Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Music that inspires - 9

Carole's asked me to put a Christmas wish-list together. It's so hard to think of things - but I'm hoping that a member of the family might take the trouble to order the DVD Cinema Paradiso from E-Bay. I've been wanting to watch this film for a few years, now. Having read the reviews, I'm sure it will go to the top of my favourites list when I have! I've already fallen in love with the music. How does Ennio Morricone do it? See what you think:

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Music that inspires - 8

I haven't posted here for some 5 months so it's about time I did something. I've just noticed that my last video from Jane Eyre is not available anymore, so here's another with a romantic theme, a clever collation of scenes from the 1968 version of Romeo & Juliet with the amazing Olivia Hussey. The raw emotion portrayed in this famous tale of forbidden love is intense. I challenge you not to be moved by this sequence, especially with Barratt Waugh singing A Time For Us in the background. I can't listen to this song on my iPod without being profoundly moved!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Quotes for living - 7

Shoot for the moon.
Even if you miss it you will land among the stars.

[Lester Louis Brown]

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Saturday morning at home....

Carole and I have been spending some precious time together today. Mark's at work, Matt's doing his tennis coaching, and John's playing at a gig in Camden, London. We finally re-hung the photo of Carole on her wedding day on the bedroom wall, and then made a coffee and sat down together to watch the final episode of the BBC's production of Jane Eyre. I find the following scene so moving (I apologise for the Spanish sub-titles!). Jane's wedding day had been so traumatically interrupted. She ran away, but now - many months later - she returns to find the once majestic Thornfield Hall in ruins. She learns the whereabouts of Edward Rochester and makes her way to his new home....

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Nature red in tooth and claw... wrote Tennyson. And I had a vivid demonstration of it this afternoon. I took my friend, Ian, for a walk over Ampthill Park. Whilst walking along the footpath around 'The Rezzy' (a small lake), a wren started churring frantically and a young rabbit ran down the path straight towards us. My immediate reaction was, "stoat!" and, sure enough, a stoat appeared, bouncing down the path in pursuit of the the rabbit. The rabbit turned into a gap in the scrub right by where we were standing, now closely followed by the stoat. Moments later there was a pitiful scream and we saw the stoat with the rabbit in a death-grip. Seeing us, the stoat dropped the rabbit but returned moments later and dragged it through the large mesh fence and into the long grass.

15 minutes later, and a few hundred metres to the west of The Rezzy, we heard more frantic squeals and looked up to see another stoat chasing after a rabbit. It brought it down less than 5 metres from us. We moved closer and the stoat bounded several metres away, characteristically sitting up on its haunches to size us up. It then moved closer...and then further away continuing to regard us quizzically, giving us cracking views. After a few minutes we moved further back, allowing the stoat to bound up to the rabbit, grasp it, and carry it away with ease.

Incredible. I've never actually seen a stoat catch a rabbit before, and today I saw 2 kills within the space of a quarter of an hour almost at my feet. What is it that they say about buses....?!

Music that inspires - 7

Here's a very different piece of stirring music...this scene from Casablanca always brings a lump to my throat. Is anything threatening to drown out important things in your life? Stand up and confront it!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Confronting darkness

This blog has been a means of marshalling my own thoughts regarding life, particularly with regard to fostering and maintaining a spirit of adventure. So I can't resist sharing the following words towards the end of Simon Barnes' book, How To Be Wild, which have really challenged me:

'Let us go back to Reepicheep, the gallant martial mouse in the Narnia books, and his intervention in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, when he and his shipmates are confronted with the dark island. And as the horror of the dark island becomes clear to everyone on board the ship, they all seek to turn tail, save, of course, Reepicheep, the only person of the company blessed with a tail:

"But what manner of use would it be ploughing through the blackness?" asked Drinian.
"Use?" asked Reepicheep. "Use, Captain? If by use you mean filling our bellies or our purses, I confess it will be no use at all. So far as I know, we did not set sail to look for things useful but to seek honour and adventures. And here is as great an adventure as ever I heard of, and here, if we turn back, no little impeachment of all our honours."

Friday, April 4, 2008

Pearls from Eden

During our visit to the Eden Project last week, I enjoyed reading various pearls of wisdom inscribed on the tables outside the restaurant. Here are a few for you to ponder:

'Life is like an onion. You peel it off, one layer at a time, and sometimes you weep.'
[Carl Sandburg]

'If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a happier world.'
[J.R.R Tolkien]

'Never eat more than you can lift.'
[Miss Piggy]

'Those who think they have no time for healthy eating will, sooner or later, have to find time for illness.'
[Edward Stanley]

'Slow down, wash your own salad, and improve the quality of your life.'
[William Young]

'Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.'
[Groucho Marx]

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Seed thoughts....

We had a brilliant week in Cornwall, including 2 visits to The Eden Project which was incredibly inspiring. It's hard to believe that it's not even reached its 10th birthday yet! The photo is a picture of me next to The Seed which was lowered into the inner core of The Core Centre last June.


....did architects, artists and the Eden team talk day and night for many months before committing pen to paper?

....did they decide to create a vast chamber at the centre of The Core building?

....did they take over a year searching every quarry in Cornwall for a 170 tonne lump of solid granite?

....did a sculptur take over a year meticulously carving this ancient piece of Cornwall into shape?


....a giant stone seed weighing over 70 tonnes.

....a seed carrying nature's design blueprint.

....a seed to honour growth and understanding.

....a seed that pays homage to working with the grain of nature.

....a seed that will serve as a reminder to us all forever.

....maybe to encourage respect and a duty to hope for the future?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Music that inspires - 6

And here's something for you to listen to and be inspired by in my absence: Gabriel's Oboe, from the film The Mission. When we were married, Carole walked down the aisle to Handel's, The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba - a great piece of music. But I have to confess that the most moving entree by a bride that I have ever witnessed was an East End wedding when this was the music chosen....beautiful and majestic!

Off on holiday

Carole and I were married on the 26th April 1986 - the same day that Chernobyl blew up! For our honeymoon, we spent a week in Devon and a week in Cornwall. Whilst in Cornwall we visited the beautiful little port of Mevagissey. The proprieter of a gift shop there presented us with a little pottery mouse that we still have to this day (though it's battered and lost its tail after 20 or so years of children playing football in the living room!). We're off to Cornwall for a week tomorrow morning, and we'll be staying at Hemmick Bay (in the photo), just down the road from Mevagissey. I've not packed my swimming trunks!

"He is not here. He has risen!"

