About Me

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Brother Mark is a pseudonym of The Reverend Dr Robert Jaggs-Fowler, a clergyman, physician, writer and poet. His biography can be found at: www.robertjaggsfowler.com

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

St. John Ambulance: National News & Events

St. John Ambulance: National News & Events: "Thousands Treated by St. John Ambulance at London Marathon

St. John Ambulance treated a total of 4229 people at this weekend’s Flora London Marathon; 78 were transported to hospital for further treatment or examination and one person was successfully resuscitated. No fatalities have been reported.

Over 1,200 St. John Ambulance volunteers were on duty to provide First Aid support. Amongst other supplies, the UK's leading First Aid charity provided 51 ambulances, 45 treatment centres, 100 defibrillators, 5,000 foil blankets, 200 bottles of baby oil and 88 lbs of petroleum jelly.

'Our volunteers are trained and equipped to deal with everything from blisters to heart attacks,' said Seamus Kelly OBE, St. John Ambulance Commissioner London. 'We're confident that everyone who needed our assistance will have received the best possible care and wish them a swift recovery.'

The charity has provided First Aid cover at the Marathon since it started in 1981 and the vast majority of runners treated by St. John Ambulance go on to finish the race."

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Thought for the Day

The following thought was sent to me anonymously:

Experience is something you don't get until just after you needed it.

Dedication Against All Odds

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.
Mid 19th Century Proverb.

Too often one hears phrases such as ‘if only I could …,’ ‘I wish I could…’ or ‘I would like to, but I can’t…’ as excuses for having not achieved something. Such dismissive platitudes are frequently poor attempts to justify someone’s failure to attain a certain level of success in a matter which, when analysed objectively, is well within their reach if they would only dedicate themselves to the task. The true reasons for such failure are more a lack of motivation combined with unwillingness to persevere once the going becomes difficult.

The more successful characters in life would no doubt attest to the idea that anything is possible if one is willing to pay the price to see it come true.

If ever there was an excellent example of how dedication and single-minded determination can bring about success, then it is the tale of the concert pianist, Janina Fialkowska, highlighted today by the journalist, Elizabeth Grice, in The Daily Telegraph.

At the age of fifty, Janina Fialkowska was diagnosed with cancer in her upper left arm. A combination of surgery and radiotherapy successfully treated the cancer. However, muscle loss and nerve damage left her with little movement of her left arm. Many people, presented with her diagnosis and disability, would simply have given up. However, two years later, following the re-routing of a muscle from her back, intensive physiotherapy and a focussed mind that would not accept defeat as an outcome, Fialkowska is again playing the piano at a professional level. This is despite a residual palsy, which prevents her from holding her arm sideways away from the body, or raising it above shoulder height.

If Fialkowska can once again play a repertoire including Grieg, Mozart, Schubert, Chopin, Liszt and Beethoven to a concert hall standard, then it should be an inspirational lesson to anyone who aspires to even a mere fraction of her talented skills.

As my early teachers used to preach, there is no such word as ‘can’t’. For many of the highly successful in life, the maxim is ‘failure is not an option.’ All one needs is determination to make a dream come true. All too frequently, our only obstacles or limitations are those we tend to set for ourselves.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Postcard from the Yorkshire Dales (6)

Easter Day, 16th April 2006

What more could one ask for than blue skies and sunshine on Easter Day? Along, of course, with the ability to enjoy it all.

The centre for today’s chosen excursion was the charming village of Austwick, situated to the west of Settle. Known to locals as ‘Cuckoo Town’, in memory of folklore concerning the arrival of the cuckoo as heralding good weather, this ancient village sits amidst splendid limestone hills. The immediate area also has an impressive network of green lanes and it was along these that we made our walk.

The nearby hamlet of Wharfe, which was soon reached, has the advantage of being in an elevated position. From there, we were able to look down on the intricate pattern of dry stone walls, which are so characteristic of the Dales. Largely dating back to the Enclosure Acts, the walls have no easily recognisable plan, the result being fields of various sizes and shapes, delineated by the crazy geometry of the walls. In places, walls have been built into another field, only to rapidly turn and run back out again, thereby leaving a U-shaped field. One can almost hear the question being asked of the original waller:

‘Na’ then. Why didst tha do it like that, lad?’

‘Nobbut, jus t’mak it look pretty.’

‘Ah, that’s awlreet then.’

