Friday, August 13, 2010

The light invisible

For years I stayed up to watch the Perseids, Leonids, Geminids, the meteor showers which regularly fall on the earth, and nearly always we found that the clouds obscured our view.

I was excited when it looked as though the forecast for last night's Perseids favoured the meteor-watcher: clear skies at 1am, perfect.

At around 11pm I went outside to see what I could see.  Unfortunately, my neighbour across the road seems to have installed bright, white lights in both her upstairs landing and her porch.  I didn't know that sort of incandescent light was still legal.  Certainly she seemed to have got hold of some old fashioned strontium searchlights which seared my eyes and blinded me to anything less bright.

By judicious positioning of my garden chair so that our back gate obscured the lights, I was able to see into the sky, but the light pollution from the general glow of the city, along with the bright light from my neighbour, faded the Perseids into the background for all but the brightest of the meteors.

People who live in the countryside have no clue how little can be seen in the night sky over London.  Actually, it makes stargazing considerably easier in one respect: only the main constellations can be seen from my back garden, and so Ursa Major and Minor, Cassiopeia and the Pleiades are easily spotted.  The last time I stood in a darkened back garden in the back of beyond, I not only felt terribly exposed, but I couldn't identify the constellations I know so well because they were cluttered up with stars I have no hope of seeing from Uxbridge.

My sons got cold and bored very quickly, and went back inside.  After another 15 minutes of straining to see something!  Anything!  I went inside, disappointed to learn that over all these years, it wouldn't have been possible to watch the light show even in favourable conditions. I saw about four, in over an hour, and one of those may have been a plane.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Brain dead comedy

Maybe I am missing some essential part of my funny bone, but I watched the first episode of Roger and Val have just got in, and hated it.  I didn't find it funny, or entertaining or enjoyable.  It was like watching two intellectually-challenged children play house...badly.

How is it that people who are paid to watch television and commission programmes, couldn't see that Sherlock was brilliant and this is dross?  How can Life of Riley have been commissioned for a second series when it was so bad that I wouldn't watch it if it was the last thing on television, and I was duct-taped to a wall?

I began to wonder if Roger and Val was maybe brilliant in a Pinter-esque way... but no, it was as bad as it seemed, and that's very very bad indeed. On a scale from one to ten, where Sherlock scores 10 and Life of Riley scores 1, Roger and Val score 1.5.  And that's only because I like Dawn French.

My favourite for a sequel?  Roger and Val have just fallen under a bus, taking the cast of Life of Riley with them.

Deep think

I have been thinking deep thoughts recently, about life and death and the nature of karma and whether I can make sense of the way people say it is. 

I have a dilemma, and it is a dilemma I have faced before, where the collective wisdom of the establishment is pitted against my spiritual beliefs.  Is it ok, and healthier, to demand your rights, do your thing, and ignore the effect upon others, because they are adults too?  Is it ok to care about yourself first and put everything else second, or is it better to care about everyone else first and put yourself last?

I believe in reincarnation as a possibility, and I know that at this point many people would wash their hands of me as being too stupid or ethereally hypnotized to be worth reading (or talking to).  But I have had a spontaneous memory of a past life, and so I believe it may be a possibility.  In any case, if one believes in an eternal soul,it seems to me to be no great step to believe in reincarnation.  If the soul outlives the body it doesn't seem that hard to imagine the soul might find another.

I have always had an interest in the spiritual side of life, have always been aware that there is more to it than the three dimensional world we can observe and touch with our hands and feelings.  I have never restricted myself to conventional religion, having quite an aversion to rules and rituals, which is probably why I found myself a Quaker at 37.

I believe in experiential faith, and it was quite a relief once I found that Quakers do not have a dogma or anything that they expect others to believe, feeling it is right for people to believe what they believe, whatever that is. Strangely a lot of the Quakers I have met have been very similar in belief, very open to new things, open to other people, open to new light, wherever they may find it. 

