How Animals Perceive The World: Sound And Sight

If you have a pet, you may want to watch this short film. It examines how various animals, insects, and birds (including cats and dogs) hear and see the world that surrounds them, in a very different way to human perception. There is some science to listen to, but even I could understand it.

My friend Antony sent me the You Tube clip, and I think many of you will find it fascinating.

Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

Not a Brit.

If you come from the UK, it is very common to be called ‘A Brit’, especially by Americans and Canadians. But it is easy to overlook the fact that Great Britain is made up of four very different countries. England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland have different cultures and traditions, varied histories, and also languages other than English.

It may say ‘British Citizen’ on my (expired) passport, and I have to state my nationality as ‘British’ on many official forms and documents. But as anyone born and raised here will tell you, I am English. If I travel to any of those other three countries, I would be regarded as such too.

The United Kingdom is far from being united.

At least half the people in Scotland would like that country to be independent, and to rejoin the EU. Wales also has a Nationalist political party advocating independence and the use of the Welsh language, though it has moderate influence there. Northern Ireland has a complex and tragic history, intertwined with religion and over one hundred years of struggle in the modern era.

Those other three countries also have their own devolved governments. Their powers are different in each one, but generally allow them to make many of their own rules and laws with having to refer to the national government in London. Scotland and Northern Ireland also have different banknotes, though the currency is still The Pound.

We don’t have a ‘Great Britain’ football team either. Each of the four nations has its own team, with dedicated fans and followers. The national Cricket tean is the ‘England’ team, not British. Playing any of the home nations (as they are called) in any sport carries the same rivalry and nationalistic fervour as if we were playing Brazil or Germany.

I am not able to state my nationality as ‘English’ in any offcial capacity, but I have never thought of myself as anything else. In the same way, someone from Scotland or Wales would call themselves Scottish or Welsh, wherever they happened to live.

In my remaining lifetime, I am unlikely to see a total break-up of Great Britain. Even if Scotland voted for- and was granted – independence, Wales and Northern Ireland are unlikely to follow. But given the choice, I would advocate that.

Because we are different, so it makes sense to me to be separate countries.

Old Man Walking

As I set off with Ollie yesterday, I walked past two young mums pushing toddlers on the swings in the small playground. I had seen one of them before, and politely nodded to her as I went by.

The other young woman turned and asked her “Do you know him?”

The first one shook her head, replying “No, but he’s always here whenever I bring Chloe to the swings. I see him walking here all the time. I just think of him as the old man walking”.

This was all said less than twenty feet fom me. I presume they thought my craggy face and sparse silver hair also affected my hearing.

As I went through the gate of Hoe Rough, I was smiling. Their exchange had made me think of the film ‘Dead Man Walking’. In the film, a prisoner on death row is preceded by a prison guard as he moves around. The guard calls out “Dead man walking! Dead man walking here!” https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0112818/

Perhaps I should employ someone to walk ahead of me?

He could call out “Old man walking! Old man walking here!” 🙂

Time Slip

I have written a lot on this blog about how time seems to pass by much faster as you get older. Over the last eight years, each Wednesday seemed to appear two days earlier than I expected it to, and Christmas felt like it came around every three months.

Some individual days just fly by, even when I don’t have to go to work, and stick to a fairly regular routine. It often feels like I haven’t been up that long, and here I am at 6 pm starting to prepare dinner. I have to stand there and think back on what I have done. Blog posts, taking Ollie out for a couple of hours, maybe a drive into town, and a supermarket shop. I realise that it has actually been quite a long day, and I have been occupied for most of it.

But on the surface, it has felt like two hours, not ten.

Then it dawned on me today that it is still only just May. January seems a distant memory, as if it was two years ago, not five months. It has to be the unusual pressures of the coronavirus measures that have made 2020 seem like one of the slowest years I can remember since my childhood, but I have no real explanation as to why that has happened in my brain.

For the first time in a very long while, time has slowed down for me.

I rather like it like this.

