Sunday, 17 December 2017

Brain farts and other absent-minded moments

Fart - definition: do I have to spell this one out? We all know what a fart is.
It's Bertie Baggins emptying the room faster than even he could leap up at the rustle of wrapper and hint of a biscuit. Perhaps it's his passion for all things biscuit-crumby and sticky and generally curled up and slowly decaying that he finds on the kitchen floor or dead in the middle of a field that leads to the efficacy of his room-evacuating talent.

The picture of innocence

Farts are also the bubbles suggesting the early morning swimmers are using some internal combustion engine to propel themselves up the pool and that the changing room toilets are probably best avoided when the swimming session ends.
Farts are universally unpleasant and embarrassing; always and instantly orphaned and totally necessary. We all do them. Yes ... we do; all of us. At all ages; next time you're near a very young baby watch it jump in  surprise when it noisily passes wind.
Fart as flatulence is from the old English feorting but with possible German origins from ferzan or from the Old Norse freta. I have no idea why I should find word derivations interesting but I do (follow Robert Macfarlane on twitter if you also enjoy ancient words and their resurrection).

In English, fart has other meanings, too.

The old fart; the one who knew a cousin of your father's and corners you at a party and spends the evening discussing the relative merits of the different routes he could have taken to get to the party but didn't and wished he had because his journey had been delayed by first a minor accident and then a closed road. And you listen wishing that your father didn't have a cousin and that the minor accident hadn't been so minor and could perhaps have involved some more cars - one in particular - and then you feel guilty and you try to listen. But as your eyes start to wander and settle on the face of the one person you hoped would also have been invited and your head explodes along an unspiralling reel of picture stills - silver sand and squealing gulls; blue sea stretching to a horizon dotted with islands; a hot sun shimmering in the sky; and a warm hand folded into yours - the old fart twitches slightly, and blushes and your nose is suddenly assaulted with a stench of stale cabbage. The old fart has farted.

There is also the fart of foolish, irresponsible things. The fart of farting around. It is naughty and shameful and sometimes illicit. It belongs almost exclusively to teenage boys. And sometimes to an orange-hued adult whose day-care handlers should know better. This older, oranger fart is on a limited-run ticket and racing towards possible impeachment but, like the younger farts farting around, is essentially a time waster; particularly when playing golf. The fart of farting around is silly and disrupts the norm. And, in the case of the orange one, sometimes argues - until he is even oranger in the face or gets someone called Sarah to argue for him while he chain-sips coke in front of the television - that the unprovable is right and the science-based wrong. But as the orange-hued one has just banned - yes! Banned! - the use of the word science-based, along with evidence-based, vulnerable, diversity, transgender and fetus, I guess he is creating his own little world (... getting littler after Alabama) where he and Sarah can continue to fart around and not care about the health of other human beings and human rights and climate and all those boring things that might require reading more than a paragraph and interrupt the next opportunity to tweet narcissistic nonsense. Untrammelled farting around is globally hazardous and must be stopped.

Time to breathe. To count to ten. To gaze upon a nice picture. And remember that the words ridiculous, risible, ludicrous, stupid and impeach have not been banned.

Lastly, there is the fart which is the brain fart. This could be called forgetfulness. It is the disorientation when walking into a room and wondering why you are there. It is turning the radio on to listen to the forecast and realising ten minutes later that despite standing next to it you managed to sip your coffee and eat your porridge but heard absolutely nothing of the impending weather and still don't know if you will need an umbrella. It is describing to a stranger that you write a blog and in the moment of realising that you have shared this personal thing with him, struggle to grasp at any good words to describe it, and instead tell him it's "basically a brain fart." What!? I have never described it thus before. A ramble - yes. A rant - yes, sometimes. A slow meander through some thoughts and comments and happenings in my life - yes, because that is what it is. The dreams of a champion procrastinator - yes, often. But a brain fart? No. No. No.
Littlest frequently has self-confessed brain farts when there is a temporary disconnect between what is in her head and what comes out of her mouth. She has the agile brain of a teenager and sometimes its too-fast agility spills gibberish into the air. My brain no longer possesses that agility. The irony of the words I used is that I stumbled upon them precisely when I was suffering the moment of absent minded panic that we call a brain fart. My brain, if you like, suffered a brain fart and farted out the words "brain fart." Which is not what I wanted to say at all. The bubbles in the think tank of my brain rose to the surface and turned into words. Just not the words I expected.

Why do we suffer brain farts and where do they come from? I didn't really expect to find an answer to this but I did.

Imagine telling your granny at Christmas that you are studying brain farts. After she'd checked the settings on her hearing aids and if bringing up the subject of flatulence hadn't shocked/embarassed/confused her too much or convinced her that you were the liberally raised idiot she had always suspected, you could - if from the team at the university of Notre Dame in Indiana - explain that brain 'f's' are now called "doorway effects." Imagine watching her relax at this euphemistic substitution and wait for her lips to thin again as you proceed to tell her that we all suffer from brain farts. Even grannies.

