Saturday, May 26, 2007


There was a glow in the night sky. The clouds hung like limp sheets of heavy dampness draped above the distant dark horizon. The glow pulsated rhythmically dancing amongst the clouds, growing slowly in intensity. Inhabitants of the land which was to become Mesopotamia and later Iraq slept unaware of what was coming amongst them. The year was 8000 BC.

Friday, May 25, 2007

The hands have it.

Yesterday I had my hands read. I had my hands read and manipulated by a reflexologist. Until yesterday I had no idea what a reflexologist was, or did. Well, not surprisingly, a reflexologist is a practitioner of reflexology. Reflexology must be a science because it has an "ology" in it! Reflexology is an alternative therapy system whereby parts of the body, including internal organs can be stimulated by massaging areas on the soles of the feet and hands which are linked by energy channels to those organs. Also, by feeling and manipulating hands or feet the reflexologist can pick up on or detect disorders in these other parts of the body. I have to say that I tend to be skeptical when it comes to things like this, but after hearing positive accounts from work colleagues who had seen this same reflexologist, I decided to give it a go.
I sat down with the lady and after cleaning my hands on a wet-wipe, she applied an oily substance to my hands and began feeling, massaging and manipulating them - all very pleasant. Before any of this, I asked her how they knew about these links to other organs. The answer really was that she didn't really know, but it was an ancient knowledge going back thousands of years. I need a time machine to go back and ask the same question - and to learn the ancient language of course, otherwise how else could I ask the question?
After a couple or so minutes, she asked me to relax my shoulders, and I realised I was rather tense. I kept watching her expression wondering if she had picked up on any terrible affliction I might have but she didn't want to worry me about. Presently she spoke, asking me if I had a headache. The answer was "no" I didn't have a headache. She then told me I had blocked sinuses. This was spot on - I have suffered from blocked sinuses for as long as I can remember. She then suggested I had a problem with my ears. Again this was correct, as I am high-tone deaf and sometimes wear a hearing aid. She said I should wear it more often. She then repeated that my sinuses were really badly blocked, more so on the right side. This corresponds with my hearing loss which which is more pronounced on the right. I was waiting for her to pick up on my sciatica, but she never mentioned it. Can reflexologists detect sciatica?? - I don't know. The session ended and that was that. I feel that there may be something in reflexology. It deserves further investigation.....if I can be bothered and can find the time. I must do something about my sinuses though!

Sunday, May 20, 2007


It was a dream and it wasn't a dream. Green skin. Slit pupils. A voice - no, more a yearning calling him on. Go forward. Go forward. Meet with destiny. Meet the one who is calling - or is it the ones who call? Like being trapped in a fog. Not knowing - yet a feeling of imminent knowledge. Deep knowledge, yet for the meantime hidden. Feelings, feelings of dampness, clamminess. Shiny, scaly skins and a siren call. Mark awoke.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Fen Run

This evening I took part in a 6 mile "fun run" organised by one of the local running clubs across Farcet Fen. I am planning to run in a ten mile road race at Henlow in Bedfordshire in November. I have been going to the gym regularly training on the treadmill, doing weight training, swimming, saunering and jacouzying to keep myself fit, as well as going out training with the running club. I decided I would set myself a target of running the Henlow 10 in 70 minutes or less. This evening's run was pleasant, though tiring (no pain, no gain) over completely flat farm tracks. I decided to run it like a race to see how near I am to my target.

Following a brief briefing by the starter with the klaxon, we set out across the Fen. I decided to stick with the leading group who were the green vested "Eye" (village near Peterborough) runners. They were all about half my age. I managed to stay with them for a little over the first two miles, before the strain of keeping pace demanded I slow a little. They gradually receded from me. I looked back after a right angled corner to see the other 50 or so runners far behind me and stretching off as far as I could see. I was confident that I was making a relatively good time - or maybe (probably) the others weren't racing - it was only me.

Eventually the fifth mile marker appeared and I was into my last mile. Summoning the energy to increase my pace I cantered up to the finishing point with onlookers encouraging me on. Thankfully, it was a pub run and I was glad of the drink afterwards.

