Practical objects of beauty.

More than a few years back, one of my sons came back from a trip to Philadelphia, armed with the modest presents a teenager sent on his way with a limited amount of spending money could afford to buy for all of the family. He’s the hard and yet easy to read one we’ve always kept a special eye on, the one who really thinks about an appropriate gift rather than the price ticket. I got a big rolled up black and white print of a photograph in a cardboard tube with a second, much smaller document rolled up inside.

The print was one I’d described to him from memory some years prior. It was of a row of construction workers sitting in a line on a steel girder high over New York eating their sandwich lunch. I’d said if you study the picture carefully for five minutes, the personalities, the friendships and even somehow their stories seemed to come out of it at you across the years.

When I was a child, working men like that were veritable giants to me, my heroes, and even with the passing of so many years, I still admire the men and women of that generation for putting in the hard daily grind without complaint that would eventually catapult us, their children and grandchildren, up into a less arduous life. They got through the Great Depression, which was inconveniently sandwiched between two world wars in which so many of them served and despite it all, were fine generous people and not at all embittered.

And we sometimes think we’ve got troubles nowadays …

That’s the picture heading up this piece, and I’d said if you looked carefully at each of those men or how they’re interacting with each other, you could start work on a decent novel. For instance, those two men third and fourth in from the left are having some deep discussion and you can somehow tell that happens between them pretty much every lunch break. Or that scrawny little guy on the right hand end of the bar with his pugnacious “who the hell are you” look at the photographer is someone you’d like on your side in a bar fight, or if he weren’t then someone you’d make damn sure to clobber first.

Sight is our primary input medium, if only because we tend to trust more what we see with our own eyes rather than what me might have been told about it. The phrases about liking or not liking the look of something are more than just figures of speech.

We’re blasé about having our pictures taken nowadays, but in the early twentieth century and the nineteenth, most people had never had a photograph taken of them, so if it happened it was a special occasion. Here’s another picture, but from Tasmania in the nineteenth century. Take your time, have a long careful look at it. There’s lots to see.

Some stuff that leaps out at me.

The man in the middle with the bow tie looks to be the boss and the fastidiously neat man to his left who looks intimidated by the company is probably the works clerk. The man second in from the left wearing the bowler hat at a jaunty angle with a cheeky expression looks to be the joker of the crew. The guy on the right with the white shirt and not wearing a jacket looks to be a man with a past, and it isn’t one he talks about. A hard worker but you’d keep an eye on him. A dangerous man.

Notice that nearly all of them have taken off their hat for the photograph, but put back on their jackets. They want to look their best.

It also tells you the technique they’re using to cut down such a huge tree with nothing more than manual sawing. They’re cutting a successively bigger wedge into the trunk and the bottom lip of the wedge is what they’re all sitting on. Given how hard the manual labour obviously was, you can see why none of them is carrying extra weight and if anything, are lean, wiry blokes.

There’s a look about them – they’re a tight crew under the command of an alpha male they trust and respect.

The smaller document was a reproduction of the Gettysburg address, a copy of the original penned it is said at the time. I’d once told my son it was the most perfect, most succinct, most subtle and yet bravest political speech in the English language, a type of prose anyone who aspires to write or even talk to a crowd would do well to know intimately. That’s why Churchill, who would become a superb orator in his own right, had memorised and could recite all of Lincoln’s major speeches.

For me, both presents were in their own way practical objects of beauty, and there is such a thing – a practical object of beauty. They’re feasts for the eyes, the heart, the intellect but most of all for your soul. They mean something to you. They’re artefacts, created by human beings for the pleasure of other human beings, and when it’s done well the ordinary person doesn’t need an explanation from some self-appointed expert as to why it’s good. It’s obvious.

Any sort of art form when raised high enough on a pedestal for the exclusive appreciation of connoisseurs, tends to die because the artists start creating works to impress each other or the critics rather than the average person, who find them increasingly remote and irrelevant to their tastes. The latent and terrible pathology of all art critics is they want to dictate how it should be done while at the same time lacking the courage or talent to try doing it themselves. They’re eunuchs offering advice in a bordello.

Once the aesthetic intelligentsia capture an area of art, they kill it every time.

