Sunday, 23 November 2014

Do dogs have souls? (Part twenty-four)



Interesting article today about how dogs brains are hard wired to respond to humans. The evidence is based around stuff like neuroimaging and the way the  caudate nucleus lights up when they see, or more importantly smell, humans.There's nothing like a few scientific terms to baffle and impress, of course, more convincing to me was that dogs apparently are the only species to seek out eye contact. So your dog sees you as its family and it really does care...awww...but then didn't we know that anyway?

NB: I do keep planning to blog on something with more gravitas than how lovely dogs are or what I've done over half term but am just really busy still and spent a weekend recently wiped out with nasty winter vomiting bug. Just be glad I didn't blog that one.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Weekend away

We headed down South this past weekend partly to enjoy a half term break away but also so that we could see our son, as I explained to Mr M, I just needed to "lay eyes on him and check he looks OK." The good news was that he did indeed look  and sound OK. He reports that there is a shed load of work but that he is absolutely loving tutorials and student life in general. He was also very enthusiastic about a lecture he had attended given by Roger Penrose who designed the tiling outside the Maths Institute; son was sporting a hoodie with the tiling on it and tried to explain to me why the tiling was important- but you can just read about it on the link if you are interested.We also took him for a meal in The Eagle and Child,  it seems he has been pretty much living off Tesco's value food and kebabs.

Penrose tiling

Penrose hoodie

At the post office at Bletchley Park
We also visited the Ashmolean Museum, although we didn't really have as much time as we would have liked. On Sunday morning we went to Sung Eucharist at the Cathedral at Christ Church. On our way back we visited Bletchley Park, again there wasn't enough time to get round everything and we hope to visit again as you can return within twelve months and reuse your ticket- tickets are  pinned up on the board in the kitchen but that is no guarantee we won't forget them. All in all, a lovely trip away. Just a shame to have to get back to the routine!

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Letting be

 Yesterday, I read this post about the often cold or flawed nature of the welcome that  conservative churches give to LGBT people, even those who embrace celibacy. It wasn't a new story to me because there are some depressing attitudes around and conservative LGBT Christians can get the worst deal from churches as they can feel uncomfortable theologically and personally at "affirming" churches but do come up against an insidious prejudice in some conservative churches. One person told me that the church he went to told him that they were quite happy to have him there as long as he wasn't in a relationship, but then, a few months later when he offered to be more involved in church life, announced he would not be a "good role model." I want to hasten to say that there are conservative churches who do manage things much better than this, equally there are "liberal" churches which still manage to be crass or insensitive.
So what can you do if institutions or the people within them make you angry, bitter or hurt? Well, you can leave, or you can stay, or you can work to change them from the inside. It doesn't matter which of these options you choose as long as you recognise that being angry/ bitter/ hurt is not generally a realistic proposition as a long term emotional state. There are always a few individuals, of course, who thrive on their anger or outrage and use it to galvanise them to work for change. This can be admirable, although they can also run the danger of being one track crashing bores, but it does not suit the average person.
Over the summer I read Anthony De Mello's How to Love which was a book recommended on the Available Light blog. There was a lot about the book that I struggled with, didn't agree with or thought was too simplistic... and yet... there was something in it. I went back to the book several times and found myself in the strange position of either fervently agreeing or fervently disagreeing with almost every idea in it. I also found that it helped me cope better with a colleague with whom I had had a disagreement- and we were at a bit of an impasse. De Mello says that a lot of our unhappiness is caused by our ideas and expectations about the world around us and our need to try to arrange the world to our liking. He writes,

" Yet another belief: Happiness will come if you manage to change the situation you are in and the people around you. Not true. You stupidly squander so much energy trying to rearrange the world. If changing the world is your vocation, go right ahead, but do not harbour the illusion that this is going to make you happy... as well search for an eagle's nest on the bed of an ocean as search for happiness in the world around you."

