Saturday, 8 December 2018

Space

Fasten your seatbelts, gentle readers. We're blasting off for another wacky Saturday blog, looking to achieve escape velocity and set a redoubtable course for the final (imaginative) frontier... space  is the poetical place.

As an English boy in the 1960s I was quite thrilled by the record-breaking heroics of the early Soviet cosmonauts. I suppose I might have taken a different view if I'd been born an all-American kid.

Yuri Gagarin (aboard Vostok 1) was the first man ever to go into space, a feat he achieved in April 1961 nearly a year ahead of his US counterparts. A hero of the Soviet Union (and a man with a serious drink problem), Gagarin died in a terrestrial test-flying accident later in the decade. Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman ever to go into space (aboard Vostok 6) in June 1963. In fact she remains the only woman to have undertaken a solo space flight. A heroine of the Soviet Union, she is still alive and in 2013 (aged 76) volunteered to go on a one-way mission to Mars should it happen in her lifetime. What a girl. What an ambassador for gender equality.

When I was working in Russia a few years ago I tried to visit Star City (Zvyozdny Gorodok), home of the Yuri Gagarin Training Centre for aspiring cosmonauts (recently demilitarised though still not on many maps); as it turned out, a bit of a bleak adventure into a retro-Soviet hinterland, at odds - not unsurprisingly - both with all the romanticising propaganda that surrounded the space race of the 1960s and also with the emerging post-glasnost/perestroika Russia.

As we race headlong into another festive season of Christmas and New Year I thought I'd illustrate today's blog with a couple of classic retro Russian seasonal greetings cards. I particularly like this one of Santa with Christmas tree in a spaceship (note his magical qualities mean he doesn't need a helmet). To nativity and beyond...

Soviet-style 1960s Santa
It's a curious but not unpleasing paradox (at least it seems so to me) that as we have voyaged deeper into the atomic age and as our scientists made more and more astounding discoveries about the true nature of the omniverse, we have clung to our basic tendency as human beings to mythologise, to incorporate hard science (jet propulsion, space travel) into our fondest make-believe. When peace on earth and goodwill to all men seem as far out of reach in the 21st century as they have ever done (despite all of the technological progress we have made as a species), it is mildly reassuring at least that the ideal lives on in cultural and political initiatives (and Russian Christmas cards and Disney animations).

"War is over if you want it!" (Lennon/Ono, Christmas 1971).

It was on this day (8th December) in 1980 that we woke to the sad and shocking news that John Lennon had been shot dead in New York City. Crazy, crazy - animals with guns. I watched a documentary about him and the making of his 'Imagine' album on tv the other week and it feels only appropriate to borrow one of his lines as the title to this strange new poem, informed by my weekly musings.

Above Us Only Sky
No good news from earth today:
it's grown nor kinder nor lovelier
in five decades
since we blasted away from Baikonur
in the grey October of our borning.

Wars rage, bombs away,
cold-eyed career politicians plot and lie,
fat cats dynastically toy their prey,
all manner of plunder (gold, oil, gas) is fair play,
a skinny underclass still slaves for fags and beer,
the spark of idealism faded from their eyes
and apparently state-sponsored groping
and the gassing of babies is okay.

We float in our sophisticated can
around the unrighteous planet we call home,
growing tired of watching it all go awry,
wondering what's it all for?
I've re-read my much thumbed Thunderpussy
for the umpteenth time -
the hero still saves the world and gets his girl
but the words hold no magic anymore.

All thought of returning down to earth
fills us with mighty dread.
We've discussed it for days and nights
(not that they quite exist up here)
and we've decided to go rogue,
break out of this orbit
and just drift away into space,
come what may.

Merry Christmas Mister Putin.
We're switching off all comms,
there's nothing more to be said.
Let's toast our decision
with one last serious anaesthetising vodka
and smiling wave the earth goodbye.
Fire one, fire two, and we're spinning free,
above us only sky
as the crumbs of fortune's last cookies
drift around our heads.


Happy New Year from the Grandchildren Of The Revolution
If you're in the mood for mince-pies and live poetry, Lancashire Dead Good Poets' collective is holding its December open mic night on Thursday 13th at the Jazz Emporium in St Annes (see the sidebar for details), when we'll also be launching our latest anthology, 'The Big One'.  Be there or be square, qouth the quipster.

Okay, I hope you've enjoyed the trip. Thanks for reading, Earth people. Merry Festives! S ;-)

Thursday, 6 December 2018

Space - The Final Frontier

Space is such a fascinating subject and as a generation we are so fortunate that,  unlike our forebears, we can look up at the night sky and have some idea what it is all about. Led by the efforts of the USA and Russia,  scientists have explored and investigated the very nature of the universe that was previously shrouded in suspicion and myth.

Our constellations are named after Greek and Roman gods and a whole superstitious astrology had derived, based on the position of the stars in the visible sky at the date and time of your birth. How lucky we are to have physicists like Professor Brian Cox to throw open the curtains and explain things in comprehensible language. I personally have been delighted by his books and documentaries. He has helped to dispel my childhood fears about, all that nothing that can never end: The stuff of nightmares for an intelligent child.

The Hubble telescope has brought us a new kind of art-photography, capturing our galaxy in high definition, delighting us with the limitless scope of colour and the immensity of the Pillars of the Universe, three pillars in the Eagle Nebula, formed over millions of years from the radiation and dust from around twenty or more huge stars.

