Friday, August 29, 2014

Book of the Day

Am I being fanciful, or do you feel as I do?

Does it seem to you as though, each morning, a new book is thrust into our hands.  It may be a murder mystery, a war story, or a lurid tale of sexual perversion . . . one thing is certain, it is always highly emotive and challenging.

But what, we ask, of yesterday's book?  What of the half-read story of dangers, difficulties and tragedies . . . the story that had caused us so much concern the day before?
Oh, don't bother about that, we're told.  That's yesterday's news.

So it was that, this morning, I found myself presented with a host of lurid new dramas.

But what, I wondered, of that beleaguered city in northern Iraq?  Little mention was made of it today.  What of the people of Gaza?  Only the other week I was watching in horror as the Palestinians fled their obliterated homes.  True, a ceasefire has now come into effect, but no political agreement can replace lost children, nor reconstruct shattered communities.  How, I wonder, are they managing?

And what of the Ebola outbreak in Africa . . . and the fighting in Libya and the Ukraine .  .  .  what of the homeless refugees from Syria.  Little or no mention is made of them either.

Today's news dominates . . . there is just so much space to fill.  As for us, we have just so much opportunity to listen, just so much time to read or watch.

But, let's think about this for a moment.
Were I to keep up-to-date with every detail of every disaster, would I be able to help?

Sad to say, in the vast majority of cases the answer would be 'no'.   I would be little more than a voyeur . . .  a knowledgeable but impotent voyeur.

 In addition, bearing in mind that a diet of poor-quality food saps the strength of the body, I can't help wondering whether a diet of constant bad news saps the strength of the mind and spirit?  Could it be that, in spite of our wish to know, to sympathise, help and support, we are in danger of being subsumed by this daily diet of death and disaster . . . with too much bad news deadening our perceptions?

Is there an answer?  If so, I wish I knew what it was.
But what I do know is this:   if I lift my eyes from the lurid headlines I notice that the plants need watering, that Chloe is waiting for a walk . . .  and that it might be time for a little gentle dusting!

I realise that I haven't phoned a friend for her birthday, that letters need to be written, the shopping needs to be done, and that, although  I can't do anything for the suffering citizens of Gaza,  I can invite a recently-arrived neighbour to tea.

What's more, if I must have a book  in my hand . . .  why not choose a long-standing favourite?
One which demonstrates that our species, when it isn't taking itself too seriously, has an endearing sense of the ridiculous!

You don't believe me?
Well, if you've five minutes to spare, let me prove it to you . . .
click here and sit back for a restorative chuckle.

As for the good news, yes, it does exist.  There's the excellent publication, 'Positive News', a paper which raises our spirits by communicating what its title promotes . . .   see for yourself.

Perhaps we can pay less attention to the 'book of the day' when it arrives in our hands tomorrow morning  . . .  things may not be so bad after all!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Are you there . . . ?

Hello . . . are you there?

It's good to make contact . . .   I can picture you reaching for your smartphone, Ipad or laptop as my words travel through the ether to greet you.

How curious to think that, from now on, these words will be forever circling our planet . . . an integral part of that invisible cloak of communication we know of as the internet.

Like so much that we've created, the internet takes on the qualities of the user.  With equal ease it can facilitate transformative assistance or damaging abuse.  But its power to unite, for whatever purpose, is undeniable.

Above all else, it provides us with an unique ability to share  . . .  to reach out to others,  to communicate what we love,  to ponder on what we value.
And surely that's a priceless gift?

True, the internet has its limits.  You can't enjoy the scent of coffee, wafting up from the mug beside me as I write, nor reach out and feel the soft texture of Chloe's fur.  But what I do have is the exhilarating ability to share words and music . . . I can also take out my camera and send pictures from London winging their way to your computer.

A pleasure shared is not merely doubled, it's multiplied.
What's more, as I'm sure you've noticed,  it continues to multiply.

You're wondering what it is that I want to share on this occasion?

