Category Archives: 01 – new Posts: January 2015 onwards

Books, books, glorious books…in praise of Indie Book Stores…

There we were, the 6’5″ nephew and myself, leaving Waterstone’s, Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow, UK last year without buying a book. What a triumph of willpower over two lots of biblio-addiction! And then –  a title caught my eye: Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops”

This book is irresistible!

This book is irresistible!

“Hang on a minute”, I said to the nephew, ” just a quick look. I won’t buy it, honest…”

However, after a fast flick revealed the following gems offered by its author, Jen Campbell : ‘Can books conduct electricity?’ ‘Did Beatrix Potter ever write a book about dinosaurs?’ ‘Excuse me… is this book edible?’ I gave in. Yes, Reader, you have guessed correctly. I bought it – and went on to have the best laugh I had had for ages, perusing (as one five-star reviewer memorably put it )‘… some absolute howlers from the misinformed beast that is the general public…’

This affecting little tale is offered to demonstrate two things. One, the fundamentally irresistible nature of books to book addicts, in this case the nephew and myself.( It is always a great comfort to share book addiction with a fellow spirit). And two, the importance of having a good bookshop in your local area into which you can stroll any time you feel like distracting yourself from Life’s Onerous Challenges (fill in according to your particular current oppression). If there is also good coffee on offer, so much the better.

The above will explain why I could barely contain my excitement over this summer on finding out that an independent bookshop, ie a new branch of Waterstones,  was returning to Byres Road, Glasgow, about fifteen years after our much loved and lamented local John Smith’s bookshop had fallen victim to the march of regress.

The shop has received a warm welcome from shoppers in Glasgow’s West End. “Almost every single person who has come in has complimented the staff, the store and the fact that we’re here,” reported bookshop manager Xavier Jones-Barlow shortly after the shop opened on 29th August. The following day, I was fortunate to capture a moment of fun and frolic whilst passing by.

No, not Hallowe'en...

No, not Hallowe’en…

 No, I was assured, it wasn’t Hallowe’en in a time warp. It was a book launch. Waterstones has started as it means to go on!

What is the indie book situation where you live? I’d be most interested to know. I found a cheering article from earlier this year on USA’s The Daily Beast, titled Indie Bookstores Are Finally Not Dying , which carried the following optimistic comment: “In reality more bookstores have opened than closed in the last couple of years in the U.S. They have always been and will always be anchors in many communities.”

So – let’s all go out there and support our local bookstores, shall we? And the next time I visit your  friendly and brilliantly well-stocked Waterstones store, Xavier, I promise the nephew and I will buy at least one book each…

Books!

Books!

500 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2015/”Witches” Photo copyright Anne Whitaker 2015
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

 

To change the world – start in your own back yard!

We don’t need astrologers to tell us we are living in a period of remarkable turbulence and change. The evidence is all around us: from our teetering and corrupt banking systems, to the declining health of Planet Earth whose dominant species, humans, at current rates of consumption require the resources of three and a half planet earths to sustain us. Amongst many problems greatly on the increase against this backdrop are obesity, social inequality, the social and economic burdens of an ageing population – and fast rising anxiety and depression rates.

Our Beautiful Planet:Facebook

Our Beautiful Planet/Facebook

Apparently the overall index of increased happiness as material prosperity grew, peaked in the mid-seventies, then declined. The rot, it seems, set in in 1976….

However, humans have always been incredibly adaptable creatures and there is plenty of room for optimism in the midst of the current gloom. We are poised collectively on an interesting cusp, which many people see as the pivotal point of recognition that the materialist project which has so dominated all life since the rise of Age of Reason in the 18th Century is crumbling, and a new world order or paradigm is emerging.

Materialism has brought us incredible advances, but is bringing our planet and the systems governing our collective lives, to a dangerous edge.

The new paradigm emerging, in essence, invites us to respect and work with the ecological balance of our home planet. It also invites us to recognise that there are many levels to “Reality” – the material level is just one of these. It is not suggesting that we should attempt to put the genie of progress back in the bottle and recreate a “Golden Age” which never existed.

It invites us to go forward into the future bearing the best that scientific and material progress has to offer, but also the best of what human civilisation has distilled over its six thousand years of social evolution which offers proven nourishment of both a physical and spiritual nature to all life on Planet Earth.

We can see evidence of this new paradigm’s emergence all over the planet in large and small ways. To give just one example, the principles of the “Slow Food” movement which began in Italy over two decades ago have taken root and flourished all over the world.

All of us, at a collective, local, and personal level have a part we can play in this paradigm shift. I have been posting now for several years, reporting the remarkable developments taking place in our local area of the city of Glasgow, Scotland, UK, via The Children’s Wood campaign which promotes outdoor education and community activity  via a precious patch of wild land  – which we are fighting to save from the clutches of developers.

Children's Wood Protest

Children’s Wood Protest

What’s happening where you are?

Drop by. Comment. Do let me know!

