Healing Mind, Body And Spirit

Every one of us goes through difficult times. I have mentioned before how some survive whilst others do not, I have also mentioned ones who simply did not try and that to me is a big mistake. As has been famously said, it is not the falling down, because we all do that. It is the getting up again that is important. It may take a bit of doing, it may require time and support from others, but it can be done. I know. I have been writing weekly blog posts for a while and as I am getting closer and closer to finishing one, I usually get a sort of ‘prompt’ for the next one. In fact some of you may have noticed that there can be something of a thread between each one. But recently I sat and posted a blog as usual, which was fine and in addition the next one was started. No, you eager ones, you must always wait for Friday, you just have to! Except this one time I received little or no ‘inspiration’ for this next blog, as it just didn’t occur to me. So I left writing for a day or so, I got on with other things and came back to it. I was then reminded of how I was, both physically and mentally, last year. That was when I found myself in a hospital bed, I couldn’t even roll over without help. But one nurse then said “which is your ‘good’ side?”, as they knew one side is weaker than the other. So I was gently coaxed, I was also politely encouraged. I was helped in a positive way, but not rushed. Once I had proved to myself and to them that I could do that, they said “well done – now try the other side’. I needed a pillow to support me, but in time I did it. Except the next task was to get me sitting up in bed. Then I was shown an exercise or two so I could strengthen my arm and leg muscles and after a time I was sitting on the edge of the bed, with two physiotherapists just grinning at me and saying “We knew you could do it!”. After a while of this I stood up. I could only stand on my own two feet for a few seconds, but I did it. I used a clever device to rotate round and this did enable me to move and manoeuvre myself into a chair. It took some doing, but it was done. I looked at the two of them and then said “You……” They knew. They grinned even more! So regular, daily but easy practice followed and I began to walk a few steps, holding on tightly to a walking frame. I don’t mind admitting that at times it took quite a bit of encouragement. Next was to get to the en-suite toilet. Again it took some work, but I achieved it. But what delighted me was the attitude of these nurses and physiotherapists, as they said nothing at all about what had happened to me or how I had got myself into this state. I did think about it and I knew I had let myself down. To this day I can get myself upset over that, but not as much as time slowly progresses. What I have learned to do is forgive myself. Others have said I should feel proud of what progress I have made, but only a few know how I was and how I’d not looked after myself. Proud? No. Actually I am humbled and so very thankful to be given another chance at life in this lovely world and which I do hope to enjoy for some time yet. As I write this, I am in a Care Home where they really do care. I have read horror stories of other Care Homes but this is a very good one. I admit that sometimes, even as I write this, Carers will get stern, sharp even, with an inmate but that is because they know that particular person can and should do better. In time I know that I will gain strength physically and mentally as well as emotionally. I shall go out yet again into a world which has also had to change in the last eighteen months. I do think back to 2019 and walking down Gallowtree Gate, the main street in Leicester, wondering why a few Chinese students were walking around and each one wearing a mask over their mouth and nose. Many shops have closed, bus routes are different to how I remember them and I will find other changes. But we survive. So for me it is important to reiterate what I said last year. There are many who do not have the same ideas, the same thoughts as I do and that is how things should be. But having a positive outlook on life is such a good thing, in my humble opinion. I saw a really lovely item of inspiration on Facebook the other day, it is this.

Tip of the Day

When it comes to our body, we are taught from a very young age what not to do, like putting a hand in or near a fire, that hot food and drink can burn or at least scald. Medicines are kept out of the way of children, because the danger is they might be seen as sweets. Minor cuts and bruises are dealt with, most often at home, with guidance from local midwives and nurses. As we get older we learn more at school about how things work, but it can depend on the level of education we attain as to how much we learn. Those who go on to higher education may become nurses, doctors and then go into specialist areas. If I had tried to talk to my grandfather about DNA and the things we know about ourselves now, I think he might have said it was all nonsense and not to be believed. For example bloodletting did begin around 3000 years ago with the Egyptians, then continued with the Greeks and Romans, the Arabs and Asians, then spread through Europe during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. It reached its peak in Europe in the 19th century but subsequently declined and today in Western medicine is used only for a few select conditions. But to appreciate the reasons behind it, we should perhaps first go back some 2300 years ago and consider just how disease was thought of at that time. Back then, Hippocrates (~460–370 BC) believed that existence was represented by the four basic elements, these being earth, air, fire, and water, which in humans were related to the four basic ‘humours’; blood, phlegm, black bile, yellow bile. Each humour was centred in a particular organ, considered to be the brain, lung, spleen, and gall bladder and related to a particular personality type, which were sanguine, phlegmatic, melancholic, and choleric. Being ill meant having an imbalance of the four humours. Therefore the treatment consisted of removing an amount of the excessive humour by various means such as bloodletting, purging, catharsis, diuresis, and so on. By the 1st century bloodletting was already a common treatment, but when Galen of Pergamum (129–200 AD) declared blood as the most dominant humour, the practice of venesection (an effective way to reduce the iron levels, red blood cells or the thickness of your blood to a safe level) gained even greater importance. Galen was able to propagate his ideas through the force of personality and the power of the pen and his total written output exceeds over two million words. He had an extraordinary effect on medical practice and his teaching persisted for many centuries. His ideas and writings were disseminated by several physicians in the Middle Ages when bloodletting became accepted as the standard treatment for many conditions. I have found more on the subject of bloodletting and those of you wanting more are free to do your own research! All I will say is that by the late 1800s, enthusiasm for leech therapy had waned, but leeches are still used today in special situations.

