Monday, March 31, 2014

Smile, please!

I'm sitting here smiling as I write.  Why?  Well, I don't think that anyone could look at this photo of a happy baby and not smile in response, do you?

A smile . . . what is it?
In basic terms, no more than a bodily reflex . . . a slight tightening of the mouth and an upturning of the lips.  Such a simple thing.  Yet this simplicity is deceptive, a smile is the body's external response to the warming of the heart .  . . and, as this baby has discovered at an early age, it's incredibly powerful.

Smiles are infectious, we all know that.   What's more, a smile is one of the greatest gifts we can offer each other . . . a gift of pure, unalloyed benefit.

On a physical level, a smile informs the rest of the body that all's well with the world.  When the corners of the mouth turn up the body relaxes and responds, and it does so by producing beneficial endorphins.

On  a subtle level, smiles unite us.  Smile at the person you are passing in the street and, if your smile is open and undemanding, there will  be a moment of total unity before the contact is broken and you each continue on your way.

True, there are many other forms of communication, but whereas words can unite us in sharing opinions and beliefs, a smile is unique.
It unites us at the level of essence, the point of oneness before divisions begin.

Mind you, there's something that we need to remember.  Smiles, by their very nature, are gifts, not investments.   If used as investments, they can quickly turn sour and frequently rebound on the donor . . .   given freely, just watch them proliferate.

Think about if for a moment, that smile that you gave away this morning . . . where is it now?  How many people have received it . . . replicated it . . . passed it on . . .  spread its benefit?  And what of the smiles you gave away last year?  By now they could have encircled the globe.

I received a wonderful smile this week.  It came in the form of a video link sent to me by Mary, a friend in the United States.

Last year the Italian food company, Sacla', arranged a surprise for the shoppers in the John Lewis Foodhall in London's Oxford Street.  The store management were part of the scheme, but the floor staff and shoppers were totally unprepared for an unforgetable treat.

Look at the smiles bouncing from face to face . . . and please share this with your friends so that the smiles can continue to circulate.

Are you ready . . . ?
Start smiling in happy anticipation, then click here . . .  and enjoy!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The dreams of a dormouse . . .

Is it too late to say, "Stop!"?  Or, if not "Stop!", then what about, "Pause . . . " or, "Wait a little . . . "?
I know I'm in a minority when I say this, so I'll say it very quietly.

Why do we want new roads . . . new rail lines . . . new runways?  Why do we always want to travel faster . . . and further . . . and more often?

In a world increasingly linked by the finest and most sophisticated information technology . . . a world where, at any given moment we can span continents visually and audibly . . . why this compulsive need to travel?

Let me tell you a true story.
There was once a small Cornish fishing village.  Over the centuries it had derived its income from the sea, and was home to an integrated community.  There was a village school, a main street with shops for food, clothing and domestic needs, a well-supported village church.  If not enjoying a high degree of economic prosperity, the inhabitants were happy and content in the village they knew as home.  Their misfortune?  That their village was, in travel agents' terminology, 'picturesque'.

Were you to go there today you would, indeed, see a picturesque village.  It is no longer a fishing village, no fisherman could afford the refurbished stone cottages that surround the harbour.  The shops are no longer aimed at the residents, instead they are well-stocked with souvenirs and refreshments.  The school has gone, as have the local children.  The church receives many visitors, but few worshippers.  But probably the biggest structural change comes in the form of the vast, featureless car-park which greets you on arrival, and is now almost as large as the village itself . . . it needs to be, if it's to accommodate the constant daily surge of visiting cars and coaches.

I don't doubt that you know of many similar villages, 'picturesque' hot-spots exist all over the world.  But have you noticed the extent of our corrosive influence?  Once we, the tourists, have taken over an area it is no longer self-sufficient.  Instead, it becomes totally dependent on us.  Dependent on the invaders who offer the only remaining source of employment:  that of catering to our needs.

Yes, the travel industry has thrived and is an undoubted boost to the economy.  Yes, the air-lines keep their charges low and, whilst enabling all of us to take low-cost holidays, also rake in large profits.  Yes, we are entitled to travel and enjoy the beauties of other countries . . . and invite others to come and see ours . . . but, ultimately, at what cost?

Could there be a poem that highlights this problem?  Let's see  . . .