Cynical of me, perhaps. However, the result is pleasing to the eye.

Along with the walls, the sheep must rate as the second most associated feature of the area. At this time of year, they are well into the process of lambing. The bleating of the lambs makes for a noisy environment, albeit one that gives a pleasurable sense of well-being. On one occasion, three lambs bleating at different pitches, followed by the deeper bass-like sound of the parents, sounded rather like an ovine choir tuning in preparation for an open-air performance. That said, I couldn’t help but compare the sound of the lambs with the crying of human babies, thereby reflecting on my ready acceptance of the one (that of the lambs), compared to my innate desire to excuse myself from a noisy baby clinic as quickly as possible!

Such musings aside, the discovery, alongside a wall, of the dead carcass of a stillborn lamb, together with the fresh after-birth of another, vividly served to remind us that this is a harsh, working environment and not one that is sanitised for our leisurely enjoyment.

The bridleway to Wharfe is signposted to Crummack Dale, a name that is pleasing to the ear in a mildly amusing way. As we walked, my mind set to with a quick poem:

T’was in the village of Crummack Dale
Where old Tom lived beyond the pale.
‘He is far too old,’ said his wife,
‘To be riding that horse.’
But Tom took no notice
And fell off, of course.

(The Poet Laureate has no cause for concern.)

Every now and again, the green lanes cross small streams, one in particular by means of a clapper bridge; a popular construction in this area. The latter is a simple bridge consisting of stone slabs laid across a series of rocks or piles of stones.

At this time of year, within many of the streams, as well as in the banks alongside, are rows of Butterbur plants. With their broad leaves and clumps of violaceous (almost orchid-like) flowers, they are difficult to miss. The leaves can grow to thirty-six inches in diameter and were once used for wrapping butter; hence the name. The Middle Ages apparently saw an additional use for the roots. According to the herbalist, Culpeper, once powdered, they could be used to remove spots and skin blemishes.

Back at Austwick, the Game Cock Inn serves an excellent pint of Thwaites bitter, which gave us a marvellous excuse to sit outside and enjoy a little more of the much-welcomed April sunshine, whilst allowing the rest of the world to go by.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Rejoice in the Mid-Life Crisis

It happens to so many others that, having passed the age of forty several years ago and with no identifiable mental relapse in sight, I decided that it was time to manufacture my own mid-life crisis.

I didn’t want anything too drastic. Nothing which might lend my medical partners to think I was becoming unhinged and thus cause them to collectively secure my accommodation in the nearest psychiatric ward. Neither did I want to cause my long-suffering and devoted wife any further difficulty in trying to understand the nuances of my labyrinthine mind. No, I just wanted something that would send out a message advertising a slightly new me; a personal upgrade, so to speak: a relatively harmless, private revolution, which, nonetheless, would signify that there was still life and ambition in this particular individual.

Thus, it was that I did away with the side parting of my hair and stopped having the traditional short-back-and-sides that had been my wont for the past twenty-five years. Yes, I decided to let my hair grow long, or at least enough to sweep it back on top and the sides. For a former army officer, a mutinous act, if I have ever heard of one. However, for me, it was all the statement I needed to make to announce my ‘re-birth’ so to speak. Overall, it was quite exhilarating.

In his book, Untold Stories, Alan Bennett describes how at puberty his colleagues ‘abandoned their fringe’ and ‘put their hair back’, a process which required the endurance ‘of a few weeks of mockery whilst they looked like hedgehogs’. I can relate to that, as, on returning home from the hairdressers on that auspicious day of change, I was left with the overriding impression that I resembled Sonic the Hedgehog.

‘I’ll get used to it,’ said my wife in a resigned voice.

‘New hair style?’ said my senior partner, eyeing me for signs of madness.

‘Brisk wind outside?’ said two colleagues at the Lodge, both sporting wide grins.

‘Nice bouffant,’ remarked the Chairman of a local charity committee.

‘It’s my mid-life crisis,’ I proudly replied to them all. ‘Everyone else is having one, so I thought, why not me?’

The only patients who commented were ladies in their seventies, for whom it was the talking point for every visit to the surgery. Seemingly, from the nature of their comments, the new me had found favour there. So, that was it, my mid-life crisis had made me attractive to septuagenarians. Not quite the effect I had been looking for, but at least it was a positive result of sorts.