Much has been learned about our physical health and how to maintain it, but from what I have learned, many years ago mental health was ignored. The Madhouse Act of 1774 was the first legislation in the United Kingdom addressing mental health. Privately funded lunatic asylums were widely established during the nineteenth century and the County Asylums Act 1808 permitted (but did not compel) Justices of the Peace to provide establishments for the care of “pauper lunatics” so that they could be removed from workhouses and prisons. The Lunacy Act 1845 established the Board of Commissioners in Lunacy and as a result, Justices were forced to build lunatic asylums financed by local rates. In 1859, there were about 36,000 people classified as lunatics in all forms of care in England and Wales, with about 31,000 classed as paupers and 5,000 as private patients. Over 17,000 of the paupers were in county asylums or on contract in licensed houses, about 7,000 were in workhouses, whilst a similar number were ‘living with friends or elsewhere’. Ten percent of workhouse infirmaries provided separate wards for those considered as insane. The Lunacy Act of 1862 then permitted voluntary admission and any person who had been a patient in any type of mental hospital during the previous five years could enter a licensed house as a voluntary boarder. The Lunacy Commissioners could remove lunatics from workhouses to county asylums and the chronic insane who were considered harmless were moved from the overcrowded asylums to the workhouses. In London, the Metropolitan Asylums Board, established by the Metropolitan Poor Act 1867 built two large asylums for London. These were the Leavesden Mental Hospital and the Caterham Asylum. They were built to similar designs by the same architect and each was intended to accommodate 1560 patients in six three-storey blocks for 860 females and five blocks for 700 males, but within five years each had been extended by around 500 places. In 1870 there were about 46,500 poor law mental health cases: 25,500 in county asylums, 1,500 in registered establishments, 11,500 in workhouses and the remainder boarded out with relatives. In 1876, there were nearly 65,000 people classified as mentally disordered in England and Wales. It is not clear if there was actually an increase in the prevalence of mental illness. From around 1870 there were moves to separate those who were then called ‘idiot’ children from adults. Darenth School for 500 children with learning disabilities was opened by the Metropolitan Asylums Board in 1878 and a separate institution next to the school, with accommodation for 1,000 adults, was opened in 1880. The Lunacy Act 1890 then placed an obligation on local authorities to maintain institutions for the mentally ill and by 1938, 131,000 patients were in local authority mental hospitals in England and Wales, with 13,000 in District Asylums in Scotland where there were also seven Royal Mental Asylums. However, mental hospitals were overcrowded and understaffed and mental health services were not integrated with physical health services when the NHS was established in 1948. Shortages of money, staff and buildings continued. Then in 1956 the Confederation of Health Service Employees organised an overtime ban, the first national industrial action in the NHS. The government increased capital spending from 1954, hoping to increase bed numbers by 2,800 but rising numbers of patients, especially the elderly, caused a shift in policy away from institutions and towards day centres and community care. In 1961 the Minister of Health made a speech where he said “in fifteen years time there may well be needed not more than half as many places in hospitals for mental illness as there are today”. This marked a shift towards Care in the Community and it was given further impetus by a series of scandals over long-stay hospitals from 1968 onwards. On World Mental Health Day in 2018, the Prime Minister finally appointed the UK’s first Suicide Prevention minister. This occurred as the government hosted the first ever global mental health summit. So a great deal has been done over the years, certainly in my lifetime, to recognise and address mental health issues. But I feel that we must continue to learn how our minds work an how we are affected by the world around us, most especially when faced with a global pandemic. More and more people are seeing that even if they do not agree with having recommended treatment, they should surely respect the wishes of others and follow the behavioural guidelines. Here we are not legally required to wear a face covering in every setting, but we should do so in circumstances where the government does recommend. They expect us to continue to wear face coverings such as in crowded and enclosed spaces like public transport. As I said last year, this Covid-19 is creating so much extra work in hospitals, but it is also having a knock-on effect in other places. Lockdown has meant no visits by relatives or friends to Care Homes, so patients and their families have been suffering as a result. We have been limited as to how close we are allowed to get to each other and for many that can be most frustrating. I am of the opinion that healthy living is a combination of a positive mind, a healthy body and a calm, peaceful spirit. Both doctors and nurses help us when we need good maintenance of body and mind, but we can do much to help ourselves.