Gallileo was the first human being to turn his telescope to the night sky and look at Jupiter. He observed four of Jupiter's moons and in doing so, confirmed Copernicus' revolutionary view of the solar system. Here was direct evidence of other worlds orbiting a planet, unequivocally breaking the divine symmetry of the Earth-centred cosmos for good and challenging what was for many a deeply held belief.

We continue to learn. Mariner 10, launched by NASA in 1973 flew past Mercury and managed to map 45%  of the surface with what would now be classed as low-resolution equipment. The Messenger space probe has proved far more successful, sending back spectacular images of the surface.

Voyagers 1 and 2 were launched in 1977 with the mission to visit all four of the Solar System's gas giants - Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Normally the journey would have taken thirty years but at the time of launch the planets were uniquely aligned, allowing the probes to complete their grand tour in less than twelve years. Voyager 1 is still reporting back and it's batteries are expected to function until 2025 and will be the first man-made object to leave our solar system.

What a wonderful world.


Heliocentricity

I am speeding round the sun at 30kmph per sec, 
No wonder it's so hard for me to write. 
I'm lapping Mars in retrograde: 
He's slow and I don't see him every night. 

There is lots of slower traffic sitting in the outside lanes.
I see them in the darkness -
I even know their names. 
I marvel at them every time I pass, 
Travelling in celestial clockwork,
How them seem belies their mass. 


I am pillion on a planet, designed to such specifics, 
It keeps me fed and watered and in comfort for the ride, 
Tilted at the perfect pitch towards a mighty power,
That seasonally warms and then warms the other side. 

For aeons man believed the earth was central to it all. 
That theory served the purpose of religion after all. 
But when he saw Mars charge to sky 
Then loop into reverse, 
Copernicus declared us Heliocentric. 
The Pa-al frock was hoisted:
They said he was eccentric,
But science was born to lead us into light. 

And so we race around the sun, 
As other planets do. 
That's why we're here, that's why we are, 
The earth and me and you. 

Thank you for reading. Adele    
       



Saturday, 1 December 2018

Rapunzel Complex

Hair and Fur - another theme that did little to inspire my blogging compadres, apparently. No matter, I'm going to make this Saturday a 'Grimm Hair Day'.

I've always loved long hair - on women especially (though my own was well below shoulder-length for a few fashionably rebellious years in the 1970s) - and in my research for this post I stumbled across the curious phenomenon of 'real life Rapunzels', a discovery which I owe it to share with you.

I don't know if this fad has got anything to do with the Disneyfication of the Rapunzel tale (Tangled, 2010 and its sequel Tangled Ever After, 2012, neither of which animated films I have seen) or if it is just a fashion fixation catalysed by the ubiquity of social media platforms like Instagram. Most of the modern-day 'Rapunzels' appear to be Eastern European or Russian. Some, it seems, have achieved considerable fame (and fortune?) as a result of their extremely long (and let's be honest, ravishingly beautiful) hair. One even claims to have suffered from androgenetic alopecia as a teenager until working diligently with trichologists restored her crowning glory and led to a modelling contract with a well-known brand of shampoo. I would have thought such mane-maintenance would be pretty time-consuming, but apparently not. The secret? Wash your hair twice a week (adding a dash of olive oil) and eat a large spoonful of peanut butter a day.

a 'real life Rapunzel'
Of course, most of these girls only grow their hair down to their knees or ankles (which feat in itself can take up to thirteen years). That's about five feet of luscious hair. In the original (by the Brothers Grimm) Rapunzel's tresses were fully 'twenty ells' long - that's about thirty feet. For those of you not overly familiar with the old German tale, I reprise it briefly here in my own words. Are you sitting comfortably?

Rapunzel Retold (or Trouble With Rampion)
Far away and long ago in a princedom without compare lived a poor man and his wife in a village which possessed a walled garden. After many years of longing for a child their hopes appeared to be fulfilled when the wife fell pregnant. As often happens at such times, she became obsessed with cravings, one of which was for the rampion which grew in abundance in that walled garden. Her desire was so intense that she prevailed upon her husband to scale the wall and steal some rampion for her, which she made into a delicious salad and devoured in ecstasy. That experience only served to intensify her craving and she told her husband she must have more of the delicious rampion or she would go distracted and die. Fearing for his wife and unborn child, the man climbed once more into the walled garden and set about stealing more handfuls of the lovely rampion which grew there...


...only oops! this time he was caught in the act by the enchantress whose garden it was. She was angered to the point of wanting to exact the full weight of justice on the man for his wicked deed until he fell on her mercy and explained why he was purloining her salad plants. In short, a deal was struck (unlikely though this sounds). The enchantress told the man that rather than having him tried and condemned as a thief, she would give him permission to help himself to as much rampion as his wife desired until she came to term - in exchange for the baby when it was born. The deal was done; the wife's reaction not recorded.

On the day the baby was born the enchantress appeared to claim her due, promising the parents she would love and care for the little girl as if she were her own. The enchantress named the baby Rapunzel and was good to her word, cherishing the little girl as she grew...until she reached puberty when, for reasons best known to herself, the enchantress relocated Rapunzel to a tower in the middle of a forest and locked her in. The tower was of a peculiar construction, having no door (allegedly), only a window near the top, and Rapunzel lived in that room at the top with nothing to do all day but grow her hair and sing. Still, she was happy - oh, and beautiful of course - and the kind enchantress visited her regularly, access and egress being enabled by Rapunzels's long hair (thirty feet of it) which she twisted into a rope and lowered from the window for the enchantress to climb up and down.

