Monday, October 27, 2014


My Great-Grandmother would never have known what I'm experiencing . . . she lived in a different age.
Mind you, I could never have imagined it myself . . . not until now.  It was last night's storm that enlightened me.

The last kick of an Atlantic hurricane, it was a storm that shook the whole country . . . uprooting trees, disrupting travel and, somewhere unbeknown to me, disconnecting my landline and broadband connection.

This morning I've had a rude awakening . . . there's no telephone . . .  no emails . . . I can access no websites.
It's a shock to discover that, from the communication viewpoint, I'm completely cut off.

With an active phone line, friends and services positively cluster at your finger-tips.  When that line dies (and you have no mobile alternative) you are, as I'm discovering, truly isolated.

In a strange way, it's as though I've been marooned.  I can't contact anyone . . . no-one can contact me.  And whilst the radio and television provide information, it's as though I've been shipwrecked on that proverbial desert island.  The radio and television are my luxury items, but they afford no personal contact with the world.

Yes, I know I'm exaggerating.  I've only to look through the window to see life continuing outside.  I need only to walk through the front door to encounter people on the pavement.

But I still feel curiously cut-off.  What makes it worse is that I can't notify my friends that my phone and email aren't working because I haven't the phone or email facilities to do so!

Above all else, I'm being forced to recognise the vital role that electronic communication plays in my life.  How regular contact with friends, both locally and around the world, is something I normally take for granted.  Not only that, there's the profusion of websites . . . the online seminars.

I hadn't realised how often, in a normal day, I sit down by the computer just to up-date myself on information or enjoy what's on offer.

It's nearly time for bed, fourteen hours since my line went down.  The storm is slowly subsiding and I'm feeling rather like a communication-addict who's gone 'cold turkey'.

Is that the right expression?
I can't even access Google to check it out!

Still no connection . . . is there anything more undeniably dead than a dead phone?
And what of the friends who've been trying to contact me?  I'm worried they may be growing anxious.

Nonetheless, the sun and birdsong in the garden have combined to lift my spirits . . . although I'm ashamed to admit that I'd exchange the blackbird's song for the ring of the phone . . . or even the bleep of an incoming email!

I've been writing these thoughts  in the hope that, before too long, the telephone engineer will have restored my damaged line and everything will be back to normal.
The fact that you're now reading what I've written is justification for that hope.

Believe me, and I don't say this lightly, I'll never take our contact for granted again.  Nor will I under-estimate the power and value of such connection, the miracle of global communication that is literally at our finger-tips . . . it's up to us to ensure that what is communicated is worthy of the medium it employs.

Welcome back!
I really don't recommend a prolonged diet of cold turkey!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Once upon a tribe . . .

I've been given much food for thought over the past few days.
It was triggered by a suggestion from the award-winning author and publisher, Byron Belitsos.
May I share it with you?

Just imagine, for a moment, that you are a member of a primitive tribe deep in the rain forest.  So deep, and so primitive, that you know nothing of the outside world. So established over the centuries that you consider yourself to be unique.

You are the chosen people, this forest is all there is.
On several occasions over the years you have ventured by boat down the fast-flowing river.  But your craft is fragile,  it cannot cope with the concept of long-distance travel.  You have turned back, fully convinced that there was nothing further to explore.

However, in your own eyes you are far from primitive.  You have advanced in many ways over the centuries and now consider yourself skilled and sophisticated.  There are other tribes in the forest and you treat each other with caution . . . caution and a degree of fear.  Warfare is your first option in disputes.

Just imagine the shock you would experience if, one day, a large vessel was seen approaching up the river.  A ship without oars or sail . . .  a vast edifice that seemed to be moving swiftly under its own volition.

Not only would it be totally at odds with all you had experienced, but it would appear to house an alien species.  Strange faces would be peering down at you from the deck, strange creatures would be muttering in a language you didn't understand.
Your first reaction would be fear . . . then attack.

The vessel would disappear as quickly as it had arrived and you would be left with a quandary.

Had you imagined it?
There were, as you knew, no other forms of life beyond the boundaries of the forest.  How could these creatures have appeared when there was nowhere for them to come from?

It would, you'd decide, be best to conclude that you'd suffered an hallucination.  And so life would return to normal . . . but for the residue of a disturbing memory.

Do you see where this is going?

We, the human beings on this earth, have long felt ourselves to be alone in the universe.

But, think about if for a moment, what if, just a few light years away from our tribal village, there were vast cities of highly-evolved species who would look upon us, and our way of life, as primitive?

What if the alleged 'visits' from spacecraft, news of which has been so carefully suppressed by governments worldwide, indicated a sophisticated and benign wish to help . . . not harm?

It's just a thought . . . but it's one shared by many scientists and philosophers.  One shared by many members of the armed forces . . . people who sincerely believe that they have encountered such spacecraft and their occupants, but whose testimony has been officially discredited.

