Life Inside

26 February 2021

Quite a few of the inmates here will have a laugh, but it is both fascinating and at the same time sad how dementia can affect different people in different ways. For example there are times when an inmate might need gently enticing into trying to eat at least some food. Nothing is ever done to force them, but as with children a firm, kindly positive tone of voice can obtain the necessary result. We always have excellent food with varying choices, it is properly cooked too – well, just one time when the carrots were tougher than I could manage, but then I noticed my fellow inmates felt the same! The message was received, apologies were given and that hasn’t been a problem since. In fact the other day a couple of us were chatting about a Bernard Matthew’s Turkey advert on television from a good few years ago and I remembered a Mackeson advert: “It looks good, it tastes good and by golly it does you good!” After a while of being here and seeing the behaviour of some inmates, it got me wondering. I recalled my Godmother so many years ago changing from a bright, alert lady who was the local district nurse turn into someone whose memory was clearly going. One day I visited Aunty Helen when she was in a Care Home and she shouted at me, she told me to leave, as strangers weren’t allowed in. She did not recognise me at all and me being around thirteen years of age at the time, this upset me. My father told me a bit about this dementia and on Dad’s advice I went back a few days later to see this same lady. This time she saw me, recognised me and promptly scolded me for not going to see her very often! She had no memory of my visit a few days earlier. I see unusual behaviours where I am now, and it does not upset me, as I know it is what can happen.

So what is dementia? Apparently it can occur when the brain is damaged by disease. This can cause progressive impairments to memory, thinking, and behaviour which affect the ability to perform everyday activities. Other common symptoms include emotional problems, difficulties with language, and a decrease in motivation. It is not a consciousness disorder and this is not usually affected. Dementia can be recognised by a change from a person’s usual mental functioning, and a greater cognitive decline than that seen in normal ageing. Several diseases and injuries to the brain, such as a stroke, can give rise to dementia and this has a significant effect on the individual, relationships and their Carers. I learned this with my dear mother, as whilst she never ever had dementia, after her stroke it was difficult for her to make multiple choice decisions. Offer her a choice of A or B, that was no problem. Offer a choice of A, B or C etc and she could not decide. But Mum would rather go without than say anything. Yet her long-term memory was unaffected, so I guess it depends which part(s) of the brain are affected.

Something I have noticed and recalled from when I was young is that as we get older, most of us feel the cold more. Some do naturally, but for some folk like me, who are on blood-thinning medication, it can get a bit chilly when temperatures start dropping and stay low, along with a bit of a cold wind like we have had recently! A good friend of mine used to be part of a ground crew at an RAF station for many years, so he was used to working outdoors in all weathers. Even now, in the depths of winter, he has very little heating on in his house. It is what he’s used to. So any time I visit, I wear a warm jumper, whilst if he visits me he’s in a t-shirt! I generally worked in an office, where at that time heating had to be maintained to those laws in the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act 1963. I was soon informed by the local Health & Safety Officer that the office should be 60.8F (16C) when starting work and 65F (18C) after one hour. Yet I saw some of my  former colleagues still wearing coats when it was almost 70F (21C)… I don’t have a thermometer in this room, but I’m sitting here quite comfortably and with a window open to let fresh air in. I have been here a while now, so I am well used to the sound of the tea trolley, I recognise the voices of a few of the Carers and I have a bit of a laugh with them sometimes. I cannot go around as quickly as they can, so I move to one side for them to pass by me. At one time I could move that quickly, but I cannot do so now! There are things that we must all accept as age passes, but I say yet again how humbled and truly thankful I am to still be here to write this. I have more to learn yet and maybe more to share with you. To me, the most important thing to recognise is that we are all humans, no matter what our race, colour, creed, age or ability and we should always be treated as humans. This is especially true relating to how we are all having to deal with life right now, with little or no access to family or friends.