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday

How do you react to this photo? It makes me feel a bit sick. An electric chair. A gruesome implement of undignified execution.

How many of us would wear the image of an electric chair like this around our necks?

And yet so many of us wear a cross with little thought of what it represents: torture, agony, thirst, public shame...

And they crucified him (Mark 15:24).

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Music that inspires - 5

The recent unrest in Tibet has reminded me of another situation that's not been reported in the media for some time.

I've been listening, once more, to Walk On, my favourite U2 song. It's inspired by the example of Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the Burmese National League For Democracy. She felt constrained to leave the comfort of an academic life in Oxford and return home to her native Burma, leaving her husband and son behind. She won the democratic election in 1990, but was placed under house arrest, and her movements have been severely restricted ever since. In 1991 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Even if you're not a fan of U2, listen to the lyrics on this song - they're really inspiring!

Before you listen to the song, ponder this overview of Aung San Suu Kyi's periods of detention (from the Wikipedia website):

Periods under detention
  • Arrested - July 20th 1989. Placed her under house arrest in Rangood under martial law that allows for detention without charge or trial for three years.
  • Released - July 10th 1995. Released from house arrest.
  • Arrested - September 23rd 2000. Aung San Suu Kyi is placed under house arrest.
  • Released - May 6th 2002. Freed after 19 months of house arrest.
  • Arrested - May 30th 2003. Following the Depayin massacre she was held in secret detention for over 3 months before being returned to house arrest.
  • May 25th 2007 - house arrest extended by one year.
  • October 24th 2007 - reaches 12 years under house arrest. Solidarity protests held at 12 cities around the world

And if the darkness is to keep us apart
And if the daylight feels like it's a long way off
And if your glass heart should crack
And for a second you turn back
Oh no, be strong

Walk on, walk on
What you got they can’t steal it
No they can’t even feel it
Walk on, walk on...
Stay safe tonight

You're packing a suitcase for a place none of us has been
A place that has to be believed to be seen
You could have flown away
A singing bird in an open cage
Who will only fly, only fly for freedom

Walk on, walk on
What you've got they can't deny it
Can’t sell it, can’t buy it
Walk on, walk on
Stay safe tonight

And I know it aches
And your heart it breaks
And you can only take so much
Walk on, walk on

Home... hard to know what it is if you’ve never had one
Home... I can’t say where it is but I know I'm going home
That's where the hurt is

I know it aches
How your heart it breaks
And you can only take so much
Walk on, walk on

Leave it behind
You've got to leave it behind
All that you fashion
All that you make
All that you build
All that you break
All that you measure
All that you steal
All this you can leave behind
All that you reason
All that you sense
All that you speak
All you dress up
All that you scheme...

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Adders about!

This adder was one of seven that I found this morning during a walk in the Maulden Woods area. The eye isn't clear, which is a sign that it's getting ready to slough its skin.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Surprised By Joy

Earlier today I came across this short video about C.S. Lewis' journey to Christian faith. I didn't know about the journey by motorcycle that he and his brother made to Whipsnade Zoo (not far south from here in Ampthill) for a picnic, and how it was a part of this journey to faith. Lewis later wrote:

'I know very well when but hardly how the final step was taken. I went with my brother to have a picnic at Whipsnade Zoo. We started in fog, but by the end of our journey the sun was shining. When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and when we reached the zoo I did. I had not exactly spent the journey in thought. Nor in great emotion. It was more like when a man, after a long sleep, becomes aware that he is now awake.'

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Quotes for living - 6

Staying with the theme of mountains - and it's a good excuse for another of those stunning mountain photos - Simon closed his presentation yesterday evening with a quote from Eric Shipton, the famous British Himalayan mountain climber of a former generation, and something of a statesman for Mount Everest. It was Shipton who discovered the first abominable snowman footprints back in 1931 in the snows beneath Everest. Have they discovered any incontrovertible evidence, since, for the existence of the abominable snowman....not yeti!

Here's the quote, from his book Upon That Mountain, published in 1943:

'He is lucky who, in the full tide of life, has experienced a measure of the active environment he most desires. In these days of upheaval and violent change, when the basic values of today are the vain and shattered dreams of tomorrow, there is much to be said for a philosophy which aims at living a full life while the opportunity offers.

There are few treasures of more lasting worth than the experience of a way of life that is in itself wholly satisfying. Such, after all, are the only possessions of which no fate, no cosmic catastrophe can deprive us; nothing can alter the fact if for one moment in eternity we have really lived.'

Beyond The Void

'The climber who cut the rope!'

That's what he's famous for! And, this evening, Andy, Paul, Simon & I went to the Bedford Corn Exchange to hear Simon Yates as he told the story of his life as a mountaineer. He earned his nickname whilst on a climbing expedition tackling the Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes with his friend, Joe Simpson (the photo above dates to this expedition in 1985).

We listened as Simon shared the story of that climb in a remarkably understated way. He and Joe had reached the summit the previous day and were now making their way down the precarious slopes when Joe slipped and broke his leg badly. Simon made the decision to try to save Joe by tying together two ropes and gradually lowering Joe down the mountain one agonising, strength-sapping length at a time. Simon was using a metal device to form a brake on the rope. The knot wouldn't pass through it and, so, whenever the knot was reached, Simon would tug on the rope and Joe would find a purchase on the snow or rock, relieving the tension so that Simon could undo the knot and re-tie it on the other side before letting out the rope again to it's full length. Then he would make his way down to his friend and begin the process again.

That evening a blizzard blasted the mountainside, but the friends continued to slowly make their way down the mountain. But as they continued, Simon suddenly found that Joe wasn't responding to his tugs to give him some slack so that he could undo the knot. He waited and waited. The blizzard meant that he couldn't see or hear anything. The rope remained taut. Simon had made himself a 'bucket hole' in the snow but, after an hour and a half of holding on and taking the weight, he found himself losing his strength and in real danger of being dragged off the face of the mountain.

There was only one thing he could do...and Simon became 'the climber who cut the rope.'

The next morning, he came across an ice cliff over the void of a crevasse, and it became obvious that his colleague must have been danglinging over the cliff with no opportunity of getting a hold on the mountain face. He called into the void, but there was no answer. Joe must have fallen to his death. Simon made his way back to base camp and spent a few days there recovering.

A few hours before breaking camp, he heard his name being called and looked out to find Joe making his way towards the tent. He had survived the fall and had spent three and a half days dragging himself down the mountain in a superhuman effort for survival. He was in a very bad way, but they managed to strap his leg in a foam mat, get him on a mule, and descend the mountain before getting him to a hospital in Lima where he responded to treatment and lived to tell the tale.