It was many weeks later that one of the receptionists greeted me with what can only be described as a cross between a bemused smirk and an evil grin.

‘I’ve just had a teenager come to the desk to make a follow-up appointment to see you,’ she said.

That is not an unusual occurrence in a medical practice, so I waited for the significant part of the statement. It was not long in coming.

‘She asked for “the cute one with the ‘tasche’”.’

So, what does that tell me? It seems that my mid-life crisis has ‘succeeded’ in making me the ‘darling’ of certain septuagenarians and appearing ‘sweet’ to the younger population. A sort of aged no-mans land. At least my wife has got used to the change; or at least I think she has. If not, then I foresee a real mid-life crisis looming on the horizon, and not one for rejoicing over, either!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Postcard from Lancashire (2)

Saturday, 15th April 2006

Lying a distance of ten miles south of Settle, in what used to be the old West Riding of Yorkshire but now residing within Lancashire, is Gisburn Forest.

Gisburn Forest is an immense area of woodland adjacent to the northern shore of Stocks Reservoir and is jointly run by the Forestry Commission and North West Water. Most of the forest is composed of conifer trees, maintained for commercial purposes. However, closer to the reservoir, large areas are now being cleared to allow for the replanting of mixed deciduous woodland.

Several car parks within the woodland allow access for picnickers, walkers and cyclists. However, they are not overcrowded, as there are no amenities of the type usually associated with touristy areas. The many paths and tracks leading off from the car parks also allow one to quickly escape and soon there is not another soul in sight.

Our route initially ran along the northern shore of the reservoir before climbing up into the woodland. The conifer trees make for dense woodland and there is little light filtering down within them. However, the tracks between the trees are broad and, today, were gloriously sunlit. The fact that they are often muddy is not surprising, since the whole area serves to drain the surrounding hills and supply the reservoir with a constant flow of water.

After about two miles, a grassy area adjacent to a fast flowing stream, rather quaintly known as Bottoms Beck, was reached. The temptation to pause and savour the area was too great and we spent an enjoyable half hour or so sitting on the bank of the stream, the enjoyment supplemented as always with a sandwich and a flask of tea.

It was here that we enjoyed hearing the loud laughing call of the Green Woodpecker, followed rapidly by some drumming on a nearby tree. That said, I do wonder whether the laughing call and the drumming came from the same bird, as, whilst the laughing call was definitely that of the Green Woodpecker, it is my understanding that it is the Spotted Woodpeckers that drum. Perhaps both were in evidence?

Bird life was certainly in abundance and our entire walk was accompanied by the constant singing of a variety of woodland birds high up in the treetops. Chaffinches were definitely about, as were various tits, pheasants, crows and, from the nearby farm known as Hesbert Hall, a cockerel. The fast flowing water of Bottoms Beck was an attraction for other bird life and, as we sat, we were treated to the sight of a dipper flying swiftly up stream.

Further on, we delighted to come across two Roe Deer. The smaller of our native deer, being only two feet tall, they are normally very timid. However, these were seemingly untroubled by our presence and continued feeding amidst the ferns and scrub, with just the occasional glance in our direction.

The final track back to the car park gave up one further surprise in the form of a Natterjack toad, which I would have unsuspectingly trodden on but for its sudden evasive leap at the last moment!

Overall, the area offers much enjoyment and a pleasant change from the harder landscape of the dales. I have no doubt that it will not be long before we return.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Abandoned Souls in a Sea of Life

It is a sad fact that living in a large town or city can be one of the loneliest of experiences. Despite the many thousands or millions of people, everyone goes about their life without a glance towards or thought for any other. The result is that some people become abandoned by default. Nobody sees that they are alone and lonely, that they may need a little help or just a kind word.

Such circumstances rarely occur in areas that are more rural, where there tends to be a greater awareness of one’s neighbour and a heightened ability to know if all is not well.

The blight, which affects cities, was vividly demonstrated these past two days by successive reports of two deaths.

In the first, a forty-year-old woman was discovered in her flat in north London, some two years after her death. It is though that she died around Christmas of 2003. However, she remained undiscovered until January 2005.

The second report was of a fifty-two year old woman in Liskeard, Cornwall, who was found in her flat some three years after her death.

What is so sad, apart from the circumstances of their death and the delay in finding their remains, is that evidently nobody cared about them in life. There were no relatives who kept in constant touch, no friends who missed their contact, no neighbours who were close enough to know their routine and thereby ask questions when circumstances changed. They were alone in the world and nobody cared. Thus, they died, abandoned.