For me though, one thing which has and still is helping me with all that is occurring in this beautiful world is the relaxation therapy that I was taught a number of years ago and which is called Arka Dhyana. It involves finding a quiet place and a quiet time and sitting down in a comfortable position. Some folk can sit cross-legged on a floor mat to do this, but I must sit in a chair. It does not matter. I then breathe gently, easily and regularly, the deeper the better, placing a thumb and forefinger together on my chest as I do so, focussing my mind at that point. This allows the mind to clear and relax. To begin with this is done for a minute or two, continuing for longer periods of time according to what feels natural and comfortable. It is amazing how calm I feel afterwards, by just taking a few minutes to be calm, not thinking, not worrying, just breathing. There is more to this, involving a quiet sound, but in this Care Home I just sit quietly and hum the sound mentally. I do this both night and morning, as it sets me up for the day as well as calm me for sleep. During the day I do have a screensaver on my laptop computer, either of waves breaking on the sea shore, of the bubbles in a fish tank or of the crackling logs on a fire. The Carers here have said how peaceful the atmosphere is in my room and I like it that way. Reducing our stress whilst all these difficulties are going on helps us in so many ways both physically, mentally as well as spiritually. Right now we are spending much of our time inside, but in time we will get out and about more. We may need to be a little more careful, but that might be good for us all.

This week, a memory from years ago.
I was at a snooker hall some years ago and learning to play the game when another player saw that the replaceable tip on his cue had broken. Needing a new one so he could continue playing, in desperation he called out to us all there “Does anyone have any tips?” A friend of mine instantly replied, a bit cheekily, “Yes – chalk your cue before every shot!”

A Look At Some History

19 February 2021

The year was 1952. The place, London, England. That December the Great Smog occurred, a severe air pollution event which affected the city. A period of unusually cold weather, combined with an anticyclone and windless conditions, collected airborne pollutants – mostly arising from the use of coal – to form a thick layer of smoke and fog, known as smog, over the city. It lasted from Friday December 5th to Tuesday December 9th, and it had quite an adverse effect on people’s health. But then the weather changed, the air cleared and the smog dispersed.

Next came 1953 and a major event which has been officially recorded, rather unsurprisingly, as The 1953 North Sea Flood. It was caused by a heavy storm at the end of Saturday January 31st, which continued into the morning of the following day. It was a combination of a high spring tide along with a severe European windstorm over the North Sea that created a storm tide. The mixture of wind, high tide and low pressure caused the sea to flood land up to 18.4 feet (5.6 metres) above mean sea level. Most sea defences facing the surge were overwhelmed, causing extensive flooding. The storm surge struck low-lying parts of the Netherlands, Belgium, England and Scotland. Sadly there were 2,551 deaths attributed to this event, it caused much property damage with 9% of total Dutch farmland flooded, 30,000 animals drowned and 47,300 buildings damaged, of which 10,000 were destroyed.

About six weeks after this event, I was born. I have mentioned in an earlier post how that Great Smog adversely affected my mother’s health and that a move was made to Whittlesey. This English town is about six miles (ten kilometres) east of Peterborough in the Fenland district of Cambridgeshire, although years ago it was classed as in the Isle of Ely, an administrative county between 1889 and 1965. At the 2011 Census, the population of Whittlesey, (including the nearby villages of Coates, Eastrea, Pondersbridge and Turves) was 16,058. As with so many places, the spelling of its name has been modified over the years, though even now the local railway station still bears the name Whittlesea. It has been suggested that the name may have come from the Old English, meaning “Wittel’s island”. Excavations of nearby Flag Fen indicate thriving local settlements as far back as 1,000 BC and at Must Farm quarry, a nearby Bronze Age settlement there is described as “Britain‘s Pompeii”, due to its relatively good condition. In 2016 it was being excavated by the University of Cambridge’s Archaeological Unit and at the site, which is situated just over a mile south of Flag Fen, at least five homes have been found which are around 3,000 years old, along with Britain’s most complete prehistoric wooden wheel dating back to the late Bronze Age. It is known that the Market Place in Whittlesey is on high ground, about six feet (1.8 metres) above sea level, but there hasn’t been flooding in the town or surrounding area for quite a while.