And, boy, did he tell the tale in his book, Touching The Void, which was later made into a famous film. Andy & Simon have both read the book, and told me how Simon's perspective, shared this evening, had put a totally different light on it. Fascinating!

It was an inspiring evening. I've always thought that mountaineers are a bit crazy. I suppose you have to be to a certain extent to attempt some of those kinds of feats. Hmmm - I wish I'd have been a bit crazier in my younger days, now!

Three Cheers for New Creation!

"Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope."

These words of the apostle Paul to the Thessalonian Christians are really helpful. Christians grieve at the loss of loved ones, as anyone would, but Christian grief is filled with hope, as opposed to being hope-less.

Yesterday, I spent the day at Westminster Chapel in London. Gary Habermas, perhaps the world's leading scholar on the resurrection, was there. And so, too, was Anthony Flew, formerly the UK's most well-known atheistic philosopher, who has since 'gone where the evidence took him' and changed his position to one of accepting the presence of God, though not the God as Christians know him at this time. It was fascinating to hear of the 'ding-dong' going on between Flew and Richard Dawkins at the moment, Dawkins accusing Flew as having gone senile. He certainly wasn't on yesterday's evidence!

The main reason I attended this event was to listen to Tom Wright (in the photo above), the Bishop of Durham, after reading his brilliant new book, Surprised By Hope. And he didn't disappoint. Surprised By Hope is an attempt to get Christians to recover, once more, the Christian hope of 'life after life after death' as opposed to the woolly thinking that has crept into the church over the years (escaping this earth and going home to heaven), let alone wider society ('Death is nothing at all...I have only slipped away into the next room,' and 'I am a thousand winds that blow...I am the gentle autumn rain' etc). As an amateur naturalist the thoughts of Creation being renewed really excites me. Tom writes about some of the images of this future bodily resurrection life found in Scripture. Reflect on these words from his book as Tom thinks about the marriage of heaven and earth:

'We thus arrive at...perhaps the greatest image of new creation, of cosmic renewal, in the whole Bible. This scene, set out in Revelation 21-22...(is the image) of marriage. The new Jerusalem comes down out of heaven like a bride adorned for her husband.
We notice right away how drastically different this is from all those would-be Christian scenarios in which the end of the world story is the Christian going off to heaven as a soul, naked and unadorned, to meet its maker in fear and trembling. As in Philippians 3, it is not we who go to heaven; it is heaven that comes to earth...It is the final answer to the Lord's Prayer, that God's kingdom would come and his will be done on earth as in heaven. It is what Paul is talking about in Ephesians 1:10, that God's design and promise was to sum up all things in Christ, things both in heaven and on earth. It is the final fulfilment, in richly symbolic imagery, of the promise of Genesis 1, that the creation of male and female would together reflect God's image into the world. And it is the final accomplishment of God's great design, to defeat and abolish death forever - which can only mean the rescue of creation from its present plight of decay.
...What is promised in this passage is what Isaiah foresaw: a new heaven and a new earth, replacing the old heaven and the old earth, which were bound to decay. This doesn't mean that God will wipe the slate clean and start again. If that were so, there would be no celebration, no conquest of death, no preparation now at last complete. As the chapter develops, the Bride, the wife of the Lamb, is described lovingly: she is the new Jerusalem promised by the prophets of the Exile, especially Ezekiel. But, unlike in Ezekiel's vision, where the rebuilt Temple takes eventual centre stage, there is no Temple in this city (21:22). The Temple in Jerusalem was always designed, it seems, as a pointer to, and an advance symbol for, the presence of God himself. When the reality is there, the signpost is no longer necessary. As in Romans and 1 Corinthians, the living God will dwell with and among his people, filling the city with his life and love, and pouring out grace and healing in the river of life that flows from the city out to the nations. There is a sign here of the future project that awaits the redeemed in God's eventual new world. So far from sitting on clouds playing harps, as people often imagine, the redeemed people of God in the new world will be the agents of his love going out in new ways, to accomplish new creative tasks, to celebrate and extend the glory of his love.'

Wow! Can't wait!

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Sensory Intelligence - 5: Your Skin

I've been sharing Tony Buzan's thoughts about sensory intelligence from his book Head First. We've thought about an amazing array of facts concerning 4 of our senses: sight, hearing, taste and smell. I'm finishing this today with some facts relating to our skin. Buzan writes,

Your skin is the largest organ of your body.
It contains 200,000 temperature receivers.
It contains 500,000 touch and pressure receivers.
It contains 2,800,000 pain receivers.
This total of 3,500,000 receivers over the surface of your body is in addition to the multiple millions of receivers for your eyes, ears, nose and mouth.

Touch is directly related to your emotions. Touch is also a life-giving ability. Young animals and human babies who receive little physical attention in the form of touch in their early lives become unhealthy and fail to thrive. (How do you feel when you are touched by someone you love? Or when you are not touched by anyone, in any way, for days on end?)

The paragraph above made me think of one of my favourite Bible stories - the story of Jesus healing the man with leprosy.
This man came up to him and fell at his feet.
"Jesus, if you want to, you can make me clean."
Jesus reached out and touched him, saying, "I do want to. Be clean!"

I've always thought that the compassionate touch of Jesus was just as signicant as the physical healing. I guess that it may well have been the first time the man with leprosy had been touched for a long, long time. Years even! How must he have felt when Jesus touched him?

I'm speaking about the transfiguration at ABC tomorrow morning. There, too, we find Jesus touching his friends who were cowering on the floor following a manifestation of the glory and power of God. It's obvious that the touch of Jesus was very much a part of his healing ministry.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Quotes for living - 5

"Let go of what you think life should be so you can experience the life you have."

[Rhonda Britten, founder of the Fearless Living Institute]

I came across these words, this morning, and they've given me a lot of food for thought.

Yes, I want to live a passionate life now, but I also look to the horizon and continue to strive after what might be.

But I suspect that the context here is the all-too-common attitude that "life owes me something" which results in so many people simply existing with a chip on their shoulder, rather than really living with a sparkle in their eye!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The eyes have it!

I've been putting off visiting the opticians for some months now, despite the regular letters informing me that an eye-test is long overdue. But it all came to a head a few weeks ago when I sat on my glasses and bent them out of shape. I couldn't put it off any longer.