Many moons came and went (about forty-seven if one bothered counting) and Rapunzel blossomed in her tower, growing luscious hair and singing cheerful tunes - until one day the handsomest prince came riding by, heard her and was smitten by that captivating voice. He circled the tower but could see no door to knock on. Hot damn! He was in the process of riding away when the enchantress arrived and he hid behind a helpful tree while she called out 'Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair' (only in long ago princedom language). The prince watched in amazement as a beauty appeared at the window and threw down her shining rope of living hair for the enchantress to clamber up.

That evening the prince returned to the tower and called out 'Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair' and the young lady complied, no questions asked. The young persons' attraction was almost immediate, mutual and passionate. The enchantress used to visit every day during daylight hours and so the prince took to visiting Rapunzel every evening, sometimes staying until nearly dawn (with the eventual consequence as often transpires in such situations). Fast-forward some weeks and the young couple were hatching plans for Rapunzel's escape and a happy-ever-after when one day she forgot herself and complained to the enchantress that she really tugged at Rapunzel's hair, unlike the nimble prince. Oh no, undone! The enchantress flew into a rage of betrayal, hacked off twenty-nine feet  of Rapunzel's hair and banished the girl to a deserted region with immediate effect.

That night when the prince called, the enchantress hung down Rapunzel's severed rope of hair, the eager prince clambered up and horrors! came face to face with the enchantress who told him Rapunzel was lost to him and he would never see her again. In princely fear and anguish he jumped out of the high window and landed in a thorn-bush which blinded him in both eyes.

However, that's not the end of the story (which would be too sad). After many a year of wandering about blind, moaning the loss of his love and living off berries and such, the prince came by chance to the deserted region where Rapunzel lived in wretched, unmarried motherhood with the prince's twin sons. As soon as she saw him she cried hot tears into his sad and lovely face, which tears miraculously restored him to perfect 20/20 vision - and so, hastening back to the palace the prince, his beautiful (but bobbed) Rapunzel and the two little princes lived happily for a mighty long time. The 'real' end.



Moving on (from the ridiculously sublime to the sublimely ridiculous?) here's a link to a comb-over comedy classic, the wonderful Gregor Fisher (as Rab C Nesbitt) in sixty seconds of one of my favourite TV adverts of all time, for Hamlet cigars: Photo Booth Advert

To finish with, a new poem that has little directly to do with hair or fur, but take it as an oblique commentary on 'real life' fairy stories.

By The By
You bought me a book
for my birthday,
the day you proposed.

Ten years later
we're both wedded and divorced
and I've just read it -

took a decade
for me to pick it up,
but I feel no remorse.

I was the sucker,
and you were the fucker
(of more than just me)

but let's leave it there
ambiguously. By the by,
the book's a disappointment too.


Thanks as ever for reading. Remember the peanut butter tip, S ;-)

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Magical Creatures

When I think of furry little creatures I go a little bit squishy. I think of the characters that were so beautifully illustrated in the Beatrice Potter stories. Tom Kitten, Peter Rabbit and Squirrel Nutkin: Surely the most adorable and best loved creatures in children's literature.

Naturally, in real life, farmers see many of these animals as pests. As a young girl I often saw little men in black velvet - better known as moles, fastened to barbed wire fences along the edges of fields. Boys on the school bus teased us, saying that the farmer put them there so cruelly to warn other moles to move on but of course moles are blind so it was a bad joke. The true reason for impaling the dead moles was to dry them out so that the skins were easier to remove. Farmers sewed them together to make warm lining for their coats. Living in the countryside can be very upsetting.

One small furry animal that I am particularly fond of is the hare. I have only been lucky enough to encounter a hare once, driving along a country lane late at night. The hare was running directly towards me and froze my headlights beam. It was a magical moment. What a noble creature. Long, black-tipped ears, a white tail and strong back legs. Brown hares either live solitary or in pairs. They are incredibly fast, running at up to 45 miles per hour when evading predators.

The Romans are credited with introducing brown hares to Britain more than 2,000 years ago. If we are to believe the story of the Iceni queen Boudica consulting the entrails of a hare as an augury of victory in her uprising against the Romans in AD61, the animals had established themselves quickly. The brown hare is now considered naturalised. Curiously they are not found in Scotland or the Scottish Islands. 

Unfortunately for this magnificent animal, it is considered game and the hare season begins on the so-called Glorious Twelfth of August, when it is acceptable to take to the mosaic fields of Britain and shoot them. Like all game, there are many ways to cook hare - jugged is the most traditional method. Although I have eaten rabbit, I have never been tempted to eat hare. I recently switched off a cooking programme on TV because the cook was using hare in a game pie recipe. I cannot understand it at all. It should be a crime to kill a hare. 

In hare mythology, the hare is a creature with pagan, sacred and mystic associations, by turns benign, cunning, romantic or, most famously, in its March courtship rituals, mad. It is largely silent, preferring to feed at night or, in summer, as the last light fades from the day, a shadowy existence which adds to its mysteriousness. 

In Alison Uttley’s Little Grey Rabbit stories the character of Hare is superior and strutting, occasionally pernickety, always aloof – a rendering for children of the animal’s natural reserve as well his appropriateness as a denizen of that world of aristocratic entitlement evoked by Sackville-West. For example, it is Hare who keeps Grey Rabbit up to scratch in the matter of housekeeping: “Where’s the milk, Grey Rabbit?” asked Hare. “We can’t drink tea without milk.”

