Tag: BBC Radio 4

The power of touch!

I am speaking of a recent BBC Radio 4 program, but …

… this loving Corgi seems to have got the message.

There has been a series on BBC Radio 4 about the Anatomy of Touch. This is a small extract from the website that accompanied the program.

Touch is a crucial part of our lives. The right kind of touch can reduce pain, soothe our stress and convey emotion faster than words. It’s a sense that you can’t turn off and we should not underestimate its power.
It’s also a sense that has taken on a new resonance during the pandemic, now that we have to keep our distance and haven’t hugged friends or family we don’t live with for more than half a year.

But this is a post about a Corgi that hugs every dog he meets!

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Loving Corgi Hugs Every Dog He Meets On His Walks

“He’s the biggest sweetheart” ❤️️
By Lily Feinn
Published on 10/1/2020
Wallace understands that times are tough, and the loving corgi knows how to make things better — with a big hug. Well, as big as his little arms can go.

When Noah Raminick is walking Wallace, he can expect to stop every time Wallace spots another pup. The year-old corgi loves to play and won’t let another dog walk by without giving him an embrace.

INSTAGRAM/IAMWALLACETHECORGI

“He’s the biggest sweetheart,” Raminick, Wallace’s brother, told The Dodo. “He’s always very happy to be around people and other dogs. He loves to give face kisses to people and when he sees another dog, he’s always the one to initiate a play session.”

INSTAGRAM/IAMWALLACETHECORGI

When it comes to large dogs, the low-bodied pup shows no fear and will stand on his hind legs to get the best possible angle for his hug. Wallace’s best friend Daisy is a Great Dane, but the corgi knows that size doesn’t matter.

“They always hug when they see each other,” Raminick said. “And one of her paws weighs as much as Wallace’s entire body.”

INSTAGRAM/IAMWALLACETHECORGI

With smaller dogs, Wallace makes sure to play gently, so he doesn’t spook his new friend. Wallace won’t go in for the hug until he sniffs out whether the other dog is OK with it first.

“The thing I find interesting with his hugging is that he wasn’t trained to do that at all,” Raminick said. “I think it comes down to him being really excited about playing with another dog.”

INSTAGRAM/IAMWALLACETHECORGI

Wallace makes sure to spread the love when he’s with his human family, too. “His favorite things are morning and evening cuddles, playing fetch and me chasing him around the house,” Raminick said. “I don’t think Wallace has any dislikes.”

Wallace’s family is happy for their pup to continue spreading the love to the dogs and people in his neighborhood, adding a little more joy to everyone’s day.

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 Back to that Touch website to close:

The three most common words used to describe touch are: “comforting”, “warm” and “love”

People from 112 different countries took part in the Touch Test and it’s striking that “comforting” and “warm” were among the three most common words that people used in every region of the world.

Wallace has the message!

Time; beyond imagination!

I don’t know what is was that engaged me; to the point that I have written this blog post.

We rise around 4:30 am, thanks to the dogs, and after they have been out we retire to the bedroom and lay on the top of the bed and have a couple of cups of tea. Come 5am, week days, we listen to BBC Radio 4 and the World at One. Then immediately after the World at One, at the moment, is a fascinating series on A History Of The World in 100 objects.

A few days ago, after the end of the programme, I drifted off into some form of introspective gaze about the past. I mean the past big time!

The Universe

When and how did it all start? That seems to be the Big Bang. The Big Bang was an incredibly long time ago, some 14 billion years ago (rounding it up!).

Here’s an extract from Wikipedia:

The current measurement of the age of the universe is around 13.8 billion years (as of 2015[1]) – 13.799±0.021 billion years within the Lambda-CDM concordance model.[2] The uncertainty has been narrowed down to 20 million years, based on a number of studies which all gave extremely similar figures for the age.

That’s 13.8 times 10 to the power of 9!

Our solar system

Again, pretty old by human standards; 4.6 billions years ago.

Again, an extract from Wikipedia:

The Solar System formed 4.6 billion years ago from the gravitational collapse of a giant interstellar molecular cloud. The vast majority of the system’s mass is in the Sun, with the majority of the remaining mass contained in Jupiter. The four smaller inner planets, Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars, are terrestrial planets, being primarily composed of rock and metal. The four outer planets are giant planets, being substantially more massive than the terrestrials. The two largest, Jupiter and Saturn, are gas giants, being composed mainly of hydrogen and helium; the two outermost planets, Uranus and Neptune, are ice giants, being composed mostly of substances with relatively high melting points compared with hydrogen and helium, called volatiles, such as water, ammonia and methane. All eight planets have almost circular orbits that lie within a nearly flat disc called the ecliptic.

So our solar system came along 9 billion years after the formation of the Universe.

Planet Earth

Our planet formed not long after our solar system. That’s pretty obvious if you ask me.

Thus Planet Earth formed 4.5 billion years ago. Again, thanks to Wikipedia.

