Friday, 16 November 2012

A Little Sheepish

I thought I'd post a sheep photo, since I'm feeling a little sheepish at how rarely I've posted on my blog this year. With my computer not working for at least 2 days out of every week since March it's not been the best of years for getting any writing done, plus my wrist surgery mid-year added to my slow plod becoming a one-handed and even slower plod!

On the plus side I had the wonderful Olympic and Paralympic games to keep me happily occupied while my computer wasn't working and/or I couldn't use my hand to type.And now, as the year draws to an end, there have been a few more exciting things on the go, like Blogblast for Peace and my being chosen for the Scottish Book Trust League of Extraordinary Booklovers.

The list of things I planned to do this year is still untouched, but my frustration at that fact has faded into a realisation that sometimes... you just have to go with the flow. Sheep understand that, I think. I've watched them in the fields around us and I really don't think that they fret over missed deadlines. I don't think sheep worry about what they haven't done or what they should be doing. I think sheep could teach us a lot about how to live simply and enjoy the moment.

It's sunny - "I am happy to be warm."
It's cold - "I am happy to have a woolly coat."
And always constantly... "Ooooh, Grass! yummy."

Maybe we all need to be a little more 'sheepish' now and then. ;-)

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Through the Eyes of the Past

Last month I received a very exciting box in the mail - a special book called Arms and the Woman by E Culling. The reason I was so excited to get hold of a copy lies in the name of the author... or rather her name before she married. Mrs E Culling was originally Miss Evelyn Ongley, my great-great grandfather's sister. :-)

Here she is, in the centre of this photo, pouring coffee for the soldiers.

Evie ran a canteen during the first World war and the following war in Syria. I must admit, I had no idea what that meant before I read her book. I found a *photo of a canteen for French soldiers, dated 1917. it should give you an idea what they were like.

They  offered simple comforts of a warm drink, sometimes music, a sense of normality and amidst the chaos of war...

Evie's account of arriving at Revigny, where she worked for several years, is an excellent example of how her simple statement of facts makes those facts all the more powerful to imagine.

Evie's sister, Minna, also worked with her in France for a while. Both sisters had sons fighting in the war... and both sons died in that war. Evie's only son, Evelyn Culling, fought with the Canadians. He died in 1915. Minna's son, Humphrey Stafford O'Brien, was a pilot in the newly formed RAF. He died in 1918.

Even though the war years were full of personal tragedy and horror, Evie still managed to keep her sense of humour. Here's one bit from her book that make me chuckle - her description of the 'joys' of bathing in a war zone situation.

Evie's writing style is quite formal to our modern standards, but the stories she tells of death, life, humour and compassion are timeless. She shows a side to the First World war that I had no idea about - the realities of daily life of those living in or next to the battle zones. She speaks about a way of life that is gone forever, places and people changed forever.

We need to remember them.

*French soldiers clearing debris.

 *Photos from The Heritage of the Great War. This website has an impressive collection of war photos that are well worth looking at.

 The French awarded Evie the Croix de Guerre in 1919.

“Dear Madam -
“I have great pleasure in informing you that Marechal Petain, Commander-in-Chief of the Armies of the East, has, on my proposal, conferred upon you, as from February 27th 1919, the croix de Guerre with the following inscription:

“Mistress Culling, of the British Committee of the French Red Cross, Directress of Railway Canteens, has in the course of the campaign, unceasingly provided our soldiers with valued comfort, material and moral. Has carried on her beneficent mission under violent and repeated bombardments, in particular at Revigny, on September 5th, and 6th, and October the 4th, 5th and 7th, 1917, gaining the admiration of all by her presence of mind and indifference to danger.
(Signed ) Petain.”

The Poppies Blow...

Canadian Stretcher bearers, Flanders, 1915.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McCrae 

French patrol in a trench, 1916

*both photos from
 The Heritage of the Great War

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Tiny Tigers and Fluff-cats

With all my computer woes I have been unable to access or share the last pictures from our trip to the Highland Wildlife Park in August. Well... today I finally managed to get back into that photo folder! So here are my final and most favourite animals - the tiny tigers and fluff cats. ;-)

Tiny Tigers? The Scottish Wildcats, of course!

The park has a lovely idea for their cats - they have an aerial walkway that runs through the woodland section, above the cages and footpath. It links several cages together so that the cats can prowl on high, chill in solitude or visit each other.  Here's one standing in the walkway, just to the left of one of the cat cages. Can you see it? 