However, until it was drained in 1851, the nearby Whittlesey Mere was a substantial lake surrounded by marsh. According to the traveller Celia Fiennes, who saw it in 1697, the mere was “3-mile broad and six-mile long. In the midst is a little island where a great store of Wildfowle breed…. The ground is all wett and marshy but there are severall little Channells runs into it which by boats people go up to this place; when you enter the mouth of the Mer it looks formidable and its often very dangerous by reason of sudden winds that will rise like Hurricanes….”

Even in earlier times, Whittlesey was linked to Peterborough in the west and March in the east by a Roman Fen Causeway, probably built in the 1st century AD. Roman artefacts have been recovered at nearby Eldernell, and a Roman skeleton was discovered in the nearby village of Eastrea during construction of its village hall in 2010. As I was growing up, there were a number of fields not far from Whittlesey and near to the river Nene which were deliberately flooded. So when this water froze, skating was a regular event. At such times the road from Whittlesey to Thorney, just under five miles to the north, was almost impassable – meaning there was only one route to Peterborough, along the A605, unless one went a very long way round! There were and often still are delays at various times on this main route at the Kings Dyke railway crossing, a vital rail line for the brickworks there and the main line from the Midlands to East Anglia. When I was young there was much talk about putting in some sort of diversion, such as a bridge or tunnel, in order to bypass this railway crossing yet only now, some fifty or so years later, is a bridge being built and the road diverted. 

Whittlesey is famous for a few things, for example there used to be fifty-two public houses in the town. One was named the ‘Letter A’ and another the ‘Letter B’. Exactly why I am unsure, I personally think it was because they ran out of names! But it brings a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘going from A to B…’. The town is also remembered for a famous soldier, Lieutenant-General Sir Henry George Wakelyn Smith, 1st Baronet, GCB (28 June 1787 – 12 October 1860). He was born in Whittlesey and was the son of a surgeon, he became a Major in the Wisbech, Whittlesey and Thorney United Battalion and during a review of the unit by a General Stewart the two got into conversation. The General offered to procure him a commission and a short time later Major Harry Smith was commissioned as a second lieutenant with the 95th Rifle Regiment. He became a notable English soldier and military commander in the British Army of the early 19th century. A veteran of the Napoleonic Wars, he is also remembered for his role in the Battle of Aliwal in 1846, and until 2015 a public house in Whittlesey bore the name ‘Hero Of Aliwal’. Sir Harry was the husband of Lady Smith and a chapel in St Mary’s church, Whittlesey was restored in his memory in 1862. A local teaching establishment also bears his name, the Sir Harry Smith Community College. Though when I was being educated there it was ‘school’, rather than ‘community college’. The school was built on the site of an old workhouse and fairly recent excavations needed for a new building discovered old workhouse foundations which had long been forgotten about. Streets near to this college also commemorate this old soldier as well as his wife as they bear the names Victory Avenue and Lady Smith Avenue. With the town’s increase in population, both this Community College and the nearby Alderman Jacobs junior school (where my Dad taught for many years) have been enlarged and other schools built, I believe the latter are a mixture of infant and junior. 

Being on the edge of the Fens means it is possible to see quite a way across the flat lands towards the East. Close to the Market Place is St. Mary’s church, which has a clock tower with a tall steeple and weather vane on the very top of that. This tower and steeple has a total height of 186 feet (56.7 metres) and has the tallest steeple for the smallest base in the area. I have in the past climbed up the narrow, winding staircase and into the room containing the clock mechanism. At one time the verger had to regularly wind the clock by hand, using a huge long handle, but this task was finally automated. At times I would be allowed to go up past the bell chamber and out onto the battlements and enjoy the views from there. I have even stood outside on these same battlements whilst the church bells were being rung and if the bell-ringers got it right, I could feel the tower gently moving. But it was more than a little noisy! There is an old custom of ringing a bell prior to a service at church, calling the townspeople to the building for worship, or at least letting folk know that a service is about to begin. In some places, a bell is also rung when sacraments are being blessed. With a church altar always facing east, at the opposite end of the building is the tower and steeple. Here in this church is also the great West Door, often used at weddings so that the bride has a long straight walk to the altar. By this door is the choir vestry where the choir assembles both before and after services. In this vestry is a single rope, connected to one bell in the bell chamber. When I attended St Mary’s church the verger, who was at that time William ‘Bill’ Smith, would sometimes allow me to ring the bell. So far as I am aware though, this man was no relation to the soldier I have already mentioned. A few years ago I went back to Whittlesey to attend a concert given in that church by the Gildenburgh Choir, who I used to sing with a very long time ago. It was lovely but at the same time it felt a little peculiar to walk into that church, seeing and being in familiar surroundings yet also seeing just how much had changed.

