I’ve not written anything since June-ish. Well nothing that I’ve published anyway. It just seems that I have either nothing to say, or so much it’s too much, you know that feeling? My head’s been like mince to be honest.
I’ve been knitting, made lots and lots of handwarmers to sell on Ebay for Christmas. Haven’t sold any yet, though it is still only October, so fingers crossed.
What else? I go in to Glasgow once a week on the bus – being a Samaritan makes me a key worker, so I get to go in to the big city wearing one of my home made face masks. Otherwise… well I just stay at home like everyone else. I have to confess that it’s not much of a hardship, it’s pretty much my lifestyle anyway! Except that I do miss the grandchildren and the odd lunch with a friend.
I zoom with my children and sisters once a week, which means I see them more than I would normally, even though it’s not the same as being able to hug them obviously.
I’ve also been keeping in touch with work, virtually. Though as I work part time for an events company, it’s pretty minimal, as you can imagine. Mostly just keeping up to date with all the events that have been cancelled!
I don’t find it’s good to do much introspection these days, not good to start remembering how things used to be, or wishing I’d done this or that or regretting the trips that had to be postponed until who knows when. I’m even avoiding thinking about what I’ll do once all the restrictions are lifted and we can go freely into the world again. I think that’s partly because it’s hard to believe that will ever happen, especially as we’ve just been told about a whole new series of limitations on our movements to combat a local increase in the virus.
We talk a lot in our zoom calls about people not following lockdown rules, about them not quarantining properly when they come back into the country from being on holiday – and why would you even go on holiday when there’s a world wide pandemic going on for heaven’s sake? We talk about how unbelievably awful Trump is and how unbearable he’s going to be now that he’s “beaten” the virus. And we express our hope that he’ll be beaten by Biden in the forthcoming American election.
Just, I suppose, like zoom calls all over the world.
Spending one’s time productively is always a constant struggle, not just in a period of enforced idleness, but it is harder just now, isn’t it? Being thrown back on your own resources isn’t the easiest thing in the world. Sometimes I feel I’d be quite happy to stay at home forever, never go out. And yet I do have my weekly excursion in to Glasgow, my trips to the shops, the occasional visit from my daughter (strictly business I assure you!) and the odd walk along by the river, saying hello to suitably distanced passers by. They all remind me that I am, in the end, and however reluctantly sometimes, part of the one human race.
I’ve made various attempts over the last month to express my thoughts on our current shared predicament – “Life in a Time of Plague”, “A New Normal” or what about “Following the Science?”. But they all end up deteriorating into a diatribe against the state of the world and our society, and who wants to read that? You’ll be glad to know that I decided to spare you – and myself! Although… if, as “they” claim, they have at least temporarily solved the problem of rough sleeping, why did it take a world-wide pandemic to solve a problem that has been so patently crying out for a solution for years and years and years…. Just askin’.
Anyway, 10 albums. You’ve probably seen this Facebook challenge – something along the lines of Albums that greatly influenced my life/taste in music, one a day for 10 consecutive days, no explanation, no reviews, just album covers… I followed with mild interest as various Facebook friends took it up. Until one by one my children started doing it and I found myself connecting with many of the albums they were picking out – ones that were part of their growing up and therefore part of the fabric of my life at various junctures. Some few I might even have passed on to them!
So of course then you start considering what music you would choose and one thing leads to another… The best thing about the album challenge is that it gives you something else to think about than the daily Coronavirus press conference or the debate about whether Dominic Cummings should get the boot or not. (YES!!!) Music is a marvellous alternative and also a wonderful way to be reminded of a time when your life wasn’t constrained by having to wash your hands every five minutes and crossing the road in order to avoid getting too close to someone coming along in the other direction. The Facebook rules are that there should be no explanations for your choices, fair enough. But this isn’t Facebook…
#1 – All Things Must Pass. Someone gave me this album for my 21st birthday, so it’s been with me a long, long time. I think I’ve mentioned before that George was always my favourite Beatle. At first, like any teenager, its just the one you fancy the most, but gradually I suppose I found something in his words and music that chimed with me, and he seemed such a gentle philosophical soul.