Well, it's something rather special.  The other evening I, and the rest of an enthralled audience, had the delight of hearing Joshua Bell play Bruch's Violin Concerto at The Albert Hall.

No, I can't take you back in time to join us, but all is not lost.  I can share a recording of the memorable encore.
I can also share a confession.

In my ignorance, I'd thought that the value placed on a three-hundred-year-old Stradivarius was more myth than substance.
Antonio Stradivari, I apologise!

However, a violin can't produce music on its own, it needs a skilled and sensitive collaborator to release its magic.  Let me invite you to listen to such a collaboration.

Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, you need do no more than click here.
Uniting in the music of Nigel Hess,  listen to what the partnership achieves . . . and marvel.

But, wouldn't you agree that the picture is far more complex than the simple issue of you and me coming together in cyberspace . . . coming together to share our pleasures and to listen to the music of Joshua Bell?

Wouldn't you agree that, throughout our troubled world, there's a real need for the revitalising energy that's triggered by friendship and shared enjoyment?
In a very positive sense, every time we relax and absorb something profoundly beautiful, we emanate a sense of gratitude.  Gratitude which permeates humanity's emotional sea and helps to counter the prevailing flood of fear and negativity.

You could, perhaps, call it a very small drop in a turbulent ocean . . . but surely every drop of happiness counts?

Friday, August 8, 2014

Hear the circles sing . . .

Crop circles, it seems, are no longer considered the province of the fanciful.
On the contrary, when one appeared in Bavaria last week it received respectful news coverage worldwide.

Whilst we may not know what they are, nor understand how they come into being, we now accept their reality . . .  along with our own ignorance.

I say 'our own ignorance', but that isn't strictly true.

If you'd like to watch a fascinating, science-based video on the subject, I strongly recommend that you click here.

May I also suggest that you have a look at this display of recent crop circles selected by the BBC.

However, before you do either of those things, please sit back and simply enjoy these truly breath-taking pictures.

Notice the bold, intricate designs . . . no two are similar, far less identical.

Wouldn't you agree that they intrigue, captivate and enchant?  Call me fanciful if you will, but, to me, it's as though they fill the countryside with joyous, silent music.

But, to explain why they mean so much to me, let me tell you of my own encounter.

On a window-sill in my flat lies a treasured ear of wheat.  It came from a crop circle that I was privileged to visit ten years ago . . . an experience I'll never forget.

It was the shared sense of awe and reverence that I particularly remember.  We said little as we walked along, and when we did speak it was in hushed voices.  We moved slowly, and paused frequently . . .  in many ways it was like visiting an ancient and venerable cathedral.

At ground-level you don't experience the pattern in its entirety . . .  what you do witness is the incredible intricacy of the inter-weaving stalks, what you feel is an overwhelming sense of calm, cohesion and power.

It's said that a force of energy moves through the corn stalks to make these circles and, in so doing, pierces the nodules.

In fact, if you examine a nodule of one of the bent corn stalks you'll find that it's fired with tiny holes . . .  holes that defy any other explanation.

But my knowledge of this fascinating subject is limited, you'll learn far more from the video.

Just one final thought.
These past months have been turbulent worldwide. Nations have come together to mourn the tragedy of wars past, to confront the intractability of wars present.

Wouldn't you agree that we are all in need of harmony, strength and stability  . . . qualities so graphically displayed by the crop circles?

It's a long way from Christmas, but let me misquote two lines of a favourite carol, what about:

"Oh, hush the noise, ye men of   strife,
  And hear the circles sing . . . "

Monday, August 4, 2014

Lest we forget . . .

Today, one hundred years since the start of The First World War, may I share a poem with you?
A friend introduced me to it this week and, to add to its poignancy, it was written by Yehuda Amichai, thought by many to be the finest of Israel's modern poets.

At a time of remembrance, and a time of warfare, let us pause and pay heed to these wise words:

                                                       The Place Where We Are Right

From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.

The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.

But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood.