Monday, May 27, 2013

The blessings of blue

May I share a trick I was taught the other week?
No . . . it isn't fair to call it a trick, it's an exercise in perception.  An exercise in alerting us to the truly magical nature of our world.

Are you ready . . .?
Now  . . . think of a colour, any colour.  With that colour in mind, look around you at the room you are sitting in . . . or out of the window . .. or at the surrounding countryside.
Do you notice anything  . . .?

Do you notice how that particular colour has suddenly taken prominence?
If you chose the colour red, do you notice how the red is suddenly calling to you from the bookshelves . . . of from the flowers . . . or from a strand in the carpet?

Now . . . change the colour and repeat the exercise.
Do you see what I mean?  Isn't it remarkable  . . . ?
The colour we are thinking of at any one time suddenly dominates.  Not only that, as each colour has the gift of its own frequency to offer, so we are enriched by that colour's particular properties.

Do you remember that moment of wonder in "The Wizard of Oz" when Dorothy, on arriving in the Land of Oz, finds to her amazement that her former black-and-white world has been transformed into one of vibrant Technicolor?

Like Dorothy it seems that we, too, are awakening to the powerful benefits of a colourful world.

Colour is truly transformative.  This was brought home to me last week when I was given a beautiful bunch of freesias.  Little did I appreciate just how beneficial they'd be in countering a sequence of cloudy, grey days.  Undaunted by the weather outside, the golden freesias positively shone with cheerfulness . . . look at the picture and feel your spirits rise.
Would it have been the same had the flowers been white?  I don't think so.

Let's explore this further and see how it relates to what's understood by students of colour therapy, a science which goes back to the teachings of Pythagoras.  We are told that the energy wavelengths of colour can have a significant effect upon our health, psychological conditions and general well-being.  Whilst red is known to stimulate, the colour green relaxes.  Yellow and orange are reported to speed recovery, and blue, in addition to being calming and healing, also relates to self-expression and communication.

Nowadays, as we become increasingly aware of this science, colour is often used strategically.  Sunshine colours are thought to stimulate learning in primary schools.  The green scrubs used in hospitals are no accident, the colour having been chosen to reduce stress.  As for prisons, it's said that prisoners lose a large percentage of their aggression when 'subdued' by the influence of a pink-walled cell.

Not only that, the potency of colour has seeped into our language.
Which activity would you prefer, 'painting the town red' or indulging in 'a fit of the blues'?

But blue doesn't deserve its bad publicity.
Let me prove this by taking you on a walk . . . a walk to demonstrate the infinite blessings of blue.

Drawn by the knowledge that it was the bluebell season, Chloe and I visited our local wood.
Just look at the sight that greeted us. The softest blue, the most alluring blue that you can imagine enticed us through the gate and down the woodland path . . . there was blue at our feet . . . blue winding its way far into the distance . . . and blue stretching its cloudless canopy above our heads.

Are bluebells one single shade of blue?  Don't you believe it!
Is the sky the same intensity of blue in the north as in the south, to the east as to the west?  Far from it!

Enchanted by this blue haven, we wandered in delight along the paths . . . and, as we wandered, we marvelled.
All right, it may not have been just the colour that gave rise to Chloe's blue-eyed wonderment, but she clearly knew a blessing when she met one!

And did that powerful dose of potent blue have any effect on me?
If you remember, in addition to calming and healing, blue is said to relate to self-expression and communication . . . well surely those were the qualities that prompted these reflections ?

Just think about it, had I been energised by red, or pacified by pink, there might well have been no letter . . . and you and I would never have shared the myriad blessings of blue!

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Needle's Art

Quiet, self-effacing craft;  the needle's art
Knows care and discipline, not vanity.
It pleads no cause, unburdens not its heart,
Portraying truth with simple clarity.
What joy to rest  the eye on pure design,
What artless gaiety in crimson thread,
How delicate the gold and silver line,
The sequins nestling in their silken bed.
Here slip-stitch, chain-stitch, satin-stitch entwine
And merge as single drops in common sea.
Here craft and colour, care and form combine
Tio show how many strands make unity.
Amongst the graces of our human race
Who can deny the gentle needle's place?

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Something to celebrate

Bad news sells newspapers . . . bad news, so the theory goes, is what we all crave.
But is that theory true?  Or could it be that things are changing . . . is good news gaining credibility?
Good news has a wonderful way of sneaking in under the wire.  Probe just a little below the radar of the bad news and, lo and behold, all sorts of heart-warming stories come to light.

You don't believe me?
Then see if you can guess the link between the Alder Hey Children's Hospital in Liverpool, a newly-opened bank in Colombia, and the airport lounge at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport.
To give you a little help:  the hospital is currently caring for happier and less stressed children;  the bank is proud to have registered a 'dramatic uplift' in people opening new accounts;  whilst Amsterdam's airport has been declared 'good' or 'excellent' by ninety-five per cent of its hightly satisfied customers.

