Tuesday, May 25, 2010


We are united, we are one,
A coalition has begun.
We are united, can't you see
That you must now agree with me?
We are united, so it's clear
All your views must disappear.
We stand together, as I said,
With me a little bit ahead.

What's that you say? That unity
Exceeds the sum of you and me?
That other folk might like their say?
That other countries want to play
A part in our integral plan -
A role in seeing how we can
Together, from a world-wide view,
Our poor, exploited Earth renew?

We are united, we are one
With all that lives beneath the sun.
What a pity we can't see
That I am you, that you are me.
Just give us time, O Lord, we may
Still come to terms with what you say
So that, in some enlightened dawn,
A wiser human race is born.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Community Cat

You may have anticipated this letter. I hadn't. Not so soon.
But life has a habit of writing its own script, and this script can carry you into uncharted territory before you feel that you're ready.
Was I ready to consider having a new kitten? I didn't think so. Then, life took over . . .

It was a week after Rupert's death, and I was sitting with Naomi by the pond.
Naomi's Bengal cat, Delilah, had been Rupert's girl-friend. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Rupert was Delilah's boy-friend. She had only to catch a glimpse of him to let out a call of delight, rush up and kiss him fondly on the nose. Rupert took these overtures with the dignity of a gentleman . . . secretly a little flattered, but unwilling to display his feelings.
Nonetheless, I was taken aback when, sitting there in the sunshine, Naomi made a suggestion.
"I'm sure Rupert would like you to have a Bengal kitten," she said.
I looked at her in surprise.
"I'm not even thinking about kittens," I told her, "not yet . . ."

Two days later, alone in a flat that was crying out for a familiar friend, I found myself sitting at this computer and putting 'Bengal Cats' into Google. Up came a screen-full of breeders. But what should have been helpful was merely confusing.
This was a map . . . but there was no route, no destination.
I was about to abandon the idea when, all at once, what should appear on the screen but a blank email. Unthinkingly, I had allowed the cursor to stray and click on one of the breeders, the click had produced this unexpected email.
I hesitated . . . but I'd nothing to lose. The breeder was in Reading, it was not too far away. With little expectation, I typed a message in the empty space. Did the breeder, I enquired, have a blue-eyed, female kitten that would be ready for a new home by the end of May? It had to be a female, I'd decided . . . I couldn't follow Rupert with another boy.
I was rather shaken by the immediate response. Yes, there was a blue-eyed female kitten. Yes, she would be available to be re-housed at the end of May.

After visiting the breeder's website, and speaking to her on the phone, I began to wonder whether Rupert was pulling the strings in the background. He had been a regular and popular visitor to the Special Needs Department of our local school. What was the profession of the kitten's breeder . . . ? She, it appeared, was a Special Needs teacher!

When I mentioned the possibility of a new kitten to my friends their genuine delight took me by surprise. Very few of them have animals, their busy lives make this impossible. Rupert had been their sole contact with the joys and benefits of animal companionship. They were missing him, too. They were missing him far more than I'd appreciated. The thought of a new kitten brought delight to the whole community.

Within days this unseen kitten had acquired not only a name, Chloe, but three aunts, two uncles, and a god-mother! Ten days later I invited one of the aunts to come with me to Reading to visit what I had now decided to call our 'Community Cat'.

The visit confirmed all my hopes and expectations. The breeder was welcoming, the cats and kittens enchanting.
Have you ever tried to photograph a Bengal kitten with a digital camera? The two are not compatible! A kitten is like quicksilver, a digital camera is ponderous in the extreme. After six attempts (in each of which Chloe became the tip of a tail or an empty floor) I succeeded in catching a snatched photo when she dived under her bed in search of a toy . . .
. . . and a second one when she paused for breath.

All of which provided me with plenty of food for thought. The flat would need to be made kitten-proof . . . and tidy . . . and immaculate. Bedding and blankets would need to be washed. Vital electrical wires, such as the broadband connection to this computer, would have to be concealed behind protective shields. It was all too clear that I was going to need every minute of those three weeks before Chloe's arrival!

