TIMES CHANGE

How many clocks do you have in your home? At 2am this morning the UK switched from British Summer Time to Greenwich Mean Time. Did you remember to change all your clocks? Usually there’s one that our household forgets to change.

Aside from changing the time on clocks, has there ever been a time when times haven’t changed? Bob Dylan wrote The Times They Are A-Changin’ in 1963. The post-war decade of the Fifties had finished and a new and different – not always better – world was emerging: issues of civil rights and Martin Luther King Jr’s dream, JFK’s death, the rise of the Beatles, Vietnam… Yes, the times were changing. The song’s title still rings true today. Nobody foresaw a year ago, let alone half a century ago, that the world would be battling a pandemic with its attendant inconvenience, fear, frustration and bewilderment – including the wonky timing of the February/March Six Nations Rugby being completed now, and the May/June French Open Tennis played earlier this month. Changing times indeed.

The philosopher of Ecclesiastes wrote, ‘Everything that happens in this world happens at the time God chooses. He sets the time…’ Yet the Bible also tells us that ‘With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.’ God isn’t limited by time as we define it; he isn’t a clock-watcher but, as the one in control of history and the universe, our days are in his hands. 18th century poet, Isaac Watts, wrote ‘Time, like an ever-rolling stream bears all its sons away. They fly, forgotten, as a dream dies at the opening day.’ Thank God for the gift of this day. Let’s live it wisely – even as the times change.

SAVOUR SAVIOURS

My friend and I used Morse Code to send secret messages to each other when we were children. The only bit I remember now is SOS: dot-dot-dot, dash-dash-dash, dot-dot-dot. Save our souls. Samuel Morse may have been known as a saviour for his invention, most famously used -in desperation – by radio officers Jack Philips and Harold Bride from RMS Titanic in 1912.

Who are today’s saviours? Well, TV gardeners such as Monty Don of Gardeners’ World have saved the sanity of many this year by helping us notice, appreciate and work with nature in our gardens. Sir David Attenborough and Prince William, amongst others, are advocates for saving the planet’s species. And think of your local saviours – good neighbours, hospital workers, shop assistants…

While admiring and appreciating such saviours and the efforts they put in to making life on earth better, there is actually only one person who can literally ‘save our souls.’ He was described as ‘the bright dawn of salvation’ who would ‘shine on all those who live in the dark shadow of death, to guide our steps into the path of peace.’ Who wouldn’t wish for that? ‘Don’t be afraid!’ was the heaven to earth message, ‘I’m here with good news for you… This very day your Saviour was born – Christ the Lord!’

While it’s right that we all do our best to save the planet – as God’s stewards of the place – it is only he who can save US. We don’t have to tap out a Morse Code message. He’s there for anyone who chooses to see him as the Saviour. Isn’t it evident today that we need him more than ever?

A-MAZE-ING

‘Life is… a maze, in which we take the wrong turning before we have learnt to walk,’ wrote Cyril Connolly, the British journalist and writer. A maze, according to my dictionary, is ‘a complex and confusing network of paths with high hedges.’

I remember as a child going to Hampton Court’s maze. When you’re little the hedges look exceedingly high and the paths dark. ‘Hold my hand,’ said Dad, ‘and you’ll be all right.’ Suddenly, instead of being afraid, the whole prospect seemed like a great adventure. We started along a path, came to a dividing of the way, took a turn – and ended up in a dead end. We had to retrace our steps and take another path. Soon there was another decision to be made. One path seemed to be right; it was long and seemed to be getting near the finishing point at the centre. But no, we had to turn tail and try again. Eventually we arrived at the middle.

Do you find that life is a maze? Or do you find it amazing? Both, probably. There are perplexing elements to life – redundancy, pandemics, disasters; and there are stunning, mind-blowing elements – the birth of a child, the scent of a rose, the starry night sky. Whether life is a maze or amazing, I know one thing. I’d rather walk through it hand in hand with God, my heavenly Father, than on my own. I’d get very lost and scared without him. Besides which, Jesus told his disciples that he was The Way. Not just any old way, but The Way. That’s good news.