Life on Planet Earth

Southampton University have published an extremely interesting chart of the timeline of the human condition. In it is revealed that the earliest atmospheric oxygen was 3.5 billion years ago, a necessary prerequisite to air-breathing life. But it took an extremely long time before monkeys appeared; some 36 million years ago. That’s 36 times 10 to the power of 6, or 383 times shorter than the start of the universe.

The earliest hominins (Australopithecus spp) among the hominids in Africa, bipedal, larger brain came along some 4.2 million years ago.

Among them were humans using stone tools, some 2.5 million years ago. Then 2 million years ago came the earliest direct ancestor of modern humans, Homo erectus (South Africa), co-habiting with Australopithecus and Paranthropus.

Then 40,000 years ago Neanderthals make flutes from bone, then 14,000 years ago the domestication of dogs in China, 7,000 years ago the world population passed 5 million souls, and 3,500 years ago the earliest alphabet (North Semitic, Palestine and Syria).

3,000 years ago the world population passed 50 million.

Come forward to just 195 years ago and the first public railway for steam locomotives (George Stephenson, UK, 1825) came into existence. In 1945, Alan Turing created the world’s first programmable calculator which lead directly to the first computer.

Then just 34 years ago the total population passed 5 billion souls (1986).

This and much more in the timeline which really is a fascinating read. Put together by C. Patrick Doncaster,  7 April 2020, one of the then 7,641,557,720 (rising by 148 per minute, 77 million per year).

But …

The discovery of quarks in 1968 caused us humans to think again about matter.

Wikipedia:

A quark (/kwɔːrk, kwɑːrk/) is a type of elementary particle and a fundamental constituent of matter. Quarks combine to form composite particles called hadrons, the most stable of which are protons and neutrons, the components of atomic nuclei.[1] Due to a phenomenon known as color confinement, quarks are never directly observed or found in isolation; they can be found only within hadrons, which include baryons (such as protons and neutrons) and mesons.[2][3] For this reason, much of what is known about quarks has been drawn from observations of hadrons.

Then there’s antimatter, now that’s really weird.

Again, an extract from Wikipedia:

There is strong evidence that the observable universe is composed almost entirely of ordinary matter, as opposed to an equal mixture of matter and antimatter.[4] This asymmetry of matter and antimatter in the visible universe is one of the great unsolved problems in physics.[5] The process by which this inequality between matter and antimatter particles developed is called baryogenesis.

So, to put it in layman’s terms, the fact that I am sitting here at a computer trying to make sense of it all and failing is just down to luck. The observable universe and my perception of it comes down to matter as opposed to antimatter!

I’ve got a headache!

N.B. It’s a little after 12:30 am (PDT) on the Saturday and I am going to leave this post up as the latest for tomorrow as well. There have been so many wonderful comments.

The Age of Denial

A fascinating programme on BBC Radio 4

All of this week BBC Radio 4 have been transmitting a very interesting programme. It is about denial and it is fascinating.

As the website for the first episode states:

From credit cards to climate change, we bury our heads in the sand. Isabel Hardman investigates our capacity to deny what’s in front of us.

It is counter-intuitive. But you be the judge!

The Age of Denial

And if you want all five episodes then they are here.

 

The Dog – On BBC Radio 4

This should be available to you wherever you are in the world!

I am indebted to Neil back in Devon who gave me the ‘heads up’ to the latest episode from the BBC Natural Histories Unit.

The link to the programme, that was broadcast by the Radio 4 station at 11:00 UK time yesterday, is here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0bgq6f4

When you go to that link you will see this:

Dog

Natural Histories

Dogs have changed us and we’ve changed them. Brett Westwood visits Battersea to meet the animals whose history is most inextricably linked with our own. And in the process very nearly loses a furry microphone cover to an enthusiastic lurcher named Trevor (pictured above)… As the first domestic animals, dogs made it possible for humans to spread into the areas of the world that they did, to eat more protein and to take up activities from hunting to sledding. But it was only in the Victorian period that the dogs we know today were “invented”, by breeding. And throughout all of this dogs have also been changing human lives as companions.
Producer Beth O’Dea
Taking part:
Professor Greger Larson, Director Palaeogenomics & Bio-Archaeology Research Network, School of Archaeology, University of Oxford
Dr John Bradshaw, anthrozoologist and author of In Defence of Dogs and The Animals Among Us
Susan McHugh, Professor of English at the University of New England
Naomi Sykes, Lawrence Professor of Archaeology at the University of Exeter
Julie-Marie Strange, Professor of British History at the University of Manchester
Dr Krithika Srinivasan, Lecturer in Human Geography, University of Edinburgh.

The item is 28 minutes long and for all dog lovers is precious listening!

So click on the ‘Listen Now’ button!

Trust me, you will be surprised at some of the findings covered in this most interesting programme.

Many thanks, Neil!

UPDATE 3pm (PDT) on the 5th.

