Archives for category: stuff

On a walk today with my teenage kids, I found myself talking at length about science and astronomy: meteor impacts, dinosaurs, evolution, genetics, putting humans in space, the prospect of alien life. I was on a roll. This is the kind of stuff I have been interested in since I was a kid. The whizz-bang story of how we got here and where we are going. Like a great opera, the story of our universe stretches across spacial dimensions and time scales that are literally incomprehensible to the human mind. This is the stuff of dreams, of awakening, of wonder.

It got me thinking: as an occasional sceptical communicator, am I doing it wrong? Are we, as skeptics, sometimes doing it wrong?

Important though scepticism is, there is an unavoidable negativity about it. We are in the business of bursting balloons, raining on parades and exposing emperor’s clothes, when the science and evidence tell a different story. We are the debunkers, the critics, the nay-sayers. We play the bad cop, leaving ourselves open to anger, ridicule, smears and legal threats. We lose friends and find ourselves isolated, simply because we dare challenge an orthodoxy that is based on nothing more than wishful thinking. Conflict is inevitable, because many people have built reputations and fortunes on magical thinking and delusions. 

I greatly value scepticism, but I didn’t arrive at scepticism from day one. First came the wonder; the amazement that came with science and discovery. Astronomy was my passion, and remains so to this day. The scepticism appeared later, when I started to appreciate the importance of science, how it was being misrepresented and how easy it is for us to be fooled by empty rhetoric and soothing words. Scepticism is incredibly important, but without a sense of wonder it can be a very difficult message to convey.

Maybe as a sceptic, I need to spend more time talking about the things that got me into science in the first place, and less time, at least up front, pointing out the flaws in other people’s thinking. Persuasion is rarely accomplished by enemies or rivals. It’s easier to accomplish when you are a friend. So much science is accessible and uncontroversial, that this should be the main ingredient of science-based conversations. Give people a chance to feel your passion; to sense your humanity. Then you have a much better chance to open their minds to other ideas and help reconsider their beliefs.

The most powerful science communicators talk about their passions first and foremost. They are successful communicators because people have a sense of affection for them. Their thoughts on scepticism come later, often only when trust is long established. 

There is a lesson here for me: to talk more forthrightly about my passions, to give the listeners a chance to get to know me and to allow respect to flow both ways. It’s easy, it’s fun and there is a better chance that they will take on board the important messages we need to convey.

Among the things I think about sometimes is how we got here as a species, and where we’re going.

We tend to think of ourselves as a young species, having only discovered writing (and with it, history itself) in the past 5,000 years, and civilisation (with its permanent monuments) 5,000 years before that. Earlier than this, our history as a race of humans goes quite dark. Archaeology tells us a few things, but the further back we go, all we have are fragments from our past. We can quite easily forget that we are a very old creature indeed. How long ago was it since we discovered language, since we started singing, since we started praying, since we discovered a sense of humour? It’s hard to say, yet it’s quite probable that such traits predate homo sapiens, going back through multiple ancestral species. Were we to travel back a couple of million years, maybe we would still see ourselves in our austrolopithical forebears.

I remember reading a book some time ago, that one group of our ancestors (or possibly close cousins) spent over a million years fashioning an early stone tool with practically no development in all that time. That’s tens of thousands of generations just hammering away with little sense of innovation. They were rooted in the animal world – lives full of fury, struggle and passion, but not one given to legacy or creative accomplishment. Maybe there were stirrings there. Maybe, every so often, one of them came up with an idea, but they were quickly hit over the head, or eaten by a lioness, before that idea (or their genes) had a chance to spread. 

I ask myself if that’s where we’re ultimately going back to. If anything has been successful in the long term on this planet, it’s been that patient toiling away with little progress through the generations. Among all the animals, a sense of constructive wonder seems to be selected against. In the single case where it has succeeded, it’s lead to an exponential increase in technological development, resulting in a potentially untenable situation full of nuclear weapons, over-population, resource depletion, multi-species extinction and the prospect of disastrous climate change. Maybe our ultimate fate (if we survive this time at all) is a return back to the animal realm. Maybe, 90,000 generations hence, our distant children will be back in the trees, or scurrying around in holes, or hammering again on rocks with little thought for art and music. 

I think about the last person in that line, looking around at her species and wondering about it all, before death finally takes her away and the universe once again becomes dim and distant to humanity.