I think back to the time in 2010 when I was in a hospital bed and a doctor was explaining to me what had happened in terms of the heart attack I’d had. He told me what extra tablets I needed to take in addition to those I was on to control my epilepsy. As I have said to a few folk now, I foolishly asked the doctor how long I would be taking these extra tablets for. I think I was under the impression they would be like an antibiotic, or something to help repair damage, I didn’t know. But of course I was then told “always”. So I soon learned to adapt, I modified my daily routines for the tablet-taking, including when I was going out or away anywhere. I am very much a ‘computer’ person, so I found an ‘app’ for my iPhone, I tried a few in fact but this particular one that is called Medisafe keeps a record of the number of tablets I have for each drug, it prompts me to take the medication at the appropriate time, it also allows me to set a minimum order quantity so I know when to order more of the medication. It works for me. Having said that, senior staff in this Care Home look after all medication and they give me my tablets as required as well as ordering supplies. I still look though when I am given my tablets, as I know exactly what I expect to receive. Keeping calm can be quite difficult at times, but that too is something which we can achieve by not allowing others to affect us negatively. As well as that, our spiritual healing may be done in a few different ways and there are a number of therapies available nowadays. One which has been and continues to be good for me is a particular relaxation therapy called Arka Dhyana. It has been taught to me by Srinivas Arka, a man who is also well-known around the world as an author and philosopher. Some healers use their own hands to heal those they are caring for, but Arka Dhyana uses a combination of ones own touch, sound and breath. The sound is a unique one and the breathing is done in such a way as to make each person more aware of it, as under normal circumstances our bodies have an automated system so that our breathing adjust to our requirements. In the same way that some other healing techniques work, it is known that there are certain energy centres in the body. Using the Arka Dhyana technique, by simply touching these centres and making a particular, unique sound the healing is energised. I will say again at this point that this has nothing to do with any religion, I have not altered in any way my belief or faith in God, nor have I been asked to do so at any time. But what I have found is that this healing technique works for me and for a great many others in many countries all around the world. I have found that I have become a much calmer person, learning to adapt to all of the changes that have occurred in the last few years and most notably those in the last few months! My body is getting healthier, my mind is clearer and I am now much more at peace spiritually.

This week I am reminded of…
The lovely television series ‘Countdown’, which features Susie Dent as the person who confirms which words are acceptable. She also talks about the unusual but interesting words, along with their meanings. So it was that one day she said about a ’mumpsimus’ and this is a person who obstinately adheres to old customs or ideas, in spite of evidence that they are wrong or unreasonable. I am sure we have all met one of those, but we may not have called them a mumpsimus.

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Sense And Sensibility

So last week I wrote mainly about our hearing and pardon the pun, but I also touched on sight. In fact our dominant sense is sight, whilst hearing is our most sensitive due to the range of loudness over which our hearing operates. I am confident that most if not all of you will have watched a few episodes of the tv series ‘QI’, where the panel are told about facts which are Quite Interesting. The presenters often refer to the band of ‘QI elves’, a team of people who find out these interesting facts and figures and a team of them have been on another tv quiz show which I like, that being ‘Only Connect’. On one of the QI episodes the question was asked “How many senses do humans have?” to which one of the team, Alan Davies, replied quite innocently “five’. At this of course the klaxon sounded! It is the number which we are of course first taught at school, these being sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. Except there are many more than we perhaps realise, as we do not necessarily attribute them to being true senses. But even these five main senses are technically more than a single sense. Sight itself combines two senses, given the two distinct types of receptors we have, one for colour (cones) and one for brightness (rods). Another sensor, but which is related to a chemical reaction, is our sense of smell and this combines with taste to produce flavours. You could argue that taste should count for five senses by itself due to the differing types of taste receptors, these being sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami, the latter being Japanese which means “a pleasant savoury taste.” Its receptors detect the amino acid glutamate, which is a taste generally found in meat and some artificial flavouring. Then there is touch, which has been found to be distinct from pressure, temperature, pain, and even itch sensors which have a distinct system from other touch-related senses. Pressure is obvious, so I’ll say no more on that one. But there are more.

Thermoception is the ability to sense heat and cold. This is also thought of as more than one sense — not just because of the two hot/cold receptors, but also because there is a completely different type of receptor in terms of the mechanism for detection in the brain. The thermo-receptors there are used for monitoring internal body temperature. I have mentioned sound, detecting vibrations along some medium, such as air or water that is in contact with your ear drums but linked to this are senses which work to control both body awareness, which is proprioception, which deals with how your brain understands where your body is in space. It includes the sense of movement and position of our limbs and muscles. For example, proprioception enables a person to touch their finger to the tip of their nose, even with their eyes closed. It enables a person to safely go up and down steps without looking at each one. Folk with poor proprioception may be clumsy and uncoordinated, which can happen when we might have consumed alcohol or taken drugs. So it is one of the things police officers test when they stop a vehicle when they suspect that the person driving may be doing so whilst under the influence of drink or drugs. The “close your eyes and touch your nose” request is testing that sense. It is also used all the time in little ways, such as when you scratch an itch on your foot, but never once look at your foot to see where your hand is in relation to your foot. Additionally there is equilibrioception, which is the sense that allows you to keep your balance and sense your own body movement in terms of acceleration and directional changes. This sense also allows for perceiving gravity, though I do not believe we use that sense much nowadays, if at all. Then we have tension sensors which are found in our muscles and these allow the brain the ability to monitor muscle tension. There are more senses yet! One is nociception, which in one word is pain. At one time this was considered the result of overloading other senses, such as touch. But it is now viewed as its own unique sensory system. There are three distinct types of pain receptors, which are the cutaneous (skin), somatic (bones and joints), and visceral (body organs). We also have stretch receptors which are found in the lungs, bladder, stomach and the gastrointestinal tract. These sense the dilation of blood vessels and so are often involved in headaches. Chemoreceptors trigger an area of the medulla in the brain that is involved in detecting blood borne hormones and drugs. It is also involved in the vomiting reflex. Now, we may not consider these next two as ‘senses’, but they are fairly obvious. One is for hunger, allowing your body to detect when you need to eat something and the other is thirst, which more or less allows your body to monitor its hydration level, so your body knows when it should tell you to drink. One that I was not aware of is magnetoreception, or the ability to detect magnetic fields. This sense is principally useful in providing a sense of direction when detecting the Earth’s magnetic field. Unlike most birds, humans do not have a strong magnetoreception but researchers have found some specialised cells in birds’ eyes that may help them see magnetic fields. It is thought that birds can use both the beak magnetite and the eye sensors to travel over long distances in areas that do not have many landmarks, such as the ocean. Experiments have demonstrated that we do tend to have some sense of magnetic fields. The mechanism for this is not completely understood, it is theorised that this has something to do with deposits of ferric iron in our noses. It seems that people who are given magnetic implants have been shown to have a much stronger sense of this magnetoreception than humans without them. Perhaps that is why many folk like wearing magnetic bracelets. The last one on this long list is time, but this one is debated. No singular mechanism has been found that allows people to perceive time. However, experimental data has shown humans have a startling accurate sense of time, particularly when younger. The mechanism we use for this seems to be distributed through specific parts of the brain.

