Wednesday 31 August 2011

'I Wanna Tell You a Story.'

All those years ago, when I was a secondary school teacher, part of the job entailed taking regular year assemblies. (400-500 children, 11-18 years old in front of you for 15-20 minutes. ) Giving a 'speel' of a roughly moral/religious nature to a half awake, captive, not over interested audience at the beginning of a school day believe me is not for the faint hearted. (Very occasionally you had no warning it was your turn. Now they were really interesting!) If you can do that I reckon you can do almost anything.
You used all sorts of sources; you could read from a book but that never went down too well. I tended to 'specialise' in animal stories! I always was a bit daft, nay eccentric. I once told a story about my dog. I told my audience I took it for a walk every day, except when it rained. On those occasions my wife took it! It was a joke, honest. But I had pupils talk to me many, many years later who remembered this story! It taught me the power we had as teachers and how we need to be careful at times what we say to others.
I came across a story the other day that would have been a gift in my teaching days. Hope you like it. (from the delightful website of Will and Guy. Well worth a visit.)

Two Men in a Hospital Ward
Two men, both seriously ill, occupied the same hospital room. One man was allowed to sit up in his bed for an hour each afternoon to help drain the fluid from his lungs. His bed was next to the room's only window. The other man had to spend all of his time flat on his back.

The men talked for hours on end. They spoke of their wives and families, their homes, their jobs, their involvement in the military service, where they had been on vacation.
Every afternoon when the man in the bed by the window could sit up, he would pass the time by describing to his roommate all the things he could see outside the window.
The man in the other bed began to live for those one-hour periods where his world would be broadened and enlivened by all the activity and colour of the world outside. The window overlooked a park with a lovely lake. Ducks and swans played on the water while children sailed their model boats. Young lovers walked arm in arm amidst flowers of every colour and a fine view of the city skyline could be seen in the distance. As the man by the window described all this in exquisite detail, the man on the other side of the room would close his eyes and imagine the picturesque scene.
One warm afternoon the man by the window described a parade passing by. Although the other man couldn't hear the band - he could see it, in his mind's eye as the gentleman by the window portrayed it with descriptive words.
Days and weeks passed. One morning, the day nurse arrived to bring water for their baths only to find the lifeless body of the man by the window, who had died peacefully in his sleep. She was saddened and called the hospital attendants to take the body away.
As soon as it seemed appropriate, the other man asked if he could be moved next to the window. The nurse was happy to make the switch, and after making sure he was comfortable, she left him alone. Slowly, painfully, he propped himself up on one elbow to take his first look at the real world outside. He strained to slowly turn to look out the window beside the bed. It faced a blank wall. The man asked the nurse what could have compelled his deceased roommate who had described such wonderful things outside this window. The nurse responded that the man was blind and could not even see the wall.

Thursday 25 August 2011

What Do We Really See?

I was out and about recently when a young chap said to me 'Hello old fellow.' Then, on another occasion, fiddling for my car keys in a local, not exactly upmarket shopping area two young men took hold of my shopping bags. Unannounced I might add, I thought for a second they were 'off' with my shopping; in fact they were trying to help as I appeared flustered and no doubt incapable. And both instances made me think.

Now my teeth are decrepit and my sights not what it was. My knees are on their way out, my running days are over and my hairs waving (goodbye). But I've never considered myself 'old' until these two events. And it got me wondering as to how OTHER people see us. As Robert Burns put it so vividly 'O wad some po'er gift tae gie us, ta see oursel's as aithers see us.' (I would to God the gift he'd give us, to see ourselves as others see us.)

We rush around, doing whatever. But occasionally we need to stand back and look at ourselves and ask, what do others REALLY see, what do they REALLY think? The same goes when we look at others, the same questions arise. The following might interest some of you; true or otherwise, it surely makes you think.

The Story of the Crabby Old Man
When an old man died in the geriatric ward of a nursing home in North Platte, Nebraska, USA, it was believed that he had nothing left of any value. Later, when the nurses were going through his meagre possessions, they found this poem. Its quality and content so impressed the staff that copies were made and distributed to every nurse in the hospital .

