Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Orbs for Totilas!

It's the time of the year for stories.
How would you like a true story? A story brimming over with magic, and with more pictures than text?

Does that sound suitable, undemanding fare for the festive season?
Good . . . off we go . . .

Once upon a time there was a wonder-horse called Totilas. Well, if we're to be absolutely precise, his name is Moorlands Totilas, but, to his admirers worldwide,
his name (whispered in awed voices) is Totilas.

Renowned for his incredible dressage achievements, he was brought to London a few days before Christmas to compete in the International Horse Show at Olympia. My friend, Susan, who was visiting London, kindly invited me to join her for the finals. We were to be part of the privileged audience who would watch the legendary Totilas compete.

Surely, I thought to myself, the artistry, the music, the charisma and the heightened emotion of the audience, would be fertile ground for orbs?
Before leaving home, I put my camera in my handbag . . . just in case.

The Grand Hall was packed and, in the lead up to the dressage, there were other highly enjoyable items on the programme. These included a Shetland Pony Steeplechase.

I took a photo . . .

. . . as you can see (although, in this small version, the details are hard to make out), the excitement of the children, equalled by the excitement of the ponies, attracted several shadowy orbs in the background.

But, once the dressage started, the orbs disappeared. The competition was keen, the atmosphere intense . . . anxious . . . precise and careful. It was all highly impressive, but not, seemingly, conducive to orbs.

Until, that is, the moment arrived. The moment that everyone had been waiting for . . . the climax of the evening . . . the appearance of Edward Gal and Totilas!

And, wait for it . . . as the impressive black stallion entered the emotionally-charged arena, look what came with him!

Look carefully . . . there's nothing shadowy about these orbs, they're large . . . and substantial . . . and brilliant. Orbs that truly reflect the status of the incredible super-star.

And Totilas shone as brightly as the orbs. Rising effortlessly to the exalted heights of our expectations, he proceeded to give a spell-binding performance of effortless technique. In total harmony with his rider, he brought the gift of pure magic to his enchanted audience.

Was this a participant in a competition? That was not how it felt. It was sheer, unequalled artistry on generous display for those of us privileged to watch.
Motionless in our seats, we gazed awestruck . . . then, as Edward Gal and his incredible steed departed, the audience of eight thousand rose spontaneously to its feet and broke into thunderous applause.

Did they win the competition . . . ?
What do you think!
Not only did Totilas win, he gained the highest score of his illustrious career.

As for the orbs, I can't offer any explanation . . . I would never attempt to. Knowledge of what they are resides in the numinous, beyond the realms of mere understanding.
All I know is that when orbs appear there is often music . . . always joy . . . and always love.

One further thing is certain. If we could only make our world more conducive to orbs there's no doubt that we'd be creating a far better place for ourselves.

Those orbs endorsed an incredible evening.
Thank you, Totilas . . . thank you, Edward Gal . . . and bless you, Susan, for inviting me to an event I'll never forget.

I promised you a magical story . . . did you enjoy it?
Should Totilas return to London . . . well, what about it . . . ?

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Christmas Gift

(Instructions for Recognising and Using your Christmas Gift - to be read and studied when you are relaxed, with plenty of time to pay careful attention.)

This is a long-term Christmas gift. Be warned, it's very powerful.

When you switched on your computer today, did you notice something? If not, may I suggest that you examine the screen right now . . . sit back, relax, and look at it very carefully . . .

. . . now, have you noticed . . . can you see the extra radiance . . . the increased power to the light . . . the shimmer?

And can you hear something . . . ?

Take a deep breath and listen carefully . . . no, I'm not joking, listen . . . can you hear the sound of the Christmas Angels who are working this magic . . . ?

This is your Christmas gift, a shining, five-pointed star that has been designed to infiltrate your computer. Not only that, it will infiltrate every computer you use from now on.

As you start up your computer every morning, notice the extra glow . . . the extra shine . . . that is the power of the golden, five-pointed star radiating out of the computer screen towards you.

Not only will the Christmas Star bring a glow to your computer, it will also bring a glow to everything you read and write. Every study that you undertake in the year ahead will shine with hope and joy and peace. Every project that you work on will be radiant with promise and love. Even the practical emails will have an extra sparkle.

The joy and hope of Christmas, the promise of Christmas, the peace of Christmas, have permeated this piece of equipment and they can't be removed.

