Thursday, July 29, 2010

Saving Fun

Have you a moment to cogitate on the subject of language?
No . . . let's be precise . . . have you a moment to cogitate on the subject of words?

Language, I know, is organic. Every day new words come into being whilst others - words that have fallen into neglect - are relinquished. 'Cogitate' is a word in point. It's a beautiful word, but how often do you hear it used? It's almost as though words, like insects, plants and animals, first become scarce, then become endangered, and finally disappear altogether.

A word that I would like to see saved before it follows this path to oblivion is the word
Think about it for a moment, when did you last use the word 'fun'? It's almost as though the word is too innocent, too naive for our complex and sophisticated world.

But if we lose fun we will have lost far more than just a word, we will have lost our capacity for spontaneous pleasure, our lightness of spirit. We will also have lost our trust in the basic goodness of life.

Wouldn't you agree that this is what fun is all about . . . spontaneity and trust? You can't organise fun. You can't fabricate fun or schedule it into your diary. Nor, like 'love', can it be analysed. What's more, fun never takes itself seriously. Like a translucent bubble, it sparkles on the surface of life and makes us smile.
What is fun? Ask a hundred people and you'll get a hundred different answers. But, if we can't describe it, we certainly recognise it when we see it. With equal certainty, we know when it is absent!

Probably the most important aspect of fun is that it is something in which we participate, it cannot exist on its own. A situation and a person combine to create fun.
Nor is this joyful state the exclusive preserve of human beings. Animals, often wiser than we are, revel in a highly-developed sense of fun.

So . . . what can we do to make our world more environmentally friendly to fun?
We can allow more free time for spontaneous events to occur. We can switch off our anxieties for just a moment, leaving the space for fun to creep in. We can stop being sensible and encourage lightheartedness. We can get down on the floor to play with the children . . . empty cardboard boxes have an unfailing capacity to produce fun. We can dare to be silly . . . or foolish . . . or childlike . . . or just a bit crazy.
Above all, we can trust a little more in the basic goodness of life. Could that be a definition of fun . . . simple goodness enlivened by an infusion of the absurd?

And this is where you come in . . . or I hope you will.
Along with butterflies, bees and the Asian elephant . . . what about having fun saving 'fun'?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Not-So-Silent Afternoon

I like incongruous stories . . . you like incongruous stories.
Have you a spare moment, because I think you'll enjoy this one?

It has been so hot lately, so overwhelmingly hot. On account of this Chloe and I have only visited the garden in the early morning and late afternoon. At both these periods, when the sun is low in the sky, the shady places are welcoming and the scent of the flowers can be fully appreciated.

As the shadows lengthened the other afternoon, we went down to visit the garden. After Chloe had enjoyed an enthusiastic fly-hunt on the lawn, we settled by the pond. Sitting there, cooled by a slight breeze and with no sound but the gentle patter of the fountain, it was blissfully tranquil.
Well . . . tranquil, that is, if you take into account Chloe's devious efforts to jump into the water, each of which I luckily managed to thwart!

Relaxed and happy, I was startled to hear some unexpected music.
Was I imagining it . . . ? No, it was the unmistakable and surprising sound of someone singing.
Floating down from one of the open windows above, and clearly discernible to anyone
in the garden below, came an unaccompanied male voice . . . a pleasing and melodic voice. The singer himself was hidden in the shadows of the room, but his voice joined me by the pond.
And what had this hidden vocalist chosen to sing on a hot, midsummer afternoon?
You'll never believe it . . . I couldn't believe it. . . but there was no mistaking the familiar words and music of 'Silent Night'!

Can you think of anything more bizarre, more incongruous, yet at the same time more delightful, than sitting in a garden in a July heat-wave charmed and refreshed by the melodious strains of 'Silent Night'?

The unknown singer gave his all. He sang the carol with care and feeling from beginning to end . . . then, after a slight pause, went back to the beginning and sang it again!

And why not, I was beginning to ask myself, lulled and seduced by the singing? There are silent nights in the middle of summer, and this unexpected music only enhanced what was, in essence, a deeply tranquil late afternoon.

