Saturday, 10 June 2017

The Other News

I picked up two bits of news this week that I think largely went unnoticed amidst all the other stuff going on in the UK, but both of which might have longer shelf-lives than the newly elected government.

Firstly, on Wednesday (7th) lunchtime, 50.7% of the UK's energy was supplied by wind, solar, hydro and wood pellet burning. This to me sounds like big news. 50% of Britain was powered by renewable energy for the first time! Add in nuclear, and by 2pm low carbon sources were producing 72.1% of our electricity!
     If that's not exciting enough the result of this was that prices fell to a 10th of their normal level - so we were saving the planet and saving people money. You just don't get these kind of good news stories, but the media barely seemed to notice. If nobody dies they're not interested.
     Now admittedly Wednesday lunchtime was both sunny and windy, but still this is brilliant, and it's not just in the UK. There are record levels of wind power being set all across Northern Europe! Now we just need the rest of the world to get on board.

Secondly, Boeing is researching the possibilities of having commercial-passenger jets piloted by computers (or artificial intelligence). Now, you might think the biggest concern here is 'can they make it safe?' And yes, that is one of the main questions they're trying to answer. But that was not my first thought.
     My first thought was, 'why?'
     Why do we need planes flown by computers when we have perfectly good pilots that do the job already, and what are all the pilots of the world going to do when they are usurped by this artificial intelligence? Go on jobseekers, I suppose.
     Actually, my issue isn't really with this specific story, but with the general trend of the world to replace humans with machines that do the same job. As far as I can tell, new technology that is actually useful are the things that help us to do jobs, not do the jobs for us! It's no wonder there are so many people out of work, and soon the pilots are going to join them. My commiserations if that includes you.

So, there you go, energy and the economy solved in one blog post. All we need are more wind farms and fewer bonkers ideas about having robots do everything for us. Now, back to work everyone, before you find a machine has taken over.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Response

How do we respond to an act of terror? It can be hard to know.

People talk about standing against 'them'. But there is no 'them' to stand against. There is no physical enemy.

Others talk of standing against hatred, but I wonder even if that is right. A person who commits an act of terror does not know the people they are affecting and can have no personal hatred of them. It also seems to me that the cause of such acts is becoming increasingly less clear.

So, how do we respond?

As I see it the only way can be through love. Loving people, individually. Not because love is the opposite of hate, but because love is the opposite of a lack of love. A person doesn't have to be hated to cause violence, but if a person does not know that they are loved, that they are valued, that their life means something to someone, then there is no telling what they will do.

A show of love together in the immediate aftermath is good, but more important I think is the love we give to those around us every day, and particularly those who we might not think to care for. This love can be expressed as simply as a smile or a pleasant greeting, although the more you can show someone their worth the greater the impact will be. This is a deeper response than what to me seems to be the slightly shallow words of people trying to be noticed for their sympathy.

Ultimately our response should not be for what we can get out of it, but what we can put in.

And I'm still working on that.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

This page intentionally left blank

"Whatcha up to?" she asked.
"Filling time," he said.
"With what?"
"Life."
"Going slow is it?" she suggested.
"The dull days go slowly, the busy days disappear, and that's the way it is," he replied. "Time is a great magician."
"So what are you actually doing?" she asked again.
"Sinking balls on a snooker table."
"Is that on a dull day or a busy day?"
"Both, it's just that the busy days are the ones when the colours get replaced."
"You know you don't make any sense?" she complained.
"This page intentionally left blank."
"What?"
"Like on exam papers. There're plenty of things that don't make sense."
"But it helps to make sense, because then people understand each other."
"That's the first thing you've said that might not have been a question" he noted, "but anyway, does it matter? I've met plenty of people, and I've never understood any of them."
"Everything matters," she said.
"Or nothing," he mused, "if everyone's special then no one is."
"You're special," she mocked.
"Thanks," he said, "so are you."

Friday, 7 April 2017

With Hope Before

A cloudless blue and a burst of yellow sinking slowly towards the pale hills. The first buds, the constant return of life, the energy and the peace. Is this why we love old England so? Is this why for millennia people from countries near and far have been attracted to our pleasant shores and have come to live here. From early invaders to the displaced, the rich and poor of distant nations, all have come to find life in this bounteous land.

