20 Minutes

20 Minutes is a 2021 EP by Carbon Based Lifeforms with the main track lasting…(wait for it)…20 minutes, it’s one of my favourite EPs of 2021.

A long time thought is finally a reality. A twenty minutes long story that takes you on a soothing journey through the ambient soundscapes of Carbon Based Lifeforms. The other track is an extended version of Leaves which further soothes your mind, it’s melancholic winter landscape. Source

You can find this EP (with other EPs and albums) in my Bandcamp collection here.

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Why is February shorter?

Have you ever wondered why February is the shortest month? OK, maybe not, but I’m going to tell you anyway!

The problem (because that’s what it was) originates from the fact that all calendars were once lunar, and the number of lunar months does not equal the solar year. Additionally, the solar year is not exactly 365 days, and this simply compounds the problem. That’s why we add an extra day occasionally to keep the calendar in line with our annual journey around the Sun.

The problem with February goes back to the Romans, and what have they ever done for us? They used a lunar calendar, but thought it would be a good idea if winter didn’t have months. eventually (around 713 BCE) they added two months (January and February) to the end of the year, because they considered the year started with the spring equinox in March.

There was still a problem for many centuries though, because there was all sorts of tinkering for all sorts of reasons. Julius Caesar eventually initiated calendar reform creating the Julian calendar, but even then there were still problems. The months now had either thirty one or thirty days, but the year was slightly too long. They resolved this by removing one day from February and returning it once every four years.

Having more or less solved the problem, they started counting leap years every three years and messed everything up again. Emperor Augustus corrected the issue, and all was well again – until it was decided to name a month after him. Now his month (I’ll leave you to work out which one) had one less day than the one honouring Julius Caesar (you can work it out), and that was out of the question.

So, what did they do? They took another day off poor February and added it to August, obviously! Hence, February has only twenty eight days, except in a leap year. There just remained a little adjustment to the months after August, so as to avoid having three consecutive months with thirty one days.

Note: Many centuries later, most of the world moved to the Gregorian calendar, but that’s another story.

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)

Coronavirus Pandemic Second Wave

It’s been announced today (Friday 18 September 2020) that a second wave of COVID-19 is hitting the UK. Now I’m neither an optimist nor a pessimist, I’m a realist. Sadly, we need to prepare for a very difficult winter with the complications of Brexit thrown in for good measure. We need to brace ourselves and hold tight, it’s going to be a bumpy ride. Yes, it’ll be tough, but I feel we can get through it if we support and have consideration for each other.

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.

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.