There is no absolute standard as to what is beautiful or what makes you happy or sad or just simply moves you. It really comes down to what you like – it’s as easy as that and it’s an arrogance by anyone else to somehow insist that what they like, or don’t, somehow overrules your preferences. I have friends with whom I share a great liking of classical music, but it drives them mad that I enjoy good-time rock and roll bands like Slade or the Bay City Rollers that they consider to be nothing more than noise pollution.

To my way of seeing things, they’d enjoy a lot more music if they just got down and dirty and broadened their tastes. Cue a decent bop.

More than most things, music and songs can paint pictures, cheer you up or make you sad and the performer can really lend their own personalities to them. Here’s the late Jeff Buckley singing the Leonard Cohen song Hallelujah. Lyrically, the song itself is really poetry, a broken hallelujah, but it’s the sheer intensity of his performance of it which is the reason the video has already clocked up more than 64 million views and is still climbing.

Put simply, he gobsmacks you. Like the sound engineer, who’s probably worked on hundreds of recording sessions says at the end of the performance, “wow, great” …

Since we’re in the area, some links to poetry would be more than welcome, as I’m constantly stumbling over poets and poems I’ve never heard of. It doesn’t have to be epic stuff either, just one that plucks at your heart, in the way that Jenny Kiss’d Me by Leigh Hunt, a poem heading for two hundred years old still plucks at mine. Men come and go, but quality abides.

Jenny kiss’d me when we met,
    Jumping from the chair she sat in;
Time, you thief, who love to get
    Sweets into your list, put that in!
Say I’m weary, say I’m sad,
    Say that health and wealth have miss’d me,
Say I’m growing old, but add,
    Jenny kiss’d me.

A book, of course, will be hard to fit into the wham bam thank you ma’am niche of blogging, but perhaps a few words about why you love it and a quote or two. A paragraph on the first page of Ernest Hemingway’s opening to Islands in the Stream springs to mind, though I’ll keep to my secret heart why I love the book.

“It was a safe and fine place to bathe in the day but it was no place to swim at night. At night the sharks came in close to the beach, hunting in the edge of the Stream and from the upper porch of the house on quiet nights you could hear the splashing of the fish they hunted and if you went down to the beach you could see the phosphorescent wakes they made in the water. At night the sharks had no fear and everything else feared them”.

Whatever it is you’d like to share, post it or a link to it as a comment under this article, which I will be adding as a permanent menu item on the blog. Music, videos, great engineering, art, links to interesting articles, stories, cartoons, photographs, sexy science, humour, poetry, the killer equation from hell, your thoughts on what you find delight in.

Bring it on, rock us out of our socks.

What is shared can of course be commented upon, but please no vicious reviews. It’s not about throwing Christians into the Coliseum to be torn apart by the lions of good taste, but rather introducing each other to a few delights we might not otherwise have stumbled upon. If you like it, say so but only if you want. On the other hand, if it doesn’t float your boat, it costs absolutely nothing not to comment.

Think of it as your local, a comfortable place, armchairs, good table service by an amiable barman or a slip of a girl who unfailingly remembers your drink and you always have a little joke with because you remember her going to school with your kids who’re now her age. It’s somewhere you can drop into and have a glass and an easy chat with whatever friends happen to be there at the time.

The bums, bores and blowhards have long ago been ran out of the place and know better than to reappear.

All that’s left is the kind of friends who after a few laughs with you are perceptive enough to stay quiet and listen for a few minutes when you talk about something they can tell means something to you.

Your move, gentle Reader …


Related articles by Pointman:

Gettysburg Address – They’re just words.

About writing.

Click for a list of other articles.



46 Responses to “Practical objects of beauty.”
    • Blackswan says:

      Thanks for the reminder Doug …. used to go see him at The Basement back in the 70s. Is that place still in Sydney? Happy memories of a well-spent youth and the Emmanuel brothers and their extraordinary jam sessions. Great days.


  1. Amr Marzouk says:

    Bach Mass in B minor, enough said.


  2. Blackswan says:


    Always a pleasure when you share your thoughts on Life and the generations who came before us who ” … were fine generous people and not at all embittered.”

