Thinking Aloud On A Sunday

Space: The Final Frontier.

I woke up thinking about Space today. Probably because there has been a lot of fuss this week about the photo of a black hole in space. Scientists don’t really know what happens inside a black hole, but they have theories of course. They may lead to another dimension entirely, or back to one that is parallel to our own. Time might stand still inside a black hole, creating a Star-Trek style time warp, changing the concept of time as we understand it.

That sounds exciting, doesn’t it?

But then I heard that this monster black hole is actually 55,000,000 light years away from Earth. I don’t know a lot about light years, but driving 130 miles to London seems like a mission to me, so I am guessing that 55,000,000 light years is a considerable distance, to say the least.

I looked up how many miles are in just one light year. I don’t really understand the answer, but here it is. 5.8786254 x 1012 miles. Sounds like a lot of miles to me. I multiplied that by 55,000,000, and got this answer. 327 204 289 764 miles. I’m guessing the 327 is ‘trillion’, and the 204 is ‘billion’. If so, it’s a lot further than my imagination can reach, in terms of comprehending distance. Much further away than anything else that is a long way away, I’m guessing.

Is it just me, or does this all seem rather pointless to anyone else? The cost of producing these current photos alone is estimated to be around $16,000,000 dollars. And it’s not actually a photo of the black hole at all. It is the result of pointing a number of radio telescopes into the region, and then getting a computerised prediction of what it would look like, based on the ‘findings’. If you gave a group of nursery children enough marker pens and asked them to draw a black hole in space, they would probably have come up with something remarkably similar. A big red circle, with a black hole in the middle of it.

I am old enough to remember when the first spaceships were launched, and I have always wondered about the point of it all, and how much better the money could have been spent on problems we face on Earth. Since then, we have had Moon Landings, (or did they?) Space Walks, Space Stations, Space Weapons, and Satellites. Then there were ‘ robot landers’, small vehicles creeping around on planets that looked a lot like Death Valley in America, sending back hazy images of ‘other worlds’.

Now there is talk of an American ‘Space Force’, armies based in space, presumably on very large space stations. In the decades following Yuri Gagarin’s trip into space in 1961, we have had some very nice photos of planet Earth from above, the idea of teflon-coating saucepans, (apparently) and satellites to make using mobile phones and TV channels easier. The military can watch their drones and bombs kill people across continents, in real time, and terrorist suspects can be observed as they enjoy a mint tea in Damascus.

But was it all worth it? Do we still need to keep spending money on something so far away, we cannot even imagine the distance in our educated minds?

I suggest not.

Not on a planet where we face untold issues around climate change, plastic pollution, water shortages, disease, and a list of other problems too big to add here.

The disappearing year

Hard to believe it is already the 6th of April. It won’t be long before some bloggers are counting down the days to Christmas, and I still have unused presents from the last one.

It must be an age thing, but this year seems to be flying past faster than any I have ever known. March felt like it only lasted a week, and before I know it, it will be May. I am haunted by the words of my late Mum, who talked often of how her life seemed to slip away, toward the end. When she remarked that she had hardly noticed a year pass by, in 2010, I thought she was exaggerating at the time.

Now I know exactly what she was talking about.

Maybe it is because I don’t have to work, and rarely leave the cosy confines of Beetley and central Norfolk. My days no longer drag waiting for work to finish, or dreading the shift to come the following day. I have an easier life, and a relatively contented one.

But a much quicker one, undoubtedly. 🙂

Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

Is truth stranger than fiction?

Given that I am currently writing a serial based around what is best described as a ‘delicate’ subject, I woke up thinking about how people often refuse to believe things, because they appear to be unbelievable. When you read a horror or fantasy novel, you know that vampires and werewolves don’t exist, and you suspend belief so that you can just enjoy it. Much the same can be said for traditional romantic fiction, where serving maids or tavern wenches end up married to princes or dukes. We know it doesn’t happen very often (if at all) in real life, but we seek a diversion, and a happy ending.