On holidays in the UK when it happened. Hadrian’s Wall. I had no idea something big had occurred until I got back into the car for the trip back to the rented cottage in the Lake District. 
We picked up the thread of events from BBC radio. It still wasn’t clear whether the attacks were over or still ongoing. How many planes overall? Were there more horrors yet to unfold? Reports were coming in from Pennsylvania. Another plane, burning in the woods. Further collapses at the WTC. Who, what, why: unknown.
I remember that sinking, horrible feeling of powerlessness and fear; mystified at the depths to which humanity will go. Like staring into the abyss. I had felt this before, but never with such intensity. Thousands dead. How many thousands? They didn’t know. The journey was one of silence, interspersed with the occasional expletive. 
It was late that evening before we saw the TV images. The fires, the collapses. Images nailed into our collective consciousness forever.
I remember thinking: if this is what religion is capable of, I’ve had it with religion. I’ve since extended this to all kinds of political ideologies. A curse on all their houses.
I wish we could say this was the worst thing we would ever witness, but the catalogue of horror remains an open book. 
ūüĆĻ

My thoughts on the Gardasil meeting in Ballincollig this evening. This is going to be a long post, sorry!
It was well attended, maybe 150 people there. A large audience in any case. 
The speakers were Jill, a lady who had cervical cancer some years back, Matt Hewitt, a consultant gynaecological oncologist in Cork, and Professor Margaret Stanley, emeritus professor of Ephithelial biology in the University of Cambridge. Jill talked about her own experience of cervical cancer. Dr Hewitt discussed the cancer itself, its treatment, its prognosis, and how current diagnostic techniques (e.g. smear tests) were inadequate. Professor Stanley talked about the vaccine, how it works and the evidence to date of its effectiveness and safety. The meeting was then opened for questions. Dr. Robert O’Connor, from the Irish Cancer Society, chaired the meeting.
The meeting was broadcasted on Facebook and a video of the meeting can be seen at this address. https://www.facebook.com/IrishCancerSociety/
I thought all the speakers did a very good job in presenting the case for the vaccine, although what the attraction was with Comic Sans font is, I will never know. Dr Hewitt was really matter of fact. Although he is often gratified by cases such as Jill’s, he has to tell one person each week that they will die due to cervical cancer. The prognosis after Stage III is really poor. He talked about how the smear test was not perfect and that, outside of the developed world, the infrastructure was simply not there to perform smear tests on women, so cervical cancer rates are still very high. A vaccination programme would address many of these issues.
Dr Stanley spoke about the vaccines and the science. She discussed the different strains of HPV, calling out HPV 16 and HPV 18 as the really bad ones. Over 80% of people will be infected by HPV at some time of their life, but only a small percentage of these will go on to develop lesions and cancer. HPV is not only responsible for cervical cancer, but also anal cancer, penile cancer, neck and throat cancers also, and of course, genital warts. She talked about how cervical cancer was particularly a problem for younger women under 35, as it is still difficult to detect and diagnose cancers in this age group. The current Gardasil vaccine hits four types of HPV, but trials are underway for a vaccine that addresses 9 types of the virus – addressing 90% of issues cause by the virus.
The vaccine is currently administered in 3 doses for people over 15, and in 2 doses for people under 15. Most girls in Ireland now get 2 doses. The variance in the doses is because children under exhibit much better immune responses than adults. Across the EU, Ireland is no different than other countries in the age at which young teens receive the vaccine. Results from Australia have been very encouraging, with big drops in cancers and warts. Now Australian boys are receiving the vaccine as part of the overall programme. To date 230 million doses have been given to 85 million people and the health outcomes continued to be monitored intensively by the various regulatory authorities around the world. 
There are 2 ways to monitor the outcomes – passively, by checking the self-reporting through individuals and doctors, and actively, by comparing vaccinated populations with unvaccinated populations, and checking if there is any overall difference between these groups. To date, regulatory authorities across the world are satisfied that the vaccines are safe. They will continue to review the data on an annual basis. Professor Stanley also mentioned that vaccines tend to have very specific side-effects, and the side effects being reported about Gardasil are not consistent with these. What is not at issue is that children do get sick during childhood and some illnesses are debilitating and long lasting. In some cases, children get sick after having had the vaccine, but the question is whether this is caused by the vaccine, or a co-incidence. Research, based on over 100,000 girls presenting to Emergency Rooms in America, then matched against when the girls received the vaccines, is that the vaccines are not causing the illnesses. 
One of the points made by Professor Stanley was that in all trials, all deaths are monitored for 5 years, whether they be from suicide, illness or car accidents. I think one woman in the audience thought that the vaccine was causing all these deaths. That was not at all what the Professor has said. Deaths occurred with equal likelihood whether people took the vaccine or not.
Q&A
One woman lamented Andrew Wakefield having being responsible for the re-emergence of measles. True, but somewhat off-topic.
Another woman was devastated that her daughter, who was very ill, had been given 3 doses of the vaccine instead of 2. Yes, this is called science. The vaccine schedule was changed when it was found that the girls did not need a third dose. She seemed to be of the belief that the 3rd dose was an overdose, which is a misunderstanding of how vaccines work. 
Then we had a shouter. This woman also has a very sick daughter and she started shouting about how the HSE does not show the information leaflet and shouting how if she had read the information leaflet she would not have allowed the vaccine to be administered. I could hear murmurs of agreement with her from the audience. “Let her speak, etc”. REGRET have made a connection between the information leaflet and the illnesses affecting their children, despite the face that information leaflets must show all reported side effects, whether or not there have been any studies to examine the linkages. She was shouting down the speakers and it took a short while to get further questions. 
Another woman asked about the Number Needed To Treat, suggesting that 250 to 300 vaccines needed to be administered to prevent just one extra HPV case. The number given by the doctors was 159. While this still seems like a very small number, it was pointed out that it’s higher for pre-cancers. In any case we should also remember that cervical cancer is not a common disease in the population, but nevertheless devastating to those people who do develop it. Paralytic Polio also had similar treatment numbers.
The next woman got very agitated about her boys getting the vaccine. To her, the vaccine seemed like an invitation for her 13 year old boys to have oral sex. Um… no.
Heather then spoke. Heather also had cancer. “If I thought I could have a vaccine, I would absolutely urge people to go for it”. Yay Heather. Big clap for her too. 
Jackie wanted to know if the Australian vaccine was the same as the one in Ireland. Yep.
Another woman asked about Gardasil 9 and whether it was available in Ireland. The answer is no, not yet. 
The final question was about bad reactions in animals. Dr O’Connor explained that the doses given to animals were often far greater than those given to humans and that there was no evidence of it being an issue. 
The Q&A then came to an end among more shouting, but also a very big clap for the speakers. REGRET did not have it all their way tonight, despite a clear attempt by Shouty Woman to hijack the meeting at one stage. Apparently there was far more disruption at the Galway meeting, bordering on a security incident.
I spoke briefly to Dr O’Connor and Professor Stanley afterwards. Very nice people. I didn’t see any of the REGRET people speaking to them, but they may have. Shouty Woman was holding court with some of her team towards the back of the room.