The gifts of Christmas, the gifts of love and laughter - for every baby brings the gift of laughter - will spread from this computer to everyone who receives your words, from this day forth and for evermore.
Happy Christmas!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

On the first day of Christmas . . .

Have you a moment to share a delightfully surprising story?

When the postal strike was called off I decided that it was time to think seriously about Christmas. Christmas cards . . . Christmas presents . . . I went ferreting around in the bedroom and dragged out the 'Christmas Box' that surfaces every year. Inside I keep any remaining unused cards from the previous year, my 'Christmas Card Book' and a handful of decorations.

I discovered to my pleasure that I had quite a few unused cards, which meant that I had less to buy. I then sorted out the pile of charity catalogues that have arrived, with the intention of choosing cards and presents.

All the cards I received last year have been long since sent for recycling, so it was surprising to find a solitary used card amongst the batch of unused ones. I opened it.

Do you remember my friend Tina? The friend who died last Easter and was so interested in my orb photographs? Remember?

This card, the sole card remaining from over a hundred that I'd received last year, was the one I'd received from Tina.
Inside I read:
"Lots of love, dear, and may you have a wonderful Christmas . . . from Tina"

Last month I had a birthday card from my mother .. . . this month my first Christmas card has come from Tina . . . it's all totally surprising . . . and really rather wonderful!

Happy Christmas, Tina . . . and thank you!

Friday, December 11, 2009

A Divine Whodunnit

I know that life has been called a Divine Comedy, but I can't help feeling that it's every bit as much a Divine Whodunnit. A mystery story complete with enough twists and turns to satisfy Agatha Christie.

Have you a moment to hear about Rare Earth? I'd never heard of it before, and it's possible that you haven't either.
Let me tell you what I learned the other day on Channel 4, something that puts an unexpected, and unwelcome, twist into the green technology story.

When I went on the Climate Change march last week I thought, in my innocence, that all green technologies were wholly innocent and good. Would that the story of our planet were so simple!

It came as a revelation to learn that Rare Earth is a combination of mineral elements that are absolutely essential to green technology.
You want wind farms? You need Rare Earth. You want electric cars? You definitely need Rare Earth. You want computers? Yes, it's Rare Earth once again that makes the IT revolution possible.

And where do you find this Rare Earth? It appears that ninety-five per cent of the world's supply is mined in China and Mongolia, from where it is exported.
In Mongolia, where the main mines exist, mining for Rare Earth has ravaged the landscape, poisoned the rivers, rendered the land infertile, and caused the native inhabitants of the area to evacuate their villages as they can no longer produce food or continue to live in the poisonous atmosphere. In other words, it seems that green technology is starting to be detrimental to the environment in the way that we've already seen with fossil fuel-powered technology.

I'd no idea about this. Had you?

As China can no longer produce sufficient Rare Earth to satisfy global needs, it's now being suggested that the world will have to start mining elsewhere.
Perhaps it might also be wise to start looking for an environmentally friendly equivalent of Rare Earth . . . wait a minute now, am I getting forgetful or haven't we said something very similar before . . . ?

If the current story of life on our planet is a Divine Whodunnit, there's not the slight doubt who did it. It doesn't take a Miss Marple to uncover the clues of greed and thoughtlessness that
we've left scattered over every chapter.

Will our story have a happy ending . . . will we all 'live happily ever after' . . . ?

But, no . . . we can't cheat and skip to the last pages of the book. Instead, let's be positive. Our world is too wonderful, too precious, to lose . . . we want to stay here . . . how would you like a solar-powered torch for Christmas? Always provided we can find one that doesn't contain Rare Earth!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Only a point of view

Did you hear that interesting item on the news this morning? The item where they were discussing how, with the wide variety of international news sources, young people are culling their television news not just from the BBC, ITN and Sky, but also from the Middle East, the States and anywhere you like to name. Nor are those who trawl the web restricted to the British Press. They can find variations of the same international stories around the globe.
This, needless to say, provides as many viewpoints on what's happening as it does news stories!
It also provokes the question: how impartial is 'news'?

Have you a moment for some explorative pondering?

