This Sceptred Isle

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This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house
Against the envy of less happier lands;
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,
this nurse, this teeming womb of royal kings,
Feared be their breed and famous by their birth,
Renowned for their deeds as far from home
For Christian service and true chivalry
As is the sepulchre, in stubborn Jewry,
Of the world’s ransom, blessed Mary’s son;
This land of such dear souls, this dear dear land,
Dear for her reputation through the world,
Is now leased out – I die pronouncing it –
Like to a tenement or a pelting farm.
England, bound in with the triumphant sea,
Whose rocky shore beats back the envious siege
Of watery Neptune, is now bound in with shame,
With inky blots and rotten parchment bonds.
That England that was wont to conquer others
Hath made a shameful conquest of itself.

From Shakespeare’s Richard II, lines spoken by John of Gaunt.

Books for the whole year!

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I love reading, but I’ve made a resolution this year not to have more than one on the go at a time (one of my failings). Obviously, I’ll make exceptions for the Bible, poetry anthologies and the like. For Christmas 2018, Naomi bought me two great poetry anthologies, and last year I read a poem a day every day. Rather than start the second one in 2020, I decided to re-read the first one because I enjoyed it so much (as well as the fact that I couldn’t immediately lay my hands on it). One of the books Naomi bought me this year (she knows me well) was the one above by Dan Snow, which features a short and excellently written article describing an event of that day in history. I’m already hooked.

The Martian (Andy Weir)

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The other day I borrowed (with permission) this book from a cafe, because having started it I was hooked. It’s a 2011 science fiction novel written by Andy Weir, adapted into a 2015 film directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon.

It appealed to my inner geek, as well as my interest in science and space exploration, but what completely sold it to me was an endorsement by a real-life astronaut Chris Hadfield: A book I just couldn’t put down! It has the very rare combination of a good, original story, interestingly real characters and fascinating technical accuracy.

If I had the time I would have probably read it in one sitting, but I’m currently half-way through it. It’s fast-paced, in fairly short chapters, with brief sections, and this all makes for an easy read. I’ve known about the book and film since they came out, so I’m a little late to the party, but better late than never! I look forward to finishing the book and catching up with the film sometime.

Update: I finished the book (a really gripping read) and Naomi bought me the DVD, so we snuggled on the sofa to watch it. All in all, a great book and film. Oh, and I was finally able to return the book in August 2019 and enjoy lunch and a coffee.

New Every Morning

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In addition to my daily Bible reading, reflection and time of prayer, I now have two years worth of poetry to read (specially selected for each day of the year) thanks to two very thoughtful Christmas presents. You can read about them here or click the picture. This poem by Susan Coolidge has been used in a UK hospice to bring comfort to patients, and is clearly suitable for the first day of a New Year, and the title also calls to mind Bible verses from Lamentations 3:22-23Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

See also Second-hand presents? Discuss!

Second-hand presents? Discuss!

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This Christmas I’ve been reflecting on commercialisation of the season, along with general consumerism and materialism in society; have these three things brought us greater happiness, or should we be more aware of their dangers to the cohesiveness of family and social life?

One thing you certainly realise having children is the amount of packing that surrounds toys, as well as the amount of human effort and ingenuity needed to extract them. Not to mention all the plastic (both large and small) that comprises the packaging; plastic that is increasingly becoming a problem in our finite world.

With those thoughts in mind, I was delighted to receive two wonderful books. They’re second-hand hardbacks, and (in my view) are perfectly acceptable to give as presents. I’ll treasure them and read them every day for two years. Discuss.

See also New Every Morning.

International Space Station

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Today marks 20 years of the International Space Station, with the launch of the first element (the Zarya module) occurring on 20 November 1998. From this initial launch, the station has been built up bit by bit to the structure it is today. It’s easily seen when it passes over your location (there are many apps that notify times and dates) as it orbits the globe every 92 minutes. British astronaut Time Peake has been a crew member of the ISS, and I’m currently reading his excellent book (pictured above). It’s an easy read and tells you everything you need to know about his life as an astronaut and the ISS, and would make an excellent present for someone (or yourself).

The Need for Sleep

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Sleeping is the best thing we can do to improve our overall health; it’s so simple that it’s often forgotten or ignored. I’m currently reading an excellent book about why we sleep, and I’ve been surprised at the very negative effects lack of sleep can have on our mental and physical health, especially if we are building up a sleep deficit over a long period of time.

We all need both quantity and quality of sleep to function normally in our everyday lives. Unfortunately, there are those who boast about how little sleep they need, and there’s also an implied societal view that sleep is somehow lazy and unproductive; these can be easily demonstrated to be false and unhelpful.

Prolonged lack of sleep weakens your immune system, doubles your risk of cancer, and increases the your chances of suffering heart disease and stroke, for example. It also adversely affects your mental health, contributing to anxiety, depression and suicide. Worryingly, many road traffic accidents are caused by lack of concentration, drowsiness and microsleeps.

Although I’ve been aware of the effects of being sleep deprived for a while, I’m now more determined to do something about it – even if having three young children doesn’t make it easy, but as an older father I owe it to them to be healthy.

See also: 10 Tips for Top Sleep