While it might at first appear surprising that anyone would study brain farts - maybe for an April 1st publication or the Christmas Edition of the BMJ; the only BMJ worth reading cover to cover. Sorry if I've lost you - the BMJ is the British Medical Journal and to prove that doctors can be funny it publishes the whackier research articles from the previous year in its Christmas edition. The brain fart study, featured in the New Scientist (see link below), is not however whacky. It is serious. It looks at what happens in the brain when we forget things or appear absent minded or substitute the wrong name for something or commit a Freudian slip. And it's not just happening in Indiana. There are many teams in many different parts of the world looking into this phenomenon because, as I have indicated already, we all do it.

Studying brain farts leads to a classification of sorts.

There is the walking into a room and wondering why we are there sort, which is common and always peculiarly discombobulating. It can be solved by retracing your steps until the lightbulb comes back on and the thing you had gone to do or fetch is lit up within your consciousness and you can now do it or fetch it as previously planned. This phenomenon is thought to be caused by our brain compartmentalising our surroundings. It copes with creating an image of place inside our heads and there is a temporary blank moment when we walk into a new room when it readjusts. In this moment, we can't process both what we left behind and the reconfiguring of our new surroundings, so we forget why we are there. This is the 'doorway effect.'

At times of extreme stress we can experience a cascade of brain farts. We forget the details that define us; the facts that we previously thought so familiar that we pictured them branded into our conscious self. But no - after an accident or in moments of extreme embarrassment we blank: our address, our phone number, our date of birth evaporate. Our brain, flooded with panic, struggles to retrieve any meaningful memory. Gibberish is what comes out instead - brain fart after brain fart after brain fart. It feels like a nightmare. Like we are watching ourselves implode. This awareness makes the panic worse and as the tide of stress rises, we lose sight of ourselves and in extreme situations the brain fart nose dives into panic attack.

Milder, less distressing, brain fart types are these - calling your children by the wrong name (I do this all the time); seeing a face in the pattern of knots in the wood on the back of a door; calling your teacher/boss/doctor 'mummy'; signing off with kisses in a text to your builder/plumber/bank manager; fixating on a word until it becomes meaningless - the comedian Miranda Hart does this well when she over-repeats pet words until they no longer make any sense.

I suspect I have repeated brain fart rather too often here. Part embarrassment. Part hey-this-is-something-funny-that-also-has-meaning-and-could-be-interesting-and-perhaps-has-a-blog-in-it. And let's face it, I should be wrapping presents; turning several brown bananas into banana bread; hemming a pair of curtains; ordering last minute stocking fillers; writing Christmas cards and taking this pair for a walk

All of which I will go off and do now. And prepare lunch for the friends I had forgotten were coming. Soon!

This is the article in New Scientist on the study of brain farts

And on the subject of flatulent farts, here is Canada, very amusingly punching a hole in the social smoking habit of young Canadians - worth a giggle

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

A bounce and a splash on a blustery day. And feeling pain. And emotions.

I haven't done this for a while. Blogging, I mean.
The while has been spent tackling the annual creative writing exercise otherwise referred to as the NHS appraisal. 
There must be a better way of establishing if we are fit to practice. A way that doesn't involve finding fifty differently worded paragraphs in which we comment on how we reflect on out learning activities. Yes - okay - it does make us think about our role. Yes - it also confronts situations where we might have acted differently. And it does force us to keep current with latest research and treatment protocols. So, maybe it does enable us to practice better medicine. But how many ways can I find to say 'I am working to relevant standards.' 
I prefer this creative form of linguistic perambulation. 

Perambulation - this has become our home, code-word for walk. If we mention the w word, Four-legged-friend and Berti-Baggins go into paroxysms of over-excited tail- wagging and barking. We, therefore, use the p word instead. It will only be a matter of time before they react to perambulation as they react to walk now and then we'll have to choose another word - stroll, trot, wander, ramble, expedition?

On today's morning perambulation, we weren't alone. Others were perambulating fleetingly across the field.

Not that Four-legged-friend and Bertie Baggins appeared to notice. Or just ignored them. Maybe they knew that they wouldn't catch them anyway. 

Hmm ... were they choosing to ignore the deer or oblivious to them? 

Were they just putting one leg in front of three others and somehow managing not to fall over - blithely looking straight ahead; not thinking about anything; empty headed; and plodding, in fact. 

In popular fiction, zombies are incapable of feeling or emotion. Their thoughts are base and primitive - move, harm, destroy. 
Bricks don't feel pain or emote either. 
Nor do dead elephants. 
Or dead baby whales (... Blue Planet - plastics choking our oceans - another rant, another blog).
Or animals, according to our government.

Is this the picture of a creature unable to feel pain or have emotions?

*note to self - breathe. Pause. Count to ten. Look at the trees - and the sun - then hit something!