I don't think I told you that Polly came to tea the other week. Polly is a much-acclaimed professional photographer. You'd love her work, it's thought-provoking, amusing and perceptive. In fact it superbly illustrates the fact that a photograph is a work of art. Not only is it a work of art, it is also a reflection of the mind of the photographer. Polly's photographs are not just the world as viewed through the lens of her camera, they are the world as seen through the eyes and mind of Polly.

Which brings us back to that discussion on the radio this morning. Seen through the lens of the UK media, the situation in Afghanistan may, and probably does, differ widely from the version broadcast in the Middle East. In the same way, a news item relegated to a small paragraph on a back-page in this country may command front-page dominance elsewhere.
As with Polly and her camera, the news comes through the eyes and mind-set of those experiencing it. However impartial we try to be, our reports and reactions are filtered through a miasma of opinion, a lifetime of experience.

Is there any way that we can get behind another person's eyes and see the world from their point of view?
I wish there were . . . but I don't think so.
May I tell you a silly story to illustrate this point? When I was a small child there was a question that used to bother me. How, I wondered, could it be proved that, when I looked up into the sky, the blue that I was seeing was the same blue as everyone else was seeing? There seemed to be no way of proving this. Even more disturbing was the fact that the blue seen through my left eye was a distinctly different shade of blue to that viewed from my right eye! Even my two eyes had a different point of view . . . they still have! If my eyes beg to differ, what hope can there be for two people . . . ?

I don't think I've told you about a fascinating book that I'm reading at the moment. It's by Roberto Kaplan, and it's called 'Conscious Seeing'.
One point it makes is that we have become far too obsessed with 'looking' as distinct from 'seeing'. Think about it for a moment. A news reporter 'looks' for a slant on the news, he doesn't necessarily 'see' the whole picture. The words themselves reflect the difference in meaning. We say, "I see!" at moments of insight, we don't say, "I look!". Looking infers that you are focused on the specific at the expense of the bigger picture . . . it usually involves thinking and concentration. Seeing, on the other hand, is being open to what is there . . . it is intuitive, sensitive and perceptive.
Am I right in thinking that our culture seems to be growing more and more focused on looking, thereby fragmenting and losing sight of the whole?

I'm sorry, I'm rambling on and your time is precious.
So . . . can we share any conclusions . . .?

That whatever you hear . . . whatever you read . . . however much you may consider you agree or disagree . . . it all comes filtered through the eyes and mind of the person communicating. However well-written, passionately expressed, or widely circulated, it is, in the end, only a point of view.

And truth . . . ?
I only know that truth shines with a very bright light . . . a light much brighter than words, a light that is instantly recognisable and needs no interpretation.

This would seem to be my cue to stop using unnecessary words and let the light shine in . . . farewell!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Finding a friend in Clapham

Yes, I know . . . I'm sorry. This is Rupert, and you were expecting to hear from my Mum. But, if you don't mind, this is my story. There's no way that she could possibly understand the depth of my feelings.
So, just this once, you're hearing the dramatic details straight from me.
O.K . . . ?

It all happened a few days ago. I'd just finished my breakfast when Mum told me that we were going to Clapham to visit Jill and Abigail. This was good news. I love journeys in the car and
Jill has been a friend since I was a kitten. To be visiting Abigail was not quite such good news. I remembered her as the small human blob who sat on Jill's knee. A blob who had big eyes and squawked a lot.

Between you and me, I also thought my Mum paid her far too much attention. But there you
are, I'm a tolerant cat, and the small human blob never stayed for long.

When we arrived at Clapham I had a nasty shock.
The small human blob wasn't a blob any longer. She'd grown . . . my, how she'd grown! She'd become a small human person, and was running all over the place in a very alarming fashion. Large humans I can cope with, large humans I rather like. They look at me and say, "Beautiful!" - which is true, but always pleasing to hear. Small humans are a very different matter.

It seemed wise to find a comfortable bolt-hole and take stock of this tricky situation. At the far side of the room, I spotted a small, red tent . . . just the place for a cat in need of quiet reflection. As unobtrusively as I could, I hurried across the floor in search of this welcome sanctuary.

But the small human had spotted me (to give her her due, she seemed a highly intelligent small human).

"Meow . . . Meow!" she cried, waving her arms.

What was all that about?
I hadn't the faintest idea. Perhaps small humans speak a different language?