Winston Churchill, in his History of the English-speaking Peoples, wrote of ancient settlers: “The invaders themselves were not without their yearnings for settled security. Their hard laws, the rigours they endured, were but the results of the immense pressures behind them as the hordes of avid humanity spread westward from Central Asia. The warriors returning from a six months’ foray liked to sprawl in lazy repose. Evidently they were not insensible to progressive promptings; but where, asked the chiefs and elders, could safety be found? In the fifth century, as the pressure from the East grew harder and as the annual raiding parties returned from Britain with plunder and tales of wealth, there was created in the ruling minds a sense of the difficulty of getting to the Island, and consequently of the security which would attend its occupation by a hardy and valiant race. Here, perhaps, in this wave-lapped Island men might settle down and enjoy the good things of life without the haunting fear of subjugation by a stronger hand, and without the immense daily sacrifices inseparable from military and tribal discipline on the mainland. To these savage swords Britain seemed a refuge. In the wake of the raiders, there grew steadily the plan and system of settlement. Thus, with despair behind and hope before, the migration to Britain and its occupation grew from year to year.”

In the human mind there is always the search for something better, something that will satisfy, and although nothing has ever seemed to fulfil all we hope for it hasn’t quenched our desire to keep on looking. For refuge, safety, security, prosperity. As Churchill hinted at, Britain has always been a place where such things could be found, and on such is our nation built. So now we, and the rest of the world with us, see a place of safety, security, peace and prosperity.

Yet the more safe we become the more vulnerable we are, blind to the real dangers, which no longer lurk just across the water but inside ourselves. Laziness, boredom, comfort. We should always be aware that although things seem to change only slowly, there is nothing permanent on this earth. The invaders and the migrants can tell us that. And so we live with 'hope before' as we seek a place of peace. Where all wars end and strivings cease.


Saturday, 1 April 2017

Someone else's garden

The sun is setting as I wander past a garden; the last vestiges of gold giving it a pleasant glow. There is a yellowy grit path and a patio where a watering can lies abandoned on its side. Of course it may have been blown over by the wind, although I suspect not. I'm tempted to go and set it right, in its place by the latticed fence that is currently causing patterned shadows to be displayed on the flagstones. I like things to be in their place. Nowadays people call that OCD, but I just call it being tidy.
     A few plants squat in pots along the wall, some doing better than others. One has definitely died. The sunlight catches on some daffodils, though, and diverts my attention. Across the path there is a patch of grass that needs cutting. A baby starling, newly fledged is ferreting for worms. Another swoops from the roof to join him, but misjudges and bounces off the netting around the trampoline. He flaps violently and shoots upwards again before landing on the fence.
     The sky is pale blue now and grey, wispy clouds are blowing in from the north and west, from the invisible coast, just beyond the horizon. The garden shivers and settles down for another cool evening. 'Don't worry,' I say, 'summer will soon be here.'

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Like A Slinky On An Escalator

Another year around the sun,
Another season just begun.
Another minute on the clock,
Watching moss grow on a rock.

Another penny in the meter,
Drinking fuel by the litre.
Another wannabe world-beater.
Undone by Time - the great defeater.

But there is hope with which to block,
Another day life tries to mock.
Another race must still be run,
Another battle must be won.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Something Impossible

Can you believe in something impossible? Sometimes I lose the energy. I want to dream of a paper aeroplane that could fly from London to Paris, or that the sun would travel backwards through the sky. However, I am a product of my generation and my culture. Everything has an explanation and either there is nothing left for the imagination or imagination itself is now an impossibility.
     I have also reached the conclusion that nothing ever really ends, only changes come slowly, shifting the days and years and giving us memories. Stories too, dreamed up, have to start somewhere, and yet they build off many other thoughts and when they end there is always more that could be said.
     It is not the disappearing days that give importance to our lives; each one becomes an irrelevance with time, productive or not, and even changes when looked back on simply alter the route we take towards some greater impossibility, some mysterious goal. We must always have a goal, and why should that goal not be impossible? Some would say that what we have already done is impossible. Our very lives, imprinted with the marks of others are something that cannot be explained or fully understood but are of utmost importance.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Testament of (21st Century) Youth

