Our names are on Mars!

The Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover recently landed successfully on Mars and immediately started sending photos, videos, and information back to Earth. You can follow the mission here.

Before the mission launched we sent our names to NASA and these are now on Mars, the above photo is Pollyanna’s boarding pass. Who knows if our children will ever make it to Mars, but if they do, their names will already be waiting for them!

The Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover will search for signs of ancient microbial life, which will advance NASA’s quest to explore the past habitability of Mars. The rover has a drill to collect core samples of Martian rock and soil, then store them in sealed tubes for pickup by a future mission that would ferry them back to Earth for detailed analysis. Perseverance will also test technologies to help pave the way for future human exploration of Mars. Source

Coronavirus Vaccination

To say I was excited when I received my vaccination appointment would be an understatement.

However, you would be wrong to think I’ve been living in fear since March 2020, although I’ve had a measure of concern because of my age, susceptibility to chest infections, and underlying asthma (although well-controlled). And, even though I’m generally fit and healthy, I’ve been scrupulous in protecting myself and my family from coronavirus.

Our surgery was really well organised, and the longest wait was fifteen minutes afterwards (in a marquee) to make sure I was OK. I received my first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and I’ll get my second dose in twelve weeks time.

I do encourage you to have the coronavirus vaccine when your turn comes, please ignore all the rubbish that’s spoken and written about them.

The coronavirus vaccines are based on decades of scientific progress and practice. Yes, the development has been speeded up because we’re in a crisis, but scientific corners haven’t been cut. Remember, the flu vaccine is a new vaccine every year, and is based on the same scientific foundations. Be grateful for the 24/7 commitment to this cause, and please don’t spread misinformation. See here.

As a friend pointed out: The only corners that have been cut are the waiting for funding for each step through the process (it’s been made available immediately instead of waiting until the next financial period or whatever), and the hunt for a suitable selection of people to test the vaccine on (they have been inundated with volunteers). It just shows what can be done when there is the motivation.

Five Covid-19 vaccine false theories – debunked

Halifax Piece Hall

Our half-term day trip to Halifax this time last year (February 2020) was a wonderful family day out, although little did we know how coronavirus would soon become a world-wide pandemic (March 2020) and change all of our lives. It was a wet day (as you can see from the above panorama), but we look back with an increasing fondness engendered through an enforced lockdown.

Halifax is a historic market, mill and minster town in West Yorkshire, England. In the fifteenth century the town became an economic hub of the old West Riding of Yorkshire, primarily in woollen manufacture. From New Year’s Day 1779 manufacturers and mercers dealt internationally through its grandiose square, the Piece Hall. Today it houses many small shops and independent businesses, along cafés, restaurants and venues.

Both Naomi and I have lived near Halifax (before we knew each other) and have friends there. It was lovely to visit with our family, and hopefully we can visit again soon when the lockdown restrictions ease.

Social Distancing Reflections

There are so many health benefits of human contact and hugs, and these benefits have been denied many during the current coronavirus pandemic. In addition, dating for single people is fraught with difficulties, and it’s a total nightmare for tactile individuals.

As Virgina Satir, a respected family therapist said, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth.” It concludes that hugs are having a great role in improving our life’s quality. In addition, hugs also have many health benefits you have never expected before. Source

You can easily find out more by clicking on the above link (and Google is your friend), and it’s well worth doing so. I might blog about it sometime, but it’s not the main subject of this post.

One friend commented that being safe (in lockdown) isn’t the same as being alive, because alive isn’t the same as thrive. I know that many can identify with this inability to thrive in lockdown. She also said, “I’ve never felt so alone in my entire life. I’m losing both good and bad parts of me. I’ll never be the same after this”.

Since the start of pandemic I’ve been reflecting on how social distancing might affect our long-term human interaction, especially with strangers. Initially, I discouraged handshaking in Wallsend Corps, greeting each other by touching elbows. This was met with a mixture of amusement and anxiety, the latter due to the uncertainly of what the future might hold, but it wasn’t long before the first lockdown was announced.

A phrase I coined at the start of the pandemic was: Social distance with emotional and spiritual connection. If I could go back twelve months I would change it to: Physical distance with emotional and spiritual connection, as this better reflects my considered thoughts. We need all the social connection we can get within the restrictions. But laptops, tablets and Zoom meetings have their obvious limitations, we need actual human contact to thrive. That said, video calls have been a lifesaver for many.

Another friend said, “Our [adult] son has profound and multiple learning disabilities including autism. He is in a care home. He is non-verbal and touch is how he communicates whether it’s to hug you, hit you or take you to something he wants. Needless to say social distancing hasn’t been good for him. When he sees us to wants to come over to us but can’t. Socially distanced walks with a carer bringing him in the wheelchair to make sure we don’t get close to him is the best way to deal with. Once when on the walks he tried reaching out to stroke a dog that came up to but had to be pulled away. When the dog came up it was lovely to see his smile but heart breaking to see his disappointment when he wasn’t allowed to touch the dog. I dread to think how all this is affecting him long term. However one lovely thing when we’ve done video calls with us, he will touch the screen to acknowledge us.”