As with so many forms of British wildlife, today’s hares are threatened by changing agricultural practice. Larger fields with a single cereal crop a year curtail hares’ year-round food supply while offering them diminished cover, and their forms – shallow depressions in the ground – offer limited shelter and, potentially, a degree of exposure and vulnerability. A survey in 2008 estimated current brown hare numbers in Britain in the region of 800,000, a figure which represents a consistent if gradual decline since the Sixties. Unlike rabbits, hares are resistant to myxomatosis and have suffered no equivalent cull.  

As with so many forms of British wildlife, today’s hares are threatened by changing agricultural practice. Larger fields with a single cereal crop a year curtail hares’ year-round food supply while offering them diminished cover, and their forms – shallow depressions in the ground – offer limited shelter and, potentially, a degree of exposure and vulnerability. A survey in 2008 estimated current brown hare numbers in Britain in the region of 800,000, a figure which represents a consistent if gradual decline since the Sixties. Unlike rabbits, hares are resistant to myxomatosis and have suffered no equivalent cull.

During the mating season hares have boxing matches, standing on their hind legs. It is a sight that I would love to see. 



Hares At Play
The birds are gone to bed; the cows are still,
And sheep lie panting on each old mole-hill;
And underneath the willow’s gray-green bough -
Like toil a resting - lies the fallow plough.
The timid hares throw daylight's fears away
On the lane’s road, to dust and dance and play
Then dabble in the grain, by nought deterred,
To lick the dewfall from the barley’s beard,
Then out they sturt again and round the hill
Like happy thoughts - dance - squat - and loiter still
Till milking maidens in the early morn
Gingle their yokes and sturt them in the corn;
Through well known beaten paths each nimbling hare
Sturts quick as fear - and seeks its hidden lair.

John Clare
Thanks for reading. Adele

Saturday, 24 November 2018

Why Do Bears Sing?

Surely the most pertinent question for the inhabitants of Planet Earth right now and the one most deserving of a straight answer is not strictly to do with national determination, the rise of populism, religious/sectarian strife, cynical capitalist machinations or even one's favourite festive food (from a supermarket your choice). The big concern ought to be global warming  - although it informs and is impacted  by several of the afore-mentioned issues.

That global warming is happening is an undeniable fact - unless you're unfortunate enough to have a head like a trumpkin. The questions (actually a multiplicity) and eagerly sought answers relate to causes, effects and potential remedies. Here, then, a bit of a rhetorical Q&A; nothing that hasn't been said before, but I feel it's worth re-iterating in light of the most recent warnings from the IPCC (the UN's Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change) of imminent environmental catastrophe unless behaviours change.

Q: Is the steady rise in global temperatures that we have witnessed in the last fifty years due mainly to the actions of mankind?
A: All the informed scientific evidence is that this is the case and the principal catalyst has been the rapid increase in 'greenhouse gases' around the world from fossil-fuel burning factories, power-plants and motor vehicles.

Q:Is the rise in temperatures triggering climate change as a result?
A: Again, this appears to be irrefutable. Ice-caps are melting, sea-levels are rising, flooding of low-lying areas is becoming more prevalent. Wind and rainfall patterns are changing as the oceans warm, leading to an increase in arid deserts in some parts of the globe and more extreme weather conditions (hurricanes, typhoons) in others.

Q: Is any of this necessarily dangerous?
A: It certainly is for low-lying or arid regions which will become uninhabitable. Human suffering and population migration on a mass scale are likely to result. It could also mean that lands that are currently prime food-producing areas cease to be so or to be as productive as they currently are.

That UN IPCC report warned that we've only got just over a decade in which to act decisively in order for global warming "to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people... But the greatest difference would be to nature. Insects (which are vital for pollination of crops) and plants could lose half their habitat if temperatures rise by even 2C."

The latest informed estimates from climatologists is that average temperatures could rise by as much as 5C over the next fifty years if the targets of the Paris accord are not met. The implications are truly frightening.

Q: Is everyone but the scientific community and the 'green' think-tanks and pressure groups still under-estimating or dismissing the severity of the problem?
A: That would appear to be the case and is the most worrying aspect of the issue. At a governmental level there is a collective dragging of feet, even to conform to the agreed to legislation and the agreed-to timetable to implement it to reduce carbon emissions and reliance on fossil fuels... and then there are the governments that appear to be paying lip-service to agreed limits or are threatening to renege on agreements they signed.

Q: Is there any difference that individuals can make?
A: Of course we can all try and be good citizens by recycling waste, reducing our own energy use and influencing the markets in the way we shop (avoid air-freighted produce, buy local etc). Any initiative is better than none - but the quantum changes will only happen when green policies become mainstream - so maybe that sort of seismic political change is the next logical development, the greening of the political climate, a burgeoning Green Party, something to be actively encouraged and signed up to? (I'm just thinking out loud now.)


Anyway, my head hurts. Time for a poem and to answer the question about bears singing. Last week's effort was a bit on the bleak side and so although the issue of global warming is mighty serious (and no mistake), I've tried to leaven the poetic baguette with the yeast of humour. (Warning - this is a work in progress and definitely not yet in its final form.)

Sleeveless In Seattle
No wonder
all of nature's got its knickers
in a twist - it's December
and we're sleeveless in Seattle
for fuck's sake;
while down the coast
swathes of California are toast
and across the continent
low-lying lands are sinking
under ice-melt.