I have said before that when I was at school, I didn’t find history interesting. It is, but clearly that wasn’t the right time for me. Now I look back and enjoy just seeing and reading about how things change. I know many of you reading this are aware that I am a Star Trek fan and there is an excellent conversation between two characters in one of the episodes which is as follows: “The glory of creation is in its infinite diversity…” “…and the ways our differences combine to create meaning and beauty.” Live long, and prosper.

This week, a composition of my own.

One Small Step

One small step
It doesn’t have to be a big one, take
One small step
In a forward direction.

It may change your life
But it’s one that you can cope with, take
One small step
Doing what you need to do.

It may have taken time for you, to
Reach this conclusion, but taking
One small step
Is all you need to do today.

© Andrew D Williams 2017

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Life, The Universe And Everything

12 February 2021

A few years ago now a good friend sent me an article about a daughter learning about Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and then her mother telling her about the Sanskrit Avatars, which tell their version on the beginning of life here on Earth. I appreciated that, but to me there are other people, for example the Aborigines, also the American Indians who all have their traditions. Whatever way is right, however things occurred, I really do believe that this world, along with the rest of the Universe, didn’t just happen by accident. With looming discrepancies about the true age of the universe, scientists have taken a fresh look at the observable, expanding universe and have now estimated that it is almost 14 billion years old, plus or minus 40 million years. But who is counting? After all, it is only an estimate!

This Earth is infinitesimal, considering that as well as our sun, our star, there are around 100,000 million stars in our galaxy, the Milky Way. As well as that, there are an estimated 500 billion galaxies. With all the fighting and killing that we humans have done in the (extremely relatively) short time that we have been around, it is perhaps a good thing that the nearest star system to our sun is Alpha Centauri, at 4.3 light-years away. That’s about 25 trillion miles (40 trillion kilometres) away from Earth – nearly 300,000 times the distance from the Earth to the Sun. In time, about 5 billion years from now, our sun will run out of hydrogen. Our star is currently in the most stable phase of its life cycle and has been since the birth of our solar system, about 4.5 billion years ago. But once all the hydrogen gets used up, the sun will grow out of this stable phase. I won’t worry about that though… not today. Time for a few more mugs of tea yet!

Some years ago I began researching our family history. I chatted to various members of the family – Mum and Dad, grandparents, aunts and uncles, piecing things together, making notes along the way. But then work as well as other things meant that I didn’t concentrate quite as much on our past for a while. However, it came about that during my many years with British Telecom I was part of an Exhibition Team and one year some of us helped to staff a BT stand at the Ideal Homes Exhibition in London for a full four weeks. So I had a little bit of spare time down there and this gave me a really great chance of obtaining copies of various certificates of valuable births, marriages and deaths.

When I was at school, history was not a subject I found interesting. I’m afraid I saw no value in it and as I have said before, simply being told that I had to learn things didn’t help. Other teachers made their subjects interesting, but… ah well. Except as I got older I had more explained to me, history became much more of a fascination. Most especially was how a whole series of apparently unrelated events combined to bring various people and families together. I knew that my immediate family were from London, but that circumstances, mainly work-related, moved our various ancestors around. A part of the family tree were in Cornwall, but when work in the tin mines became scarce the move was made to Suffolk and then to South Wales. Further moves brought them down to London. As you can well imagine, with a surname like mine there is a link to Wales, but tracing that name back is taking some doing. It is being done, slowly but surely, along with a bit of help for which I am grateful. However I already believe that a few proverbial ‘skeletons in cupboards’ are now being located! These aren’t of any trouble to me, but I believe many years ago things were viewed a bit differently, the social stigma, all that kind of thing. I have said about how my grandparents survived, (see my blog post ‘A Brief History Of My Time’) but it also seems that at least some of my relations from earlier generations were not quite as fortunate. I learned recently that my 3 x great grandfather died as a result of the shipwreck of the SS Admella off the coast of Australia in 1859, whilst his son died as a result of a fall from the SS Scots Greys in dry dock at Newport, Wales in 1876.