I am going to leave this post up for the rest of this week. Firstly, because I would like as many of you as possible to listen to it and, lastly, until our local Hugo Road fire is 100% contained I can’t really focus on blogging stuff.

Happy Birthday, my darling Jeannie.

Philosophising about this ageing lark!

A few days ago Jean and I listened to an episode from the BBC Radio 4 series The Art of Living. Or as the home page of the programme’s website explains, The Art of Living is a …

Documentary series revealing how engagement with art has transformed people’s lives.

Anyway, the episode that we listened to was a delightful 30-minute discussion between Marie-Louise Muir and the Belfast-born poet Frank Ormsby. The reason we selected this episode to listen to in particular is revealed by republishing how the BBC introduced the programme. (For Jean was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in December, 2015.)

Frank Ormsby’s Parkinson’s

The Art of Living

When the poet Frank Ormsby was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, his response was unexpected. He embarked on a newly fertile creative period, documenting his experiences and finding a voice in his poetry that he was beginning to lose in his daily communications.
His first act was to search Google – for jokes. “Which would you rather have, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. Obviously Parkinson’s! I’d rather spill half my pint than forget where I left it.”

As he discusses with Marie-Louise Muir, the illness has changed him. It’s mellowed him. After a career as a school teacher, his daily life is now quieter and more solitary. There’s a poetry, almost, in his pauses and silences.
Frank belongs to the generation of Northern Irish writers that has followed in the footsteps of Seamus Heaney and Michael Longley. His medication, he believes, has aided his creativity. But it has also induced hallucinations. He finds himself sitting on his own in his study but surrounded by people, by the ghosts of his mother-in-law and unidentified visitors. And he’s also haunted by a fear that the earth will open up and swallow him.
But if you ask how he’s doing, he writes, “I’ll tell you the one about ‘parking zones disease’.
I’ll assure you that the pills seem to be working”.

Photo credit: Malachi O’Doherty, With readings by Frank himself and Ciaran McMenamin from The Darkness of Snow. Produced by Alan Hall. A Falling Tree production for BBC Radio 4.

That wonderful joke offered by Frank, this one: “Which would you rather have, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. Obviously Parkinson’s! I’d rather spill half my pint than forget where I left it.” comes a little after the 5-minute point in the interview. I strongly encourage you to listen to the full interview. Here’s the link to the radio programme.   

Jean and I were sitting up in bed a couple of mornings ago reflecting on how recent it has been since we ‘got it’ in terms of what becoming old really means. For me and Jean, for different reasons, it is only in the last twelve months that ageing, the process of becoming older, the decline in one’s faculties, and more and more, has been truly understood. Yes, before then of course one understood that we were getting old. But it was an intellectual understanding not the living it on a daily basis understanding we now experience.

Back to Frank Ormsby. Or rather to a feature in the Belfast Telegraph published in 2015.

Frank Ormsby: Life at Inst was very different from my upbringing

Leading Belfast poet and former Inst. Head of English Frank Ormsby on his tough Fermanagh upbringing, losing his father when he was 12 and how humour has helped him cope with a Parkinson’s diagnosis.

Write stuff: Frank Ormsby at his home in north Belfast

March 23, 2015

As Frank Ormsby sits in the study of his beautifully-appointed 1930s home in north Belfast there is no hint of his much more austere upbringing. As befits the workspace of a poet and long-time English teacher at one of Belfast’s leading schools, the bookcases that line the walls are crammed with a wide range of literature.
It could not be a more different environment from the rural home where he grew up just after the Second World War.

When Frank was born in 1947, his father Patrick was already in his 60s. “I remember him as an old, grey-haired man”.

It was Patrick’s second marriage. His first had produced 10-12 children. “I was never totally sure of the exact number”, Frank recalls.

“I never met them as they had dispersed to Scotland and other places by the time my father, by then a widower, had married my mother. As far as I know the last one of them died last year.”

Frank’s home was about a mile and half outside Irvinestown. His mother Anne had worked on a relative’s farm – “she could build hay or cut turf as well as any man” – and his father as a farm labourer who occasionally sought work in the factories in Scotland.

“The conditions in which we lived were lacking in luxury. We had no running water. We had to carry it in buckets from a well half a mile away. There was no electricity and it was a long time before we even had a radio, or wireless as it was called then,” Frank says.

You may read the rest of that article here.

Here’s one of Frank’s poems that was published by The New Yorker in March, 2013.

BOG COTTON

By Frank Ormsby

They have the look
of being born old.
Thinning elders among the heather,
trembling in every wind.
My father turns eighty
the spring before my thirteenth birthday.
When I feed him porridge he takes his cap off. His hair,
as it has been all my life, is white, pure white.

Maybe that’s how it is. Having the look of being born old!

But there’s one thing that I treasure beyond gold itself. Having the fortune to be living out my final days, however many there are, in the company of my beautiful Jeannie and all the loving dogs around me.

Puppy Cleo coming home – April 6th, 2012

 

Happy Birthday, sweetheart!

The day after.

