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Dec17

One of the biggest differences for me since I retired and moved to the Charente in France is that I feel much more engaged with “the natural world”. I notice the sunrises and sunsets more. I notice the phases of the moon. I look forward to the constellation Orion appearing in the East and making his way across the night sky to the West every winter, and it amuses me somehow to see that he disappears for the summer, as if he migrates in the opposite direction from the birds. I’m much, much more aware of the birds here. I’ve encountered Hoopoes for the first time and they still astonish me. I recognise the call of the Redstart when he arrives from his winter holidays and his replacement with the Robin. I’m in that cycle of seasons which a garden demands, with its rhythm of tasks, from planting, to nurturing, to harvesting, and feeding the soil before it goes to sleep for the winter.
I’ve never spent such a large proportion of my life outside before.
So I’ve become every more interested in whatever it is that connects us to “nature”. I’ve been replacing the rhythms, schedules and timetables of Scotrail, the NHS, and the rest of a working life which includes a daily commute, with what feel like more natural rhythms. The cycles of the seasons, the celestial patterns of moon, sun and stars. The meals prepared from what’s available in the local market this week.

saisons

Hilary gave me a Christmas gift of an accordion-fold book by Amélie Balcou. It’s called “Les Saisons” (The Seasons) and is a collection of sixty Japanese woodblock prints. In the introduction she describes how the rhythms of nature are embedded in the Japanese calendar. Let me share her opening page with you. I’m not going to do a direct translation of her words into English, but to share the substance of what she describes.

The New Year commences with “hatsushinode” which is the practice of admiring the first sunrise of the year. As the first sun rises you make your wishes for the year ahead.
On the 3rd of February, “setsubun”, the arrival of Spring is celebrated. It’s seen as the turning point of the year and one traditional practice is to throw roasted soy beans out of the door to cleanse the home of last year’s evil spirits and drive away ones for the year to come. One variation of this practice is to eat one bean for each year of your life, plus one extra for the year to come.
March sees the arrival of the cherry blossom which begins in the south of the country then spreads north over the next few days with newspapers and TV showing maps, similar to weather maps, of its appearance. People take picnics in the parks under the cherry blossom trees and wander amongst them admiring them and photographing them. They are a strong reminder of the transitory nature of everything, something which enhances, rather than detracts from, their beauty.

“Hana Matsuri” on April 8th, is a Flower Festival connected to celebrating the birth of the Buddha.
The season of rains begins in May, the month when “Golden Week” is held. It’s called “Golden Week” because there are a number of holidays and festivals one after the other. On the 4th of May there is “Midori no Hi”. Midori translates as Green and this “Nature Day” or “Greenery Day”, when people try to spend the whole day outside in Nature, and might plant trees or clean up the local environment.

Summer begins in July with the Fire Festivals, celebrated with fireworks, “hanabi”, which means “fire flowers” (Isn’t that a lovely name for fireworks?). Also in July is “Tanabata”, the Star Festival. Tanabata translates as “The Evening of the Seventh” and was traditionally celebrated on the seventh day of the seventh month (of the Japanese lunisolar calendar). This is a time for people to write wishes, sometimes in poetic form, and hang them on bamboo. These are then burned or set afloat on the river at the close of the festival.
School holidays begin with “Umi no Hi”, “The day of the Sea”, which celebrates both the marine history of Japan and the gifts of the ocean. It’s a day to go to the seaside!
“Yama no Hi”, “Mountain Day”, was introduced as the first public holiday in August in 2016 because the government thought people were working too hard and would benefit from a day off in the mountains.

The autumn equinox is a glorious time for the celebration of the maple tree leaves which turn gorgeous shades of red. It’s also the time of “Tsukimi”, the moon viewing festival. Whilst viewing the full moon it is traditional to decorate the place with pampas grass decorations and to serve white rice balls, “Tsukimi dango”, flavoured with seasonal foods such as sweet potato and chestnuts.

I’m going to enjoy contemplating the images in this book over the course of this year, starting with some of the winter scenes, seeing as it’s winter time here in France as I write this. I’ll share them with you week by week.