The old man's sole bequest to posterity is his poem and it has since appeared in the Christmas edition of the News Magazine of the St. Louis Association for Mental Health.

What do you see nurses? What do you see?
What are you thinking when you're looking at me?
A crabby old man, not very wise,
Uncertain of habit with faraway eyes?

Who dribbles his food and makes no reply
When you say in a loud voice, 'I do wish you'd try!'
Who seems not to notice the things that you do.
And forever is losing a sock or shoe?

Who, resisting or not, lets you do as you will,
With bathing and feeding, the long day to fill?
Is that what you're thinking? Is that what you see?
Then open your eyes, nurse - you're not looking at me.

I'll tell you who I am as I sit here so still,
As I do at your bidding, as I eat at your will.
I'm a small child of Ten with a father and mother,
Brothers and sisters who love one another.

A young boy of Sixteen with wings on his feet
Dreaming that soon now a lover he'll meet.
A groom soon at Twenty. My heart gives a leap.
Remembering, the vows that I promised to keep.

At Twenty-Five, now I have young of my own,
Who need me to guide, and a secure happy home.
A man of Thirty, my young now grown fast,
Bound to each other with ties that should last.

At Forty, my young sons have grown and are gone,
But my woman's beside me to see I don't mourn.
At Fifty, once more, babies play ' round my knee,
Again, we know children, my loved one and me.

Dark days are upon me. My wife is now dead.
I look at the future - I shudder with dread.
For my young are all rearing young of their own.
And I think of the years and the love that I've known.

I'm now an old man and nature is cruel.
Tis jest to make old age look like a fool.
The body, it crumbles; grace and vigour, depart.
There is now a stone where I once had a heart.

But inside this old carcass a young guy still dwells,
And now and again my battered heart swells.
I remember the joys. I remember the pain.
And I'm loving and living life over again.

I think of the years, all too few, gone too fast.
And accept the stark fact that nothing can last.
So open your eyes, people, open and see.
Not a crabby old man. Look closer. See . . . ME.

Remember this poem when you next meet an older person who you might brush aside without looking at the young soul within. We will all, one day, be there, too!

Please feel free to share this poem.

The best and most beautiful things of this world can't be seen or touched. They must be felt by the heart.

Thursday 18 August 2011

Technology Rules OK.

Its no secret my technology skills, particularly computer wise are limited. (My daughter Alison reminded me that in the early days I told people I was gradually mastering the use of the frog. Well, I knew it was an animal of some sort!) I'm seventy one, for goodness sake. And reading my 1985 diary I realised I'm in good company when coming to terms with the modern world.

1985 August.
(Mr McGowan was a tenant of Roland Tudge, my uncle.)

'Old Mr McGowan had problems with his television. Clueless on most aspects of life, his lack of a picture in part confused him, at the same time he knew why the picture failed to materialise. His television, he explained to me, was an old black and white set. As all the programmes are now broadcast in colour, he wouldn't be able to get a picture anymore.'

I know the feeling. I haven't a clue regarding this digital changeover thingymagig. Another extract from August 1985.

'My grandmother was similarly ignorant of the modern world. She never really came to terms with 20th century living. She watched television almost grudgingly, though nothing would entice her to change channels; that was a visitor's prerogative. On occasion would appear the testcard instruction, 'Normal Service will be resumed as soon as possible.' 'Little Grannie' would greet its appearance by a visit next door to enquire if their set was similarly afflicted.

Neither was her grasp of modern 'materials' and their fallibility designed to allow her descendants peaceful sleep. Plastics she tolerated, after all they were even around when she was a young women. Unfortunately by the 1970's 'Tupperware' was the choice of food container by those considering themselves sophisticated. (And thus provided for gran by her doting 'brood'.) Gran tested this modern phenomenon by placing it in her oven, containing fresh garden peas and subjected it to normal oven temperatures. The resultant 'gooey' mess took patience and perseverance to remove, whilst the fumes were to be avoided due to possible toxicity.