Easter is a time of Christian celebration of life. Let us use the messages of Christianity to look around and see who, of our own neighbours, is reaching out for our friendship and care. Let it be our responsibility to ensure that they do not become just another abandoned soul amidst a sea of life.

Postcard from the Yorkshire Dales (5)

Good Friday, 14th April 2006

The pub at Tan Hill sits in isolation, like Noah’s Ark amidst a sea of heather and grass moorland. The simile is apt. Often in pairs, weary walkers, straight off the Pennine Way, pass through the pub’s doors looking for warmth, sustenance and more often than not, simply shelter from what is a bleak and potentially hostile environment.

Situated at 1,732 feet above sea level, The Tan Hill Inn is the highest pub in the British Isles. If reaching it on foot means traversing miles of rough and boggy landscape, then the journey by car is only fractionally easier. All road routes are tortuous and, in winter, often impassable except by tracked vehicles. (The pub has two bobcat type tractors with trailers).

This was to be our second visit, the first being almost three years ago to the day. On the 19th April 2003, the weather was far worse than the brisk wind and cloud studded blue sky of today. On that previous occasion, it was bitterly cold, with a gale force wind and heavy-laden skies. Snow still sat in vast patches, lending credence to the claim that winter often lasts for six months up here. The decision to re-visit this outpost today was a happy coincidence as far as the precise date was concerned, being chosen more to allow us to escape the convoys of tourists flocking to the more popular honey pots on this Good Friday holiday.

Our chosen route from the southern dales was the most scenic rather than the most direct. It began with a drive northwards through Wharfedale. This dale never ceases to please the eye and must rank as one of the most attractive dales in North Yorkshire; it is certainly one of my favourites. I often dream of owning a property set on the southern slopes of the dale, where I can sit in the early evenings with a malt whisky and watch the last of the day’s light gradually close down the dale for the night.

At the meeting of Wharfedale with Langstrothdale, just past the village of Buckden, the slightly more rugged country of Bishopdale is entered. This also means leaving behind the last of the visiting traffic and we soon had the road to ourselves, allowing for a leisurely ascent and enjoyment of the many waterfalls tumbling off the limestone escarpments.

At West Burton, a most scenic village set around a large central green, surrounded by hills and complete with everything the perfect village ought to have, we turned towards Aysgarth and drove past the series of falls there. At this time of year the latter are simply awesome, with vast quantities of water crashing over the rocky platforms. The spray bounces several feet into the air, forming a curtain of mist amidst a deafening roar of white water.

Beyond Aysgarth, we headed up to Castle Bolton. Built in the reign of Richard II, the castle was once a Royalist stronghold and in 1568, Mary Queen of Scots was kept there for six months. From the Castle to Reeth, where the truly picturesque Arkengarthdale commences. This finally delivered us to Tan Hill where the isolation of the area is immediately emphasised by a demonstration of dry Yorkshire wit. For, on crossing a cattle grid on the approach to the Inn, one is cautioned by a yellow sign announcing that this is a neighbourhood watch area!

At Tan Hill, there is really no restriction to where one walks. The moorland extends in every direction for as far as the eye can see, with no trees to break its starkness. Apart from the occasional isolated stone barn and the sheep, which are to be found in small flocks scattered over the hills, the area is otherwise deserted. Most people arriving by car stroll along sections of the Pennine Way, as that avoids the danger of the many old mine shafts, now water filled, which are liberally scattered around the area.

We chose a four-mile circular route, making part use of the Pennine Way towards the south and a small B-road back up to the Inn. The route allowed us to marvel at the richness of the land, as in places where water has dug deep channels, the peat can be seen to extend to some four or five feet in depth. In some of the watercourses, Common toads were in evidence, both in body and with their spawn in frequent clumps along the freshwater streams.

A humped-backed bridge, across a small river halfway around the walk, presented an ideal opportunity to shelter from the wind and take refreshments. Even on short walks, it is important to take time to savour one’s surroundings. As the Welsh poet, W H Davies said:

‘What is this life if, full of care
We have no time to stand and stare?’


What better way than over a cup of tea and a sandwich?