It is thought that birds can sense the Earth’s magnetic field.

Students take their senses for granted and often do not realise how they work together in providing different types of information about their immediate environment. This information allows them to respond to changes in their environment. Since students rarely lose one of their senses, they do not appreciate that they all work together. In situations when students may experience the temporary loss or the masking of one sense, such as losing their sense of taste when they have a cold, losing their sense of sight when walking from a well-lit room into a dark room, or losing their general sense of hearing when using an MP3 player and personal earphones, they may become more aware of having to use other senses to provide information regarding their environment. Students rarely have first hand experience of how people with any type of sensory loss obtain much-needed information about the environment by using other senses. Our five main senses of sight, taste, touch, hearing and smell all collect information about our environment and these are interpreted by the brain. We then comprehend all of this information by the combination of the information from each of our senses and linking this with previous experience. It is then further developed by later learning. We respond almost automatically to most sensory information and this quick response is important for survival in our environment and this has been the case for the continuance of the human race. Whichever sense is dominant varies between different animals. I have said that in humans our dominant sense is sight, whilst hearing is our most sensitive, due to the range of loudness over which it operates. However, advancements in science have enhanced the quality of life for many people with sensory disabilities by providing such things as alternative methods of communication, increased mobility, additional educational tools, and technology designed for sensory enhancement, such as cochlear implants.

These days, when being taught about all this students are encouraged to explore the relationships between the operation and role of the senses in ways that I never was. In some places they use Concept Development Maps to learn about forces and motion, living things, the structure of matter, our Earth as well as the apparent structure and nature of Space. There is one area which focusses on cells and organs and at this level includes learning experiences which encourage all the students to find out more about themselves and other animals. This is really important, so they begin by explicitly identifying the five senses and the organ(s) associated with each sense. Then, with the intention of moving towards an understanding of ‘systems,’ teachers provide opportunities for students to experience the ways that each sense provides information which helps and supports the other senses and the organism as a whole. These learning experiences allow students to consider everyday difficulties that may be experienced by people whose sensory input is disrupted or unreliable. They encourage students to identify items or systems that have been developed to enhance sensory input., such as Braille, bells at railway crossings, audible, vibrating and tactile pedestrian signals, hearing aids, guide dogs, talking clocks, walking canes, etc. Teachers may even provide a variety of experiences which can be built upon to explore each sense in detail by using ‘feely bags’, secret packages, taped sounds and taste tests of bitter, sweet, salty and sour-tasting foods to create learning experiences which rely on one sense collecting information. In this way, students may explore each sense in detail, like whether different tastes have the same effect on different parts of the tongue. What I like is for students to not just explore how senses work together, such as determining the success of our ability to correctly identify samples of food when sensory input is limited. One way is to get food samples, like pieces of orange, carrot, celery, cantaloupe, potato, apple, pear and banana. Samples are then placed in a paper bag and with a class of students organised into three groups, two of the groups are blindfolded. One of these blindfolded groups must then try to identify the wrapped food samples using only their sense of smell. The other blindfolded group may use only touch; their sense of smell is blocked (they should pinch their nose or put cotton wool in their nostrils). The final group is not blindfolded and may make full use of touch, smell and appearance to identify the food samples. Students then record their observations using science journals and present their results using graphs and tables. In this way, students can make generalisations about our ability to gather all the information and make sense of the world around us when any of our sensory inputs are restricted as compared to when all our senses work together. This can then be expanded to encompass the world around us, by comparing and contrasting human senses with those of animals. If the students consider how animals sense the outside world and the anatomical structures that allow them to do so, they will appreciate that bees have taste receptors on their jaws, forelimbs and antennae, the eyes of the chameleon can move independently so that it can see in two different directions at the same time, crickets hear using their legs when sound waves vibrate a thin membrane on the cricket’s front legs, falcons can detect a ten-centimetre object from a distance of one and a half kilometres away whilst dolphins and whales communicate using various high pitched ‘whistles’ and ‘clicks’, with some beyond the range of human hearing. This is valuable to them, as sound travels faster in water than in air. The speed of sound in water is about 3,300 miles per hour (1,480 metres per second) whilst the speed of sound through air at ground level under typical conditions is about 760 miles per hour (340 metres per second). All this though, as well as having watched recent episodes of a Jane Austen series has made me wonder whether sensibility is a sense. Apparently as nouns, the difference between sense and sensibility is that sense is as I have already described above, any of the manners by which living beings perceive the physical world with our main ones being sight, smell, hearing, touch, taste. But sensibility is the ability to sense, feel or perceive, most especially being sensitive to the feelings of another which in stressful times can so easily be overlooked. I have left the best until last, as it really needs no explanation but which we all need – a good sense of humour!

