Archive for July, 2008


I found this lovely little tray of gooseberries in the local fruit and veg shop the other day. I haven’t tasted a gooseberry since I was a child. I don’t know why I haven’t eaten any for all those decades, but the first taste of one took me right back. We had gooseberries in the garden of the house where I was born and I looked forward to eating them every year. We had mainly green ones, which are more sour than these red ones, but we did have bushes of red ones too.

What takes you back? Which sensations bring back memories for you? Are there any tastes which do it? How about smells? Or sounds? I don’t think  our brains are all the same. There’s no doubt that some people are more sensitive to sounds than smells, or to tastes or whatever than others. Which sensations are most provocative for you?

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butterfly and bee

While wandering around yesterday I stumbled across this lovely butterfly. It’s not easy to get a photo of a butterfly cos they don’t stay still for very long, but this one seemed to be taking its time more than the others. It got me wondering. What do butterflies eat? And how do they fly the way they do? Their flight seems most erratic, apparently lacking the consistency of movement that you see in bird flight for example. I realised I don’t know very much about butterflies at all! I certainly don’t know anything about butterfly classification! What “kind” of butterfly is this?

Well, when I got back home I checked out wikipedia. Turns out butterflies only eat liquids which they suck up through their long, tube-like “probosci”. They live on nectar and they can drink water from puddles. I would have guessed they lived on nectar but I hadn’t realised they had a fluid only diet. As for how they fly, well, that’s even more interesting…….it turns out nobody understands it. Their mechanism of flight – the aerodynamics and the physics of it – has never been fully explained. About four different ways of flying have been described but they don’t provide a full explanation and nobody knows how they manage to switch between the different flight modes so quickly.
I’m quite happy about that. I do like to learn but I also enjoy having that feeling of wonder and amazement. What I like best is a mixture of understanding and marvel. Butterfly life fits the bill!

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book poster

I saw this photo on a bus stop shelter the other day. It’s promoting books to read during the summer. The headline says “This summer. I read”

Is your reading seasonal? If it is, are there particular kinds of books you prefer to read in certain seasons? Specifically, are there books you consider as “summer books”?

Did you ever read “The Summer Book” by Tove Jansson? It’s the story of a child who goes to spend the summer holidays each year with her great grand-mother on a remote, barely inhabited Finnish island. It’s a lovely book for the summer.

Mostly, however, I’m just a reader. An addict really. Got a never decreasing pile of books beside my bed (the size of the pile doesn’t change, just its content! I can’t say I’m aware of selecting particular books for the summer though.

Oh, on that advert at the bus stop, one of the book titles really amused me – “La Joueuese d’echecs” – which translates as “The Joy of Checks”.  🙂

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spiky defence

Look at this plant. Wow! Has it got SPIKY leaves! I find things like this totally fascinating. These little spikes really were needle sharp. This is one of the ways a plant can protect itself. Not much fun when you brush against it or stand on it with you bare feet! But then, that’s what it’s trying to tell you NOT to do!

spiky defence
People can be like this too. Spiky-ness is a very common human strategy of protection. It’s very uncomfortable to be around but it can be very effective in getting the person the distance they want or feel they need from others. Trouble is because it’s so uncomfortable to everyone else, it’s not a strategy that elicits much empathy or understanding. Mostly people either just get “jaggy” back, or avoid the person like the plague. If it’s temporary and what the person really needs is a bit of personal space then it can really work, but if it becomes a way of life, or a strategy which seems ever present, then the person using it can pretty fundamentally feel alone and unreachable. It’s a sad and difficult loop to be stuck in.

It takes more patience and the desire to understand in order to help to gain the trust of someone like this. And it’s only once that trust begins to kick in that the spikes begin to recede.

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golden seedhead

Has anyone any idea what this plant is? I just stumbled across a few of these on a walk (I’m staying just outside of Aix en Provence in the South of France just now). I’ve never seen anything quite like this and there were quite a lot of them growing in twos or threes straight out of the ground, about a foot high. The seedhead itself is about the size of a clenched fist.

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When in France I enjoy picking up a magazine or two in the local newsagents. You just get a different kind of magazine in France from what is available in Scotland. One I like is “Philosophie”
You’ll see I read it with my huge Francais-Anglais Dictionnaire to hand!
This issue has an interesting lead feature about the passage of time. Referring to philosophers past and present they consider time from three “dimensions” (with the seasonal focus being on how we experience the passage of time while we are on holiday).
They discuss “le temps de la nature”, “le temps de la conscience” and “le temps collectif”.
The first is Nature’s time dimension, which is, of course, immense compared to the short period of time experienced in a single human life. They point out that we “temporalise” Nature’s time by our use of clocks, watches and other “timepieces” to “measure” time, but this, actually, is just a human invention. Time is not measurable. Our particular units of measurement are culturally determined. They are what they are just because we’ve agreed to use them. Nature knows nothing of minutes and hours. Holidays allow us to step out of these culturally determined rhythms – the nine to five of working life for example – and get in touch with a different experience of the passage of time, related to the weather, to the cycles of the moon, the growth, blossoming and seeding of the plants around us, to the presence of certain birdsongs as migrating birds move through the part of the world where we are.
The second is time as we experience it subjectively, with our eyes closed. As we drift on the pool, or under the bright sun, the past, the present and the future all intermingle in our consciousness. It’s in our own heads where we can experience time not as a simple line passing before us in single file. We can hold the past and the future together in our minds in the same instant as the present. Contemplative practice allows us to disengage from the world for a while and step out of the constant flow of time to see things from quite other perspectives.
The third dimension to consider is shared time, social, societal time. In this issue, the authors consider this from the perspective of collective rituals, festivals, celebrations and routines. In France, for example, the first weekend of August is known as “Le Grand Depart” – the great departure – because most people start their holidays that weekend. In Scotland the cities have their own version of that. Today, in fact, is the start of the “Glasgow Fair”, otherwise known as “Fair Fortnight”, when, traditionally, all the industries would close down for two weeks and the workers would have their annual holiday. Despite de-industrialisation, the “Glasgow Fair” continues. Today is a Glasgow Public Holiday. Last monday was “Bastille Day” in France and there was a Public Holiday, dances, parties and fireworks. (here’s the mobile phone video I took of the fireworks at Carcassonne Castle last year!) These societal and communal rituals and celebrations mark the passage of time in a uniquely shared way.

So, there you have it. Three ways to think about the passage of time. Think I’ll go and have a lie down!

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