"There once was a Dormouse," writes to A.A. Milne, "who lived in a bed,
Of delphiniums (blue) and geraniums (red). 
And all the day long he'd a wonderful view 
Of geraniums (red) and delphiniums (blue) . . . "

If you'd like to enjoy the full, poignant drama, and I strongly recommend it, click here.  But, to give you an abridged version, the dormouse's happy life was about to be rudely interrupted.

A well-meaning Doctor, convinced that no dormouse could possibly be happy and fulfilled under such conditions, prescribed a dramatic change.  This change involved not only stimulating travel, but also the dramatic removal of the delphiniums and geraniums which were replaced by less soporific chrysanthemums.

How did the dormouse respond to his transformed habitat?  He was not happy.
But, fortunately, he could resort to the blessings of an active imagination.  By closing his eyes he could pretend that the chrysanthemums had been transformed into his lost companions . . .

"The Dormouse lay happy, his eyes were so tight
He could see no chrysanthemums, yellow or white. 
And all that he felt at the back of his head 
Were delphiniums (blue) and geraniums (red)."

Is there a moral for us in this story?  No, not that we should spurn travel and chrysanthemums, but, instead, that we should start to appreciate the fragility of all that lies around us, the vulnerability of our natural world.

If we continue to roam roughshod . . . to congest and pollute . . . to overwhelm a finite planet, changing the nature of communities, destroying habitats and pushing plants and animals into extinction . . . will those remaining quiet corners, the tranquil hillsides, the peaceful shores, quickly disappear?

Could it be that, in the not too distant future, such scenes will only be available to those of us who can remember them . . . those of us who, like the dormouse, are able to curl up, close our eyes, and recreate in memory the delphiniums and geraniums that we loved so much?

True, we are an integral part of an ever-evolving universe . . . chrysanthemums, in many guises, have heralded revolutions down the ages . . . and this is a time of change, great change.

But change needs to be sensitive, beneficial and supportive to all forms of life.  If we reconsider our plans for yet more new roads, new rail routes and new runways, might it be possible to save some delphiniums and geraniums from premature extinction . . . ?
It's up to us.

                                                   *                    *                     *

(Do you share these concerns?  If so, as you may have noticed, I've high-lighted links to active campaigns that could interest you.)

Monday, March 17, 2014

A time for the warm-hearted!

"Old age," so it's said, "is not for the faint-hearted."
To which I'm tempted to add, nor for those deprived of an outlet for their care and creativity.

This was brought home to me very forcibly the other week.  As I've mentioned before, Chloe is registered with the Pets As Therapy charity and, in this role, visits the local nursing home every Friday.  There's no denying the pleasure she brings, but her greatest gift to date was totally unexpected.

Chloe's birthday was approaching and, knowing that Tina, one of her most doting admirers, had been a talented artist,  an idea occurred to me.
What if this event could re-ignite Tina's creativity?

On our next visit to the nursing home I took with me a sketch-book and pencils, together with a favourite photo of Chloe for her to copy.  But Tina was listless and distracted, the idea didn't seem propitious.
"If you happen to feel like a little sketching before our next visit," I suggested without much hope, "Chloe would be thrilled to have her portrait drawn for her birthday."

I was totally unprepared for what was awaiting us  the following week.

The enfeebled, elderly invalid had gone.  Instead, I was greeted by to a bright-eyed, eager artist . . . an artist keen to present Chloe with a beautifully sketched birthday present.

True, it was Chloe's antics and personality that had endeared her to Tina in the first place.  But it was the artist's own creativity that had responded and, in so doing, produced a memorable gift.

Nor was that the end of the story.  We had only ever seen Tina in her own room, often lying anxious and uncertain on her bed.  To my considerable surprise, the following week found her smartly dressed seated with others in the communal sitting-room.  She had rediscovered her creativity and, with it, her interest in all that was going on around her.

I was reminded of Tina the other day when I read the heart-warming story of HenPower.

Have you heard of this inspired project?
It was launched by Equal Arts with aim of reducing isolation in the elderly and of increasing their sense of well being.
Not surprisingly, the scheme has proved a remarkable success.

In their own words:
"HenPower helps set up hen-keeping in older people's care settings to offer fun and stimulating activities for residents, families and other independent living older people.