Dogs who limp when they get a thorn in their paw. When they feel pain. 
Who leap out of the way if a stray foot steps on their tail. When they feel pain. 
Who back into a corner at the vet's because their annual jabs hurt. When they feel pain.
Who two weeks ago felt the pain of the bites of the critters they had in their hair. Anti-flea treatment = no critters = dogs no longer scratching because they no longer feel the pain of the bites.

Dogs who whine at about this time in the evening because they feel the pain of hunger. 
Who wait at the foot of the stairs because they feel the pain of separation.
Who lay a muzzle in your lap because they feel your pain when you feel like crying.

Dogs who hang their heads in shame and head for the nearest exit when they know they've done something wrong. If that's not an expression of shame, I don't know what it is. A Pavlovian response to eating the last slice of cake?
Dogs who today stopped during their perambulation and reversed their rears against the reassuring steady shelter of my legs because it was windy and the trunks of a pair of trees were rubbing against each other with a sound that was half splintering wood and half creaking door and they were afraid. Or if not actually afraid then certainly wary. Did they learn this from Pavlov too? Was it an emotionless reaction to an unknown noise? That they kept looking at my face seeking my reaction, suggests to me that they were ready to react with emotion to my emotion. If I was frightened, they might have barked. Barking is often an expression of fear. It is seldom that other emotion, aggression.

Dogs who don't have the vocabulary to express how they feel. Are we to believe that this means they don't feel? A baby cries when it has immunisations. It reacts to pain but doesn't have the vocabulary to express how it feels. I challenge anyone to say that a baby does not feel pain or have emotions.

I have witnessed the truly awful, heart-rending lowing of a cow separated from its calf. I have read about elephants that mourn the death of family members. The elephant calves taken to orphanages are lost and subdued when they first arrive after witnessing the deaths of their mothers by poachers or trophy hunters (*breathe - count to ten thousand, although that wouldn't be enough. Another blog; another day). We - I - anthropomorphise too much but don't try to tell me that these animals are not feeling emotion. A primitive expression of emotion - yes, perhaps. That depends on how you define it. Primitive - in human terms - because the animal doesn't give it a name, it isn't treatable with counselling (horse-whisperers might disagree), it isn't talked about with friends and there isn't a tee-shirt for it, but it's still real. 

If, by law, animals do not feel pain or have emotions what does this say about us; the writers of that law? I think it makes us a little less human.

* I need to breathe again.

Here is Bertie Baggins following his uncle into a puddle

And doing what he 'likes' best

... bounce once

bounce twice

then splash

and slide to a stop

I just love these blustery-day ears

and this happy boy.

How do I know he was happy? The wagging tail. The 'smile' ... ?

Okay - I know he wasn't really smiling. But in my head, I think he looked happy. I suspect having just run around a lot; eaten a biscuit; and chewed something unmentionable, he was content; if not actually happy.

Here he is again - showing that dogs can run and wipe their nose at the same time

And here is Four-legged-friend just turned into the drive and expressing in an I'm-not-moving-til-we-extend-this-perambulation-activity way that he is unhappy to be home.  

Blustery days and awesome wintry skies ...

and angry hearts. 

Excuse, for a moment please, my mind being in a post-appraisal fog: perhaps, the government should appraise their thinking and reflect on whether it meets relevant standards. We are humans, our standards define our humanity and we are better than this.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

All the D words, a bit of a rant and a catch up

Ok - so I fail at the first hurdle: of course I can't list all the D words in this post. Well, theoretically I could, I suppose, but it would create a dull, dreary and not particularly daring blog. I'd lose my readers quicker than a duck, diving for dragon-fly larvae, in a duck-pond. But incase you missed it, I'll pick up one of those D words again: daring. That's the one.

Daring - adjective: definition - to be adventurous, fearless, unafraid or bold. Origin: Old English, durran - to brave danger.

So ignore the "All the D words" bit of the title and insert 'Some D words; one D word in particular; a bit of a rant and a doggy catch up."
Huh! I hear you cry - actually I don't, but I like to delude myself that you noticed; that there even is a you to notice that I inserted another D word. The canine, four-legged, lick-you-in-the-face-if-you-get-too-close D word, that is, after all, appropriate for a blog called Walking the D-og.

Dogs! It's autumn. Autumn = apple season. Apples = stuffed canine friends. Absolutely stuffed canine friends. Four-legged-friend and Bertie Baggins are on a self-inflicted apple diet. The apples go in and apple-y excrement comes out, much to the apparent delight of the woodpeckers who toss it around all over the grass, presumably gorging themselves, disgustingly, on the partially digested lumps of apple. Eurgh!
Apple-tummies demand an increase in daily exercise

"Please take me and my tummy ache for a walk,"

Unfortunately, walks sometimes have pop-up or in this case fall-down cafe's. You can never eat too many apples, right?