Moving forward to more modern times, I learned that my parents met in the offices of WH Smiths in London, but after the war my Dad wanted to be a schoolteacher, so he did what was necessary to achieve that. My two elder brothers were born during World War II, but then the Great Smog of 1952 came along and that didn’t help my dear mother’s health. So after I arrived on the scene the following year, it was decided to move out of London. My Dad got a teaching job in Whittlesey, a few miles out from Peterborough, so we moved there. I have mentioned trains and seeing recently a picture on Facebook of a Whittlesey railway station building being pulled down (the station is still there though and working!) has brought back memories to me. Naturally I was taught in the local schools, my two elder brothers were taught by our Dad for a while at one of the schools, but I never was. I have been told that was to my advantage, as Dad felt he had to be stricter with us, so as not to show any favouritism. He was always firm but fair.

So, having left school I started work. I was a Civil Servant and am still bound by the Official Secrets Act, which I had to sign even before learning about what work I was to do. Years later my job meant contact with a nearby United States Air Force base and I was told much later that I had to be vetted and cleared before working with them, too. With my parents at work in or around Peterborough and me at work there too, we moved as a family to the outskirts of Peterborough. I still like Whittlesey and Peterborough, with their respective road layouts, their mix of shops. They hold many memories for me, but much has changed since I moved away from that area. After we moved to Peterborough, we continued visiting Whittlesey for a while, but other things took up my time. I was also seeing how some of the people I knew weren’t quite as I had at first believed, sadly their natures and ways were not quite to my liking. I was growing up, I guess! I have had occasion to look back and briefly wonder how different things might have been, but it wasn’t meant to be. As I sit and write this, I think of all the folk I have met and worked with, the many and various decisions made. It is easy to spend time thinking of the past, but that isn’t the right way to be. None of them were mistakes, they were all learning experiences. I was being taught. Even now, where I am now, I am still learning. I must still keep learning. To me, it really is important to accept what has already occurred and learn, moving on to new days and new ways, especially with what is occurring in this world right now.

So much has changed though, things are so different now. When I first started work at Post Office Telephones (as it was then) as a Clerical Assistant, we had in the office a calendar that worked on a paper roller. One of my jobs was to wind the roller forward each day. Then at the start of each month, I had to wind it back to the very beginning and roll the ‘month’ on by one. At the end of the year…you can imagine! No fancy bit of kit with digital displays, not then! My first manager was an ex-army major as I have said before and I learned much as I worked for and with him. It wasn’t until the 1980’s that something of a ‘culture change’ came about, until then we were not allowed to use first names towards managers! It took quite a while for the old ‘Civil Service’ culture to change. As I moved to better work in Leicester and in Nottingham, this world was changing. I continued to learn, to move around the Midlands, I saw my parents pass away, I also learned much about myself. My marriage and a divorce a while later also taught me. Finally I moved back to Leicester, finished my time with British Telecom and ran my own business for a while before retiring.

I have seen many things change, not all for the good in my view, but I have no doubt that previous generations will have said the same, just as future ones will say the same in their turn. I saw a quote the other day, saying how a hundred years ago the rich had cars and the rest had horses. But it is said that now only the rich have horses and the rest have cars… I still really like the old saying “the one constant in the Universe is that things change!”

This week… The Ant…
Every day, an Ant arrived at work very early and started work immediately. She produced a great deal and was very happy. The Chief, a Lion, was surprised to see the Ant working without any supervision. So the Lion thought that if the Ant produced so much without supervision, how much more would the Ant produce if supervised.