Trying to cope.

This is a very personal, possibly rather mixed-up, set of reflections of how the day after Pharaoh died felt for me. Some of you may prefer not to read this or view the photos.

I sat down to write this, late morning Tuesday, as it was becoming too hot to stay outside. I felt inspired to be 100% honest about my feelings and the photographs are, in essence, copies of the pictures that are in my head.

I woke early yesterday, a little after 4am, and started listening to BBC Radio Four using ear-phones plugged into my tablet while Jeannie slept on.

But I couldn’t get the images of Monday out of my head. Such that it seemed unreal to think that less than thirty-six hours previously Pharaoh was sleeping quietly near his bed, albeit unable to walk on his own.

Then, in what seemed like the flick of a finger, Jeannie was offering Pharaoh my dinner plate Monday evening.

For every evening, unless we had eaten a very spicy meal, Pharaoh always licked my plate clean.

A routine that had gone on for years.

I lay there in bed as 1pm arrived in England (5am PDT) and BBC Radio 4 was broadcasting The World At One. Despite the gloomy headlines still focusing on that terrible fire at the Grenfell Tower in London (not three miles from where I was born in 1944), the images of Monday kept thundering into my consciousness.

How dear friend, Jim Goodbrod, and I had driven into Allen Creek Veterinary Hospital, where Jim is a visiting DVM each week, to collect the required amount of euthanasia drug (apparently just 1 c.c. for every 10 lbs of animal weight – looking at it in the syringe it seemed such a small amount of fluid to bring an end to Pharaoh’s life.)

Then over breakfast, as in Tuesday morning, Jean said how difficult it was watching Pharaoh yesterday (Monday) when Jim and I were away getting the meds because it seemed to her that Pharaoh sensed something was happening outside the run of a normal morning.

Continuing with Monday. When Jim returned, accompanied by his wife, Janet, and knelt down to examine Pharaoh his analysis was that the time was right. Pharaoh had lost massive amounts of muscle tissue from his rear legs and hips.

It was time. Jean and I settled down sitting on the floor alongside Pharaoh’s bed. Pharaoh shifted his body and placed his wonderful, furry head across my outstretched legs. It was time.

Jim injected Pharaoh with an anesthetic. Slowly, gently Pharaoh fell fast asleep. Jim shaved a patch of fur from Pharaoh’s front, right lower leg.  Janet pinched a vein in Pharaoh’s leg and moments later, Jim injected the euthanasia drug. Jean and I continued to stroke Pharaoh’s forehead but frequently looked down to where the rise and fall of Pharaoh’s lungs was visible.

Then at 11:57 PDT Monday, June 19th., there was no more breathing. Jim took out a stethoscope and confirmed that there was no heart-beat. Jim closed Pharaoh’s eyelids while Jean and I sat quietly just holding on to Pharaoh. A few minutes later, Jean and I had wriggled out from under Pharaoh and then Jim slipped a plastic sack over the rear half of Pharaoh’s still body.

Pharaoh had died without pain and in the most gentle way imaginable.

Back to Tuesday, as in yesterday, and now Jean and I were awake and I was reading every comment and response to the post Adieu, Mon Brave.

I must tell you that the love and compassion extended by every single one of you, including the numerous emails sent to me, is the most precious, special recognition of what Pharaoh meant to me, to my Jeannie, and to you all.

Thank you! Thank you so much!

Time then for a call into England and to let Sandra Tucker know that Pharaoh had died. For Pharaoh had been born at Jutone, the GSD breeding kennels run by Sandra Tucker, and Jim, in Hennock, Devon.

Pharaoh’s legacy will live on forever. What he stood for. What he represented. What I learned from Pharaoh. What he inspired in me. That inspiration that will live with me until it’s my turn to take my last breath.

Then it was time to get up and try and stay occupied. But I didn’t warrant for seeing Pharaoh’s empty bed as I walked out of the bedroom into the living-room.

It looked so empty, so lonely.

I burst into tears.

I turned on my heels and went out to feed the horses and the wild deer. As is done every morning.

Walking back to the house, I stepped up on to the rear deck and looked up at the line where the tops of the forest trees on the hills to the East meet the morning sky. It was a clear, cloudless sky.

The sun was within seconds of rising above that skyline. I took a photograph and then the sun had risen. It was 06:24 am. Fifteen hours to the minute before the exact moment of the Summer Solstice this evening (21:24 PDT).

I don’t know what it all means other than in some mysterious, natural fashion, everything is connected.

Dear, sweet, noble Pharaoh.

The view from across the pond!

The power of unanticipated outcomes.

I am referring to the result of the British election that was held last Thursday.

Now I am well aware that many readers will not have the same relationship with the outcomes of British elections as your faithful scribe. But I am also aware that we live in a very connected world. I am also acutely aware that for many, many years I was a devoted listener to the 15-minute weekly radio broadcast on the BBC by Alistair Cooke Letter from America.