Reaching the small, red tent, I bolted inside.
But the small human had been watching me. Now down on the floor on all fours, she struggled to follow whilst Jill tried to stop her . . .

Crouching deep inside the tent, I gazed out through a chink in the drapery and grew increasingly worried.

Small humans, as I've discovered, can be very determined and, sure enough . . . this one finally made it.

There she was . . . looming up beside me in the tent . . . all waving arms and legs and big smiles!

Boy! Was I scared!

I must admit that she had a nice face. But you never know what small humans will do. They can pull your tail . . .
poke their small fingers in your eyes and ears . . . and, between you and me, I was thoroughly alarmed.

If it hadn't been for the cat's Golden Rule: "Behave Well When You Go Out Or You Won't Go Visiting Again", I don't know what I'd have done.

Then . . . all at once, the small human leaned forward and gave me a stroke.
It was such a soft stroke. A really gentle, loving kind of stroke.

"Meow . . . Meow!" she said.
Perhaps 'meow' means 'beautiful'?
Whatever it means, there was no doubt that this small human (now she's my friend, I'd better call her Abigail) meant no harm.

I began to relax.
Being trapped in a small tent with a total stranger wouldn't have been my idea of fun.
But . . . well, in the light of experience we can all change our views.

So . . . if Jill and Abigail invite us again . . . it might be quite enjoyable to return to Clapham!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

It looks like a bird . . . it sings like a bird . . .

What looks like a bird . . . sings like a bird . . . and has a battery in its stomach?
Yes, I know, it sounds like a riddle out of a Christmas cracker, but I'm willing to bet you don't know the answer.
Give up?
It's a Humidity Detector . . . and it was one of my most acceptable and entertaining birthday presents.

Not that everything was plain sailing at the start.
This very kind gift had come from my cousins who live at Kew. They had found it in the shop at Kew Gardens.

. . . Rupert thought it was a toy . . .

. . . at first glance, I thought it was an ornament . . .

. . . then I read the four pages of instructions.

I remained impressed, but baffled. The Humidity Detector was German in origin, and planned for the European market. All the instructions, all the explanations, were offered in five languages. The English version appeared to have been provided by a translator who had studied precise, nineteenth century English. His subsequent translation, whilst elegant in the extreme, was, at times, quite indecipherable!
Nevertheless, it needed no instructions to remove the small bird from its box.

Once safely out, I inspected it closely and noticed a piece of white tape sticking out of its stomach . . . I pulled.
Obedient to its programme, the bird burst into a sudden trill of song.
It was pleasing . . . if a little startling!
Would it repeat this exercise?
I poked it . . . and prodded it . . . and shook it . . . the bird remained silent. Clearly it was a one-song-a-day bird.
After carefully pushing its long, slim legs into a flower-pot, as instructed on the box, I waited to see whether it might announce the plant's need of water. The plant looked happy, the bird remained peaceful . . . I left them in each other's company and went to bed.

All that activity took place yesterday. When the sun came shining in through the window at nine this morning I was startled to hear birdsong emanating from the living room. The small bird was giving of its best. Clearly activated by the sun's rays, it was chirruping with all the determination of one set to sing until sundown!

Surely it was only supposed to sing when the plant needed water? The soil felt moist, but I added a little water, just in case . . . I then moved the flower-pot out of the sun and into the shade . . . but nothing I did succeeded in cooling the small bird's ardour. It was a song-bird and singing (so it wanted to tell me!) was what song-birds did!

I think I need your help! It's all very well in the winter, when the sun rises late and sets early, but what will it be like in mid-summer? Are Rupert and I to be awoken at five each morning by a strident dawn chorus? My friend, Lin, suggested that I cover the small bird with a blanket a night. But it isn't a parrot, and this seems a little unfriendly.

So . . . I really would appreciate your guidance.
Tell me, how, without wishing to appear unappreciative, do I discourage an enthusiastic, small song-bird from singing? And, even more important, how do I convince it that, such is the perversity of human nature, we really only value what is unpredictable and infrequent!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

One happy return!

I don't know about 'many happy returns', but this is an amazing case of 'one happy return'.

Where do I begin . . . it’s very difficult to tell a story when you're lost for words. When something has happened that is so unlikely . . . so totally unpredictable . . . so heart-warming that it robs you of speech . . . so strange that it sends shivers down your spine.