But a re-stuffing results in an I-need-to-sleep-this-off silent, stationary protest and a dogged determination to waddle slowly for the rest of the way home

I digress. The apples will soon be gone - into chutneys, crumbles, jellies, compost, dogs and deer (judging by the hoof prints) and an unseen badger (judging by the neat piles of poo in shallow, scraped out holes).
Doggy catch-up done.
Back to Daring. And some homework. Not mine. Term has started for Littlest (who really can't go on being called Littlest for much longer - there's probably about a year before she ceases to be Littlest in stature, much to the disillusion and disgruntlement of one of her older sibling-ettes). With a new term term comes new homework. With homework and sleepy end-of-the-day heads comes cups of coffee and a parent struggling to decipher an algebraic x from y and navigate between masculine and feminine endings in French - it must have been a man who decided that when he sat on a chair, at a table and watched his wife put the kettle on for him, before she loaded the washing machine and did the washing up, there were six feminine things within that sentence. Thank heavens we don't have to argue about the gender of inanimate things in English. Anyway, I am distracting myself; again. Back to business and homework and in particular English and a critical essay on a choice of two poems, taken from a collection of about a dozen. All the poems tackled discrimination.
One in particular, tackled the discrimination of race. I hope I can quote from it here and that there aren't any copyright issues because I'm about to. I'm daring to, if you like. But not exactly the daring that I'm leading to - yes, very slowly. I know. But you are being led there, so 'Bear with' as Miranda Hart's dear friend Tilly might say (look it up if she's new to you). It (might) be worth it.

The poem is Caged Bird by Maya Angelou:

A free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wing
in the orange sun rays
and dares to climb the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings and clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird sings of freedom.

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawn
and he names the sky his own

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown 
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

For me, it's the first verse that stands out; that walloped me in the face, waking me from my caffeine fuelled, parental, homework-was-never-this-hard-in-my-day stupor. And within that verse, one word - a D word - in the last line, dares. Angelou could have chosen different words but the insertion of dares shines a beacon on the arrogance and self-belief that only the truly free can summon when making the choice to do something risky. Fear stalks those who are oppressed, making them wary of retribution and stands between them and the freedom to make choices. This makes them careful. Always watchful. Averse to doing things that they imagine might lead them into trouble. They wear the bars of their societal cage metaphorically and imovably. For them to be daring, they must first be brave. The free man has no need of being brave because, whatever he does, life is comfortable, full of fat worms on a dawn bright lawn. And, as even the sky belongs to him, his life knows no limits.

So where am I leading you?
Downwards; onto one knee, as you will discover if you delve further into the words below (... 3 D words on one line!)

I'm not going to pretend that I understand the details of the politics behind the take a knee movement in the USA. And I suspect I just fully declared my ignorance by implying that politics is behind it. Politics has certainly taken notice; its Dolt-in-chief has tweeted from the floor of his adult day care centre, like Nero playing the violin while flood and fire ravage the earth. Politics has staged its own theatrical, ridiculous, petulant and expensive counter-protest and has elevated taking a knee to a significant and highly (purposefully?) distracting and now political issue.
But at its heart - at its origin - it is about peoples caged by prejudices taking the only 'stand' they can - silent (in this case) and visually shocking but dignified. Theirs is a stand against discrimination, particularly the discrimination by those in authority that drives divisions in society. It is not a stand (or kneel) against the flag, nor against the military. They are simply saying that they are not free and have never been free to dare to climb the sky - why? Because although they know they can, they can't. They know that to openly confront discrimination would attract name-calling, bullying and risk retribution. It would heap more dirt on the graves of their dreams. Their cages might be metaphorical but trap them as securely as a prison wall; cages and walls, with bars and bricks, cemented deep in racial history. We - yes, we - wherever we are - should reflect on this and be ashamed. It's a cliche but in death we all make identical piles of bones. If we are the same on the inside, why can't our brains accept that we are the same on the outside. The caged birds of the NFL shouldn't have to kneel - that is the point of their protest. And until we can see this none of us will truly be free.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Curlews, summer skies and walking in circles.

Summer skies over the Yorkshire Dales and my mind is set to rest mode. But that rest is not totally restful; there is a niggle ... a memory, a hint of childhood, something that unsettles slightly - a light brush stroke of discomfort; a gossamer breath of discombobulation and a 'Woah! Wait a moment!' moment of 'that's-not-right!' - we're about as far from the sea as it is possible to be in middle Britain and yet, I can hear the distinctive Peep! Peep! of oystercatchers and the piercing cry of curlew. Here - 

in the blue skies of the North Yorkshire dales and along the footpaths -

and above the endless miles of drystone walls are birds that should be at the coast. 