Why are you still crying? Your pain is now through Please, forget those teardrops Let me take them from you The love you are blessed with This world’s waiting for So let out your heart, please, please From behind that locked door
Little darling, it’s been a long cold lonely winter Little darling, it feels like years since it’s been here Here comes the sun, here comes the sun and I say it’s all right
Little darling, the smiles returning to the faces Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been here Here comes the sun, here comes the sun and I say it’s all right
#2 – Jesus Christ Superstar. Before there was the musical, or the film, there was the ALBUM! I remember a group of us, must have been 1970 or 71, being invited round to friend Shuggie’s student flat and him producing this record with a flourish. “You have to listen to this!” And listen we did, to all two hours of it. We’d not really heard anything like it before, we were impressed! And it also felt quite subversive – there was a lot of controversy at the time about whether this portrayal of Jesus was blasphemous. Seems almost tame nowadays.
#3 – Carole King Tapestry. You’ve Got a Friend, Natural Woman, Beautiful… Perfection really.
Tonight you’re mine, completely You give your love so sweetly Tonight the light of love is in your eyes But will you love me tomorrow?
Is this a lasting treasure Or just a moment’s pleasure Can I believe the magic of your sighs Will you still love me tomorrow?
Tonight with words unspoken You say that I’m the only one But will my heart be broken When the night meets the morning sun?
I’d like to know that your love Is love I can be sure of So tell me now and I won’t ask again Will you still love me tomorrow? Will you still love me tomorrow?
#4 – Strings and Things by the Corries. My Mum used to be fond of the Corries. She’d refer to them as Ronnie and Roy as if they were personal friends. Maybe they were, all sorts of famous-ish people used to come in to the Fairy Dell, the cake shop in Byres Road where she worked when we were at school. It was quite near the BBC Studios so I suppose they would pop in for their fancy cakes and pastries.
I can’t remember where I picked up this album – we called them LP’s in those days by the way. It might have been a birthday present, but I have an idea that I might have bought it for myself with the money I earned as a Saturday Girl in the City Bakeries, also a cake shop in Byres Road but considerably downmarket from the posh Fairy Dell.
I think this was the first LP I ever owned and I always loved it. Ronnie and Roy – see, I’m doing it now! – had these new instruments called combolins, a kind of guitar/mandoline/harp hybrid invented by Roy. The result is a dreamy, tender collection of some of their favourite songs.
#5 – Nashville Skyline by Bob Dylan. Lay Lady Lay. Need I say more?
Lay, lady, lay, lay across my big brass bed Lay, lady, lay, lay across my big brass bed Whatever colors you have in your mind I’ll show them to you and you’ll see them shine
Lay, lady, lay, lay across my big brass bed Stay, lady, stay, stay with your man awhile Until the break of day, let me see you make him smile His clothes are dirty but his hands are clean And you’re the best thing that he’s ever seenStay, lady, stay, stay with your man awhile Why wait any longer for the world to begin You can have your cake and eat it too Why wait any longer for the one you love When he’s standing in front of you
Lay, lady, lay, lay across my big brass bed Stay, lady, stay, stay while the night is still ahead I long to see you in the morning light I long to reach for you in the night Stay, lady, stay, stay while the night is still ahead
#6 – The Concert in Central Park. Of course I cheated when I chose this one. It was really just a way of including most of my favourite Simon and Garfunkel songs that were scattered through various albums from the sixties. But there is something special about this live concert when the two reunited in 1982 for a special free performance which attracted half a million people. The atmosphere really is electric and I always like the little imperfections and irregularities which happen in live performance.
Peter, my ex, played the guitar and sang. As a student, he was always the one surrounded by a group of girls hanging on to every note. Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, the Beatles all featured in his repertoire, as did the Scottish folk songs that were the mainstay of many a heartfelt singalong – Wild Mountain Thyme, Marie’s Wedding, Skye Boat Song… He wrote songs too. I’m not going to analyse this any further – you can draw your own conclusions.
#7 – The Beatles Revolver. Of course as with Simon and Garfunkel the problem is just WHICH Beatles album to choose. I do love Here, There and Everywhere though, so I suppose that’s what’s tipped the scales in favour of Revolver. And yes, it has occurred to me that my choices would seem to indicate that I’m a hopeless romantic, a bit hippy dippy, even despite the (possibly delusional) carapace of worldly cynicism that I believe I present to the world. Turns out that’s what this challenge is all about, thinking back to when you were first aware of a particular artist or song, and why it has always stayed with you. Who you were then and are now is a big part of that. It’s like the way certain smells can instantly transport you back to a particular time or place, and the feelings associated with it. Johnson’s baby powder, freshly mown grass, dried seaweed on a beach.
