Our Earth

We all have differing interests as we grow up and one of mine has been, in fact still is, my interest in outer space, our world and how we live. I am most definitely a Star Trek fan and in that series, humans were referred to rather appropriately as ‘carbon-based life-forms’. That is because life on Earth is based on carbon, perhaps because (so I have learned) that each carbon atom can form bonds with up to four other atoms simultaneously. That is a bit technical for me, but it seems that because of that, carbon is well-suited to form the long chains of molecules which then serve as the basis for life as we know it, such as proteins and DNA. In fact, research by some earth scientists at Rice University suggests that virtually all of Earth’s life-giving carbon could have come from a collision about 4.4 billion years ago between this Earth and an embryonic planet similar to Mercury. Science fiction has long imagined alien worlds inhabited by other life, but based on other elements. One example are the rock-eating Horta, a silicon-based life form as featured in the original Star Trek series. Also in that series, Mr Spock has green blood because the oxygen-carrying agent in Vulcan blood includes copper, rather than iron, as is the case in humans. For us here, carbon is the backbone of each and every known biological molecule. Happily we have air to breathe, but most of the time we cannot see it. We know it is a mixture of different gases and in terms of volume, the dry air in our Earth’s atmosphere is about 78.09 percent nitrogen, 20.95 percent oxygen, and 0.93 percent argon. A brew of trace gases accounts for the other 0.03 percent, including the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and ozone. Whilst air is mostly gas, it also holds lots of tiny particles. Some, like dust and pollen, are picked up naturally when the wind blows but the air can also carry particles that cause air pollution, such as the soot, smoke, and other pollutants from car exhausts and power plants. When there are too many particles in the air, it can be difficult for plants and animals to breathe. My parents were made aware of that during the Great Smog in London in 1952, which affected my mother so badly we had to move from there the following year. It was also a contributory factor to my development. We all know from school that we all need to breathe, just as plants and animals do, but Nature keeps this good and healthy balance. As we breathe, we give off carbon dioxide, then plants use this gas, along with sunlight, to make food through the process of photosynthesis and in this way plants give off oxygen. That’s the basic science lesson!

When I was at school, I soon found that sport wasn’t something I enjoyed too much. But others did, in fact a few went on to county championships and I believe some got into playing professional football. Others went on to working in local factories, I know of one who became a teacher and then headmaster at a Peterborough school. We had one lad who was something of a bully and it must have been for show, as he became an actor, though I do not think they were big acting parts. Some of my school colleagues did stay local, they met and married locally and found jobs fairly close by. Then there were others who I have learned went far and wide, up to Scotland, in addition some went to Australia and the U.S.A. I have said about my time with British Telecom (BT) and I started with them in Peterborough, working in the offices adjacent to the main telephone exchange. I learned much about the workings of the company and about the behaviours of my colleagues. Most folk were good, but some were not so good. I had always had an enquiring mind, so when Sir Clive Sinclair brought out a very simple ‘home’ computer, I was very interested in it and bought one. Over the next few years both better as well as more advanced versions came out and I took an interest in the various different computer languages associated with computers. Then, when the opportunity came for me to move away on promotion to Leicester, I took it. That changed my life in so many different ways! Within a few short years I had learned a great deal, I was married and then further changes occurred within BT and I was moved to Nottingham. After a little while my marriage ended, fairly amicably but it was around this time that much bigger, better home computers emerged like the ones we see today. I continued learning quietly, putting the new knowledge to good use. Work moves to Sheffield and Birmingham meant I put these skills to more and more good use, in fact I believe they were instrumental in getting me moved yet again from Birmingham up to Sheffield, utilising many of the computer skills I now had. During all of these changes I noticed the human behaviours of certain people and the effects on others as well as myself. I saw how some tried to demand or force change on others, sadly seeming not to care what effect their ways might have. I saw how some, at the height of major changes, might try to almost ’sneak’ their ideas in. I also saw what a real difference it made when some, like good managers, behaved as benevolent dictators, as they had their own ideas but were ready to accept ideas from others if they were better. Sadly I also saw in some cases where good ideas were either ignored or the person having the idea did not feel they ought to speak up. I am reminded of something told to me many years ago, which is this. Consider a calm, still pond. If you drop a boulder in, it is likely to be seen as a bad thing and not be appreciated, because of all the disruption it creates. Conversely, drop a pebble, stone or a boulder into a rough sea and their effects will not be noticed. That may be why potentially ‘bad’ news is mentioned by some during a time of crisis, in the hope that the bad news might go unnoticed. Drop a stone into the calm, still pond and there its effects are far more likely to be noticed, even liked for its effect. But drop a pebble in and the slight ripple may not even be noticed, as in that circumstance nothing changes. I learned that when things aren’t right, making a gigantic fuss is not a good idea. But staying calm, speaking firmly and positively without getting at all upset is far more likely to achieve the desired result. If not, so long as we have played our part, done our best, that is all we can wish for. What I did have to be taught though was that we should try and work to live, not live to work. We each do our bit, some more than others, some not at all appreciative of what others may do for them but they ought to. I saw such a lovely quote the other day about time and it is this. Time is free, but it is priceless. You cannot own it, but you can use it. You cannot keep it, but you can spend it and once you have lost it, you can never get it back.