Oystercatchers, with their distinctive red pliers attached to their heads feed on - you've guessed it - oyster beds. All along the coastline of the British Isles, their distinctive cry is the call of summer. Drowned out somewhat by the banter of seagulls but sharp and high pitched enough to be powerful prickers of memory. I grew up on the West Coast of Scotland, by the sea and frequently on the sea - oystercatcher, heron, curlew, tern, eider and shell duck, with the occasional puffin out among the Western Isles, were the backdrop and soundscape of my childhood. It's great to hear them again. But unexpected; discombobulating. The Dales aren't exactly known for their oyster-beds or salt water lochs. 
A quick search on the internet reveals that, in the past fifty years, both species - the oystercatcher and the curlew - have increasingly been forced inland to breed, due to changing land use and habitat erosion along the coasts; overall numbers of both have declined and curlews are endangered; in the red zone, with oystercatchers marked as amber.

I have apparently over-stated the 'it's (another) oystercatcher/curlew' this holiday. I'm accused of flooding the air with CPD-like facts about the birds - which unhelpfully reminds me that I have my annual CPD-fest to write up before summer tips into Autumn (*extremely sad face*) - but I'm unapologetic. It is tragic to think that in another fifty years, Littlest could be walking in the dales with her children and reminisce that she once heard curlews here, before they became extinct. The fact that she currently says she will never walk on holiday with her children is quite beside the point. She will. Walk with them somewhere; I'm sure. Probably with satellite headsets that allow constant and instant communication with their friends while they walk, instead of the old-fashioned i-phones that struggle to find signal among these hills, but still remain stubbornly glued to the hand.

Enough of curlews and oystercatchers - Yay! cry Littlest and He-who-is-seldom-obeyed. Although I feel guilty dismissing them so lightly - the birds. The birds! Not Littlest; not HWISO - look at the RSPB website and the work they are doing to try to save these species ...

... I don't want to dream of empty skies.

Onward with our walking. What is it with walking? A slow perambulation through slowly changing countryside - slowly changing in more ways than one - there is a marked absence of wind farms, pylons, solar panels and pretty much anything giving away which century we're in. Slow wearing-down of the soles of walking boots and slowing the pursuit of cares and worries and preoccupations  and quieting their carousing in our minds. 

We walk in circles. 

And find another species entirely. But what is it? Stoat, weasel or ferret? We think ferret. Aren't the other two reddy-brown? The species in it's mouth is a mole. Clearly no longer spring cleaning his patch of river bank, or boating with a water rat, or picnicking with otter, or chasing toads in racing cars, or facing stern looks from a certain Mr Badger.

The builders of footpaths around here are inventive in their design - upended barrels of concrete work surprisingly well.

Walking in circles is soothing. It is the reflection of eternity and of peace. Running in circles, on the other hand, quickly spirals into chaos. So walk - beginning to beginning to beginning.
When you walk in a circle, there's no opportunity for boredom. The view ahead keeps changing and nothing is repeated. And you reach your destination which was also your start, so there is no need for complicated bus coordination or expensive rural taxis.

It turns out that others agree and Yorkshire is dotted with circular walking routes. This one started at Askrigg and stopped half way at Aysgarth Falls -

It climbed several gates

was long enough (10 miles) to encounter different weathers

and finish in bright sun. The lifting of the cloud reminded me of these words, by Longfellow

'Filled was the air with a dreamy and magical light; and the landscape lay as if new created in all the freshness of childhood.' 

and this

'When I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that peace and tranquility will return once more.' Anne Frank

And since that last picture is of Askrigg, where the James Herriot television series was filmed in the late 70s, it is, I think, appropriate to finish with a quote that applies as much to me, and to any other dreamy procrastinator, as it clearly did to him -

'That quotation about not having time to stand and stare has never applied to me. I seem to have spent a good part of my life - probably too much - in just standing and staring and I was at it again this morning.'

Sorry, if I've rambled on and on, but just for a moment - Peep! Peep! back to the beginning - do have a look at the RSPB website. It's a more worthy distraction than the leader of the free world spouting misogynistic drivel. Again.

Monday, 10 July 2017

On watching and not watching too many films. And lucky stars.

It could be argued that I watch too many films.

Arguably - and more accurately - it is not the watching of too many films that I am guilty of, but the  purchasing of films in abundance: more per month than I could ever watch, apparently - or so I have been told. But this is probably accurate, as I frequently have to explain myself, when asked have you seen such-and-such a film and find that I have no option but to reply yes, sort of. By 'sort of' I mean that I have seen bits of the said film. Sometimes, enough to get the gist of plot and theme and story, but more often a taste that is puzzling and unsatisfactory and teasing in a cruel you-can-see-me-if-you-can-catch-me sort of way. And I never have time to catch it. It is the lot of a mother - she who washes and cooks and clears and cleans and finds the odd socks (sometimes) and walks the dogs and feeds them and wrestles the ironing-mountain and answers the phone and waters the garden and bakes the bread and never sits still (except when busy writing) - to only ever see films in five minute chunks and to be left wondering about what happened next until the next film and the next what happened next. Until all the what happened nexts are forgotten and the answer to the question have I seen a particular film is sort of. Perhaps, 'no, not really' would be better?

I have, however, seen enough films and understand the human condition sufficiently to judge the accuracy of big, filmic moments.

