Unexpected Flowers

20 Feb

Unexpected to be writing here, too.  But I’ve retired now, so maybe I’ll start this up again.  The unexpected flowers are the real reason I’m here, though.  They turned up one day while I was out running errands – and they’re from Virgin Trains, which is why they’re quite so unexpected.SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

I wrote to them, you see – I wanted to give them a heads-up about how kind two on-board staff had been to me.  I was rushing to reach a dying family member, but I was too late, and I actually got a text message that they’d died just before I boarded the Virgin train.  As you can imagine, I was a bit fraught at that.  There was a slight problem in my carriage too, which was dealt with beautifully by the first staff member, and then, when I was settled in the first class seat he’d offered to all concerned, one of the stewards there was incredibly kind to me personally, when it all got a bit much.

And then this lovely, lovely bunch of flowers turned up, to thank me for my feedback:SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

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Almost Wordless Wakehurst

27 Apr

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Wakehurst Pavilion

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blossom

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frilly tree!

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pheasants doing their thing

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and again

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Totally Top Secret

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The tree was partially killed in the 1987 hurricane, so they took the opportunity and created this.

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old old old

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Beautiful

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Exquisite

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Yay!

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A maze with life

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Rampant crocuses

London is still there

31 Oct

Such a long absence … viral lurgification will do that, but I’m committing to one post a week in the various places I blog, which works out, unexactly, to one a month. And here I am … to confirm that even when I was recovering from lurgification, I was was still having fun:

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This was at the WorldCon, the World Science Fiction Convention in London this year, at the Excel Centre. It was smaller than the American version, so only about ten thousand people, but it was outrageously creative. The tiki dalek, all the way from Hawaii, mingled very nicely with the fire dragons from Ireland and Scotland.

There have been other distractions, all very lovely. The National Literacy Trust set up a series of benches throughout London this year, wildly decorated http://www.booksabouttown.org.uk/?action=ListBenches – most of them have pictures, a very few cats and more lions, but some are almost entirely verbal, and this one really caught my eye. “real life contains less potential for unexpected delirium”. Its about football, so its true, of course, and I love it.

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On the same London trip, taking cat pictures, I walked to the Tower of London (the first day the poppies were there) and had a great view of The Shard from across the river. And I was right by a glass skyscraper, so I got two Shards for the price of one.  And you can see that someone else had the same idea as me at the same time, capturing that reflection.

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The only non-London thing in this post: an online chat about apologies, and where it led. Gibbs Rules in NCIS, “Never apologize, its a sign of weakness”. Which I just had to explore; its not a creed I’d like to live by, or have other people act upon, but its a lot of fun as a saying, just like the “unexpected delirium” thing. It came from a letter to The Times, of course: “Never contradict. Never explain. Never apologise. (Those are the secrets of a happy life!).” Weirdly, though, this was written by a First World War admiral, Jacky Fisher, apparently a famous reformer, described in Wiki as “argumentative and energetic” – which must be code for a whole lot of things about which I’d probably rather remain in ignorant bliss.

This is just a quick summary of one month in the summer – I had to make sure I did it today, once Halloween is over, we’re kind of looking at Christmas coming up on the horizon. Enjoy!

Having fun on Mars, and some other places

17 Feb

I had lunch out with family the weekend before last, and we had a brilliant time, nine of us altogether, sharing good food, a few nice glasses of this, that and the other, and a lot of chat.  And I mentioned I’d been in Toronto.  Why were you there?  Erm, I was a member of the Mars Society, and the annual conference was in Toronto … its a campaign group for human spaceflight to Mars, made for people like me, and people like Bob Zubrin, the founder of the Society.  His book, the one I have, is on Amazon; my link button isn’t working, but its called The Case for Mars.  

Well, anyway, I hunted out some photos, and it turns out that 1999-2000 was a year with quite a lot of space-related activity for me.  For a start, there was going down to Cornwall to see the eclipse.  I stayed at Penzance Youth Hostel, which was great, and walked up to Madron, a little village just above Penzance.  The weather, as anyone who was in southwest England at the time will remember, was terrible that day.  I have no photos of anything remotely eclipse connected, except for the vicar of Madron Church and his caretaker: they were absolute stars, and opened up their church with coffee and biscuits to these soaked wannabe starfarers who’d suddenly landed on their doorstep.