* * *

With its yard-thick stonewalls, roaring coal fire, home-cooked food and best Yorkshire bitters, the The Tan Hill Inn is an excellent place to rest from the elements outside. A blackboard beside the entrance warns ‘Beware of the Landlady – she’s a nutter.’ Inside, the truth of this announcement rapidly gains credence as the landlady introduces everyone to a small brown dog (which looks like a cross between a dachshund and a terrier) accompanied by a blue-collared, orphaned lamb called Tan. The latter is evidently not house-trained. However, the landlady quickly attends to the problem, afterwards giving the carpet a liberal spraying from a bottle labelled ‘oven-cleaner’. Winter must cause strange things to happen to the mind at this altitude.

After suitable fortification, the route home is the slightly shorter way across Stonesdale Moor to Keld and Thwaite. The descent is often greater than 1:5 and the road less than four metres wide, which lends to a fun drive. We stopped several times en route to watch from a distance whilst a farmer and his dogs shepherded a flock of sheep down the road to new pastures. (He has a hard enough job on his hands without us causing his sheep to scatter onto the surrounding fell sides. Consideration for those who have to work this land must be paramount in such rural areas.) Finally, we dropped down to Hawes (now packed with tourists) and escaped west to Ribblesdale, where the viaduct acts as another crowded hotspot. As we passed each one, we reminisced about our previous ascents of the three peaks, Ingleborough, Whernside and Pen Y Ghent, the summits of all three being clearly visible on this wonderfully clear day.

Ultimately, we reached Settle and from there, it was but a short drive to our home village and tea with hot-cross buns.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Beware the Common Cold

I now have undeniable evidence which confirms that which every man has known for decades and, quite possibly, for centuries. I speak of the dangerous effects of the common cold.

Women are always quick to scorn when their men folk succumb to the onslaught of this insidious disease. ‘He has only got a cold,’ they will say. ‘Slightest sign of a sniffle and he thinks he is dying,’ they relate to their female friends with a degree of disdain for their (supposed) loved one.

To my male readership: I must plead with you to take no notice of such derision. The common cold is dangerous and we ignore it at our peril. Let me explain further.

One week ago, I had the grave misfortune to develop a sore throat. Within the course of a day, it progressed to all the usual symptoms of fever, sinusitis, headache, cough and general malaise. As usual, in true manly fashion, I dosed myself with paracetamol, staggered to work and kept the shoulder to the wheel for the entire week. By the weekend, I was feeling considerably improved and there the story would end if I had not then developed conjunctivitis.

It wasn’t obvious at first. The eyes were a little sore and tired, no doubt due to the added strain of working throughout the week when so patently unwell, I mused. However, by this morning it was clear that it was more than just that and I would have to start the antibiotic drops.

It was then that the real danger loomed – and hence the proof of my theory. You see, if I hadn’t succumbed to the common cold I would not have developed conjunctivitis. If I hadn’t developed conjunctivitis I would not have tried to cut my left ear off whilst shaving. Proof enough, if ever it was needed.

What at first seemed like the tiniest of cuts, turned out to be a shaven earlobe. Minus skin, such wounds do not stop bleeding very easily, as I found out despite the application of firm pressure and a trial of styptic pencil. In the end there was nothing for it. I spent the day with a plaster firmly adherent to my ear.

Now, people vary in their response to such situations. Most patients gave nothing more than a mild smirk and then tried to pretend that they hadn’t noticed. My medical partners were slightly more forthcoming with ‘are you wearing an earring?’ and 'Van Gogh was depressed when he did that; do you need to see a psychiatrist?' to simply stating the obvious such as ‘you have got a plaster on you ear!’

It was one’s so called loved ones who were the cruellest. ‘I haven’t been able to stop laughing all day,’ related my wife on my return home this evening. Then, when I said that I hadn’t heard something, as quick as a flash she was back with ‘I am not surprised – you have only got one ear! I’ll have to start calling you Vincent!’

Even my mother, having heard the jungle drums, got in on the act with a mid-morning text message asking ‘Do you need me to donate a pint of blood?’ and ‘Have you got a self-portrait?’

I shall take no notice. To every man I say, beware the common cold and what it can lead to. My advice is to take the week off work and break out the port and brandy. Oh, and best grow a beard until you are absolutely sure that the danger has passed.

As for me, I have this sudden urge to go and paint some sunflowers…

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Win the Lottery and Save a Life

It gives me great pleasure to help in the promotion of a new lottery partnership for St. John Ambulance.