So for me, and many others I don’t doubt, the views of America as to what goes on across the pond are just as fascinating today as they have always been.

But in the absence of dear Mr. Cooke (20 November 1908 – 30 March 2004) passing on his experienced assessment on what the outcomes of British elections mean for America then I turn to a recent item on The Conversation site and republished here within the terms of that site.

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How populism explains May’s stunning UK election upset: Experts react

June 9, 2017 6.04am EDT

Editor’s note: U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s election gamble failed badly as her Conservatives lost 12 seats, leaving them with 318, shy of a majority. It was a stunning loss for a party earlier projected to gain dozens of seats. Without a majority, the Conservatives will have to rely on another party to govern – known as a hung Parliament. If they’re unable to forge a coalition, rival Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn – whose party gained 31 seats – would be able to give it a go. We asked two experts to offer their insights on what Americans should make of the election and its results.

May had a bad night and may face a struggle over her party’s leadership

Tories’ growing populism begets a power struggle

Charles Hankla, George State University

The results of this election show how similar, and yet how different, British politics are from what is happening in America.

As in the United States, there has been an explosion of populism in Britain, most recently evidenced by the Brexit referendum. This new political force is translating into less liberal policies from the major parties.

In continental Europe, the new populism is mostly embodied by the resurgent far right. But in Britain, as in America, it is being filtered through the existing two-party system – though the U.K.‘s smaller parties do complicate the electoral map.

To accommodate the political winds, May and her Conservatives decided to shift their electoral strategy away from Margaret Thatcher’s pro-market economic approach toward a greater focus on immigration, security and economic nationalism.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, for his part, deserted the more centrist “New Labour” ideas of Tony Blair in favor of a more robust form of social democracy.

The American left, like its British counterpart, has also become increasingly skeptical of unbridled markets. But among Republicans, a traditional hostility to “big government” makes pro-worker redistributive policies, some of which the Tories have adopted to win votes, hard to stomach. For this reason, populism on the American right has mostly taken the form of protectionist and anti-immigrant policies, as embodied by Donald Trump.

Yesterday’s results were devastating for May and indicate that the Conservatives were ultimately unable to balance their new populist message with their traditional support for neo-liberal policies.

Corbyn, for his part, will use this unexpected victory (of sorts) to solidify his hold over the Labour Party and to move it further to the left.

It remains to be seen whether the election will result in a minority or a coalition government, or whether the parties will be well and truly deadlocked. Whatever happens, the British electorate, like its cousin across the pond, has shown itself to be highly polarized.

Still, at a minimum, Britain’s parliamentary structure, along with the ability of the Labour leadership to co-opt disillusioned voters, seems to have spared Britain the fate of America – the takeover of government by a populist insurgent.

Corbyn and his Labour Party had reasons to smile on election night. AP Photo/Frank Augstein

For US companies, it’s business as usual

Terrence Guay, Pennsylvania State University

So now that we know the results, what are the implications for U.S. business interests in the U.K., America’s seventh-biggest trading partner?

May took a calculated political risk and lost. While the market reaction has been severe, with the pound plunging, it’s nothing new to companies, which take calculated risks like that every day – some pay off and some do not.

So first of all, U.S. corporate executives will need to take a deep breath. Assuming a combination of other parties do not cobble together at least 322 seats – despite winning seven seats, Northern Ireland’s Sinn Fein will not send MPs to London – the Conservatives will dominate a coalition government and have considerable sway over policy.

This means a “hard Brexit,” as outlined by May in January, and as seen in the European Union’s tough negotiating guidelines, is unlikely to change. But this is what most U.S. companies have been planning for anyway since last June’s Brexit vote. Many companies, particularly banks and financial institutions, are already planning to move some of their U.K. operations to other EU countries to take advantage of the single market rules.

This process will continue no matter who’s in power, since only the low-polling Liberal Democrat and Green parties promised a Brexit revote.

Second, a weakened Conservative Party will need more foreign friends, and that includes U.S. companies. Since Brexit, some foreign businesses have threatened to downsize or close their U.K. operations as leverage for obtaining government subsidies. Expect more companies to use this strategy with a weaker U.K. government.

As I argue in my recent book, the business environment of Europe is much more than the U.K. market, and U.S. companies have become increasingly aware of this since Brexit.

In other words, it’s business as usual, and that means the continued segmenting of companies’ U.K. and EU strategies, regardless of who is governing in London.

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Expect things to continue to be interesting for some time. Or as more eloquently put by Tariq Ramadan “Times have changed; so must the lenses through which we see the political future.”

Back to Alistair Cooke. There are many of his broadcasts available on the BBC Radio website and on YouTube.

I’m closing with just a small part of Charlie Rose interviewing Alistair Cooke in May, 1996.

Uploaded on Sep 25, 2011

Tuesday, May 7, 1996
Charlie Rose: An interview with Alistair Cooke
Alistair Cooke celebrates the 50 year anniversary of his BBC broadcast, “Letter from America”, a 15-minute talk about life in America for British listeners.