One such moment happened to me recently.

It was one of those time-stopped/my-whole-life-flashed-before-my-eyes/scream-filled moments before ... what? Well anything, if we are back in cinema-land which involves an abrupt end - where the lights go out; where life considers the leap across the divide into death and the film plot pivots. In other words, anywhere there is a narrative full stop or a change of direction.

I'm not sure that the screen gets this potentially life-defining or indeed life-ending moment right:

- time does not stop.

- there is an unsettling quiet; unsettling like the sound of a nail being scraped across a black-board, or a high pitched, off-key scream - an eerie quiet that makes your hairs stand on end.

- life doesn't flash before your eyes - there isn't time for the contents of anyone's life to do that.

Instead, there's a moment which is almost a pause but is not a pause because things are still moving and importantly, you are aware that you are still thinking. It's that awareness and its sharp focus that identifies this moment. Suddenly, nothing matters except the moment you are in. Nothing at all. The overwhelming - and I mean totally overwhelming - feeling is one of inevitability. Of there being absolutely nothing you can do to prevent what is about to happen from happening. Like standing beneath the stars on a clear night and feeling infinitesimally small, this moment trivialises all your prior worries and concerns. It obliviates them. Momentarily. Or forever.
Life is suddenly out of your control (which begs the question, what degree of control had you over it anyway? Probably less than you thought). Your focus is on waiting. Waiting. Is it wrong to describe that focus as exhilarating? The inevitable next moment - the one that is, inexorably, about to happen - could change everything. For better or worse? And all you can do is wait. You've taken avoiding action. You've done your shouting. You've tensed every muscle in your body. Now, you watch. You wait.
Who flicks the switch - lights on or off? I don't believe anyone did, or indeed does; ever. I do believe in being in the wrong place at the wrong time. That was unfortunate. I believe in chance. But not in any divine direction. I appreciate that when the lights remain on, as they did for all of us, there is luck and, perhaps fate and fortune too, involved. And mountains of after-the-moment reflection. And legions of What if? soldiers marching noisily through our heads. Stomp - What if? - STOMP - What IF? - S-T-O-M-P! WHAT IF?! Films - bits of films! - made me see what I feared might happen. But, without stunt coordinators, vehicle ramps, carefully coordinated explosions and special effects, it didn't. We walked away. Our What ifs? are mere nightmare dust, which breezy reality and time will blow away.

In that moment, we almost stopped; briefly. Of course, I wish that moment hadn't happened. I could have done without the week of discombobulation that followed. The disturbed sleep. The endless phone calls. The decisions of who to tell, who not to tell and the construct of very good reasons to not tell the people who weren't told. But ...
But like moments in a film which have narrative purpose, can I construct a positive outcome from this unfortunate moment, one which was entirely not my fault? What about all those unfinished lists? All those plans unexecuted? All that writing un-edited and stories un-submitted? All those plants un-planted and the greenhouse glass un-washed and borders un-weeded? All those people loved and not spoken to for hours, weeks, months? You know who you are; I need to reconnect with you. I think we sometimes get too caught up in the need to be perfect and then the distress in never achieving that perfection. I don't think I do, I know I do. Perhaps, we just need to be good enough. Good. Enough. If enough can be truly enough and make us happy then we don't need more. I need to keep telling myself that enough and only enough matters..

I'm going to stop now and - I know it's a cliche, so I'm sorry if it offends - thank my lucky stars.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

What a day; W words; waiting at poll tat stations and wheat fields

Well this has been a rather different day.

First - just as I was beginning to think it was time to stretch; to push my uncle's legs off my tummy and wonder about what might be causing the beginnings of an itch behind my right ear - our mum woke the whole house up. She ran around upstairs - at 6:08am - telling our two-legged sisters to get up. Because she thought they'd slept in. Because she thought it was 8:06am. Because she hadn't put her glasses on. She then giggled loudly for about ten minutes. Which our two-legged sisters thought a bit odd. And a bit unfeeling, given that they would much rather still be asleep.

So we got an early breakfast.

Littlest - our smallest two-legged sister - did sleep in after that. And had to take her breakfast to eat on the bus on the way to school.

Mum had stopped giggling by the time she had breakfast. I think the look on Littlest's face probably helped.

Anyway ... next we overheard the W word. And jumped around and Wriggled and Wagged our tails, which are both good W words too. 

My uncle likes to pretend that he is taking himself for a Walk, which (in case you hadn't guessed) is the W word; the marrow-bone of W words. 
I just wait. That gets a small w because waiting is boring so it's a very poor W word.

Here we are ... waiting.


This was no ordinary Walk.

On this Walk, we got chained to a fence. This is not normal. My uncle was not happy ...

It's his eighth birthday tomorrow and being tethered to a fence is no way to treat a soon-to-be-birthday boy.  He's quite an elderly gentleman and elderly gentlemen become curmudgeonly and restless when tethered to fences. I think curmudgeonly must be an -itis because it was catching and after a couple of minutes I had it too.

