Monday, December 28, 2015

By George (and Joanna), they did it!

I don't know about you, but I certainly feel in need of a new year.  The fast-moving days of 2015 have been more than enough.

It's been an anxious and exhausting year . . . internationally, politically and environmentally.
But, before the New Year arrives, don't you think we might be wise to take a pause?

This pause between Christmas and the New Year is valuable.
It's valuable in offering us a quiet moment in which to look around.

Time to look at the accumulated physical clutter.  Not just the Christmas cards and decorations, but all the out-dated paperwork,  the clothes we're unlikely to wear again, the household items we'll never use.

Time to consider the year-long build-up of apprehensions and anxieties that are cluttering up our minds.  To weigh up those tired, outworn plans that will surely never see fruition.

A moment, perhaps, in which to ask the pertinent question:  do we really need to take all that exhausted clobber into a new year?
A few items in our hand baggage perhaps.  But why choose to be burdened with such a very weighty suitcase?

There are, of course,  facets of the passing year that need to be kept and used as building-blocks for the future.
I'm sure you'd agree that we need to keep the resolution of the Climate Change conference, but not any subsequent back-sliding.
We need to keep the compassion spawned by the migrant crisis, not the subsequent waves of protective self-interest.
We need to preserve the sense of purpose and unity triggered by terrorism, whilst discarding the fear and hatred that can follow in its wake.

But, wait a moment.  Do these ideas of pausing and discarding seem a little spartan?
If so, take heart.
I've something comfortingly familiar to offer you.

It's friends that matter.  With so much uncertainty we need the company of familiar faces to escort us on our journey from the old year to the new.

Are you, I wonder, suffering a sense of withdrawal after the final episode of 'Downton Abbey'?

Thanks to time-travel and angelic intervention, George Clooney and Joanna Lumley have worked a seasonal magic spell . . . a comedy video in which you will be reunited with all your favourite characters.

So, as the year draws to a close, let's throw out all that unwanted clutter but, at the same time, pop the Crawley family safely in our hand baggage.

Should our world continue to prove stressful in 2016 remember that, if you need a smile and a touch of nostalgia, you can always click here.

Carson hasn't gone with the departing year.  On the contrary, he'll be waiting to serve you a restorative sherry at Downton Abbey!

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Below the manhole covers . . .

Walking home the other day, I tripped . . . luckily, the shopping I was carrying cushioned my fall.
What had caused me to trip?
My heel had become stuck in a small opening in the pavement.  A manhole cover had been removed and someone had forgotten to replace it.

Not surprisingly, I now pay far more attention to the pavements I walk on, and what I've noticed has come as a considerable surprise.

Try it for yourself.  Look down as you walk through your neighbourhood.
You'll discover, as I did, that manhole covers are everywhere.
Small ones . . . large ones . . . holes covered in metal . . . holes covered in framed tarmac or concrete.

If you study them, you'll see that they allow access to gas pipes, to water pipes, to telephone cables, to electrical wiring, to sewers.  The ground beneath our feet isn't solid . . . on the contrary, it's an active workplace for all that's keeping the surface structure functioning.

This discovery spawned another discovery . . . the realisation of how little we appreciate all that's going on down below.
Unthinkingly, we switch on lights, turn on taps, and access the computer and the television.  When we pull out the plug in the bath, do we stop to consider where the dirty water is going?

Our tendency, it seems, is to place value and attention on the superstructure whilst taking the foundations for granted.  Yet the prized housing above ground would be no more than a useless shell if deprived of the vital utilities below.

These last few weeks have made it clear to all of us that there's something else we take for granted.  Below the manhole covers of our daily existence lie the essential components that underpin all life on this planet . . . namely air, water and sunshine.

Accepting the reality of climate change has forced us to peer cautiously beneath those manhole covers . . . and we've had a shock.

Did you know that, in 2004, nearly three hundred million people were effected by climate disasters, ninety-eight per cent of them in developing countries?
Or that, in the past thirty years, vast swathes of the African continent have been reduced from fertile farmland to arid dust?
Or that, according to Sergei Petrovskii, a professor of Applied Mathematics at the University of Leicester, the warming oceans could seriously deplete the world's oxygen supply?

Did you realise that, as you read this, thousands of refugees are swarming northwards in Bangladesh, fleeing the rising sea levels engulfing their towns and villages?
Or, to come closer to home, that erratic rainfall in southern Europe is seriously impeding the UK's supply of citrus fruit and bananas.

The western media keeps such news firmly below the manhole covers, it was the opening of the Climate Change conference in Paris that enabled the facts to escape.

Click here to listen to the eloquence of Xiuhtezcatl, a fifteen-year-old delegate, when speaking of the global catastrophe that his generation is likely to inherit.

It's a week since the world's leaders gave their impassioned opening speeches in Paris, and much of the media have replaced the manhole covers on climate change.
Although the conference continues, you'd hardly know it.  We're more concerned with war and politics.

Is there anything we can do . . .  anything to ensure that we'll be walking the streets of the future?
Let's breathe in deeply, appreciating the oxygen available to us, and ponder that question.
Surely it's the one that really matters . . . ?

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The gift of the mysterious

The days are getting shorter . . . the nights are getting colder . . . and, with the increase in darkness there's a corresponding increase in an underlying sense of anticipation.

Ever since the late Stone Age this has been a significant point of the year . . . a time of mystery, a time of wonder, a time of revelation.

It's little wonder that early Christian leaders interwove myth and prophecy to create a Christmas story in Midwinter.  But they also gave us the shadowy pathway that leads to Christmas . . . the mysterious weeks of Advent.

We live in a world that enjoys a mystery, it sees it as a challenge . . . something to be solved.  It's a world in which it's felt that all questions should be answerable, all conundrums understood.

But, by and large, we're not so fond of the mysterious.  We turn away from the strange and the unusual, all that defies an easy explanation.  We like certainties.

Nonetheless, if we think about it for a moment, even the word 'understand' implies a position of deference in relation to knowledge.  And isn't it true that, in our hearts, we all need the mysterious?

What is it that holds a blade of grass erect?
What resonates so clearly in the song of a bird?
What departs from the body at death?

The answer to each of those questions is 'life'.   We all know that.
But can you, or I, or anyone else explain what 'life' really is?
We know when it's gone . . . that's all.
But, as it says in the Talmud, 'Why ruin a perfectly good question with an answer?'

Christmas is approaching, the New Year will follow . . . and something new will be emerging from the darkness.  It's a time of birth, and all births are mysterious.

There could hardly be a time of greater uncertainty than we have at the moment . . . environmental uncertainty, international uncertainty, future uncertainty.   But mystery lies at the heart of uncertainty and mystery creates wonder.

As we wait in the shadows, mightn't it be wise to acknowledge the enriching power of the mysterious?

It's a quality that words can't fully convey.  Instead, I've something profoundly mysterious to offer you.

Click here for a moving prelude to whatever lies ahead.
And remember, no questions . . . just wonder . . .  and gratitude.