Author spotlight: Ashleigh Brilliant

Born London, 1933. Mother Canadian. Father a British civil servant. World War II childhood spent mostly in Toronto and Washington, D.C. Berkeley PhD. in American History, 1964. Living in Santa Barbara since 1973. No children. Best-known for his illustrated epigrams, called “Pot-Shots”, now a series of 10,000. Email ashleigh@west.net or visit www.ashleighbrilliant.com

World Wars Re-Numbered
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   January 28, 2021

Most of us grew up thinking that there were two World Wars, the first in 1914-18, called the Great War, which became World War I, when its successor of 1939-45 qualified as Number Two. But let me tell you how I came to question that whole idea. My father’s elder brother, Mortimer Brilliant, was, like […]

I’m All Years
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   January 21, 2021

Surely it can’t be pure coincidence that the number of degrees in a circle is almost exactly the same as the days in a year. (Of course, 360 was more suitable, giving us 4 neat angles of 90 degrees.) But, while we’re on the subject, why do the times a circle’s circumference is bigger than […]

Limits
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   January 14, 2021

Our language has a nice way of softening the meaning of nasty expressions. Take the word “deadline.” There was a time, not too long ago, when a dead-line was a line beyond which, if caught crossing it, you were liable to be killed. This was most applicable in a prison situation, when the captors had […]

Eggscuse Me
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   January 7, 2021

I’m sure you’ve heard it said that “you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.” This, I suppose, is another way of stating the Machiavellian principle that “the end justifies the means” – i.e. to get a good outcome, you sometimes have to employ less-than-good methods. My problem is that I don’t like breaking eggs […]

No Dumping
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   December 31, 2020

Like most of us, I can’t help noticing the signs and notices people put up, even if they don’t apply to me. One which inevitably catches my eye is on a white picket fence I pass every day, while walking to or from my office. It’s a probably store-bought sign, and says simply, “No Dumping.” […]

Declaration of Dependence
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   December 24, 2020

If life is a swimming pool, look for me at the shallow end. I’m not (by my own standards) a very adventurous person – and advancing years have not made me any braver. But what they have done is make me increasingly aware of how many different things I depend on, just to keep going […]

Power
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   December 17, 2020

One of my most popular epigrams (which is why I made it the title of one of my books) says: “All I want is a warm bed, and a kind word – and unlimited power.” I suppose we’d all like to be able to control things a little more than we can – starting with […]

Magic
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   December 10, 2020

We all know that there is no such thing as real “magic.” As performed by “magicians,” it’s all trickery and deception, the best of which fools us in ways we like to be fooled, and takes advantage of our own weaknesses and susceptibilities. But science and technology have become so clever and adept that it’s […]

Away From Home
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   December 3, 2020

As an experienced traveler (though not lately), I’ve always said that travel would be much more easy and pleasant, if only we didn’t have to eat and sleep. Others will, of course, argue that it is all the things relating to food and accommodation which make travel enjoyable. But to me, they are generally a […]

Out the Window
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   November 26, 2020

There are many things we don’t have words for – and if asked, you’d probably never have thought there was a word for throwing somebody out of a window – but there is such a word, and in fact I’ve known it most of my life, although I have never had any pressing occasion to […]

Diaries
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   November 19, 2020

My birthday happens to be in December (on the 9th), so my numerical age stays the same practically all through the calendar year. On my tenth birthday, in 1943, one of the presents I received was a “Five-year Diary,” with each small page representing the same calendar date on five succeeding years. So, each day […]

Lost Lands
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   November 12, 2020

Many countries – and many families – have some tradition of territory, or property, which used to be theirs, and is now someone else’s. The memory, even though it may relate to events far in the past, is sometimes still charged with bitterness.  A classic example is the region known as Alsace-Lorraine, sandwiched between France […]

Fame or Shame
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   November 5, 2020

There are good reasons for giving names to hurricanes and tropical storms. It helps the weather-watchers avoid confusion in referring to them. But it was a bad idea to use the first names of people, because, if you happen to have that name – and especially if the event turns out to be a bad […]