Time to rewrite the book of lore -
those country saws
mean nothing anymore.
Ne'er cast a clout?

We're sleeveless in Seattle
and from shore to sandy shore
it's springtime before Christmas.
The best exotic marigolds
will flower for New Years - in fact
they've not been out of bloom for seasons.

Non-hibernating bears sing loud for honey,
but the bees all got too hot and died
and so there isn't any...hear them howl.

Nor will there be fruit swelling
in those fabulous southern orange groves
nor any cereals soon
from the breadbin of the nation.
That old harvest moon
becomes redundant
once the dustbowl settles
and the hungry droves migrate out west
to overcrowd our temperate home.

Nature's clearly out of sorts,
severely out of synch.
Sure she'll get the reasons figured
in due course. Meanwhile,
rattled rightly to our very bones
we'll ration hope, do what it takes,
notch our belts more tightly
to stop the trousers
slipping off our skinny arses
and sleeveless in Seattle
out sing the howling bears
in praying this climatic nightmare
of our own devising passes.


Thanks for reading guys and gals, S ;-)

Friday, 23 November 2018

For Answers We Need Questions....

As mankind we are forever asking questions. That's how we've evolved, learned and experienced. Our minds are questioning as the norm. Answers are not always forthcoming...in fact answers are not always necessary.

When I find myself in a remote area I'm always "asking" in my head. I question the meaning of life (very profound). I often wonder who has been in that spot before me...has anyone actually stood on that exact sa
me spot in the heather? How come there are oak trees left here? Who lived in that remote croft? How many deer are on that fellside? Where does the cuckoo go when he leaves? The list goes on and on...my questioning goes on and on. I don't require a definitive answer. Often I muse over possible answers, possible outcomes. I imagine scenarios. I speculate. That's fine. I've  satisfactorily answered myself .

Silence isn't empty. It's full of answers....I read that somewhere.  For me - silence isn't empty. It's full of questions .

Many questions are purely rhetorical. We neither expect nor wish an answer. It's not necessary, serves no purpose anyway or there is no answer.


I've found two poems this week. The first was written  in March 1968.   The second in May 2015. They ask questions. I never got any answers as such. They are uncannily similar, given the years between.

To You
Shall I give my hand to you ?
Perhaps you will take offence and shun me ?
I don't know.
I wish I could make you understand -
My intentions are good. I am sure of that.
If you were to give your hand to me
I would accept it without a second thought.
I cannot change. Accept me for what I am
And I shall give you my hand.

Shall I?
Shall I open my heart to you, or will you reject me and turn away ?
Shall I open my arms to you, or will you shun me and go on your way ?
Shall I open my eyes and see you, or will you be gone for ever and a day ?
Shall I open my door to see you standing there, or will you not be there and I am fay ?
Shall I open my mind to your love, or will you desert me and go astray ?
I'll keep a tight closed heart.
My arms crossed over my chest.
My eyes focused on the future.
My door firmly shut,
And my mind set !
I shall not open up for you,
You must earn your way to my love !

     
Thanks for reading today,  Kath.

     

Thursday, 22 November 2018

Question The Answers

"There are two different types of people in the world, those who want to know, and those who want to believe."                                                                                                                                                           Friedrich Nietzsche

When it comes to finding answers, the human mind becomes restless especially around uncertainty and ambiguity. Consequently, when seeking clarity to troublesome questions, one response is to spontaneously generate plausible explanations. Once generated, we then tend to hold onto these invented explanations, in a way of making them become real. Once we have them, we really don’t like to let them go. Consequently we can eliminate the distress of the unknown and achieve ‘cognitive closure’ (Kruglanski, A. 1996).

In 1972, the psychologist Jerome Kagan, in (1972) suggested this ‘uncertainty resolution’ was one of the foremost determinants of human behaviour. Therefore, when we struggle to immediately gratify our desire to know the answer, we become highly motivated to find solutions to develop some kind of firm explanation. The ‘motivation principle’ in this hypothesis, remains central to many of our common motives: achievement, affiliation, recognition etc.


As unique individuals we tend to interpret the world around us, continuously. If we are not able to understand something, it scares us. Having answers to questions allows us to make sense of our surroundings, thereby giving us a sense of safety and security, a recognise core needs when we consider Maslow’s hierarchy. The human brain, more specifically the ‘amygdala’ becomes active in the face of ambiguity. Our drive to gather factual, biographical data in the hippocampus drives our conscious thoughts to find the right information, whereas the amygdala deals with the emotional responses to situations, therefore why we become restless in the face of uncertainty. 

In conclusion, when faced with heightened ambiguity and a lack of clarity of answers, our need to know—as quickly as possible becomes paramount.
 
 
Considering this concept of the need for answers, I wanted to share with you an abridged excerpt from one of the most bizarre but ultimately most creative authors in science fiction. Douglas Adams most famous piece of literary success has got to be the first novel in a five book trilogy (I said he was bizarre), The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Towards the end of the book there begins a monumental story of how a race of ‘hyperintelligent pandimentional beings’ decided to build a computer to find out if there was such an answer to the question of the meaning of life, the universe and everything. Without wanting to spoil the outcome I have included the important passages (in Douglas’s original words) to help explain a little more.