A whole field of ragwort near the Two Mile Inn by Midleton / N25. Ragwort is classified as a noxious weed, capable of causing liver damage to any animal that eats it. Each plant produces 50,000 to 200,000 seeds, so this field will produce literally billions of seeds in the coming days and weeks. This is about as bad as I have ever seen.

For more information about ragwort:

http://www.ihwt.ie/site2/welfare-campaigns/welfare-information-tips/797-2/

http://www.independent.ie/business/farming/keep-your-land-free-from-fatal-ragwort-26647422.html

http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/time-to-weed-out-ragwort-and-japanese-knotweed-1.956953

http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/eli/1936/act/38/enacted/en/print

 

 

 

Just because something happened before it, doesn’t mean it caused it.

Just because a footballer forgot to bless himself before a game, doesn’t mean that’s why they lost the match.

Just because a screaming sound was heard in the middle of the night, doesn’t mean your granduncle is going to die.

Just because a vaccine was given doesn’t necessarily mean it caused a sickness at a later date.

Other things: a virus, an infection, the ageing and growth process, genetics, a stressful situation, other people, might have caused it too. 

Trying to figure out root cause is really, really difficult, but if you rush to a conclusion about cause, without doing the hard work, chances are you are going to be wrong.

The hard work, trying to figure out causes? We call that science.

And that is why you need to bring in scientific voices and scientific studies when you are discussing issues like vaccines, because they are the only people who have done the work to assess root cause.

Let me reiterate that. They are the only people who have done the hard work. They are the only people who must take the emotion out of it, who must control for bias, who must look at all the data, who must go about it the right way, in order to be taken seriously. They get penalised for taking short cuts, something that doesn’t happen when we give our opinions or talk about our experience.