I’m not coming to an overall conclusion, but these are personal reflections. We all know how physical distancing is affecting us and our loved ones, but we can’t be sure of the long-term effects. Will we remain ‘distant’ from others, even when we go back to some sort of normality? Reaching out to others, with its associated physical contact, is vital for us to thrive individually and collectively. May we never lose this.

Serpentine Prison (Matt Berninger)

You’ve probably guessed that I enjoy listening to new albums, as well as discovering old music that’s new to me.

I find out about new albums from a variety of sources, and sometimes I kick myself for missing one – like Earth by Ed O’Brien. But, this debut album by Matt Berninger of The National, is one I didn’t miss! It was recommended to me by Anisa Subedar, a friend I haven’t met in real life yet.

I immediately liked the overall sound of the album and the fascinating lyrics, and it’s one of my favourites of 2020. The album was produced by the legendary Booker T. Jones and features Gail Ann Dorsey (probably best know as David Bowie‘s bass player from 1995 until his death in 2016) in one song.

Serpentine Prison isn’t the drastic change of pace that many frontmen create when they do a project outside of their main band, but it does enough to justify itself as separate from The National’s catalog. At the same time, longtime fans of the group will undoubtedly feel at home here, too, while also admiring what Berninger does differently. It’s not all equally captivating or distinctive, but it is consistently moving, tasteful, and alluring, promising something even greater when Berninger returns for his sophomore solo sequence. Jordan Blum

You can see all my favourite 2020 albums by clicking here.

See also: Melting Pot (Booker T Jones)

Song for Our Daughter

Song for Our Daughter by Laura Marling is a wonderfully mature and polished album, it’s one of my favourites of 2020. She writes songs for her fictional daughter, and by implication, her former self. She was inspired by Maya Angelou‘s book Letter to My Daughter.

The accompaniment is stripped right back to create an intimate sound, her accomplished playing and singing is always central with some beautiful harmonies and melodies.

This is one of a number of albums I’ve discovered this year because they were nominated for the Mercury Prize 2020.

You can see all my favourite 2020 albums by clicking here.

Inner Song (Kelly Lee Owens)

This wonderful album became one of my favourites of 2020 on first hearing, especially as the opening track is a superb instrumental cover of a Radiohead song.

The unexpected opening track, a wordless cover of Radiohead’s “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi,” offers a sort of formal thesis statement. Owens’ interpretation emphasizes the Steve Reich-like qualities of Jonny Greenwood’s guitar line, stretching it into an undulating synthesizer pattern. Forgoing vocals, she distills the song’s harmonic essence, stripping it down to emphasize a single part of the whole, evoking a state of trance-like contemplation until a jittery breakbeat crashes through. Pitchfork

Kelly Lee Owens is a Welsh electronic musician and producer, who skilfully combines multiple genres in one perfectly formed album. This is a beautiful piece of work, and ideal for evening listening.

One track features vocals from John Cale in both English and Welsh, this collaboration and the inclusion of the Welsh language was a means to connect with her Welsh heritage.

You can see all my favourite 2020 albums by clicking here.

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

This week is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (18-25 January), often abbreviated as WPCU. It involves Christian communities from across the world and from almost every denomination.

There are many different Christian churches and denominations, but all have the same basic calling – to worship God, to share the good news about Jesus Christ, and to work for the good of all people. So they often need to work together, as well as co-ordinate the work they each do separately. When they do, they are acting as Churches Together. But being Churches Together means more than that. It means commitment by each church and denomination to deepen its fellowship with the others and, without losing what makes each interestingly different, to work with them towards a greater visible unity.

To help the churches live as Churches Together, a number of small organisations have been created to ease their way. There is one in almost every town or community to help them to work together locally. There are others in the regions and for each of the four nations of Wales, Scotland, Ireland and England. There is also an umbrella organisation in the UK, Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI), from which I have obtained the above information. Additionally, there is the World Council of Churches.

You can find helpful resources on the CTBI website, including for WPCU below:

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2021

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2020

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2019

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2018

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2017

Honey For Wounds (Ego Ella May)

As the title suggests, this album is one to soothe troubled spirits in a challenging world, even when addressing tough issues in today’s society. It’s one of my favourite albums of 2020.

You can see all my favourite 2020 albums by clicking here.

Ego Ella May is a British songwriter and vocalist from South London. She has an all-encompassing love of music, which she channels into her own neo-soul and contemporary jazz compositions. She boasts a rich, mature sound, one that belies her years.

You can find the album on Bandcamp (and other streaming services) and an excellent review here.