Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Waiting for our badges . . .

We're waiting for our badges . . . Chloe and I greet the post each morning with heightened expectation. But badges, or, to be precise, ID tags, take time to make. They will come . . . and, when they do, Chloe and I will be ready!

Why do we want these tags? Let me explain.

It was Susan's idea. Quite soon after Chloe's arrival, Susan sent me a website address.
"This might interest you," she wrote.
The website was for a national charity called 'Pets As Therapy'. Pets as therapy? It was an idea that I knew, but a charity that I hadn't heard of.
Intrigued, I investigated further . . .

'Pets as Therapy,' I read 'is a national charity founded in 1983. It is unique in that it provides therapeutic visits to hospitals, hospices, nursing and care homes, special needs schools and a variety of other venues by volunteers with their own friendly, temperament tested and vaccinated dogs and cats.
Today there are currently over 4,500 active P.A.T. dogs and 108 P.A.T. cats at work in the UK. Every week these calm, friendly P.A.T. cats and dogs give more than 130,000 people, both young and old, the pleasure and chance to cuddle and talk to them. The bedsides that are visited each year number a staggering 6.75million.'

I turned to look at Chloe . . . Chloe looked at me . . . I recalled her sociable nature, her love of playing with children, her sunny temperament.
"Chloe," I told her firmly, "you're going to be a P.A.T. cat!"
But Chloe, who believes in living in the moment, was far more concerned with the prospects for her supper.

Understandably, these things take time, we have had to curb our impatience and wait. No cat or dog is even considered until it is nine-months old.
Finally, she was ready. She walked well on the lead, enjoyed visiting friends, and was very happy travelling in the car. Just before Christmas she had reached the stage where she was ready to be assessed by a P.A.T. examiner.

For obvious reasons, this assessment cannot take place in the animal's own home. I invited the examiner to accompany Chloe and me to lunch at our local pub. Where better, I thought, than the bustling activity of a London pub for a cat to pass her suitability test?

With hindsight, it might have been better had it not been Christmas! But even the most socially-responsible cat can be forgiven for trying, surreptitiously, to dismantle the Christmas decorations!
The examiner generously overlooked this understandable lapse in Chloe's otherwise exemplary behaviour.

Yes . . . you've guessed, she passed! When the form had been completed, all the questions answered and all the boxes ticked, it turned out that she'd passed with flying colours.
I was overwhelmed with relief and pride. Chloe, totally unfazed by her achievement, was beginning to think wistfully of the chicken lunch awaiting her at home.

A few days later, in celebration of this notable success, our good friend, Shelagh, designed and presented Chloe with a splendid certificate!

So now you know why we're waiting for our badges. Each P.A.T. cat, and each owner, needs an ID Badge. Without these badges we would be denied access to the hospitals, care-homes, or hospices. Ours, we are told, are under way.

And if you think that you're going to be spared every detail of the expeditions that Chloe is dreaming about . . . well, you can think again!
I can't wait to tell you all about them . . . nor can Chloe, who is now officially: P.A.T. Cat No: 109.

Watch this space . . . !

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A question for today

May I share a question?

It's always helpful to share questions, it enables them to grow. Not only do they grow, they often produce bigger and better questions. Which can only be good.

I heard two very interesting interviews this week and, in a beautiful instance of synchronicity, each of those being interviewed stressed the value of questioning.
The first recommended keeping a journal in which, each morning, you wrote down a question to focus on during the day.
The second, Gary Douglas, warned of the dangers of answers. Answers, he maintained, discouraged you from searching further.
Both implied that an answer was a dead-end, a full-stop. Questions, on the other hand, lit up the mind, excited the interest and encouraged further searching.

Why is it, I wondered afterwards, that modern eduction seems to concentrate on ticking boxes and answering questions? How did we foster the prevailing belief that the ability to supply an answer, even if this consists of no more than ticking a box, provides a student with the tools needed to move forward into adult life? What if (heretical thought for a school governor!) students were given the answers and asked to provide the questions?