A Perception Of Height

This is a sign I have never really had to bother about.

I am only 5 feet 7 inches tall. Below average height in Europe, where I would be 1.7 metres. I have spent my life being shorter than almost all other men I have encountered, and many of the women I have met too. I first really noticed the difference when I was about 13 years old, and realised a girl I really liked was taller than me. Well, she was on the Netball Team, so I should have known. By the time I had grown to my full height, I was disappointed that I would be stuck with that for the rest of my life.

As I reached my late teens and was dating girls, I started to hate high-heeled shoes too. Some girls who were shorter than me immediately became taller once wearing shoes to go on a date. When I got to the pub with her, I became obsessed with trying to find another male shorter than me, so I wouldn’t be the shortest guy in the place.

Then I started work, and had to commute on public transport for a while. I could never see past any man standing nearby, and had to learn to count the stops, so I knew when to get off. Going to the cinema or theatre was a pain too, as if another man sat in front of me, it usually meant I had to watch the film or show with my head cranked to one side, so I could see over his shoulder.

Being short in Central London in the late 1960s wasn’t great either. Taller blokes (so almost all of them) would enjoy baiting me, or intimidating me. I had to develop a serious ‘attitude’ to avoid being pushed around or ridiculed. My long-term girlfriend at the time was almost as tall as me, so once she added heeled boots or shoes, I found myself having to glance up at her. She didn’t mind the difference, but I did.

But it does have some benefits. I have never hit my head on a car roof when getting in and out. I didn’t have to bend my knees up to my chin to be able to drive a car, and I could always find shoes and trousers in my size too. And I wasn’t ‘really short’. Not like some of the local boys who never got past 5 feet 2. I would have felt really sorry for them, and suggested they seek a career as a jockey, had it not been for the fact that most of them developed a real ‘little-man’ attitude, and became very aggressive. Presumably for self-protection.

It seemed that I was often a sucker for punishment too. My second wife was almost 6 feet tall in her bare feet, so with shoes on, she literally towered above me. The photos of our wedding look like she is escorting her little brother to a function. She didn’t mind our height difference at all. But I did.

Luckily, nobody ever made much of a fuss about it. I was never called ‘Little Pete’. In fact, I was far more likely to be called ‘Grumpy Pete’. Nobody ever called me ‘Shorty’, ‘Tich’, or ‘Half-Pint’. There were times I wondered if I was making too much of it. But then there were those signs, like the one above. As I walked under them, I didn’t dip down, or duck my head. Everyone else had to of course, including my ex-wife.

Over the decades, it came to matter less. I arrived in Beetley, retired from work, and stopped bothering about my height.

Then one day last year, I was walking with two lady dog-walkers over at Beetley Meadows. I know them well, and we often walk our dogs together. A small tree had fallen across the path, creating a kind of arch of its branches. As we walked through, I ducked under. Turning to wait for the two ladies, I saw one of them chuckling. I asked her what was funny, thinking I had missed a joke.

“You ducked under the branches, Pete. There was no need, they cleared your head by a mile. How tall do you think you are?”

Pain Threshold

On an unusually hot and sunny afternoon last week, I was chatting to a fellow dog-walker when I felt an incredibly sharp pain at the back of my head. It was best described as being hit by an air-rifle pellet, or being stabbed by someone using a spike of some kind. I yelled loudly, and jumped forward, quickly turning to see if someone was behind me. The man I was talking to pointed to the space above my head, and declared, “It’s a horsefly”. I have had horsefly bites on my legs in the past, and they can be painful. But this one on my head was much worse, and was throbbing immediately.

I carried on with my walk, and by the time I got over the river onto Hoe Rough, the swelling was the size of an egg, and pulsing painfully. As I type this, I can still feel the remains of that hard lump above my right ear.

Yesterday afternoon, I was stepping into the bath, prior to getting ready to take Ollie out. As I did so, I caught the inside of my left leg on the edge of the bath. It was little more than a glancing blow, hardly even a ‘knock’. Yet it made me shout in pain so loudly, Ollie’s head appeared, to see what was happening. It was really painful, and by the time I was out of the bath and getting dried, there was a bruise appearing, the size of a coin.

