The Mind-Blowing Universe

The new James Webb space telescope is soon to be operating, and sending back images from parts of our universe never seen before.

That made me think about something that happened when I was in junior school, around seven or eight years old. (Before space travel) We were learning about the planets, and their distances from Earth.

Then the teacher showed us a photo of The Milky Way, taken by a telescope on a high mountain somewhere. Someone asked her how far away The Milky Way was. She talked about estimates, and said it was around 30,000 light years from us.

I had no concept of what a light year was. (To be honest, I still haven’t.)

Someone else asked her if The Milky Way was the end of outer space. She smiled, and shook her head. Then she said something I have never forgotten.

“The universe is limitless, so it has no end. The next nearest galaxy is two million light years from Earth.”.

Ten years before I ever tried mind-expanding drugs, her statement completely blew my mind.

Sixty-two years later, I still cannot get my head around the concept.


For as long as I can recall, I have always been a ‘sneezer’. When I was very young, my mum taught me to put my hand over my face when I sneezed, and as soon as I was old enough, she gave me a cotton handkerchief to keep in my pocket, telling me to sneeze into that when I could.

When I sneezed as a toddler, I actually remember her singing the old nursery rhyme to me.

Ring-a-ring o’ roses,
A pocket full of posies,
A-tishoo! A-tishoo!
We all fall down

As I grew up, it got worse. Almost anything could make me sneeze, and once I started to get Hay Fever in my teens, that trebled the amount of sneezes during the high pollen season. I had some notion that I would grow out of it eventually, but that wasn’t to be.

There are occasions when I might sneeze as many as twenty times, with hardly a pause in between. Unlike some people, I am not able to stop myself sneezing, by wiggling my nose, or some other method. And these are not ‘polite’ or ‘snuffly’ sneezes, oh no. Each one is a full-on blast that rocks my head back and forth, and can end up leaving me exhausted.

Being such a prolific sneezer has many social disadvantages. I sometimes had to leave a film showing in a cinema when I was sneezing so much I annoyed the other patrons. I stood in the foyer of a theatre once, when my sneezing all but interrupted a play in the West End of London.

Another night in a Soho Jazz bar, the main act was halfway through his show when I started sneezing. I was sitting at a table only a few feet from the stage, and he finally stopped singing and playing his piano. Turning to me, he smiled and said. “When you’re finished, I’ll get back to my song”.

I went outside until the sneezing fit passed.

At an awards ceremony, I was on stage about to be given a medal, when I started sneezing so violently, the man dishing them out had to wait until I had finished before pinning it on. And that was in front of over 200 colleagues.

Driving my car can be dangerous too. I once had to pull onto the hard shoulder of a motorway when a continous bout of sneezes made it unsafe for me to continue driving. Then yesterday when I was walking Ollie, I started sneezing as we walked along the riverside path, and couldn’t stop. The final sneeze was so violent, I fell over sideways.

Luckily it was onto the path, and not into the river.

December The 7th, 1941

Eighty years ago today, Japan attacked the American fleet at Pearl Harbour, and brought the United States into WW2.

As a result, a bitter war was fought in the Pacific, and so many soldiers and civilians died. Some years later, American troops and equipment made D-Day possible, and Germany was finally defeated.

Becuase of Japan’s entry into the war, the allies finally had to invent a super-weapon to defeat that country, and the world went into the terrifying nuclear age.

Let us never forget those who died on that day, and always remember the significance of the date in world history.

Nice Times (7)

When I was an EMT, I often had to work New Year’s Eve night duty, one of the busiest shifts of the year for ambulances in London. During one shift, we bought a bottle of champagne in a local shop. When we got into our local casualty department just before midnight, we opened the champagne in the tea room, and poured small measures into paper cups for the nurses and doctors on duty. Just after the clock passed twelve, we carried them out on a tray and passed them around, shouting “Happy New Year” to each nurse or doctor in turn. (We didn’t drink any) Then it was back out into the busy night, but it had been a nice moment indeed.

My mum and I owned a large long-haired German Shepherd dog, Skipper. We had him from a tiny pup, and he grew into a huge dog. When I got married, he stayed with my mum, and almost fifteen years later, he was living with her in a small flat in Peckham. One day, she rang me to tell me he couldn’t stand up, and his back legs did not seem to be working. She couldn’t take him out, and he wouldn’t eat anything, or drink any water. I drove over to see her, and could see that poor Skipper was close to the end. I rang the Vet and asked him to come out to put our dog to sleep. He agreed to do so, if we paid an exhorbitant extra charge, and came just over an hour later. My mum was too upset to stay in the room, but I sat on the floor with Skipper’s head in my lap as the Vet injected him. Our old dog looked up at me as he died, and I stroked his head. As sad as it was, that was nice for me, to be there for Skipper in his final moments.