So, with Carole at my side for support, we walked through the doors of Specsavers - 'the UK's most trusted optician' - yesterday morning, ready for my 11.15 am appointment. We were a bit early so, after reporting in to reception, we checked out the overflowing racks of men's glasses. Carole picked out one pair after another, planting them on my nose.
"What do you think of these ones, darling?"
"Yup, they're fine."
"But don't you want to look at them in the mirror?"
"No darling, I'll take your word for it. Whatever you choose, I'm happy to settle for. Whatever!"
Shopping malaise was already sapping my energy and will.

At 11.15am we made our way to the waiting area. All of the seats were filled and a number of us were standing and waiting to begin our journey down the assembley line. Someone, somewhere, pressed the conveyor belt button.
"Yes, that's me."
"Please come and sit here while we check your details."
I sat in the chair next to the waiting area. I sensed everyone straining their ears to find out who I was...
"Mr Stephen Plummer of 14 Chandos Road, Ampthill, MK45 2LD?"
"Your birthday is 28th November 1960?"
"Yes." (ouch!)
"Are you on any benefits?" The people in the waiting area leaned forward. Carole gave her disgusted look!

Back to the waiting corral where I slumped into a recently vacated seat. An assistant called out another name, and an elderly man was allowed out of the pen. He sat down at one of a line of desks directly opposite where we were sitting. We all watched. He'd come to the end of the assembley line and was about to pick up his glasses. The assistant extricated them from a thick envelope.
"Oh, these are really trendy," she shrilled loudly. "Do try them on."
He proceeded to try them on whilst she instructed him to look at various points in the shop.
"Yes, I can see that," he would reply. She fiddled with his glasses to make sure that they were sitting right on his nose.
Everyone in the waiting area gazed at the scene whilst listening to the next woman in the chair to find out if she was on benefits!

"Mr Plummer?"
I was led into a dark room where I was instructed to place my forehead, here, and then look through a lens, there, with my left eye. A little cartoon house came into view. Then it was the turn of the right eye. That wasn't too bad. But it was simply lulling me into a false sense of security. Following further instructions I slid my chair to the apparatus next door. This was the one I was dreading, the Star Wars machine that robotically searches for each eye in turn before attacking them with a pneumatic blast. I felt the force. Ugh!

Back to the waiting area where I tripped over someone's feet. Time crawled by.

"Mr Plummer?"
The optician. I was led into his room and sat in the chair as he slipped various lenses into the gruesome apparatus that I was wearing whilst I told him whether the letters and the circles appeared better or worse. At least we were in private....until another assistant came in to ask him about a former patient. She looked over at me, an extra from some episode of Dr Who.
"Oh, that's alright."
But it wasn't.

I got on really well with the optician. He told me that he was one of 5 on the staff and examined the eyes of 18 or 19 people every day. No wonder this place feels like a factory!
Over the next 15 minutes or so, I got to know the far corner of the room between the ceiling and the wall really well as I was instructed to focus on it while he crawled all over me, checking the backs of my eyeballs. I could see the pattern of veins in the reflected light and felt sick.
"Are you going to faint?"
"I don't think so."
"Shall I stop?"
"No, just get it over with!"
He continued to look at my eyes from various angles, his face just a couple of centimetres away from my own. Every now and again he would breathe heavily down my ears. Ugh!

Afterwards he told me that he'd spent longer with me than he normally would because I was a good guy and he wanted to do the best for me that he possibly could.
I wished I'd have been horrible to him!

Released from purgatory, I staggered out to the main part of the shop where Carole and I were approached by the next assistant on the assembley line who told me just how much the glasses we had chosen earlier suited me. We sat at the desk while she measured something that came to 63 as I looked at, first, one of her eyes, and then the other. They were brown. I felt the eyes of the people in the waiting area boring into my back.

And then we had to pay. The full amount. Because I'm not on any benefits. The people in the waiting area already knew that.

I'm booked to pick up my new glasses next Monday at 2.05 pm. I'm assured that the process won't last for an hour this time.

I'm not looking forward to it. I'll have to sit at one of those desks in front of everyone while a young assistant asks me silly questions and makes sure that the glasses sit right on my nose. And, unfortunately, Carole thinks that they're really trendy!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A barber's tale

Apologies to any regular readers who must have wondered whether I've given up this blog for Lent! Life's been somewhat hectic the last few weeks and I'm only just catching up.

But I just had to share what happened to me when I went to get my hair cut at the local barber's yesterday. I've been witness to several fascinating conversations over the years as I've waited to be trimmed, but yesterday's takes the biscuit and resulted in me sitting there with tears rolling down my cheeks.

The barber was cutting the hair of an older man while his wife sat on the bench next to me. The conversation got onto the subject of global warming. I pretended to read the paper but I was listening in to the conversation which went something like this:
Barber - “Global warming’s a con.”
Couple - “Yes, yes.”
Barber - “They say now that ships give out more carbon than planes.”
(Several tuts and a shaking of heads).
Barber - "My mother always said years ago that, when they woke up to global warming, they’d use it to tax us!”
(More tuts!)
Barber - "And the latest research says that the ice cap that’s supposed to have been thinning is now growing back and getting thicker. Just look at the ozone layer. They told us that there was a big hole in it, but now it’s repaired itself.”
And then the lady piped up, “Yes, we’re always the ones who are expected to make the sacrifices, but why do they keep sending rockets up and making more holes….”
(Did I mishear her?? But she continued...)
...“They should try to send all the rockets through the same hole!” And, later, “They ought to find ways of going round the ozone layer!”

I only just managed to suppress an outburst of laughter......only just! And it still brings those tears to my eyes every time I think of it!!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Wise words

'Learn to say "No". It will be of more use to you than to be able to read Latin!'

(Charles Spurgeon)

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

What are you doing for Lent?

The season of Lent begins today. Are you giving anything up? I think that it's much better to do something positive, and I love Scot McKnight's proposal, which I've copied from his blog below. It's simple but, if everyone was doing it...and then doing it...well, can you imagine?

I am asking my blog’s readers to consider a challenge for Lent. No, it is not giving up anything. Instead, it helps move Lent into 40 days of living out the gospel: I am asking you to begin and end each day of Lent (beginning Wednesday) by reciting the Jesus Creed. And, whenever it comes to mind throughout the day, I am asking you to recite it again. In your evening recitation of the Jesus Creed, we are asking you to give some moments of recollection to confess any sins against the Jesus Creed throughout the day.

Here it is:

Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.
The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no commandment greater than these.

What we are discovering — in tune with the wisdom of ancient Israel’s recitation of Shema and the early church’s recitation of the Jesus Creed and the Lord’s Prayer — is that this sacred rhythm works love of God and love of others into the bones and sinews of each day. Who will take this challenge?