Here, making each day of the year Changing my life with a wave of her hand Nobody can deny that there’s something there There, running my hands through her hair Both of us thinking how good it can be Someone is speaking But she doesn’t know he’s there…
I can’t really remember a time when I wasn’t aware of the Beatles. I would have been 8 when their first single came out, Love Me Do in 1962, and no, I don’t remember that specifically, I looked it up! I recall that even at primary school people would argue about whether John or Paul was the best. Of course I could smugly stand apart from that as I liked George. I don’t remember anyone ever preferring Ringo, sorry Ringo!
And then there’s the Beatles/Rolling Stones dichotomy! In my circle you liked one or the other, seldom both. The Stones were more alarming, their music more rock and roll, probably more adventurous. It’s not that I don’t like to listen to them today, I do, but they don’t make my top 10. It occurs to me that preferring the boys next door to the bad boys of rock might seem rather safe, perhaps even bland. But I can’t help that. I suppose it’s part of your personality as to which music excites you, stays with you, even defines you. But you need to do this challenge without judging yourself or imagining how others will judge you. You can’t pop in some Bowie or Queen or Iron Maiden just to make yourself seem more edgy!
#8 – Angels and Electricity. I wish I could remember how this album came to me. All I can say is I’m glad it did because it ticks all my boxes – melodic, thoughtful, accoustic, rather haunting. And I do like a good tune!
#9 Graceland, Paul Simon. I chose this as much for the African beats and the Ladysmith Black Mambazo band. It just gets to a place deep inside.
#10 – Songbird. Like most of her many fans, I only became aware of Eva Cassidy after her tragic death at the age of 33 in 1996. If I could only keep one of these 10 albums, I’d give up all the others for this one. It’s the one that will always get to me, console me, grab me and make me listen. There’s just something about this girl, how she takes each song right into her heart and pours it out in her own unique jazzy bluesy way. Of course the fact that she’s no longer with us makes it all the more poignant. But what a wonderful legacy to leave behind you.
As the lockdown continues, we are all to a greater or lesser degree thrown back on our own resources, especially if we’re not on the front line. Recently when I sent the link to my sisters for our weekly Zoom meet up, one of them replied “Already? Weeks are blinks, days are blurred, hours are moments.” It gets you like that, doesn’t it? Sometimes when I’m struggling to find a structure for the day I even find myself facing an existential crisis – who are you anyway? Getting up and doing the dishes normally dispels such unhelpful thought processes.
When I look back to my past, I realise that I have come through many times in my life when I have been constrained by an unlooked for external force – marriage breakdown, lack of money, bereavement, illness. A Covid-19 pandemic is only the latest manifestation. Everyone keeps on saying things will have to change, it will be different now. So it has always been and will always be. What we have to do is roll up our sleeves and get on with it.
I met Anabel a couple of weeks ago, the day before our current Corona lockdown. She was selling The Big Issue on Buchanan Street. At first I thought she was handing out fliers for some show or other – she had a theatrical look about her. But no, it was The Big Issue. I bought one and we got chatting.
She’s kind of…unique. Tiny, bird-like, seemingly fragile and yet incredibly strong. As with anyone who finds themselves homeless and on the street, she’s been through a lot. But meeting her was the highlight of my day. Not because her resilience impressed me, though it did; nor because she was so open and friendly and brave, though that too. It was an indefinable something, a connection I felt the minute we began to talk. You know that way when you unexpectedly discover a soul mate and everything they say makes complete sense and relates to something in your own life…
Moments like that seem part of a different life now. Now that we’re stuck at home keeping our distance from everyone else. I have to confess that I didn’t personally look upon it as much of a hardship, being a somewhat anti-social character not much given to hanging out in pubs and other crowded noisy places. So staying at home and not having to feel guilty about it actually suits me just fine. Or so you would have thought.
Truth to tell, unsociable sod that I may be, I’m not really very good at it! I find I miss having places to go, things to do. Even when I’ve had to force myself to get up and out, it’s always worth it in the end because there’s always that unexpected conversation or chance meeting – like the one with Anabel – that takes you out of yourself and reminds you that humans are indeed social creatures. Even me!
So there I was last night banging away on my saucepan doing the Clap for Carers with all my might and feeling that sense of involvement with all the other people who were out on their doorstep doing the same. We waved at each other before we stepped back inside. It felt good to be connected.