De Mello does take this idea to the extreme and advocates a kind of asceticism in thought that even extends to a lack of concern at the thought of losing those closest to you - I have to say I have not reached this point yet! However, his ideas about letting people be themselves, not worrying too much to change them but just accepting them is good advice. It moves you from anxiety to peace. We all seek the approval of other people, but De Mello helps you to see that the only place  really worth seeking approval is with God and within yourself, your own conscience. And once you have reached that place external things such as people and institutions will no longer have the power to make you bitter, angry or hurt.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Tattie Harvest!

Over the summer I've grown radishes, dwarf runner beans and regular crops of salad leaves, all in tubs and pots on the patio alongside the usual sweet peas. This year I also managed an unplanned potato crop! This came about because I use our own compost in which to grow veg and one day, in between the salad leaves , I noticed a little seedling that looked a lot like a potato plant. I left it for a few days and, once I was sure it was a potato plant, I dug it up and transplanted it into its own pot. The only explanation is that it must have come from an eye in a potato peeling left still unrotted in the compost ( I had forked it  over a few days before and a peeling must have worked its way down.) Since it was so keen to live and grow, I thought I would give it a chance, and it not only grew into a bit of a monster, it produced a crop which wasn't bad seeing it just came from the compost. We are planning to eat the tattie crop, it looks like they are King Edwards, with some slow roasted pork chops and apple sauce on Wednesday.



At the moment I just grow veg in pots but the plan is to create a little vegetable garden. Mr M felled two pine trees this summer revealing a lovely sunny spot next to the wall which we think would be ideal for raised beds. Then I can grow runner beans, onions, potatoes and salad and will officially be as middle aged as I possibly can:)



Saturday, 18 October 2014

Mental illness

I had a dream last night. In the dream I was living in a beautiful house. The house was surrounded by a wonderful garden and there were amazing views of the sea and a stunning coastline.My initial feelings in the dream were that I could not believe I had been given this incredible place to live; I walked from room to room admiring everything and I couldn't wait to explore the garden and walk along some of the paths by the coast.
Then, looking out of one of the windows up a country lane, I saw a black spectre making its way toward the house. Spectres usually glide but this one was walking purposefully like it was on a practical mission and had tucked up its dementor-like robes so that you could see it had legs. This sight was so incongruous that, at first, I laughed out loud, but then I felt a sense of dread because I realised it was coming to my beautiful house and coming to get me. Very soon the dream turned into a nightmare as I tried to evade the spectre. I would look up to find  it beside me as I read or washed up dishes. It would reach out and touch my arm or my side and, wherever it touched, my flesh would go cold and numb and turn purplish blue. I tried to block the spectre by locking doors or building barriers but no physical barrier could keep it out.
The next part of the dream, I was looking in the mirror in the morning, and all the places the spectre had touched had  become discoloured and were beginning to putrefy. I then decided that, in my next attempt to evade it, I would go out to the garden which had a rose garden through a pretty arch. The rose garden contained some truly beautiful specimens in crimson, flame, yellow and pure whites and it was heady with scent and summer sun. I felt that I would be safe there. To my horror, the spectre followed and laid its arm around my shoulder in a comradely manner while I was trying to admire the roses. In desperation I noticed some steep steps down to a harbour and sea wall, the sea looked deep and surprisingly choppy given the summer weather but I wondered if I could escape the spectre by plunging into the sea or whether, there too, it would overwhelm and drown me.
This was the point when I woke from the dream and I knew at once that it was about a  case that happened at work last week. I can't say more than that as the details are obviously confidential. The symbolism of the dream seemed to me to translate to the idea that you can be in wonderful circumstances ( the sumptuous house) with good prospects ( the view) but that mental illness can still come out of the blue and lay its chilling fingers upon you. I want to say that I am not at all concerned about my own mental health, if anything, after a childhood marked by some difficulties and some emotional and mental illness in my early adult life, I have experienced what I would describe as post traumatic growth. The dream, I think, was a salutatory reminder that mental health issues can affect anyone, and that I should not be complacent or dismissive when others cannot seem to find a way to escape them because that may be their personal experience. The rise in mental health problems in adolescents is something that I am aware of through my work, and it troubles me deeply and often frustrates me. I think the dream may have been an exercise in empathy.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Keeping out the cold

