Monday, July 29, 2013


There's a word you may well have used to describe some of my past letters, "Rubbish!" you may have declared.
And I'd be the last to argue with you. There's no way that we can all agree on everything.

But this time the choice of word would be wholly appropriate because, if you've a moment to spare, that's what I'd like us to think about . . . the sobering topic of rubbish.

A few minutes ago I was walking home with the shopping.  It wasn't easy as I had to navigate my way along the pavement through a forest of bulging bags and boxes.
Had the refuse van been delayed?  Had my neighbours accrued a particularly large amount of rubbish over the weekend?
I don't know.  But the boxes and bags, the bins and the bundles, together with the general bevy of unwanted baggage, commandeered almost all the walking space on the pavement.

Th refuse van would soon arrive.  The debris would be driven away.  The quiet, residential street would soon regain its normal, uncluttered appearance.  But that rubbish had to be taken somewhere.  It had to be taken to a depositary where it would join the accumulated waste of all the other streets in the neighbourhood, and it didn't take a mathematician to realise that this single day's collection would amount to a staggering pile of rubbish.

As I side-stepped the bags, I couldn't help reflecting that man is the only species on the planet to produce totally unproductive rubbish.  The so-called rubbish of other species becomes fodder or fertiliser.  Unlike human beings, the other species of the world walk lightly on the earth that gave them birth.

Not only do we leave a heavy footprint, but we are the species who, through over-population, are fast pushing many of our fellow creatures into extinction.

Did you participate in the survey offered online the other week?  If not, click here to see how, in the past seventy years, the population of the world has expanded from two billion to nearly eight billion.

Just think of that in terms of an increase in rubbish!  Bad enough for one person to discard a plastic bottle, but if eight billion of us regularly do the same . . . ?

Our rubbish clogs the land, our discarded plastic clogs the seas and chokes the wildlife.  What can we do about it?

According to the Canadian writer and broadcaster, Bill Casselman, the word 'rubbish' has an Italian source.  It comes from the word 'robaccia'.  In Italian, many words take on the suffix 'acchio' when the word becomes pejorative.  'Roba', meaning stuff, becomes 'robaccia' when it is 'bad stuff', or 'rubbish'.
Has this something to tell us?  Perhaps that it's up to us to prevent the essentially good 'stuff' becoming the wholly detrimental 'rubbish'.

After all, is there any real difference between stuff and rubbish?
Many years ago I came across a small bookcase discarded on the pavement, it has been a valued inhabitant of my home ever since.
A potted fig-tree, once found languishing in a gutter, now thrives happily in my indoor garden.

Couldn't a great deal of what we look upon as rubbish be seen as valuable in the eyes of others?  And what of packaging?  Instead of throwing out those bag and boxes, mightn't they come in useful in the future or serve some other purpose in the present?

Ignorance, too, subscribes to our wastefulness.  Unaware that, given a little time and care they will flower again, we discard our house-plants the moment they cease to bloom.  Unaware of the conservation techniques of our forebears, we throw out large amounts of perfectly good and nourishing food.

Talking of which, tell me, have you heard of the Dippy Egg?
As you enjoy your boiled egg for breakfast tomorrow morning, reflect on this marketing breakthrough.

An enterprising fast-food manufacturer has produced a pre-cooked, pasteurised egg.  It comes in its own shell in a plastic pot which, when filled with boiling water, will produce the perfect runny egg in five minutes!  True, the egg-shell itself is bio-degradable . . . but what about the plethora of small plastic pots that this enterprise is scattering so wantonly around the globe?

On our over-crowded planet, disposal space for rubbish is finite and fast-disappearing.

It we're not to  become buried beneath a vast range of mountains entirely of our own making, something needs to be done . . . and done quickly.

Just look at this picture . . . it wouldn't be a pleasant way to go.

And I'm sure you won't be saying, "Rubbish!" to that!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Communication Breakdown!

Hello . . . it's Chloe here again . . . I wonder, may I ask you a tremendous favour?

I've no-one else to turn to and, in times of emergency such as this . . . well, that's when you need your friends.

Let me be specific, what I really need is for you to talk to my Mum.

To give her her due, my Mum is usually very good at animal communication.
She was well-trained by the cats who came before me, and I've done my very best to keep up the good work.  But, with all her good intentions, she does have one blind and deaf spot and, on this critical issue, her blindness and deafness know no bounds.

Believe it or not, she totally fails to understand a Snow Bengal's hereditary need for involvement with cold water.

Remember all that excitement in the winter?
She was most sympathetic when I let her know that I wanted to dig my claws deep into the snow . . . and didn't I have fun.

But now, in mid-summer, with the temperature rising daily, can she understand my simple request to take a dip in the garden pond?
Not on your life?

I do my best . . . I sit on the side of the pool and look hopeful . . .

I clearly indicate where it is that I want to go . . . you'd think she'd understand . . .

I even manage to get my nose down to just above the water level  . . . but, look carefully . . . do you see that taut lead?

Before I get as much as a cooling drip of water on my chin, my Mum has given a firm tug to that lead and I've been hauled unceremoniously back to dry land . . . it's undignified, as well as frustrating.