If you exclude the scientific consensus and scientific voices from a discussion on vaccines, or if you think it’s “just another opinion”, then you are biasing the discussion. No ifs, no buts. 

If you exclude the scientific consensus, you are not looking at the whole picture. And, you might be scaring people without just cause.

In the beginning, we were Important.

God made a whole Universe, just for us.

He spent a few days at it, then we arrived.

Us, the pinnacle of his creation.

 

He told us not to fuck around

And not to fuck with Him

Do that, and we could live forever,

Because we were Important.

 

Life was simple with God.

Somewhat shit,

And somewhat short,

But uncomplicated.

Anyway, Important people¬†shouldn’t ask questions.

 

Then a Polish priest asked a question.

What if?

What if we were not Centre of the Universe,

But off a bit, to the side?

Ever since, that’s been the story.

More questions,  more sidelining.

Turns out we’re not that Important after all.

 

This made a lot of people Very Angry.

But what about Creation?

And what about the Rules?

And Life after Death?

And what about God?

Good questions,

From people not supposed to ask them.

 

So here we are, not Important,

Life’s not so simple anymore

But better,

And full of hope.

We’re important to each other

And that’s what counts.

 

 

Ten Years Ago (2006)

Twitter is launched. Saddam Hussein is executed. A terrorist bombing campaign in Mumbai kills 209 people. The New Horizons mission is launched towards Pluto. In the same year, Pluto is no longer classified as a planet. Former Irish Taoiseach, Charles Haughey, dies. Opening of the Dublin Port Tunnel. Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin is killed by a stingray in the Great Barrier Reef.

Twenty Years Ago (1996)

The Docklands bombing in London signals an end to the 1994 IRA ceasefire. Chess champion Gary Kasparov is beaten by a computer. The Dunblane massacre takes place in Scotland. The Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, is arrested in Montana. An IRA gang kills Detective Jerry McCabe in Co. Clare. Journalist Veronica Guerin is killed in Dublin. Dolly the Sheep, the first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell, is born. Prince Charles and Diana are formally divorced. Fox News TV channel is launched in the US. Death of science advocate Carl Sagan. Divorce is legalised in Ireland.

Thirty Years Ago (1986)

Space Shuttle Challenger explodes, 73 seconds after take-off from Cape Canaveral. A fire at the Chernobyl nuclear facility in the Ukraine causes a nuclear meltdown. Spain and Portugal join the European Union. Swedish prime-minister Olof Palme is assassinated. Diego Maradona scores his “Hand of God” goal against England in the Mexico World Cup; then goes on to score the “Goal of the Century“. Thousands are suffocated after a massive release of carbon dioxide from Cameroon’s Lake Nyos. The M25 Motorway is opened in London. Death of Thin Lizzy frontman, Phil Lynott. ¬†Jack Charlton becomes manager of the Ireland football team. A referendum introducing divorce in Ireland is defeated.

Forty Years Ago (1976)

The deadliest earthquake of the 20th Century occurs in Tangshan, China; over 250,000¬†people perish. The Concorde supersonic jet takes passengers for the first time. The Apple Computer Company is formed by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. The Cultural Revolution in China comes to an end with the death of Chairman Mao. Police clash with thousands of rioting youths in Soweto, South Africa.¬†The Viking I¬†and Viking II landers arrive on the surface of Mars. Israeli forces free 102 hostages from a hijacked plane in Entebbe, Uganda. The Supreme Court of the United States reinstates the death penalty. The first known outbreak of Ebola occurs in Zaire. An advertisement in Mount Temple Comprehensive School in Dublin leads to the formation of the rock band U2. President of Ireland, Cearbhall O’Dalaigh, resigns after being called a “thundering disgrace”.

Fifty Years Ago (1966)

Nelson’s Pillar is blown up by the IRA in Dublin. Soviet spacecraft land on the Moon, crash-land on Venus and go into orbit around the Moon. Ian Brady and Myra Handley are convicted of the Moors Murders. The beginning of the Cultural Revolution in China. The Beach Boys release Pet Sounds. They think it’s all over… England beats West Germany 4-2 in the World Cup Final in Wembley. The Beatles hold their last commercial concert in San Francisco. The first episode of Star Trek airs on US TV. A coal mine landslide in Aberfan, Wales, kills 116 school children. Walt Disney dies. The Vatican formally abolish their list of banned books.