And this morning, for some reason, I’m finding the way cleared to do what I’ve been putting off for a while now – write in this blog. It’s not a big thing, but when you keep putting it off it becomes a huge barrier. And when normal inertia is added to the thought that now you’ve got lots of time and no excuse not to get on with it, it somehow becomes insurmountable. But I tricked myself today, I just started writing before I had time to think about it.
And there you are, I’ve managed to conjure up some thoughts about my take on the catastrophe that’s obsessing the whole world right now. It IS like being in some apocalypse movie – things were different before and may never be the same afterwards, who knows? But I’d like to think the afterwards will encompass taking a walk down Buchanan Street and finding Anabel firmly ensconced in her pitch just outside the House of Fraser selling The Big Issue in her utterly charming and unique way.
Click this link to read about Anabel, by kind permission of The Big Issue and the lady herself.
If I had made a New Year’s resolution to define myself as a weekly blogger, that definition would be in the bucket already as its been a month since my last post! Just as well I didn’t make any resolutions then.
I find myself quite hard to define – grandmother, mother, sister, babysitter, friend, part time administrator, volunteer, trainer, writer, environmentalist, knitter, member of an older generation…? Truth to tell there’s no easy one-size-fits-all word I can find that would sum me up to my own satisfaction. Choosing between those possibilities would ignore all the others and would seem inadequate as a definition. I suppose really I rebel against the idea of receiving a label and being put in a box.
The title of this post has been borrowed from a book I just read, “What Defines Me” by Amy Kingham (daughter of a friend of mine). The story (among other things) concerns a young woman who is diagnosed as bipolar, which becomes an all-consuming definition of who and what she is, and how her family and friends engage with her and she with them. In the end she comes to the realisation that who you are isn’t to do with what label society has given you, but more about what you do, the actions you take. Because, no matter what your label is, it’s what you do that defines you, reveals who you are, what you feel, what you believe.
I think this was brought home to me very strongly when I was exploring the lives of my parents earlier in this blog. The idea that the people who, as children, we relate to as Mummy and Daddy have a whole other life apart from us, a history that we only really glimpse in old photographs, or in the – highly edited! – stories they choose to tell us. Perhaps when we grow up we can come to see them as fellow adults, get a different perspective and start to understand better how they relate to the world as people in their own right. Perhaps we never really reach that point.
Take my mum. I couldn’t say that I ever had that kind of easy relationship some people describe where their mum is their best friend. No matter how much I tried (and perhaps I didn’t try hard enough) we never reached a way of connecting with each other on an equal footing; it was always that parent and child dynamic. Even when I was decades in to my adult life and had children and grandchildren of my own, visiting her at home always felt like stepping back into the past. It was as if she couldn’t escape from the definition of herself as “Mummy” and couldn’t resist judging me, telling me what to do, approving or disapproving of my actions. And of course I would mentally slip into rebellious teenager mode and so the unacknowledged cycle would continue.
I’ve just noticed that I didn’t include the word “daughter” in my list at the top of this. On the one hand I’m not a daughter any more as my parents are no longer with us. But it’s problematical, that one. For me it contains a whole world of expectations that for large parts of my life I found myself unconsciously resisting. This was because I felt I was part of a kind of family conspiracy where we had to present a front to the rest of the world about what kind of family we were. Things like “don’t mention your father is a bus driver” or “you are as good as anyone else”.
Of course the other side of that coin is that you don’t feel free to just be yourself, warts and all. You can’t do anything that would reflect badly on your mum and dad. Most of all, you don’t share things with your parents, or anyone else, because you are frightened of their disapproval. And that carries on until well in to your adult life.
I may not have actually rebelled as a teenager, but I did eventually come to a – rather wonderful – realisation. Which was that whatever the failings of my relationship with my mother (my dad had by this time passed away), I could choose the kind of daughter I wanted to be rather than just re-treading the old well worn path. I’m not saying it transformed the family visits, but it did enable me to have a more honest conversation with myself and my sisters.
In the end, I always believed that my mum did love me, and I loved her, however problematical that was. I never felt that love more strongly than in her last days when she lay quietly in her hospital bed with life gradually slipping away from her. We’d all come to visit in her final weeks, to say goodbye. You could always see that, even if she could no longer bring your name to mind, she always knew who you were. I felt that, stripped back to the bare essence of herself, what remained was her love for her family and her trust in our love for her.