Gran merely remarked she thought little of this modern rubbish. The possibility of such a demise ought to have been evident. For only weeks previously she had amused but alarmed us by 'testing' the durability of her newly acquired plastic bucket. Clearing the hot coals and ashes from her ancient 'range' she loaded the bucket and proceeeded to carry them, via room and passageway to the dustbin in the yard. The bucket handles and the top half of the bucket were the only parts to survive the journey. Hot coals and smouldering plastic littered the journey, the smell of burning 'rug peg' matting and linoleum could be smelt for days. Again gran pontificated on the imperfections of this 'new fangled' plastic compared to her old, much used enamel buckets.'

I know the feeling. I have stopped passing cars similar to my own to enquire what certain buttons were for. Understandable, not really after four years ownership. I swap computers when I think they're full. Move things, delete things, compact things, HOW! (I have the Dummies Guide, I can't follow it!) I take photos with supposedly the world's most advanced compact and the results have a fascinatingly unpredictability, a form of exciting photographic Russian Roulette. My attempt at drying my hands up the exit of the Durex machine in the pub toilet are legendary. Is it the onset of Alzheimer's? Unlikely, I reckon I've been like this since the age of seven! Is it me; is it hereditary; is it my age. Am I on my own where where modern technology is concerned. What is your achiles heel. You tell me!

Thursday 11 August 2011

July, Mad, Bad, Sad etc. Grumpy's Alternative News.

Funny old July, at times I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Gangster Juan Tijerina tried to escape from a Mexican jail curled up inside a wheelie holdall pulled by his fiancee. Evidently on a previous occasion a Mexican once tried to escape across the border into California disguised as a car seat. Is it a 'Latino' quirk? In Spain a man loaded his 'mate' IN a suitcase inside the baggage compartment of a bus. The idea was to rob the other cases in the compartment. (He was caught when somebody noticed a man talking to a suitcase!)

There's a few more jobs around at long last. No takers though for the head of the National Crime Agency (NCA). Only £214,000 a year! Perhaps we're all waiting for William Breathes (a pen name) to resign. He is America's first professional cannabis critic. He tests Colorado's 300 plus cannabis dispensers. (A cannabis plant, alive and thriving was found in a hanging basket in Glastonbury. I reckon someones 'having a larf'. And talking of Glastonbury, TWO TONS of drink cans were weighed in after the Festival this year.) Finally who's going to replace Lalit Mohan Pant, an Indian government doctor in Madhya State who has performed 275,000 vasectomies and female sterilisations in a thirty year career.
Still some strange people about. Andrew Castle was found guilty at Preston Crown Court of trying to kill his wife with a home-made electric chair. I wonder if he studied DIY at night school. A television actress, Jasmine Maddock left her mother's corpse behind a door so she could continue to claim her pension. That's one hell of a doorstop. And Rick Perry sounds 'one hell of a guy.' Evidently he slips on his shoulder holster containing his Ruger .380 with laser sights and loaded with hollow-point bullets before he goes out jogging in the morning. Oh, and he's thinking of running for President. 'Texans elect folks like me' he once said and his wife told him 'It was his duty to save America.' (There were at least five people killed in five separate shootings in America in July.) What a mentality!

We're not so gun happy here but we're not perfect. There were over 4,000 incidents of serious violence in schools and colleges per year for the past five years. Weapons seized included swords, knives, axes and a meat cleaver. Talking of schools, over £2,000,000 was paid out in compensation last year. Including, £3,000 (cut by a thorn) £25,000 (falling out of a tree) and £5,000 (wandering off and got lost.) Funny places, schools. Especially the one in Uganda that was using an unexploded bomb as a school bell. Evidently hitting it with stones was ideal for calling children to lessons.

I see a doll of the Queen as a toddler is to go on sale. She was apparently never very keen. Perhaps a toy Mercedes with Hitler in the back is more interesting. Very authentic, the Fuhrer even gives a Nazi salute! Or how about some Orlebar Brown swimmings trunks. All the rage at £150. David Beckham could afford them (What did you think of Harper for his daughter's name) and the man who recently paid £75,000 for a 200 year old bottle of Chateau d'Yquem certainly could. (He's going to drink the wine at a family gathering in 2017.)

