February 21, 2010

Hot Chocolate Sauce

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:11 pm by Aleksan

Hot Chocolate Sauce – A story for Della

It was a solemn affair and the family were dressed formally, and wore long faces. Matilda looked at Cornelius out of the corner of her eye – and saw him looking at their son Frederick who was, she noted with disgust, licking his lips. Drusilla came into the room and glowered at her brother – Frederick ignored her and scowled at his plate. The joint he thought was over cooked – almost charred. But he liked the hot chocolate sauce that covered most of it. There were no vegetables – he laughed. Drusilla giggled. But no one drooled – the saliva did not flow freely.

Her Dad had always been strange, Matilda thought to herself, but she had never realised quite how strange. Yes, he was – or had been for most of his oddly eventful life – an eminent psychiatrist. She shuddered – how embarrassing it all was. The book about pigs had a good chapter on slaughtering and how to joint the beast; but it was very old, and she had found it difficult to follow. What had made Dad think of such an idea? He had been under the weather with a bad cold that is all, and she did not see the connection.

Cornelius looked at her just then and raised his eyebrows quizzically. Matilda nodded. All at the same time they raised their knives and forks – and fiddled with their food. Frederick suddenly ate a big mouthful and made a face at Drusilla – who screamed and ran out. The doorbell rang and everyone froze. No one usually rang at 3 am on a Monday morning. It kept ringing. Cornelius slowly opened the door. A policeman and a woman PC stood at the door. “We are making enquiries about Dr Hiram Zee Binswanger – he has been missing for a week now – we understand some relatives may live here?” Drusilla screamed again, and started to cry rather loudly. Frederick laughed demonically – and said, in a strange high pitched voice “We are eating Granddad now – with hot chocolate sauce – it is what he wanted – he is very tasty though a bit tough – but the chocolate sauce is scrumptious”

The meal at an end, the six of them felt bloated but happy. The Chilean Merlot had gone down very well. Nothing was left – and they had certainly honoured the last Will and Testament of that unusual and philanthropic personage – Granddad – alias Dr Hiram Zee Binswanger MD and Master of Lunacy, University of Transylvania.

Sandy Burnfield
New Years Day 2005

February 3, 2010

A Hundred Years of Burnfields in Longstock

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:31 am by Aleksan

Isobel, Rob, Sandy(author) with baby David and Jane 1957

My grandfather, Alexander Burnfield, was born in Caputh, Little Dunkeld, Perthshire. He first became a blacksmith and then after learning latin from a Dominie – a country schoolmaster who was also a Presbyterian minister – he qualified as a vet from the Royal Dick Veterinary College, Edinburgh. He married Isabella Mary Young and they had three sons – Robert, my “Uncle Bob” – Alexander “Alister”, my father – and David, who became “Uncle Bunt.” A fourth brother, James – born between my father and Uncle Bunt – died from diphtheria aged eighteen months – the family was grief stricken and little Jimmy has never been forgotten.

The Foreigners
100 years ago my grandfather and his family travelled down to Southampton from Dundee in a potato boat. It was quite rough and all apart from my father, a little boy of 6 years old, were sick. Their destination was Hazeldown Farm in Longstock, and my grandfather left behind a thriving veterinary practice, a blacksmith’s and farrier’s business and his position as a Baillie (councillor) in the Perthshire town of Crieff.

He had decided to move to England because he was advised to stop working so hard for medical reasons and to avoid long and hilly journeys through the glens in his pony and trap on veterinary business. But the reason he came to Longstock was that his wife’s brother, David Young, farmed at Westover in Lower Clatford and had sent him word that Hazeldown Farm was for sale. Although the family travelled by boat to Southampton, their car (rare in those days) and furniture came by train to Stockbridge Station – (or was it Fullerton?)

When they arrived at Hazeldown my father was 6, Uncle Bob was 9 and Uncle Bunt was 18 months old. The family continued to keep in close touch with their family connections in Scotland and my father went back to farm there, once for a three year spell when in his thirties.

Apparently we, the Burnfields, were known as The Foreigners in Longstock for about 30 years! Certainly there are many stories of locals not understanding the broad Scots accent they brought with them. By all accounts my grandfather was easy going and sociable but my grandmother Isabella could be fierce and sharp tongued, and was very hard working, expecting others to work hard too.

A few years later my great grandmother, Marjory Burnfield, joined the family to live in a specially built cottage next to Hazeldown Farm – where “Brommer” Webb now lives.