CHOICES

Aargh! How do I begin to choose? In a floor-covering store I’m confronted with hundreds of different colours, patterns, textures, and prices of carpet and vinyl. In the supermarket – real shop or online, there are rows of different breakfast cereals to choose from – with or without sugar, fruit, nuts, chocolate, seeds… In the market I can take my pick of fruit – in or out of season – strawberries in June or November; vegetables and salads from near or far: red or green grapes, purple or green broccoli; local watercress, tomatoes and apples; exotic mangoes, melons and lemons… Restaurants, even in these restricted times, still offer a choice of what to eat and drink – cappuccino or skinny latte, green, black or fruit tea…

Yes, I’m fortunate to have so much choice when many people don’t. But do you and I have too much choice? Has the coronavirus pandemic had any effect on our thought-processes and life-styles? Is life any simpler than before March 2020? Have you had time to reflect on life itself rather than on the stuff that we so easily take for granted? Have your habits changed in recent months? Is your worldview and life-view different now?

The local vinyl man did a home visit and produced just three small books of sample flooring. He was in the house ten minutes. He measured. I chose. Job done. If only all choices were that simple.

A WEEK IS A LONG TIME

‘A week is a long time in politics.’ If it was a long time for former UK politician Harold Wilson in the mid-1960s, then it’s probably also true for today’s political leaders, as each week brings fresh challenges and changes from one day to the next, let alone in a week.

This last week has been a long week weather-wise for many British people. It started with summer and ended with autumn. Last Monday sunbathers were out in shirt sleeves; by Friday they were muffled in gloves, hats, scarves, and thermals. Trees, buffeted by a northerly gale, shivered so much they rained down conkers, acorns and beech nuts onto wary passers-by who picked their way along debris-strewn pathways. The temperature in my garage this morning was just 4 degrees Celsius. On Monday in the garden it had been more like 24 degrees. Garden flowers on Monday stood upright and proud, basked in the sun’s warm rays and looked blooming wonderful. Today they lean at a rakish angle, some of them bashed completely flat and needing to be propped up.

For everything there is a season, said the preacher of Ecclesiastes. But we didn’t perhaps expect the seasons and other changes and challenges to be compressed into a week.

Harold Wilson believed that sleep and a sense of history were essential in political leadership. And maybe those two things are useful for any of us in baffling times – irrespective of our role. Let’s look on the bright side – with another quote from Mr Wilson: ‘I’m an optimist, but an optimist who carries a raincoat.’

WORLDWIDE WEBS

The exquisite artistry of spiders is much in evidence during England’s early autumn. Dewy mornings reveal myriads of spiders’ webs in the grass, on bushes, gates, washing lines and street lamps . An example or two can be seen in my Photo Gallery.

There are actually some species of spider that are endangered.  I admire the work of spiders but can’t say I like them, especially the large house spiders that scuttle out from under the sofa and run across the living room floor at surprising speed. One such froze me to the spot just the other day. I’d rather save a rhino or an elephant than a spider.

A recent TV programme, headed by Sir David Attenborough, highlighted the extinction and near-extinction of many species on planet earth. The programme was sobering and challenging, though it included a good news story of mountain gorillas in Africa whose numbers are increasing.

We might try and point the finger at other nations where, for example, the ivory trade is rife or climate change is ignored, but in reality we’re all culpable when it comes to being good stewards of the planet we inhabit. Whether or not you believe in God the creator, it is still the case, as is pointed out in the Bible’s first book: Genesis, that human beings are the  species given responsibility for looking after the world and all its inhabitants. And because, globally, we’re all interconnected, we should consider – individually and collectively – the part we might play in care, conservation and sustainability. Long live the gorilla! And the rhino! And the elephant! And maybe even (if somewhat reluctantly on my part) the spider…

FINE

How are you today? Fine. How’s the weather? Fine. What happened when you were caught speeding? Fine. How would you describe the lacework on a garment? Fine. How was the speech he made? Fine.

There are 28 definitions or uses of the word ‘fine’ in my dictionary. That’s fine by me. I had to read the fine print to make out the finer points. I must ensure I don’t cut it fine when writing this blog. I might go to a gallery to look at some fine art. What a fine time that would be. I could be distracted by listening to cricket commentary: ‘Oh, that ball’s gone down to fine leg;’ or procrastinate by watching a fine gentleman in a period drama on television. In a discussion I may be told, ‘That’s a fine point.’

The English language never fails to intrigue. But what a mine field – or maybe, on a good day, a fine field – it must be for those learning the language. You might need to practise words and their meanings, going over and over them with a proverbial fine tooth-comb before fine-tuning your skills pre-examination.

The 17th century French playwright, Molière, said, ‘Oh how fine it is to know a thing or two.’ Well, I know a fine little song: ‘Thank you, Lord, for this fine day, right where we are.’ Yes, the sun is shining through the window onto my keyboard and it is, indeed, a fine day.