So he recruited a Cockroach, who had extensive experience as a supervisor and was excellent at writing reports. The first idea of the Cockroach was to set up a “clocking in” system. He also needed a secretary to assist him with writing and filing reports. He then recruited a Spider to manage the archives and monitor all of the phone conversations. The Lion was delighted with the work of the Cockroach and asked him to produce graphs of production rates and to analyse trends, so he could use them for presentations at Board meetings. This meant that the Cockroach had to buy a new computer, laser printer, etc, so he recruited a Fly to manage the I.T. department. But the Ant, who had once been so productive and relaxed, hated this new plethora of paperwork and meetings which now took up most of her time.

The Lion decided it was high time he nominated someone to take charge of the department where the Ant worked. The position was given to a Cicada who decided to buy a new carpet and an ergonomic chair for his office. Also the Cicada needed a new computer and a personal assistant who he brought from his previous department to help him prepare a Work and Budget Control Strategic Optimisation Plan. It was at this time that the Cicada convinced his boss, the Lion, of the absolute necessity to start a climatic study of the environment.

Having reviewed the charges for running the department where the Ant worked, the Lion found out that production was far less than before. So he recruited an Owl, a prestigious and renowned consultant who was tasked with carrying out an audit and putting forward suggestions. The Owl spent three months in the department and came up with an enormous report in several volumes, that concluded the department was over-staffed.

So the Lion fired the Ant, because it showed a lack of motivation as well as a negative attitude…

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The Language Of Sound

05 February 2021

Sound is a wonderful thing. Yet it is such a simple thing, consisting as it does of vibrations through air or other media. We usually sense these vibrations, these pressure changes, which our ears then recognise and our brains convert them into what we call ‘sound’. Such sound waves need to travel through some medium, whether it be solid, liquid or gas. These waves move by vibrating the molecules in the matter. But molecules in solids are packed very tightly, so this enables the sound to travel much faster through a solid than through liquid or through a gas. That is why I smile when I watch the science fiction films such as Star Trek, where we ‘hear’ a sound when weapons are fired in space – but there is no medium for any sound to travel through, so no vibration and no ‘sound’ would be heard! Poetic licence…

But these vibrations are vital to life here on this beautiful Earth. Creatures create warning sound to alert others of danger nearby, or listen for potential food. A little while ago I was outside in the gardens here and I watched a blackbird feeding. It would stand, sometimes with its head on one side, to listen for earth movement by worms. I am sure it was also ‘feeling’ with its feet, to sense the worm movement. Then on YouTube I watched an item with Evelyn Glennie, who is deaf, where she was teaching a deaf person to ‘hear’ by them feeling vibrations in the way that she does. It was all about teaching their senses to learn this new language, this form of communication.

I have mentioned before about my love of music, but that sound is basically a series of vibrations in a rhythmical pattern that is pleasing to us. Not all of the patterns we sense are appealing to every one of us though. I have been asked on quite a few occasions to say what ‘kind’ of music do I like. I always reply that I like ‘good’ music. I have said about my dear mother’s love of music, I have said about how I was able to join the local church choir but one thing that I found inspiring was the sound of that church organ. But how could a single instrument create variations in tone, pitch and volume when played by just one person? Yes, there were several keyboards, quite a number of stops and pedals, but to manipulate them in such a way was, to me, pure artistry. All this in what seemed a small space. Then I soon found out that the space was far larger than I had imagined! That really is quite often the case as I have found out over the years, having seen and heard quite a few pipe organs in both churches and concert halls. There is much that exists ‘behind the scenes’ as you might say. It is still sound, a movement of air, but that is why, if I could, I would go and sit in the choir stalls in cathedrals when an organ recital was on. I could not just hear the sound, I could actually feel it!