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Sensual Intelligence - 4: Your Mouth

I've just got back from taking an assembley for Year 1 & 2 pupils during a 'Green Week' that the school have organised. We looked at various photos of locally common birds, and I encouraged the children to look closely and really appreciate the different colours of the birds the next time they saw them, rather than just glancing at them and missing the beauty in front of their eyes. That's what this series, taken from a chapter in Tony Buzan's book, Head First, has been about: increasing our sensory awareness.

This morning I'm thinking about taste, which I - for one - take for granted.....until, that is, your learn facts like these:
  • Your mouth contains up to 10,000 super-sensitive taste buds.
  • These 10,000 taste buds can detect sweet flavours at one part per 200; salt at one part per 400; sour at one part per 130,000; and bitter at one part per 2,000,000!
  • The taste buds combine with your olfactory system to allow you to distinguish millions of different tast sensations.
Buzan tells of a fascinating piece of research that picks up on the old question of whether it's 'proper' or 'better' to pour the milk or the tea first into the cup. Some time ago a group of tea drinkers got into a major argument about it; those who said that the milk should be put in first insisted that they could always tell the difference. It was decided to put them to the test.

To everybody's amazement, the tea drinkers were nearly 100% accurate in identifying which liquid had been put in first. In order to find out exactly how they did this, researchers decided to find out exactly what happens when either milk or tea is poured first. They filmed the process of pouring milk into tea and tea into milk, and then played it back in slow motion.
They observed that no matter how fast the liquid was poured in, a few drops always raced to the head of the tea-fall or the milk-fall, and entered the other liquid first. When the first few drops of milk entered the boiling cup of tea, they were immediately burnt before the remaining volume of milk could plunge in and cool the liquid down. These tiny drops gave a very delicate burnt/singed milk tinge to the taste of the tea. In contrast, when the tiny boiling drops of tea hit the giant cool lake of milk, they were immediately cooled and none of the milk was burnt.

The tea tasters were right - the incredible human body and its senses triumphed once again!

Once again, Buzan suggest some exercises to help us grow in our awareness of this sense of taste:
  • Experiment with dishes from as many different nations as you can. Not only will this widen the 'intelligence' of your palette, it will simultaneously increase the intelligence of your olfactory system.
  • Regularly prepare foods with many different textures.
  • Care for your mouth, tongue and gums with regular check-ups and daily brushing and flossing, done correctly,
  • Where appropriate, eat food with your hands. Your hands are an advanced monitoring system for your stomach, and their millions of touch receptors will alert your entire digestive system to the forthcoming pleasures. Eating with your hands will also provide the essential natural oils for the skin of your hands, lips and face.
  • If you drink alcohol, develop your wine-tasting skills.
Wine tasters tend to use common words and phrases to describe the different tastes of wines, such as 'sweet', 'dry', 'heavy', 'lemony', 'nutty', 'sharp', 'sticky', 'fruity' etc. Try to find new and imaginative ways of explaining what your mouth really feels:
"This wine tastes as clean as a bird's song sounds."
"This wine is so full bodied that it feels as if it should be eaten rather than drunk!"
"This wine grabs the back of my throat like a ferret grabbing its prey!"

Of course, you don't have to limit yourself to describing wines - try anything else that you can think of: cheeses, breads, chocolates, whatever!

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Quotes for living - 4

"I have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can't think what anybody sees in them...." (Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit)

"Live the adventure!" (Star Wars strapline)

Which do I lean towards?

Friday, February 1, 2008

A cheerful heart - 1: ALIEN!

One of my favourite Bible verses is from the book of Proverbs: 'A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones.' I love a good laugh, whether it be a good joke, a gifted comedian, a funny TV programme or a day-to-day incident. And a good laugh is good for you! So I'll add a 'cheerful heart' post from time to time!

It's about time Carole and I played a practical joke on some unsuspecting family member or friend. We used to be really good at them. I remember us hiding behind a car in a Coventry side-street early one morning whilst Uncle Andrew strode up to a friend's front garden with a big 'FOR SALE' sign and proceeded to hammer it into the middle of their lawn. Our friends, alerted by the banging, came out and started remonstrating with Andy, while he continued regardless...Carole and I did laugh. And that's nothing compared with what we got away with when Michyla was staying with us....but that's for another time!

I'm always amazed how easily people are fooled, and will swallow a tale hook, line and sinker! Below is a video outlining what I think was one of the best practical jokes of all time - I still can't believe that it worked. I was reminded of it following Jeremy Beadle's death recently. The sound's a bit out of sync....but that won't stop you laughing at the reaction of a farmer's wife when an alien drops in for tea!!

House of smells!

If you've been following these posts you will have seen last week's account of the smells that have been assaulting the olfactory receptors of the Plummer family in recent days: the stench of a blocked drain, and the pong of a newly painted bedroom that gave me 'Dulux-poisoning' last weekend!!

Well, here we go again. Carole and I woke up in the early hours of this morning to a house reeking with the pungent smell of petrol. Had a tanker jack-knifed on the road outside, spilling its load?

It turns out that the culprit was our eldest son, Mark. Having passed his test a few weeks ago, he underwent a rite of passage just after midnight - filling up the car petrol tank for the first time. Apparently, the nozzle suddenly came out of the spout. Mark says that it could have happened to anyone though, apparently, he soaked his clothes from the shoulder down (was he kneeling during this rite?) and sent petrol splashing all over the forecourt.

Carole's put the clothes through the wash this morning, but it doesn't seem to have made any difference. In fact, the heat of the radiators, over which they are currently sprawled, seems to be increasing the odour's potency. I've got to get out into the fresh air!

And, when I do, Im going to reflect on two stories.

Firstly, a Biblical story relating to a father's reaction to the smell of his son's clothes. The conniving Jacob had dressed himself in his brother, Esau's, clothes in order to trick his aged and unseeing father into giving him his blessing, rather than his brother. We're told that, 'When Isaac caught the smell of his clothes, he blessed him and said, "Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed..."'

The Bible is nothing if not honest about the weaknesses and foibles of its heroes. What can this story teach us about honesty and integrity in our relationships, and about a God who can still do something special in, and with, our lives, even when we've screwed up big-time?

And, secondly, a wonderful story that I've used on several occasions about a young boy who smeared some smelly Limburger cheese on his grandfather's moustache while he was asleep. When his grandfather woke up, he exclaimed, "This room stinks!" He went into the kitchen, sniffed, and said, "This room stinks, too!" He walked through the whole house grumbling, "The whole house stinks!" So he went outside, took a deep breath....and cried out, exasperated, "The whole world stinks!"