But there’s something else I want to share with you now. It’s the story of a project designed to “prescribe nature” to patients which some GPs in Shetland are taking part in. I read about it in a recent issue of Resurgence magazine where they describe this collaboration between the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) and the NHS in Shetland.

They’ve picked up on the benefits of spending time in Nature – from lowering BP, to improving the immune system, to lifting depression and increasing well-being and they’ve created a leaflet called a “Nature Prescription calendar“. It has a photo for each month of the year with an associated check-list list of suggested activities to do that month so you can tick off whichever ones you’ve done that month. The genius of it is that the activities are 100% local – they refer to local pathways, beaches and so on, and use local words and sayings too. AND they are chosen to be relevant to that particular month so people begin to be in touch with the seasons and cycles of Nature again.
Honestly I think its fab and SUCH an inspiration. I really fancy trying to develop one for here.

How about you? How do you get yourself in tune with the planet?

Rainbows as bridges

may18

One day last year I walked outside and saw this rainbow at the top of the vineyards.

Yeah, sure, I’ve seen a ton of rainbows in my life but I’d never, ever, seen one like this.

I took several photographs but I’m not sure any really captured the view.

The rainbow lasted for about 30 minutes. Much, much longer than any other rainbow I’ve seen.

It’s brightness was incredible. If you look carefully you can see a second, parallel one just to the right of the main one. But the most astonishing thing was how different the world looked under the actual rainbow. You can see that quite clearly. The colour of the sky to the left of the rainbow ie under it, is completely different to the colour of the sky elsewhere. I’ve never seen that before.

You know the old story about finding gold at the end of the rainbow? Well, it seemed that this rainbow was arching over an entirely golden world.

There is another thought I had during that rainbow, and which come back to me now. That rainbows are a symbol of hope. Where does that come from? Is it the story of Noah and The Flood in the Old Testament? I suppose that’s where I get that memory. I was taught that the rainbow represented God’s promise not to flood the Earth again. It’s not entirely clear to me how that story of a promise morphed into a symbol of hope. So I went looking to see – are there other origins to this association of hope with rainbows? Actually, there seems to be a huge diversity amongst various cultures (why wouldn’t there be?) Here’s where I explored some of them.

One of the things which struck me, reading through that entry in wikipedia, was how often the rainbow was seen as a bridge.

Well that’s convenient! Because I wrote about how January is named after Janus, the god with two faces, one looking back and one forward. Look at this, from the wikipedia entry about Janus –

While the fundamental nature of Janus is debated, in most modern scholars’ view the god’s functions may be seen as being organized around a single principle: presiding over all beginnings and transitions, whether abstract or concrete, sacred or profane. Interpretations concerning the god’s fundamental nature either limit it to this general function or emphasize a concrete or particular aspect of it (identifying him with light, the sun, the moon, time, movement, the year, doorways, bridges etc.)

It feels like we are living in a time of transition (aren’t we always??) so maybe a beautiful rainbow is a good place to start the year – with hope, with a sense of new beginnings, and with the idea of a path, or a bridge, there, inviting us to follow it.

What about you? What do you associate with the appearance of a rainbow? Were you handed down any stories?

PS Didn’t I say yesterday I was starting a new blog over at bobleckridge.com/read ? Well, after yesterday’s post here, despite it being the first in a year, I was surprised and delighted by all the messages I received, and the new followers who signed up to heroesnotzombies. So, I’ve reminded myself of one of my favourite teachings – “AND not OR”. I’ll continue to post here, as well as creating new content for my new site. The new site will have a fresh photo of mine every week on the home page, an ever expanding gallery of my photos at bobleckridge.com/look and videos and the spoken word too, as well as articles and blog posts.

marseilles sculpture 2

It’s been a year since I wrote my last post here and I’m ready to start sharing my photos and writings again. I’m going to do that from now at a different address – bobleckridge.com If you have a look you’ll see there are different sections – things to see (my photos), things to read (my posts), things to listen to (readings a new podcast I’ll be starting) and things to watch (videos).

My idea is to have a self-hosted site (in case any of the particular internet companies go belly up!), using the world standard of WordPress, and make that be the place I express myself. I just want to capture some of my experiences, my thoughts, ideas and creations and I hope you might enjoy and/or be inspired by them.

