Only 183 (ish) days until Christmas

Well the longest day is over and we now descend once more into the depths of winter. I have been told off enough by the Lovely Wife about being the voice of doom recently that my inner five year old just wants to keep repeating it, in the same way a child might parrot a rude word.
Together with the reminder that Christmas is just around the corner.
Seriously though, where is the time going?
The rational part of my brain is reminding me that in terms of minutes, hours and days it has not changed and that the time between Jools Holland declaring that the New Year has arrived (must try and get tickets to one of those recordings one day – must be very odd getting a full studio to pretend it is New Year, considering it is recorded in mid December) and the other major event of the year (the Doctor Who Christmas episode, obviously) has stayed the same. But it seems as though everything is accelerating and I think in terms of the pace of life that is certainly the case. We are moving faster, even if the clocks continue to plod on as they always have.
I think part of the problem – if there is one – is that we have been facilitated in the speed of everything we do and many of us have a problem in not filling spare capacity.
Back in 2012, before the London Olympics, the section of the M25 that I frequent was expanded to improve the transport links around the games. When the road works were finished there was a blissful period of about six months when there was a great new wide road and the same amount of traffic and my commute had never been easier. Now, two years on, it has never been worse. The road is the same, the problem is that traffic has increased to fill the capacity and we are back to square one; or perhaps worse.
Information Technology has done the same for our work place, and in some cases, our social lives. I recall a speaker coming to give a talk on the future and on innovation, maybe ten years ago. One of the comments he made stuck in my head as being disturbingly valid. Computers, he said, were lauded as the saviour of the human race. There would be an explosion of art and creativity as suddenly we all had a lot more free time – those helpful, clever computers would do it all for us, faster than before, leaving us to do more interesting things.
Seems silly now, but I think I recall that kind of feeling in the early days. In reality, like the motorway, as the systems improve and create more and more capacity in an illusion of making it easier for us, that capacity just keeps filling up. Because we are not doing the same amount of work, but faster and more efficiently – because it is faster and more efficient we are doing more work.
So I think we are speeding through life a lot faster. To be clear – I am not saying this is a bad thing necessarily. The opportunity to achieve more than we ever could before in a lifetime is there like never before, but the pressures of the time and the constant pulls on our body and intellect also are considerable and increasing. I have confidence in the amazing biology that make up our forms to cope with this up to a point. But as technology moves on at a seemingly exponential rate, is this going to become a real selection pressure on the human species, the ability to run fast enough to keep up with it? Are we speeding up the treadmill as a species so fast we are going to fall off the back of it in an embarrassing heap?
I think I might just go and spend an hour tonight in the garden listening to the birds and watching the damselflies dance over the pond. With the phone switched off. And try very hard not to think of the billion other things (it feels) I should be doing.



We spent a good fifteen minutes watching the hare.

It did not really seem to want to move initially, I expect that it was up wind of us and did not smell my deodorant. When it did realise we were there it began to lollop (is that a word? I guess so, as the spellchecker seemed to like it) away gently as we walked up the hill peering it through the binoculars the Lovely Wife had remembered to bring. It was a special moment with a fine animal – normally the closest view is its bottom as it speeds away.

But really we shouldn’t have seen it at all. If we have come the right way up from the beach, following the path the walk book intended, we would probably have not seem anything. We went wrong and got rewarded for it. That’s when the universe does strange things to me and plays with my head.

I think we all have examples. Cases where we have missed something (let’s say a train, Sliding Doors style) perhaps, and gone onto have an adventure that has become formative in our development. Or perhaps meet someone that turns out, in the long term, to be a good friend. Or you just happen to meet someone at a party who happens to know someone who has a position for someone just like you.

I think it is interesting to think through whether this is just luck or something else. When I think about luck I do not mean some kind of finite source of blessing dispensed by the goddess Fortuna. What I tend to thin of is something that just happens and that you are caught up in and then you can either be impacted in a positive or negative way – or perceive it in one of those ways.

For example, I take the hare incident positively and I am therefore focussing on the wildlife moment rather than on the extra half mile that added to an already long walk (including a dodgy section along a busy road). We were ‘lucky’ to see a hare at relatively close quarters or, if you prefer, ‘unlucky’ to miss the correct footpath and end up with more muscle ache.

I know where I am on this particular case, but another’s take might be different.

I think an awful lot of the world is up to us to perceive and take solace or offence from as we decide.

But I think it is a mistake to see this as all being a bit random. I could invoke higher powers… But I am not on that soap box. What I mean is that we bias the events and outcomes all the time without thinking about it.

For example, I could argue that we saw the hare because we (1) went out for a walk in the country, and there are plenty of hares up there in Norfolk (2) we were walking a long way, away from most of the other visitors, so there was less chance of a shy animal being scared by the rest of the humans in the area – indeed we were somewhere really we shouldn’t have been, all things considered, and the poor beastie probably was more surprised than we were at the encounter and (3) one of the reasons we were out was to look for wildlife so we were attuned to any opportunity that did arise (although admittedly we were mostly expecting interesting birds).

That’s only three reasons why the encounter starts to look increasingly less random and much more, well, expected. It doesn’t make it any less special, though.

In the end I think I am blessed (and you can decide yourself whether you take that in the general or the theological sense) to have an interest in pretty much anything and taking a joy in the world I find myself in all its incredible diversity and beauty. If I was lucky in any way this weekend it was in being able to see the situation in a positive light because the rewards of that I think are richer and long lasting. I would like to be able to transfer that feeling to more areas of my life, and to find the way to perceive as much as possible of that to be a happy accident.