How surprising that I should have alighted on the word “daughter” quite so conclusively – I wasn’t expecting that at all when I started. And equally startling is the lack of mention of the word “wife” or “ex-wife”. There was a time, many moons ago, when I was defined as the wife of someone, or when I felt defined by the whole getting-over-it process. Today, a week after my 66th birthday, it’s but a faded memory, though I remain friends (at last!) with Peter, the ex.
It occurs to me that how you define yourself depends largely on the context, doesn’t it? In a casual conversation you tend to fit in with what the other person is expecting – “Maggie’s mum”, “Charlie’s granny”, “Brian’s office manager”. You don’t break out and reveal that thing which is actually obsessing you, despite outward appearances. For me at the moment, I’m in trainer mode for the workshop I’m going to be giving at this weekend’s Samaritans conference – should I make some final tweaks to the script; are my props and handouts ready; what am I going to wear? In the couple of months before Christmas I was frantically knitting during every spare moment in order to fulfill my eBay orders for hand knitted mittens – “eBay entrepreneur” perhaps? Right now, this moment, I’m a blogger (hooray!)
As I get older, I’m not really that interested in labels. I know what the truth is – I’m me, and as I said in my New Year blog, my greatest desire is to be as true to myself as I can at each and every moment of each and every day. Sometimes I may be defined by overwhelming sorrow, or concern for a friend or the harassment of a work deadline. But as George Harrison said “all things must pass” and I know that sadness or wisdom or joy will be embraced and absorbed into my being and become part of that definition of self that is constantly shifting and evolving as I journey through my life.
I suppose I’m a fairly private person, but I’d like to think that the people who matter most in the world to me can see beyond any easy labels and know that for all my shortcomings the definition I’d be happiest with is this:
I don’t like making New Year resolutions, they just seem like a list of ways to fail in the coming 12 months. Or, more accurately, by the 3rd of January! Apparently just 8% of people keep their resolutions, did you know that?
Anyway, I already don’t smoke or drink (never have, never wanted to); I walk or use public transport to get about (don’t own a car); I recycle everything I can, always have. As you can see, I’m perfect already! Ha ha ha, excuse me while I roll about the floor laughing at this ludicrous notion.
Anyhoo. I can’t get away from the fact that the turn of the year is nevertheless a time to take stock and re-evaluate your life, to clear the decks for the new year to come. And if you’re like me, to berate yourself for projects left undone or never started, time wasted, clutter collected, all my best intentions lying in ruins at my feet.
Really? Well that’s what it feels like. Never mind that I did a big clear out before Christmas, took a whole pile of stuff down to the charity shop, caught up with my to-do lists, wrapped up and sent home made gifts to my family… That’s all very well I tell myself, but what about all the stuff I didn’t do? The blog left untouched since last October, the workshop I should have written by the beginning of December, the friends I meant to have lunch with and didn’t… Now that list literally is endless!
It’s not all doom and gloom, well it is, but not because of the undone stuff. As I went to bed on Hogmanay (way before the bells by the way), I did allow myself to resolve (as I have for several years now) that in 2020 I would carry on striving to be more true to myself, not to be diverted by irrelevant stuff, whether of a physical, mental or spiritual nature. And therein lies the potential for the doom and gloom. Because of course the question then arises “Who AM I anyway???” Aargh!!!
But, dear reader, there is a small candle of hope in the midst of all this endless introspection. It comes in the shape of a Prayer for the Day which caught me unawares as I was texting/messaging New Year greetings to all and sundry while Radio 4’s Today program played in the background.
This bishop chap started telling us how during a new year retreat years back, he’d been given the task as a spiritual exercise of writing his own obituary. Once he’d got over the thought that it was a rather macabre thing to do, he discovered it was a really helpful way of forcing him to reflect on what it’s worth spending time on and what it’s not. What he really cared about and what he didn’t. What’s worth fighting for and what’s not. What, in short, he’d want to be remembered for.
And just like that, I had suddenly found the right questions to ask, a helpful perspective. So, I can do no worse than finish by repeating Bishop John Inge’s New Year prayer, in the hope that it will inspire me (and perhaps you?) all the way through 2020 and beyond:
Loving God, give me the grace to make good use of the time given to me here on earth. In the coming year, give me the wisdom to know how best to use my time, my talents, my energy and my resources. Help me to discern what it’s worth spending time on and what is not; what I really care about and what I don’t; what it’s worth fighting for and what is not.
Just a wee interlude while I incubate something else….