Do you know what I mean?
Stupid question . . . of course you don’t . . . I haven’t told you.
Let me try to pull myself together and explain.

As you know, today is my birthday. Cards have been arriving for several days, but this morning brought the biggest collection. Humbled and delighted by the wad of post, I settled down to read the greetings.
Amongst the envelopes was one from a cousin in Sussex. At first this seemed to be a total coincidence . . . it's years since this cousin and I have exchanged birthday cards. Christmas cards, yes, phone calls and visits, yes, but birthdays have been largely forgotten.
Nonetheless, this looked like a card, it was the shape of a card . . . I opened the envelope, and, sure enough, a card came out. But . . . and this was the surprise . . . it was not just one card. Inside the birthday card had been tucked an ageing post-card, and it was this post-card that caused those shivers that I mentioned earlier. The post-card bore my mother's hand-writing.

What was going on? I felt totally bemused, my mother has been dead for sixteen years.
In search of enlightenment, I returned to the birthday card and read the message . . . I then read the post-card . . . and, slowly, the story made sense . . . wonderful, incredible sense.

Forty years ago, almost to the day, my mother had clearly wondered whether my young cousins would remember their elder cousin's birthday. Knowing how much I would value their greeting, she had sent them a postcard. After telling them how much she was looking forward to seeing them, and enquiring after their hobbies and interests, she had diplomatically made mention of the fact that my birthday was approaching, and how much she knew I would love to hear from them.

It's far too long ago to remember, but I'm sure I received the card that my mother had cleverly organised.
What she could not have foreseen was that her postcard would have survived. That it would have been put in my cousin's scrapbook, to remain there, undisturbed and unread, for forty years.

A few weeks ago, clearing out a cupboard, my cousin had come across the ancient scrapbook . . . taken out the card . . . read it . . . and realised to her surprise that, once again, my birthday was fast approaching! So . . . just as she had done all those years ago, and once again at mother's prompting, she had sent me this pair of unexpected greetings!

Is it any wonder that I'm still lost in wonder and amazement? A card from my mother on my birthday . . . ?

How on earth (or from heaven!) did she manage that . . . but, there you are, I've always said that I had a very ingenious mother!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

'Vincent Van Go'!

Tell me, how can I relax into a sensible, sedate maturity when the young people in my life (I include Rupert in this) seem determined to shake up my preconceptions?

I'll give you an example, it took place early this morning.
After giving Rupert his breakfast, I glanced at my IN box and found an excited email from Shae.
Shae and Mausie, you'll remember, come from Melbourne. They are back-packing round the world and last week they arrived in London. This email brought the exciting news that they'd hired a camper van!

Now they could really take off . . . they could go to see friends in Brighton . . . visit Mausie's family in Scotland . . . the U.K was their oyster.
Could I be outside in an hour, Shae wanted to know? She would ring the doorbell when they arrived.

Grabbing the camera (together with a rug that I hoped would keep them warm on their explorations) I awaited the bell . . . then, in response to its summons, hurried down to the pavement.

With remarkable expertise, considering she had never driven a van before, Shae had parked neatly outside the door.
Their excitement had been fully justified, it was a most impressive vehicle. With the pride of the newly besotted, they showed me its amenities. Never before had I been inside a camper van. It was a new world.
I marvelled at the generous bed . . . the cupboards . . . the oven . . . the grill . . . the fridge (an unexpected luxury!) . . . the tow rope (just in case!) . . . and the ample room for storage. What was more, from their elevated position in the front cabin Shae and Mausie would obtain a commanding view of the passing countryside.

"It's magnificent . . . you must give it a name," I said.
They already had!
Shae took me to the rear of the van where, inscribed clearly on the paintwork, was the name of the van hire company: Vincent.
There was, they'd decided, only one possible name. From henceforth their van would be known as . . 'Vincent Van Go'!

And Vincent Van Go is going! They're off to Scotland next week.
As for today . . . ?
"Brighton or Bristol . . . " said Shae vaguely, "we're starting with Richmond."
I thought a little guidance might be helpful.
"Turn left at Richmond for Brighton," I told them, "or go straight ahead for Bristol."
They'll probably end up in Birmingham . . . but what does it matter?
Vincent Van Go will ensure that they enjoy themselves whatever their destination!