Sixty Years Ago (1956)

Elvis Presley hits the US Charts for the first time. Pakistan, Tunisia¬†and¬†Morocco¬†become independent countries. The first Eurovision Song Contest takes place in Lugano, Switzerland. The Hungarian Revolt takes place and is violently suppressed by Soviet Russia. Brendan Behan becomes the first person in the world to say “fuck” on a television programme. Egypt nationalises the Suez Canal and is attacked by Israel, France and Britain.¬†Shockley, Bardeen, and Brattain win the Nobel Physics Prize for their invention of the transistor.

Seventy Years Ago (1946)

The electronics company that would eventually become Sony is formed in Japan. Jordan¬†and¬†the Philippines¬†become independent countries. Italy becomes a republic. Senior Nazis are executed in Nuremberg. William Joyce, a.k.a. “Lord Haw Haw“, is executed in Wandsworth Prison. The United Nations meets for the first time – UNICEF and UNESCO founded the same year. Science fiction novelist H.G. Wells dies.

Eighty Years Ago (1936)

Nazi Germany re-occupies the Rhineland. Josef Stalin begins his Great Purge in Russia – an estimated 680,000 people are executed over the following 2 years. The Spanish Civil War begins after an attempt to oust the elected government of Manuel Azana. ¬†Edward VIII abdicates after proposing to marry Wallace Simpson. Construction of the Hoover Dam is completed. Aer Lingus is founded as the Irish national airline. Alan Turing lays down the basis of machine based computing with his paper “On Computable Numbers“. Margaret Mitchell’s novel, “Gone With The Wind” is published in America. The first Olympic Games to be televised live takes place in Berlin. At the games,¬† Jesse Owens wins the 100m sprint, much to the chagrin of Adolf Hitler. The thylacine goes extinct in Tasmania.

Ninety Years Ago (1926)

Ireland’s first radio service (later RTE) began broadcasting. John Logie Baird demonstrates his mechanical television system. Fianna F√°il political party founded by √Čamon DeValera. AA Milne publishes Winnie the Pooh. Magician Harry Houdini dies after a ruptured appendix. The NBC radio network starts operation in the US. Violet Gibson shoots Benito Mussolini three times while he was sitting in his car. The main Chicago to Los Angeles route is named Route 66. Birth of David Attenborough.

One Hundred Years Ago (1916)

The Battle of Verdun, the Battle of Jutland and the Battle of the Somme in World War I Рover 1 million men are killed or injured in the Battle of the Somme alone.  The Easter Rising breaks out in Dublin and is suppressed by British forces within 5 days. Many of the ringleaders are executed. Ernest Shackleton and 5 companions complete a hazardous boat journey from Elephant Island to South Georgia. BMW motor company is founded in Germany. Murder of Grigori Rasputin in Russia.

Two Hundred Years Ago (1816)

This is The Year Without A Summer across the Northern Hemisphere as a result of the eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815. Argentina declares independence from Spain. Humphrey Davy introduces the safety lamp into coal mines. The stethoscope is invented by René Laennec. Mary Shelley starts writing Frankenstein. Indiana becomes the 19th US State.

Three Hundred Years Ago (1716)

The old monarchies of Spain are dissolved and Spain becomes a single unified country. The leaders of the Jacobite Rising of 1715 in Britain are executed. The first lighthouse is built in America.

Four Hundred Years Ago (1616)

Willem Schouten rounds the tip of South America and names it Cape Horn. Death of shŇćgun Tokugawa Ieyasu in Japan. Catholic theologians declare that Copernicus’s¬†idea of the Earth orbiting the Sun¬†is “foolish and absurd“; Copernicus’s book is banned. Deaths of William Shakespeare¬†and¬†Miguel De Cervantes. Pocahontas arrives in England. Construction of the Blue Mosque is completed in Istanbul.

Five Hundred Years Ago (1516)

The disparate kingdoms of Spain are united under the Habsburg monarch Charles V.¬†¬†The Beer Purity Laws are¬†instituted in Germany, limiting the ingredients to water, hops and barley. Thomas More publishes Utopia. Spanish explorers reach the Rio La Plata. A Dominican monk travels to Germany to sell indulgences for the reconstruction of St. Peter’s Basilica. This turns out to be a very bad idea.

Six Hundred Years Ago (1416)

Execution of Jerome of Prague at the Council of Constance. Jerome was a follower of Jan Hus who had been executed for heresy the previous year. Ma Huan writes his account of the Chinese age of exploration.