I went closer and took some more photos...

 The Scottish wildcat looks similar to a domestic tabby, but their heads are more round and their tails are very bushy, with a distinct black tip.

This one completely ignored all of us below gawping upwards.

Sadly, these lovely cats are now one of Britain's rarest mammals, quite possibly in serious danger of extinction. Part of the problem is cross-breeding of domestic cats with wildcats. There is a very famous example of a melanistic hybrid, the "Kellas cat", in  *Elgin Museum. (*Scotland's oldest independent museum)

For more information on the Scottish Wildcat and the important work being carried out to save and protect them, by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, please go to Cairngorm Wildcat Project.

We saw kittens and adults at the park, but they were up in the trees grooming each other and not very interested in being photographed.

I did manage to get a few quick photos of one adult as it walked across the cage. This was with a zoom shot, so it is a bit blurry, but you can see that gorgeous black-tipped tail.

Now on to the fluff cats! We nearly missed them and the only photo I managed was so blurry it wasn't worth sharing. So I'm using a video from the Highland Park to show off these stunning cats. This is a pair of Pallas cats:

"The Pallas cat was named after the German naturalist Peter Pallas, who discovered them in the 18th Century. They are found in Iran, China, Russia, Mongolia and Tibet, living in rocky deserts and barren mountainous regions.

Pallas cats are most frequently encountered at dusk or in early morning. They make their den in small caves and rock crevices but will take shelter in the burrows of marmots, foxes and badgers. They will sleep here during the day until dusk, when it is time to hunt. Pallas cats have dense fur to cope with their cold, dry environment, and they wrap their tail around their body for extra warmth when sitting or lying."

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Dona Nobis Pacem 2012, A Flicker of That Greater Flame

Dona Nobis Pacem... all kinds of songs sing about “Peace on Earth”, but is it really possible? Are humans actually capable of finding other ways to live and prosper that doesn’t include violent harmful conflict? Well, this year I caught a glimpse of what Peace on Earth could be like and it was wonderful. I saw it when I was watching the Olympic and Paralympics Games of London 2012.

You see, at the Games people from almost every single country on the planet gathered together to compete against each other. They came together as rivals and yet they did not rage at each other for being different nationalities, they did not hate each other for speaking different languages and they did not kill each other for belonging to different religions. Instead they showed respect for their similarities: they cheered each other on, they hugged and wept together at the finishing lines, they held hands and they made friends. They gave us all a glimpse of what life on Earth could be if we found ways to compete to be the best without wars and violence. 
Both sets of Games were inspiring and uplifting, but the Paralympics were my absolute favourite. From start to finish they stood out as a bright light shining on all that is best about being human – courage, persistence, tolerance, humour… and that greatest gift of all - our human spirit. Here were people running without legs, swimming without arms, playing team sports without sight, breaking records and shattering preconceptions. 

And what better example for a peace post than the Paralympics? 

In 1948 a doctor, Sir Ludwig Guttmann, organised the first wheelchair games to take place at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire. He wanted them to take place at the same time as the London 1948 Olympics… alongside, hence the name para-lympics. He had been working with injured war veterans and believed that encouraging them to be more active would help in their recovery. He was right – it did and it still does. Right now in 2012 the Paralympics is still helping war wounded young people back into living a full life through sport. People like…

US Navy vet, Brad Snyder, who won gold and silver just barely a year after he lost his sight after stepping on an explosive device laid in Kandaha. 

Mohamed Kamara, competing for Sierra Leone, who had his arm cut off by rebel fighters (during their 11 year civil war) when he was 4 years old. 

Captain Luke Sinnott, who lost both legs and an arm in an IED bomb blast while serving in Afghanistan in 2010. He was so inspired by being a part of the closing ceremony (he climbed the giant flag pole) that he now intends taking part in the Rio Paralympics of 2016, with the help of organizations such as Help for Heroes

 My most favourite Peace inspiration story comes from the Rwandan volleyball team:
Dominique Bizimana and Jean Rukondo make unlikely teammates. Eighteen years ago they were on opposite sides of a brutal sectarian conflict that spawned the worst mass slaughter since the Second World War.
Rukondo, an ethnic Hutu, was stationed on the other side of the front line as a soldier in Rwanda’s national army. While leading a patrol he stepped on a landmine losing his entire left leg.
Now they fight together as members of Rwanda’s Paralympic volleyball team. “We always joke when we are playing with young kids that I think that man who shot me was Rukundo,” says Bizimana, an infectiously enthusiastic 36-year-old from Rwanda’s Tutsi ethnic grouping whose lower left leg was torn off while fighting for the rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). “Now we are friends and we train together. Our team is always together. It’s a good example for young people in Rwanda. Our team is a model for other generations.”
If they can do it, why can’t the rest of us? 