I played with this idea. Say that the answer provided on one occasion was the word 'spade'. How many hidden layers of subtlety linger around that word? Christopher Fry summed it up perfectly when he wrote, 'a spade is never as merely a spade as the name spade would imply'.
Again, if the answer given was 'a rose', this could produce some fascinating questions. Might it even re-ignite Shakespeare's wisdom and enable the students to discover for themselves that it isn't the name that provides the beauty, structure, and scent?

This line of conjecture was getting interesting. I decided to stretch the net further and turned my thoughts to games for the mind. Surely this would be a certain place to find unquestioned answers?
But, no. As one who is addicted to her daily Su Doku, I know that the whole time the game remains a question it is both challenging and entertaining. However, I also know that the moment every square is filled, the moment it is a complete answer . . . well, the only value remaining to that scrap of scribbled newspaper is as a contribution to the recycling bag.

Could Maths and Science be the stumbling block to this revolution in thinking? Not, it seems, if we take basic arithmetic.
One and one makes two, we say . . . but two what? No two things are identical, and once you have two you have created a relationship, it isn't simply two. The combined talents, wisdom and efforts of two far outweigh that of simply doubling the talents, wisdom and effort of one. And if, instead of accepting the answer as 'two' you question what you've achieved and add a further one, you have a far more complex situation than that of merely creating three. Look beyond the simple answer 'three' and see that you now have a triangle. You have inter-connectedness on both sides of each component, you have a circling flow of communication. And communication of any kind is always a question, never an answer.

A final thought to take into consideration is the fact that answers aren't always as clear-cut and obvious as they seem.
To the question: 'What are thirty thousand pieces of carved stone added to fifty thousand pieces of carved stone?', the answer isn't necessarily 'eighty thousand pieces of carved stone'.
It could be, 'St Paul's Cathedral'.

Oh dear, this will never do. I seem to be concluding with the very thing I've been avoiding: an answer!
Would you be so kind as to take over from here and see where this line of questioning takes you . . . ?
Thank you!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Squeak-well

Could you do with a chuckle to start the New Year?
If so, would you like to hear the sequel (possibly I should call it a 'squeak-well') to the story of Chloe's voice-activated, Christmas mouse?
You would . . . then sit back and enjoy this tale of chaos in the book-room!

By any understanding of the term, Chloe had a good Christmas. It started with her first glimpse of the snow . . . followed by walks in the snowdrifts . . . followed by Christmas morning and the excitement of opening her presents . . . the climax arriving with the discovery of her voice-activated mouse.

If Chloe had a good Christmas, mine was equally enjoyable . . . but somewhat exhausting!
With the over-active mouse safely relegated to a high shelf in the book-room (securely contained in a carrier-bag and well out of the way of prying paws or loud noises) I could finally sit back and relax.

I don't know whether you were able to watch, but shortly after
Christmas there was a ninety-minute television programme designed to the celebrate the eightieth birthday of the entertainer, Rolf Harris.
Many years ago I worked for the theatrical agency who represented Rolf. He was frequently in the office. In addition, I would visit him and his family at their home by the Thames, and looked upon them as my friends.
To refresh these memories, I wanted to see the programme.

On the evening in question, all was calm and peaceful in the book-room. I was seated on the sofa, Chloe was asleep in her cradle, and Rolf
smiled happily from the television screen. It would, I'm certain, have remained peaceful indefinitely had Rolf not reached out for his didgeridoo.

Don't ask me what it is about the bass notes of the didgeridoo that has an appeal to a battery-operated mouse. But suddenly, and alarmingly, the mouse responded!
High on the shelf, the carrier-bag began to tremble and shake . . . from deep inside came a series of loud, high-pitched squeaks and whistles . . . from the cradle by the radiator leaped a fully awake and thoroughly excited cat . . . chaos took over in the book-room!