This week, an appropriate fun one…

A Chinese doctor cannot find a job in a hospital in America, so he opens a clinic and puts a sign outside that reads:


An American lawyer thinks this is a great opportunity to earn $100 and goes to the clinic.

Lawyer: “I have lost my sense of taste.”

Doctor: “Nurse, bring medicine from box 14 and put 3 drops in patient’s mouth.”

Lawyer: “Ugh, this is kerosene.”

Doctor: “Congratulations, your sense of taste restored. Give me $20.”

The annoyed lawyer goes back after a few days to try to recover his money.

Lawyer: “I have lost my memory. I can’t remember anything.”

Doctor: “Nurse, bring medicine from box 14 and put 3 drops in his mouth.”

Lawyer (annoyed): “This is kerosene. You gave this to me last time for restoring my taste.”

Doctor “Congratulations. You got your memory back. Give me $20.”

The fuming lawyer pays him, then comes back a week later determined to get back $100.

Lawyer: “My eyesight has become very weak and I cannot see at all.”

Doctor: “I don’t have any medicine for that, so take this $100.”

Lawyer (staring at the note): “But this is $20, not $100!”

Doctor: “Congratulations, your eyesight is restored. Give me $20”

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The Way We Were

We are surrounded by sights, smells and sounds. As babies, our very first instinct is to touch, especially as our fingertips are the most sensitive items we have. Also, we put things in our mouths because that is another of the most sensitive organs we have. But perhaps we can forget that the largest is our very skin. A great many years ago we were covered in hair to keep us warm and we still are, just not as much. But those hairs are sensitive. We may also not recall that as we hear, our ears are sensing air movement in the form of sound waves. I feel sure we were taught at school about the parts of the ear, but not everyone may remember the detail. I know I had to research it, as it has been a while! So, here is a very quick ‘refresher’ science lesson. The anatomy of our hearing or auditory system really is extremely complex but can be broadly divided into two parts, one being called the ‘peripheral’ and the other ‘central’. The peripheral hearing system consists of three parts which are the outer ear, the middle ear and the inner ear. The outer ear consists of the pinna (also called the auricle), the ear canal and eardrum. This is the visible portion of the outer ear. It collects sound waves and channels them into the ear canal (external auditory meatus), where the sound is amplified. The middle ear is a small, air-filled space containing three tiny bones called the malleus, incus and stapes (also known as the hammer, anvil and stirrup) but which are collectively called the ossicles. The malleus connects to the eardrum linking it to the outer ear and the stapes (which is the smallest bone in the body) connects to the inner ear. This inner ear has both hearing and balance organs. The hearing part of the inner ear is called the cochlea which comes from the Greek word for ‘snail’ because of its very distinctive coiled shape. It contains many thousands of sensory cells and these are called ‘hair cells’. `The cochlea is connected to the central hearing system by the hearing or auditory nerve and is filled with special fluids that are important to the process of hearing. Finally the central hearing system consists of the auditory nerve and an incredibly complex pathway through the brain stem and onward to the auditory cortex of the brain. Just like its anatomy, the physiology of hearing is very complex indeed and is best understood by looking at the role played by each part of our hearing system described above. Sound waves, which are really vibrations in the air around us, are collected by the pinna on each side of our head and are funnelled into the ear canals. The sound waves make the eardrum vibrate and the eardrum is so sensitive to sound vibrations in the ear canal that it can detect even the faintest sound as well as replicating even the most complex of sound vibration patterns. The eardrum vibrations caused by sound waves move the chain of tiny bones (the ossicles – malleus, incus and stapes) in the middle ear transferring the sound vibrations into the cochlea of the inner ear. This happens because the last of the three bones in this chain, the stapes, sits in a membrane-covered window in the bony wall which separates the middle ear from the cochlea of the inner ear. As the stapes vibrates, it makes the fluids in the cochlea move in a wave-like manner, stimulating the microscopically small hair cells. Remarkably, the hair cells in the cochlea are tuned to respond to different sounds based on the pitch or frequency of sounds. High-pitched sounds will stimulate hair cells in the lower part of the cochlea and low-pitched sounds in the upper part of the cochlea. What happens next is even more remarkable because, when each hair cell detects the pitch or frequency of sound to which it is tuned to respond, it generates nerve impulses which travel instantaneously along the auditory nerve. These nerve impulses then follow a complicated pathway in the brainstem before arriving at the hearing centres of the brain, the auditory cortex. This is where the streams of nerve impulses are converted into meaningful sound. All of this happens within a tiny fraction of a second, almost instantaneously after sound waves first enter our ear canals. So it is very true to say that ultimately, we do hear with our brain.