Captain Alexander Burnfield MRCVS of the Black Watch
The three boys went to school in Longstock and then Andover Grammar School. During the First World War my grandfather was in the Black Watch (Scottish Highland Regiment). Captain Alex. Burnfield served in the Veterinary Corps and his duties included vetting horses at Windmill Hill Down, near Tidworth, before shipment to France for use by the Army. Sometimes a horse would be in-foal and these were often taken to Hazeldown for safekeeping, and only returned when the foals had been born. These apparently remained at Hazeldown!

My mother Joan Bright first met my father when he was accompanying his father on a veterinary visit to her father, John Bright, who farmed at Bossington, Houghton. They married in 1943 at the little Bossington Church of St James (where I was later christened.) They used the same horse-drawn gig for their wedding as my father’s parents had done for their wedding, and that my sister Jane and her husband Chris, rode in years later for theirs. This gig is in Isobel’s safekeeping awaiting its next call to duty.

A. Burnfield and Sons Ltd.
By this time the three brothers had bought two more farms so that each could have one of their own. Uncle Bob lived at Little Ann Bridge Farm, Andover and Uncle Bunt at Windover Farm at the Stockbridge end of Longstock. My father lived at Hazeldown with my mother and me, my brothers Rob and David and sisters Isobel and Jane. Our Uncle Bob and Uncle Bunt never had children of their own but were very much involved with us and our education. Uncle Bob died in 1958 and eventually the three farms became our family business – A. Burnfield and Sons Ltd. (A. Burnfield being our grandfather and the sons, his three boys – Dad, Uncle Bob and Uncle Bunt.) Our grandfather and Uncle Bob had died by then so the farming business was run by Dad and Uncle Bunt, and then later by my brother David and sisters Isobel and Jane.

When Mr Lewis (of Partnership fame) came to Longstock he sometimes invited my parents to tea with him – on these occasions he and my father argued about lots of things – he had been very pleased when the family bought Windover Farm and did not bid against us – he assumed that they would move there and he could buy Hazeldown – but to his chagrin we kept both!

My father learnt a variety of smithing and veterinary skills from his father – and spent many hours in the shop at Hazeldown mending broken parts and fixing stuff generally on the farm – I used to be his boy when he was working on the blacksmith’s forge at Hazeldown, and worked the bellows for him.

I was the oldest and decided I wanted to be a doctor rather than join the farm – my brother Rob studied law, and is now a Tribunal Judge in Southampton.
I thought my father and Uncle Bunt would not be pleased – but they were very accepting – and said every Scottish family should have a doctor and a lawyer in it. My father pointed out that his grandmother Marjory’s first cousins were the brothers Sir James Mackenzie and Lord Amulree, brought up on a farm near Crieff. James was a famous heart specialist and inventor of the venous-arterial polygraph (precursor of the ECG) while his brother had been a renowned constitutional lawyer.

The extended clan and Longstock
So Isobel, Jane and David now manage our family business. Hard working and inventive in true Burnfield style they are managing to adapt the farming enterprise to the 21st century – the farms will be totally organic and managed even more environmentally by 2008. From the first our family has always had close connections to the villagers of Longstock and involvement in village activities. My youngest brother David, following in the footsteps of both our father and grandfather, is currently serving the community as chairman of the parish council.
We have been well supported by the men and women who have worked and still work on the farms – they have become friends and honorary members of the clan and are an integral part of the farming enterprise. Foremost among these is “Brommer” – Alfred Webb – who first came to work for us when he was 14. He is still working for us, now part time, and his service has been continuous for the last 76 years without a break. Brommer, now aged 90, has known all the Burnfields and he is a link for us between the generations as well as being an entertaining historian of Burnfield times.

There are lots of younger Burnfields about nowadays, but I think they should be included in the next article in this series which will be due in 2107 and titled 200 years of Burnfields in Longstock.
Alexander (Sandy) Burnfield

From: The Longstock Newsletter – Issue No. 170 – June/July 2007

The Great Death…

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:50 am by Aleksan

When I look at my life and the lives of others who try to practice the Buddha’s Way I wonder what difference all that reading and mind training actually makes. Are we any different from most other people because we are well versed in the Teachings and various practices of Buddhism? There is a wise old English saying “Fine words butter no parsnips.”

An over developed Ego
How much are these intellectually exciting insights really making a difference in my life? Am I becoming more aware of how I cause myself and others pain? The answer is Yes and No. Yes, I am becoming more aware of my greed, aversions and ignorance – but no, because it is usually after I have gobbled my food too quickly (causing the pain of indigestion) – or shouted at Penny, without thinking deeply (causing the pain of emotional hurt all round.) I am greedy for TV without subtitles but then feel bad because Kit can’t help being deaf. So I try to practice giving up of my greed. This works well for a while until my guard is down and yet again I act not from my inherent Buddha nature but from that over developed ego of mine – more pain!