I think every single one of us is unique and we all have a one time opportunity to share with others what our unique experience of living is, and has been, like.

Curiosity is probably my core instinct in life. I’m driven to explore, to notice, to learn about and to understand. I think curiosity makes me realise I never know enough, and that every single person is utterly fascinating. Really! I believe that! That’s what I discovered over four decades of work as a doctor. I never met a single person who I didn’t find fascinating, and I never met one who wasn’t unique.

I think uniqueness emerges out of the infinite web of connections and contexts from which we all emerge. In other words, what makes us unique, is the totality of the personal experiences, memories, thoughts, feelings and imaginings which occur moment by moment, in the environments in which we live.

Uniqueness will be the theme of my new website. I’d be delighted if you’d come and explore and I’d be even more delighted if you got in touch and shared your own, unique explorations with me.

Before I stop adding to “Heroes not Zombies” though, I’m sharing an updated version of last January’s post. Living in France now I experience the issues of delivering health care in two separate cultures and places – France and Scotland. There are striking similarities between the two countries but each is, surprise, surprise, unique.

Here it is.

Dealing with the crises in health care – a 7 point plan.

Wherever you live I bet there are at least three health stories you’ve been coming across pretty regularly. One is that “demand for health care is going up”, another is that “the country’s health services are struggling to cope with the demand”, and a third is, “it’s getting harder for patients to get help when and where they need it”.

What’s the problem?
Much of the media coverage focuses on the “demand”, by which they mean the sheer numbers of people going to hospitals for health care. In the UK there is a version of this unmet demand story in the number of people seeking GP consultations. In France, there’s concern about “désertification médicale”, which is the phrase used to describe areas of the country where there are too few (or no) local doctors.

The issue of waiting times seems to be a key story every winter in the UK. How long it takes to be seen when you present to the Emergency Department of the hospital (A&E, or “Accident and Emergency” as it’s called in the UK), or even how long you need to wait in the ambulance outside of the hospital. I don’t read those kinds of stories so much in France, but there are certainly more and more stories about how long people have to wait to get an appointment to see an ophthalmologist, an ENT specialist, a dermatologist or a gynaecologist.

Why are there problems with waiting times? Why can’t people get access to the health care they need in a timely manner?

1. There aren’t enough doctors and nurses.
There wouldn’t be long waiting times if there were enough doctors and nurses to attend to the patients’ needs. There aren’t enough, and if there were, they would be able to devote all the time necessary to each patient but there wouldn’t be a huge queue of people waiting to be treated. There’s another part of this story, because A&E departments (Emergency Departments) are not places where anyone is expected to stay. Everyone (at least everyone who survives) goes home, or is transferred to another part of the hospital for further care. Staff can’t move patients through A&E to inpatient care quickly enough because there aren’t enough inpatient beds.
2. There aren’t enough inpatient beds.
There are more patients needing inpatient care than there are beds to put them in. And beds aren’t enough. Once a patient is in a bed, they need to be cared for….by staff to keep the ward clean, staff to make food for them and feed them, staff to care for their daily needs and staff to manage their diseases and get them well enough again to go home.

So can we fix that first?

1. Increase the numbers of healthcare staff to the level where there are enough of them to meet the needs of sick people.