I stood in the supermarket aisle facing the mountains of toilet rolls. Eighteen different varieties I counted. How is someone supposed to deal with that sort of choice? And that was after I'd spent thirty-five minutes trying to work out the positives and negatives of fifty-eight different varieties of cheese. Plus the delay it caused in my planned speedy-shop doubled when I was beaten to the checkout queue by someone with a trolley loaded up with what seemed to be about half the store. Evidently they'd given up trying to chose and just picked up something of everything.
     That policy works well enough I suppose, but it isn't so good in other situations. It's small wonder to me that young people (and I still just about include myself in that bracket) have little idea of what to do when they're older, given the huge range of options available. A choice made harder still, considering the pressure to get it right, if that's even possible.

In other news I saw today that schools are already beginning to ban oversized bows, being worn by surprisingly fashion-conscious young girls, while the debate on whether such items are merely hair accessories or symbols of power and confidence threatens to shut down social media (slight exaggeration). Given that I only discovered this craze on Monday you can understand why I was surprised by how fast this story was moving, but that's the world for you. People used to worry about it slowing down, but it just seems to get faster. I wonder if the testament of today's youth will be their ability to make it to the escape hatch before they become convinced they're merely players in some bizarre video game, in which the aim is to find the ultimate brand of toilet roll.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Serenity

Inspired by the song 'Quiet' from Matilda the musical.

Has it ever occurred to you that
If the world did not spin at one thousand miles an hour
We would not exist,
Or could not resist
The heat of the sun,
As we faced it day after day.
Although what would a day be without any night,
Or a night with no chance of seeing the light
Of a new dawn,
Sun rising, over some distant horizon.

It's really quite strange, but the world keeps on turning,
And sometimes it feels like it's hard to keep up,
Heart racing, heart burning,
As time flashes on.
I'm sorry, I know, this is quite hard to say,
In a way,
But it's true and there's nothing that we can ever do.
And it hurts my head as I try to consider
All the things that I have to consider each day,
So I pray, and I say,
Oh please let it stop for just once.
I can't stand the noise,
The rushing and shouting,
Is anyone counting
The vanishing hours,
Of a world that is whirling too fast.
There's no rest from this mess,
The distress of our personal quests,
And I'm running too fast
At some blank last moment,
And then at that moment
And just out of nowhere
And rushing towards me
I find coming at me...


Serenity.

When the world seems to come to stop, without really stopping. Just moving around me, like an ocean, and me on a small sailing boat.

Tranquillity. Amid all the chaos.
And all I can hear
Is the air
As my cares are carried away.

And there is stillness.
Peacefulness.
Like snow falling on snow; there's action but the action is soundless, except that there is something there if you listen, which you can, because in that heavenly place your mind is released from everything else.

And there in that moment, I find there is comfort,

Like I'm held,

Deep in the arms of the sun.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Two days in Snowdonia

Aside from crawling through the road works around Conwy (not literally) the drive to north Wales was fairly pleasant. I'd given myself two days to do as much walking in Snowdonia as possible, and I succeeded in hiking over 15 miles, including reaching the summit of the impressive mountain, Carnedd Dafydd.
     The weather was poor, and very windy, but I thoroughly enjoyed the steep climb up Pen yr Ole Wen. I had to cross the top, which had large patches of snow covering, in the cloud, but I found the cairn on Carnedd Dafydd, and my way back, without falling off the edge (obviously).


Pen yr Ole Wen; there's a path there somewhere.


The view south from Pen yr Ole Wen.

Returning to the car an hour before the Youth Hostel (Idwal Cottage - the oldest YHA in Britain, I'll have you know) opened, meant I had time to stroll around the tarn, seen in the centre of the picture above, and take a closer look at the frozen waterfalls, starkly white against the dark rocks (you can just about make out one of them).