On the day that I resigned from the London Ambulance Service to work for the police, I had to go into the main station at Fulham and hand my letter over to the Station Officer. She was an experienced Paramedic who had swapped operational duties for being a manager. I had been the union representative for many years, and we had experienced some run-ins and confrontational moments previously. But that morning, she genuinely tried to persuade me to stay on. When I declined, she thanked me for all my service, for being a fair but firm union man, and stood up to shake my hand. We had worked as adversaries, but left the room as friends.

After I had retired and moved to Norfolk, I spent a long time working as a volunteer for the the Fire Service. I would drive around installing smoke alarms, talking to various groups, and attending school fire safety displays. I had to ring the elderly or disabled people who qualified for the free smoke alarms, and arrange my own appointments. One day, I rang an very old lady who lived in a small village about eight miles from Beetley, and she agreed for me to go to her house the next morning at eleven. She was walking using a frame on wheels, and her back was very bent from age and arthritis. I changed her old defunct smoke alarm for a new one, and showed her how it worked. As I was leaving, she presented me with a small Victoria Sponge cake she had made for me, saying “I got up at six this morning to make it fresh for you”. A lovely old lady.

Nice Times (6)

On Holiday in Kenya, 1983. We attended an ‘African Cultural Evening’ staged at the hotel in Mombasa. There were dancers and music, then they produced snakes to be stroked or avoided, depending on your fears. But the best bit for me was when one of the dancers put a live Chameleon on my arm. I have always loved those fascinating creatures, and I watched as it made its way up my shoulder, and eventually sat happily on my head. I can still feel the sensation of it climbing slowly.

I took my mum to one of the most expensive Chinese retaurants in London, the Feng Shang floating Chinese junk, on the Regent’s Canal. My mum always claimed to hate the taste of garlic, yet she devoured garlic prawns and Singapore noodles, before exclaiming they were “Delicious!” The Chinese staff showed great respect for her because of her age, and were very attentive. She had no idea how much that meal cost, but I wouldn’t have cared if it had been ten times more expensive, as she relished the atmosphere for every second she was there.

My last visit to Paris, in the 1990s. We went up a few stages of the Eiffel Tower, took a river trip along The Seine, and we were staying with my dear friend Francoise, who lived in a smart apartment near the centre. When it came time to go home, Francoise had already left for work, and we needed a taxi to take us to get the Eurostar at the Gare Du Nord. I used her phone to call the cab rank, and requested the taxi in very good French. My (second ex) wife looked at me as if I had just split the atom, and said, “You sounded so French”. She was actually surprised when the taxi arrived ten minutes later.

Leaving Ollie at the local Vet when he had just had the tip of his tail bitten off, and needed an operation. The Vet nurse came to get him, and as she led him away on his lead, he stopped and looked round at me. I said, “Good boy, Ollie, you will be okay”, and he trotted off with her, trusting what I had told him. Despite being worried for him, the fact that he had trusted me brought tears to my eyes.

Distant Memories (3)

The early memory flashbacks I wrote about recently have slowed down. However, some came to me late yesterday, as I was settling down to sleep.

A metal spinning top, brightly coloured. It worked by pushing down on a knob at the top, and would spin for a long time if the rachet caught properly. I remember this toy from when I was older, but last night’s memory was perhaps the first time I was given it. Sitting on the floor, my dad kneeling in front of me pushing the top to make it spin. I can feel my mouth wide with a big smile.

Being given a ride on a man’s shoulder’s. Not my dad, probably my uncle, mum’s brother-in-law, judging from his thick black hair that I am holding onto. He runs across the room, and I feel very high up. An old glass lampshade is in front of me, and I can see dead insects inside the large illuminated bowl. He swerves just in time so my head doesn’t hit it.

There is a gold-coloured fire-guard in front of a glowing coal fire. I am either sitting or crawling, and I grab the edge of it. I can feel the heat as it burns the edges of my fingers, then I am swept up, to be carried away somewhere by my mum.

Just fleeting seconds of my life, and all as real as if they happened this morning.

Remembrance Sunday

In 2014, a very moving display of ceramic poppies was staged at The Tower Of London, to commemorate the fallen British service personnel in all wars.

The poppies were later sold individually, and I bought one for Julie, to remember her father who served in the army after WW2.

In the UK, we celebrate Remembrance Sunday on the closest Sunday to the 11th of November. As well as the National Ceremony held in London’s Whitehall at the Cenotaph Memorial to WW1, most cities, towns, and villages in Great Britain will also hold local parades and services in memory of those who served and died.

As so long has passed since the end of WW1 in 1918, we no longer have anyone left alive who served in that war, in any capacity. The last living veteran of World War I was Florence Green, a British citizen who served in the Allied armed forces, and who died 4 February 2012, aged 110. The last veteran who served in the trenches was Harry Patch (British Army), who died on 25 July 2009, aged 111.