2. Increase the numbers of beds available in hospitals to cater for the needs of sick people.

Isn’t that the whole point of health services in the first place? To meet the needs of the sick in society.
All those patients waiting on trolleys for a hospital bed have been assessed as needing the complex care of a hospital because they have complex needs. However, not all those patients already in the hospital need the complex care of a hospital. Some of them are elderly, and/or disabled and unable to look after themselves at home. They need to be looked after somewhere else. Here’s the next item on the list.
3. There are not enough places available in care facilities which are not hospitals.
Places in care facilities, (nursing homes, residential homes etc), need sufficient numbers of trained and support staff to provide the care for their residents. There aren’t enough care facilities, and there aren’t enough care workers.
Another factor which adds to the pressure on hospitals is that time and again we hear that many people pitch up at A&E simply because they can’t get to see their local GP. They are told they have to wait several days, or even weeks, for an appointment so they go to the local hospital instead – with problems which could be, and should be, managed by GPs in the community. Why can’t people get to see a GP in a more timely manner?
4. There aren’t enough GPs.
There never have been.
The scourge of General Practice is not having enough time to treat each patient as well as the doctors would like to. Were five minute appointments ever adequate? Are ten minute appointments adequate? Do they give the patient enough time to say what they want to say? Do they give the doctor enough time to listen, to examine, to diagnose, to offer treatment, to give the patient enough information to give informed consent to the treatment, to allow enough time to discuss options and alternatives?
You’ll have a hard time finding someone who can answer yes to that.
There aren’t enough GPs. And there aren’t enough support staff in the GPs’ teams either.

Let’s turn to demand……..it’s going up!
And there’s absolutely not a shred of evidence to suggest it’s going to do anything other than continue to go up.
The proportions of the population over 60, over 70, over 80, and, yes, over 90 are all rising. All the evidence shows that older people have greater health needs. Demographics show us that, simply due to the fact of ageing populations, demand will increase. Although life expectancy is going up, disease isn’t going down. There are more people suffering from more chronic illnesses every year. There are more people suffering from two or more chronic illnesses every year. This is what doctors are referring to when they talk about increases in “complex problems and needs”.

The biggest delusion suffered by those who created the health service in the UK was that the NHS would make the population so much more healthy that eventually demand for it would shrink.

That’s never happened. And it’s not likely to happen.
The thing is, health care isn’t the biggest contributor to the health of the population. Health Services treat the sick, they don’t make the population healthier. What does? Arguably, it’s education.
5. Better educated societies are healthier societies.
Look at this, for example –

“ UNESCO reports that each extra year of a mother’s schooling reduces the probability of infant mortality by as much as 10% and that a child whose mother can read is 50% more likely to live past age five.”

Read that carefully. I read it several times. A child whose mother can read is 50% more likely to live past the age of five. 50%! There isn’t a drug, or an operation, or any other medical therapy which can make such a difference. I wanted to understand that a bit better. One of the best things I found was this explanation of how education can make such a difference. It describes how education can influence every one of the United Nations 17 sustainable development goals (“SDGs”),

However, the answers to these problems are not solely in the domain of education. If we want to reduce the demand by creating healthier societies, we need to address the causes of illness.
6. The causes of illness are primarily social, economic and environmental.

  • We need to tackle the isolation of people in society.
  • We need to tackle poverty.
  • We need to tackle the constant stress of the “precariat” – all those without secure incomes, those on zero hour contracts, short term contracts, those employed for insufficient hours at insufficient levels of pay to meet their daily needs.
  • We need to tackle the food industry, from farming methods, to factory production of foodstuffs, to marketing and sales of food.
  • We need to tackle the chemical industry, to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, the amount of plastic in the sea, the number of chemicals found in the blood of every newborn child, the number of chemicals found in drinking water, the number of chemicals in every household.
  • We also need to tackle the Pharmaceutical industry. That industry which doesn’t exist to produce cures, but profits. There isn’t a drug on the market which increases health. At the very best a drug will support the body’s natural systems of repair and recovery. At worst drugs diminish symptoms without making any impact on the underlying disease.
  • We need to tackle inequality which is rising fast and has been shown time and time again to inflict pain and suffering on millions.
  • We need to tackle conflict, to be able to direct resources towards healthy lives instead of war.
  • We need to tackle our political systems which leave so many feeling disempowered and forgotten. Democracy might be a great idea. Maybe we should try it. Not the pretend democracy of a vote every few years for someone to work in government, but real, relevant, responsive democracy which increases the engagement and autonomy of citizens.
  • We need to find different ways to live together. Does the extreme individualism and competitive consumerism of the dominant capitalist, neo-liberal model serve us well?
  • We need to look after our planet better – dealing with everything from Climate Change, to pollution, to de-forestation, dessertification and loss of biodiversity.

7. Finally, we need a different philosophy of health care, one focused on health not taking drugs.

That’s an awful lot. Daunting perhaps. But are there better answers? This is a toe in the water. There is no way to cover the complexity and extent of the issues in one short article. But can we make a start?