The Human Ear

So that’s the science lesson over and done with! But in reality, our brain is also amazing, as it can and does filter out sounds, for example with some folk it it is possible for them to ignore the sound of a ticking clock. I know one of my brothers could not stand that sound when he wanted to sleep. He would sometimes visit Mum & Dad and he would sleep on the bed-settee which was in the lounge – but he had to muffle the sound of the clock with cushions! Other folk though feel comforted by sound and do not like to be in complete silence. There are some sounds which we can find comforting, some like water, others like music. Whatever, it should surely be a quiet, soothing sound. I found that music made a real difference to my driving, as loud and aggressive tones could make me also drive faster and a little more aggressively. It was also far more tiring. I have mentioned my enjoyment of church organ music, my playing a trumpet in a brass band and my singing in various choirs. It is simply rhythmic air movement and yet research has shown that listening to good music can reduce anxiety, blood pressure and pain as well as improve sleep quality, mood, mental alertness and memory. It is certainly something that I have found. Many years ago I was going though difficult times and one lunchtime I was quite near to the cathedral in Peterborough so I went in to pray. I found that an organist was practicing for a recital so I sat in the choir stalls, a place I like to go, and listened. It helped me focus on the future, rather than dwell on the past. Also because most of us have two ears, our brain can detect the direction sound is emanating from. This will also act as a movement detector and working in conjunction with our eyes we can calculate what is causing the sound, as well as the speed of movement. It is what our ancestors were able to put to good use whilst hunting, but not so many of us need to do that these days. Throughout our lives, we are surrounded by sound, but as we get older our capability to hear can deteriorate. I mentioned the other week that a friend of mine has lost some of their high frequency hearing because of working in a few different noisy environments and as a result, if he is in a rather crowded place like a public house and a female with a high-pitched voice tries to talk with him, he has to almost lip-read to fill in the blanks over what he is hearing. I also said about me spending a great many years in a noisy Sales office with a telephone pressed against my left ear and how I am only now beginning to notice a slight drop in performance of that ear. It seems that those microscopically small hair cells in the ear can get damaged and the signals don’t get through to the brain. I also remember my eldest brother saying how the hearing in his left ear deteriorated as a result of him driving buses, where the drivers cab was next to the engine but in those days there was little or no sound insulation. But being such sensitive organs, our hearing system can get damaged. In fact, in older adults hearing loss is said to be the third most common physical condition after arthritis and heart disease. There are far too many variables for me to list here relating to hearing problems, so anyone with a hearing problem should consult their doctor. The one which many folk are likely to have at least be aware of is tinnitus, or ringing in the ears. This is not to be confused with whistling or similar sound in the ears after perhaps attending a noisy pop concert, as that effect will go away in time. But if you hear any buzzing, ringing, roaring, whistling, chirping, hissing or other unexplainable sounds or noise in your ears without any obvious acoustic stimulation, it could be that you have tinnitus.

For me, whether it was from the radio, from my mother singing, from choirs, church bells, sound has always been part of my life. But I am also aware that for many, other senses have had profound effects on them. My eyesight has never been perfect, but that was soon recognised at a very young age and after the necessary tests I was provided with the appropriate glasses. I used to sing in the church choir of St Mary’s in Whittlesey and at that time the vicar there was a really clever man by the name of Revd G.E. Quinion. I mentioned in a blog post last month how he had poor eyesight as he had cataracts, but after he had had a successful eye operation he then saw my father, but did not know who he was until my dad spoke to him as the vicar only knew him previously by his voice. That vicar taught me many things about life, about his approach to it and how to appreciate what we have and with a proper, positive attitude a great many things which at first may appear insurmountable can be overcome with steady perseverance and faith. As I am seeing with a few folk here in this Care Home, it can be very difficult for some to stay positive. I know how easy it could be to almost give up on life, but that should not be how we live. There was someone I knew whose eyesight was so very poor, it meant that their life wasn’t always easy but they seemed to feel that they should not be the one to accept what they had or at least try to overcome their difficulties. They required, they almost demanded the world to change and that everything as well as everyone ought to adapt for them. We know however that the world is not like that and as I said in a blog post last year, had they learned to adjust even a little they might have been able to show others how it is possible to overcome or at least manage difficulties, by keeping a positive outlook on life. Let’s face it, these last eighteen months have not been easy for any of us, just as our parents, our grandparents and all who have gone before us have had their own difficulties to overcome. I have read and seen film of folk who survived wars, who have had physical and mental issues but they continued to live as best they could. It can be harder as we get older, I used to wonder what my grandparents were talking about when they used phrases like “aching bones”, but now I have more of an understanding as my bones ache, especially in damp weather! We can so easily reminisce and there is a lovely song I know sung by Barbra Streisand called ‘The Way We Were’. There it talks about the memories which light the corners of our mind, misty water-coloured memories, scattered pictures of the smiles we left behind, those we gave to one another. But it also does mention that memories may be beautiful and yet what is too painful for us to remember, we simply choose to forget. I have mentioned this previously, how we often cope with bad memories, with pain, which may be mental or physical. As the song says, it is the laughter, the happy times, whenever we remember the way we were. But we are here, in the present, in the now, it is to the future that we should and must be looking towards, each of us doing what we want and can do, planning and achieving. The other day I saw that a Facebook friend had written “Have you done all the things you planned to do on the Bank Holiday? Of course not! Thought so!”, to which I simply had to respond with “Yes. I woke up and was thankful”. It is so easy to spend our time in either a real or proverbial rocking chair, looking back at the way we were, perhaps wondering what might have happened if we had done a few things differently. I know I have. But then reality has, thankfully, stepped in. I am truly thankful for absolutely everything that has happened to me and if they hadn’t then I wouldn’t have the enjoyment of sharing my thoughts, my words and ideas gleaned from the guidance, training and experiences I have had over the years. Long may that continue.