Here is Harry Patch, being interviewed about his experiences in WW1. It always chokes me up to see this.

They will not be forgotten today. Neither will those who served in WW2, Korea, Suez, Malaya, Kenya, Aden, The Falklands, Northern Ireland, and modern conflicts like Iraq and Afghanistan.

We will have our one minute of silence at 11 am, even though it will not be on the 11th. And those of us unable to be in London, or at local parades, will be able to watch it on the television, and quietly pay our respects.

Distant Memories (2)

Here are some more of these childhood memories from when I was very young. They are still appearing randomly, as brief flashbacks in my mind.

A young woman, or perhaps a girl, is dangling a thick plait or pigtail close to my face. I think I am in a pram, looking up. Her hair is very dark, and this feels like a memory I have had previously. But this time, I reach up and grab the thick hair. I can sense how big it is in my tiny hand, and actually feel the weave of the plait in my fingers.

I am sitting on a floor. It is simple wooden floorboards, painted black. I can see the heads of old nails in the corners of the wood. I move across to a threadbare rug, to retrieve a wooden toy car. As I grab it, it moves further away, and I have to follow it until it is stopped by the leg of a chair.

My dad is watching television. Something happens to make him jump up and shout out loud. That startles me as I am playing, but then I smile because he is happy.
(I think this must have been a football match, but can’t be sure. My dad bought a TV in 1953, when I was one year old.)

Walking awkwardly toward my mum. Her arms are outstreched, as if to catch me. She is kneeling on the floor, and wearing her glasses. I feel myself falling, and then she scoops me up into her arms.

An older female friend or relative arrives in the room. She is wearing a fur coat, and smells very strongly of perfume. She reaches down, picks me up easily, and kisses me. The softness of the fur is the first sensation, then I sneeze because of the perfume, and everyone laughs.

In an unfamiliar bed, and feeling incredibly, unbearably hot. I look to my right and see my mum sitting in a chair next to the bed. Her eyes are red and swollen, and she looks different. She turns to someone I can’t see and says, “He’s awake”.

Distant Memories

Recently, distant memories have started to appear in my mind, like watching an old newsreel clip for the briefest time. They are always childhood memories, mere snapshots of when I was very young, little more than a toddler. As I don’t remember many specifics before I started school at the age of five, those earliest memories fascinate me. They show that memory starts much earlier than I had ever considered.

With the benefit of age, I can now place those memories in their time, in their part of my life. Perhaps growing older and being a reflective person makes them more interesting to me. I don’t know the answer, but I do enjoy those ‘time-travel’ momentary flashbacks.

Sometimes they appear as dreams, and at other times pop into my head as I am driving, or walking around with Ollie. They open a window onto my childhood that I had never previously experienced, and I see them as a blessing.

My dad is trying to light a coal fire on a very cold day. My mum is holding me, having wrapped me in a knitted blanket, and the smoke from the fire refusing to catch is coming out into the room. Dad is holding a newspaper across the fireplace, and my mum gets up to open the window slightly, hoping to let the smoke out of the room.

I am holding a wooden toy. I don’t know what toy it is, but I can feel the wood. My dad enters the room with a towel around his neck and looks down at me, smiling. I hold whatever it is up to him, showing it to him as if he has never seen it before.

Mum is singing to me. I don’t know the song, but I am enjoying listening to it. She is smoking a cigarette, and I am fascinated by the long ash at the end. It grows longer and longer, and I am sure it will fall onto the chair.

A warm day, probably at the seaside on holiday. Mum is holding me as we sit on a small fairground ride. We are astride a wooden animal, perhaps a horse, and the ride is rotating slowly. She tells me to look at my dad, and he has a camera to his face, taking our photo.

I am in the small back garden of my maternal grandparents’ house. My grandfather reaches out to stop me stumbling, taking my hand. He shows me a handful of runner beans he has just picked. I can smell the earth in the garden.

I hope I continue to get many more of these distant memories. I like them a lot.

Selling Yourself: The Last Part

The final episode (that I had forgotten about) of my history of jobs before I became an EMT. No more after this, I promise!


This is the final episode in what has become a seven-part saga relating my experiences in numerous selling jobs. As I come to the end of this part of my history, it has occurred to me that I have now covered on this blog a great deal of my working life; also all three marriages, as well as my day to day life at the moment.

I have commented on countless films, and quite a lot of music, as well as voicing my opinions about world events, domestic politics, and other issues. Almost 330 posts, which I have to look back on, to even remember what I wrote at the time. Am I running out of things to write about? I have lived for sixty-one years, and almost covered that life so far. I will have to hope that this is not the case, and search my memory. I may…

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