    Should we have paid closer attention to the lessons we might have learned at their knee in an era before some fool invented the modern mindset of victimhood and entitlement?

    The men in your pictures lived in dangerous times, dicing with death on a daily basis; surely they too developed the camaraderie of ‘brothers in arms’ – their battlefield being industry rather than futile wars, but no less perilous.

    Sometimes a man pens words that truly speak for me when I’m at a loss to find my own, and the following poem does just that, with words of hope in the darkest despair and of taking personal responsibility instead of choosing blame and recrimination.
    There’s great freedom in living without fear.


    Out of the night that covers me,
    Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
    I thank whatever gods may be
    For my unconquerable soul.

    In the fell clutch of circumstance
    I have not winced nor cried aloud.
    Under the bludgeonings of chance
    My head is bloody, but unbowed.

    Beyond this place of wrath and tears
    Looms but the Horror of the shade,
    And yet the menace of the years
    Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

    It matters not how strait the gate,
    How charged with punishments the scroll.
    I am the master of my fate:
    I am the captain of my soul.

    William Ernest Henley


  3. Pointman says:

    One of the delights of the digital age is finding stuff on the net you used to have on VHS. A lady gave me a birthday present of something called “Give Up Yer Aul Sins” which apart from being a none too subtle hint, was a delight. She knew I loved language. Anyway, if you like this snippet, search youtube for “Give Up Yer Aul Sins” for the other stories. If you listen carefully, you can hear the delicate touches of a great teacher.



  4. meltemian says:

    I’m a bit maudlin this morning so I offer you this by William Cory:-

    “THEY told me, Heraclitus, they told me you were dead,
    They brought me bitter news to hear and bitter tears to shed.
    I wept as I remember’d how often you and I
    Had tired the sun with talking and sent him down the sky.

    And now that thou art lying, my dear old Carian guest,
    A handful of grey ashes, long, long ago at rest,
    Still are thy pleasant voices, thy nightingales, awake;
    For Death, he taketh all away, but them he cannot take”.

    It’s such a perfect description of the way we receive that sort of news, sorrow and memories.

    (We’re still in the UK waiting for the results of some medical tests ‘Himself’ has just had done and hoping for the best, sorry for the downer but I’ll be more cheerful next post I promise.)


    • Pointman says:

      Chin up kiddo, we’re all pulling for you and himself. Something elevating I hope will cheer you up. Let’s face it, nobody really likes those bloody Ewoks anyway.



  5. David Richardson says:

    I have commented once or twice in the past on items that have moved me.

    Chris Rea’s – “Tell me there’s a heaven”. Surely grasping the point that if there isn’t a heaven then these poor souls are gone and that is it – no further chance of life. That thought brought me ( an atheist ) up sharp one day when I first heard it. Youtube has a number of renditions if you have not heard it.

    I am at the moment working on a WW1 project involving my grandfather who didn’t come home. He has a grave in France and died in Oct 1918 taking ground that was never retaken. So many tens of thousands of men have neither grave or that satisfaction.

    I am not a very literary person and certainly don’t spend my days reading poetry, but a poem sometimes has the power to move one like little else. WW1 poets are plenty and some very well known. One of the lesser known ones is Ewart Alan Mackintosh, a Lieutenant in the Seaforth Highlanders. He wrote this poem in May 1916. The David mentioned was one of his men. Lieutenant Mackintosh was 23 when he wrote this and was himself Killed-in-Action the following year. I visited his grave a couple of years back and spoke my silent respect having also been struck, as I had at my grandfather’s grave, that I was old enough to be their grandfather.

    The line about still being able to see David’s letters is a reference to the fact that your Officer read all outgoing mail to ensure nothing was given away.

    In Memoriam

    by Ewart Alan Mackintosh (killed in action 21st November 1917 aged 24)

    So you were David’s father,
    And he was your only son,
    And the new-cut peats are rotting
    And the work is left undone,
    Because of an old man weeping,
    Just an old man in pain,
    For David, his son David,
    That will not come again.

    Oh, the letters he wrote you,
    And I can see them still,
    Not a word of the fighting,
    But just the sheep on the hill
    And how you should get the crops in
    Ere the year get stormier,
    And the Bosches have got his body,
    And I was his officer.