Each care setting is supported by a small network of volunteers who either know about hens or enjoy looking after hens.  Each project also has weekly activities based around hen-keeping which could include creative writing, digital photography, local history or other creative activities which the residents want to try out."

Would you like to see the hens in action?
I'm sure you would!

By clicking here, you can meet the HenMen and witness the wonders of HenPower for yourself . . . positive proof, should you need it, that old age is for the warm-hearted.

Just one thing  . . .   I'd rather you didn't mention the hens to Chloe!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Battle On The Beach

Holding the baby, mother stood inside,
Whilst father and the older boys worked hard
Around them, piling up the sand.  The tide
Crept nearer, threatening the wall that barred
Its way.  And still they worked, as though the sea
Could be deflected from its natural course
By the sheer effort of their industry.
Mother and baby waited 'til the force
Of water broke the sandy barricade
And floated in.  In search of other fun
The boys ran off.  But father, undismayed,
Fought for his castle 'til the sea had won.
"It's time to go now," mother said and smiled
With tenderness at her eternal child.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Please sign!

Yes, I know . . . at the present time our attention is focussed on political events.  We are anxious about worldwide tensions and uprisings . . . we are preoccupied with our inability to live in peace.

But, on the environmental front, something else is going on.  Something that is less in evidence, but could have greater impact for future generations . . . something that we could well be foolish to ignore.

Have you heard about the Deep Sea Mining Bill whose legislation cleared the House of Commons a few weeks ago?  They were talking about it on 'Broadcasting House' on Sunday morning.

This Bill gives the green light to mining below the oceans, to exploration of the sea-bed for valuable minerals such a nickel, copper, cobalt and manganese.  Environmental concerns, and there were many of them, have been pushed aside in the interest of economic growth.

When it comes to the needs of economic growth, it seems that our oceans are unable to cry out in their own defence . . . and, as the radio programme pointed out, they are already under attack.

Even without any unforeseen and damaging consequences of the mining, our seas are in serious trouble.  First there was the discovery of what has become known as the Pacific Garbage Patch, an area the size of France consisting of highly toxic plastic residues.  It was then found that there was a equally toxic Atlantic Garbage Patch, a large area also suffering from a surfeit of plastic waste.

True, a few courageous individuals do their best to expose what is happening.  You may have read how David de Rothschild designed a 60ft. catamaran out of plastic bottles to highlight what he called the 'dumb use of plastic' in food and drink packaging.

With a crew of six, he sailed 'Plastiki' across the Pacific in the hope of drawing the world's attention to what was going on.

Nonetheless, this brave venture amounts to little more than a drop in the ocean compared with the flood of commercial counter-attack.
It takes a highly impressive marketing campaign to convince a sceptical public that it's more intelligent to go out and purchase water in a plastic bottle rather than stay where you are and, for a fraction of the cost, simply turn on a tap.

So, we drink our bottled water, we discard our plastic bags and, by and large, we look the other way.
The oceans will always be there, won't they?  Of course they will!
It's inconceivable to imagine that the clear blue water . . . the white surf . . . the golden sands . . . the fish and the sea-birds . . . the whales, turtles and dolphins . . . the familiar aquatic world that provides us with water, food, perspective and refreshment . . . that all of this could ever be at serious risk.

But, will the oceans, as we now know them, survive being used as a dumping ground?
Our environment is fragile.  Historically speaking, plastic has only been here for the blink of an eye . . . yet look at the havoc it's caused.

What will it be like in ten years . . . or fifty years?
Will boats be struggling to move through a blanket of toxic plastic debris . . . will sea-dwelling creatures have become extinct . . . will sand-castles be no more?

But there is something we can do . . . and each one of us can participate.

The MED Expedition, a scientific, environmental campaign involving ten research laboratories, has been set up in Europe.  To date they've discovered that 'about 250 billion floating microplastics contaminate the surface of the Mediterranean'.

Determined to stop the Mediterranean becoming a 'plastic soup' they are asking all those who share their concern to sign their petition.

Please, will you click here and sign?
Think of the last time you stood on a beach and felt the sand between your toes. . . think of the clear water lapping around your ankles . . . think of the oceans in our care . . . and, please, add your name.