Sometimes, when the whole world stinks, the answer is right there under our nose!!

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Bringing heaven to earth

I'm really enjoying listening to Rob Bell's book, Sex God, on my iPod. The chapter headings invite you to find out more:

Chapter 1 - God wears lipstick.
Chapter 2 - Sexy on the inside.
Chapter 3 - Angels and animals.
Chapter 4 - Leather, whips, and fruit.
Chapter 5 - She ran into the girls' bathroom.
Chapter 6 - Worth dying for.
Chapter 7 - Under the chuppah.
Chapter 8 - Johnny and June.
Chapter 9 - Whoopee forever.

Now, I know some of you are wondering what on earth chapter 4 is about. Well, you'll have to read the book!!

I think the story that Rob shares below is wonderful:

'I have a new hero. Her name is Lil, and I would guess she’s in her late fifties. I met her earlier this year when she introduced me to her daughter, whom she was pushing in a wheelchair. Early in their marriage, Lil and her husband decided that they would adopt two children. As they became familiar with the family services system, they learned that there were kids in the system nobody wanted. So they went to the local adoption agency and asked for the kids with the most pronounced disabilities, the most traumatic histories, and the most hopeless futures. They asked if they could have the kids nobody wanted. Over the past thirty or so years, they have raised well over twenty children, raising their biological children alongside their adopted children.

When Lil got to this point in her story, she reached down and patted her daughter and said, “This is Crystal. She’s twenty-seven years old but will be about six months old developmentally for the rest of her life. She can’t talk or walk or move or feed herself or do anything on her own. She will be like this, totally dependent on us, until the day she dies. And I love her so much. My family and I, we can’t imagine life without her. She makes everything so much better.”

What is Lil doing?

She’s bringing heaven to earth.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Music that inspires - 4

Toss The Feathers is a traditional Irish foot-tapping folk tune that has been performed in a number of contexts. I love this popular version by The Corrs with all of its energy. It always thrills me to see a group of musicians really enjoying themselves. What must it have been like to have grown up in the Corr household in Dundalk, Republic of Ireland? Andrea, Sharon, Caroline & Jim learned to play a variety of instruments and were often present at the pub gigs of their parents, Gerry & Jean. What a family! I hope you enjoy this clip performed at the Glastonbury Festival in 1999.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Spring is getting earlier!

I took this photograph at the Sandy Smith Nature Reserve, just west of Chicksands in Bedfordshire, early this afternoon. The photo is not good, but it's my first lesser celandine of the year - one of my favourite plants. Soon there will be bright green & gold carpets of these members of the buttercup family lighting up local woods and ditches.

It was also one of William Wordsworth's favourite plants, abundant in the Lake District where he lived, and he wrote three poems based on it, including one which begins:

'There is a flower, the lesser celandine
That shrinks, like many more, from cold and rain
And, the first moment that the sun may shine
Bright as the sun himself, 'tis out again!'

You can find a stone commemorating Wordsworth at St Oswald's Church in Grasmere. Everyone knew how much he loved the lesser celandine, so they thought it would be a really good idea to carve one on it. All well and good....until the person engaged for the task did a carving of a greater celandine....which is actually a member of the poppy family!!

Other wildlife on the reserve included a male muntjac deer; a disturbed toad (!); kestrel; sparrowhawk; pair of stonechat; meadow pipit; skylarks (singing); a wonderful 'charm' of about 30 goldfinches.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Quotes for living - 3

Erma Bombeck once wrote about what she would do differently If I Had My Life to Live Over:

'I would have invited friends over to dinner even if the carpet was stained and the sofa faded. I would have eaten the popcorn in the "good" living room and worried much less about the dirt when someone wanted to light a fire in the fireplace. I would have taken the time to listen to my grandfather ramble about his youth. I would never have insisted the car windows be rolled up on a summer day because my hair had just been teased and sprayed. I would have burned the pink candle sculpted like a rose before it melted in storage. I would have sat on the lawn with my children and not worried about grass stains.

I would have cried and laughed less while watching television and more while watching life. I would have gone to bed when I was sick instead of pretending the earth would go into a holding pattern if I wasn't there for the day. I would never have bought anything just because it was practical, wouldn't show soil, or was guaranteed to last a lifetime. Instead of wishing away nine months of pregnancy, I'd have cherished every moment, realizing that the wonderment growing inside me was the only chance in life to assist God in a miracle. When my kids kissed me impetuously, I would never have said, "Later. Now go get washed up for dinner." There would have been more, "I love you's" and more "I'm sorry's" but mostly, given another shot at life, I would seize every minute....look at it and really see it! And never give it back.'

Sunday, January 27, 2008


At our service this morning we played the following video featuring Jude Simpson's poem, Broken Open. Listen to it and see if it doesn't move your heart.....

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Sensual Intelligence - 3: Your Nose

I've had some bad experiences this week. The worst one was the fruitless time spent trying to unblock a drain. I won't frighten you with the details. A kind soul loaned me some rods with various endpieces that help you to screw, scrape and squish the stuff, but I couldn't manoeuvre them more than a few feet down the pipe, so it's an ongoing situation. The other bad experience has been today's attempt at decorating. I loathe decorating and all of the energy drains from me even thinking about it. But Carole and I have set to, and managed to give the ceiling a couple of coats of paint. At least it's a start! One of the worst common factors about unblocking drains and decorating is the smell - my olfactory senses have been well-and-truly assaulted this week!

It made me think that it was about time that we thought about another of Tony Buzan's group of amazing facts regarding our sensual intelligence, and what more appropriate than thinking about our noses! I find what follows absolutely incredible...
  • Your nose has 5,000,000 olfactory receptors: each one has its own gene.
  • Over 1,000 giant protein molecules are used by your receptors to decode smell.
  • Your nose can distinguish 10,000 different odours.
  • In ways that no scientist has yet been able to explain, your nose can detect one molecule of 'smell' in one part per trillion of air!
  • Your olfactory nerves are unique. One end of each of them is exposed to the outside world. The other speeds the impulses directly into your brain, providing an instantaneous communications link between the two. The things you smell can bring about deep and powerful emotive responses. This is because the minute your brain is aware of a smell, it sends the information directly to your emotional centre. This is in part why aromas are so closely associated with sexual arousal and the powers of recall.
As always, Buzan suggests some exercises for heightening our awareness of the different senses. Here are some of his suggestions regarding our sense of smell:
  • Regularly give your nose (as well as the rest of you!) the treat of trips into nature. Inhale through your nose as all animals do, rather than through your mouth, as most people do. Sniff the rain. You think it doesn't have it's own aroma? Yes it does!
  • Learn to distinguish the scents of different flowers.
  • Smell has become one of the least used senses. Reverse this trend! Experiment by placing flowers around your home, and by using perfumed candles in chosen rooms or when you are having a bath. If you have a garden, plant it to create scent treats.
I've got another suggestion, too. A group of people who have trained themselves to distinguish between a number of different smells are mycologists - people who study fungi. Lots of fungi are distinguished by the odours they give off. So there's something you can have a go at next Autumn...toadstool sniffing!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Stuck in a rut?