It's also shared by the many people who sense that there's more to a crop circle than a pretty pattern.

Wouldn't you agree that we are at a stage in our evolution where we could do with some good advice and a helping hand?

Perhaps, if that ship comes sailing back up the river,  we might it be wise to make it welcome . . . ?

Friday, October 10, 2014

A change of direction?

In reviewing 'Grantchester', ITV's new series, the critic, Michael Pilgrim, wrote:

"Sometimes, resistance is futile.  Much as I would love to come across as a sneering aesthete disdainful of cosy period drama like 'Grantchester', I just can't.  Because it's good . . .
It's a grim October in the early 21st century.  British warplanes are over northern Iraq . . . you can't buy a  flat and apple crumble makes you fat.  There could be a worse antidote than 'Grantchester'."

However, whilst viewers have been eager to abandon the real world for the persuasive charms of 'Grantchester', listeners, so it would seem, are leaving Radio 4's flagship, 'Today'.

Their departure is not because of any drop in the programme's high standard of news coverage.  Nor is it because of less probing interviews or less penetrating coverage.
No, quite simply, 'Today' is losing its audience because we, the listeners, have had as much as we can take.

In a world of seemingly unremitting gloom and anxiety, a world rocked by warfare, disease and terrorism, we need to be heartened, not merely informed.  We need hope.

Is it really such a grim October, or are we looking fixedly in the wrong direction?  Trapped, as we are, in the headlights of a blitz of bad news . . . what's really going on?

In much he same way that no two witnesses to a crime will offer the same version of the story, so our view of world events would appear to depend on the point of view of our informant.  Everything that we see, think and say is filtered . . . filtered through a point of view.

Whilst it's true that the camera cannot lie, we can forget that the lens is pointing in one direction.

What's going on behind the cameraman's back?   We've no idea.  Nor do we know why he chose to point his camera in the direction he did.

But what if we turned the camera round?  Turned it away from fear and combat so that it was pointing instead at care and hope?

If, this October, we feel badly in need of hope (and have already had our weekly 'fix' of 'Grantchester'!), what about turning our camera away from the flow of mesmeric and debilitating news bulletins?

What if we focus instead on the worldwide rising of the human spirit . . . a rising so graphically demonstrated by students in Hong Kong.  Surely this is a source of hope?
If we turn away from the bad news and concentrate on celebrating the good, wouldn't that be beneficial to all of us?

History, so it's said, is a fable agreed upon.
What if we agreed to make it a fable of hope?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Trench Cello

Tell me, have you heard of the 'trench cello'?

It came out of obscurity this week to steal the limelight.
Not only was it featured on Radio 4, but, as part of the War Music season at The Royal Academy of Music, the trench cello was played by the distinguished cellist, Steven Isserlis.

The instrument used will be on display at the Academy until March 2015, and you can listen to it here.

Trench cello . . . the name speaks for itself.  Unlikely as it may seem, this particular cello was played in the trenches of the Western Front during the First World War.

True, music has long been associated with warfare . . . each regiment takes pride in its band.  Not only that, a rousing march can revitalise weary troops, whilst certain music evokes national pride and loyalty.

But a cello in a trench . . .?  This isn't what springs to mind when you think of music on the frontline.

It appears that this instrument was owned by a Lieutenant Triggs of the Royal Suffolk Regiment.  Constructed so as to be easily portable, it was a cello that could be quickly assembled from parts contained in a box, whilst the box itself formed the framework.

Even the bow served a dual purpose.  It had been cleverly designed so that, by blowing down a hollow indentation at one end, the player could produce the note 'A', thereby enabling him to tune his instrument.

But just think about it for a moment.  A soldier about to go fighting on the frontline must give careful consideration to every item he chooses to take, weight is an important factor.  In all probability, in addition to clothing, he would want to take some photos of his family, perhaps a favourite book, maybe a camera . . . but a cello?

Lieutenant Triggs was clearly a keen musician, but he must have been driven by an emotion far stronger than a mere wish to display his talent.   Was it the realisation of what the music would mean under the stress of conflict that prompted him to carry such an unlikely burden into battle?

And what was of benefit to him was of equal benefit to others.  Still contained in the case is a note from the poet Edmund Blunden, written after the battle of Ypres, in which he tells of his delight at the impromptu concerts in the trenches.

Pondering on this story, a thought struck me.  Don't we each of us have our own trench cello?

There's the tune that we hum when we're feeling stressed or in need of courage.  There's the music that we play to lift our spirits.  Music, the universal language, has an unique power . . . the power to elevate and transform the listener.

Perhaps it's music, not ammunitions, that we should be sending to the world's trouble spots.  Perhaps it's concerts, not conflict, that would unite us.
Just listen to the first movement of Elgar's cello concerto, written in the aftermath of the First World War . . . see if you agree.

Music or mayhem . . . ?  Surely there's no contest!