Recorded some twenty-one years ago. Somethings don’t seem to change!

The utterly incomprehensible

A journey of the mind and the soul.

NB: Regular readers will find that today’s post is rather different to my usual run of things. But I do hope that you end up sharing my feelings of mystery; sharing what seems to me utterly incomprehensible. I am speaking of The Infinite.

Let me start with this quotation:

The infinite has always stirred the emotions of mankind more deeply than any other question.

The infinite has stimulated and fertilised reason as few other ideas have. But also the infinite, more than another other notion, is in need of clarification.

Let me now take you back many years, back to the Autumn of 1969 when I left Gibraltar bound for The Azores on my yacht Songbird of Kent. I was sailing solo.

My home for five years – Songbird of Kent; a Tradewind 33.

Despite me being very familiar with my boat, and with sailing in general, there was nonetheless a deep sense of trepidation as I headed out into a vast unfamiliar ocean.

On the third or fourth night, I forget which, when some four hundred miles into the Atlantic and therefore far from the light pollution from the land, I came on deck and was emotionally moved in a way that has never ever been surpassed.

For way up in the heavens above me was the Andromeda galaxy, clearly visible with the naked eye.

andromeda-galaxy-josh-blash-7-23-2014-e1473897834535
Josh Blash captured this image of the Andromeda galaxy.

That photograph above and the following are from the EarthSky site.

Although a couple of dozen minor galaxies lie closer to our Milky Way, the Andromeda galaxy is the closest major galaxy to ours. Excluding the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, which can’t be seen from northerly latitudes, the Andromeda galaxy – also known as M31 – is the brightest galaxy in all the heavens. It’s the most distant thing you can see with your unaided eye, at 2.3 million light-years. To the eye, it appears as a smudge of light larger than a full moon.

Not only could I not take my mind off seeing the Andromeda galaxy, I couldn’t easily comprehend seeing the stars come all the way down to the horizon; all 360 degrees about me.  Right down to the edge of my ocean horizon; a swirling blackness out to where it kissed that glorious night sky.

That image of that dome of stars would be forever burnt into my memory. An image that both made no sense, yet made every sense

Fast forward forty-seven years to now!

Recently we have had some beautiful clear nights here in Southern Oregon. Just the other night, before the moon had risen, there up in the night sky just a short distance from the constellation Cassiopeia was Andromeda. Immediately, my memory of that dark night sky out in the Atlantic came rushing back at me

The Andromeda galaxy is 2.3 million light-years away. But how can one possibly comprehend the distance? The fact that light travels at 186,000 miles per second or 671 million miles per hour (the exact value is 299,792,458 metres per second (approximately 3.00×108 m/s) has no meaning whatsoever. Think about it! Light is traveling at the equivalent speed of going around our planet 7.46 times every second!

But if you can’t fathom the distance to the Andromeda galaxy try this!

Back in March, 2016 a new galaxy that has been named GN-z11 was spotted by the Hubble space telescope 13.4 billion light years away. That’s approximately 5,830 times more distant than the Andromeda galaxy!

Now it is starting to become very difficult to comprehend.

Over the last couple of weeks BBC Radio 4 has been airing 10 talks given by Professor Adrian Moore under the heading of A History of the Infinite. They are freely available to be listened to and I so strongly recommend them.

But it was episode eight that made me lose my mind. Just like that night so many years ago on Songbird of Kent.

For that episode was called The Cosmos. You can listen to it here. Please, please do so! This is how that episode is presented:

Does space go on for ever? Are there infinitely many stars? These are some of the questions Adrian Moore explores in the eighth episode in his series about philosophical thought concerning the infinite.

With the help of the theories of the Ancient Greeks through to those of modern cosmologists, Adrian examines the central question of whether our universe is finite or infinite.

For most of us, looking up at the stars gives us a sense of infinity but, as Adrian discovers, there is a strong body of opinion which suggests that space is finite, albeit unbounded. This is a difficult idea to grasp, but by inviting us to think of ourselves as ants, astrophysics professor Jo Dunkley attempts to explain it.

Adrian also tackles the idea of the expanding universe and the logic that leads cosmologists to argue that it all started with a big bang, and may all end with a big crunch.

Finally, we discover from cosmologist John Barrow how the appearance of an infinity in scientists’ calculations sends them straight back to the drawing board. The infinite, which the Ancient Greeks found so troubling, has lost none of its power to disturb.

A Juniper production for BBC Radio 4.

If you find that episode compelling beyond belief then all the episodes are available on the BBC iPlayer and may be found here.

I started with a quotation that is the opening of the final episode. It is a quotation from the German mathematician David Hilbert. As Wikipedia explains, in part:

hilbertDavid Hilbert (German: [ˈdaːvɪt ˈhɪlbɐt]; 23 January 1862 – 14 February 1943) was a German mathematician. He is recognized as one of the most influential and universal mathematicians of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

I will return to that first sentence in Hilbert’s quotation:

The infinite has always stirred the emotions of mankind more deeply than any other question.