    You were only David’s father,
    But I had fifty sons
    When we went up in the evening
    Under the arch of the guns,
    And we came back at twilight –
    O God! I heard them call
    To me for help and pity
    That could not help at all.

    Oh, never will I forget you,
    My men that trusted me,
    More my sons than your fathers’,
    For they could only see
    The little helpless babies
    And the young men in their pride.
    They could not see you dying,
    And hold you while you died.

    Happy and young and gallant,
    They saw their first-born go,
    But not the strong limbs broken
    And the beautiful men brought low,
    The piteous writhing bodies,
    They screamed “Don’t leave me, sir”,
    For they were only your fathers
    But I was your officer.


  6. rtpilot1 says:

    Talking about floating you boat, here’s a man following his dreams. BTW had to meet him on my recent drive from Philadelphia to Phoenix…


  7. Pointman says:

    Thank you Alan, for some memorable performances.


  8. Thanks for the really great article, but seeing that I have fear of heights, even looking at that picture gives me the willies, how those guys could sit up there eating lunch, chatting away and lighting a smoke just makes my balls shrink! (I wonder if there is a poem about that side of things).


  9. Pointman says:

    You rarely see this, two musicians doing the hard work of creating a song.



  10. Alan Paton’s Amazing book, “Cry the Beloved Country” and the movie made from it of the same name. James Earl Jones performance in the movie is beyond compare. A snippet of the ending of the movie.


  11. Blackswan says:

    Climate Realists have lost one of our most outstanding assets …. a man of truth, of courage and integrity.

    Vale Dr Bob Carter.

    Climate Depot’s Marc Morano statement: ‘Bob was a man of great courage, intellect and wit. I am deeply saddened by his passing. He easily seemed a decade younger than his 74 years with his youthful looks and energy level. the world of science has lost a true champion.

    “We are not now that strength which in the old days
    Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are,
    One equal-temper of heroic hearts,
    Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
    To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

    If anyone in the world of Science epitomises that verse in Tennyson’s ‘Ulysses’ then it’s Bob Carter.

    Rest in Peace.


  12. Pointman says:

    The great Caruso, at his finest.



  13. Blackswan says:

    Speaking of Practical Objects of Beauty ….. is this one of them?

    THE future of renewable energy in Australia has been given a significant boost with the first residential Tesla Powerwall being installed in a Sydney suburb.

    “I really like what they are doing here with the design of the Powerwall, it’s similar to what Apple did for smartphones,” he said.

    “I have only had it running for one day, but so far everything has functioned exactly as it should.”

    It seems $US 3,500 translates into $AU 13,000 when it comes to the basic installation, but if the unit can deliver on the promise of its practical possibilities, maybe we’re seeing a new era in the use and storage of energy.

    Btw, that “government rebate” mentioned is the subsidy funded by all other energy users … you know the ones; the old-age pensioners and low income families struggling to make ends meet. Energy poverty doesn’t mean a death sentence in Australia’s mild climate, but it certainly does in the frigid northern hemisphere.

    Is this the start of utilising Tesla solutions to energy needs? … or just another marketing gimmick using a name so familiar in the pioneering of energy generation?

    Whatever it is, it could qualify as a Practical Object of Beauty.


    • marcus says:

      Probably wise to check a little first. Gargle Lithium Ion and fire or explosion. Lithium iron (LIFe ) would be safer. Tesla cars often burn to the ground.


  14. wyoskeptic says:


    No doubt about it. Color my world. College in the early 70’s. A local bar band that did the song justice. A smokey bar and a gal that would have been worth loving for all time, had it turned out that way.

    Instead, a memory of what might have been.


  15. Pointman says:

    Christopher Walken reading the fairy tale of the three little pigs.


  16. Pointman says:

    Four pages of quotes by Karl Popper. Eminently sensible stuff and thought provoking.



  17. Pointman says:

    Emmylou Harris & the Chieftains. Fusion music at its best.



  18. Pointman says:

    This is delightful, in the old sense of that word.