I'm informed that there is a sign in a wild region of Alaska that reads, “Choose your rut carefully. You’ll be in it for the next two hundred miles!”

It reminds me of the occasion, one cold winter's day, when I was driving a tractor and trailer, loaded with bales of hay and bags of concentrate, for a flock of sheep.

I was making my way down a muddy farm track, the tractor winding its way through the fields, with just a couple of deep ruts to guide me along. In the tractor cab with me was Liz, the farmer's daughter. I was in my late teenage years and hadn't been driving tractors for very long. When I got to the field where the sheep were, I found that I couldn't get myself out of the ruts. Every time I turned the steering wheel the front wheels of the tractor would turn but would just continue down the rut at that angle as the back wheels drove them. I tried again and again, getting increasingly frustrated. Several times, Liz offered to have a go and said that she could do it, but I waved her offers away, determined to prove that I was up to this simple task. In the end, I admitted defeat and, now sure that it was impossible to get out of the ruts, vacated the seat for Liz.

You have to understand that what happened next is a bit embarrassing to recall and share with you!

Liz sat down in the seat, leaned forward and, with her right hand, unclipped the small metal bar that joined together the left and right sections of the brake pedal! ...I hadn't even realised that there were independent brakes for each of the back wheels!! She sat back in the seat, revved the engine, jammed her foot down on the left wheel brake and let out the clutch. The left wheel remained where it was - immobile - the right wheel turned, spinning the tractor around the axis of the left wheel and, a few seconds later, we were out of the ruts and heading over to the feeding troughs where the sheep were waiting for us!!


When we're stuck in a rut it's often a good idea to let go of our pride and listen to what someone else is might make all the difference!

And sometimes we just have to decide that it's time we put our foot down, and do something about it!

It's not always that simple...but sometimes, actually, it is!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Pudsey & the boys!

I can't say that I'm a Boyzone fan. Firstly, because I don't even know the title of any of their hits and, secondly, because I'm not sure I'd want to admit to it even if I did!

But I did buy a CD of Ronan Keating's greatest hits for Carole a year or two back, and I got to meet and talk to Ronan briefly at a Make Poverty History march in London about the same time.

So I was interested to read today of the Christian faith of Boyzone's former 'bad boy' Shane Lynch (on the right in the picture above). The anger and bitterness that had characterised his past - and led to a breakdown in his relationship with Ronan Keating - has been dealt with. He put things right with Ronan and the band reunited to perform on Children In Need last November. They're now planning a tour this coming summer.

Shane comments in the latest issue of New Life newspaper, "...some people mocked me when I announced that I was a Christian two years ago, but this is no flash in the pan experience. I'm stronger, freer and happier than I've ever been in my life and it gets better and better. Every day is a brand new adventure. I'm a better man for the faith which has been placed in my heart."

I've posted the Youtube video of the Children In Need reunion below. It's great to see Shane with his arm around Ronan's shoulder afterwards. Of course, I can't admit that I enjoyed listening to them....!!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Today I will make a difference

Today I will make a difference. I will begin by controlling my thoughts. A person is the product of his thoughts. I want to be happy and hopeful. Therefore, I will have thoughts that are happy and hopeful. I refuse to be victimized by my circumstances. I will not let petty inconveniences such as stoplights, long lines, and traffic jams be my masters. I will avoid negativism and gossip. Optimism will be my companion, and victory will be my hallmark. Today I will make a difference.

I will be grateful for the twenty-four hours that are before me. Time is a precious commodity. I refuse to allow what little time I have to be contaminated by self-pity, anxiety, or boredom. I will face this day with the joy of a child and the courage of a giant. I will drink each minute as though it is my last. When tomorrow comes, today will be gone forever. While it is here, I will use it for loving and giving. Today I will make a difference.

I will not let past failures haunt me. Even though my life is scarred with mistakes, I refuse to rummage through my trash heap of failures. I will admit them. I will correct them. I will press on. Victoriously. No failure is fatal. It’s OK to stumble… I will get up. It’s OK to fail… I will rise again. Today I will make a difference.

I will spend time with those I love. My spouse, my children, my family. A man can own the world but be poor for the lack of love. A man can own nothing and yet be wealthy in relationships. Today I will spend at least five minutes with the significant people in my world. Five quality minutes of talking or hugging or thanking or listening. Five undiluted minutes with my wife, children, and friends.

Today I will make a difference.

[Max Lucado]

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

In the beginning GOD

Molly is a member of our fellowship here at Ampthill Baptist Church, with interests as diverse as singing, motorbike racing....and astronomy! Molly is a Fellow of the Royal Society and sent me this photo earlier today. She's given me permission to share it with you.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Music that inspires - 3

Today is a national holiday in the United States: Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I still get a frisson of excitement run down my spine when I hear the conclusion of his 'I Have A Dream' speech following the march to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington in August 1963. Those words still have the power to inspire and lead to a consequent desire to work towards justice in all of its forms.

Although the quality is not great, I find the video below moving - a montage of photos and clips from Martin Luther King's speeches over the U2 song, Pride, which was written after the group had visited the Chicago Peace Museum. Pride refers to the pride that MLK had inspired in black people.

Sunday, January 20, 2008


In the book of Deuteronomy, God’s relationship with his people is compared to that, ‘ an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them on its pinions.’

It’s a verse that is both challenging and comforting. What does Moses mean when he says that God is, ‘Like an eagle that stirs up its nest...’?

When the eagle makes her nest the uncomfortable layer of branches, thorns and sharp stones at the base are cushioned by a layer of fur and feathers from her prey. This is very much appreciated by the young eaglet but, in time, becomes a comfort zone making it much harder to persuade the bird to leave the nest and fly! So the eagle stirs up the nest, ripping out this comfortable base and exposing the material beneath to encourage the eaglet to vacate the nest!