For me that sight of the Andromeda galaxy and the stars back in 1969 was in every meaning of the word a sight of the infinite and it has forever stirred my emotions very deeply indeed!

The book! Part Four: Finding happiness.

Aristotle is reputed to have said, “Happiness depends on ourselves.

For someone born nearly 2,400 years ago, at the time of penning this book, Aristotle’s (384 to 322 BCE) words of wisdom resonate very much with these modern times. Even granting the fact that Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and a scientist, it still has me in awe of the man. Consider, when one thinks about Aristotle’s reflections on mankind so long ago and finds, some 2,400 years later, that in a sense, in a very real sense, nothing much about the aspect of our happiness is new. Certainly when it comes to the behaviours of homo sapiens!

To underpin that last observation, that seeking happiness still fascinates us, just a few days ago (November 2104) I read an item on the BBC website reporting that a Google engineer, Chade-Meng Tan, “claims he has the secret to a contented, stress-free life.” The BBC reporter, David G Allan, author of the article, went on to write, “Deep inside the global tech behemoth Google sits an engineer with an unusual job description: to make people happier and the world more peaceful.

From Aristotle to Google – Talk about plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose!

Nevertheless, if the source of our happiness is something that has been known for thousands of years, why do we have the sense that happiness is elusive, (I use the word ‘we’ in the broad sense.), why the reason that happiness seems as far away from the common, everyday experience as the white, snowy peak of a magnificent mountain shining out from a dark, blue sky?

How can we understand more about happiness; whether or not it is, indeed, elusive?

Well there’s only one place to start looking for the answer to that question in these modern times and that’s a Google search! Wow! No shortage of places to go looking: that search for the word ‘happiness’ produced the response – About 50,000,000 results (0.15 seconds)! And a bonus: I laughed out aloud when I saw that figure.

50 million results! Happiness doesn’t appears to be that elusive after all!

Let’s come at the question of happiness from a different angle. What about happiness from the perspective of good mental health?

The leading mental health charity in the UK is the organisation MIND. Their website, not surprisingly, poses the question: What do we mean by good mental health? Then offers the response: “Good mental health isn’t something you have, but something you do. To be mentally healthy you must value and accept yourself.

See there’s the prescience of Aristotle again!

MIND continues the response to the question by underlining how we should “… care about yourself and you care for yourself. …. love yourself, not hate yourself. …. look after your physical health”, reminding us all to “eat well, sleep well, exercise and enjoy yourself.”

Gretchen Rubin, an expert on the topic of happiness and the author of several books on this aspect of us humans, has researched happiness for many years. Her conclusions are the following: that happiness is found in the enjoyment of ordinary things, in the everyday and in cherishing the small things in our lives.

There’s a distinct theme appearing here. All the way from Aristotle: That whether or not I am happy comes down to one person and one person alone: me! Happiness is about my response to my world; my world around me.

It doesn’t take much to see the incredible importance of being good to oneself. That finding happiness is firmly on the same page as self-compassion.

That is reinforced by Ruth Nina Welsh, a freelance writer specialising in lifestyle, wellbeing and self-help, and a former counsellor and coach (and, notwithstanding, an erstwhile musician). Ruth, on her website Be Your Own Counsellor and Coach, reminds us to, “see yourself as being a valuable person in your own right.” Then later, adding: “If you value yourself, you don’t expect people to reject you. You aren’t frightened of other people. You can be open, and so you enjoy good relationships.

Conclusion: It is totally clear that how we see ourselves is central to every decision we make. People who value and accept themselves, the essence of self-happiness, cope with life in ways that are just not available to people who are not happy with who they are.

That strikes me that being happy with ourself should be the first thing we should say to ourselves in the morning, and the last thing we should think about as we drop off to sleep.

Thus having spent a few paragraphs looking at happiness in its own right, how do we bring happiness into the central proposition of this section of the book: Of change in thoughts and deeds? How can happiness be a positive tool for change?

To put into context the need for change in our thoughts and deeds, let’s look back over our shoulders at the past fifty years or more and realise that despite the relentless growth in incomes, across the vast majority of countries, we are no happier than we were those five decades ago. Indeed, some might argue that we are much less happy. Certainly, in this same period of fifty years, we have seen an increase in wider social issues, including a very worrying rise in anxiety and depression in our young people.

If the premise that change is essential, that there is a growing motivation to turn away from where we, as in mankind, seem to be heading, and seek more peaceful and harmonious times, then finding happiness, as with faith in goodness, is an important ingredient but on its own does not deliver change.

For more years than I care to remember, BBC Radio 4 has been broadcasting a ten-minute programme: A Point of View; usually on a Friday evening if my memory serves me well. Back in 2013, writer and broadcaster, Al Kennedy, presented A Point of View on the theme of Why embracing change is the key to happiness. The ideas behind that programme were also published on the BBC News Magazine website: A Point of View: Why embracing change is the key to happiness. Al Kennedy proposing that, “Human happiness may rely on our ability to conquer a natural fear of upsetting the status quo.