The Following Passages are taken from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams.
There are of course many problems connected with life, of which some of the most popular are, Why are people born? Why do they die? Why do they want to spend so much of the intervening time wearing digital watches? Many many millions of years ago a race of hyperintelligent pandimensional beings (whose physical manifestation in their own pan-dimensional universe is not dissimilar to our own) got so fed up with the constant bickering about the meaning of life which used to interrupt their favourite pastime of Brockian Ultra Cricket (a curious game which involved suddenly hitting people for no readily apparent reason and then running away) that they decided to sit down and solve their problems once and for all. And to this end they built themselves a stupendous super computer which was so amazingly intelligent that even before the data banks had been connected up it had started from I think therefore I am and got as far as the existence of rice pudding and income tax before anyone managed to turn it off.

On the day of the Great On-Turning two soberly dressed programmers with brief cases arrived and were shown discreetly into the office. They were aware that this day they would represent their entire race in its greatest moment, but they conducted themselves calmly and quietly as they seated themselves deferentially before the desk, opened their brief cases and took out their leather-bound notebooks. Their names were Lunkwill and Fook.
Fook composed himself. ”O Deep Thought Computer,” he said, ”the task we have designed you to perform is this. We want you to tell us ...” he paused, ”...the Answer!” ”The answer?” said Deep Thought. ”The answer to what?” ”Life!” urged Fook. ”The Universe!” said Lunkwill. ”Everything!” they said in chorus. Deep Thought paused for a moment’s reflection. ”Tricky,” he said finally. ”But can you do it?” Again, a significant pause. ”Yes,” said Deep Thought, ”I can do it.” ”There is an answer?” said Fook with breathless excitement.” ”A simple answer?” added Lunkwill. ”Yes,” said Deep Thought. ”Life, the Universe, and Everything. There is an answer. But,” he added, ”I’ll have to think about it.”

A sudden commotion destroyed the moment: the door flew open and two angry men wearing the coarse faded-blue robes and belts of the Cruxwan University burst into the room, thrusting aside the ineffectual flunkies who tried to bar their way. ”We demand admission!” shouted the younger of the two men elbowing a pretty young secretary in the throat. ”Come on,” shouted the older one, ”you can’t keep us out!” He pushed a junior programmer back through the door. ”We demand that you can’t keep us out!” bawled the younger one, though he was now firmly inside the room and no further attempts were being made to stop him. ”Who are you?” said Lunkwill, rising angrily from his seat. ”What do you want?” ”I am Majikthise!” announced the older one. ”And I demand that I am Vroomfondel!” shouted the younger one. Majikthise turned on Vroomfondel. ”It’s alright,” he explained angrily, ”you don’t need to demand that.” ”All right!” bawled Vroomfondel banging on an nearby desk. ”I am Vroomfondel, and that is not a demand, that is a solid fact! What we demand is solid facts!” ”No we don’t!” exclaimed Majikthise in irritation. ”That is precisely what we don’t demand!” Scarcely pausing for breath, Vroomfondel shouted, ”We don’t demand solid facts! What we demand is a total absence of solid facts. I demand that I may or may not be Vroomfondel!” ”But who the devil are you?” exclaimed an outraged Fook. ”We,” said Majikthise, ”are Philosophers.” ”Though we may not be,” said Vroomfondel waving a warning finger at the programmers. ”Yes we are,” insisted Majikthise. ”We are quite definitely here as rep- resentatives of the Amalgamated Union of Philosophers, Sages, Luminaries and Other Thinking Persons, and we want this machine off, and we want it off now!” ”What’s the problem?” said Lunkwill. ”I’ll tell you what the problem is mate,” said Majikthise, ”demarcation, that’s the problem!” ”We demand,” yelled Vroomfondel, ”that demarcation may or may not be the problem!” ”You just let the machines get on with the adding up,” warned Majikthise, ”and we’ll take care of the eternal verities thank you very much. You want to check your legal position you do mate. Under law the Quest for Ultimate Truth is quite clearly the inalienable prerogative of your working thinkers. Any bloody machine goes and actually finds it and we’re straight out of a job aren’t we? I mean what’s the use of our sitting up half the night arguing that there may or may not be a God if this machine only goes and gives us his bleeding phone number the next morning?” ”That’s right!” shouted Vroomfondel, ”we demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty!” Suddenly a stentorian voice boomed across the room. ”Might I make an observation at this point?” inquired Deep Thought. ”We’ll go on strike!” yelled Vroomfondel. ”That’s right!” agreed Majikthise. ”You’ll have a national Philosopher’s strike on your hands!” The hum level in the room suddenly increased as several ancillary bass driver units, mounted in sedately carved and varnished cabinet speakers around the room, cut in to give Deep Thought’s voice a little more power. ”All I wanted to say,” bellowed the computer, ”is that my circuits are now irrevocably committed to calculating the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything –” he paused and satisfied himself that he now had everyone’s attention, before continuing more quietly, ”but the programme will take me a little while to run.” Fook glanced impatiently at his watch. ”How long?” he said. ”Seven and a half million years,” said Deep Thought. Lunkwill and Fook blinked at each other. ”Seven and a half million years ...!” they cried in chorus. ”Yes,” declaimed Deep Thought, ”I said I’d have to think about it, didn’t I? And it occurs to me that running a programme like this is bound to create an enormous amount of popular publicity for the whole area of philosophy in general. Everyone’s going to have their own theories about what answer I’m eventually to come up with, and who better to capitalize on that media market than you yourself? So long as you can keep disagreeing with each other violently enough and slagging each other off in the popular press, you can keep yourself on the gravy train for life. How does that sound?” The two philosophers gaped at him. ”Bloody hell,” said Majikthise, ”now that is what I call thinking. Here Vroomfondel, why do we never think of things like that?” ”Dunno,” said Vroomfondel in an awed whisper, ”think our brains must be too highly trained Majikthise.” So saying, they turned on their heels and walked out of the door and into a lifestyle beyond their wildest dreams.    