Seven Hundred Years Ago (1316)

A Great Famine rages across Europe. The Bruce Campaign devastates Ireland. Death of Alauddin Khilji of India Рone of the few rulers who defeated the Mongols during his reign.

Eight Hundred Years Ago (1216)

Death of King John of England of Magna Carta fame. Foundation of the Dominican Order.

One Thousand Years Ago (1016)

Death of Æthelred the Unready. King Cnut of the Danes assumes the Kingship of England.

Two Thousand Years Ago (AD 16)

Roman general Germanicus defeats the Germanic army of Armenius in retaliation for the massacre of the Teutoburg Forest in AD 9.

Two Thousand Four Hundred Years Ago (BC 384)

Aristotle is born.

 

On the First Day of Richmas, Richard Dawkins Tweeted Me

 

On the Second Day of Richmas, Richard Dawkins Tweeted Me

 

On the Third Day of Richmas, Richard Dawkins Tweeted Me

 

On the Fourth Day of Richmas, Richard Dawkins Tweeted Me

 

On the Fifth Day of Richmas, Richard Dawkins Tweeted Me

 

On the Sixth Day of Richmas, Richard Dawkins Tweeted Me

 

On the Seventh Day of Richmas, Richard Dawkins Tweeted Me

 

On the Eight Day of Richmas, Richard Dawkins Tweeted Me

 

On the Ninth Day of Richmas, Richard Dawkins Tweeted Me

 

On the Tenth Day of Richmas, Richard Dawkins Tweeted Me

 

On the Eleventh Day of Richmas, Richard Dawkins Tweeted Me

 

On the Twelfth Day of Richmas, Richard Dawkins Tweeted Me

 

Twelve Prize Winnings,
Eleven Old Men Griping,
Ten Pedophiles Equating,
Nine Date Rapes Comparing,
Eight Abortions Advising,
Seven Hero’s¬†Presuming,
Six Violence Implying,

Five Free Beheadings,

Four Clockwork Bombs,
Three Tribesmen,
Two Normal Curves,
And Religion as a Terminal Disease.

 

 

I recently arrived at my 48th year on this planet. With a good bit of luck, I can make it to 2050. Thirty five years. It’s as far away from me now as 2015 was when I was 12 years old.

In 1980, people wore jeans, t-shirts and runners. They had colour TVs, digital watches and Tupperware. Star Wars was already a thing. The big difference, of course, was computerisation and mobile technology, but even so, there was a familiarity about those times. In the same way, 2050 may not be too foreign to modern sensibilities when it eventually arrives. We are well on our way to this future date.

By now, it should be obligatory for me to tell you that the years fly by too quickly, and that I remember the 1980s like they happened yesterday. But honestly, it was a long time ago. I was a child back then. I can’t lay claim to that title anymore, however hard I have tried to delay the onset of adulthood.

I think this feeling of ‘tempus fugit’ is something of a delusion. Life doesn’t fly by as fast as we think it does. Days might whizz by, but there are a few hundred of them in each year. It’s a lot of time. 10 years is a whole heap of time and 30 years practically an eternity. It’s just that our brains make the past seem so much closer than it really is.

I’m pretty sure that this sense of time passing by quickly is a function of a memory system that best remembers the things we remember the most. Music, particularly the most popular tunes, seem recent only because we hear them often. So too with places visited regularly, like my mother’s home, or local schools and shopping centres. We recall distant events there clearly only because we are minded to remember them quite often. The gap in time is shortened only because we frequently remember the memory, not the event itself.

Maybe it’s where I am now in my life. With my children now passing into teenagehood, I seem to remember their earlier years as a transient blur. But in reality, I don’t think it was quite so speedy. There was plenty enough time there for my father to fall sick and pass away; for my marriage to crash-land and for a while, chaos to take the place of security. It’s just that I have forgotten so much. Perhaps that’s the real tragedy of ageing: so many experiences have been scattered to the four winds. What remains now are bare threads.

Life is long. It’s long enough for us to make big mistakes and to recover from them. It’s long enough to breach the surface after diving the depths of despair. It’s long enough to see green shoots where once there was bare earth. Even in middle-age, there is still time to find peace; to make life more livable for those around us; perhaps to yet follow our dreams. 

Despite the awfulness of forgetting, maybe  there is more time there than we normally appreciate. And in that, I think, there is hope.

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