Oh, hold, on. I know. You’re going to say “where’s the money going to come from?”

Well, that, dear reader, is another subject. However, we’ll probably have to find a way to redirect the world’s resources away from the pockets and bank accounts of a handful of rich people, and apply them to solving the problems we think are worth solving. That’s going to involve some big changes in our current economic and political systems. There are some very exciting, innovative ways to do that, emerging as a result of the failures and crises of the current models. There are a number of economists and politicians suggesting wealth taxes, that is tax on land, property, stocks and shares. Financial Transaction taxes and the funding of National Capital Trusts with statutory percentages of shares in all Initial Public Offers (IPOs) could also contribute to the creation of healthier societies. Thirdly, there are also calls for more “progressive taxation”, taxing the highest incomes more heavily than at present. There are actually lots of good arguments and ideas showing how we could run our economies differently.

I’m particularly interested in the work of economist, Maria Mazzucato,  whose work, The Value of Everything, addresses the core of this issue and suggests the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals as a good place to start https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/
The other economist who has really caught my attention is Kate Raworth,  whose “Doughnut Economics” model is particularly exciting.

 
The Seven Point Summary

We need more doctors and nurses
We need more hospital beds
We need more care facilities and the workers to staff them.
We need more GPs
We need better education
We need to deal with the causes of illness.
We need a philosophy of health care focused on health not on taking drugs

 

bandanaEvery day in the UK, we hear stories of ambulances waiting in queues at hospitals. Patients waiting hours to receive attention. Patients waiting hours on trolleys in hospital corridors.

What’s the problem?

Much of the media coverage focuses on the “demand”, by which they mean the sheer numbers of people coming to hospital for health care.

Let me return to the issue of demand in a minute, but let’s start with waiting times. Let’s set targets aside for a moment as well, because targets can be arbitrary and unhelpful.

Why are there queues of ambulances at hospitals?

Part of the answer is there aren’t enough doctors and nurses to attend to the patients’ needs.

There aren’t enough, because if there were, they would be able to devote all the time necessary to each patient but there wouldn’t be a huge queue.

Part of the answer is the staff can’t move patients through from A&E for inpatient care because there aren’t enough inpatient beds.

There aren’t enough inpatient beds.

There are more patients needing inpatient care than there are beds to put them in.

Beds aren’t enough.

Once a patient is in a bed, they need to be cared for….by staff to keep the ward clean, staff to make food for them and feed them, staff to care for their daily needs and staff to manage their diseases and get them well enough again to go home.

So can we fix that first?

  • Increase the numbers of beds available in the NHS to cater for the needs of sick people.
  • Increase the numbers of NHS staff to the level where there are enough of them to meet the needs of sick people.

Wasn’t that the whole point of the NHS in the first place?

To meet the needs of the sick in society.

Let’s turn to demand.

It’s going up.

And there’s absolutely not a shred of evidence to suggest it’s going to do anything other than continue to go up.

The proportions of the population over 60, over 70, over 80, and, yes, over 90 are all rising. All the evidence shows that older people have greater health needs. The demographics of the country tell us that demand will increase.

Life expectancy might be going up, but disease isn’t going down. There are more people suffering from a chronic illness every year. There are more people suffering from two or more chronic illnesses every year. This is what doctors are referring to when they talk about increases in “complex problems and needs”.

All those patients waiting on trolleys for a hospital bed have been assessed as needing the complex care of a hospital to cater for their complex needs.

Not all those patients already in the hospital need the complex care of the hospital. Some of them are elderly, and/or disabled people who are not able to look after themselves at home. They need to be looked after somewhere else.

Here’s the next item on the list.

There are not enough places available in care facilities which are not hospitals.

Places in care facilities, (nursing homes, residential homes etc), need sufficient numbers of trained and support staff to provide the care for their residents. We don’t have enough care facilities.

Let’s think about another aspect of demand. Time and again we hear that many people pitch up at A&E because they can’t get to see their local GP. They are told they have to wait several days, or even weeks, for an appointment so they go to the local hospital instead – with problems which could be, and should be, managed by GPs in the community.

