colchester tomorrow, with a full panel of interesting speakers and workshops. I shall be there telling stories along with the rest of Clan (the druid group of which I am a member). The tale is one based on a Glastonbury legend, but told from a very different angle to the sort of stories that we have told at this venue over the past dozen or more years. I shall post more details of the tale after the event.
Moon Books (my publisher) have booked a stall there and I shall be selling my own books if anyone fancies picking up a copy.
Anyone thinking of attending can find the details of the day here - www.leapinghare.webs.com

The Time is Right?

I was recently party to a conversation between several people, one of whom has a serious illness and was given some advice by another person. It was the sort of advice I've seen endlessly floated around Facebook as a twee meme, and been on the receiving end of myself from a number of sources. The advice in question was that the person would receive healing "when the time was right", and was accompanied by the general sentiment that all things would come to people when the time was right (delivered with that saccharine look of cod-wisdom that makes me want to retch).
According to the World Hunger website it is estimated that 870 000 000 people are living with daily malnourishment, most of them in that state because of chronic poverty. The same website estimates that over 7 500 000 people die of starvation each year ~ I'm not sure how they reached this number, but let's assume it's roughly correct. These are people who have lived through horrendous circumstance…