Today I had ideas of attempting Tryfan or Glyder Fach, but while the wind was slightly lessened the clouds were heavier and lower and around 11am it started to rain. I'd headed up to the south side of Tryfan but backtracked and dropped down on the east side completing a circle of the mountain. I had another look at the north ridge but the clouds were still hanging around so I headed down to Llyn Ogwen and a boggy walk around it's father shore. Of course by the time I was back at the car and preparing to return home the clouds had lifted and the sun starting to shine through. Such is life in the hills.



















Tryfan (without clouds on top) seen from Pen yr Ole Wen
 

 

Thursday, 9 February 2017

A place like no other

There was a time when the earth was wild and waste. The land featureless, barren, silent; the ground baked hard by a relentless sun, while vicious winds whipped the seas.
     We could have existed then, in hardship, on dismal deserts. Surviving without living. Beauty unknown. But the earth brought forth plants, of a million colours, and the land was formed into moutains and valleys, with snow on the peaks and little rivers flowing down past pleasant meadows to golden beaches of soft sand, and the salty sea.
     Why is the grass green or the sky blue, or a sunset such a perfect myriad of reds and yellows? And is there anything more delicate than than a spider's web on a frosty morning?
     We are blessed to live in such a paradise and call it home; and if you offered me another option, I would, without hesitation, decline.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

The Jewel

Inigo arrives with all the extravagance we expected. He has a small army of people with him, but fortunately most of them wait outside the museum.
     The Director welcomes Inigo with a broad smile and undeniable hesitancy, which I am pleased to see. Caution will be necessary today.
     Inigo and his team are led into the museum and down to the basement level. Here we stop and the Director requests that only Inigo proceeds with our staff into the next part of the museum, usually reserved for employees and high level researchers only. Inigo is persuasive, however, and has paid a lot of money for this visit and so after some bargaining he is allowed to bring two of his posse along.
     Now we head in to the bowels of this ancient building and Inigo is taken to a room where we will bring what he has come to see.
     'Can I not see where you keep it?' he enquires.
     'We have hidden it away and very few people, even within this building, know its exact whereabouts,' replies the Director.
     'But why would you keep such a fabulous item in the dark, is there not a secure location in which it can be displayed?'
     'Indeed there is, but this is not something simply to be looked at or used for light entertainment, it is to be treasured, and so it is kept safe from all harm.'

At this point a curtain is drawn back revealing a small hole in the wall. The Director pushes a button beside the hole and a metal box appears from some mysterious location. The Director takes the box and places it on the table in the middle of the room. Carefully he lifts the lid and removes a smaller container, seemingly made entirely of glass. This he lays delicately in front of Inigo who has become silent, watching every move. Slowly he looks down into the glass cube. Suspended within it is a perfect jewel, fiery red and yet with a soft, golden flicker to it, almost like a star.
     Inigo stares at it for an age. Everyone is silent.
     'Amazing,' he remarks, eventually. Another pause follows, but then comes the question we had been expecting.
     'And how much is it worth?'

The Director glances at me and I nod. 'There is no price attached to it,' he says.
     Inigo is still gazing at the jewel. 'Well humour me,' he replies, 'what would you value it at. I'm the son of a billionaire. Big numbers neither surprise me nor terrify me.'
     'The problem is, you see,' says the Director, trying to keep his voice steady, 'that true value is determined not by an expert but by what someone has paid or is willing to pay, and no one has ever paid for this jewel, at least not with money.'
     'Well, as you may have guessed,' puts in Inigo, 'I am willing to change that, indeed I am willing to pay what I think it is worth for it.'
     'I'm afraid you don't understand,' says the Director, quickly, 'this jewel is not for sale. There is no price you could pay. It is truly priceless.'
     'But why would you not accept payment for something you keep but nobody sees?' Inigo seems genuinely puzzled.
     Again the Director looks at me, again I nod. 'Because it has been placed in our care and the instructions we were given is that it will never leave. If you really want to know what it cost to bring it here, I will tell you.'
     Inigo says nothing, but concentrates fully on the Director, who takes a breath and continues, 'the man who brought this jewel here paid for it with his life. This is the only value that can be attached to it.'

Saturday, 21 January 2017

The Kentmere Fells

Relaxing after a good walk in the hills is always nice. Today I completed 12 miles and bagged seven new peaks, all in five and a half hours.

