Sunday, 26 April 2009

Favourite Places

A bluebell wood near East Kennett, Wiltshire. Click the photo for a larger view


Some friends were lucky enough to be able to visit CERN, the world's largest particle physics laboratory.

The most recent experiment being conducted at CERN is to find the hitherto unseen Higgs Boson This involves using the Large Hadron Collider which sends particles in opposite directions round a 27km tunnel. The initial particle beams were injected into the LHC in August 2008, and the first attempt to circulate a beam through the entire LHC was on 10 September 2008, but the system went wrong due to a faulty weld, and it was stopped for repairs. After repairs the magnets must be recooled. The experiment will resume this summer. See some photos, including one of Peter Higgs, here

If you want to see a glamorised view of CERN and a reasonably accurate description of anti-matter, go and see Angels & Demons

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Birthday cards from Kei (who knows of my passion for noses as well as my strange habit of making very poor drawings of crocodiles on everything)

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Lady Herbert's Garden, Coventry

My step-grandfather created a garden in memory of his second wife Florence in Coventry, known as Lady Herbert's Homes and Garden. It takes in some areas of the old city wall (from when Coventry was one of the most important cities in England) and includes some lovely almshouses. Click the heading for more photos of the garden, some taken by Rob Orland for his superb Historic Coventry site

Monday, 13 April 2009

Patricia Mayne

We held a small wake today at The Orangery for Patricia Mayne, a dear friend, who died of motor neurone disease in February. We read the piece below and drank to her spirit in pink champagne.

Her memorial service was held at Aldbourne, Wilts on 15th May at which, completely coincidentally, the same piece was read by her daughter, Alie Plumstead.

I am standing upon the seashore.
A ship, at my side,
spreads her white sails to the moving breeze
and starts for the blue ocean.

She is an object of beauty and strength.
I stand and watch her until, at length,
she hangs like a speck of white cloud
just where the sea and sky come
to mingle with each other.

Then, someone at my side says,
"There, she is gone"

Gone where?

Gone from my sight. That is all.
She is just as large in mast, hull
and spar as she was when she left my side.
And, she is just as able to bear her load of
living freight to her destined port.

Her diminished size is in me -- not in her.
And, just at the moment when someone says,
"There, she is gone,"
there are other eyes watching her coming,
and other voices
ready to take up the glad shout,
"Here she comes!"

And that is dying...

Gone From My Sight by Henry Van Dyke

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Favourite Writings - Damascus


Even now, as if in salutation, voices welled up along the edge of dusk; first a long-drawn, musical sigh from the mosque of al-Mouradiye, and a muffled answer from the al-Jarrah. Then, in an underbreath of melody, the gossamer-voices chimed in from all over the city, rising in splinters of sad sound, falling tenuously away.

Allah, akbar
Ashhad an la ilah illa –llah …

Every sunset the phrases are bandied between the minarets of the city ; the tenor near the Palace of Justice is buttressed by a deep-toned, passionless exhortation from the Mameluke tower by the Street Called Straight; elaborate cries issue from the loud-speaker of the Tingiz, and all the pre-recorded voices of Mecca and Cairo and Jerusalem fill the air with grace-notes and roulades. It seemed to me, standing by the tomb of the first muezzin, as if the singing had started from here. But the cries, which sound so frail, never die. Soon they would follow the death of the sun up the villages of the Barada valley.

God is great
There is no God but God …

Ashrafiyeh, Huseiniyeh and Fijeh would take up the call, and from a hamlet in the hills above Bessima the voice of a Caruso among muezzins threads down the valley on a legato of silver.
Northward, the harmonies steal into Anti-Lebanon, infiltrate the foothills of Antioch and force the Cilician Gates. From pink-roofed mosques the cry is thrown among the wooded steeples of the Taurus, disseminates through Anatolia and bursts over the minarets and chestnut trees of Istanbul. For a moment it is lost in the clamour of Bosphorous fishermen, and fades away where the Golden Horn dies a muddy death at Eyüp. Then, turning back in the red steps of the sun, it vaults the Iron Curtain and mingles with goat-bells in Bulgaria, insinuates itself among the mosques of southern Yugoslavia, until it overlaps the night.