Two little items that made me think. After all these years the idea that you need eight glasses of water a day to be healthy has been proved an 'urban myth' according to the British Medical Journal. Similarly the idea that late night eating make you fat has been debunked. When you eat makes no difference. And did you know millions of us do the same thing every day, every week, every year. Evidently 52% of us cook mince and tomatoes on a Monday. And 38% have pasta bake on a Tuesday and 27% have chicken pie on Wednesday (AlertMe). Plus you probably sit down to eat at 5.54pm and go to bed at 10.39pm. You learn something new with Grumpy every post!

Finally two stories concerning the law. A woman hurt by a falling light whilst having sex on a business trip is suing for compensation. The woman, an Australian civil servant says the claim is merited as she was on a business trip!

And to end on a heart warming story. Hannah Jones from Ross-on-Wye went to court, aged thirteen to refuse a heart transplant. She later changed her mind and now aged sixteen, making up for lost time, attended the Glastonbury Festival. In September Hannah starts college. In Hannah's own words, 'How cool is that?'

It might be a mad, bad, sometimes sad world, but by god, it's seldom dull.

Thursday 4 August 2011

And After Creation, For My Next Trick.

Is it my age that occasionally causes me to lie in bed and ponder the meaning of life. (Very much a 'Life of Brian' thing.)
The universe is only part of something bigger. How big can be realised when you consider that the universe consists of possibly 100 billion galaxies. In our galaxy (The Milky Way) there are between 200-400 billion stars.) There is only one certainty in our own little life within our own little world; we all die. So what happens next?
Mankind has a precarious, insecure existence, with this knowledge in mind it is natural to hope for an afterlife of some kind. This has always been the case from time immemorial. I find it all baffling, even though I was initially brought up in a Christian religion. (Moravian Church). Too many 'for instances'. For instance, my mother died when I was thirteen years of age. If we meet again will she still be the mother of a young boy? Will she be a forty six year old daughter of her elderly mother? Will the boy who died young at my junior school still be eight years old? Will the afterlife be full of Roman soldiers and Medieval peasants? What will we do all day and what will we talk about? Will I get chance to meet Boadicea, Julius Caesar and my childhood hero Stanley Matthews? Will we be recognisable to each other? And will it go on for ever? (Please, please, the believers amongst you, don't suggest I blindly accept without question doctrines that are, to me, illogical and unproven. If it works for you, fine, but we are all different. And it has been suggested, on occasion, my doubts will gain me eternal damnation, by Christians, I might add. Sounds as though I won't be short of company.)
Maybe only those of a similar 'ilk' will be together. Different 'places and existences' according to your beliefs. No mixing of Hindus, Buddists, Christians, Muslims, then. Perhaps there are different 'heavens' perhaps even coexisting side by side. Its obvious, even to me, that it all hangs on 'beliefs and faiths'. (I have no problem accepting that people like Jesus Christ existed. But how much embellishment there is concerning the originators of religions is the bit with which I have problems. And when it is suggested you can have virgins in an afterlife in return for blowing up people, including innocent children I despair. Would I really want to 'live on' in such company.)

I would love to believe that this life is just part of something bigger. But there you go. I am at peace with my own existence. I believe something of me will continue to live on in my children, and in my children's children. People who have never had children, sad, but sorry, life, and death 'sucks'. (Maybe we continue 'on the wind', a nice idea for the childless.)

But strangely enough there are situations where I question my own agnosticism. When I walk round my 'garden' as I do every morning, I see the flowers I have grown. Grown, mark you, not 'invented'. And I marvel at the sheer brilliance in front of me. The incredible, intricate beauty of the Dahlia and my latest acquisition, the Strelitzia (Bird of Paradise). And these plants will reproduce themselves, perfect copies, year after year, ad infinitum. Designed as if something bigger were 'in charge'.

And my grandchildren visit to see the Strelitzias and the Dahlias. And the likeness to myself is obvious. In small and not so small ways myself replicated. Clever stuff indeed. (My mother used to 'hum' as she worked. Almost sixty years later people are amused when I emit the same characteristic 'dirge'.) I can't imagine the world without me. But perhaps nature or whatever is making sure they'll always be a bit of me around. And maybe, just maybe there is more to life than meets the eye.