But you may be fed up with all this fine stuff. Take a break. Lunch, maybe. Molière again: ‘I live on good soup, not on fine words.’

EAR EAR

Let’s think ears. The inner ear: for hearing and maintaining balance. The outer ear: what we see on the side of our head. The middle ear: where we find the ossicles (great word).

The right ear is connected to the brain’s left hemisphere and processes rapidly changing sounds, and the left ear processes prolonged tones. Apparently it’s better to use the left ear for phone calls.

Ears don’t always function properly. Ear infections, tinnitus and Meniere’s disease may cause pain and dizziness and other unpleasant symptoms. Diminished, or loss of hearing may affect balance as well as making someone feel isolated.

What if we didn’t have ears? Well, apart from the obvious as outlined above, ears provide handy hooks on which to hang our glasses – and, now, our face masks, though surgeons and other workers realised that decades ago; the rest of us are playing catch-up.

St Paul wrote, “The body itself is not made up of only one part, but of many parts… If the ear were to say, ‘Because I’m not an eye, I don’t belong to the body,’ that would not keep it from being a part of the body. If the whole body were just an eye, how could it hear? And if it were only an ear, how could it smell? As it is, however, God put every different part in the body just as he wanted it to be.” Well, thank God he did! As David the psalmist wrote, “Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvellous – how well I know it.” Indeed. Ear ear!

APPLES, RAINBOWS AND JAMES ANDERSON

What do these have in common? Apples, cricketer James Anderson, wasps, blackberries, rainbows…

Answer: they’ve all featured in my life in the UK during the last seven days. OK, slightly tenuous connection. Try this: in a year of unpredicted change, they are a source of solace and constancy. Apples go through their cycle of spring blossom, June fall, maturing growth, ripening, and now harvest. Wasps continue to get drunk in the apple tree and sting unsuspecting fruit pickers. Blackberrying is still a delightful seasonal occupation – along with its attendant care to avoid stinging nettles, flies, thorns, oh and wasps.

Northerly gales blow in with stormy skies, sharp slaps of thunder and fleeting flashes of lightning. Downpours are blown at speed, allowing the sun to blink through the rain and rainbows to appear.

And then there’s James Anderson. What an unexpected and astonishing feat of organisation that test matches have been played this summer and have been broadcast on Test Match Special! On a soggy Southampton pitch Jimmy Anderson achieved his 600th test wicket, alas with no enthusiastic and congratulatory spectators to witness it live. But it happened. His longevity as a seam bowler – the first ever to reach 600 test wickets – provides a welcome bit of stability in times of change. He’s a reassuring figure.

So . . . all may change, but apples, wasps, blackberries, rainbows, and James Anderson – never! True? Not really.  Writer, Somerset Maugham: “Nothing in the world is permanent, and we’re foolish when we ask anything to last, but surely we’re still more foolish not to take delight in it while we have it.” So, I delight in, and thank God for, apples, blackberries, rainbows, James Anderson – but maybe not wasps.

 

LONG WORDS BOTHER ME

It was Winnie-the-Pooh who declared himself to be foolish and deluded and that long words bothered him. He has my sympathy. But short words bother me too. Like zoa and nova and vow, which – for all their brevity – have huge meaning. Zoa is the plural of zoon (not to be confused with Zoom which has become particularly familiar in recent times.) Zoa are organisms – titchy word, massive subject. Nova: a star that suddenly increases its light output in a gigantic manner, then fades away to obscurity. Tiny word, huge meaning. And vow, not a flippant promise that is unlikely to be kept, but a deeply meaningful promise. Such little words, if placed strategically on a Scrabble board, can add many points to your score.

During the last five months, a Scrabble board has decorated one end of our kitchen table. We don’t sit down to play but, in turn, put down a word when we’re passing. A game might take several days or a week to complete. But it’s been a good way of using little grey cells and little cream tiles to keep the brain ticking over when other activities have been curtailed. Zoa, nova and vow are on our current game board.

Short words, long words, little meaning, massive meaning. Might you use zoa, nova and vow in a conversation with someone? Possibly not, but whatever words we use with others, we might take these proverbs as a guide: Intelligent people think before they speak… Kind words are like honey – sweet to the taste and good for your health… A person’s words can be a source of wisdom, deep as the ocean, fresh as a flowing stream. Happy word-making!