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Monday, 16 October 2017

Disappointed with how things are progressing?

At the moment, if I weren't such a cheerful chap I could be seriously down in the mouth. It's not just one thing that could drag me down but an accumulation of "nasties".

The biggest nasty and the one I can do nothing about is getting old. Do you know, sometimes I wake up in a cold sweat at night - all because I retired 10 years ago. Or an event comes into my head: a party at some friends' house. Then I recall that they're not my friends any more since I haven't seen them since that party 34 years ago. The shock is palpable. Or that my mother died 36 years ago and I'd just started my last job when my father died - 14 years ago. Or that it's 50 years since I shared a flat in West Hampstead with some college friends.

Meeting up with old friends can be traumatic as well. Are they still healthy? Will they mention a work colleague who's died recently? Are they losing their hair, their memory or mind and all they seem to be gaining is inches round the waist.

I don't feel old, except now two or three hours down the allotment means I'll fall asleep on the settee afterwards. I see some of my friends slowing down, mentally and physically - I don't tell them. I wonder if they're thinking the same about me. I'm torn at times between thinking it's time to relax, slow down, put my feet up or whatever euphemism fits, and then again determined to keep pushing myself. Usually the energetic me wins. So I go down the allotment 3 times a week and weed and dig or cut up wood. I'll join another evening class, writing or poetry group, write a few poems or chapters of my many unpublished "novels". I'll try one of the brain teasers on line - until they get too difficult, and set up a new spreadsheet to calculate our net worth or whether we can splash out on a new bathroom.

I'm looking forward to the trip to Antarctica with my friend Peter this March. I've enjoyed figuring out how I can afford it and enjoy telling people about the up coming trip. I've started head planning other adventures. Fifteen years ago I spent a day , with Peter, gliding. Why 15 years has lapsed since then I don't know, but I think that's something to consider. That and power flight! Also I'm attracted to going to hard to get to places. The Pitcairn Islands strikes me as a pretty good idea. Except, I saw a programme about New Zealand sub antarctic islands - they look pretty inhospitable and fantastic. I did, however, see a programme about the Outer Hebrides and St Kilda. A trip to those places would be a sort of half way house.

I reckon by planning something in the future; something different I'll keep living. I've seen too many just relax into inactivity and slip away without really noticing. If I can feel like I'm keeping my end up life-wise, then Brexit, the calamitous state of UK, European and American politics, the increasing unfairness and the obscene worship of money, status and position won't weigh me down so much.

Not if I've icebergs as far as the eye can see, roaring seas and penguins in March and a trip to Disappointment Island in say 2019.


Monday, 2 October 2017

New Scientist Live

It was pretty impressive - New Scientist Live - as was the Aston Martin DB Eleven. this was the second year that the NS held it's science fair, again at ExCel in East London's darkest dockland.

It was a four day fest of all things scientific; except it wasn't really. It was really all about technology. From the mega touring car - mega expensive at over £150k, and the £60m  "Bloodhound"jet car aiming to travel at 1000 mph - a real throw back to the days of British engineering supremacy.

We'd bought VIP tickets at £50 each, but since I'm a subscriber to the NS we got them at half price. That enabled us to skip the queues - but it didn't. We had our own queue which never moved because no one had a scanner to read our tickets. Then there was the VIP lounge, cloakroom and entrance to the main stage. We were able to queue up for a cup of awful coffee while the woman on the till tried to figure out how it worked.

We went last Thursday because on that day first up were three astronauts badged as "Legends of Space Exploration". Tim Peake, Helen Sharman and Al Worden. The three pretty much covered the history of man's flight into space. Tim spent months in the ISS in 2015/16, Helen went up in the early 1990s - the first Brit to do so and Al went to the moon but didn't land in 1971 on Apollo 15.

They were incredibly interesting. All three were consummate public speakers. Al who is an astonishing 85 clearly had spoken a billion times about his experience on the Apollo mission, but all three sounded so fresh and not at all rehearsed. You got a real sense of their experiences in space. the novelty, the excitement, the preparation and some of the medical problems. Apparently we weren't so aware of them when Al and Helen went into space, but by the time time was in the ISS there was considerable evidence of the adverse impact on the body of zero gravity. 

