An Alphabet Of Things I Like: G

Gorillas.

Looking into the face of a gorilla is the closest you can get to a human in the animal world, in my opinion. They live in family groups, love and care for their young, and do not hurt anyone or anything, existing on a vegetarian diet.

When I was very young, I was taken to London Zoo to see Guy the Gorilla. He was a famous exhibit there, having arrived in 1946. When I got to his cage, I was overwhelmed with sadness. The huge animal was in a relatively small cage, behind rows of iron bars like a prison cell. This is a photo of him around that time.

He sat close to the bars with his arm extended, and his hand palm up. After more than twelve years in captivity, he had already become used to zoo visitors offering him treats, and he would catch them when they were thrown at him. All were unsuitable of course, and included biscuits, (cookies) chewy sweets, (candy) and even ice cream thrown in paper tubs. The zoo staff made no attempt to stop anyone feeding him, including my mum, who had brought along some iced biscuits especially for him. She was delighted when he caught each one, and ate it immediately. I wanted the staff to let him go, so he could return to living in the jungle again. My mum told me he wouldn’t know what to do in the jungle now.

Guy was kept on his own for over twenty-five years. Eventually, the zoo decided to provide him with a mate. But they never really got on, and never produced any baby gorillas. Guy died in the zoo in 1978, after being little more than a well-fed prisoner there for his entire life.

I was also quite young when I saw the original 1933 film version of King Kong.

Despite the gigantic gorilla being portrayed as violent, including eating people and destroying things, the sympathy of the audience was directed at the poor creature, and his cruel exploitation by showmen and profiteers. When he is mortally wounded, and falls from the top of the Empire State Building, I cried. Later film versions also showed King Kong in a sympathetic light, with the similarity between the emotions of gorillas and humans being remarked upon.

Like many animals, Gorillas suffer at the hands of poachers in the countries where they still live in the wild. Some are killed for food, others for traditional medicine ingredients, and many more to provide grisly ‘trophies’, such as their heads and hands. In recent decades, various indivduals and some organisations have worked hard to establish refuges and safe areas for gorillas in African countries. Wardens have been employed to discourage poachers, and ‘gorilla tourism’ has been established, with people visiting groups of gorillas who have become used to the close proximity of humans.

Let’s hope that this continues, until gorillas are no longer endangered. It would be tragic indeed to see one of our closest relatives become extinct.

An Alphabet Of Things I Like: F

Fire.

Humans seem to be instinctively drawn to fire. Camp fires like the one shown above would have been the first reliable source of heat in ancient times, and also provided some light in the darkness. They would have been used for any and all cooking purposes, also serving as a gathering point for family groups and clans. Keeping a fire burning constantly in all weathers would have been one of the most important things for survival. It kept away dangerous animals, and gave protection from the elements.

Until I was fifteen years old, a coal fire in the living room was the only source of heat I knew. From an early age, it was my job to fetch coal from the bunker where it was kept, and before we went to bed, my dad would ‘bank-up’ the fire with extra coal, so that it would still be warm when we woke up.

Once central heaing systems became popular, open fires in the house became a thing of the past. Many fireplaces were boarded up, and in some cases, the chimneys were removed completely. Despite the ease and effectiveness of the new methods, there was no doubt that many of us missed the comfort of seeing real flames in our own homes. On those occasions when it was appropriate, such as trips into the countryside, it wasn’t long before someone would suggest building a fire to sit around. Just for the pleasure of experiencing it again.

When I moved to Norfolk, I still missed having a fire. I bought a Chiminea, and would sit outside when we had guests, or on chilly evenings, enjoying the sight of the flames, and the warmth if you sat close to it.

But I wanted more, and it wasn’t long before I spent a considerable mount of money having a wood-burning stove installed in the living room. It makes me feel complete and reassured, watching the flames through the glass door, and feeling the intense heat warming the house.

My life has gone full circle with fire, from birth to old age.

Thinking Aloud On A Sunday

Coronavirus: The Other View

After some email exchanges with a friend last week, I woke up thinking about the other side of the current pandemic. This only applies to the situation in Britain, as I am not writing about any other country here.

For every scientific opinion that warns about the dangers of the virus, there seems to be another that claims it is not as bad as any other seasonal illness. For every ‘solid evidence’ that masks reduce contamination, there is alternative evidence that they do not.