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500 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2015/ ‘Not for Sale!’ Photo copyright Anne Whitaker 2015
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

As summer ends…the sea, glorious woods, and TWO Buddhas!

The sea, the sea…taken from the window of our train at Dawlish, en route to Totnes, Devon, UK. I love gazing out at horizons. A favourite memory is of sitting at a street cafe in the atmospheric seaside town of Lagos, Portugal, gazing out at a vast, shimmering horizon. Henry the Navigator, in the 15th Century, had boldly gone across that very line into the Great Unknown. It was 1995 – the start of a boldly-going period of human expansiveness. Little did we know then that technology was poised to deliver the Internet worldwide, changing all our lives. And I was poised for an educational adventure of my own..

The sea, the sea!

The sea, the sea!

Here is some local colour out and about round Totnes, Devon, UK where we were running away, hiding from our home in Glasgow’s extensive repainting job. First, cousin Michael’s wonderful flower garden. Second, Buckfast Abbey’s sumptuous gilded interior, after its extensive restoration. And last but not least: Ian doing some hands-on healing on a very quirky stone Buddha. Always the optimist, that man…😜

Glorious Garden

Glorious Garden

Gilded Altar, Buckfast Abbey, UK

Gilded Altar, Buckfast Abbey, UK

Will it work?

Will it work?

We spent a morning walking in the beguilingly beautiful, tranquil Dartington Estate, upriver from Totnes, in glorious autumn sunshine. And found, tucked away, another Buddha. A delightful highlight, complete with sunflower offering from us.

Buddha with Sunflower

Buddha with Sunflower

And now – we are home…but Totnes always seems to call us back...

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250 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2015/ Photos copyright Anne Whitaker 2015
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

The Neolithic meets the Cosmic: wonderful outdoor art!

Recently we visited the newly-opened Crawick Multiverse, near Sanquhar in Scotland, an outdoor, amazing landscape sculpture created on what had been disused mine workings by landscape artist Charles Jencks. It is an astounding place to visit – and an inspiring one.

We felt that Jencks had managed to create in stone, land and space, a metaphorical Great Circle: from where we began in the Neolithic era to express our physical and intuitive connection to  the universe of which we are part, to where we are now – astounded by the immensity of  the cosmos  as it stands revealed through the technical brilliance of modern science.

Here is the video explaining his concept, by the man himself.

Enjoy the photos – and GO THERE!

Crawick Multiverse Ground Map

Crawick Multiverse Ground Map

Ian - time traveller

Ian – time traveller

From the Multiverse...

From the Multiverse…

Yours Truly - on Andromeda...

Yours Truly – on Andromeda…

Mosaic Multiverse

Mosaic Multiverse

150 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2015/ Photos copyright Anne Whitaker 2015
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

 

On Life, Death, and Planet Janet…

In last week’s post  I raised the very difficult question of our increasing medically-expedited longevity  – and the ethical, moral and economic issues it is bringing along with it. The post produced some very interesting responses, this one from USA commenter Gaye Mack being one of them:

“When I was in grad school I had to take an ethics course and our single grade was based on a 5 minute presentation. I presented myself as Hippocrates arguing in front of the Supreme Court on this issue pointing out that my oath of ‘first do no harm’ could also be applied to the concept that to extend life beyond a reasonable means for the patient and family– emotionally, physically and FINANCIALLY, was in fact, ‘doing harm’…”

Just as I was facing up to my own and my husband’s demise, and we were about to embark upon completing the relevant medical and legal forms, I  had a conversation on the subject with my dear friend Peggy. In her mid eighties, she is still amazingly active, enjoys life, and continues to be a wonderful support to other people as well as a shining example to those of us coming behind her regarding how we should grow older. Peggy, of course refuses to be complimented – “Away with you!!” is her usual retort.

I recorded our conversation, which is quite short, and have Peggy’s permission to share it. It has the usual mix of Peggy’s and my conversations: a rich mix of grave seriousness, black humour, and sheer irreverence.Here it is. I do hope you can make time to listen, and leave your responses – to continue the dialogue on the topic of how we face and deal with death and dying in the 21st Century.

Anne and Peggy on Life, Death and Planet Janet

Grim Reaper

Grim Reaper

300 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2015
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

 

“…A time to die…”…but when? And how?

Baby Boomers are the first generation in human history to be able to rely on medical advances to prolong their lives considerably. They have, in effect, added on average more than a decade to the traditional, biblical ‘three score years and ten’ as a result of medical advances enabled by technology  – accelerating in particular since the start of the twenty-first century.

However, in the universe we inhabit, light and dark co-exist: one does not come without the other.

The shadow side of this striking gain in longevity is that death can now be put off for a considerable time, often resulting in – on average – eighteen years of deteriorating health with its attendant misery for the individuals involved, their families and friends. The economic realities of this are becoming more and more pressing. Western countries, on average, are dealing with a population as a whole who consume more in health care resources in their final six weeks than in the whole of their preceding lives.