Al Kennedy touched on a familiar aspect of change, “If you’re like me, you won’t want to change. Even if things aren’t wonderful, but are familiar, I would rather stay with what I know. Why meddle with something for which there is a Latin, and therefore authoritative, term: the status quo.

Thus, Al reminds us, that seeing happiness as a key to change, may be putting it in the wrong order. We have to welcome change, have it as a fundamental part of who we are and trust that this is the path to happiness. Back to Al Kennedy: “And every analysis of what makes lucky and happy people lucky and happy demonstrates they adapt fast and well to new situations and people, and so are defended by complex social circles and acclimatised to change.

That BBC article concludes, again with Al Kennedy’s words: “Approaching the changing reality of reality with sensible flexibility is the best strategy for happiness. I don’t believe it, but it’s true. And if I can change my mind, I can change anything else I need to.

Notions of Rome not being built in a single day come to mind. Or that other one about even the longest journey starting out with a single step.

Silly old me! Still looking for more sayings to crystallise the essence of happiness and the best one is right under my nose. The one that opened this chapter. From the wise Aristotle: “Happiness depends on ourselves.

1296 words Copyright 2014: Paul Handover

Rob Hopkins and ‘engaged optimism’.

A wonderful enlightened approach to the challenges facing our beautiful planet.

Rob Hopkins is a remarkable fellow.  In so many ways he is the most unlikely person to have kicked off almost single-handedly, a gathering world-wide revolution.

Rob Hopkins

There’s a very good description of the man on his Transition Culture website, from which I have republished this segment,

He is the co-founder of Transition Town Totnes and of the Transition Network. This grew out of many years experience in education, teaching permaculture and natural building, and setting up the first 2 year full-time permaculture course in the world, at Kinsale Further Education College in Ireland, as well as co-ordinating the first eco-village development in Ireland to be granted planning permission.

He is author of ‘The Transition Handbook: from oil dependence to local resilience’, which has been published in a number of languages, and which was voted the 5th most popular book taken on holiday by MPs during the summer of 2008, and more recently of ‘The Transition Companion: making your community more resilient in uncertain times’, published in October 2011.  He publishes the blog www.transitionculture.org, recently voted ‘the 4th best green blog in the UK’(!).  He tweets as @robintransition, and and recently came 11th in the PeerIndex-driven Sustainability Drivers List.

I am as guilty as the next person in promoting ‘doom and gloom’ when it comes to what mankind is doing to this planet.  I devoted a couple of thousand words to that theme in a guest sermon that appeared on Learning from Dogs a week ago.  That’s not to say that unless mankind, in the millions, changes in significant ways then avoiding a catastrophy to our species, and many others, is going to be hugely difficult.

But motivating us all to change is far better undertaken from a position of positive guidance and inspiration, than out of fear!

So when Jean and I listened to a recent BBC radio broadcast by Rob as part of the BBC Radio 4 Four Thought series we were blown away by the guidance and inspiration that Rob presented.

It’s 15 minutes of hope, and you too can listen to it from anywhere in the world by going here or by going here.

This is how the BBC introduces the programme,

Rob Hopkins, co-founder of the Transition Culture movement, believes that “engaged optimism” is the best way to face the global challenges of the future, be it climate change, oil supplies running out or the economic downturn. He believes initiatives enabling people to produce their own goods and services locally – from solar powered bottled beer to micro currencies like the Brixton pound – are the best way to build community resilience. Four Thought is a series of talks in which speakers give a personal viewpoint recorded in front of an audience at the RSA in London.
Producer: Sheila Cook.

So do listen to the programme and then click across to the Transition Culture website where Rob has posted a transcript of his talk.  Please, whatever your plans today find time to listen to the programme and read the transcript.  Here’s how Rob closes his talk,

I often end talks I give with Arundhati Roy’s quote “another world is not only possible, she is on her way.  On a quiet day I can hear her breathing”.  I think we might adapt her quote, so that, in the context of this bottom-up drive for more resilient communities, communities better prepared for uncertain times, it is not only a case of hearing another world breathing, but being able to see her around us, already setting up local businesses, reviving her local economy, setting up bakeries, breweries, food hubs, mentoring scores of young people with business ideas, attracting inward social investment finance, creating the models whereby people can invest in their communities and see them being strengthened and supported.

That’s why I get out of bed in the morning, because I feel that the potential in our getting this right is so exquisite that it’s all I can do, and because the grim predictability of what will happen if we do nothing is just unthinkable, especially in relation to the challenge of climate change.  If we are able to turn things around on the scale we need to turn them around on, to replace vulnerability, carbon intensity and fragility with resilience, it will be an achievement our children will tell tales about, sing songs about.  I hope I am there to hear them.  Thank you.

Another world is on her way!

Another beautiful world is on her way!