Why can’t people get to see a GP in a more timely manner?

There aren’t enough GPs.

There never have been.

The scourge of General Practice is not having enough time to treat each patient as well as the doctors would like to. Were five minute appointments ever adequate? Are ten minute appointments adequate? Do they give the patient enough time to say what they want to say? Do they give the doctor enough time to listen, to examine, to diagnose, to offer treatment, to give the patient enough information to give informed consent to the treatment, to allow enough time to discuss options and alternatives?

You’ll have a hard time finding someone who can answer yes to that.

There aren’t enough GPs.

And there aren’t enough staff in the GPs’ teams either.

A healthier society

The biggest delusion suffered by those who created the NHS was that the NHS would make the population so much more healthy that eventually demand for it would shrink. That’s never happened. And it’s not likely to happen.

Health care isn’t the biggest contributor to the health of the population.

We need to address the causes of illness if we want to reduce demand. The causes of illness are primarily social, economic and environmental.

  • We need to tackle the isolation of people in our society.
  • We need to tackle poverty.
  • We need to tackle the constant stress of the “precariat” – all those without secure incomes, those on zero hour contracts, short term contracts, those employed for insufficient hours at insufficient levels of pay to meet their daily needs.
  • We need to tackle the food industry, from farming methods, to factory production of foodstuffs, to marketing and sales of food.
  • We need to tackle the chemical industry, to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, the amount of plastic in the sea, the number of chemicals found in the blood of every newborn child, the number of chemicals found in drinking water, the number of chemicals in every household.
  • We need to tackle inequality which is rising fast and has been shown time and time again to inflict pain and suffering on millions.
  • We need to tackle conflict, to be able to direct resources towards healthy lives instead of war.
  • We need to tackle our political systems which leave so many feeling disempowered and forgotten. Democracy might be a great idea. Maybe we should try it. Not the pretend democracy of a vote every few years for someone to work in government, but real, relevant, responsive democracy which increases the engagement and autonomy of citizens.
  • We need to find different ways to live together.
  • We also need to tackle the Pharmaceutical industry. That industry which doesn’t exist to produce cures, but profits. There isn’t a drug on the market which increases health. At the very best a drug will support the body’s natural systems of repair and recovery. At worst drugs diminish symptoms without making any impact on the underlying disease.

We need a different philosophy of health care, one focused on health not taking drugs.

That’s an awful lot. Daunting perhaps. But are there better answers?

In summary

This is a toe in the water. There is no way to cover the complexity and extent of the issues in one short article. But can we make a start?

  1. We need more hospital beds, more care facilities, more GPs, more doctors, more nurses and more support and care staff.
  2. At the same time, we need to tackle the causes of the increase in demand – the social, economic and environmental causes.

jan17

In January each year I like to make my own calendar for the coming year. Maybe it’d be a better idea to make it in December so it was ready to go in January, but that’s not what I tend to do.

The way I do it is to select twelve images from my photo library, one for each month of last year. I select them first because they are images I’m really happy with. After all, I’ll have to look at each of them for a whole month at a time for the next year. If I find I’ve more than one to choose from then what I do next is select the image which evokes the strongest memories for me. That way I’ll recall, month by month, a beautiful, wondrous, or amazing experience throughout the year. Each image evokes memories, but also inspires me.

I find this is a way of harvesting the experiences of one year to inspire the choices I’ll make this year.

It’s really easy to find and collect your own photos. Of course, you don’t need to make an actual calendar. You could simply select and collect twelve images into a separate album on your phone, your pad, or your computer. Or share them on Instagram or Facebook. You choose. Oh, one other tip – file names – as I save each image into the “2017” folder I name it “Jan17.jpg, Feb17.jpg” and so on. Makes it way easier to organise and use them in the future.

I’m a great one for “and not or”, so I make a special album/folder of the twelve images and keep that on my desktop. I use those images to make a physical calendar, browse through them from time to time, and use them on various posts and sharing platforms through the year. The service I use for the physical calendar is Redbubble. It’s not cheap, but it’s really fabulous quality and their service is fast. There are plenty of other web based services out there, or you could print your images at home and make your own calendar by hand. There are also photo print machines in various outlets but I’ve never tried any of them. Have you?