There I was there other day listening to the Beatles White Album (listening to my youth if I’m honest) when up comes grandson, age 10 and a keen thesbian. “Granny, you know what? Those songs are just like the ones we sing for panto”. Well, thanks for putting me right Sunny Bear, here was me thinking it was nothing less than some of the finest music of the 20th century!
Looking at old photos can be a bittersweet experience. There are often very mixed sentiments involved in remembering those captured moments. Perhaps because it’s painful to look back at a time that is lost and regretted. Or because the smiles were just for the camera and were hiding some personal turmoil. The pictures can only record a single moment, but looking at them can sometimes stir up a whole complicated set of emotions. I suppose its inevitable that as you get older you are increasingly remembering people that are no longer with us or a self that that seems long gone.
But you can’t keep looking back at the past and blaming yourself for the way things turned out, the if-only’s. I confess that sometimes that tendency is there in me. And then I have to remind myself that the only way to heal is to forgive yourself for your shortcomings and understand that you did the best you could at the time. It’s human to get waylaid by wishing that things could have been different. The trick is to remember that our history is what makes us the people we are today, inevitably older, but hopefully wiser and more tolerant too.
So, while there will always be a few ghosts along the way when we delve into our past, there are also, happily, some moments of perfect joy. Moments which encompass so much more than just the image, but all the emotions associated with it. For me, many of those moments centre around my children and grandchildren, from the instant I first held them in my arms to all the small childhood tragedies and triumphs along the way, when yet another little bit of your heart is captured and gladly given away.
One such instance comes from decades ago, a sunny day at the beach when we’d packed the children into the car for an impromptu picnic, not something we did all that often. It was when we were living in Holland near the border with Germany, so the beach was one on the banks of the River Rhine – there are sandy beaches along its length just at that point. Anyway, the children had run down to the water’s edge and were splashing each other, jumping in and out of the spray. I have an idea they were wearing those plastic sandals called jellies – or maybe they were just wearing their good sandals!
It was such a lovely day, bright and hot, and I closed my eyes for a moment, breathing deep. I opened them to see the image that has stayed with me all these years – the sunlight sparkling on the water, a heat haze over the wet sand and my four children visible through it as they played on the shore maybe 40 metres away, the sound of their squeals of laughter floating towards me. All wasn’t well with our marriage at this point and I don’t have a photograph, but this was a perfect moment out of time which nothing has ever been able to spoil.
These moment, these tender moments of the heart, I think come much closer to our true memories than any camera can ever capture. Sometimes you look at a photograph and although you know you were there – the proof is laid out in front of you – you can’t actually recall how it felt to be there, how YOU felt. Or you know that the photographer has failed to record the real all-singing, all-dancing you but instead has brutally chosen the moment when you are looking uncomfortable in a badly chosen outfit or were squinting at the sun.
All in all I prefer to close my eyes and explore the inner pictures which are much clearer, much nearer to who I really am and how I remember things. Often those moments aren’t the ones that are imperfectly captured on film, but are instead indelibly imprinted on my heart and remembered with infinite tenderness.
It’s 50 years since man first stepped out on the surface of the Moon. Scarcely anyone will have missed that fact as it’s been splashed all over the news and social media. As one of the millions who watched the whole thing on telly first time around, I’ve enjoyed the coverage, the remembering. In particular there’s been a fascinating podcast by the BBC World Service called 13 Minutes to the Moon which gives you all the inside stories on every aspect leading up to the momentous moment when Neil Armstrong made mankind’s “giant leap” on to the lunar surface on 20 July 1969. Here’s the link https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w13xttx2/episodes/downloads – it’s well worth a listen!
I guess it’s in our nature, our very DNA, to want to explore our world and beyond. To find out what’s just beyond that bend in the road up ahead or what we’ll be able to see from the top of that hill – or from another planet! That urge to know can lead us down an unfamiliar lane just to see what’s there, or at the other end of the scale take us on mighty voyages of discovery to encounter whole new continents. Our maps have evolved over the centuries from drawings of shadowy lands marked “here be dragons” to the marvels of pinpoint accuracy we have today. Today WE can explore other continents from our armchairs just by typing a location into Google Earth.
