Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Rise of the Pound

Might this be a solution to the current financial difficulties? Not being an economist, or even someone who is savvy about her own finances, I rather doubt it.
Nonetheless, let me tell you the story of a very personal rise in the pound.

My much-loved computer, after serving me faithfully for many years, finally succumbed to old age. A new computer was ordered and duly arrived to take its place. Although I felt disloyal to my old friend in even admiring this newcomer, it had to be admitted that it was very beautiful.
Not only that, it had the amazing facility of allowing its operational parts to be completely detached - it was, literally, wire-less.
The keyboard that I am typing on at this moment has no connection to its parent body, the 'mouse' is equally free to roam at will and responds to being gently stroked on the back.
How does everything operate under these conditions?
I've no idea . . . but I'm suitably awed and impressed.

The one thing that was reassuringly familiar was the layout of the keyboard. Here, if nowhere else on my modern marvel, I felt at home. Letters, numerals, signs and symbols, all were positioned as they always had been . . . or so I thought. Only when I had the need to use the pound symbol did I realise that something was different. There, on my new keyboard, was the dollar sharing a key with number 4, the pound sharing a key with number 3, and the euro sharing the 'at' symbol on a rather crowded number 2. The three major western society currencies were all there.

However, when I attempted to type the pound symbol all I could get was an unexpected and unwanted 'hash'. The dollar was working perfectly, but not the pound.

What had happened? I knew the economy was in dire straits, but I didn't realise that the pound had sunk without trace.
But what if the problem was more subtle than that? What if my American-designed AppleMac, mindful of its country of origin and of America's colonial past, had felt slighted by my wish to use the pound symbol before using the dollar? What if the detached keyboard had decided that other links could be severed, and had done so by removing the pound and establishing a fiscal Declaration of Independence?

I phoned the helpful technician who had installed my new marvel. By means of gentle tweaking, raising a flag here, lowering a flag there, yet maintaining an entente cordiale throughout, we managed to restore the pound whilst retaining the dollar. The 'special relationship' had been re-established!

My new computer can now, free of any national allegiance offer the pound, the dollar or the euro to anyone in need.
I wonder, might this same technique help our economic crisis? A little gentle tweaking, a recognition of flags and priorities, an acknowledgement that some things are beyond our understanding and that, ultimately, we are all here to help each other?

It might be worth a try.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Gift

It's funny, isn't it, how long it sometimes takes before we realise the obvious. May I tell you about one such discovery that I made the other day?

Chloe, as you know, is a registered Pets As Therapy cat, we visit a local nursing home each week. This discovery relates to the nursing home, and to something I've never heard mentioned when people speak of the therapeutic benefit of animals.

Just think about it for a moment.
What is the sound that you never hear in a nursing home?
You are aware of the ubiquitous background noise of the vacuum cleaner, the squeak of wheel chairs in motion, nurses' quick feet hurrying down the passages, water running in the basins, the occasional voice . . . but you rarely, if ever, hear the sound of laughter.

This is the gift that Chloe, in her innocence and exuberance, brings to the nursing home on every visit.

Each time she enters a resident's room the tired, unfocussed eyes of the occupant light up with sudden interest.
"May Chloe come and visit you?" I ask . . . and the welcoming face grows pink with pleasure.

The chuckles start as she begins her enthusiastic examination of the room and its contents . . . the books on the bookshelf . . . flowers on a table . . . the view from the window. An unexpected pigeon in the garden below can be a cause for general excitement!

Each resident's room, so familiar to the occupant as to have become
invisible, is transformed, through Chloe's eyes, into a veritable Aladdin's cave of unexpected treasures.

Confident in her role as a welcome visitor, Chloe is perfectly happy to let the residents take her by the lead and fondle her.
"When I'm better, may I take her for a walk?" asked a frail, dementia sufferer the other day.
"Of course," I agreed.
What did it matter that the walk would never take place. With Chloe lying happily at her feet, we planned all the details . . . an imaginary walk to the accompaniment of much laughter.

Only an animal could achieve this miracle. Sympathy, kindness and consideration don't evoke laughter. But an animal, unquestioningly accepting the situation for what it is, brings into a sterile atmosphere the heady ingredients of vitality, curiosity . . . and fun.
Which, as I'm sure you'd agree, is a source of stimulus more powerful and effective than any medicine.

Think of us at the nursing home this week. Picture the happy chuckles that will doubtless mark Chloe's enthusiastic progress from room to room.
I couldn't produce this effect . . . Chloe can!

Monday, August 15, 2011

United We Stand

Let me pose a rhetorical question. If you weren't there, who would I be writing to? Would I be writing at all? Would I be sharing my thoughts, or would they remain sterile and unvoiced inside my mind?
Without all the people in my life, would I, in the fullest sense, really exist at all?

I'm sorry, one rhetorical question proliferated! But those ideas fascinate me . . . have you a moment to explore them a little further?

As I'm sure you know, the words 'the survival of the fittest' were not used by Darwin. It was a phrase coined by a colleague. Nonetheless, what is considered to be his phrase has become a bed-rock of our western society. From City bankers to school leavers, we all believe in the basically competitive nature of life.
But competition is growing hotter, and inequality would seem to be increasing, as we watch this happening more and more people are questioning the theory's validity.