The image above is my January image. I took it one foggy morning in the vineyards which surround my house. Isn’t it gorgeous? Reminds me just how beautiful winter can be, and how amazingly wonderful trees are.

Here’s February –

Feb17

In February 2017 I spent some time with my friends who live in Capetown. We took a few trips and one of my really favourite areas was Franchhoek. It’s like a French enclave in the South African countryside. As I now live in France the unique blending of French and South African culture in Franchhoek really appealed to me.

Mar17

In March I returned to Scotland and had a day out in the Trossachs. Stopping at the side of one of the many lochs I was astonished by the brilliant reflections of the sky in the absolutely still water. This shot includes the rocks at my feet as well as the reflections of the overhanging trees and the clouds above me. It’s quite a disorienting image and that’s what I love about it. Really draws me in to work out just what I’m looking at.

Apr17

April is the time of blossom in my neck of the woods. Cherry trees, plum trees, almond trees….it’s a beautiful time of year. I can’t look at these blossoms without feeling a surge of new life and creativity. At the same time, I’m reminded of the Japanese veneration of the cherry blossom time of year. The cherry blossom doesn’t last long so it heightens our awareness of the inextricable links between beauty and transience.

May17

Last May we were blessed with an abundance of sweet peas. The previous year we sowed a number of seeds but they really didn’t come to much. This year, they were everywhere! That was a lesson. Take your time. Sow your seeds and let Nature nurture them on her own timescale.

Jun17

For my birthday in June we took a trip to Segovia in Spain. We’d visited there the previous year and loved it so much we decided to go back. It’s about an eight hour drive from our house to Segovia so we stopped off in Saint Jean de Luz just this side of the French-Spanish border on the way. Clearly one of the most astonishing things about Segovia is this Roman aqueduct which took water from the hills right into the town centre. The Romans, huh? They knew how to build structures which would last for centuries didn’t they? Long after their empire had gone anyway. I wonder how long what we build now will last…….

Jul17

One of the delights of this house is the “open outlook”. Years ago one of my Dutch friends told me how important it was for her to have “a long view”. She felt that these long views opened up your heart and your soul to the world. I think she was right. I’ve stayed in places where the only view was of the buildings on the other side of the road. I know what I prefer. This particular shot, which I took from the garden in July, is just one of the many photos I’ve taken of the clouds. I could look at clouds for hours. They are endlessly fascinating, constantly changing, and often utterly beautiful. Cloud watching. I recommend it.

Aug17

In August we had a day trip to Rochefort but it was a rainy day. It’s easy to get down on a rainy day and wish the rain would just go away, (unless you live in a drought area, when you might welcome a good downpour!), but you can get some great photos on cloudy, rainy days. These magnificent umbrellas were strung across the main street on market day. Well, you couldn’t really not take a photo, could you?

Sep17

September is a great time to go foraging around here. We took a basket with us and came back with these walnuts, figs and berries. How lucky were we?!

Oct17

There’s a barn owl, or a pair of barn owls, who live in my neighbour’s barn and for the past couple of years, they’ve laid eggs in a nesting hole in the house, above the front door. This year, though, three kestrels turned up and fought the owls for the box. I couldn’t bear the thought of them actually catching one of the owls to closed off the empty box with cardboard. I was a bit sorry not to see the owls so frequently after that. However, in October, one night at sunset, I spotted this little owl perched up on the plum tree. From her shape and call I reckon she was a tawny owl. Lovely photo though, don’t you think?

Nov17

In November we had our first ever trip to Scandinavia, with a few days in Copenhagen. Loved it! I’ll definitely go back. I chose this photo because it’s off the Rundetaarn – I’ve really never, ever seen anything like this. Built as an observatory the internal path is wide enough to drive a carriage up. Now there’s a road I’d never traveled before!

Finally, December –

Dec17

The mulberry tree in the garden begins to shed her leaves gradually, but then one day, usually after an overnight frost, she suddenly sheds most of them, laying this astonishing carpet around her feet. The leaves are so varied in size and colour that I just love taking my time and raking them up. It’s my November/December meditation exercise!