Over in Philadelphia, U.S.A. there is the Wanamaker organ, or to give it its full title the Wanamaker Grand Court Organ, which is the largest pipe organ in the world based on number of ranks and physical mass weight. It is located within a spacious 7-storey Grand Court at Macy’s Centre City (formerly the Wanamaker’s department store) and is usually played twice a day every day except Sundays. The organ is featured at several special concerts that are usually held throughout the year, including events featuring the Friends of the Wanamaker Organ Festival Chorus and Brass Ensemble. From a technical aspect, this organ is a concert organ of the American Symphonic school of design, which combines traditional organ tone with those of a symphony orchestra. In its present configuration, this organ has 28,750 pipes in 464 ranks. The organ console consists of six manuals, with an array of stops and controls. Basically, it is big, and can make a loud sound! I know – I’ve been there and have heard it.

For me, something I was introduced to with music was the effect it can have on us. I was taught to read music at school, I learned to play first the harmonica and then the trumpet. Others were taught to play a recorder and the piano, but with my weak right hand I couldn’t work the relevant controls of those. Even playing a trumpet I used my left hand to press the valves, rather than the ‘proper’ way. But it wasn’t just playing the music, to me it was also about listening to it. I found the sounds created my own mental images, like when listening to Vltava, by Smetana. I could picture the water as it started its journey in the mountains, as it gradually moved faster, over rocks, waterfalls, as it widened out into a much bigger plain, then flowing through the towns and cities, finally reaching the sea. I have delighted in listening to performances of this work which has been truly described as a symphonic poem. I have watched some performances of this work and as often happens when I am listening to some music, I cannot sit still. Like me, neither could most of the orchestra. They were moving a little as they played, they were enjoying the sound so much. But there are some pieces that have a much more sombre tone, for example Danse Macabre by Saint-Saëns. When I was a good bit younger I didn’t like the sound at all, even though I didn’t know what the piece was called. In fact for many years I couldn’t listen to it, as it conjured up images which made me unhappy. As I grew older, I found I could listen to it. So it seems our musical tastes as well as other tastes change as we get older.

Sound can affect not just us of course. I am aware that plants and animals react to positive and negative sound. You may not believe or agree with me, but it does happen. I watched on tv where an elephant with poor eyesight was being played piano music and the calming effect that sound had on the creature. Sound can be used for setting a mood, this has long been known and is why shopping centres will often play the appropriate music they think will entice customers to stay and shop. Imagine if they were playing overly loud, raucous sound so that we couldn’t talk to our friends and maybe have that extra mug of tea or coffee – oh, and that piece of cake… Sounds can affect our driving too of course, as some brash, harsh sounds can make us drive aggressively or not give way to others when we might have done so otherwise. There are various types of jazz, some I like more than others, but I have to be in the right mood to listen to that. Having played a trumpet and been part of a local brass band for a while, that sound can be invigorating, as a stirring march can brighten spirits. So I have found. But classical, especially Bach… That calms the mind, the body and the soul.

Most harmonies will be pleasant too, though we all have differing tastes. I have had the opportunity to listen to music played by musicians from India and talking to them later I learned that their basic structure of music is very different to that which I had been taught. But in most cases it is a pleasing sound. In my experience, music can be used to get a message across, even if no words are spoken. Having said that, if some words are sung but not pronounced too well, it can lead to some humorous responses! Overall though, good music can have a real, positive effect on us all and be a lovely language, a delightful form of communication.

It is winter here, so this week…
One autumn an Inuit tribe asked their family leader if the winter was going to be cold or not. Not really knowing an answer, the leader replied that the winter was going to be cold and that the members of the village were to collect wood and to be prepared.

Being a good leader, he then went to the nearby phone booth and called the National Weather Service and asked, “Is this winter to be cold?” The man on the phone responded, “This winter is going to be quite cold indeed.” So the leader went back to speed up his people to collect yet more wood in order to be prepared.

A week later he called the National Weather Service again, “Is it going to be a very cold winter?” “Yes”, the man replied, “it’s going to be a very cold winter.” So the leader went back to his people and ordered them to go and find every scrap of wood they could find. Two weeks later he called the National Weather Service again: “Are you absolutely sure that the winter is going to be very cold?”

“Absolutely,” the man replied, “the Eskimos are collecting wood like crazy!”

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