St. John Ambulance will be one of 70 charity partners to benefit from a brand new online lottery, to be launched in May 2006, which is fairer for players and charities alike.

How does it work?
  • Set up in partnership with Chariot (UK) plc, the new lottery hopes to raise over £150 million for UK charities each year.
  • Charities will get 30% of every ticket sold: more than five times what they get from every National Lottery ticket.
  • Players benefit with increased chances of winning a jackpot and better prizes for matching fewer numbers.
  • Chariot will be running the lotteries and selling the lottery tickets.
  • St. John Ambulance will have five lotteries a year with the potential to earn up to £600,000 from each lottery.
  • You'll soon be seeing lots of promotions for the new lottery everywhere, including TV, Radio and the Press.
  • When buying a ticket, participants will be asked to choose which of the five listed charities each week they would like to 'donate' 30p of their ticket cost.
  • The first St John Ambulance lottery draw will be taking place on Monday 22nd May, with the opportunity to vote for St. John Ambulance during the week of 16th - 22nd May 2006.

It could potentially raise up to £3million for St. John Ambulance each year. Please help us to make it a success.

For more information go to:
http://www.sja.org.uk/default.asp

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Reality – Illusion or Delusion?

Last evening my wife and I had the great pleasure of attending, at the University of Hull, the Annual Dinner of the Hull Magicians’ Circle. We were the guests of a long-standing member and former Vice President of the Hull Circle known, within his own profession rather than mine, as Nutty Norman (see http://www.nuttynorman.co.uk/).

Before dinner, we were entertained by a 1950’s sideshow known as ‘Miss Phitt – The Living Half-Lady’. Miss Phitt is the apparent upper torso of a living lady who has supposedly been cut in half. Visually convincing it was, too. The after dinner entertainment was provided by extremely talented magicians who performed some fascinating feats of illusion.

Now, I have never been a great fan of magic, although I find myself increasingly taking interest and even some delight in acts of illusion performed well. My wife, on the other hand, confesses to always having been entertained by such trickery. However, having witnessed some very clever showmanship last night, I have not only warmed to its entertainment value, but have been led to ponder the relative meanings of reality, illusion and delusion.

Reality is, of course, that which most of us understand to be the way things are. Illusion on the other hand is a false or deceptive appearance. The problem comes with delusion, i.e. when one starts to believe as reality that which is truly an illusion.

It is interesting to consider that Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955) would consider the majority of us as being deluded in respect to what we perceive as reality. Most of us have some knowledge of the past, understand the concept of the present and sense that intangible state called the future. We draw connections from events of the past, using them to explain the present state of things and to predict the events of the future. However, according to Einstein:

‘The distinction between past, present and future is only an illusion, however persistent.’
Letter to Michelangelo Besso, 21 March 1955

Furthermore, philosophers would not only undermine our entire chronological timeframe, but lend arguments to unhinge what, for a great many, is the last bastion of retreat, comfort and solace. By that, I refer to religion:

‘If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school of metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning, concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.’
David Hume 1711 – 76
Scottish Philosopher
An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748) sect. 12, pt. 3

What then, when we are confronted by performances such as those witnessed last night, whereby our understanding of reality lends us to consider the performances as being illusionary. If we are, according to Einstein, deluded by what we consider to be reality, how do we know an illusion when we see one?

Joni Mitchell, Canadian singer and songwriter (1945 - ) summed it up very well in her 1967 song, Both Sides Now:

‘I’ve looked at life from both sides now,
From win and lose and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall;
I really don’t know life at all.’

Perhaps what stands as reality is actually different for us all. Maybe reality is an individual’s acceptance of a set of illusions. As long as a significant number of the population share a belief in the same illusions we thus avoid the accusation of being deluded.

By making us question the very basis of our understanding of what we perceive, maybe these magicians know a lot more than just a trick or two?

Friday, April 07, 2006

Vita Brevis

It always fascinates me to see how people discern time.

For some, it means nothing. They amble along from day to day without thought to what the time actually is or how they are utilising it. Others rush from one matter to another, constantly checking their watches as though some great disaster is looming. For us all, I suppose that big disaster is actually death, although not everyone sees it in the same way.

I confess to being a mixture of both. During the week, I am driven by the clock – time to start surgeries, time for visits, time for meetings, etc. At weekends, I am very different. On a Friday afternoon my watch is taken off and does not resume its place on my wrist until Monday morning. I spend the weekend semi-oblivious to the precise time of day.