I hope you’ve enjoyed these twelve images and that I’ve inspired you to delve into your photo library and find your own dozen – whether you go on to make a calendar or not.

Disorderly beauty

We’ve had a very hot, dry spell recently here in the Charente. Temperatures rising to the mid or high 30s (centigrade) each day which made the leaves of the plants curl up and wilt. Then this last week we’ve had rain, wind and storms. Yikes! What chance have they got?

Well, look what all that varied weather has done to this bush in the garden.

First it suddenly bloomed, going from zero flowers to dozens of them over about 48 hours. Then the wind and rain has knocked off more than a few of them.

But when I walked outside yesterday evening and the bush caught my eye I was transfixed.

Just look how beautiful this is! Not just the bush itself but the way the fallen flowers have made a pinkish purple circular rug on the grass around it.

This is the kind of beauty which Nature makes.

In “The Great Work”, Thomas Berry talks about the interplay between discipline and wildness…..between order and chaos (or disorder). This is a great example, I think, of the beauty the wildness and disorder brings…..effortlessly.

Every year I’m amazed to watch the butterflies appear in the garden the very same day the buddleia bushes flower. I’m convinced they both appear at exactly the same moment. No idea how that happens! Are the butterflies just hanging out around the corner somewhere waiting for the blossoms to appear, then zip round as fast as they can the moment that happens?

However it happens, it’s a delight to see so many varieties of butterfly (and the hummingbird moths, which are incredible creatures!), to watch how they fly in such utterly unpredictable directions, how they spread their wings in the sunlight, or close them up so they look like little leaves.

But here’s one thought which comes up for me time and time again when I see butterflies….they make me more aware of the cyclical nature of life. These little creatures have such different life stages, so different you wouldn’t realise they were stages of the same life. Do we think of them as having a beginning and an end? Starting with an egg, progressing through their caterpillar stages, becoming a chrysalis, then emerging as a butterfly which lays eggs, then dies. Is that the life?

I suppose we do all think of ourselves as having a beginning and an end. But where do we begin, and where do we end?

It depends on whether or not you want to reduce a person to just a physical body. My physical body began with a single fertilised egg and this body will die.

But what about ME?

Do I really think I’m only a physical body? Don’t I have a sense of something immaterial too? A consciousness? A sense of Self? A personality? Characteristics, behaviours, values, beliefs, creative acts, destructive acts? Is there anything I can do which doesn’t ripple out into the world beyond me?

When I look at Rodin’s “The Kiss”, or “The Thinker”, what do I see? The product of the imagination and creative skill of the man called Auguste Rodin. When I listen to music composed and performed by people who are long since dead, isn’t there something I’m sharing there which only they could have created? Aren’t these great works of art the ongoing ripples of unique human beings? Or do you think these are just their footprints? (It doesn’t seem that way to me….these works seem full of life and the potential to continue to create and send out ripples into the universe)

And what about those characteristics, quirks or tendencies that I have which others in my “family tree” also exhibited, even perhaps before I was born? Anyone who explores their genealogy encounters remarkable “coincidences”, talents, life events, behaviours which echo down through the generations. Weren’t those threads present even before the egg which became me even existed?

I think it’s inadequate to narrow a person down to a physical body.

But even if we did, there is still the fact that the body changes continually. It never stops. There is a constant turnover of cells, new beginnings, new endings, every hour of every day. There is a continuous exchange of energy, materials and information between my body and my environment, and we all share the same environment, the same atmosphere, the same air, water…..we are all made from the same molecules, all created from the same “star stuff”.

So it seems to me that beginnings and endings are everywhere……wherever, and whenever, we happen to look.

But it also seems to me that they are nowhere. They just don’t exist. We all emerge from, and dissolve into, the great cycles of the universe.

Beginnings and endings are just where we choose them to be. But we can always make a different choice. We can always take a broader view, a bigger view, a longer view, a more holistic view.

I’m reminded of a song from my school days….it’s by Jeff Beck, and it’s called “Hi Ho Silver Lining” – he sang this truth right there in the opening line of this song…in the first five words……