Sex You All
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   October 29, 2020

You’ve all, no doubt, been eagerly waiting for me to write something about Sex – so, here it is: Has it ever occurred to you that “sex” spelled backwards is “xes,” which might be pronounced as “excess,” which, of course, means “too much.” Such considerations make me hesitate to go any further into this subject, […]

The Beauty of It
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   October 21, 2020

It took the Greeks to turn beauty into a science. They called it aesthetics – a word and concept we’ve been stuck with ever since. It’s not enough just to enjoy a starry night, or a fine piece of architecture, or a good-looking girl. We have to ask why. We feel the compulsion to analyze, […]

Anger
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   October 13, 2020

As you probably know by now, one of my favorite poets is A.E. Housman. And his whole outlook is summed up rather neatly inA these four lines: “The troubles of our proud and angry dust Are from eternity, and shall not fail. Bear them we can, and, if we can, we must – Shoulder the […]

Play Time
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   October 1, 2020

I’ve told you I’m a realist. But that’s not the whole story. Reality is too hard to face all the time. That (I presume) is why we have sleep and dreams. But even when I’m awake, I like to think of life as a game. Games create their own reality. Within the game, nothing outside […]

Bored of Education
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   September 24, 2020

You may find this hard to believe, but it wasn’t until after I had gone all the way through the British school and college system, and emigrated to the U.S., with a bachelor of arts degree in history, that I became aware of the fact that “education” is a subject which can itself be studied […]

Tea for You
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   September 17, 2020

Having been brought up English, I was a tea drinker from an early age. But I didn’t realize that I was actually an addict, until my doctor told me to cut out all caffeine from my diet. Only then did I learn what is meant by “withdrawal symptoms” – which in my case were very […]

Hear and Now
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   September 10, 2020

The 1964 Simon & Garfunkel song “The Sound of Silence” must seem redolent of an ancient era to many of my younger readers – but the haunting melody, combined with its poetically poignant words, resonates as powerfully today as when the song was born. To me, the part which has always been most meaningful proclaims […]

I Think Knot
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   September 3, 2020

As a child, I took great delight in string. My mother, who patiently taught me how to tie bows, used to tell people, “Give him a piece of string, and he’ll be happy.” True enough, I could spend hours just tying and untying knots. I was never a Boy Scout, and never “learned the ropes” […]

Name Dropping
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   August 27, 2020

The first question I am usually asked: “Is Ashleigh Brilliant your real name?” Yes, it is. My father was Victor Brilliant, and he came from a whole family of Brilliants. The origins are Russian and Jewish. Around the time of Napoleon, Jews were allowed to choose their own surnames. Many chose pleasant-sounding names, such as […]

What If
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   August 20, 2020

SUPPOSEAll my life I’ll cherishSo much I can’t forget –The things that didn’t happen,And the girls I never met. I wrote those lines a long time ago. But for most of us, the sentiment, no doubt, remains true, no matter where we are in life. The great question of how different things might be now, […]

Licked by a Stamp
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   August 13, 2020

I have never been much of a hobbyist – but for a few years in my teens, I was very keen on postage stamps. This fizzled at about the same time I got interested in girls – but to this day, whenever I receive a letter with a stamp I haven’t seen before, I tear […]

In All Fairness
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   August 6, 2020

“Fair Play,” as I understand it, means abiding by the rules. But what if the rules are unfair? That, in a sense, is the human predicament. No matter how honorable and decent you are, a tornado (which I like to think of as God’s air-raid) can wipe out everything you have, including your life – […]

Royal Flesh
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   July 30, 2020

It seems odd that, after centuries of agitation forequality, so many countries still have social systems in which some “royal” person is considered to be at the top. The word “royal” derives from the French word for king – and, although France no longer has a monarch, many other advanced countries still do. In fact, […]

How to be a Villain
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   July 23, 2020