ImageThen I went to Geneva for a week, and took the chance to go to CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research.  They were still looking for the god particle at that stage … and I finally had a really good understanding of how radioactive half life relates to the weird particles they search for.  That was fun.  They have a kind of museum of the stuff from the 1950s parked in the grounds, just outside the cafe, thats fun too: Image
And then there was the funny little trip I did to Leicester University, to the Challenger Centre there: it was a worldwide initiative headlined by some of the parents of those astronauts who died in the Challenger disaster – a group of us from the Mars Society went up there to do a role-playing exercise of a shuttle mission.  Erm, it wasn’t taken too seriously, but I loved it:ImageAnd then there was Toronto!  Omigod, Toronto!   Its gorgeous.  Still, the great thing was we all got to be with other enthusiasts – it was a little embarrassing at the final dinner, when everyone who wasn’t American or Canadian was asked to stand up, and be applauded … but it was a good laugh.  And I got Bob Zubrin, the founder, to come over at the end of the last day, to have his pic taken with us: Image

I did lots of other things on that trip too, of course: I went boating on Lake Erie and saw my first traffic queue of speedboats; I went to two theatre festivals in Ontario, the Shakespeare and the Shaw; I took the train from Niagara to Chicago and went with all the foreigners who were escorted at gunpoint off the train (well, not really, but it sounds dramatic, and we did have to get off) to pay the entry fee;  I went to Chicago and saw one of the most famous houses built by Frank Lloyd Wright; and I went to another convention in Chicago, met a favourite author Larry Niven, and fell temporarily in love with a lawyer from Pennsylvania, I think, who had the most beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen.  Mmmm. 

But while I was still in Canada, up in their Great Lakes district, I found another form of bilingualism that Canadians don’t talk much about: not just French-Canadian, but Inuit-Canadian.  How about this for a shop-sign:

ImageI just love that script, I really do. 

Life is really very good.  I’d be interested in other people’s peak experiences like this, the more, the merrier.  Enjoy your day.

Common sense

14 Jan

I like thinking, but I like thinking about the big stuff.  Common sense often escapes me completely, which often gives rise to a double take; thats entertaining, though sometimes it does leave me thinking, “What?  What did I say?”  Its probably because I lack a little common sense that I have to always ask why something should be so, because I just don’t think in that practical way a lot of the time. The example I’m prepared to share (because believe me, there are many!) is about entropy, which is defined in the free dictionary as several things, but the ones I’m interested in right now are:

– The tendency for all matter and energy in the universe to evolve toward a state of inert uniformity, and

– Inevitable and steady deterioration of a system or society.

In relation to astronomy, entropy fascinates me – think of it, such a long time in the future that all the stars, and all the stars yet to be born, will have used all their fuel, eventually the subsidiary sources of heat will also die, and the universe will cool to absolute zero – we still don’t know absolutely what will happen as the universe ages, but thats one scenario.  Inert uniformity.  Disorder will increase until there’s nothing living, even at subatomic level.  I’m sure there are a zillion steps in that process, but I’m literally looking at the big picture, thats all.

I’ve been thinking about entropy quite hard this last week, in relation to my house maintenance.  “Steady deterioration”, good grief, thats for sure.  Any maintenance, of any sort, can be looked at as being part of the fight against entropy, the fight against the increase of disorder.  And no matter what I think I’m doing, I’m not fighting hard enough against deterioration.  The recent months of wet weather have meant that my weather-ward wall, which had dodgy pointing right from the time I moved in, has succumbed – the plaster on the inside of that wall looks like crazy paving, even though its a cavity wall: the rain has soaked through the outer wall, through the insulation (which is there, I did check that) and through the inner wall, to the plaster.  Paint has flaked off in one or two places, and some wood has bowed.  Its really not a pretty sight.  And all of it has happened in the last three weeks!  Absolutely astonishing.  I definitely am calling builders for quotes this week – repointing is horrendously expensive because its so labour intensive, but there’s no alternative – you can’t let rain come into the house for too long, or you simply won’t have a house.  And while I accept that entropy may win in the universe as a whole, in the very, very long term, its not going to win in terms of my little house.

The fight against entropy goes on.  I will practise house maintenance.  Common sense rules!

Happy Christmas!

22 Dec

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This is a scan of a Christmas card I sent out … part of me is a glitzy diva!  I’m going for full immersion offline, so in spite of the number of potential blog topics buzzing about, offline I shall be.  I hope everyone, whether a reader here or not, has a peaceful, restorative Christmas; or alternatively, a wowzer do full of fun and frolics.  Yep, thats the one – I hope everyone has the Christmas they want to have.  Yep, that’ll do!

Nelson Mandela and the War That Never Was

6 Dec

Black Zimbabweans fought for their independence in the 1970s. Literally fought – there were no pitched battles, but there were groups of men fighting for all sides, lone snipers in the bush, and non-combatants on both – or all – sides who were hurt and killed.

In South Africa, a war for majority rule (it was already independent), didn’t happen, even though black experiences were in general much harsher in South Africa than in the then-Rhodesia, because of the apartheid laws forced upon the black population. And I believe that that war didn’t happen because of Nelson Mandela.

The changeover to majority rule in South Africa dates from the election of 1994, when Mandela became President. And he entered into coalition with the National Party, the ones who’d enforced apartheid all those years: that fact alone shows the quality of the man. He led by example, he enabled change. He wasn’t a complete pacifist like Gandhi, but he was a peaceful man. He grew up in privilege – a member of a royal family, he attended university and became a lawyer, after all – and what he did with that privilege is crucial: he worked ceaselessly, initially through non-violent protest, and then through sabotage, for the dismantling of apartheid and for freedom.