Government lockdowns and other restrictions like curfews did not work in stopping the spread, and mainly seem to serve the purpose of controlling the movement of ‘ordinary’ people. Influential people, rich people, and privileged people have blatantly moved around at will; without facing prosecution, and with none of them actually dying from the virus.

The mass unemployment caused by those same lockdowns has actually served the purpose of our right-wing government and big business. It has done this by creating a large pool of unemployed people willing to take almost any job at the minimum wage, with no real contract or the usual employment benefits. We only have to use one example, Amazon, to see how big business has been making untold extra millions because of people being forced to stay at home.

Yes, tens of thousands of small businesses have had to close for good, but big business never cared about its competition, did it? And who supplies most of the donations and funding to the party currently in power?

Then when the financial crisis hits hard next year, the government can blame the supposed debt for policies like cutting benefits, delaying pension payments, and any other ‘austerity’ measures they see fit to introduce. None of this will affect the rich of course.

Former colleagues of mine still working in the Ambulance Service report that they have not actually dealt with a single confirmed case of coronavirus, despite the 40,000+ reported deaths here. Those same reported deaths include anyone who ‘tested positive’ for Covid-19 up to 28 days before they died. Then if they died in a car accident, or from terminal cancer, or because of a heart condition or stroke, they were ‘included’ in the numbers of Covid-related deaths for that period. Even if they did not have a single symptom associated with the virus.

Meanwhile, deaths from ‘treatable’ illnesses have rocketed, because they have suspended medical treatment and surgical procedures that might have saved those people. They have done this because of the need to save beds for C-19 patients, and it has caused far more than 40,000 unnecessary deaths.

These are not the findings of mask-haters, or lockdown rebels. They are the opnions of sensible, hard-working people who work for the Police, and the NHS.

They are not my own opinons, just so you know. But I felt it was time to present an alternative view of the current crisis.

An Alphabet Of Things I Like: E

Elephants.

Who could dislike elephants?

I was lucky enough to go on a holiday to Kenya and Tanzania many years ago, and see these magnificent endangered animals in large numbers outside the sad confines of a zoo environment.

It is good to know that they are no longer cruelly exploited in old-fashioned circuses, though some countries still use them for entertaining tourists, like the football-playing elephants in Thailand. I would love to see all such exploitation banned. They are caring, sensitive animals, and for them this is no better than slavery.

They are still killed in large numbers too, mainly for the ivory in their tusks. It would be good if every country in the UN gave enough money to eradicate this terrible poaching, which continues as I type this.

You only have to look at this lovely baby elephant to see the joy in an animal that lives in family groups, cares for each other, and can live up to the age of 70.

An Alphabet Of Things I Like: D

Doughnuts.

(Yes, my American friends. You have been spelling it wrong all this time)

I adore doughnuts. I have to try not to buy any, or I would eat them all without regret or conscience.

I don’t care that they are bad for you. Most things that taste great are.

It doesn’t matter to me where they come from. Specialist shop, local bakery, or supermarket. I love them all.

Whether glazed ring.

Jam-filled.
(Americans call it ‘Jelly’, but it’s not. That’s something different.)

A twisty Yum-Yum.

Or my top-favourite, custard-filled.

To my mind, there is no such thing as a bad doughnut!

An Alphabet Of Things I Like: C

Chinchillas.

These nocturnal rodents from South America are often kept as pets. They are also farmed for the use of their fur. I don’t really agree with either, as fur should stay on the animals where it belongs, and Chinchillas can live for up to fifteen years, and become depressed in captivity. So I do not advocate ever being tempted to own one.

However, I used to know someone who had four of these as pets. They lived together in a very large cage, which had been adapted as well as possible for their habitat. They can grow to be quite large, and some varieties are as big as cats.

The reason they are mentioned here though, is because of their fur. I was given one to hold by my friend, and it had the softest most luxurious fur of any animal I have ever encountered. No dog, cat, rabbit, or other furry animal can compare to touching a Chinchilla. It is softer than velvet, almost impossible to describe just how wonderful it feels to cuddle and stroke those little creatures.

If you ever get the opportunity, I recommend it.

An Alphabet Of Things I Like: B

Brie.