Most of us can now quote several cases from personal experience or from hearsay, of individuals whose lives were painfully prolonged: by those individuals not having made their end of life wishes clear; by families’ general inability to communicate with one another regarding the painful and threatening question of the inevitability of death; and by the medical profession’s increasing focus on the technicalities of technology-expedited care, rather than the humanity, compassion and tough-minded realism required to enable people to have, as well as a good life,  a good death when the time comes that life has no quality left and there is only distress and suffering.

On the latter topic, I highly recommend surgeon  Atul Gawande’s wonderful book Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End”, currently topping the best-seller lists. Here, the author  tackles the hardest challenge of his profession: how medicine can not only improve life but  needs also to address the hard problem of how to assist the process of its inevitable ending: with greater humanity, care and wisdom than is all-too-often practised at the moment.

In the UK, as the assisted dying debate rages on, with around 75% of the population supposed to be in favour of some form of assisted dying being legalised, increasing numbers of people are choosing to take matters into their own hands. For example, at the end of July 2015, a healthy 75-year-old former nurse took her life at a Swiss suicide clinic after saying she could not bear growing old. Gill Pharaoh – who had specialised in nursing the elderly – said old age was not ‘fun’ and that she preferred euthanasia to becoming ‘an old lady hobbling up the road with a trolley’. Only this evening, I found in my email inbox the following from the UK’s Dignity in Dying campaign:

“Today, Bob Cole had an assisted death at Dignitas in Switzerland and his story has been covered by almost every major media outlet in the country, including a front page in The Sun newspaper.”

I would be most interested to know where my readers are on this crucial issue. My husband and I have completed Advance Directives, stating clearly in writing what our wishes are – and are not– regarding medical care at the end of our lives. To this we have added Power of Attorney documents which give added weight to our Advance Directives. The latter at present have legal force in England but not in Scotland.

I also persuaded our GP to obtain Do Not Resuscitate forms, normally kept in hospitals, which we have included, signed by him. Copies of all these are now with us, our GP and geographically closest next of kin.

All this, of course, may not be enough if either of us is painfully and terminally ill and palliative care,  which in theory should be fully available to everyone but regarding which anecdotal evidence –sadly– is building to show where such measures have failed or are inadequate. What would one, other, or both of us do then? I have to admit that, at present, I do not know the answer to that….I’ve also lived long enough to know that, often, you really can not know what you would do in a very tough situation until you are actually there….

Anne and Peggy

Anne and Peggy

A year or so ago, before my husband and I had sorted out what we would do in terms of advance wishes, I had a discussion on the topic of what one does at the end of life with my dear friend Peggy. In her mid eighties, she is still amazingly active, enjoys life, and continues to be a wonderful support to other people as well as a shining example to those of us coming behind her regarding how we should grow older. Peggy, of course refuses to be complimented – “Away with you!!’ is her usual retort.

I recorded our conversation, which is quite short, and have Peggy’s permission to share it. It has the usual mix of Peggy’s and my conversations: a rich mix of grave seriousness, black humour, and sheer irreverence. I hope to post this conversation next week, to continue the dialogue on the topic of how we face and deal with death and dying in the 21st Century.

In the meantime, do let me know what your thoughts are on this, one of the most important issues of our era.

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900 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2015
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

 

As summer loses hold…a melancholy musing…

I have always loved August, that month where a particular coolness in the morning air on stepping out, a papery rustle tingeing the wind blowing through the trees, intimates that Summer is losing its hold upon the year, that Autumn is ascending…

August is my birth month. There is an almost, a poised melancholy about it which fits my temperament well. From a very young age I have been very aware of the transience of Life: for all its challenge, turmoil, joy, grief and seemingly endless possibility, its manifold excitements, loves and pleasures, it is soon gone: a frail leaf drifting down to the river of Time which carries everything mortal to the great Universal Sea.

Whilst in a pleasingly melancholy August mood today, I dipped into a favourite inspirational book and found this gem, which I thought I’d share, from Katherine Mansfield…

Death of a Rose…

“…It is a sensation that can never be forgotten, to sit in solitude, in semi-darkness, and to watch the slow, sweet, shadowful death of a Rose.

Oh, to see the perfection of the perfumed petals being changed ever so slightly, as though a thin flame had kissed each with hot breath, and where the wounds bled the colour is savagely intense . . . I have before me such a Rose, in a thin, clear glass, and behind it a little spray of scarlet leaves. Yesterday it was beautiful with a certain serene, tearful, virginal beauty, it was strong and wholesome, and the scent was fresh and invigorating.

To-day it is heavy and languid . . . So now it dies . . . And I listen . . . for under each petal fold there lies the ghost of a dead melody, as frail and as full a as a ray of light upon a shadowed pool. Oh divine sweet Rose. Oh, exotic and elusive and deliciously vague Death..”. Katherine Mansfield: The Death of a Rose (from The Virago Book of Spirituality, Edited by Sarah Anderson, published 1996,  p276 )

One fallen leaf....

One fallen leaf….

350 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2015
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page