The link . . . have you guessed?
Each of these innovative institutions plays birdsong as a background accompaniment to their daily activities.  Birdsong relaxes the children . . . birdsong encourages clients to have faith in the bank . . . birdsong eases the passengers before their flights and sends them on their way free of anxiety.

Nor is that all.  There's a primary school in Liverpool which is carrying out an interesting experiment.  Birdsong is being played in the classroom to help concentration after the lunch break . . . and it's working!

All of which leaves us with a profound, unanswered question.
What is the magic ingredient of birdsong . . . ?
What is the secret of the wren . . . and the robin . . . and the blackbird . . . ?
How come they have this power to quieten and repair the jangled nerves of the human race?

"Birdsong," says the noise consultant,  Julian Treasure,  "resets the ears and allows us to hear properly.  Most of us," he continues, "walk around with our ears switched off because so much noise is unpleasant.  Unlike so many other sounds there's no maximum exposure to birdsong . . . it relaxes people physically but stimulates them cognitively."

There is another factor that we need to take into account.  Deep in our subconscious, our hunter-gatherer ancestors are telling us that, if the birds are singing, there is nothing to fear.  We can relax, all is well with our world.

There has recently been more good news on this fascinating subject.
Did you know that May 5th was International Dawn Chorus Day?  Not only that, at two minutes to six on the following morning, David Attenborough launched the BBC's year-long celebration of birdsong on Radio 4.

Even if we missed the launch, we can still participate.  All we need do is to turn on the radio just before six o'clock, and we'll receive a two-minute tonic of birdsong to start the day.

To do so would be very much in line with the thinking of Peter Brace, an ecologist at the National Trust, "We're told to eat our five a day," he says, "but finding a few minutes in your timetable to listen to birdong could be just as good for us."

So . . . what about taking part in the BBC's celebration?

Sad to say, we can't finish on that positive and uplifting note.  There's a serious downside to all this good news.
As you may well have noticed, the bird population is shrinking alarmingly and, as it does, the dawn chorus is losing many fine soloists.

The skylarks that inspired Vaughan Williams have, according to the RSPB, declined by seventy-five per cent.  Have you heard the cuckoo this year?  I gather that they've experienced a decline of sixty-five per cent.  As for the once ubiquitous sparrow, many children have never seen a sparrow as its numbers are barely a quarter of what they were thirty years ago.

We've learned to appreciate the magical gift of birdsong and that's good news, very good news.  But we can make the news even better by the way we respond to our new knowledge.

What if we adjust our modern methods of farming and gardening?  What if we offer the birds our protection, a protection to be extended to all our native wildlife?
And if we don't . . .?
Then, I'm afraid, it's back to the bad news.
But the bad news this time would feature silent woods and silent gardens . . . and where would we be without that dawn reassurance that all's well with our world?

(If you're in need of that daily tonic, and want to hear what could be lost, click here . . .)

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A very welcome May!

Tell me, if you've been walking along the streets over the past few days, have you noticed anything different?
Have you been struck by the smiling faces . . . the looks of relief .  . the absence of thick, winter coats?

Isn't it wonderful!  Could it really be Spring . . . a long overdue Spring?

There's no denying that the leaden skies of a protracted winter do serious damage to our spirits.
But, dare I say it, May seems intent on putting things right . . . we can sit back, take a deep breath, relax and start smiling.

Do you want to see what it is in residential London that's given us back a sense of well-being?
Then what about sharing some photos.

Let's wander down some quiet streets, past houses that are normally unassuming and discreet.

Do you see what I mean?
May has provoked them into casting aside any traces of restraint . . .  instead they're positively flamboyant.

Magnolia, camellia and cherry blossom . . . laden branches stretching upwards, their colours outlined against a brilliant blue sky  . . . a jubilant celebration of Spring.

Doesn't it warm your heart just to look at them?

As for the gardens . . . only a few days ago they were chilled by the frost and totally lacking in colour.

Now . .  . look at the difference!
Every patch of earth is a production-line of activity, the air is enlivened with bees and birdsong.

Take our communal garden where some of this year's plants are displaying a strong will of their own!
Have you come across more resourceful, pioneering forget-me-nots?

Not content with keeping to the limits of their flower-beds, they've widened their territory by establishing outposts of empire along the edge of the path.

When is a weed not a weed . . . ?  When it's a self-seeded, unforgetable forget-me-not!

And here's an exuberant shrub you mustn't miss.
Isn't it spectacular?
In rural Kent it used to be known as 'Bachelor's Buttons' . . . surely the perfect golden bloom for a May Day button-hole?

No . . . you don't need Maypoles or Morris Dancers to get the full force of May's message.

However, there's another and more personal reason why this particular month of May has raised my spirits . . . not to mention my pride.

See for yourself . . .  Chloe. . . .  has been chosen as Queen of the May for this year's Bengal Cat Club Calendar.

Between you and me, I've a sneaking suspicion that, in our home at least, May will continue to reign undisturbed for the rest of 2013!