Seven and a half million years Later…
A man standing on a brightly dressed dais before the building which clearly dominated the square was addressing the crowd over a Tannoy. ”O people waiting in the Shadow of Deep Thought!” he cried out. ”Hon- oured Descendants of Vroomfondel and Majikthise, the Greatest and Most Truly Interesting Pundits the Universe has ever known ...The Time of Waiting is over!” Wild cheers broke out amongst the crowd. Flags, streamers and wolf whistles sailed through the air. The narrower streets looked rather like centipedes rolled over on their backs and frantically waving their legs in the air. ”Seven and a half million years our race has waited for this Great and Hopefully Enlightening Day!” cried the cheer leader. ”The Day of the Answer!” Hurrahs burst from the ecstatic crowd. ”Never again,” cried the man, ”never again will we wake up in the morning and think Who am I? What is my purpose in life? Does it really, cosmically speaking, matter if I don’t get up and go to work? For today we will finally learn once and for all the plain and simple answer to all these nagging little problems of Life, the Universe and Everything!”

”Seventy-five thousand generations ago, our ancestors set this program in motion,” the second man said, ”and in all that time we will be the first to hear the computer speak.” ”An awesome prospect, Phouchg,” agreed the first man, ”We are the ones who will hear,” said Phouchg, ”the answer to the great question of Life ...!” ”The Universe ...!” said Loonquawl. ”And Everything ...!” ”Shhh,” said Loonquawl with a slight gesture, ”I think Deep Thought is preparing to speak!” There was a moment’s expectant pause whilst panels slowly came to life on the front of the console. Lights flashed on and off experimentally and settled down into a businesslike pattern. A soft low hum came from the communication channel. ”Good morning,” said Deep Thought at last. ”Er ...Good morning, O Deep Thought,” said Loonquawl nervously, ”do you have ...er, that is ...” ”An answer for you?” interrupted Deep Thought majestically. ”Yes. I have.” The two men shivered with expectancy. Their waiting had not been in vain. ”There really is one?” breathed Phouchg. ”There really is one,” confirmed Deep Thought. ”To Everything? To the great Question of Life, the Universe and Everything?” ”Yes.” Both of the men had been trained for this moment, their lives had been a preparation for it, they had been selected at birth as those who would witness the answer, but even so they found themselves gasping and squirming like excited children. ”And you’re ready to give it to us?” urged Loonquawl. ”I am.” ”Now?” ”Now,” said Deep Thought. They both licked their dry lips. ”Though I don’t think,” added Deep Thought, ”that you’re going to like it.” ”Doesn’t matter!” said Phouchg. ”We must know it! Now!” ”Now?” inquired Deep Thought. ”Yes! Now ...” ”All right,” said the computer and settled into silence again. The two men fidgeted. The tension was unbearable. ”You’re really not going to like it,” observed Deep Thought. ”Tell us!” ”All right,” said Deep Thought. ”The Answer to the Great Question ...” ”Yes ...!” ”Of Life, the Universe and Everything ...” said Deep Thought. ”Yes ...!” ”Is ...” said Deep Thought, and paused. ”Yes ...!” ”Is ...” ”Yes ...!!!...?” ”Forty-two,” said Deep Thought, with infinite majesty and calm.

It was a long time before anyone spoke…

By way of concluding this guest blog on the topic of answers, I thought it would be only right to go back to our opening quote by Nietzsche and offer you my simple limerick that tries to capture the complexity of this subject in five lines. I hope you like it...

Answers
A young philosopher called Nietzsche
Aspired to be a wise teacher.
Exploring answers to the meaning of life
All he found was trouble and strife
So concluded 'we are unfathomable creatures'.

Thanks for reading, Steve McG,

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Ask The Right Question And You Get The Right Answer

When I perform today's poem I always preface it by saying that when I was a kid there were plenty of protest songs on the radio. Now there are none so I wrote one. Then I read the poem. Of course, there is what we might call a problem with what I will call 'Now' poems because they go out of date almost overnight. I’ve written stuff that’s gone out of date quickly before.

There are plenty of things in this poem I am still pleased with but none the less it is now history. I guess you have to strike while the pen is still hot. What I am trying to do with poems like "The Eve of the Summit of Nations"  is put down how I feel that makes the point but is written is such a way that there are language features that repay further readings that are not necessarily to do with the main point of the poem. I like the imagery amongst others in the section about the food bank where strong women are described as having the roaring pride of lions, and of course, later in the poem they swallow their pride that takes the form of food from the food bank.


The only way in which poetry like this can survive beyond a brief time is for it to have aspects of something that could be described as universal. Those of us who campaign against Global Warming talk about starting 'global' and going 'local'. In a sense poems like this- perhaps indeed all poems - so that we can relate to them, work the other way round, start local and go global. Ultimately the real test is the "message" of a poem like this, if the reader can relate to it and interact with it. I don’t think that I have to spell out what the message of this poem is. You only have to walk the streets of any city, or look around as you leave the supermarket. The question is "Why?" and maybe that’s a silly question.