I have said previously about singing in the local church choir and at junior school we were introduced to music. Various musical instruments were all shown and demonstrated, in fact as a schoolteacher my Dad taught all the children in class about the recorder. I learned some years later that whilst Dad knew the basics of playing, being a good teacher he very soon found which children had an aptitude for playing so he got them to demonstrate all the finger positions, etc as that kept them occupied! With me having limited mobility in my right hand I could not manage a recorder, however I did learn the basics of a harmonica. It was also at junior school that we would listen to different types of music, I delighted in such lessons. Upon moving to secondary school I continued with music, learning to play a cornet and then getting my own trumpet. It meant that a few of us joined together into a small band, we would play at our school and others in Whittlesey. On leaving school I had proper tuition from a good man who was a retired professional trumpet player formerly employed by the BBC, I also played trumpet in a local brass band for a few years. But by then I was also singing in a couple of mixed-voice choirs and I could sing better than play the trumpet! So music has always been a part of me, whether it be classical, jazz, organ, in fact all sorts. Though country & western doesn’t really give me much enjoyment! Music for me may be loud or soft, fast or slow, it can invoke moods and pique the imagination. For example, one classical piece called ‘Vltava’, by Smetana, this being part of the symphonic poem ‘Má Vlast’ (My Homeland) can do so. In this piece one can imagine a stream, beginning high in the mountains and working its way down, growing in size and strength. It passes over waterfalls, rocks, the stream becoming a river, widening and passing through towns, ultimately widening out and flowing into the sea. I was barely ten years old when I first heard this at school, but I could close my eyes and imagine all this. It was so peaceful and very, very calming. I have found a lovely performance of this work on YouTube which can be seen and heard via the following link: YouTube

Harbour View

Water has such special qualities. Apart from being essential to life, of being made up of hydrogen and oxygen, it is cycled again and again in Nature, falling as rain onto the earth and the sea. Over land, some drops and soaks into the earth, some falls on trees and plants where it is absorbed and used. Some is evaporated whilst some flows together into streams and rivers and ultimately back into the sea. Over the years we have created reservoirs in order to provide water for our use, we have built pumping stations, drained fenlands to provide additional land for growing crops and created barriers to prevent unwanted flooding. Yet Nature still has the capacity to overcome these man-made structures, as in the floods in early 1953 that caused much death and destruction in the Netherlands and the east coast of England. The uses of water continue to be learned through the generations, I know it has helped me a great deal in the past eighteen months and sadly my poor health is partly my own fault for not drinking enough of it! I have corrected that failure and drink water as we all should do. We know that people with injuries have had positive results in regaining muscle strength, it is also used cleverly to teach astronauts to work where there is no air. For me though, as a child I used to be frightened by rain, both seeing and hearing thunderstorms. I was taught what they were and what they did to this wondrous Earth and so I learned to marvel at Nature’s power. I still delight in seeing rainbows, they are so very special to me. From a scientific point of view I know exactly what they are and how they are formed, but they are still a delight to behold. The most amazing changes were visible in, over and under water when I was on my lovely long cruise holiday in 2013. At one point in that journey we were away from port for nine days, though we did see Pitcairn Island and bought gifts from the locals who came out to us in small boats. So the Earth is a watery place. But just how much water exists on, in, and above our planet? About 71 percent of the Earth’s surface is water-covered and the oceans hold about 96.5 percent of all Earth’s water. Water also exists in the air as water vapour in rivers and lakes, in ice-caps and in glaciers. It is also in the ground as soil moisture and in aquifers. Whatever and wherever, it is vital to us all, not just for the properties I have mentioned already but for all of its calming and refreshing effects. I live in England and the British Isles are surrounded by water, so as a nation we are used to going to the seaside for holidays, not just for a break, a change of scenery but to be by the sea. The people of much larger countries though cannot easily go to the seaside, so they go to other places in their countries like large lakes. It is water, just the same. It brings us relaxation, it has such a calming effect, it is refreshing. I know I must also mention a further role that water plays for many of us and that is in the form of a blessing. I was baptised within hours of being born as I was not initially expected to live, but a nurse assured my mother to not worry as I would survive. That nurse was correct – I am still here, writing for as long as I am able. In some faiths baptism is a simple blessing, with the sign of the cross made by a priest who has dipped a finger in holy water in a font. With other faiths there is a total immersion in water, described in the bible as the baptismal blessing by John the Baptist. Other faiths have their own beliefs, some have none, but nevertheless we still have and need water.

During research the other day I found a word that was new to me. It often happens! So I researched it. The word was ’sinecure’.
I learned that it referred to a position requiring little or no work but giving the holder status or financial benefit. For example “political sinecures for the supporters of ministers”.
So I wondered – when does a sinecure become insecure?

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