I must admit I'm tempted!
Were I to hire a camper van for Rupert as a Christmas present, would you give a little thought to joining us on a holiday . . . ?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Don't Ask!

There's something we've never discussed and I'd be most interested to know which side of the argument you take.

By disposition, most of us fall into one or other of opposing camps on a wide variety of issues. We are either liberal, or traditional. We are believers or atheists. We are meat eaters, or vegetarians. We support, or oppose, bloodsports. But there's yet another great divide.
Tell me, do you believe in asking, or in not asking?

This division in attitude was brought home to me last week when I took an American friend to visit Holland Park. Our beautiful park was looking at its autumnal best. After an enjoyable tour, I took her for a cappuccino at the park cafe.
With Rupert beside me, I settled down at one of the tables.
"No . . . no!" my friend cried out, pointing to a sign above my head, "It says 'No Dogs'."
I had no option but to pick Rupert up and move outside.
As the sun was shining, this was, in fact, a better place to be. Nonetheless, as I pointed out to my friend, 'No Dogs' didn't necessarily mean, 'No Cats'. At any such moment of doubt, I told her firmly, it was always better not to ask!

Not asking has been my policy throughout Rupert's life. Had I asked, would he have been welcomed in hospitals and nursing-homes . . . in classrooms and day centres? Above all, would he have had the opportunity to be such a wonderful ambassador for well-behaved cats?

When it comes to notices, I interpret 'No Dogs' as meaning precisely that. It says nothing about cats.

However, there is another aspect to not asking. By not asking, you are not putting anyone else in the invidious position of having to refuse your request. To illustrate my point, how about another story?

During the quiet hours of intimacy before she died, my mother and I discussed many things. High on the list was our mutual love of Kew Gardens. The final six years of her life had been spent with me in London, during which time we had regularly visited Kew. Our love of the Gardens was mutual, but our tastes differed. On entering the gate we would each go our separate ways - mother to spend time with her favourite flowers, me to wander happily in the woodland areas.
"See you back here in an hour!" we would say to each other, at the point where the path divided.
An hour later, we would reunite and go off to share our experiences over an excellent lunch at "The Maids of Honour". As she lay dying, mother expressed the hope that she might have a memorial seat placed in the Gardens. She was also in no doubt that this was the place where she wished me to scatter her ashes.

The purchase of the seat proved no problem. I was sent a map, from which I chose a site on a grassy knoll overlooking the flower-beds.
But what, I worried, could be done about the ashes? Had I sought permission, there was little doubt that the answer would have had to be 'no'. Were this to become an accepted practice, gardeners from all over the British Isles - and beyond - would want their ashes brought to Kew.
But my mother had loved Kew . . . I had loved my mother. How could I possibly ignore, or disregard her dying request?
After careful deliberation, I decided not to ask.

On the day in question, feeling and looking thoroughly guilty, I arrived at the entrance gate. To give an appearance of innocence, I had concealed the urn in a Marks & Spencer carrier bag. The woman at the ticket office knew me, and smiled. Although, to my eyes, the carrier bag was flashing warning lights, I did my best to return her smile with an equally innocent greeting.

Once inside the gate, I went in immediate search of mother's seat. This seemed the best place to start.

But where was it? There was no sign of a seat on the grassy knoll. Had they misunderstood my instructions?
Disappointed and puzzled, I made my way back towards the gate . . . to the point where the path divided and where we had so often said, "See you back here in an hour!"
Yes, you've guessed it . . . there, in precisely the spot where we had met so regularly, was a beautiful new seat. The inscription confirmed that it was, indeed, the seat that mother had wanted!

With a sense of happy reunion, I seated myself. It was a beautiful seat . . . a comfortable seat . . . mother would have been delighted . . . but it didn't solve the problem of the ashes. Looking around me I noticed that, within yards of mother's seat, were no less than three working gardeners. Never before could I recall seeing so many gardeners in such close proximity. Had they, I wondered (anxiety causing my imagination to run riot) been forewarned of an intruder with an urn?

Sitting on the seat, clutching the carrier bag, I waited in vain for the gardeners to complete their work and move away. Twenty minutes later, the situation unchanged, I realised that something needed to be done. Reluctantly removing the urn from the bag, I lifted the lid . . . it was time to fulfill my promise and start pouring.

