Archive for April, 2016


Here are a few shells we found on a beach recently.

One of the ways we see the world is by looking for similarities. See how these different shells have certain similarities – if you wanted to, you could classify them according to one or two of their characteristics.

We do that with people too.

In fact, I think there’s way too much of that approach in the world today. We look for some similarity, label it, classify it, and then stop seeing the individual. You could look at that photo and say, oh yes, shells. And move on. Or you could cluster together the ones which have similar shapes, and move on.

Iain McGilchrist, in his “Divided Brain”, shows us how we use our left cerebral hemisphere to do that. It’s a fantastic tool for spotting similarities, and for classifying things according to what is already familiar. Fortunately we have another cerebral hemisphere, the right, which seems to have a completely different set of priorities. It notices uniqueness, sees the connections and contexts of whatever we are looking at, and prioritises a more holistic appreciation of what makes something different.

I reckon this is particularly important when it comes to people.

You are unique.

You have certain similarities with others but there is not another person alive who is exactly the same as you. Nobody has the same story that you do. Nobody has the same particular connections to others, to places and to events, that you do.

And you know what’s even more amazing? There has never been another person in the whole history of this planet who is exactly the same as you. There never will be.

I was very lucky to do the work I did. Every patient I met was unique. Every person had a different story to tell. Nobody was the same as anyone else. I think that reinforced the importance of the right hemisphere approach for me.

What are you going to do with your uniqueness? What are you going to notice, how are you going to respond, what choices are going to make, what story are you going to tell?


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I was born in the town of Stirling, in the middle of Scotland’s Central Belt. So, for most of the first couple of decades of my life I lived near the River Forth. When you look down on the River Forth from Stirling Castle you see it winding and snaking its way east. I twists and turns the way a vine grows. Some of the loops almost join up as if they are trying to create small islands. Old maps show that the exact route of the river has changed many times over the centuries.

Rivers are like that. They never stay the same.

For most of my next two decades I lived in Edinburgh….next to the River Forth. But by the time it reaches Edinburgh the River Forth has grown and changed out of all recognition. It no longer curls and winds its way. By now it’s become the “Firth of Forth” and has two (soon to be three) huge bridges spanning it, connecting Lothian to Fife. It’s hard to fully understand that the river which passes by Stirling and Edinburgh is actually the same river.

Rivers are like that. They change as they cross the land from the hills to the sea.

After my Edinburgh days, I spent the best part of the next couple of decades near the River Clyde. I traveled to work by train every day and looked out at the Clyde as the train passed Partick. Before my time those banks of the Clyde were covered with shipyards and docks. By the time I was passing by all that had gone. The Clyde wasn’t the great shipbuilding river any more.

Rivers are like that. They serve different purposes as societies and economies change.

Now I’m near where I took that photo at the top of this post. That’s the River Charente as it flows through Cognac in France. The Charente is said around here to be a relaxed river. It flows pretty calmly and steadily, influencing the whole way of life here.

Rivers are like that. They influence our lives.

I often think of rivers. How do you pin down the identity of a river? As Heraclitus said you can’t step in the same river twice, because┬áthe water which flows by is literally different water minute by minute. So if we can’t define a river by its water, can we define it by its boundaries, its banks? But they change too. Some not so much, some quite a lot.

I think we are all a bit like rivers. Life flows through us, changing our cells, our fluids and our structures day by day. We are bounded in some way by where our bodies meet the rest of the world. But these surfaces are constantly changing.

How do we retain our identity? Much as the River Forth has changed so much in the time it takes to meander from Stirling to Edinburgh, so do I change as I grow from my first two decades to the next two. Yet I still feel I have the same identity. It’s just that everything about me has changed.

Well, I wonder how much of the next two decades I’ll spend near the Charente?

Or will some other river beckon?

How about you? Which rivers mean the most to you?


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the well

I saw this old well the other day and although the metalwork is rusted and the rope looks dry as dust, clearly there’s water there….just look at that abundance of foliage.

I’ve got an old well in my garden too. It’s a long way down to the water but plants push their way out of the mouth of the well all year around.

rock plant

Sometimes I think we take plants for granted. Look how they can take root and flourish in the least likely situations. They can spread their seeds far and wide, take root in pretty nutrition-deficient environments, capture carbon and oxygen from the air, soak up the sun’s rays and with a little water added can make themselves big and beautiful.

Human technologies just can’t match them.

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pink tulip

In the morning, when the sun encourages the flowers to open their petals, and the heavy dew begins to evaporate, there’s a moment where everything just comes together.

orange tulip

Beauty….hard to capture with words, but impossible to miss when you go looking for it….

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lemon tree balcony

Menton is a town famous for its lemons. As I wandered around I looked up and noticed that somebody in a top floor flat had decided at some point to grow their own.

Wow! Look at that lemon tree! I wonder what size it was when they put the pot on the balcony, and how long its been growing there.

Just goes to show that not having a garden needn’t necessarily prohibit you from enjoying plants.

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This little bird is, I believe, a “redstart”. “Start” is an old English word for “tail” and when he flies you can really see the lovely red-ochre colour of his tail feathers. I first noticed him in the garden last summer and he has a very distinctive call. I got quite fond of him so was a little sad when he disappeared in the late autumn.

In turns out that redstarts fly off to Africa for the winter – “sub-sahara but north of the equator” “from Senegal across to Yemen”. He came back on April 1st. I heard him calling so went out into the garden and there he was.

He’s taken to sitting in the tree near my chair when I’m out so I have the impression that he’s at the very least comfortable around me. Maybe he even recognises me? I’m certainly convinced he’s the same redstart who was here last year.

Can you imagine that these little birds fly all the way from the Charente to Africa, crossing the Sahara?  Then he flies back again to arrive back here, in the very same garden. Honestly, I find that totally astonishing. How does he do that? Not just how does he find his way there and back again? But how does he have the energy, the stamina, the sheer ability to fly such a distance?

I saw two swallows fly over the roof of the house yesterday. I know “one swallow doesn’t make a summer”, but, hey, there were two of them! Must be a good sign, right? And then, late yesterday afternoon, the first of the returning “hoopoes” made it’s appearance, collecting something from the vine on the wall then flying off flashing his stripes and his fancy hair style! I think he’s been off to Africa for the winter too….


I know one way to be aware of the seasons is by noticing the flowers and trees, but there’s something very pleasing about this rhythm of the birds too.


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When I stumbled across this arched pathway in Marqueyssac Gardens in the Dordogne in France, I recalled the Fushimi Inari Shrine just outside Kyoto, Japan.

fushimi inari

Then in another part of the Marqueyssac Gardens I came across these heads….

heads marqueyssac

and their quirkiness, humour and installation amongst the trees reminded me of a visit years ago to the Otagi Nenbutsuji Shrine near Arashiyima in Japan.

otagi nenbutsuji arashiyima

Echoes of similarity between East and West but oh, how different!

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