There was masses of other talks - we went to one on the World's largest radio telescope and how to make Mars livable. In fact there were so many on so many topics you needed the 4 day pass to just scratch the surface.

My favourite stand was "Hug a Bug". I held a cockroach in my hands and what fascinating little critters they are. The company Rent a Beast rented out these creepy crawlies and loads of other bugs to whoever wanted them. They didn't skimp on animal welfare: they delivered the bugs to your door to make sure the environment was right for their darlings. They also supplied the correct food for their stay.

I fell in love with the robots. They were so cute if a little reluctant to engage, although they loved being stroked. What was really encouraging were the number of university science, engineering, robotics, computing, chemistry, physics and mathematics faculties at the show. Lots and lots of kids were getting hands on experience, asking great questions and hopefully going away with an ambition to be the next Isaac Newton.

Finally, I took away a leaflet from the British Gliding Association stand. I'd spent a day with my mate catching the thermals about 13 years ago and at the stand it all came back to me. The sheer excitement of the launch and hanging in the sky supported by wings and thermals - I'm tempted to have another go.

Friday, 22 September 2017

“The Dry” – Poets’ Corner Book Club (PCBC) book of the month

We were to meet in the mighty Mirth, Marvel & Maud for the inaugural  meeting of the PCBC at 8 pm Wednesday 20th September. The old cinema was strangely still as I made my way upstairs to where my fellow conspirators were to congregate. I looked around the faded faux 17th century baroque interior that was once the glory of the old Granada Walthamstow. Ghosts moved in between the tables and chairs as the teenaged screams echo’d around the walls, undimmed after more than half a century. I caught the final refrain of “She Loves You, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah” and I was transported back to my teenage days in Hove.

Couples were talking, lips moving but no sound issued from those cherry red lips. I was caught in the opening chapter of some dystopic novel set in the near future and the author was playing with me. I felt my throat tighten, I’d forgotten to buy a pint – then I caught a glimpse of the founder members of the PCBC. Their furtive behaviour should have warned me – I was entering the danger zone – the reading of books is banned.

“I’m getting a drink.” I said “Does anyone want a top up?” They stared into their half full glasses and shook their heads. When I went downstairs to the bar I glanced at the sign placed over the counter.  “Books are dangerous, books can lead to crime. The reading of books or any book extract is forbidden. You have been warned.” The barman looked closely at my hands when I handed over my ten pound note. My hands were soft , worn smooth from the turning of pages. Had he noticed?

We talked in hushed tones, in code fearful that the innocent looking couple a few feet away were actually members of the state-run Book Squad – tasked with tracking down book readers wherever they may be. We talked about the progress of one of our member’s pregnancy, the prospective home birth and the radical home alterations planned. We exchanged views on the new people in Poets’ Corner, work and the latest TV drama: all the time we were, in fact, talking about books. image2
I was sure that no would realise that “I know, the baby’s due in November – time’s just flown”, and “We’re moving the bathroom up stairs – I can’t cope running up and down the stairs – not in my condition.”  were references to the Hell sermon in “A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man.” I did think we were sailing close to the wind when one of our group mentioned the new car they’d just bought and that it was a Qashqai. I was sure someone eavesdropping would realise they were talking about “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.”

We all needed another drink to settle us – well I did. Then we came to the point of the meeting: what book would we choose as the first for our book club. We decided on a secret ballot, self consuming paper and invisible ink. The winner was “The Dry”.image3 A few copies had been circulating via the dark bookcase and Harriett Gilbert had secretly chosen it as her book of the year before she was incarcerated for reading a bed time story to her youngest.

Anyway, after that momentous decision we drifted away, one at a time, so as not to arouse any suspicion. When I got home I bolted the front door, turned the TV up loud and settled down to read “Wind in the Willows”. I poured out a large glass of milk. I mean how subversive can you be!