This week, kindly think on this and smile…

Our Brains.
It has been suggested that the brains of older people are slow because they know so much. That people do not decline mentally with age, it just takes them longer to recall facts because they have more information stored in their brains. Some scientists believe this also makes you hard of hearing, because all this knowledge puts pressure on the inner ear. Also, older people often go to another room to get something and when they get there, they stand there wondering what they came for. This is not a memory problem, it is quite simply Nature’s way of making older people do more exercise.

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Just A Few Million Years

I really am enjoying this blog writing. I have said so before, but it is good therapy to write, not just from memory though that is beneficial in keeping us thinking. An aspect which I especially like is the research. The more I do, the more I am learning and the more I can share. I did mention this the other week and it is fascinating to me, just as I hope others find it to be. I have seen that there are a few new television programmes appearing now and I have noticed one series presented by Brian Cox which is all about planets, highlighting many things that may not have previously been known. They are certainly unknown to me! I do appreciate that a series like that will take quite a time to prepare, I am learning that aspect from how long it takes for me to sort and set out this weekly blog. I have had one person suggest that I might consider writing more often, but I’m sorry, I cannot – it takes me quite a while to research, compile and proof-read the work I am already doing! As many of you know, I worked in quite a few different departments as well as locations in my time with British Telecom and this included a few years in a Directory Compilation group. That has helped me a great deal, especially with all the proof-reading. Only the other week I saw and learned a new word, along with the proper spelling and meaning of it and whilst putting together this particular blog post I saw another, in this case it was ‘cartulary’. I researched it, just as I was taught to do from a very young age and I discovered that a cartulary or chartulary, also called pancarta or codex diplomaticus, is “a medieval manuscript volume or roll containing transcriptions of original documents relating to the foundation, privileges, and legal rights of ecclesiastical establishments, municipal corporations, industrial associations, institutions of learning, or families. The term is sometimes also applied to collections of original documents bound in one volume or attached to one another so as to form a roll, as well as to custodians of such collections.” Not a word in common use today, I guess. But some may know of it.

A great deal has changed in this beautiful world and we can sometimes not stop and look at the beauty which surrounds us. We have reached a new month and temperatures may be dropping, despite what forecasters said could happen! But it was a Bank Holiday. That which has been causing lockdowns may be easing slowly, more and more folk are getting out and about too. For now I spend my time as an inmate in this Care Home, doing my best to get better and stronger with the help of the Carers here, who by the way have a difficult job and they do it very well. My aim too is to get out and about, though it may be just a little while yet. I did make the mistake of trying too hard too soon and found myself back in hospital, something I do not wish to repeat. So for now, as well as my regular, gentle exercise I research, I read and I write. I am well fed, I do my morning and evening meditation, which is the relaxation therapy I have previously mentioned. It keeps me calm in these troubled times and my writing helps me stay quite focussed on each day as it passes, sometimes quite quickly. But it can be difficult at times when just as I am expecting a degree of peace and quiet as most of us inmates are resting after lunch, one who has dementia starts calling out ridiculous statements yet again. I cannot be angry with the inmate, as they cannot help it, the dementia is the cause. So I quietly call for a Carer and they settle them down. It also lets the people working here see how this inmate is, as I understand that what they have is a degenerating disease. All I can do when this occurs is sit, meditate, then return to my work. As I read, I learn and I also see a number of questions posed that at first I am amazed at, but then I am reminded that whilst I was taught by excellent parents and at good schools, there are very many people living in this beautiful world who have never been to any school, nor been told anything of this Earth. Some have not been properly taught even their native language, they may have only heard it. So if they then have to write, it is no small wonder that they make what many consider to be the simplest of spelling errors. As for the wider world outside, I feel sure that many have simply no concept of the absolute and utter vastness of space. But work is being done now to address this. Right now we have around us this global pandemic which is causing us to change quite a bit on how we communicate, how we learn. Thankfully, technology is with us that enables not just sound but vision too, in many cases live broadcasts that others may interact with. Some do still raise questions on a few issues that many would consider surprising, for example “What if the Earth were a little bit closer to the Sun?”. That question was answered politely online by someone with far greater knowledge of such matters than I. They explained that the Earth’s orbit around the Sun is not a perfect circle, it is elliptical, meaning there is one point in the orbit where Earth is closest to the Sun and another where Earth is farthest from it. Every object orbiting a single mass, for example our Sun, makes an ellipse, containing a point of closest approach that’s unique to that particular orbit. But the question prompted me to do research of my own. Some of this I knew, though not the detail which I found interesting. It seems that for the past 4.5 billion years our Earth has orbited the Sun in an ellipse, just as all the other planets orbiting their stars in all other mature solar systems throughout the galaxy and the Universe do. But the Earth’s orbital path doesn’t remain the same over time, it spirals outwards. In 2019 our perihelion, the point at which the Earth is closest to the sun, was 1.5 centimetres farther away than it was last year, likewise it was more distant than the year before. It’s not just Earth, either, as every planet drifts away from its parent star. Every object that is orbiting a single mass, for example our Sun, makes an ellipse, containing a point of closest approach that is unique to that particular orbit. For the past 4.5 billion years, our Earth has orbited the Sun in that manner, just like all the other planets orbiting their stars in all the other mature solar systems throughout the galaxy and Universe. That is a scientific fact.


