Stargazing with Matilda

Home schooling is a very real and present challenge (understatement) for millions of parents and families in the coronavirus lockdown, but Matilda and I had an enjoyable adventure at the end of what has been a tough day. There was a homework task in her school app inbox from before Christmas, to explore the night sky. So off we went in the car (including Chippy the Elf, don’t ask) to a quiet country lane a few miles from home.

Winter is the best time to explore the night sky in the northern hemisphere, because it’s darker than the summer (obviously) and because there are more distinctive constellations, with Orion dominating.

It was muddy and windy (my flat cap blew off) and a little scary for Matilda, but we had a great time and saw some wonderful objects in the night sky once our eyes had adjusted.

The most obvious object in the sky was the Moon with Mars and Uranus appearing close in the sky, although the latter is too faint to see with the naked eye unless the location is exceptionally dark. We saw the dramatic constellation of Orion and used his belt (three stars in a line) to point down to Sirius (the brightest star in the night sky) and upwards to the constellation of Taurus and the Pleiades star cluster. We spotted the distinctive W (or M) shape of the constellation Cassiopeia, and the plough shape of Ursa Major.

It was a very short lesson as Matilda soon wanted to get back into the car, but we could still see quite a lot inside the car and on the way home. A positive experience of home schooling at the end of the day.

Food Supplements and Vitamins

They say that if you have a good, balanced diet you don’t need food supplements and vitamins. Now, I’m not a doctor, but I feel there is a place for them at times and in certain circumstances. I’m only making personal suggestions here, so it’s important that you use common sense, and seek medical advice if necessary because there can be adverse effects if taken inappropriately.

Because I’m over 65 years old, I take a number of food supplements and vitamins daily: a multivitamin and mineral tablet (formulated for men), a glucosamine and chondroitin tablet to protect my joints (especially as I’m a runner), an omega 3 fish oil capsule (unless I’ve eaten oily fish that day) to help maintain a healthy heart, and a vitamin D capsule.

Vitamin D is essential for the optimal performance of our immune systems, and is produced naturally in the body with the help of sunlight. Unfortunately, it’s easy to become deficient in this sunshine vitamin in the UK and other countries with short days and little sunlight in winter.

A few years ago I was diagnosed with a vitamin D deficiency and was prescribed a high dose of this vitamin. I now take a high daily dose of vitamin D in winter, and a maintenance dose during the summer. In the current coronavirus pandemic, it might be worthwhile thinking about taking this vitamin, but please take medical advice as you can take too much.

Each of my young children also have a daily chewable age-appropriate multivitamin pastille, and they always remind me at teatime in case I forget.

Do you take food supplements and vitamins?

Preludes (T. S. Eliot)

The winter evening settles down
With smell of steaks in passageways.
Six o’clock.
The burnt-out ends of smoky days.
And now a gusty shower wraps
The grimy scraps
Of withered leaves about your feet
And newspapers from vacant lots;
The showers beat
On broken blinds and chimney-pots,
And at the corner of the street
A lonely cab-horse steams and stamps.

And then the lighting of the lamps.

The morning comes to consciousness
Of faint stale smells of beer
From the sawdust-trampled street
With all its muddy feet that press
To early coffee-stands.
With the other masquerades
That time resumes,
One thinks of all the hands
That are raising dingy shades
In a thousand furnished rooms.

You tossed a blanket from the bed,
You lay upon your back, and waited;
You dozed, and watched the night revealing
The thousand sordid images
Of which your soul was constituted;
They flickered against the ceiling.
And when all the world came back
And the light crept up between the shutters
And you heard the sparrows in the gutters,
You had such a vision of the street
As the street hardly understands;
Sitting along the bed’s edge, where
You curled the papers from your hair,
Or clasped the yellow soles of feet
In the palms of both soiled hands.

His soul stretched tight across the skies
That fade behind a city block,
Or trampled by insistent feet
At four and five and six o’clock;
And short square fingers stuffing pipes,
And evening newspapers, and eyes
Assured of certain certainties,
The conscience of a blackened street
Impatient to assume the world.

I am moved by fancies that are curled
Around these images, and cling:
The notion of some infinitely gentle
Infinitely suffering thing.

Wipe your hand across your mouth, and laugh;
The worlds revolve like ancient women
Gathering fuel in vacant lots.

Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888-1965)

The Solitary Reaper (Wordsworth)

Behold her, single in the field,
Yon solitary Highland Lass!
Reaping and singing by herself;
Stop here, or gently pass!
Alone she cuts and binds the grain,
And sings a melancholy strain;
O listen! for the Vale profound
Is overflowing with the sound.

No Nightingale did ever chaunt
More welcome notes to weary bands
Of travellers in some shady haunt,
Among Arabian sands:
A voice so thrilling ne’er was heard
In spring-time from the Cuckoo-bird,
Breaking the silence of the seas
Among the farthest Hebrides.

Will no one tell me what she sings?—
Perhaps the plaintive numbers flow
For old, unhappy, far-off things,
And battles long ago:
Or is it some more humble lay,
Familiar matter of to-day?
Some natural sorrow, loss, or pain,
That has been, and may be again?

Whate’er the theme, the Maiden sang
As if her song could have no ending;
I saw her singing at her work,
And o’er the sickle bending;—
I listened, motionless and still;
And, as I mounted up the hill,
The music in my heart I bore,
Long after it was heard no more.

William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

Wind on the Hill (Milne)

dandelion nature sunlight
Photo by Nita on Pexels.com

No one can tell me,
Nobody knows,
Where the wind comes from,
Where the wind goes.

It’s flying from somewhere
As fast as it can,
I couldn’t keep up with it,
Not if I ran.

But if I stopped holding
The string of my kite,
It would blow with the wind
For a day and a night.

And then when I found it,
Wherever it blew,
I should know that the wind
Had been going there too.

So then I could tell them
Where the wind goes…
But where the wind comes from
Nobody knows.

Alan Alexander Milne (1882-1956)

Pestilence Lane (Alvechurch)

screenshot-www.google.co.uk-2020.06.01-19_33_49

A few years ago (actually more years than I care to remember) I travelled to Bristol with Sarah on the first stage of her journey back to Bologna, Italy. I arrived back home in the early hours after driving in temperatures down to -9.0C at some points on the M5 and M42. But it was only later that I found out something interesting.

We had passed Pestilence Lane, and I wondered about the name. I looked it up and found the following information about Alvechurch in Worcestershire. Half the population died of the Black Death in the 14th Century and local tradition has it that the bodies are buried on the outskirts of the village in Pestilence Lane.

This may or may not be true, but the story was taken very seriously when the M42 motorway was being planned. Test pits were dug in Pestilence Lane and the samples were checked for traces of contagious diseases.

Nothing was found and the Hopwood Services were built on the site in 1998. Not a bad name, but ‘Pestilence Services’ would have far been more interesting.

Sonnet 18 (William Shakespeare)

woman in black jacket standing near brown plants

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date;
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Note: This is another of my favourite Shakespeare sonnets. See also here.

End of Summer Feelings

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How do you feel at the end of summer? Spring is my favourite time of the year; there’s new life emerging in nature and I can enjoy the (hopefully) better weather without hay fever and asthma (July and August are worst for me), the days are getting longer, and my birthday falls in May. Also, as a Christian, the significant events of Easter and Pentecost come within this period in the Northern Hemisphere.

By August Bank Holiday Monday (at the end of August in the UK) I start to feel reflective and sometimes a little down with the nights closing in, the onset of autumn, and (although I enjoy my vocation as a Salvation Army Officer) the thought of returning to the busyness of work.

I occasionally get depressed and take a mild anti-depressant* for it, more recently I’ve experienced bouts of anxiety as well. Although the depression is well-managed, I find that autumn and winter are the most difficult seasons for me. I’m open and honest about this because I believe there shouldn’t be any stigma about mental health issues within society; many will suffer from mental health issues during their lifetime (or know someone who does) and so education and openness can only be for the good, so that no one suffers in silence.

There are various strategies I’ve learnt through the years to help including eating healthily, getting out in the fresh air, exercise, running and making sure I get a good night’s sleep (not always easy). I also consciously focus on living in the present, grounding exercises and the like.

How does the end of summer affect you? I’d love to hear from you, whether you love it or loathe it; and if you find it difficult, how do you cope?

Photo Credit: Howard Webber (check out his books here).

* Note: I stopped taking a mild anti-depressant in 2020.