Then one of our two-legged sisters came out for a chat. Please note that mum didn't tether her to the fence.

Next we went to look at a sign. And Mum told me to sit. Which I did. I was just grateful that she didn't tether me to it. It said Poll Tat apparently. 

She said there's a thing called #dogsinpollingstations. So we licked the sign clean ...

... then asked if it was time for that Walk. Ple-eeee-ase.

Apparently, this is a thing too. Personally, I think it's two bottoms in a Wheat field. Well behaved bottoms. Walking along a path. Through a field of Wheat.

Running through the Wheat cured my uncle of his curmudgeonly demeanour. Unfortunately, that only works for dogs.

Mum says these are dogs too. Dog roses apparently. I think she got up too early this morning.

She seems to have a thing for Wheat fields today. Dreamy Wheat fields, below summer skies. She needs to sleep.

My uncle is behaving himself again here. He says it's best not to run through the Wheat - it gets up your nose; gritty, grainy, gnarly bits lodge in your teeth; it scratches your legs, and trampling it annoys the farmer. Being a two-legged creature, the farmer would remain afflicted by curmudgeonly-itis if forced to chase naughty tramplers. And the act of chasing would risk escalating curmudgeonly into something irrational and raving. So, it's best not to run through Wheat. Or chase after Wheat tramplers.

See! What a day!

Despite the early start, it ended up being a good day. Because I love Walks. They are simply the best thing. 

As A.A. Milne almost said, I'm ... a dog. No, he didn't write that; he wrote this about Tigger who, apart from the stripes, is a lot like me - he's  'bouncy, trouncy, flouncy, bouncy, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun' ... And always, also like Tigger ...  'I've got a lotta bouncin' to do.' Like this ...

Continuing the Tigger theme, 'Well, I gotta go now. Hoo - hoo - hoo - hoo! T-T-F-N: ta-ta for now!'

P.S. #dogsinpollingstations ...? What's a hashtag? I have a dogtag. And a microchip: maybe a hashtag is a very small fried potato. Pity I didn't find one at the poll tat station. I like chips.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017


Honestly - "Aaaaargh!" Can I really not think of a better title?

No, not this morning - an alternative using the words I'm thinking would probably be unpublishable.

Yesterday's blog was also entitled "Aaaaargh!" For different reasons - which I will get onto later - but yesterday's blog DESPITE SAVING IT DURING A BRIEF WINDOW WITH INTERNET IN LONDON YESTERDAY LUNCHTIME disappeared overnight. All those words and pictures evaporated off the screen. So this is definitely an "Aaaaargh!" moment.

"Aaaaargh!" x2 if you like.

And there's a big Grrr! prowling through my head trying to remember why I was thinking "Aaaaargh!" yesterday. It started with a benign quote with eight of the most inspirational words I have ever read -

Somewhere something incredible is waiting to be known
Carl Sagan

I grew up watching Sagan's wonderful television series, Cosmos. It was perfect - from the velvety enthusiasm of his voice, through the incredible artistry of the space photography, to the magical, haunting music by Vangelis.  Sagan was a Pullitzer Prize-winning writer and scientist who could explain science as though it were the easiest thing to understand; his erudite breakdown of complex ideas about space and time, into simple, easy to digest bites was a gift. Even now, I stand beneath the stars on clear nights - waiting for Four-legged-friend and Bertie Baggins to 'be good boys' - wondering about our place in the universe. Wondering. Feeling small. Bathing in the strangely comforting, awesome vastness of the heavens - noting with guilty relief that nothing really matters. Does it?

We ride through space on this small planet, on a journey that none of us can change. We had a beginning very late in the timeline of the universe's history - very very late (I hate the double very; more on that later) - and we will have an end. But our inexorable slide along our planet's timeline, will be more comfortable if we do our care-taking job well.

... Can you begin to see where I was going with my "Aaaaargh!" yesterday?


Yes! Hmm. Mankind's education in planet husbandry is patchy. However, putting aside one or two notable, dangerous exceptions - for a paragraph or two - it is improving.

With all the pro-science marching in recent weeks you could be forgiven for thinking that the world has become a society united in its enthusiasm for enquiry and understanding. United a little, perhaps and certainly more than it was in the past. But wholly united? No - if you thought that, you would be wrong. Too often, today, scientists are forced into being the doomsayers and the tellers of unpopular truths - more accustomed to the throwing of metaphorical stones than global adulation. The race towards populism has in some countries dragged with it a rigid denunciation and fear of things that are either too difficult to understand or too inconvenient for the preferred and proffered doctrines. 