Now, with ten days to go, an expectant community - aunts and uncles, godparents and friends - awaits our Community Cat. She has been booked for the Animal Service, invited to a pub lunch, is eagerly anticipated by the porters in adjacent blocks of flats, and has been promised long walks in Holland Park. Then there's the visit we must make to Rupert's memorial tree, donated by Mandy in Penn Wood .
Chloe will need to adapt very quickly to a harness, to travel obediently in the car, and to learn good manners . . . I'm sure she will.

As for the most important question: would Rupert approve?
Yes . . . I really think he would . . . I really think he does.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Primroses on the move!

Is it too late to tell you an Easter story? No, surely not.
It's also a spring story, and, as the chilly weather seems to be encouraging the springtime flowers to linger, let's celebrate the bluebells and primroses.

Do you remember me telling you about Perivale Wood? It's an unspoilt area of ancient woodland on the outskirts of London owned, rather unexpectedly, by the Selbourne Society. To visit Perivale Wood is to step into another world . . . a rural haven that time forgot. Lovingly tended by volunteers, it's a paradise for wild flowers, birds and mammals.
And the highlight of the year in Perivale Wood . . .?
Springtime . . . and the bluebells!

Last week, on a visit to Perivale to celebrate the bluebells, a friend and I came across a totally unexpected bank of primroses. It came as a breathtaking surprise . . . I was certain I'd never seen it before.
It later transpired that the plants had been rescued. One of the volunteers, realising that a neighbour's front garden was about to disappear under concrete, had asked if she could to dig up the threatened primroses and replant them in the wood. The plants had gloriously repaid their rescuer and, as we saw for ourselves, defied anyone to walk past without pausing in admiration.

"Do you know what they remind me of?" said my friend.
I didn't . . . so he told me this story.

When my friend had been a small boy, living in Devon, the local vicar had moved to a parish in the City of London. The urban environment had proved quite a contrast to the rural charms of the Devon countryside and, come Easter, the vicar had thought wistfully of the primroses that covered the banks of the country lanes in his previous parish. Might it be possible, he wondered, to get some of them to London?

In those more innocent days, before the stringent rules of Health and Safety, before the widespread anxieties at the thought of children travelling on their own, this problem had been overcome by two resourceful young boys with a bright idea. My friend and his elder brother, had, with the collaboration of their family and the local community, devised a plan whereby they'd take the countryside to the City.

First, they needed to find a congenial lorry driver who was bound for London. Then they needed to pick the primroses, bind them in bunches with raffia, and secure the numerous bunches to a long pole. Finally, they needed to persuade the lorry driver to give them a lift to the outskirts of London so that they could then take the underground to the City.

And, believe it or not, for several years, this is exactly what happened. On their own, two young Devon schoolboys, bearing a pole festooned with primroses, would travel by lorry from Devon to London and thence, by underground, to an expectant City church. Each Easter, thanks to their adventures, the church would celebrate Easter with a display of primroses straight from the country lanes of the distant West Country.
As for my friend and his brother, having borne their precious burden triumphantly amidst the startled passengers on the underground, not once did
they fail to get back to the lorry depot before their driver was scheduled to depart.

Could it happen now? Would it be possible, in 2010, for two young country boys to hitch a lorry ride from Devon to London, and bear a primrose-laden pole on the underground from the outskirts to the heart of the City?
I rather doubt it. Whether or not that's progress, I leave it for you to judge.
But isn't it a lovely story?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A Tale of Two Lorries

This is a story that I feel I should share with you. It needs to be shared if only because it could apply to anyone . . . to anyone in a low car, to anyone on a bicycle . . . but also because I'm so very fortunate to be here to tell the story.
Through you, I need to say a heartfelt 'thank you'.

But you're wanting to know what happened.
It was a week ago, and I was driving westwards on the inside lane along Bayswater Road. The traffic was quite heavy and, fortunately as things turned out, I was travelling quite slowly. It was a glorious spring morning and, to my left, the blossom was bursting in Kensington Gardens. I was nearly home.

Then it happened . . . a horrendous crunching sound . . . a tearing of metal
immediately behind and to the right of where I was sitting . . . a loss of control as my car was forcibly swung to the right so that I found myself hard up against the front wheels of a large lorry. No time to be scared . . . no time for anything. Quite dispassionately, I concluded that my time had come.