I don't know if I've mentioned it before but we don't have the heating on in our house until half term. It is a sort of rule and- annoyingly- nobody in the house except me seems to find it challenging as October goes on and the chillier nights draw in. This makes me feel like a wimp and I tend to just brave it although I've learnt a few little wrinkles to keep me warmer. For anyone who is still managing without heating, this is my advice on keeping warm.

1. Layers- you've heard it before and it is true. Fleeces are also great as is a blanket in the evenings. Marks and Spencer's thermal socks with slippers are indispensable.

2. Warming food- we tend to make casseroles and soups at this time of year. This kind of fare is both warming and healthy as it delivers lots of vegetables and is usually reasonably low in fat. I do also sometime treat myself to crumble and custard which is an instant warmer.

3. Exercise. If feeling the chill, I take myself off to the gym, usually early evening or late afternoon at the weekends. After working out strenuously it takes me most of the evening to cool down. Again, it is not only warming, it lifts your mood and is so good for you. If we could bottle the benefits of exercise it would be a wonder drug - and it can help you cut down on the heating bills!

4. A hot water bottle. One of the pleasures of the colder weather is the comfort afforded by a lovely hot water bottle, electric blanket or best of all a warmer partner to put your icy feet on. If said partner is the one who insists you don't need the heating on yet, be  completely unapologetic!

5. Memory. Some of you can no doubt remember a world without central heating and the arctic experience of waking up on mornings when there was ice on the inside of the windows and the fire was not yet lit or had yet to get going properly. As kids we lived in a chilly curate's house in Wales and we used to steel ourselves, leap out of bed then dash downstairs to dress in front of the fire. I never spared a thought for my mum who had had to get up to light that fire. I was telling an older teacher about this once and she said that they had children who rarely had heat in the house and whose parents slapped on a layer of goose fat on their kids'chests to serve as insulation at the start of winter, covered it with brown paper and left them in the same clothes until the spring.

Just be glad we don't live in conditions like that anymore!

Monday, 13 October 2014

Fear , Ebola and UKIP

With a few exceptions, our students are really worried about Ebola. I mean really, really worried. I tried to interest my tutor group in the issue of the rise of UKIP last week, we got some discussion but it was the fear of dying of Ebola that engaged them most. One young lady told me that if it wasn't for Ebola, she wouldn't be worried about anything, or as she put it, "Like not worried about anything AT ALL, ever." I got asked if I wasn't worried and, tongue in cheek, I replied that at my age there's a lot of things that can get you. They seemed to think this was completely reasonable, and after all should anyone in their forties really worry about dying, we are half dead anyhow...
Of course, Ebola is a very serious concern and so perhaps I shouldn't laugh, it did make me reflect though on how much humans are driven by fear- and selfishness. I was listening today to a report on the race to find a vaccine alongside Margaret Chan's comments that there are no vaccines because the disease has been hitherto confined to poor African countries, or as she said, "the rich stay rich, the poor are left to die." Now we are threatened, even though this is to a much lesser extent, our fears impel us to find the will to act.
The rise of UKIP, I believe, is also fuelled by fear, our impulse to protect ourselves from that which we think threatens and contaminates us and our willingness to disregard the interests of others. Given the economic situation, the rise of parties such as UKIP was surely only expected, but has undoubtedly been fuelled by the lack of vision of the other parties, their reliance on bland and risk free politics, possibly by their fearfulness and lack of courage.
One of the messages repeated again and again in the bible is not to fear. I tried to encourage the worried students not to be too afraid, to have concerns but to see the bigger picture and to remember that, if our greatest fear, whatever that is, turned out to be groundless, we would very soon find something else to be worried about.