One of the many delightful things about this story is that it leaves so many unanswered questions. Who was singing . . . why was he singing . . . could this unknown singer have had a crowded autumn schedule and been anxious to fit in a rehearsal, a very early rehearsal, for a Christmas concert?
None of that matters. What does matter is that, intentionally or unintentionally, he bestowed on anyone listening a moment of pure delight.

So, come mid-winter, when there's carol-singing round the crib, I'll give you no prize for guessing where my mind will travel.
That's right . . . I'll be down by the pond on a hot, July afternoon, magically restored and refreshed by the unforgetable strains of 'Silent Night'!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Have car, will travel

Have we become an over-cautious society? You may not agree with me, but I'm beginning to think that we have. Let me give you an example: the simple case of cats in cars.

Throughout my life, the cat of the moment has been free to move about in the car as it wished. First Sue . . . then Sophie . . . then Rupert . . . all trained as kittens not to interfere with the driver's feet, nor to settle on the driver's lap. All were sensible, intelligent cats who subsequently travelled, happily and safely, for thousands of miles.

With the arrival of Chloe I was shocked to learn that the law had changed. No longer would she be allowed to sit freely on the passenger seat beside me. Either she travelled in a cat-carrier, was tethered, or endured solitary confinement in the back.

With great reluctance, I started with the tether. Seated in her travelling bed, Chloe was tethered to both sides of the passenger seat. For five minutes it proved a novelty . . . at the six-minute point she had wriggled with sufficient vigour to have completely snapped one of the restraining leads. For the remainder of the short, hair-raising journey I drove one-handed, clutching Chloe with my left-hand, terrified that she'd strangle herself with the remaining tether!
From that moment, tethering was abandoned!

The next alternative was to give her freedom in the back. Very carefully, I created a partition which effectively cutoff the back of the car from the front. The only problem was the need to keep a small space between the two front seats, thus enabling me to use my driving mirror. But Chloe, I was sure, would never notice that.
Within less time than it took to start the engine a triumphant small cat had joined me in the front of the car!

So . . . finally . . . it had to be captivity.
Cat-carriers are small and restrictive, they allow the travelling cat very little view of the passing scenery. I settled for a small cage and secured it to the passenger seat by the seat-belt. Chloe was then squeezed inside. Her initial reaction, as you can see, was hardly approving . . . but, when we reached our destination . . . well, she had reason to change her mind.

First of all there was the unexpected excitement of a totally new animal species . . .
large ponies to be viewed very cautiously from a distance . . .

. . . then came another exciting novelty, a wood to explore . . . a wood with inviting paths . . . mysterious smells . . . and a plethora of small flying insects . . .

. . . at the far end of the wood there was yet another surprise. A wooden gate beyond which a wildflower meadow beckoned enticingly. It was a meadow that most definitely needed a very thorough investigation . . .

. . . and, best of all, there were the trees, hundreds of trees.
A gleam entered Chloe's eye . . . this, she recognised gleefully, was what Bengal Cats were born to do . . . to shin up tall trees just as fast and as high as a helpful, extendable lead will allow!

It's possible that Sue, Sophie and Rupert will be viewing Chloe's restrictive cage with sympathy.

But, if it takes a cage to get to Heaven . . . well, Chloe isn't complaining!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Addicted to oil

Knowledge is an uncomfortable companion . . . or at least, it can be.
Do you find, as I do, that once your eyes have been opened to some fact, some truth, it is almost impossible to return to your former state of happy ignorance?

It was like that thirty years ago when I became a vegetarian. Every year I'd taken pleasure in watching the lambs frolicking in the fields. Then one spring morning, for no known reason, I found myself linking the lamb I was watching to the lamb chops that regularly appeared on my plate. There was no going back. Up until then I'd been a happy meat-eater, well able to keep the two topics
segregated . . . once brought together the only option was to become a vegetarian.

I blame Lynne McTaggart for a new, inescapable item of uncomfortable truth. Since listening to her memorable contribution to an online discussion on the oil spill in The Gulf of Mexico my eyes have been opened. Despite my best efforts to ignore it, all I can see is a vast expanse of oil.