I have been lucky so far in life. I have not had to have any major surgery, and have never broken an arm, leg, or even an ankle. There have been my fair share of falls, bumps, and cuts over the years, and I did break four fingers on my left hand in a very bad car accident when I was 32. But whatever injury I ever had, I never thought too much about it, and never once made a fuss.

So how is it that I suddenly have zero pain threshold for things like a small impact on my leg, or the bite of an insect? What changed along the way? I’m sure it cannot just be age, as I know older people who have bravely endured surgery or broken limbs quite recently. Is it my perception of pain that has altered, or can a body actually change how it registers levels of pain?

Whatever the reason, I don’t like it.

Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

Reputation.

I was chatting to a friend on the phone the other day. He also happens to be an ex-colleague from my days as an EMT in the London Ambulance Service. We worked at the same base for many years, and he also later worked with me in a police control room, before I retired.

He told me a story about how he had recently returned to his home on the south coast, and had been told that his elderly aunt was ill. He went round to see her, and took her into hospital for a check up. They discharged her, and recommended that her family doctor attend, to carry out checks at her home. The doctor didn’t come as requested. Instead, he sent a Paramedic Practitioner, to call at the home of the old lady. This is something fairly new here. To save the time of general practice doctors, and also to save the cost of employing additional doctors to help, they use former ambulance paramedics who have attended an extended training course, to work in the community.

As the man was examining her, he turned to my friend, and said, “I know you, you used to work at North Kensington Ambulance Station, in London”. My friend was surprised that this man should have encountered him after all those years, but confessed that he didn’t recognise him at all. It turned out that he had spent some time as a shift relief on the West London rota, and had worked with my friend on more than one occasion. He continued by saying, “You had a bloke there, Pete Johnson, a real militant he was”.

He was talking about me.

As I left the ambulance service in 2001, it is always a surprise to me that anyone remembers me, unless they were close friends, or regular colleagues at the same base. This random man, now working over 80 miles away from where I might have met him, possibly worked with me once or twice, probably before 1990. I don’t remember him at all, but after almost 30 years, he certainly remembers me, and has strong opinions about what I was like too. I left a mark, undoubtedly, and half a lifetime later, my reputation continues, at least where this man is concerned.

That got me thinking. Yes, I was a militant. I was a union organiser, one of the first to go on strike in the 1989 National Dispute, and I voted for the Communist Party. I was around 36 years of age at the time, heavily involved in all aspects of the Trade Union, and politics outside of work too. But I never considered that I had a ‘reputation’, at least not in my day to day life as an EMT. I did the job to the best of my ability, and mostly played by the rules. I like to think that I got on well with 99% of my colleagues, and all the various medical departments and agencies we came into daily contact with. When I finally left to work for the Police, most people, outside of some senior managers, were sorry to see me go. At least I thought so.

Then 30 years later, a face from the past tells someone of my reputation. Not of my sense of humour, my kindness, or fairness. Nothing to do with my hard work, or the fight to get decent conditions for everyone in the Ambulance Service. Not a word about my years working on the committees to get better vehicles and equipment, or serviceable uniforms. No mention of 22 years serving the community of London in a low-paid, difficult, and often very stressful job. It all came down to one thing, a reputation based on perception.

“A real militant”.

On reflection, I don’t really mind that at all.

Still getting older

I have written about growing older before on this blog. Since the last time, I am of course a little older, so consider this an update. I was recently reminded by an old and close friend, that I had never expected to see sixty. After decades of shift work, stressful jobs, heavy smoking, and a bad diet, I felt sure that I would be carried off by one illness or another, by my late fifties. I imagined my sudden departure being spoken about by friends and colleagues, in the way that these things are discussed. “Did you hear about Pete?” “No, really? And he was only 57.” “Yes, that’s no age these days.” But it didn’t happen. I woke up on my sixtieth birthday, and every day since. I had to learn to cope with getting older, which came as a complete surprise, not least to me.