With a final, apprehensive glance towards the gardeners, I carefully trickled a small amount of ash on the ground beneath the seat . . . not one of them reacted. Encouraged, I moved to the rose bushes, my mother's favourite flower, and trickled some more . . . as far as the gardeners were concerned, I could well have been invisible. Emboldened, I moved to the bedding plants . . . and the shrubs . . . and everywhere I went, a trickle of mother's ash was added to the roots of the plants that had given her so much pleasure.

The whole operation took an hour. An hour devoted to carefully choosing and nourishing the plants as mother would have wished. I began to relax and see the funny side of the situation. It was the sort of story that my mother, a woman with a keen sense of humour, would have loved.
Not once during this procedure did anyone approach me, not once did a gardener even lift his head to ask what I was doing. Did they, too, I wondered, believe in not asking?

Finally satisfied that mother would have been happy with my morning's work, I dropped the empty plastic urn into a waste basket . . . and returned home.

So, at the end of the story, tell me: which side do you take in this debate?
Just consider for a moment . . . do creatures ask if they can love . . . do roses question whether they should bloom . . . or birds enquire if it's permitted to wheel in formation against the evening sky . . . ?

Surely, if it adds one iota to the sum of universal happiness the answer is . . . don't ask!

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Caterpillar's Tale

I wonder, do you remember Walt Disney's enchanting film, 'Fantasia'? In particular, do you remember his brilliant animation of 'The Sorcerer's Apprentice'?
I loved that film. Who could forget the distraught Mickey Mouse with his rapidly multiplying brooms. The more he tried to control events, the more the brooms, and their overflowing pails of water, proliferated and dominated the situation!
That was rather how I felt after listening to the radio last night. Have you a moment for me to share my thoughts with you?
The programme was on the hot topic of population explosion. Not only has the human population of the world trebled in the past fifty years, but here, in the UK, it appears that the current population of sixty million may reach seventy million within two decades.

Two women had been invited to contribute to this radio debate. One was clearly anxious. The other was sanguine in the extreme. It was, insisted the sanguine lady, merely a question of careful planning of housing and facilities. She strongly contested the idea that this entire island would end up 'under concrete'. There would, she told the listeners, be plenty of room for parks and gardens.
"Seventy million . . . ?" she seemed to be saying, "Bring it on!"
Such was her sense of authority that not even the anxious woman dared to point out that this seventy million wasn't necessarily the stopping point . . . that the human population, like Disney's pails of water, would remorselessly increase, not only on account of the expanding birth-rate, but also by all of us living longer.

I was nearly lulled into a sense of false security until, all at once, it hit me. Something was missing . . . in all her careful reasoning, the woman had never mentioned food. As more people take up more space, I thought to myself, so these people need more roads and housing which, in their turn, need more space . . . and this space can only come from a finite source of open land. Following the same argument, more people need more food . . . more food needs more land to grow on . . . and the extra land needed for more food is then in direct competition with the more land needed for more people and more housing!
The only remaining certainty in this argument seems to be that, for all our hubris and ingenuity, we can't produce a larger planet!

It's not so long ago that we looked upon our planet as limitless. Somewhere out there were vast, unexplored tracts and territories. There would, we were convinced, always be vast, unexplored tracts and territories. With this comforting thought in mind, we dumped our rubbish in the soil and our toxic waste in the oceans, we hunted big game as though their numbers were limitless, and fished the seas with no thought of tomorrow.

And where do we find ourselves now? On an over-crowded planet, with man-made rubbish contaminating Mount Everest, with dying seas, and with pollution from our careless way of living extending to the Arctic and the Antarctic.

What is the answer?There would seem to be only one answer . . . to survive, man needs to evolve. We have been self-obsessed caterpillars, consuming all around us, for far too long. Now we need to metamorphose into butterflies.

How . . .?

I'm sorry, forgive me. Because I'm troubled I've been battering you with a succession of unanswerable questions.
But do you think that we've finally arrived at the only question that really matters . . . ?

I think we have.

Twenty Minutes Later

Oh, no . . . this is quite extraordinary . . . so extraordinary that I must return and share it with you!
Shivers of incredulity are running down my spine.

Minutes after finishing this letter, I heard the thump of the morning's post arriving in the letter-box. Sorting through the mail, I found a small package sent to me from from a friend in the United States.

Look what I found inside . . .