But what about books (or films) dealing with the bad things that really happen? Serial-killers, child molesters, other sexual deviants, or unrelenting psychopaths who leave a trail of carnage in their wake? Such things sadly happen all too often in the real world. But unlike most popular novels or films in those genres, they usually don’t end up tied up neatly, with the perpetrator behind bars, following the dedicated work of an ace detective. There are currently 212 ‘official’ unsolved murders in Britain, one dating back to the 16th century. Add to that more than 3,000 unsolved sectarian murders reported during the Northern Ireland troubles, and real life shows us that it is all too possible to kill someone, and get away with it.

What about those stories where someone goes missing? Because they like to have a neat ending, they are usually found, again by a detective, or perhaps a dedicated friend. If not, then we might read about the discovery of their body instead. But few books or films conclude with the ending ‘never found’. It is known that that almost 275,000 people are reported missing every year, just in the UK. The majority of those eventually return, contact the authorities, or turn up somewhere else. But at least 18,000 are never seen or heard of again. Read that number again. 18,000. In the USA, the number is far greater, with around 2,000 people reported missing every day. Yes, every day. That’s 730,000 a year. At least ten of those reported daily are never seen or heard of again, leaving a missing total of 3,650, not accounting for the many thousands who are found dead soon after, or much later.

If I read those numbers in a novel, I might have decided that it stretched my credibility.

If any of you have ever read any of my ambulance stories, you may well agree that many of them sound far-fetched, almost unbelievable. In fictional medical dramas, people who suffer terrible injuries almost always recover, thanks to the dedication of the familiar staff. Should someone suffer a cardiac arrest, a few pumps on the chest or two zaps from a defibrillator will see them up and about in no time. They are usually leaving for home with a smile, as the closing credits roll. In reality, that rarely happens. If you ask anyone who served alongside me in the London Ambulance Service at the time, they will confirm that, I am sure. We had a saying, ‘Dead is Dead’.
And surely nobody ever calls an emergency paramedic team because they are having trouble passing a hard stool? Oh yes they do.

So to my current serial, and its dark themes of child abuse, and consensual sex between statutory ‘minors’ and adults. We know that happens, but obviously don’t like to dwell on it. Few of us know a family or families where that sort of thing goes on. That is something that happens ‘somewhere else’, and you look on in disbelief as you watch it on news reports, unable to comprehend how the other parent could not have been aware. Hardly anyone has ever personally known an outwardly respectable man, living a seemingly blameless life whilst secretly sexually abusing his eight-year-old daughter or son, after all.

But I have. And I had no idea, until it was exposed. I saw the effects on the confused wife and strangely sexualised young girl first hand. And it was far more disturbing than anything I had ever read in a book, or seen on a film.

So I have to conclude that the old saying is correct.
Truth is stranger than fiction

You couldn’t make it up.

Do you ever wonder?

Do you ever wonder how people who have no arms are able to get dressed?
I do.

Do you ever wonder why so many drivers find it almost impossible to park their cars in a space?
I do.

Do you ever wonder why so many people are obsessed with the lives of so-called celebrities?
I do.

Do you ever wonder why some insects only live for a few hours, mate, and then die?
I do.

Do you ever wonder what the world would be like, if ants were as big as Spaniels?
I do.

Do you ever wonder why some people are geniuses, but most of us can just about count our change?
I do.

Do you ever wonder why we don’t all speak the same language?
I do.

Do you ever wonder why animals like crocodiles have never evolved since the time of the dinosaurs?
I do.

Do you ever wonder about a world with no Internet?
I do.

Do you ever wonder how early man decided to combine ingredients to create bread?
I do.

Those are just ten of the things that I often wonder about.

What do you wonder about?

Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

Weddings, and Marriage.

I suppose because Spring is soon upon us, and the wedding season will begin in earnest, I woke up thinking about the subject of weddings today.

I have considerable experience of the process of course, having been married three times, with two divorces behind me. But those failures also imply I may not know what I am talking about.

I get that.

So the following is just a personal opinion, and as always, just ‘thinking aloud’.

Things to think about.

Just because you get on really well now, don’t expect that marriage will just make that even better. In many cases, it changes relationships beyond all comprehension. You can wake up the day after the wedding, and wonder who that person next to you really is.