This story begins with a confession: I didn’t know how to be a villain – and never got over it. When I was eleven years old, my Hebrew school was bringing out a magazine, and needed contributions. I somehow volunteered to write on a topic someone had suggested – “How to Be a Villain.” No […]

I The Hero
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   July 16, 2020

People sometimes flatter me by saying that I am their hero – because I have managed to make a living by the unconventional means of marketing my own thoughts. There may be some merit in inventing – so to speak – a new profession. But, in general terms, I don’t consider myself a heroic character. […]

Seek and Ye Shall Find
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   July 9, 2020

One of the most famous lines of all poetry (originally written in Persian a millennium ago, but first translated into English in 1859) comes from a book called the Rubaiyat, and is about a “moving finger,” which “writes, and, having writ, moves on” – and nothing we can do can bring that finger back, to […]

Worriers and Warriors
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   July 2, 2020

It isn’t often that I make my Psychiatrist laugh – but he did, when, telling him about the events of a recent day, I said, “I was so busy, I forgot to take my anxiety pill.” Yes, I do actually take (in small doses) a pill that is supposed to have a calming effect, and […]

Good Brief
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   June 25, 2020

When General Sir Charles Napier captured, for the British Empire, the Indian province of Sindh (now a part of Pakistan) in 1844, he reportedly announced this achievement in a one-word telegram. That single word was not English, but, in those days, when every upper-class Englishman received a classical education, the message would have been intelligible […]

On the Road
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   June 18, 2020

Don’t let them fool you. All roads do not lead to Rome – at least, not anymore. But: there is always a close connection between any road and whatever travels on it. Most of our roads today began as animal tracks. Animals didn’t need motels, or scenic views. They bought no souvenirs, and never wrote […]

Watch My Line
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   June 11, 2020

“The square on the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle is equal to the sum of the squares on the other two sides.” – Pythagoras At the equivalent of High School which I attended in London, we all had to take basic Mathematics, consisting of Arithmetic, Algebra, and Geometry. I could do them all, and more […]

Thought Crime and Hate Crime
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   June 4, 2020

In 1949, the British writer, George Orwell, published a novel titled 1984 – the name of a year which was then as far in the future as it is now in the past. The society he depicted has been characterized as a “dystopia,” meaning the opposite of a Utopia. The name “Utopia,” the title of […]

Giants and Germans Lose
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   May 28, 2020

At the time of World War I, I hadn’t even been born yet, and in World War II, I was still only a child. But those two catastrophes have shaped all our lives. Between the official end of the First, and the outbreak of the Second, was only 20 years. But it was enough time […]

Nobody Knows My Toes
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   May 21, 2020

Most of us have twenty digits, but the upper ten get nearly all the attention. Once we’ve outgrown the days of “this little piggy goes to market,” the lower ten are usually hidden in some protective footwear, and little account is taken of them – until something goes wrong. The classic case of something going […]

All Hell
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   May 14, 2020

Warning: I am (in all likelihood) about to change your life. Not in any big significant way, but in the same slight, but probably permanent, way that mine was changed when, not long ago, I made the discovery which I am going to share with you here. First, a little background: Somehow, I had managed […]

Dear God
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   May 7, 2020

No doubt you know I don’t believe in you – but that’s OK, because, for all I know, you probably don’t believe in me either. Still, out of consideration for everybody else who may be reading this, I am obliged to respect you, not take your name in vain and even, to the extent possible […]

Flowers by Request
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   April 30, 2020

You’ve probably heard Ogden Nash’s immortal observation on the relative merits of two different methods of seduction: Candy is dandy, But liquor is quicker. Unfortunately, he omitted a third well-known amatory aid, which I now offer you as a suggested last line: And FLOWERS HAVE POWERS. I myself have never been particularly susceptible to those […]

Living on a Postcard
By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   April 23, 2020

My home, since 1973, has been almost literally a stone’s throw from an area so celebrated for its beauty that calling it “picturesque” would be an understatement. In one sweeping panorama, you have the ocean, the mountains, a lovely rose garden, tall gracious trees, and a broad green sward leading up to the cloistered front […]