Westward the voices move towards the Pillars of Hercules, hover round Mecca and Medinah like the playing of flutes, and purl over the rice-fields of the Nile. Already men bow to prayer on caïques in the Arabian Sea, and the last suras are being intoned through the mosques of East Africa. From Libya to Tunis the message springs into the crenellated villages of Berber tribesmen, and scales in redundant echoes the peaks of the High Atlas. Westward again, from the tiled towers of Rabat and Marrakech, Moorish voices peter out against the deaf waves of the Atlantic …

In my mind the cries had already reached Brazil,where a faithful member of some Syrian community was groping for this prayer-mat with a Portuguese oath. Black moslems were turning their blunt faces to the east, and the call was flitting from Indonesian isle to isle, taken up by a hybrid mosque in Singapore, thrown from the bunion cupolas of Lahore to the dome of Isfahan …
It was almost night.

Colin Thubron - Mirror to Damascus (sent to me by a kind friend who knows my love for such writings - like this )

Monday, 6 April 2009

The Scientist and the Universe

The universe is profoundly weird, even godlike. The Big Bang itself, entirely inaccessible to the tools of scientists, is an extraordinary theological phenomenon - a whole creation emerging out of nothing in an instant. And why should there be anything at all, instead of nothing - for ever? It would be much less trouble to have no events, no stuff. Yet here we are, millions of years on, evolved from that formless energy into you reading and me writing. Why? Science is silent.

The queerness of the universe goes much further than this. For instance, it isn't really there in the sense of which we think of it. The amount of actual 'stuff' in the human body for example, can be contained in a grain of salt - the atoms and molecules we are made of consist almost entirely of space. Of course we feel solid, but at the most fundamental level there is almost nothing there. We are such stuff as dreams are made on.

Furthermore, at a subatomic, quantum level, matter springs in and out of existence in a kind of 'quantum froth'. Something all the time is coming from nothing and reverting to nothing again. And it is scientifically unquestionable that the mighty cosmos, from one distant corner to another, including the particles that make up you and me, is all made of the same stuff/energy - the same stuff/energy down to the last infinitesimally small particle, created all those millions of years ago in the Big Bang. Not a single iota has been created or destroyed since. We are literally and factually both all one and eternal.

Since all is one, the universe is you - or at least expressed through you. The universe is dead without human beings to conjure it into life - to give it colour, meaning, shape. In that sense we are still at the centre of the universe. Science, in its constant breaking down and measuring, obscures the truth that there are not multitudes of events but just one event. Not many things - just one thing. And that event - that thing, could be described as the unfolding of 'God'. It's a God that has nothing to say about morality or judgement, or heaven. But it is unquestionably real - and is evidenced by our ability to imagine and perceive. We are the universe becoming conscious of itself.

These are all extraordinary godlike ideas, yet as factual as the dinner you eat or the road you walk on. The trouble is that science gives us no way to feel these miracles as lived realities. The human soul is left unnourished by equations and syllogisms. Science needs a dose of humility before working out what a scientific god might look like - and feel like. Science hates God because it shows that scientific powers are limited in the face of an ultimately unfathomable universe. But scientists need to take note of the Zen nostrum 'If you ask where the flowers come from, not even the god of spring knows'. Or, as Sir Arthur Eddington put it when talking about fundamental particles, 'Something unknown is doing we don't know what'. Science respects ignorance and the 'cloud of unknowing' in a way that religion based on sacred scriptures often does not. But we shall not move towards a new vision of god until science acknowledges the limits of its own disciplines and makes the poetic leap from measurement and analysis to meaning and synthesis. This a job perhaps more for poets than scientists. If so, poets need to read science books more - and scientists need to understand what poetry is for and the irrefutable realities of which it too, speaks

Tim Lott - From Here to Divinity

There is much here to remind us of the depths long-ago reached by Indian cosmology, such as that found in the Stanzas of Dzyan