Solstice 2014. A Great Stretch in the Day.

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Solstice Vigil 2014

The sun has been around for about 13.77 billion years, give or take a few, since the Universe began. Who calculates such figures? And how?  Archbishop Ussher declared that Adam was created in 4004 B.C. six days after the creation of the world. Scientists, playing ‘the dating game’, give the earth’s age as four and a half billion years. We throw these figures around casually, as if our minds can actually grasp their significance. Only at particular times of the year do we stop and marvel at what we are witnessing. The winter solstice is one such day.We persuade ourselves that we can now look forward to bright and sunny days. We have a little way to go still, but it does no harm. We need to think positively, because January and February have yet to come. Nevertheless we will begin to look for signs of new growth. Snowdrops are a good bet, as are a few brave crocuses. This happens without the need for chanting Druids or human sacrifices. In many societies down the ages, the sun has been worshipped as a god. There is a certain amount of logic to that, if you feel the need of a god. Everything in our world depends on the influence of the sun. Too much influence and we die. Too little and we die. Too much light and we are insomniac. Too little and we are S.A.D.  I watched a sun-worshipper at the sea wall a couple of days ago. He struck some odd poses, but it worked. The sun came up. He might, of course, have been a jogger limbering up and stretching. Keep at it.

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In ancient times the Ancients were believed to have ancient knowledge of the workings of the universe. The average ancient person was overawed by such knowledge and was easily persuaded to lug gigantic rocks to mountain tops, to build megaliths and temples, to appease the sun and ensure good hunting and crops. There really was no need for all that effort. The sun has been rising in the east for xxxx billion years. I’m no Druid but I confidently predict that it will continue to do so for a few billion more, so that’s  one worry out of the way. You have more immediate concerns today and tomorrow, than incurring the wrath of the Sun God.

The photographers and solstice watchers were probably disappointed yesterday morning. The Sun God was veiled in cloud. This was not an omen. It was weather, itself caused by the sun. If those keeping vigil in Newgrange passage grave, had to rely on electricity to create the effect of rejuvenating light penetrating the gloom, they can be consoled by the thought that the electricity began from the sun. So all is well. Same time next year.

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This is my favourite sunrise, at the other end of the scale, when the sun rises behind Saint Patrick’s Island. That’s a little temple, where the monks chanted their matins at dawn before setting out to change the world. There is a promise of warmth and light. It is a sight to lift the heart.  Sursum corda. Morning has always been a symbol of hope.  On this dull December morning, I thought that I would remind you that we are in the run-in to summer. There’s a brave stretch in the day. There is. It may be by nano-seconds, whatever they are. The sun will come up tomorrow. We poor subjects of the Sun God will bask in his favour again. We will stroll along by the harbour,on long summer evenings, eat ice-cream and think ourselves blessed. Some days we are.

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June 2014

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Stunning Views and Safety Railings. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

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Despite the widespread view that we retired people are a shower of layabouts, bleeding the country dry with our pensions, it must be admitted that we perform a vital service by railing at the radio and television.  We check for grammar, pronunciation and general fatuity and make our opinions known by constructive muttering and grumbling. This is good for releasing tension and lowering blood pressure, although it can be a bit hard on those with whom we live. They can always phone Joe, if they have a difficulty. ‘It’s a disgrace, Joe.’ Joe is our national Hyde Park Corner. He even directs the traffic.  As with Hyde park Corner, you can be drawn in by the level of outrage, the oratory and the absolute certainty of the speaker, or you can wander away, muttering under your breath. Muttering and railing give you the feeling that you have made your contribution, that the matter is in hand, that you have done your best.  Bloody disgrace. I know a man whose son says to him: ‘Look. You can hit me if it makes you feel better. You can even smash the place up, but please… please don’t…don’t..rail at me.’  Bloody kids.

Health s a big issue with radio programmes. If you haven’t heard of the disease or disorder at the start of the programme, you will definitely feel a few niggling symptoms before it is finished.  You will shut your windows for fear that a swallow with avian flu, might be passing.  A mention of ebola or lassa fever in deepest Africa, can cause disquiet. Those little microbes are out to get you. We are all doomed.  Go and get the flu jab. No, I must be fair. (The Sun was shining that morning.) The Director of Saint Patrick’s Hospital, a noted gerontologist, was interviewed recently by Seán O Rourke. Seán is good. He let him talk. The doctor spoke about all the positives of old age. I even agreed with him.  Nothing to rail about. He caught me on the hop.  Aha! but has he found the cure?  Answer me that.  Nonetheless, I felt twenty years younger.