Time Capsules

I think my favourite moment of the commemoration of D-Day last weekend was a brief piece of footage on the BBC showing William and Kate chatting with some of the veterans who had made the trip to Normandy for the occasion. The Duke of Cambridge appeared to be engaged in an earnest and I suspect technical discussion with one man. Kate was of course surrounded by a large group of old soldiers who looked very pleased indeed to be addressed by a nice young woman – whoever she might be. At that point I laughed, because while these are a group of old soldiers now, they were once young soldiers – teenagers and in their 20s at the time of the landings – and interest in young ladies never dies I think.

One of the nice things about last Friday was also that, albeit briefly, a lot of people recaptured the respect for the older generation that since my childhood at least feels that it has been slowing ebbing away.

It probably harks back a good decade or so before but as younger people we seem to see the old increasingly as nothing but a burden. We are all so busy these days – whether we have children or not – that finding time to spend with our elder relatives seems something increasingly hard to manage. Let us be honest. They just repeat the same old attitudes and stories don’t they? The same old stuff we have heard many times before. We are not really enticed to go and let them relive their lives when we can be somewhere else living ours for the first time.

And yet, I know this is my fault. All relationships are two way streets and if I see an older person as a bore and a burden it is probably because I have not thought about what are the best questions to ask. Someone who has lived for seventy years has a wealth of memories that they can tap into. I know that as a forty something. More interestingly they are memories of time that no longer exists in just the same way as there is no one you can ask about what it really was like to live in a Roman town. No, really. Going back to the D-Day events one of the statements repeated constantly was that this was likely to be the last time such an event happened because, in reality, soon there will be no one who lived through the second world war who is still with us, just as is pretty much already the case for the first world war. Much as they were terrible, these were two of the most significant events in European and World history – why would you not want to understand and appreciate these stories that soon will be lost to us? As I have blathered on before, and apologies for repeating myself, but late Nana, who passed away this year, had great stories of her youth during the war. I remember my Grandfather, who died many years ago now, showing me his photographs taken during the war and telling me, with tears in his eyes, about the time his gun turret – he was in the navy, mostly on Destroyers – was hit by a bomb killing all his mates. He was the only one left alive, with his eardrums blown but otherwise uninjured. In the next moment he was saying how beautiful the Norwegian fijords were, and how much he wanted to go back and see them again in peacetime (he was right, but he never did). And then he was showing me something he treasured, as I do now, which is the sailors headband from HMS Warspite*, certainly the most famous ship on which he served (and naughty Grandfather too as he certainly shouldn’t have had that). But honestly, he had so many stories, and apart from the fragments I remember they are now lost to us forever.

So I have a suggestion. Next time you have to see an elderly relative, think about what they lived through and ask them about their childhood, or how did they really meet your father, and what was he like as a young man, or ask them about their parents… Make them feel interested in what they have seen because I promise that they will say something that you didn’t know about them and will make you genuinely intrigued. Do it while you can. Like any bargain, they’re gone when they’re gone.


*By the way I was very happy to find out that the Warspite managed to sink herself off St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall on the way to be broken up at the end of her career. That was one lady that knew how to make an exit.

Pond Life

I’m expecting to be done by the Health and Safety brigade any moment. I’ve created a risk in the back garden, but it had to be done.

Now, I can fall in my own pond.

The previous owners of our house had put a decent size pond in the garden but covered it in a metal grill work. They had a reason – several small children – and while I don’t think falling in a pond is necessarily a bad thing you need to be there to haul them out. We do not have the problem and now most of our friends have kids that even if they did fall in – or push their siblings in, a more likely scenario – they should be able to get themselves out and subsequently spread foul smelling mud around the rest of the garden and the house before we could get them in a bath. So the grill work came off (after something of a struggle) and the pond is revealed finally after ten years of the doldrums.

You see, the bane of my life (other than my war against the fat ball stealer, the slugs, squirrels and particularly the new black cat threatening my wildlife friendly garden) is the duckweed.

I wish it had a different name as I like ducks, and maybe with enough ducks we could manage it, but for the last decade it has ruined the pond for me and indeed for everything else.

I’m not sure most of the garden wildlife even knew there was a pond there. It was just an expanse of green among other expanses of green. As soon as I netted some of the tuff off to reveal the murky darkness below however it has suddenly become a magnet for the local wildlife, with the birds drinking and bathing and we have had frogs and pond skaters, among others suddenly move back in. It is all rather marvelous and to me shows the importance of diversity in the garden; there are not many ponds in this area of town and now that this one has suddenly been, well, renovated it forms a stepping stone for some species between the parks and old watercress beds down closer to the river Ver. Ponds are also naturally summery at this time of year. As I sit on the opposite, watching the ants scurry around the paving stones of our mid garden patio, while several species of damselfly buzz around the pond in search of a mate it is hard not to feel in the middle of your own (admittedly very low budget) nature documentary.

I can even cope with the squirrels, including the one that came and sat right next to me, so obsessed it was with the handful of early raspberries I had just picked and put down next to me when I was on the phone. The poor furry tailed rat was so obsessed by berry goodness that it did not really want to move even when I waved it away from the fruit and instead retreated a short distance to sit and berate me with chattering cries for my lack of generosity in not allowing it to consume the first of the fruit of the season.

I’ll consider the close encounter a warning – I need to get to the fruit before this fruit loving slightly suicidal mammal if there is going to any jam this year; I’ll have to keep checking after the continual clearance of the dreaded duckweed as the garden reveals itself as that bottomless pit of needed activity as a puny pair of humans try valiantly to hold back nature (a war we will always eventually lose, but for a while, you can win some battles).