But over the past ten or twenty years, I have realised that the proportion of people I have known who are involved in non-mainstream beliefs - the wiccans, the pagans, the druids, the people of no particular spiritual home, the new agers, the hippy trailers, the people who follow their hearts to ashrams and eastern practices...the proporion of people I have known has grown and grown, till they are the largest group and far outnumber the Catholics, the Church of England-goers and the Quakers, Jews, Muslims and Sikhs.

And something has been changing over that time, which coincides with the gradual growth of the internet, and the online thing... some conventions and rules have sprung up and been adopted by the community so that people talk about them as though they were somehow written in stone, a constitution for the floopy majority who talk about people having chosen their current lot in life, having incarnated with a soul group, having come into the world at this time, with these parents, in order to learn something significant to their spiritual life, their soul's imprint and future.

It fascinates me because I like to wonder "how would that work, in practice?"  If it is true that we incarnate many times, with the same group of people, working out our differences, how would that work, actually?

The convention that people may have birth marks which relate to the way they died in the past life has become widely known and part of what I think of as reincarnation mythology, for even though I believe in reincarnation, I still don't know that it works this way.  Do we always look like our previous incarnation? For that also has become the norm, to the point where someone will claim that one person is the reincarnation of another, even if one was born before the other died.  There's faith for you. 

The problem I see in looking at things this way, in thinking about reincarnation, is that the person I am now, the person typing this out, thinking these thoughts, this person is me and I can define who I am because I love the people I love, the things I love, have experiences and memories which go with those things and those people, and I care about them in an absolute and non-judgemental way.  If I drift out of this body, and happily leaving them behind, I won't be the same person any more, even if I live on. 

If that's the truth, what can I learn here as a soul, which still makes any sense once you have stripped my identity away from me?  And if my aim is eventually to live as part of God, always happy, loving, helpful with no darkness allowed at all... how is a lesson learned down here among the fallible, grumpy, impatient, dishonest, faulty humans going to help with that?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Plan or party?

The photograph above was taken in 2006 by Flickr user Nick_Russill and I am using that rather than one of the spectacular pictures captured in the last 10 days, because it can be published under a creative commons attribution licence. 

Well the pictures may be pretty, but the news isn't good.  A sheet of ice 100 square metres has broken off the Peterman glacier in Greenland, leading one of the experts giving evidence to the House of Representatives in the US to say that we may reach a tipping point within the next 10 years, in which the loss of the ice sheet in Greenland becomes inevitable and we will be looking at increases of up to 7 m in sea level.  That would put London underwater.

Of course, there's no consensus on what may happen.  Other scientists are saying that the Atlantic Conveyor, which is part of the earth's system of sea currents, and brings the Gulf Stream across the Atlantic to warm our shores, is faltering and may stop.  If that happens, we will be plunged into a mini ice age,with conditions such as those we experienced last winter seeming like the tip of the ice sheet... if you'll forgive the expression.

Meanwhile, Pakistan is under water in a disaster which affects more people than the Haiti earthquake, Asian Tsunami and Katrina combined, while Russia suffocates under a pall of smoke cause by high temperatures and forest fires across the country.

It is hard to know whether to move to higher ground, stock up on logs, face masks, wellingtons, buy a boat or build an ark... or sell up and blow the money on a few months of hedonism before the void.

Life is uncertain.  I spent my teenage years worrying that someone in the US or the USSR was going to push the button and condemn us all to an incandescent future.  My mother spent the 1960s in fear, worrying about the Cuban missile crisis, the death of Kennedy and the death of Winston Churchill, who was synonymous with safety in her mind.

My grandmother worried about the Nazis, and spent many nights tucking her children up to sleep under the stairs at home, worrying that bombs would drop and flatten the house and her family.  She kept chickens and bees and goats, and grew vegetables to supplement the ration, worrying about food shortages and the possibility that the fascists would invade.

My great-grandmother worrried about her menfolk off to die in the first World War trenches, a long way from home, but also about revolution and the overthrow of the government, which seemed like a possibility at the end of the war.