Just because you might have been cohabiting happily for a long time, perhaps even already have children together, don’t expect marriage to seal that deal, and add a certain something to what you already enjoy. There is a very good chance that it will have the opposite effect entirely.

Don’t spend a fortune on your big day. People can spend thousands, as much as £40,000, even more, on a wedding these days. That one day is just not worth it, believe me. That money could have been put to so many better uses. And within a few months, you will probably never watch that expensive video again, or even look at the photographs. (This advice is undoubtedly too late, as by now you will have almost certainly booked everything)

Seriously consider not getting married at all. There are so many different reasons why people get married. Commitment, security, tradition, excitement, stability, and more. But if you already have all of that, then that one day in a church, registry office, or a nice hotel won’t make any difference at all. Whatever you think now.

But you are going to ignore my advice, I know that. You will get married anyway, because it will be different for you. You won’t make the same mistakes others did. You have a fresh approach to marriage, and you will make it work. Yours will never end in divorce. You will have 2 point 4 children, be happy and fulfilled, and you will celebrate your Diamond wedding anniversary surrounded by your family and friends. I hope that’s true, and I wish you luck with that.

Some tips.

If you are determined to carry on with the plans to marry, take it seriously. It’s not a game, and will change your life in ways you never anticipated.

Don’t just think about compromise, be sure to compromise. If you don’t, it will end badly.

Remember that you don’t exist just as a couple. You are two people, very different people. Never forget that.

If you are going to bother to get married, don’t put your family before the person you marry. By marrying him or her, you have made them the most important part of your family, even if you didn’t realise that was going to happen.

I wish you all well. Bride and Groom, Groom and Groom, Bride and Bride. Whichever combination works for you.

Just don’t expect miracles. Because they don’t exist.

Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

Books, and reading.

As I have started to read again, after a long break, and because I was reading a book in bed before I went to sleep last night, it is understandable that I woke up today thinking about that subject.

I am not getting on that well with electronic reading. On the plus side, it is great to be able to read an ‘illuminated page’, with no need for additional lighting. And I can store a lot of books on something the size of an A4 sheet of paper. The downside for me is that the page-turning feature can be over-sensitive, frequently flipping back to previously read pages without warning. It also freezes up more that I am happy with, leaving me having to restart, to return to the last page I was reading.

So many of you report no issues with this, I am beginning to wonder if I have a faulty Kindle Fire. But it may also have something to do with me, and my unfamiliarity with using Tablets.

When it comes to the books, I have now read five of them in one month. Considering I only finished one book during the whole of the previous year, then that is progress indeed, and definitely a result of having the new way of reading, as well as not having to further clutter diminishing space with large paperbacks or hardback copies. I have enjoyed the books written by other bloggers, and have been pleasantly surprised by the high quality, readability, and refreshing subjects and themes.

That has not been the case with the mainstream books though. Despite great reviews, and large sales on Amazon and elsewhere, I was disappointed to find that familiar ‘formula’ writing very much in evidence. Characters conceived so that they can be featured in sequels, or living in stylised, unrealistic situations that are hard to identify with. Many years ago, I regularly read at least one book a week. I used to follow authors, including Dean Koontz, Stephen King, and some more serious writers. When they had a new book out, I would buy it immediately, believing I would be sure to like it.

But then they started to feel ‘familiar’. The names were changed, but the plots similar. Things happened in those books as I had come to expect them to, and I became convinced that we were all reading much the same story, with just the locations and characters altered slightly. That was one of the main reasons I stopped reading novels, and switched to non-fiction instead. After almost twenty years, I have returned to fiction, in the hope that things had changed. In many respects they have, but in some cases, I can see it is just the same old story. Literally.

So I am not sure about reading again. I feel a little cheated by some writers, but refreshed and inspired by others. Maybe that has always been the case? Not sure.

I am still thinking about it.

Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

Age and infirmity.