  19. Pointman says:


    I hear what you say
    I disagree and do not want to discuss it further
    He accepts my point of view

    With the greatest respect
    You are an idiot
    He is listening to me

    That’s not bad
    That’s good
    That’s poor

    That is a very brave proposal
    You are insane
    He thinks I have courage

    Quite good
    A bit disappointing
    Quite good

    I would suggest
    Do it or be prepared to justify yourself
    Think about the idea, but do what you like

    Oh, incidentally/ by the way
    The primary purpose of our discussion is
    That is not very important

    I was a bit disappointed that
    I am annoyed that
    It doesn’t really matter

    Very interesting
    That is clearly nonsense
    They are impressed

    I’ll bear it in mind
    I’ve forgotten it already
    They will probably do it

    I’m sure it’s my fault
    It’s your fault
    Why do they think it was their fault?

    You must come for dinner
    It’s not an invitation, I’m just being polite
    I will get an invitation soon

    I almost agree
    I don’t agree at all
    He’s not far from agreement

    I only have a few minor comments
    Please rewrite completely
    He has found a few typos

    Could we consider some other options
    I don’t like your idea
    They have not yet decided



  20. Pointman says:

    A performance piece, done rather well to the Oxford Union debating society. Notice how a few of the more adult jokes go straight over their young student heads. It’s pure gold anyway. Wouldn’t be allowed in the safe spaces of academia nowadays, or so one would think.



  21. Blackswan says:

    When it comes to Objects of Beauty, these wondrous creatures must be near the top of the list ….

    An ancient breed of war horse from the Netherlands, they carried medieval knights into battle.

    Seems incongruous to put such symbols of power and freedom into harness. Enjoy.


  22. Pointman says:

    1975:Labour’s Peter Shore on Project Fear – “The message that comes out is fear, fear, fear”



  23. beththeserf says:

    Wot a rich post … old photographs, so much unsaid,
    Karl Raimond Popper …oh Socrates! … Leonard Cohen,
    ‘Dance me to the end of love,’ mmmm – and more. Hafta’
    come back ter appreciate at leisure.

    Old Photograph.

    Across the antique crowd at the antique fair
    I see her face so vulnerable and young,
    Enclosed in the antique silver frame
    She seems to ask, “Why am I here?”

    Cherished daughter held in the silver frame,
    A whisp of Venetian lace caught at her throat
    With real pearls, she seemed secure within
    The family walls, but here she is, alone without a name.

    What sad event has brought her here,
    A childless marriage, perhaps her early death?
    Uncaring grandchild? Relatives from overseas
    Selling the estate, don’t know or care?

    We all seek certainty but there’s none,
    Except the certainty that things must change.
    We collect antiques, shore up the family home,
    But dynasties fall, plans soon come undone.

    beth the serf.

    Re ‘aesthetic’ Pointman, it’s an essential part of
    powerful human artistic creation. Shakespeare’s
    Tempest, Beethoven’s Tempest, OMG! One
    literary critic, lover of literature , opposer of the
    politicalcritics of resentment, Harold Bloom, gits it
    Harold Bloom ‘The Western Canon.’

    Yer do it in yer own writing. Rhythm, cadences,
    this not that. )


    • Pointman says:

      Thanks Beth, I like the poem. I used to prowl about through old brick-a-brack shops and often wondered about the life stories of people captured for an instance in an old framed black and white photograph from the Victorian era. Perhaps something like that was the seed of inspiration for Dorian Grey?



  24. Pointman says:

    Okay, enough of all the post-brexit euphoria. It’s Sunday, I’ve barricaded myself in the study as usual and trying to write something decent. Nothing is happening. I’m going nowhere useful. My muse appears to have gone off for an interesting weekend in Stockport on nothing more than a vague promise. She’s fickle like that.

    In the meantime, and to share the grief around, have some Mahalia Jackson, a big fat black Momma whose wobbly bits always wobbled in the same direction. A big voice too, but there’s a rare comfort to be found within it.


  25. Pointman says:

    In some highly-unlikely corner of a probabilistic universe, it’s mathematically possible there’s a variation of it that has an Oirish pub I’ll enter one day which has a juke box that doesn’t have a Van da Man number on it. In the meantime …


  26. Jack Wurts says:

    This is my first comment on your site Pointman, I have been a fan for some years now and I thank you for it.