This French cheese (also made in other countries) is a real guilty pleasure; fattening, salty, and generally bad for you in excess.

Why are things that are bad for you so tasty?

Here is some information concerning this delicious cheese.

Brie (/briː/; French: [bʁi]) is a soft cow’s-milk cheese named after Brie, the French region from which it originated (roughly corresponding to the modern département of Seine-et-Marne). It is pale in color with a slight grayish tinge under a rind of white mould. The rind is typically eaten, with its flavor depending largely upon the ingredients used and its manufacturing environment. It is similar to Camembert, which is native to a different region of France.

Very good accompanied by crackers or fresh French bread, it can also be added to a sandwich of mixed ingredients, (as in Bacon, Brie, and Cranberry). The soft cheese adds a tangy flavour which is unmistakable. It is also delicious served hot, often rolled in breadcrumbs and fried.

An Alphabet Of Things I like: A

I once did a series of A-Z posts about films, directors, and actors. There was also a musical A-Z, featuring songs, singers, or groups.
This time, it is just about things I like, and that could be anything that starts with the letter.

Absinthe.

This powerful alcoholic drink was once thought to drive people insane, and was even banned in some countries. There is a special way to drink the aniseed flavoured cloudy drink. First, add a little water to the green-coloured liquid. Then you have to have an Absinthe spoon. Soak one cube of sugar in the drink, then rest it on the spoon. Set light to the sugar cube, and then stir the flaming cube into the drink.

Be warned, at 55% volume, it is very strong. Some brands are available as high as 89% volume, and they can actually be injurious to health. (Most Vodka is 40%)

I have an unopened bottle in the drinks cupboard. It remains unopened for a good reason.

I like it far too much.

A Good Result

Some services in our NHS had to be put on hold when all the resources were being diverted to fighting the pandemic. But they are now coming back, slowly but surely. One of those is the Bowel Cancer Screening Programme. Because of my age, I was invited to take part, and when I agreed, they sent me a home test kit.

It is not the most pleasant thing to have to do, even though it is painless, and non-invasive. Basically, you have to poo into a container that you provide yourself. (A disposable one of course) Then you take a small stick from the plastic vial you have been sent, and rub it around your ‘deposit’ until the marked area is covered. Then it is put back into the vial, secured in its transit envelope, and posted back (free of charge) to the testing centre.

As with any test, the wait can be worrying. If they discover something amiss, it will mean a procedure where a large tube is inserted into your bowel, via your bum of course! That initial test might be followed by scans, or other procedures deemed necessary.

My result came back in the post today, after a week. I was very happy to get the all-clear, and require no more testing at the moment. They will send me another test kit in two years from now.

Such screening programmes are worth participating in. They are catching potentially fatal diseases before they have had time to take a hold on your body, and reducing the need for subsequent surgery and other therapies. And they are free too.

Yet again, I have to say we are lucky to have the NHS.

A Virtual Funeral

Paul is one of my oldest and dearest friends. I have known him and his family for a long time. On the 28th of September, his father Harry died at the age of 91. I knew him of course, and we always had a great relationship. We exchanged letters, he sent me books, and I visited him in his homes in Devon over the years.

In normal circumstances, I would have attended the funeral today. But in 2020, circumstances are not normal. Reduced numbers allowed, wearing of face masks, and the prospect of a long car journey in excess of six hours each way. So I declined the invitation to attend the service today, and was pleased to hear that it was going to be streamed online for anyone who lived too far away, or was unable to attend for other reasons.

I logged on using a link sent by email, and watched the funeral on the large monitor of my PC. Using the full screen option, I really felt as if I was there, watching from the ‘third row’. Julie watched it using her smartphone, and it was also good to see people we have not met up with for many years now.

This is a very ‘modern’ experience, but I have to say it worked exceptionally well. And during the thirty minute duration, the sound and vision remained first rate.

Henry (Harry) Clement was a former regular soldier in the Grenadier Guards. He went on to become a police officer in London’s Metropolitan Police. His career saw him rise to a very senior rank in the detective branch, during which time he was involved in some of the most high-profile criminal cases in British history. Harry was a relgious man, and a devoted family man too. The service refelected this, with prayers and hymns, a eulogy read by Paul, and a poem read by his sister, Elizabeth.

RIP Harry Clement. A good man, who lived a good life.