As I have mentioned, I haven’t been at all well lately. So it is no surprise that I woke up (early) from a feverish sleep, thinking about how things change as you get older. I have written about this before of course, but in a few weeks from now, I will be adding an even bigger number next to the 6 in my age. And I woke up thinking about just how fast that seems to come around.

If you have a long time to go before you can even think about retiring, or the thought of sixty candles on your birthday cake seems like some distant event in an uncertain future, then you might do well to read this, and take pause for thought.

I spent the last fifteen years of my working life planning for the time when I could retire on the pensions I had paid into. Research informed me that I would have to work until I was 60, to make it financially possible. So like many before me, I started to ‘count down’ the years until I would no longer have to work, more or less wishing away a great deal of my life, hoping to get older faster. Does that seem crazy to you? Then maybe wait until you get close to that yourself, and see how you feel. By the time I got to my 58th birthday, I was coasting in neutral. I had a date fixed, and had already applied to retire on that day, excited to receive pension forecasts and confirmation in the post.

One week after my 60th birthday, I was no longer a ‘worker’. I was now one of ‘The Retired’, a ‘Pensioner’. With five years still to go before the addition of my official State Pension, I took a 60% drop in monthly income, and moved to Norfolk to live the quiet life. Well, I didn’t plan on it being quiet. I would get a dog, do a lot of gardening, some decorating, and various jobs around the house.

At first, it went just as expected. I didn’t get around to the decorating, but I tackled the big jobs in the garden, painted some fences, and got that dog. That got me out of the house, exploring the local area, and meeting new people. And I tried my hand at starting a blog too. In most respects, life was quiet, also peaceful, and content. This was how I had hoped it would be, and I could anticipate the coming years, planning ahead.

Then one day, I found it difficult to lift a shopping bag from the back of the car. I thought I must have misjudged the weight of it, and was surprised to discover I needed two hands to lift it. After doing some minor digging and weed-clearing the following week, I could hardly hold a cup of coffee later. I went to the doctor, and she took blood tests. I had been taking medication for high cholesterol for around five years before retiring, and it turned out that I was one of the unlucky ones. The tablets had caused muscle wastage, predominantly in my arms. Cells and muscle tissue were found in record numbers in a liver function test, and the medication was stopped immediately, never to recommence.

I had to readjust. I was never again going to have the upper body strength I had enjoyed for most of my life. Jobs would have to be tackled slowly, and I had to buy a small hand-truck to move things around. My arms ached to the point of bringing me to tears, and simple things like opening a stubborn jar lid were now almost laughably impossible.

I was annoyed with myself, but had to learn to live with it.

Not long after that, I felt dizzy in the bath one day. I was sure that the bath had overturned with me in it. Impossible as that sounds, I scrambled out the bath in a panic, knocking over everything in the bathroom. I considered that it might be a stroke, and spent a long time waiting for the symptoms to subside. Then I went to the doctor again. It was Vertigo, a simple painless condition that can seriously blight your life. Lying for even a short time flat on my back was now impossible. Look up at a tree, or down at some weeds, and an overwhelming dizziness would convince me that I was about to fall. The doctor suggested head manipulation exercises, but they didn’t work. So she told me that I would have to learn to live with it.

I needed to readjust, again.

The next summer, I was bitten badly by horseflies, when out walking Ollie. Some of the bites became grossly swollen, and others I had scratched continued to hurt, and bleed constantly too. Back to the doctor, and this time I saw the nurse. She told me not to scratch them, (yeah, like that works) and gave me some cream to help with the swelling and itching. I remarked that I was surprised how long they were taking to heal, and she smiled. “You’re not as young as you were, unfortunately”. On top of having arm muscles with the strength of bath sponges, and feeling dizzy doing so much as changing a light bulb, I now had to contemplate the possibility that a simple insect bite might never quite heal, and provide the possibility of worse infections attacking my bloodstream.

Retirement was becoming a contest with my own rapidly-ageing body. And a contest I was losing.

So the next time you dream about the day of your own retirement, whether it be sailing that yacht around the world, spending time with your grandchildren, or landscaping your beloved garden, I have a tip for you.

Check with your body first.

You’re not the one in charge, whatever your brain tells you.