surfsensei

Reflections and observations on life in general.

Category: memories

Parent Stars

starfield sort of

My father was an interesting, clever, inventive and intelligent man. He combined physical activity and ruggedness with an inquiring mind that was reminescent of the heroic statues of the Greek philosophers of the ancient world, indeed I think he would have rather liked that image. In his later years he simplified his material life, possessions, financial affairs and so on, even his diet, to an almost austere degree in order to free himself from what he had for a long time regarded as irritating distractions from researching, reflecting, thinking and writing. He wrote a number of essays and papers, mostly unpublished as far as I am aware, and one book, printed in a limited run at his own expense, on a wide range of subjects that he saw as part of a greater whole of which the book was intended to be the synthesis. The theme that emerged for him during that twenty to thirty year period was the evolution of the brain and enquiry into the mechanism of consciousness, material for another post perhaps.

When I used to visit him in his simple bedsit in a harbour town in the north east of England – he loved the sea all his life – most of his conversations were on this topic that, really, filled his mind. Other people he knew found him interesting and inspiring company, rich in experience from a life that included active service in World War 2, bomb and mine disposal in the aftermath (for which he was awarded an MBE), a varied career after the Royal Navy that took him to many places.

I thought about all this as I lay awake this morning, it’s a short mid-term holiday just now, of how our experience of the people who are our parents is very different from that of the friends and acquaintances that they have, the sorts of people with whom one has brief conversations after a funeral, illuminating or shocking or unexpected, as if of a different person to the one we knew.

It is a matter of proximity, like stars. Far off, they light up our night skies to varying degrees, the further away, the less of their light and nature we see; only that which reaches us over the distances of space through the filters of dust clouds and the gravitational lenses of other stars in between. In orbit within their solar systems we experience the colour and intensity of their light, their helpful and harmful radiation, the solar flares and storms, the impact and influence of other bodies drawn into their gravitational field, their creative and destructive energies.

So with our parents, like two stars in, for a while at least, close binary orbit around which we emerge from celestial dust into being and find more or less stable paths. Being so close, we cannot see them as more distant observers do, we see both more and, perhaps in some ways, less. We may come to imagine that all stars and systems are like ours, unable to see the light of the rest of the cosmos clearly for the glare of our own nearest stars, at least unless we move away into a more distant and perhaps quieter path around our parent stars and look outwards with clearer and more open minds, like the great telescopes with which we are beginning to find new and surprising world systems.

So I remember my father from a more distant orbit now, his memory an afterglow. My mother’s star shines with a different light, less dazzling, more stable, warmer, nourishing with a gentler radiance that she perhaps does not realise.

Among the many things I learnt from my father was a fascination with the stars, a love of the night skies. I’m glad of that, it’s a beautiful and amazing view.

Like the trees. .

Like the trees

I held on to autumn leaves

When they were ready to fall away.

No surprise, then, when they did.

Only in my mind was it still summer.

Fallen gold is turning brown,

Returning to the source.

Sadness to nourish future happiness.

In time, the days are growing longer

And there will be green again

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Of moles and stars

You lie beside me, breathing softly in your sleep.
I trace the patterns there,
Small brown moles on your back,
Sprinkled by vagaries of genes
And little errors in your cells.
I think of constellations,
A map of another sky,
Seen from another world,
Another star.

Scientists say that all elements,
After hydrogen,
Were made in ageing stars,
Each atom hammered into form
On the anvils of supernovas
And scattered on the solar winds,
Condensing in icy minerals
In nebulae that became,
In the immensity of time,
Our Earth, Ourselves.

I wonder if these constellations are a memory,
A distant history maybe,
Of your origin, a map of
The star that made you.

image

Cold War Hercules Mushrooms

I’ve had a lovely bike ride today, out west to the RAF Museum at Cosford, briefly visiting the impressively-housed Cold War Museum and then on to Ironbridge on the River Severn and the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution.  It’s an odd thought, looking back on it, that the Cold War and all its ramifications and consequences was only possible because of the technological pioneering that took place in this small gorge, where water, coal, limestone, some iron ore and wood were conveniently available in the one area.  That made it economical to start using coke, rather than charcoal, to produce iron of a higher quality with which more could be done, such as building a bridge over the river – the Iron Bridge.  It’s an impressive structure.

On the way out along the quieter back lanes, I found some unexpected treasures:

W3singer the Lone Singer in Codsall

W3firstautumnsign first signs of Autumn, just after a pot-hole that nearly had me off my bike.W3mushrooms1   

a tree trunk outside the front gate of a hidden house, surrounded by this dense mushroom ‘forest’,

 W3poppies  poppies in a field just outside the airfield

.W3hercules under the wing of a Hercules… W3coldwarmuseum to the beauty of cold steel… (ok, probably aluminium then!) This impressive building houses various aircraft, displays, tanks and missiles from the Cold War era.

I remember watching, and hearing, the Vulcan bombers flying over our house in Cornwall in the 60s, the futile nonsense of the ‘Protect and Survive’ leaflets distributed in the late 70s/early 80s by the Government, many more memories from that period up until the momentous fall of the Berlin Wall, which I watched on TV.  So many changes, so much technology and creative effort in pursuit of a conflict that, in reality, was entirely constructed in our minds; it really is possible to fool all of the people nearly all of the time, or at least for a considerable time.  The definitions and causes have shifted, but the same stupidity persists.

Apparently this was ‘World Peace Day’, as well as a day on which many people marched to draw attention from governments and other institutions to the urgency of real action on climate change.  Both of these are issues which we have the capacity to solve, within a year if we really decided to, but we would need to motivate ourselves in the same way and with the same degree of commitment to the cause as we have done so successfully in our wars… I see no sign of any attempt by those currently in power either politically or financially to take the leadership actions required to do this, to solve these real problems that face us all.

Some might find the contents of the Cold War Museum depressing, chilling or even superficially exhilarating if you don’t consider the full implications.  Today I felt some of the first two and recalled the latter from earlier times in my life (watching a Sea Dart launch from an aircraft carrier was quite something, better to be behind it than in front).  I do admire the technology for the skill in solving challenging problems but most of it is really a misguided, if so far necessary, effort.  What I do find hopeful though is that it shows what we could achieve with a change in our aim, by lifting the veil of the siren illusions and prejudices and distractions that seduce us collectively onto the rocks.

Maybe we have to just go ahead and start to do it ourselves, even if that is just to get out on a bike for the afternoon.