Family Gurus
My best gurus are those around who remind me regularly to be like the Buddha or even to be a Buddha. They are not great sages but my wife Penny, her mother Kit – and our daughters – none culturally Buddhist in their own lives, but all aware of the need for me to be less impulsive and more tolerant. When I am reproached for not behaving in a Buddhist way I respond by saying that is why I practice Buddhist mindfulness and training – because I need the practice and wisdom – not because I am wise and good 100% of the time. (A Zen saying has it that 80% is perfection. – that would be pretty good!)

The Great Death
Gandhi said that the whole of Indian philosophy could be summed up in three words “Renounce and Enjoy.” The Buddha made it clear that the thing about life that makes us unhappy and unsatisfied is our attachment to ego – what Alan Watts called “the egocentric delusion.” The Buddha and subsequent teachers have shown us ways of mind cultivation and living based on a deeper basis than dualistic and self-centred ego perception. This has been well described by Zen Master Bankei as “the unborn Buddha mind” – that essence of ourselves that is not part of space-time and which we share, mostly unconsciously, with all sentient beings.

I find it easy to understand that my attachment to ego is the cause of my unhappiness and the unhappiness that I cause others, but it is much more difficult to tackle this problem in practice. Chan Buddhists talk about the importance of the Great Death that we must experience before we are “delivered.” I know that this means the death of my attachment to ego so that my perception can become clear and unstained.

Giving up pain
A wise saying, by a sage unknown to me, puts it in a nutshell “The pathway is smooth – why do you throw rocks in front of you?” An excellent question – why do I? Why do so many of us keep bunging down these jagged objects that make our progress, and the way of others so painful? The Dhammapada says somewhere that long term happiness can only be obtained by giving up short term pleasures that cause pain. So it is OK to be selfish in the long term then? Yes – in rather a cunning way!

A big insight for me was precisely this point brought out at the Buddhist Summer School at Leicester in August this year. John Peacock gave a series of excellent talks on a Chinese Buddhist text “The Three Principle Aspects of the Path” by Tsong kha pa. You might think this would be as dry as dust but John brought it to life and made it real for my personal Buddhist practice. The first principle is Renunciation, which for me has always lacked much attraction – until he suggested, almost as an aside, that one thing we might think of renouncing was our pain. Give up my pain! Great, this sounds more like it – I can buy this one, I thought.

Waking up
I laughed out loud when it struck me that Buddhism is, in a way, all about being as selfish as it is possible to be – because being really selfish means giving up all our pain and being free from the causes of pain – it means giving up the attachment to ego with its associated greed, anger, fear and wilful ignorance. To undergo the Great Death of ego-centred thinking and behaviour and live instead in awareness of my real identity – unborn and undying Buddha nature. To wake up from the world of dreams and live in a world of constant awareness without responding and reacting like a zombie to every twist and turn, every blow or blessing. My mind cultivation, slow as it may be, has been given a renewed impetus. St Anthony of Egypt puts this idea very simply – the way to be really happy is “to control the tongue and the belly.” These are the wisest of words but the most difficult to practice. What it needs is constant and regular mind cultivation (better description of the process and a more accurate translation I understand than the word meditation.)

Suspect secret Gurus
I find it helpful sometimes to practice a mind cultivation exercise in which I treat everyone I meet as an awakened being doing what ever is necessary to raise my awareness to a higher level. I try to see their speech and intentions as being in my very best interests, and modify my responses accordingly. If I am unfairly critiscised I see that as a lesson and try not to over react. When someone is angry with me that is a sign to be to be calm and understanding. This exercise helps me not just to be more aware, for a while at least, but also to see that I am just the same as other people – no better or worse but with the potential to change. So every being I meet is a teacher- a Guru – whether they know it or not! A Guru is not a special sort of person – every person is a special sort of Guru. This exercise is a fun thing to do and remarkably effective – but as with all practice it is easy to slip back and let ego or others dictate the way I behave.

We need each other
I am gradually finding that daily mindfulness is helping me to live in the present with awareness of the Buddha nature in myself and others – but I can not afford to be complacent – especially in the emotionally charged atmosphere of domestic living – the ultimate testing place! And I need the fellowship, support and encouragement of other Buddhists to keep at it. Gandhi was right “Renounce and Enjoy.”

Alexander Burnfield