But, no . . . the lorry driver managed to stop his vehicle. The car ceased to spin and came to a shuddering halt. After a moment of surprised realisation that I was still alive, I struggled to push open the crushed door and staggered out into the road.

A pale-faced, young lorry-driver was scrambling down from his vehicle.
"You were in my blind spot . . ." he protested, as though this explained everything, "your car . . . it was in my blind spot."
"You shouldn't have a blind spot!" was all I could manage to reply.

We exchanged details. Then, holding the damaged door to prevent it bursting open, I managed to drive to the garage and thence home. I felt shocked and shaken. My little car, also shocked and shaken, waited outside the house for the formalities to be completed.

Which brings us up to the present, or, to be precise, yesterday. What I never expected was that the story would end with a laugh.
I think you're going to enjoy this . . .

Yesterday morning, a week after the accident, I learned that my car needed to go for assessment. My plan was to drive to the garage, and then take a bus into Central London to meet a friend. Despite all it had been through, my seventeen-year-old car started up perfectly. True, I had to grasp the driver's door to keep it in place, but there was nothing wrong with the engine.

At this point, what should I see approaching down the narrow road but an outsize lorry. Made cautious by my recent experience, I pulled over to the left to let it pass. But no . . . the lorry drew alongside and then came to an unexpected halt. I was trapped. Looking upwards, I caught sight of a burly driver peering down at me from the cabin. He was a big man. The muscular arm leaning out of the window was covered with prominent tattoos. This, I felt, was not the sort of lorry driver I wanted to argue with.
However, he clearly wanted to talk to me. With energetic gestures, he was pointing down at my driver's door.
Did he want to tell me that my door was broken and that I shouldn't be driving?
This was absurd . . . surely he realised that I knew my predicament?

Unable to open my window on account of the damage, I signaled through the glass that I was fully aware of the car's condition, and that there was no need to tell me about it.
He continued to register concern and I grew increasingly perplexed. Finally, pushing open the damaged door, I leaned out.
At this point, the burly lorry driver gave a broad smile of relief and pointed at the road.

"Your coat . . . !" he shouted.
My coat . . . ? I looked down.
Preoccupied with keeping the door in place, I had been totally unaware that my coat had trailed out through the newly-created gap and, had it not been for the concern of the thoughtful lorry driver, would have been torn to shreds on the road!
Peering upwards, I did my best to express my gratitude.

An hour later, before meeting my friend in Piccadilly, I made a detour into St. James's church. Here, after reflecting on the blessing that I was still alive, I lit a candle.
I lit it for the three of us. For both the lorry drivers . . . the young, pale one who hadn't really meant to hit me, and the burly, tattooed one who had gone out of his way to rescue my trailing coat . . . and I also lit the candle for me, the driver.
The driver who is so grateful to have survived, and who can now sit here, unscathed, and tell you all about it!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The elephant in the room

I'm sure I've asked you this question before, but do you watch the 'Horizon' series on BBC2? As a somewhat naive, non-scientist, it holds me spellbound. In particular, I'm captured by those programmes that deal with the complex and fascinating worlds of cosmology and physics.

Did you watch the programme that dealt with Dark Matter, Dark Energy and Dark Flow? No, please don't ask me what they are. But what I found fascinating was the way they had, each one, been invented and named to satisfy a mathematical equation. Everyone agreed on the Big Bang. In terms of pure mathematics it satisfied every facet of their complicated equations. It was what came afterwards that caused the equations to quaver . . . hence the need for all the Dark elements to try and reach a satisfactory explanation.
As one scientist said in conclusion, "There is a feeling that we need an extra clue . . . that's what we're waiting for . . ."

But when it came to the starting point, the theory of the Big Bang, there was unanimous agreement. The Effects Team had produced some wonderfully powerful explosions which rained gas and fire in an extremely satisfying manner. But, for me, there was an elephant in the room. An elephant which, to my surprise, none of these eminent scientists appeared to notice. The Big Bang, they told us, was the undoubted start of everything . . . the source of our universe, the source of life as we know it. Before the Big Bang there was nothing.

Am I very stupid . . . or inattentive . . . or incredibly naive, but the question that keeps bothering me is a very simple one: if, prior to this momentous event, there was no time, no location, nothing . . . then where did the Big Bang take place?