Does science matter? Think about it. Where in your life do you meet science?  I'll show you, in six pictures, where I meet it in mine - 

Where is the science in a pile of stones?
It's in the gravity that pulls them together. You don't need to understand gravity. But I'm assuming you know it exists. We use it all the time. Walking, exercising, cycling, placing items on a table and expecting them to stay there. Gravity also keeps all the water in the loch beyond the stack of stones. And it pulls the stones down into the water when they tumble in a game of who-can-knock-over-the-pile-of-stones-by-throwing-another-stone game. 
Without gravity everything on the earth would just be space dust.

Where is the science in a shadow-picture of me and Littlest? It's in the light that hits our backs and stops. Light that creates not only shadows but also rainbows. That travels through space from distant stars. That bounces off the moon at night. That gives colour to everything we see.  That reacts with chlorophyll in plants to drive the photosynthesis that ultimately feeds us. That provides us with energy when it hits solar panels. But light too that perplexingly elongates Littlest's shadow while doing the opposite to mine; it always does this - I wonder if there is a scientific explanation ...

What about this? The science, here, is in the engineering and maths and architecture that positions and juxtaposes and incorporates disparate materials in buildings that don't fall down.

Where is the science in Littlest on a bicycle? The clouds? - well, yes. The tarmac on the road? - yes, okay, but not what I was thinking. The plantation of trees contributing to the water cycle while also photosynthesising - yes, those too. The engineering behind the crash-tested helmet? - yes, absolutely! But ... The bicycle - it's brakes - the rubber of the tyres - the structure of the frame? - yes to all, but they were also not dependent on the specific science I was considering. Where science meets with a family of asthmatics is in the inhalers that allow us to breathe. When we can breathe, we can cycle.

So far so plausible - science meeting life. So why now is there a delightful post-swim-in-the-river picture of Four-legged-friend and Bertie Baggins? One look at their pedigrees or chat to their breeders would be enough to convince a sceptic that there is a very exact science to the breeding of dogs, some of whose siblings and ancestors are breed champions.

Finally, I give you a picture of a sunset. Where is the science in this? No, I haven't gone back to light waves. Instead, the science here is in my pocket. In the small black block that performs acts of magic every day. I call it magic rather than science because, although I know it is science, I understand so little of it that it might as well be magic. It allows me to talk to friends; to track where they are; to read the news; to get un-lost when I've taken a wrong turning; to book train tickets; to access the biggest library that the world has ever possessed; to check on how my fitbit tracker rates my week's exercise (... not impressed; encouraging but could do better); to see a weather forecast; to learn a new language; to play games (if I ever wanted to) and to take, edit, crop and post photographs like this one.
Even if you are a science sceptic I bet you know where your mobile phone is. And that you use it. In other words, you use and rely upon science. Every day.

Science matters. I know I said nothing really matters earlier but that was referring to me standing looking at the stars, feeling small and inserting the word really between nothing and matters and defining nothing as all the little problems and upsets and worries that make my muscles tense and my head ache. Science on the other hand matters. We meet it in everything we do. We just have to recognise it.

What is science?

Tim Minchin - poet, songwriter, singer, awesome elfin philosopher and wordsmith - defined it thus: "Science is simply the word we use to describe a method of organising our curiosity."

And ... hinting at why I might be thinking "Aaaaargh!"... , Douglas Adams said "I'd take the awe of understanding over the awe of ignorance any day."

Ignorance - particularly deliberate ignorance, or a construct of ignorance, or ignorance spread through fear - is exactly why I am thinking "Aaaaargh!" 

Ignorance. As a sort of aside - sort of because the aside will become the subject shortly - I said I would return to very very. I hate this identical twinning of weakly enforcing adverbs. I haven't always hated it and have over-used it in speech myself, but when it is seemingly the only adverb in the astonishingly limited vocabulary of the chief Twit, it becomes more irritating than a lunchpack full of wasps. Almost as irritating as bigly, or the soup of words and half finished phrases that splutter chaotically from his lips. He verbally ricochets from spite to gibberish to contradiction to downright lie. His vocabulary is apparently on a level with most nine year olds. But paradoxically it helps him. In a world wary of fake news nothing spoken so plainly and so without intellectual depth could possibly be fake - could it?

If his words make me want to scream "Aaaaargh!" it's his attitude toward science and climate change that make me actually do so.

Science is in us, with us, around us and will determine out future. But it will only determine our future well if we fund it well. No pulling the budget on global health - no false news against vaccinations - no rolling back of environmental policies to enable the extraction and burning of dirty fossil fuels - no denial of the truth that is climate change - no turning against the Paris Agreement - and no rushing in the name of populism to secure jobs in polluting industries by reversing years of good science. "Aaaaargh!"

One truth remains - somewhere something incredible is waiting to be known. Always. (... I'm not referring to incredible meant-to-be-secret truths shared with diplomats from foreign semi-hostile lands!)
To find the incredible somethings, we need to nurture science and scientists; we need to stay alive and we need to look after our planet.
Why don't we all practice planet-husbandry now?! In Noam Chomsky's words - "The general population doesn't know what's happening and it doesn't even know that it doesn't know."
Perhaps, it's up to us to tell them.