All that worry, turmoil and disaster.  It seems to me that we need to plan what we can plan, as individuals, as countries, and accept what we cannot know.  Is 2012 going to be the end of the world as we know it?  Is it a coincidence that all the planets of the solar system are apparently undergoing changes in weather and seismic activity at the moment?  I don't honestly know.

Should we plan for disaster, and what would the shape of those plans be?  What is the shape of the disaster we may be facing?  Is it flooding or ice age, tsunami or freezing?  Or will life continue to be a mix of pleasure and disaster, plenty and famine, drought and flood?

It seems to me that all we can do is to live well and die well.  Whether that means building an ark now, or just having one big party till the end of the world, I can't say.  Meanwhile, nature is providing some spectacular sideshows to watch.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Sherlock Episode 3 review

It seems odd that the only online review I can find for Sherlock episode three is the Guardian review... and that even then Sam Wollaston wasn't paying attention.  I fear that the revered Caitlin Moran may have written a stunning review of the series behind the chargeable wall of the Times this week.  I shan't be seeing that, then.  I loved the series... if a set of three counts as a series. It wasn't perfect, and as Sam and several of his commentees mention, the biggest mistake in the last episode was the inclusion of a scattering of stars in the alleyways of London - I should think the last time that sort of sky was seen over London was during the blackouts of the Blitz.

There were a lot of loose ends left untied, not least, supposedly, the fate of the protagonists, although that was assured after the popularity of the first episode, I should have thought. Maybe the papers exhausted their stock of superlatives after the universal acclaim for the first episode, which was widely reported, and declared a triumph.  There was a little bit of grumbling about the updating to present day, and the messing around with the plots of the stories, but even the Conan Doyle geeks on the Guardian review comments had to admit that the spirit of Sherlock is something recognisable to anyone who is familiar with the stories.

The least convincing part is still the relationship with the police. While the admirable LeStrade must necessarily struggle with his work in order to allow some room for Sherlock to appear and leave him standing, the CSI approach (with Holmes having better equipment, more time,  and newer technology than the police in the UK would be likely to have or be able to afford), especially in the fast moving world of forensic science, might have been a better way in?  Whether he has some sort of humdrum job he only ocasionally does, in the laboratories of Barts, or simply squats in an unused room at his own convenience and waits to be kicked out, was never explained unless I blinked and missed it.  However, these are minor quibbles.  The plots are meant to be tosh of the highest order and rely on a parallel universe where criminal gangs use grafitti instead of texting and send messages via hapless bomb-laden members of the public rather than the traditional letters cut from newspapers.

It was exciting, and though one might have to disable the critical toshometer in one's brain in much the same way that generations of children have done for Dr Who, rather like Dr Who it had me on the edge of my seat half tempted to flee behind the sofa while the hanging on cliffs was afoot.  I enjoyed it.  I liked the length of the episodes, I liked the pace, I liked the actors, I liked the way in which London was, starry skies excepted, mostly a recognisable place which felt like London (even if, as one viewer claimed, it was mostly Cardiff).

I profoundly hope that more episodes will be written and made, and hope that they manage to do this quickly without sacrificing the hunger that was evident in the first three.  I enjoyed Benedict Cumberbatch enormously, and thought Martin Freeman was a perfect Watson to Cumberbatch's Holmes... though he isn't the first actor that would have sprung to mind had I been in charge of the casting, I think it was inspired. He manages to be extraordinary in an ordinary way, and to be the public in a way that has turned previous Watsons into shambling old fools, without succumbing to that at all.  Of course, his presence was a device that Conan Doyle wrote in to enable someone to ask the damn fool questions or feed Holmes a bit of commonsense when cleverness failed to make an obvious connection, and of course to give Holmes someone to show off to, when he had solved some part of the puzzle in hand.

I enjoyed the background characters , the chases, the settings and styling.  Well done, BBC.  More please, as soon as possible.