There are the usual things that come with age. Looking for reading glasses for ages, then discovering that they were on your head all the time. Ransacking the entire house for door-keys, only to find them hanging in the lock, an hour later. The old favourite; walking into a different room, then forgetting why you went in there in the first place, and taking just that little bit longer to remember names, faces, and places. You soon realise that you don’t need to watch the weather forecast, to know when it’s going to rain. Your joints will burn and ache for no good reason, long before the dark clouds appear. It is as if your body has become a barometer, and the falling pressure is registered in your very bones.

When you are young, you always think that it will be different for you. You won’t be like the old people of your youth, or talk or behave anything like your own parents. But you will, to some degree at least. You will hear yourself saying things that echo from the past, catching yourself momentarily, thinking you might have already said this or that before. Then the realisation sets in. It was what old people used to say, and now you are saying it. Most young people begin to seem either lazy, or impatient. Their attention span is limited, their desire to learn absent, and their ambition minimal. This cannot be true of all of them of course, it is just how you see it. But sweeping generalisations are a comfort of being older. You can state them, and leave them hanging to be challenged.

And everything was better ‘back then’. Food was tastier, families were closer, everyone felt safer, and you could walk in and out of jobs at will. Even the summers were sunnier, and it seemed that you never had to worry about anything. It’s not true of course, at least not for everyone. But your mind helps you to come to terms with the inadequacies of ageing, by reminding you that you once had it good, very good. Of course, the ‘now’ can be even better. No work to go to, time on your hands, places to explore, thoughts to dwell on, and pleasures to pursue. It seems, at least to me, that the key is to forget about the numbers, and to stop seeing age as a definition of yourself. You wake up, do what you can do, and make the most of it. Enjoy the freedom, and take advantage of the wisdom and experience.

But it’s not that easy, is it?

Everyday life defines you by age. Fill in a form, and you will see a place for age. I am currently in the 55-64 category. The next one up is 65+, the upper figure undefined. Concessions are given once you exceed a certain age, and you begin to wish away some precious years, waiting for that state pension that you paid into for so long, or frustratingly anticipating a bus pass that you haven’t even used. Whether you like it or not, you become very interested in age. The news seems to be full of people dying. Actors, celebrities, politicians, all mentioned for their contributions. If their age is not mentioned, I immediately look them up, to see when they were born. Quickly working out whether or not they were older than me when they died. This strange behaviour extends to the living as well. Seeing someone pop up in a film, or TV interview, I will exclaim “Are they still alive? I thought they would be dead by now.” Without hesitation, I will look up their age on the Internet, and make some pointless comment about how well they have aged, or not, as the case may be. One of the things about getting older, is that you can develop an unhealthy interest in the ages of everyone around you.

Then there is the perception of others. Something that I heard a lot in the past, especially from my Mum, was that you don’t really age inside, and still believe yourself to be young at heart. I am not so sure that’s always true, but it does come as a shock, the first time someone thinks that you are older than you are. Even if they say that they think you are younger, often by a good few years, your first instinct is to think that they are being kind. But when they add a few years, you can be shocked, and begin to wonder how they came to that conclusion. At the windmill recently, I was happily chatting to an older lady, a fellow volunteer, for a while. When the subject of pensions came up, she expressed surprise that I wasn’t yet old enough to receive my state pension. (It is paid when I am 65) I told her that I was still only 63, and asked her how old she thought I was. She casually remarked, “about 67.”
That is only four years older than I am now, but it is a huge difference in perception, at least from where I was standing!

So there are lots of things to consider about getting older; a lot more than I ever thought there would be, as I didn’t still expect to be here. I might make this an occasional series, I’m not sure. Younger readers might rightly consider that there is little of interest for them here, but I have a suggestion. Print it off, seal it in an envelope, and write ‘To be opened on… (add date of your 60th birthday).’
You can then use it like an instruction manual.