Do you think someone is trying to tell us something . . .

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Who'd like a ginger biscuit?

Isn't it strange how you forget things . . . vital episodes of your life. Well, perhaps not vital exactly, but certainly formative.
There was a sense of familiarity last week, when I was writing to you about the Kentish cob nuts of my youth. I'd done this before. Telling stories had a sense of deja vue. And, suddenly, I remembered. It was a memory from way back in childhood.

Could you do with some more reminiscences? If you've a moment to spare, this should make you smile . . .

I went to boarding school at the age of ten. For reasons that I can't remember, I started in the summer term and, accordingly, was the only new girl in the dormitory. Having been brought up on a misleading diet of Enid Blyton, I had come fully prepared with the compulsory 'midnight feast' - ginger biscuits, kindly donated by a neighbour from home.

The lights had been switched off. Everyone had subsided under the bedclothes.
"Er . . . would anyone like a ginger biscuit . . .?" I enquired nervously.
After the initial surprise, nine small figures sat up in bed and looked at me expectantly. I reached under the bed for my suitcase, took out a tin, and proceeded to pass ginger biscuits round the room.
There was some exploratory chewing, followed by grunts of appreciation.

But I was not to be let off so lightly. Somehow (a ten-year-old girl can be very gullible) I was persuaded into believing that tradition dictated each newcomer told a story to the dormitory before everyone went to sleep. Anxious to be accepted by these critical new companions, for whom biscuits were clearly not enough, I embarked on something I'd never done before . . . I started telling stories.

Believe it or not, I continued telling sleep-inducing stories for the next six years!

So, as you can see, you are the successor to a dormitory-full of dozy adolescents - before you drop off, would you like a ginger biscuit?!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

It's all happening!

Oh dear, how do I, someone totally unversed in IT skills and science, explain another fascinating item that I heard the other day on the 'Today' programme?
But it needs to be shared . . . so I really must try to explain it to you.
Please be patient . . . I'll do my best.

Have you heard of B.C.I?
B.C.I, so it appears, stands for Brain-Computer Interfacing, which, in layman's terms, could also be translated as 'brains control instruments'. Apparently (and this was what amazed me), scientists have now reached the point whereby they can send messages via computers using an internet connection plus nothing more nor less than the power of the mind. For example, someone sitting at a computer here in London could, without the use of a keyboard or a mouse, send a mental message to someone in Manchester asking them, for example, to move their right arm. The person in Manchester, sitting at his computer, would receive the message via his computer and, in accordance with the request, move his right arm.

Please don't ask me how this miracle works. I've no idea. But to the speaker it was no miracle, it was a vital step forward involving both a detailed knowledge of the working of the brain and advanced computer science.

What is not so good is the news that the military are investing millions into this research. No wonder. If you can bring down an enemy aircraft by communicating directly with its control panel, it's far cheaper, and more effective, than using missiles. I suppose it's also more environmentally-friendly, although I rather doubt whether this comes into military calculations!

But let's be positive. Another avenue of research, and one that I whole-heartedly support, is that of wheelchairs for the severely disabled. How marvellous for someone in such a situation to regain their independence of movement purely by the power of thought.

I don't know how you feel, but to me it's mind-boggling (probably that is precisely the right word!) how everything in our complex, technological world is speeding up.
In a year or so's time, will I be able to chat to you on this computer using nothing other than thought?
Take heart, that's still a good way off! For the time being, in addition to the computer, I still need three essential commodities . . . a keyboard, a mouse and time!
Talking of time, let's take a moment in all our rushing, racing and marvelling to pause and reflect.
To do so is to realise that only a hundred years ago there were no computers, far less one operated by thought. Not only that, in those innocent years of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the atmosphere was totally free of electronic communication.
Just pause and think . . . as you and I sit here now, our bodies are being constantly penetrated by electromagnetic wavelengths. We are positively vibrating with emails, telephone conversations, television programmes, radio broadcasts, texts, web-sites . . . you name it, our bodies and minds are continuously absorbing it. The air around us is crackling with information in a way that has never happened before . . . we breathe it in, we consume it, the frequencies penetrate our every fibre.Has it changed us . . . ?
I sometimes wonder.

Oh yes, and something else. Did you know that they're planning to reactivate the Large Hadron Collider in November?

It's all happening . . . !