In the fantastic Paralympics closing ceremony, the speech was given by *Rory Mackenzie, a South African who was serving as a medic with the British Army in Iraq when he was blown up and lost his right leg. He said this:
"Tonight we bring you the Festival of the Flame, the symbol of the spirit of the Games, which has burned bright at London 2012. Tonight we celebrate that spirit, and although we have many differences, there is one quality we all share, one thing all of us have in common: human spirit."

(*Rory is another success story from Help for Heroes)

Yes, we have many differences, but the Games proved that we can overcome those differences, any obstacle or so-called “disability”, when we truly work together. When we focus on what makes us the same and use it to encourage and light the way for others… we are unstoppable and invincible.

The flame of the human spirit burns brightest when we share it with others.

Physicist and author Stephen Hawking made the opening speech at the Paralympics. The whole speech was brilliant and if you never heard it – go now and read it here! There’s one portion in particular I want to add to my post today. He said:
“The Paralympic Games is about transforming our perception of the world.  We are all different, there is no such thing as a standard or run-of-the-mill human being, but we share the same human spirit.  What is important is that we have the ability to create. This creativity can take many forms, from physical achievement to theoretical physics.  However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at.”
"However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at."  

Beautiful words and how true they are, but there is one vital lesson from the Paralympics that we need to remember - all those athletes, even Stephen Hawkin himself, would not have been able to reach their full potential without the help of others. We all need help at some time or other, just as we are all capable of offering help in one way or another. With our creativity, that unquenchable fire of our combined human spirit, we can change perceptions and when we do... we change the world.  

I'm finishing my post with an example of that human creativity - a lovely video of Olympics  photos set to John Lennon's song "IMAGINE", sung by singer/musician, Billy Lemon.

Thank you for letting me use it, Billy. :-) 

Friday, 2 November 2012

Faith and Hope...

This year has been a truly crazy one. My computer has been on-off all year and my hands weren't working properly at the start of the year. So, all in all, I've done very little writing or blogging this year. 

On top of that in one of my computer crashes I lost all my blogblast for Peace 2012 work - my posters, globe ideas and notes. I had already downloaded the shared posters to Facebook, but my own stuff was gone and I simply haven't been able to find or recreate what I lost. 

So I started again and... it's been such a slog! I actually thought of writing a rant for my blog post for peace yesterday, because internet "red tape" is driving me insane this year.You see - every year I write on a theme and every year I ask permission from places to use their info, website or pictures for that theme, but this year almost every thing I want to use for my idea is under copyrights that demand I pay or sacrifice a pure white lamb before they'll say "yes" (rolls eyes). Only one very nice person has said yes and I do intend to thank him in full on the day. The rest are just 


Rant over. 

Now on to the more interesting news as of yesterday evening. You see... yesterday evening a friend   emailed me with her own woes. She's had a similar time and even worse, to be honest. She can't even access her blog as blogger went bananas and decided she was a hacker and trying to get to a real live person to sort it out is near impossible.

Finding a real live person to talk to is becoming more and more of an issue for us all. How many times recently have you ended up on hold on a phone trying to reach a real live person? How many times have you had a problem that you can't talk to anyone about because everything is automated, done by email or phone rather than face to face?

How many jobs has this planet lost to machines that don't "get it", cannot understand being human and have zero common sense?

So, this morning I was trying to figure a way to help my friend get back blogging by trying some experiments on a test blog I set up years ago to try out different layouts and backgrounds. I go there to try some things and... what do I find? I find a test post I created in 2009 that I do not remember at all! Here it is...
A faintish journey do I make
As through this frazzled world I wind,
With heavy heart and weary steps,
But with determined mind.

Beseech I for a flicker of

The faith than can a mountain move,
And hold that tenet close to me,
Believing where I cannot prove.

The pow'r that comes when sinking low

To man who grasps for straw or rope,
Will clutch til has he breath no more
For where there's life, there's hope.

If my good turn be given to

My fellow man's deficiency,
I'll try to share my lowly gifts
Of Faith and Hope and Charity.

faith, hope, and charity - anne shannon demarest - 1965

How's that for perfect timing?