As I'm sure you've noticed, every day the weather is getting hotter and hotter . . . not to mention stickier and stickier.
Have you thought what it might be like to be wearing a fur coat under these conditions?

My Mum can put on summer clothes to keep cool, I can't!

And if she thinks she can keep my mind off the pond by offering the inadequate alternative of a dripping cold tap in the basin . . . well, she can just think again!

How could a feeble trickle between the paws ever compensate for the joy of total immersion?

So . . . please . . . all I want is the opportunity to go for a quiet, undisturbed swim in a secluded garden pond.

Is that really asking too much . . . ?

Many purrs from your loving and ever-hopeful friend, Chloe.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Proof . . .

Each week I send you a 'letter'.  Each week I share my thoughts, pleasures, anxieties and ideas.

That's the question that I've been asking myself.

Why do we all experience this need to share?  Why the need to make contact, physically as well as mentally and emotionally?  Why is happiness multiplied and anxiety decreased when our emotions are shared . . . and how is it that a good hug increases our sense of security, as well as strengthening the immune system?

Don't worry, I've no intention of trying to answer those questions.  Instead, I've a far better idea .  .  . I've a treat to share with you.

In these two compelling, short videos, James Twyman demonstrates that we are far from being the isolated, competitive individuals that we sometimes think we are.

Enjoy the fascinating proof he has to offer . . .and I'll meet you in Seattle!

First video

Second video

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Sunken Garden

On summer afternoons, from two to four,
The sunshine's probing fingers gently trace
A passage 'twixt the city roofs to pour
In fullness on a basement dwelling place.
Here tended by the occupant within,
A little garden manages to grow.
Each corner for a pot or earth-filled tin
Is utilised;  and from these efforts flow
Such unexpected Summer flowers that we
Who pass, head bent and lost in thought, for this
Brief moment waken from our dreams to see
A world made brighter by such loveliness.
A little garden?  No!  My heart denies
That such a paradise be judged by size.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

A conspiracy theory . . .

I'm sure you've seen the photos from Malaysia and Singapore, the poor people who are currently suffering from problems of severe smog.
Blazing forests in Indonesia send their smoke haze spreading across the region, closing schools, affecting the vulnerable, and forcing a large percentage of the population to wear face masks.

Without going into the rights or wrongs of forest burning, it's unarguably detrimental to air quality.

Not only that, when it comes to air pollution we were told last week that London has the highest levels of nitrogen dioxide in Europe.   It's hardly a distinction to be proud of.

However, except when such occasions hit the headlines, we give very little thought to the subject of air.

I saw a cartoon the other day, it featured a puzzled fish swimming in a pond, "Water . . .?" the fish was enquiring, "What's water . . . ?"

It could be said that we are equally oblivious to the vital life force that surrounds us, "Air . . . ?" we could well be guilty of asking, "What's air . . . ?

If you're wondering what gave rise to these thoughts, it was a talk I heard the other day.  Not on the subject of air pollution, but on meditation.
As an exercise in stilling the mind, the audience was given a seemingly simple exercise.  We were asked to relax in our seats and give our whole attention to watching our breathing . . . not interfering, not commenting, just watching.

Simple it may have sounded, but it was far from easy.
Try it for yourself and you'll see what I mean.

But this exercise taught me something else, it showed me how little thought we give to this vital procedure that continues quietly in the background throughout every moment of our lives.  The life-maintaing act of breathing is something we take for granted.

More than that, as I realised, we take the air itself for granted.  We give careful consideration to the food we eat . . . to the liquid we drink . . . to any health supplements that we consider beneficial . . . but rarely, if ever, do we stop to question the quality or the components of the air we breathe.

You can't go to the super-market in search of a canister of top-quality fresh air.  Unthinkingly, we inhale and exhale the air around us, changing its structure as we do so.
Do we ever go to bed worrying whether the air will be there in the morning?  Of course not . . . why should we?

I'm no scientist, and I've no wish to be an alarmist, but isn't that trust of the highest magnitude?  Could it be that, like the fish, we are so identified with our natural element that we fail to recognise its vital importance . . . and thus fail to appreciate that, like everything else in creation, the element air is in a constant state of flux and evolution?

Climate change  . . water shortage . . . food shortage . . . all these are factors that regularly hit the headlines.  But the availability and reliability of the air we breathe . . . ?  Such a question rarely gets a journalist reaching for his pen.

Yet, as we know, every living thing breathes . . .  every living thing from a blade of grass to an Olympic athlete.
And, as nothing has been added to, or detracted from, our planet since the universe was created, you and I are breathing in the air that circulated in the lungs of the dinosaurs . . . the air that filled the sails of Cleopatra's barge . . . the air that inspired Shakespeare.

I'm sorry . . . I'm in danger of getting blown away by the subject of air!  
But may I share one last thought . . .  something that I learned the other day?  Do you know the derivation of the word 'conspire'?  I was surprised to find that it means 'to breathe together'.

Let's end with a conspiracy theory . . . the concept that in acknowledging the air around us, in acknowledging our breathing,  we are, in fact, acknowledging and endorsing our basic unity.
I'll settle for that!