I'm sure that the programme ended with a fine tribute to all Rolf's work . . . I'll never know! Chloe, the mouse, and I were far too concerned with the drama of the present moment to pay deserved attention to Rolf's eighty years of achievement.

Finally, calm was restored. Another resting-place was found for the now-dormant
mouse, and Chloe and I settled down to recover from the excitement.

But that experience made me wonder . . . just why did the early
Aborigines design and play their didgeridoos? Could there, perhaps, have been a problem with the indigenous Hopping Mouse in the Australian Outback?
Like an Australian Pied Piper, did an ancient Aborigine once lure the Hopping Mice away from the encampments to the strains of the didgeridoo?

Alas . . . we'll never know!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Cosmic Come Dancing!

Before the New Year swallows up memories of 2010, may I share something with you?

It was a moving experience and it took place on December 21st. Not only was this day very close to Christmas, but it also marked the Winter Solstice and, this year, a Lunar Eclipse. Quite a lot of heavy significance for one day to carry!

To start, let me put you in the picture. Have I told you that I regularly participate in an online project called The Global Coherence Initiative?
I think it's best if I let the organisers describe their revolutionary concept for themselves . . .

" . . . (it is) a science-based, co-creative project . . . to facilitate the shift in global consciousness from instability and discord to balance, cooperation and enduring peace."

As you can see, it's a substantial aim! And what does this involve? Quite simply, you log in whenever you can (or visit one of their three daily, communal sessions), and spend up to a quarter-of-an-hour united with others from around the world in a heart-based relationship with the Earth. The words 'love', 'gratitude' and 'care' are keynotes of the exercise.

It is a simple yet profound practice, but, as the organisers say, "simplicity is powerful and effective when the heart is sincere".

Being such a significant day, December 21st attracted many to the website. I joined the session which started in London at mid-day. As you participate, so you move from the Waiting Room to the Global Care Room and, at this point, a large representation of our planet appears on the screen. You can control the planet - zoom in or rotate it as you wish - and, as you zoom in, bright lights identify by name and location all those participating at that particular moment. A spoken introduction leads you into the session.

Tentatively at first, I gently rotated the familiar outline of the Earth and zoomed in. Amongst the myriad of small, bright lights were participants from Warsaw, from Budapest, from Nairobi, from Athens, not to mention Paris, London and widely across the United States. In festive abundance, the small, bright lights were shining everywhere.

Using my mouse, I explored this twinkling globe, and suddenly realised that I was moving it off its normal north/south axis. You've no idea how strange this seemed. It made me feel absurdly giddy and unsure of myself to see the British Isles come into view lying on its side, with the North Pole and South Pole on a horizontal alignment. Seconds later, an upside-down Australia topped the globe and I found London to be unexpectedly and confusingly 'down under'.

It was uncomfortable, it felt wrong. Yet, what came home to me very forcibly was that this was the reality of our solar system.
Our planet is not stationary in space, it is constantly rotating on its axis whilst simultaneously revolving round the sun. The reassuring illusion of stable, north/south security is totally fictional.
At that moment, so I realised, all of us in the Global Care Room, together with every other creature on the planet, were part of what could only be called a complex and beautiful stellar dance.

Johan in Brussels, Pedro in Madrid, Kevin in North Carolina, and many, many more of us, were spinning through the vastness of the cosmos as we participated together in a profound, heart-focussed blessing.

The session over, I allowed the planet on the screen to return to its secure north/south axis. The illusion of stability returned and gravity held sway.

I'm sure you can understand why I wanted to share this with you. It's a powerful memory. The recollection of how so many people, linked together in love and care, revolved and rotated to the Last Waltz of an expiring year.

And if you want to know what The Royal Society of Arts say about all this, just click HERE!

Will you Come Dancing with me into the future? Not Strictly, but Cosmically . . . please say 'yes'!

Happy New Year!