I do not for a moment think that we will achieve some of the things we see in science fiction, at least not for quite a while anyway. However, when I was in my early teens the Star Trek series was first broadcast and that was back in the 1960s. Over the years further Star Trek series have been developed, but they are clearly based on the original. Some of the technology in use today has been thought about and developed from the devices they used and one example is the flip-phone style of mobile phone which we use and which is similar to the communicator in the original Star Trek. But I do not believe we will achieve space travel or be able to construct the transporters we see in the Next Generation series, not for a long time yet, but perhaps one day! There must be a great many others besides me who are familiar with the work of another science fiction writer, the late Douglas Adams, who created the comedy science fiction franchise called The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. This was at first a radio comedy series broadcast on BBC Radio 4 back in 1978, it was later adapted into other formats including stage shows, novels, comic books, a 1981 TV series, a 1984 video game, and 2005 feature film. It had a clever series of tales and really believable characters that again may contain an element of future truth. Who knows. As I said a couple of weeks ago now, in the time of dramatic climate change some 300,000 years ago the humans we know as Homo sapiens evolved in Africa. Like other early humans that were living at that time, they gathered and hunted food, and evolved behaviours that helped them respond to the sometimes dramatic challenges of survival in unstable environments. The levels of humanity have risen, we have grown, learned, I do know though that some have questioned why we are here. Some have been known to suggest that whilst some learn, others are here just to fill in the gaps! I believe that we are all here to learn, to grow and develop, then to pass on what we know to others. But we are all different. Whilst some do have a real interest in sports, others in entertainment, some like certain tv programmes, others get enjoyment from reality shows and yet more take a deep interest in sciences like history and geography. We all make mistakes but if we can benefit from these, we can help others. Surely the worst thing to do is not learn, but keep on making the same errors. That is like reading the same book or watching the same film again and again and expecting a different ending. Most of us need routine in order to live, we need others around us. Just like some animals, such as elephants, we grow and we learn together and from each other. We cannot know what will occur in the future but we can make plans. We follow the rules of where and how we live and adapt as things happen, how the world changes. I am reminded of when a few of my immediate family reached old age it seemed to me how they had almost given up on life, but with them it was physical change. With some others it is mental change that causes them to reach the end of their human existence, whilst in others it is a combination of the two. What to me is very important is that we do not give up, we remember what as a youngster I was taught, that we pray we are granted the serenity of mind to accept what cannot be changed, the courage to change that which can be changed as well as the wisdom to know the difference.

Our Earth also has a limited lifespan, although it has been through many changes, including a major increase in the human population. We have been through wars, famines, pandemics and revolutions. I have no doubt that there will be more. Many years ago there was the Industrial Revolution, the transition to new manufacturing processes which included changes from hand production methods to machines, new chemical manufacturing and metal production processes, the increased use of both steam and water power as well as the development of machine tools and the rise of the mechanised factory system. In the last hundred or so years we have seen the emergence of powered flight, computers and space flight. Right now the world is in the grip of a global pandemic, which I am sure we will survive overall. We are also seeing global warming, which I think we would do well to manage just a bit better than perhaps we are doing. The belief is that human life will survive for a few million years more yet, which pleases me! In all probability it will take around four billion years from now before increases in the Earth’s surface temperature causes a runaway greenhouse effect, heating the surface enough to melt it. In any event, by that point all life on the Earth will be extinct. The most probable fate of the planet itself will be absorption by the Sun in about seven and a half billion years, after the star has entered its ‘Red Giant’ phase and so has expanded beyond this planet’s current orbit. So there’s still time for a few more mugs of tea – with custard cream biscuits of course…

This week, a thought.
As a child, I used to watch the cartoon series ‘Popeye’, featuring the character ‘Olive Oyl’. But until a question came up on the television quiz show ‘Tipping Point’, I never knew that Olive had an older brother named ‘Castor Oyl’….

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