    Here is one of the most extraordinary Art works I have ever seen. It is a sand painting, close to 10 minutes long, I have an urge to say something about it but I am completely lost for words.
    (Sorry, I don’t know how to load it onto this page)


  27. Pointman says:

    With Rue My Heart is Laden

    WITH rue my heart is laden
    For golden friends I had,
    For many a rose-lipt maiden
    And many a lightfoot lad.

    By brooks too broad for leaping
    The lightfoot boys are laid;
    The rose-lipt girls are sleeping
    In fields where roses fade.

    AE Housman


  28. Pointman says:

    To an Athlete Dying Young

    by AE Housman

    The time you won your town the race
    We chaired you through the market-place;
    Man and boy stood cheering by,
    And home we brought you shoulder-high.

    Today, the road all runners come,
    Shoulder-high we bring you home,
    And set you at your threshold down,
    Townsman of a stiller town.

    Smart lad, to slip betimes away
    From fields where glory does not stay,
    And early though the laurel grows
    It withers quicker than the rose.

    Eyes the shady night has shut
    Cannot see the record cut,
    And silence sounds no worse than cheers
    After earth has stopped the ears.

    Now you will not swell the rout
    Of lads that wore their honours out,
    Runners whom renown outran
    And the name died before the man.

    So set, before its echoes fade,
    The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
    And hold to the low lintel up
    The still-defended challenge-cup.

    And round that early-laurelled head
    Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
    And find unwithered on its curls
    The garland briefer than a girl’s.

    For a friend who’s taken his leave.


  29. Pointman says:

    Vicious Traditions.

    I’d pull my weight if it made any difference
    he gave his life for the nine million others
    but on his graves written here lies Joseph
    his country’s gun and innocent soldier

    fight your way out of this one

    he grew a blood red vision for all their good intentions
    he made an easy million from a foreign investment
    he danced with the devils in beautiful buildings
    affirmative action for a useful reunion

    he’d change his name if it made any difference
    now he’s waiting in line for the lasting confession
    but on his graves written here lies our son Joseph
    his country’s gun and innocent soldier

    well fight your way out of this one
    fight your way out of this one


  30. Pointman says:

    A poem about a child’s first day at school by Elizabeth Shane, a much overlooked poet.

    Wee Hughie

    He’s gone to school, wee Hughie,
    An’ him not four,
    Sure I saw the fright was in him
    When he left the door.

    But he took a hand o’ Denny,
    An’ a hand o’ Dan,
    Wi’ Joe’s owld coat upon him –
    Och the poor wee man!

    He cut the quarest figure,
    More stout not thin:
    An’ trotting right and steady
    Wi’ his toes turned in.

    I watched him to the corner
    O’ the big turf stack,
    An’ the more his feet went forrit,
    Still his head turned back.

    I followed to the turnin’
    When they passed it by,
    God help him he was cryin’,
    An’, maybe, so was I.

    Elizabeth Shane


  31. Dolf (a.k.a. Anders Ericsson) says:

    Maybe is bad form to toot one’s own horn, and I’m no poet, but this one gives me a slight sting of pride. Though my mood, as probably shines through, wasn’t too happy when i wrote it:

    Hey, hey you errant knave
    mourning in your shallow grave

    mad from unrequited lust
    you placed in women trust

    your heavenly sojourn brief
    ended with nought but grief

    love to give was thy strife
    but all it gave was cessation of thy life

    there’s no mourning of the life that’s fled
    none for yours a tear will shed

    now you rot away
    your flesh like moldy hay

    another useless cadaver
    nevermore caress, nor palaver

    died from broken heart you did
    well, you deserve your bloody fate

    now pull on your coffin lid
    sleep well, you stupid mate


  32. Pointman says:

    How to argue your case.



  33. Reblogged this on Special Connections and commented:
    I just stumbled upon this thought & emotion provoking blog post. I’m just a tad bit envious of the author with his active voice & blogging community, but being a bit of a wallflower am quite content to enjoy other’s dances & escapades. Check it out for a breath of fresh air & a chance to look at life through newly awakened eyes & heart!

    Liked by 1 person

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  1. […] More than a few years back, one of my sons came back from a trip to Philadelphia, armed with the modest presents a teenager sent on his way with a limited amount of spending money [read more] […]


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