Tell me, do you think, as I once did, that oil is basically the fuel that powers our cars, our planes and our heating systems? Think again! Over the past hundred years oil has seeped into practically everything. It is not only in our engines, but also our living-rooms, our bath-rooms, and in almost every commodity we possess - and I'm not just referring to the ubiquitous plastic-bag. How is it that, without realising it, we've allowed ourselves to become so totally dependent on oil?

I'm typing to you on an oil-based keyboard, looking at an oil-based computer screen. Before sitting down to write I had my breakfast, boiling the water in an oil-based kettle, making toast in an oil-based toaster, not forgetting to take my daily vitamin capsule in its oil-based coating.

Nor is Chloe blameless. She squats on an oil-based litter-tray, eats from oil-based bowls, and her favourite, oil-based toy even looks a little like an oil-well!

Do I escape this oily environment when I leave home? Far from it! I shall shortly be going down to the car which not only drinks oil, but has a large percentage of oil in its structure. I shall drive along roads coated with oil-based tarmac, passing shops and houses bright with oil-based paint, and only when I reach the woods, where I plan to take Chloe for a walk, will I be free of this oily surfeit.

As a repentant gas-guzzler, I am as guilty as anyone else on the planet.
So . . . away with the plastic bags . . . and in with the shopping basket.
Out with the selotape . . . and in with the string.
Out with . . . no! I can't do it!
I can't be expected to scrap this computer . . . my camera . . . my fridge?

Is there, I wonder, an 'Oil Addicts Anonymous'?
If not, let's form a branch. We're going to need all the support we can get!

Friday, July 2, 2010

The risk of a shower . . .?

I don't want to sound curmudgeonly . . . well, perhaps I do, just a little . . . but wouldn't you agree with me that weather forecasters could be a little less biased when it comes to the crucial subject they talk about?
A few moments ago I was watching the forecast on television.
"There is a slight risk of showers in the south-east," said the presenter.
He said it apologetically, as though holding himself responsible for any absence of sunshine.
"But," he continued on a more buoyant note, "some of you may be lucky and see no rain at all."
Since when, I wanted to ask, was it lucky to be hot and arid?

Are we so conditioned to the favoured concept of wall-to-wall sunshine that we can no longer recognise the benefits of a shower?
It's true that, every now and then, a forecaster makes casual mention of "you gardeners, who want rain for your gardens". But what about the farmers needing rain for the crops, vital food crops that sustain the population? What about the rivers needing rain to give them health and vitality . . . the woods and forests needing rain to seep down to the thirsty roots of the trees . . . the parched fields and hedgerows, crying out for the restoration of their green patina?

Closer to home, what about the rain that finally wends its way to the reservoirs and makes possible our regular water supply? What about the smooth running of our sewage systems and the unquestioning availability of our daily showers?
Chloe, for one, is never happier than when resting in the basin, in close proximity to a dribbling tap!

What's more, this rain that we bemoan knows no limit to its generosity. It is rain that refreshes the air . . . rain that clears away our man-made dust and debris . . . rain that, as a glass of water, quenches our thirst more effectively than any other form of liquid and tops up the vital water component in our bodies.

And spare a moment to reflect on the beauty, sound and fragrance
of this vital resource . . . the droplets that cluster like pearls on cobwebs. . . the streams that, replenished by the rain, gurgle their way down from the hills. . . the heady scent of the garden after a restorative drenching.

Tell me, when you were young, did you keep a commonplace book? I did, and I still have it. What's more, it shows that my appreciation of rain goes back a long way.
At the age of sixteen I recorded a passage from "The Great Ship", by Eric Linklater.
May I share it with you?

"Did you ever see Edinburgh when the wind's in the east, and the sky black with cloud, and the whole town's drunkit with rain, and every gutter running like a burn in spate? All the cassie stones shining-wet, and waterfalls coming down the Castle Rock, and the roofs of the houses dancing for joy, and the wind howling for more. It's a grand sight,
Edinburgh in the rain . . . "

The risk of a shower . . . ? No, surely not! Let's be grateful for the unquestionable benefits of a shower.
And, just think about it for a moment, how could we have the promise of the rainbow without the blessing of the rain?