That said, I do not like to waste time. Not even at weekends. I am very conscious of the finite amount of time we have in life. I am driven by an urge to make every minute count for something, even if it is by relaxing with a good book. Rudyard Kipling’s If comes to mind:

‘If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds worth of distance run…’

For me, the need is to ensure that I do everything I wish to do here and now. After all, although I hope to live healthily into my eighties or even my nineties, there was no guarantee of longevity issued when the stork delivered me. I am constantly reminded through my work as a physician that death has a nasty habit of creeping up on people of all ages when they are least suspecting it. I am uncertain as to who first wrote the following lines, but I came across them in The Dead Poets Society:

‘I do not wish to find, when I come to die
That I have not lived.’


As I said at the start of this piece, not everyone sees the subject in the same way. Take, for example, a lady I was treating during the last week. She is a lady in her late fifties who suffers from nothing more than a few trivial complaints. She happened to remark on the number of different activities I am involved with and questioned how I find the time. I remarked that I take the view that life is short and that one must make the most of it whilst one may. Her response was immediate:

“Oh, how can you say it is too short? I think it is far too long. I don’t think we ought to live beyond forty.”

The lady in question has no suicidal tendencies. Neither is she suffering from a serious illness. She simply has (and has had) no interest in what life can offer. My response was along the lines that if I had the good fortune to be able to extend my life by another lifetime, I would only then achieve about half of what I would really like to do. This led me to think that it would be nice to be able to purchase ‘extra years’ from those who felt they had surplus available!

The final word goes to Hippocrates (a Greek physician, c.460 – 357 BC) who said:

‘Time is that wherein there is opportunity, and opportunity is that wherein there is no great time.’

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Regulating Bath Water Temperature

Last week I was vehemently against any statutory regulation of our bath water temperature (Daily Telegraph News, March 30th). Now I am unreservedly supportive of Labour MP Mary Creagh’s campaign.

A few days ago, I treated a one-year-old girl for severe scalding, she having fallen into a bath of very hot water. Only her head has been spared. At best, she will need skin grafts and be extensively scarred; at worst, she will die.

Unfortunately, allowing natural selection to take place and thus improve our gene pool, as suggested by Jonathan Phillips (Daily Telegraph Letters, 31st March), does not select out the immediate problem, i.e. the parents. Meanwhile, the innocent have to endure unspeakable suffering.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Finding Oneself

I have been commissioned to write another book review. This time it is The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. (No, the spelling of the title is not a mistake; the book is American.) At the start of the book is a poem that brought me up short as soon as I read it. It struck such an accord that I have returned to it repeatedly over the past forty-eight hours. It is as though someone has written a poem to describe precisely what has happened to me over the past few years.

From about the age of twenty-five, when I qualified in medicine, I started to lead a life which was almost singular in its pursuit. For most of the time, I was engaged in developing my professional career and enhancing my business opportunities. I went from one goal to another, establishing myself within various societies and charities, achieving a comfortable level of financial existence and gaining various offices, which gave me rank and position within society.

At the age of forty, I began, as many do at that age, to reassess where I was, what I had achieved and where I was going for the rest of my life. I began to realise that I had, for some fifteen years, pushed a major part of myself to one side in order to achieve what I had. In essence, it was the artistic and philosophical side of me; the side that guided me through the more spiritual days of my teens and early twenties. As a result, I found myself looking at my reflection within mirrors and asking myself rhetorical questions. As I did so, I enjoyed what I found. I began to make changes which slowly allowed the ‘old me’ to re-surface. I started to make more time for activities that gave personal pleasure. It was like a re-awakening, as though I had suddenly been given permission to once again be my true self. Six years on, the process continues and I have to say that, at this period of my life, I could not be happier or more contented.

The poem at the beginning of The Time Traveler’s Wife is entitled Love After Love. It is by Derek Walcott, who won the Noble Prize for Literature. Love After Love comes from his 1976 collection entitled Sea Grapes and can be found in his Collected Poems 1948 – 1984, published by Faber & Faber.

It is a poem about the discovery of oneself. It begins:

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door…

That time has come for me and I have indeed greeted the arrival home of myself.

I recommend the poem to you. It can be found in its entirety at: www.sbc.edu/seminars/walcott.html