A little voice at the back of my head suggests it’s not the same as actually going there, breathing the air, smelling the smells, feeling the ground beneath your feet. No, it’s not, but it’s what we do. We imagine. We explore the whole world, the whole universe, just by closing our eyes and imagining. Our brain is like a Tardis. For non-Doctor Who fans, the Tardis is the Doctor’s ship that can take him anywhere in time and space. The point about the Tardis is that it’s bigger on the inside than the outside. Just like our brains. Just like our ability to imagine places we’ve never been, futures that haven’t happened yet. And then we can come right back down to earth and go and sit in the garden to enjoy a sunny day in the here and now.
Neither are our explorations confined to filling in the unknown areas on the map. We also delve into the past, constantly trying to piece together the elusive history of mankind, not to mention of the very universe itself, right from the Big Bang until a projected point in the future when it will all presumably come to an end. We want to know. We need to know. And it’s not just the universe, there’s a whole world of self-discovery to be explored too. When things happen to us, when we go through big challenges in our lives, we often need to dig deep into ourselves in order to process these events and if necessary overcome them. And even without those challenges, most people have an insatiable curiosity to know more about where they came from, about the influences that have made them who they are. It’s all part of our human need to understand ourselves and where we fit in to the grand scheme of things.
So, when President Kennedy announced in 1961 that America would send a man to the moon and bring him safely back home again before the end of the decade, he wasn’t just expressing a vague ambition. He was tapping in to that never ending desire of mankind to be forever expanding the boundaries of the unknown. (Not to mention the USA’s obsession with getting ahead of the Russians in the space race!) JFK was in effect committing the resources of a nation to what was at the time an impossible aim. Whatever it took to develop the technology and the systems to reach the goal were devoted to the task – millions and millions of dollars, thousands and thousands of people hours.
There were many successes and failures along the way, including the tragic fire which engulfed Apollo 1 and claimed the lives of the entire crew. But the setbacks only made Nasa all the more determined to learn from their mistakes and do whatever it took to make things work. Until finally man did succeed in escaping the shackles of earth’s gravity and walk on another world.
BUT… however profound and wonderful that achievement was – and it was truly an unforgettable moment when the whole watching world heard the words “the Eagle has landed” and breathed a great collective sigh of relief – think of this… What if an American President, or some other world leader, announced an intention to eliminate hunger or pollution or homelessness by the end of a decade? What if there was no limit to the resources that were poured into fulfilling even one of those aims? In that case, it could be that if and when mankind ever again stands on the surface of the Moon watching Earthrise, we could do so in the knowledge that our home planet has become a fitting haven for all the souls that live there. It’s not impossible, after all look what we can achieve when everyone works together towards a common goal
So there I was, putting together my list of music should I ever be stranded on Radio 4’s famous desert island with only 8 disks, a book and a luxury item (as well to be prepared don’t you think?). Which song out of Les Miserables should I chose? A quick look at You Tube will help…
Except there’s no such thing as a quick look at You Tube! A couple of hours later and I was still no nearer to choosing between Do You Hear the People Sing and Bring Him Home, both stirring in different ways…
But I think I have chosen my luxury item – never mind the endless supply of pens and paper, or the marvelously comfortable pillow or even the concertina which I’d love to learn to play. No, it’s got to be a device to get me on to YouTube! Actually if I had that, I wouldn’t need any of the rest of it, I’d have the perfect companion to cover every mood and need. Well except for real human companionship of course – there’s really no substitute for a hug.
You know, when I first started listening to Desert Island Disks, way back in the sixties, the internet hadn’t even been invented yet. No internet shopping or Skype chats with your nearest and dearest on the other side of the world or online petitions seeking to right wrongs and change the world for the better… It’s even hard to remember how we managed without all this wonderful convenience we have at our fingertips nowadays. Mail order catalogues, expensive phone calls, demonstrations in the streets. Nowadays demonstrators can orchestrate their efforts on social media. Back in the day I it was word of mouth, phone calls, pamphlets. I suppose we just use whatever we have at our disposal, for better or worse.
Anyway, I digress. What caught my attention when I clicked on You Tube, was a video of a flash mob singing “Do You Hear the People … ” in a shopping mall somewhere in the mid west of the United States. Have you come across this phenomenon? If if you haven’t, type “flash mob” in to Google straight away! Or wait, maybe you’d better leave it until the next time you have a couple of hours to spare – if you’re anything like me you’ll get caught every time! I It’s just that I love watching the faces of the crowd when they realise what’s going on. It’s totally infectious and joyful. Go on, click on this link now – I defy you to watch it without a huge happy grin on your face!