Yes, there were huge economic interests in South Africa who wanted a peaceful transition, if transition was forced upon them; and there was a great deal of “every day” violence – still is, for that matter – but no war. Nelson Mandela was the one who connected to the majority black population, and made that possible – he’d suffered too, he’d put his freedom and his life on the line – and in the process he became a beacon of hope for what could be. Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, for instance, are named after the South African exemplar, established under his presidency.

There are so many wonderful quotes from him, but these two in particular express who he was:

It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.”
and

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

 

RIP.

 

Tutankamun – oh my god, what they’ve done to his mummy!

1 Dec

I went to a talk by Jo Marchant yesterday, at Sussex Egyptology  – she published a book earlier this year entitled The Shadow King – the story of what happened to Tutankamun’s mummy after Howard Carter discovered it in 1922.  She had some amazing stories about the people who’d worked with his remains, right up until the last few years – for instance, she went to see Zafi Hawass, the former Egyptian Minister of State for Antiquities Affairs, well after he was sacked during the recent revolutionary uprisings.  There’s been a lot of work done in the last few years, with samples already obtained and sitting in universities around the world, or with non-intrusive techniques like CT scans.

The autopsy Carter et al did when the tomb was discovered was pretty hi-tech at the time: 20 years previously, a mummy had been dumped in front of the British High Commissioner and had the wrappings cut off in 15 minutes, literally.  Tutankamun’s autopsy took 5 days, in 1922.  Nowadays, it would take years, I think, but in the context of the times, apparently Carter did okay … but “okay” is pretty frightening in this context.  This is a quote from The Guardian about some of Jo’s findings:

“Sticky black unguents poured over Tut during his funeral had turned rock hard over the centuries, gluing the mummy to the bottom of the box. Attempts to melt the resin in the sun didn’t work, so Carter and Derry broke off the mummy’s arms and legs, cut off its head and sawed the body in two – then scraped out the pieces with hot knives.”

This actually happened!  The mummy was replaced as carefully as possible into the tomb, but seems to have been looted by the time of the 1960s, probably during the Second World War.  The more I learn about the history of Egyptology, the more I’m surprised that there’s anything left at all – right from the start, thousands of years ago, the tombs, the buildings and the artefacts have been taken and “requisitioned”, looted and re-purposed. 

Fascinating.  Weirdly, I’ve never yet made it to Egypt: the nearest I came was when I was travelling about during the build up to the First Gulf War – I was in Crete, and historically there was such a lot of reference to Egypt, it made sense, but Egypt was “closed” at the time, because of the prospect of the war.  Egypt is going through an even tougher time right now, but I’d still like to visit.

 

A bit broken … but all mended now.

19 Nov

I never managed to post about Cardiff, but I was there:Image

Since my last post on here, over two months ago now, I’ve been battling a virus and its after-effects. Hideous – especially because one of the after effects was an inner ear disturbance – I had no idea, none at all, how bad that was.  Think back to your worst episode of teenage drunkenness, and imagine it going on for three weeks … thats it, yep.

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This photo totally represents the “broken” bit – this was my trolley suitcase on my return from Stonehenge, I’ve literally scraped a wheel away while dragging it along the ground!  I’m glad to say I have a shiny new one.

Cardiff was shiny too, mind you – the castle rivals Brighton Pavilion, but its hugely older, and was used more recently too – it was an air raid shelter for thousands of people in WWII.  And it still has adornments like this everywhere:Image

As well as the walls, which are spectacular for reasons that you probably don’t suspect, unless you’ve already admired them:Image

Plus there were these guys I walked into the shop off the train to check out Torchwood locations, and I was immediately a regular.  Same with the button shop outside Cardiff Castle.  Serious levels of friendship and happiness in Cardiff.  Its a great place.

Walking the inner circle of Stonehenge

10 Sep

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Bigger than I remembered from my childhood visit, which is surprising enough on its own.  Its a strong, beautiful place, I feel very privileged to have been there, and with such special people.  We had a half hour meditation, with jackdaws and starlings joining in, in Fibonacci sequence.  All the photos are taken from inside the innermost circle. 

After a cuppa tea, some of us went on to Wood Henge, which is tiny, and only represented by concrete stubs in the empty postholes where magnificent beams would once have stood. Much more intimate, but powerful in its own right.   Dowsing, healing, archeo-acoustics and meditation all played their part, as did Doris Lessing’s Shikasta, which is a science fictional version of exactly what we were doing, writ large onto the universe. 

Anybody seen Stargate SG1? Daniel Jackson evolving into a higher life form that looks like a glowy squid? And he kept on going there and back again, dead and then alive, then dead, then alive … Daniel was once asked, “Don’t you ever give up?” And he replied, “Not until I’m dead. And sometimes, not even then.”

I could say the same thing of all of us there last Sunday.