The Eve of the Summit of Nations
(After Shakespeare’s Henry V,  Act 1V Scene 1)
 
In the Grand Hotel, on the eve of the summit of nations
before our leaders slide into the luxury of sleep,
after fine wine and a seven course meal,
they are roused by the moon, borrow the garb of lesser folk,
don drab disguise and wander the city to listen
to the voices that linger in the midnight streets.

It smells like piss and tastes like piss.
Don’t be fooled by the Costa coffee cup. It is piss.
And if the cup overflows they’ll piss on you.
We are stubbed out in the streets like fag ends.
We huddle to keep warm in cardboard duvets.
We lie on the pavement one step away from the gutter,
the unemployed, the mentally ill, army veterans, self-abusers and more.
There are thousands of us in each and every county.
We are the dregs of society and if our leaders were here,

we would tell them. We would say,
“How can you sleep at night when you know we are homeless?”

At the food bank we queue in silence.
Don’t be fooled by our blank faces. Inside we are seething.
At the counter we trade our dignity for bread.
We have angry tongues that burn with scorn.
We have the roaring pride of lions.
We have worked while others have got rich at our expense.
The zero hours contract workers, the below the living waged and more.
There are thousands of us in each and every county.
We have swallowed our pride and if our leaders were here,
we would tell them. We would say,
“How can you sleep at night when you know we are hungry?”

Back in the Grand Hotel the leaders mumble vague promises,

drink whiskey nightcaps, pray and retire to bed.
When morning comes they eat a full and hearty breakfast.
Then cloaked in power and the great ermine robes of state,
our strong and stable leaders attend the summit of nations
to sing the praises of our country and the unity of our people. 
But the homeless and the hungry have no desire to sing.


Thanks for reading, Bill Allison

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Answers - Who Am I?


Over the last few evenings I’ve been searching my ancestry for possible answers. I was able to confirm to another family member that the details he’d passed on to me of a young man killed in action during WW1 was one of us, but I couldn’t leave it there. My ancestors had massive families and there are many brothers and cousins likely to have been involved in the conflict.  It is on-going and taking me in many directions, enough to give me a headache and a fear of forgetting what my hand-written notes mean. And, to keep me on my toes, eldest sons are often named after their father.

With the use of websites I started to research my family tree in 2004 when I was housebound, recovering from illness.  It gave me something to focus on and took me on a fascinating journey of discovery. I’ve learnt a lot about my background through the lives of past generations.  I wish such information could have been so readily available thirty-plus years ago when my father was alive.

Dad knew very little about his mother’s family. My Nanna Hetty was orphaned when she was a baby. I’m still unsure if she was formally adopted or just taken in by the people who raised her, it was 1896, but I have found details of her birth family and obtained marriage and death certificates for her parents. I have the answers my father always wanted.

Up to now I’ve been able to track my ancestry back to around 1810, some of which is backed up with birth, marriage and death certificates and information from census records. I know who they were, where they lived, what they did and how they died. If only I could find out what their personalities were like or what made them tick.
 
I found this poem by Sandra Osborne:


Answers
How many souls
Have come and gone
Before me?

How many had
The same questions?
How many
Found the answers?

And if they found them,
Then why does my soul
Long for the reasons
For their deaths,
For their lives,
The reasons for mine.

And if I should find them,
Will I have the wisdom
To know them as answers,
Or will I lack the understanding,
And see them as questions.
 
 
Thanks for reading, Pam x
 


Saturday, 17 November 2018

Weird Little Creations

Dolls - heck, what am I supposed to write about you?

I know you can inspire fierce and lasting devotion among humankind but I've never owned one, never played with one, never bought one for either of my daughters (they preferred furry toys) and frankly, you unnerve me with your inflexible expressions and your too big eyes...


There is a perfectly serviceable Greek-derived word for the fear of dolls: pediophobia. It's not a condition I suffer from personally, don't get me wrong - I just don't like the weird little creations -  but I use it as an imaginative point of departure for this dark new poem, a cautionary tale ...

The Doll-Maker's Son
He never shed a tear
when his mother passed away.
It wasn't done. No display of emotion
from the doll-maker's son.
He'd sit in the sweet-smelling sawdust
on his father's workshop floor
after school, all unawares,
and play with the parts
which the doll-maker discarded.
Poorly-turned heads
with blank stares and no hair
he would dextrously wire
onto imperfect torsos
sporting weird reject limbs,
flawed arms and splintered legs
that never merited a hand or foot.
He'd sew them clothes
but took care never to love
these mannequin grotesques
which always met the same fate,
to be fed as fuel into the workshop stove.

In later years when he'd become
an iron man of rank and power,
his bounden duty was to send
imperfect girls and boys
into that final caustic, cleansing shower.
He sometimes fought to stifle a sigh
as he pulled the lever down,
though he never shed a tear. It wasn't done.

However,
when the mournful creaking
of the cattle trucks
snaking into camp at night
managed to infiltrate his dreams,
became the noise his father's lathe would make,
then he might wake up screaming
and not know why.

Apologies for the somewhat gloomy subject matter. Blame it on the shadow of the time of year and the ongoing shambles of Brexit and Oxit (the latter being the ongoing campaign to prise the Oystons away from our football club). How will it all end? Answers next week - that's the upcoming blog theme, by the way.

Thanks for reading. Be kind, stay positive, S :-)