It was my first visit to Kentmere and a cosy, tucked away village it is too. I arrived at 8:30, avoiding the rush of walkers and other adventures (they'll turn up later) and set off up Garburn Pass under gloriously clear skies. It was cold, possibly still below freezing in the shade, but the wind was quiet so it was an easy enough start.
     An attempt at a (marked) shortcut proved slightly misguided when the boggy grass was suddenly no longer frozen and I ended up with a boot-full. Not good after only an hour, but I soon rejoined the main path and the bright sun did a good job of drying the outside of the boot.
     The first peak I topped was Yoke (706m), a fairly gentle summit, although with a sudden drop on the north side that appears out of nowhere. Then it was on to the more challenging peak of Ill Bell (757m) which I arrived at after about a hour and half's walking. Ill Bell offers wonderful views on all sides; south to Windermere, east to the Dales, west to the rest of the Lake District and north to my next summit.
     The descent off Ill Bell (on the north side) is steep but then it's a quick jaunt to Froswick (720m) - possibly my favourite name for a mountain. I didn't stop here but continued on up a longer slope towards the well-known High Street, but then nipped off to the left to bag Thornthwaite Crag (784m). It's a rather plain and level summit. Indeed the on the approach it could have been that I was walking in a field anywhere in Britain, with a low, tumbledown wall to my right. Only turning around revealed the majestic mountains and reminded me that I was actually quite high up - that and the dainty patches of snow huddled under the wall.
     Unimpressive though Thronthwaite may be, it does boast probably the best cairn I have seen in the Lakes. Built as a solid tower of rocks the beacon must be at least 10 feet tall!
     Coming down from Thornthwaite I again cut the corner off, this time more successfully and got some good views of the peaks I had just covered, then I nipped along to Mardale Ill Bell (760m) before 12 o'clock and sat down for some lunch. Sadly this was cut short, as the clouds, predicted so wonderfully by the weather forecasters, decided to show up 3 hours early. I had seen them building in the south and east, but wisps of mist started to whip in over the hills.
     I packed up again and headed down to the ridge that joins the hills together and then ascended up the steepest climb of the day, passing through the cloud onto Harter Fell (778m). It seems that everyone in the area today was playing some elaborate game, with the instruction 'all players gather on Harter Fell'. Having seen very few souls all morning there were suddenly swarms of people arriving from all directions. Lone walkers like myself, pairs, mass groups and enough runners for an Olympic games (almost - but there were a lot of runners today), all saying equally unimaginative things about how nice the day was and how interesting the clouds were. I moved on.
     By 1pm I passed Kentmere Pike (730m), my final peak of the day, and soon after began a slippery descent back to Kentmere itself. I say slippery, this was not because of ice, I left that behind on the mountains, sadly, but reeds and mud. My recently dried boots were wet again.

My first three peaks of the day, from the left: Yoke, Ill Bell and Froswick


Friday, 13 January 2017

La La Land

The power and spectacle of cinema, the sound and the colour, is never more mesmerising or enthralling than with a musical. You can keep your big action movies or small indie dramas, they're good (sometimes) but once you've seen them, that's it, or it is for me. But when a truly original film (if such a thing still exists) combines with song, dance, lighting, script, storytelling and great performances, then you realise why movie making is such a special art form after all..
     La La Land would have you believe that too, but it's open pandering to Hollywood and the American Dream (something intended to bring hope, when it can actually suggest the opposite) is the only issue I have with it.
     The film is a beautiful painting. It feels both old and completely new; it references many great predecessors and yet has it's own style and charm, combining the very best of cinema. Ryan Gosling (possibly the best all round actor at the moment) and Emma Stone give superb performances, while the music and dance captivates, as it should in a musical.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Sunshine in the New Year

The sky was dark and the car was frozen as I left Lancaster at 7am this morning. By the time I reached the foot of Ingleborough an hour later it was light but the mountains were white with frost. I climbed as quickly as I could in the cold air, aiming to get as high as possible in the 30 minutes before the sunrise. The sky was crystal clear and the yellow trim to the eastern horizon gradually grew and brightened to dark gold as the second day of 2017 was ushered in, and what a beautiful morning it was. I hope this becomes a trend of the new year!