I’ve asked a number of people this past week the reasons why they have ‘remained in the comfort zone’ rather than stepping out in order to live life to its utmost. The most popular answer has been fear of the unknown: “What if I step out and then fall flat on my face?” Fear of change was another answer. It was Mark Twain who said that the only person who likes change is a wet baby! Then there was, lack of confidence, laziness, and the 'affluenza' which so often dulls our appetite for life.

What keeps you in your comfort zone? Think about that for a few moments, and then ponder these words of John Ortberg:

‘This is a way that leads to stagnation – unrealised potential, unfilled longings. It leads to a sense that I’m not living my life; the one I was supposed to live. It leads to boredom, to what Gregg Levoy calls the common cold of the soul.
To sinful patterns of behaviour that never get confronted and changed,
Abilities and gifts that never get cultivated and deployed –
Until weeks become months
And months turn into years,
And one day you’re looking back on a life of
Deep intimate gut-wrenchingly honest conversations you never had;
Great bold prayers you never prayed,
Exhilarating risks you never took,
Sacrificial gifts you never offered
Lives you never touched,
And you’re sitting in a recliner with a shrivelled soul,
And forgotten dreams,
And you realise there was a world of desperate need,
And a great God calling you to be a part of something bigger than yourself –
You see the person you could have become but did not;
You never followed your calling.
You never got out of the boat.’

Or, in the context of our passage here, you never got out of the nest!

Maybe God’s stirring up the nest of our soul, challenging us to step out and soar with him. We can have the confidence that he will be with us and will watch over us even if he has to give us a bit of a push, and then catch us if we find ourselves falling: ‘ an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them on its pinions.’

There are a number of adaptations of a legend of an Indian brave in America who took an eagle’s egg and placed it into the nest of a prairie chicken. The eaglet thought that it was a prairie chicken and spent its life searching the ground for seeds and insects. One day, now fully-grown, he looked up and saw a majestic eagle soaring effortlessly on the air currents high above. “What bird is that?” he asked, to which one of the prairie chickens replied, “That’s an eagle, the king of the birds, but you could never be like him,” and so the eagle continued to search for bugs!

What conditions us? Do you want to be scratching about in the dirt with the chickens, or soaring with the eagles?

The prophet, Isaiah, writes:

‘Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.’

Stanley Jones wrote about the behaviour of an eagle he witnessed in the Himalayas as a storm approached: "I expected it to head to the earth to escape the fury of the elements. Instead the eagle set its wings in such a way that when the storm struck it rose above and cleared the storm. It used the strong winds to go higher."

Eagles are made to fly….and to fly high! And God calls us not to live mediocre lives, but meaningful passionate lives given in adventurous service to him.

As the old Baptist preacher, Charles Spurgeon, expressed it, ‘Brother, your failure, if you fail, will begin in your faith. The air says to the eagle, “Trust me; spread thy broad wings; I will bear thee up to the sun. Only trust me. Take thy foot from off yon rock which thou canst feel beneath thee. Get away from it, and be buoyed up by the unseen element.” My brethren, eaglets of heaven, mount aloft, for God invites you. Mount! You have but to trust him.’

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Sensual Intelligence 2: Your Ears

I lay in bed yesterday morning and listened, for the first time this year, to a song thrush singing in someone's garden across the street. If it wasn't for the fact that I had a very busy day ahead of me, I could have lain there listening to this wonderful songster all morning!

We're continuing with thoughts from the chapter on sensual intelligence in Tony Buzan's Head First.

Here's another fascinating array of facts:
  • You have 16,000 hair cells in your inner ear - they respond faster than any other cell in your body.
  • Any of the 16,000 hair cells will trigger if you move the tip by as little as the width of an atom! That's the equivalent of being able to detect the movement at the top of the world's tallest skyscraper if it moved less than half-an-inch.
  • Your hair cells, when you listen to the high notes in classical music, fire at the rate of 20,000 times a second.
  • Your ear receives information in one dimension, and yet you hear 3-D sound and can instantaneously locate its origin. How? Because your amazing ear-brain system can distinguish the different time by which the 'same' sound arrived in each ear. The difference that you can distinguish is 200-millionths of a second!
Buzan suggests several exercises to give our ears regular aural treats. The first is to learn to discriminate the different sounds in nature, especially bird song. I led a dawn chorus walk a few years ago and I was so encouraged by the excitement of those present as they realised that it was possible to learn the difference between our common birds with a bit of practice and the use of helpful mnemonics. Spring is not far away...get yourself a CD or DVD of bird song (there's a number that you can choose from) and start to learn the common species. It really isn't hard and makes all the difference when you're in the countryside, giving you a totally new perspective.

Buzan also suggests other treats, including:
  • Listen to more ethnic and classical music - widen your aural horizons.
  • Listen to excellent recordings on the best equipment, and attend live concerts.
  • Occasionally give your ears the treat of no sound - like the rest of your body they need rest, and will reward you well for providing them with it!
Finally, something that I've never forgotten regarding the benefits of music...when I worked for the dairy unit at the Nottingham University School of Agriculture, the chief herdsman, Dave, used to play a tape of his favourite group, The Seekers, in the milking parlour. He insisted that there was a noticeable rise in the milk yields when the cows were listening to the amazing voice of Judith Durham and the other group members. So I've included the video of one of my favourite Seekers songs, I'll never find another you, below. Who knows what it might do for you as you listen to it!!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Apple & a bunch of bananas!

The Apple phenomenon rolls on. Co-founder Steve Jobs gave a keynote speech at the Macworld conference in San Francisco, yesterday, extolling the virtues of the exciting film rental opportunities that will be possible with the new Apple TV box.

Steve Jobs has got the knack of coming up with memorable quotes. My favourite, by far, is his appeal to John Sculley, Pepsi Cola's youngest ever President, when persuading him to join the Apple team:

"Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water, or do you want a chance to change the world?"

That would have done it for me!

This evening, 80 or so Trustees, staff & volunteers of The Greensand Trust gathered for a social at Eversholt Village Hall. The conservational work that the Trust does across Mid-Bedfordshire is absolutely first class, and it was great to see everyone involved encouraging and appreciating one another. I really value the friendships that I've made over the years working with the 'Eastern Vols', a fantastic group of people, wonderful characters one and all, if a bit bananas (which is why I fit in so easily)! Below is their concluding contribution to the evening. I confess to being the 'vicar' who turns up for tea! I didn't want to spoil the piece by singing, so I elected to video it instead. Lyrics have been added below.