Think about it for a moment. There's precious little security for those balancing precariously at the top of the pile. What if the pile they are standing on crumbles? The high-flyers might survive, they might be fit . . . but they will find themselves on their own, ankle-deep in rubble, with no-one willing to help them and nowhere to go.

Surely we are truly strong not when we compete, and push the weakest out of the way, but when we stand on level ground, pool our abilities and talents, and work together?
One and one is not two . . . it is something much greater.

Perhaps this is an alien sentiment at a time when the London Olympics grows ever closer. But even here we are deluded. The word 'compete', stemming from the Ancient Greek, means 'striving together'. There is no suggestion that any one should gain success over another. It is our interpretation that puts one of the group in the front, and then awards him honours for that position.

Nonetheless, even in our modern Olympics the original concept remains valid. Granted the top step of the winners' podium can accommodate only one occupant. But did he or she climb to those heights unaided? What of the trainer . . . the support team . . . loving family members . . . not to mention a cheering nation? Isn't that a beautiful example of 'striving together'?

At heart we are communal creatures, our multiple, individual abilities and talents are there to be shared. Kindness, compassion and integration bring strength, not weakness, to society. In isolation, detached and competitive, we are not strong. Far from it, we are incomplete, anxious and vulnerable.
If we are, indeed, all parts of a whole, how vital that our individual contributions should have the integrity of those of our fellow components . . . we all depend on each other.

May I ask you to try a short experiment?
Place your hand on your heart, then breathe in gently and say these words . . .

control . . . intimidate . . . dominate . . . fight

- did you feel your heart beat faster and your body grow tense?
Let's try it again, but this time say the words . . .

nurture . . . support . . . trust . . . love

- that time did you feel your heart expand and your body relax?

"United we stand, divided we fall", wrote Aesop, many centuries before the birth of Darwin.
I rest my case!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Simple Art

Sometimes I wonder, Lord, just what you plan
For me. It isn't power, or great success,
Or tranquil and domestic happiness
That flows from motherhood; and though I can
Do several things a little better than
One might expect, I really must confess
To no outstanding gift. Yet, nonetheless
I have a sense that since my life began
It has been planned by you. What might appear
An accident, or Fate's perversity,
Is seen, when my objections disappear,
To be your act of generosity.
I wonder, Lord, perhaps you put me here
To learn the simple art of being me.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A Calendar Girl!

Here's a news item I never expected to be sharing with you . . . we've a Calendar Girl in the family!
Let me explain . . .

Jackie, my cousin, kindly gave me a Bengal Cat Club Calendar last Christmas. Knowing nothing about the Bengal Cat Club, far less its calendar, I was very impressed.

Throughout 2011, as each new month has arrived, so a different, and equally beautiful, Bengal Cat has been revealed. But (and I fully admit to prejudice in the matter) to my preferential eye, none have been more beautiful than Chloe.
I had no wish to enter her into competition at a Cat Show (woe betide any judge who found fault with her!) but, on thinking about it, entering her photo for a calendar seemed a little different . . . and far less stressful for Chloe.

Through making enquiries, I discovered that up to three photos of any one cat could be submitted for the calendar. The winners were selected by popular vote at the Bengal Cat Club Show.

I studied the calendar again. The January cat was splendid . . . the February and March cats equally fine examples of the breed . . . Chloe might well have oodles of charm and big blue eyes, but, when it came to the finer points of the Bengal Cat, was she really as beautiful as I (and all her admirers) thought she was?

It was mid-June, the Cat Show was to be held at the end of July. After careful thought, I selected three photos (what had I got to lose?) and sent them off. Chloe would never know if she was rejected, and that was all that mattered.

"She won't get anywhere," I said to a friend, "she's wearing her harness in all the photos. They won't choose a cat with a harness."
And my friend agreed.

The phone call came late in the evening on the final day of the show. Having overlooked the date, I was taken completely by surprise. Additional surprises came thick and fast. Not only had Chloe won a place in the 2012 Calendar, but her chosen photo had come top with the voters!

"The one with the bluebells?" I asked.
"No," said the representative of the Bengal Cat Club, "the one with the bluebells was popular, but it was the entry with the white flowers that won."
It was Chloe, as a kitten, amongst the syringa blossoms that had swept the board.

I was asked to provide more details . . . Chloe's pedigree name . . . the name of her breeder . . . this was beginning to feel serious.
She was registered as 'Arcatia Chloe', I told them, and she'd been bred by Joolz Scarlett in Reading.

Was Chloe listening to all this? Had she been absorbing the import of my discussion? It's the only explanation I can give for her behaviour the following morning.
Wild with exuberance, she charged around the flat like a cat possessed . . . dropping her long-suffering toy monkey from the cat tree, balancing precariously atop the bookshelf and, finally, with paw raised, threatening to send a collection of fragile glass ornaments crashing to the floor!

There was only one thing to do, Calendar Girl or no Calendar Girl, she was banished to the bedroom to reflect on the folly of an over-inflated ego!

I wonder . . . are the Women's Institute planning another calendar in the near future? If so, I have an enthusiastic volunteer who would be more than willing to bare all (less some tasteful syringa blossom) on their behalf . . . and burn off some surplus energy in the process!