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A long time ago, or so I was told, the Finns and the Magyars were one tribe. They spoke the same language. They moved westwards out of Asia, whereupon the tribe split in two. The Finns migrated north, taking all the vowels with them, while the Magyars kept all the consonants and settled in the Plain of Hungary. The Basques were involved somewhere as well, but they added whistling. Not so easy, without a full set of teeth. George Bernard Shaw remarked that no Englishman can open his mouth to speak, without making another Englishman despise him. Ample space for railing and grumbling there. In Ireland we merely swap the vowels around and distort them.

 The news isn’t always good. Or should I say, the knees? One lady always goes over to the knees room for the latest knees. The dismal scientists are out in force, spreading gloom. Where were they in the Forties and Fifties, eh?  I’ll tell you about gloom and depression. Recession? Bloody luxury. Anyway, a troika is a three-horse sleigh, God blast it!  The traffic reports always warn of congestion in Choom and in all the places where the blasted motorists want to drive. The weather man warns of frost by next Cheeseday. Too many eees.  I think that mine is a digital radio. The best treatment for blood pressure is the little button at the right. Depress this with a finger and you will feel better immediately.  Go for a walk. Climb a mountain. Look at the view.

Then there is afternoon television, a trap for the unwary. Please do not sit down with a cuppa and watch the telly, on a wet and windy day. By all means, have a cup of tea or coffee and watch television. I don’t mind the programmes so much. People enjoy auctions and antiques. I like a good western. I don’t mind if Fred and Gladys buy a hovel on Mildew Street and do it up for a mere £5,000. Good for them, although I’m not a great DIY man.  Trevor and Eunice are moving to  the Cotswolds. The views are stunning. It’s a stunning house, with stunning beams.  The kitchen will have to come out. They have found a wonderful little man in the village. He can do anything. All those people who lived there for the last five centuries, never understood the value of stunning granite worktops and a stunning signature tap. They have gone £200,000 over budget. Fair play to them if they have the money but I know that I would be stunned too, by the figures they throw around.

No. It’s the advertisements that get me. Michael Parkinson threatens to give me a fountain pen, if I sign up to his insurance plan and accept impending mortality. Frank Windsor used to promise a digital clock radio. I never liked the idea of watching my life’s seconds ticking away. Would that alarm wake me up, if I were to shuffle off…..etc. Bloody swindle.  Lawyers will rush to help me, if I trip in the street. I need never worry about incontinence. If I eat all the vitamins, I will be larking about in the waves with a sporty looking lady on a sunlight beach. I will even own a beach ball.  A man in a purple jetplane explains how cleaning fluids can be supersonic. He has a purple drag-racer too. Time to escape to the country.

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The upside of the recession is that the government has been advised to sell off the state’s assets. I have spotted a property, near Loughcrew, in need of some renovation. It doesn’t earn a penny for the state.  I know that we could pick it up for a few grand and whack it into shape, as long as there are not too many planning ‘issues’. We love a project. Don’t we, Darling?  (Terms of endearment are mandatory on afternoon television.) We could do a lot of the work ourselves. We met a wonderful little man in the village. We asked him if there is a B&Q in Drogheda. ‘No,’ says he, ‘but there’s two Ds in Dundalk.’  It’s a start. We can lift the roof and put in some stunning beams. Big triple-glazed windows will open onto stunning views. Lots of decking for entertaining, when friends drop round. They will have to drop up, actually. Maybe we could keep a troika for getting up the hill in wintry weather. That stone circle would make a stun…. a very nice water feature.  Solar panels to keep the environmentalists  happy.

We did a mini-mitch to London last week. It is obligatory to watch breakfast television when staying in a hotel. Now I understand ‘knees room’. Two people, a man and a woman in a short skirt, sit on a couch and sparkle at each other. She fidgets and makes futile efforts to preserve a modicum of modesty. They call in experts to read the headlines in the newspapers. The female experts tug at their hemlines and cross their legs. They go over to correspondents. They consult economists. They promised that the weatherman would explain about the Sun flipping its magnetic field, ‘in just a few minutes. Nothing to worry about.’  They went ‘back to a previous story.’ I got annoyed and flicked the remote control. Various tattooed young men were talking about their latest hit. I flicked again. A tattooed footballer was talking about football. Flick again. Environmentalists were railing against the suggestion by a politician, that local councils should maintain packs of wolves, for disposing of old people. It worked for the Plains Indians and the Inuit, in days gone by, he said.  The environmentalists objected to the introduction of non-indigenous species into Britain. (Actually, I made that last bit up.) I got worried about the Sun and impending doom, Twilight of the Gods, the End of Days and all that rot. I should have gone for that fountain pen. The weatherman was gone. I missed it. Maybe next week.

We heard no news. We went on the river and walked in Greenwich Park with Jenny and Ahmed, Justin and Vanessa. The weather was glorious. The colours were wonderful.We laughed and talked and dined well. We were minded and utterly spoilt. We were thirty years younger. Nothing to rail about at all.

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As for the Sun, so far, so good.