My time was 49 minutes. This means I have got to improve a lot if I am to get anywhere near my Henlow target. Maybe I need to lower my sights, I'm not as young as I used to be (who is?) ............but then.................maybe not. No pain, no gain.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Climbing Mount Probable

Just over a month ago I climbed Mither Tap in Aberdeenshire. I climbed Mither Tap because it was there, and also because it wasn't Ben Nevis. I have climbed Ben Nevis so many times now, that I feel I know every inch of it and it doesn't float my boat any more. The views are all so familiar; I know what's around every corner, how tired I should feel at any point. I've climbed Ben Nevis in various weather conditions from bright sunshine, to pouring with rain, to just downright cold and uncomfortable. Its all too familiar - that's why I climbed Mither Tap.

When I speak of climbing, I mean it in the loosest sense. I am not speaking of scaling vertical rock faces or shimmying up overhangs, using crampons and ice picks. I leave all that kind of thing to the heroes, those who have no nerves and feel no fear. When I refer to climbing, I mean it in the sense of walking, trekking, hiking - in a manner which results in a change in altitude, namely up or down the mountain.

I had been meaning to climb Mither Tap for a couple of years or so - ever since I first visited my youngest son after he moved to Aberdeen. Being a lover of mountains himself, he was keen to show me Mither Tap. This is because Mither Tap is the most prominent mountain, though not the highest, of the Bennachie Range of which it is a part. Its more a mount than a mountain; a mounlet perhaps. Whatever you choose to call it, it cries out to be climbed, standing there, beckoning and inviting.

Parking in the tourist car park in the forest at the bottom, we walked the path towards the base. At first, there is only a slight slope, so not much energy is expended. However, once out of the woods, the track becomes much steeper and you start to feel the beginnings of a challenge. It doesn't take long before you are able to stop and take in the awesome views of the surrounding countryside. Because the Bennachie massif stands alone in a gently rolling, but otherwise flat landscape, the views stretch onwards seemingly for ever to the sea. Looking northwards, features of Aberdeen can be made out.

The mountain - I will call it a mountain from now on - attracts a lot of fellow climbers. They range from toddlers barely able to walk and mainly carried by Mum or Dad, to the fitter kind of senior citizen who refuses give in to age. I'm getting a bit that way myself. Mither Tap looks like an extinct volcano; its got that conical kind of shape. I thought it was an extinct volcano. Following our descent, we - that's my youngest son and me - went into the visitor centre and looked at the displays informing visitors of the natural history and geology of the region. I was wrong. Its not a volcano, extinct, alive or just sleeping. It was actually formed over several ice ages, or glaciations. The original range was some three times the height of what we see today, but successive glaciations ground down the range and the landscape to mould it into its present form. That's an awful lot of rock to grind down! This brings home the realisation that everything is changing. Forget climate change. That is a mere blip in the greater scheme of things. Moving geological ages ahead into the future, the landscape will change again, out of all recognition to what we see today. The earth is indifferent to our efforts to control it.

Nearing the top, we found ourselves walking between walls of stones. These are the remains of defenses to the ancient hill fort dating from three thousand years ago which was built on top of the mountain. The ancient fort surrounds the granite outcrop at the summit, though only vague traces of it remain today. From the summit the views are magnificent. Looking out towards the other parts of the massif, the landscape is carpeted by hardy vegetation, dark in hue, and criss crossed by the white tracks of walkers and ramblers. There is more than one way to reach the top, and a lady stopped by to recommend approaching it from the criss cross paths below. Another day perhaps. The summit is a place to linger and ponder the beauty of the countryside around. The sky was cloudy, but not without gaps through which the shafts of sunshine painted their fleeting patterns on the countryside below. People came and went, and the the temperature seemed to drop, though probably didn't. We had ceased to move cutting off the warmth of generated body heat. It was time to go. All too soon, we were back in the car and heading back.

I do plan to revisit Ben Nevis. However, I plan to approach it not from the familiar tourist track as before, but this time from the other side, along the ridges. Maybe then, my boat will float again!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Dances with Spiders

Aren't spiders wonderful? Some people love them, some people hate them. I am somewhere between the two, but leaning more towards the latter. I've never had a problem with money spiders - they're too small and supposed to bring you good fortune. I did have a problem with a big black spider which came racing up my bed sheets when I was a child after I had just gone to bed. I was reading one of my favourite comic books before putting the light out. The moment I caught sight of this uninvited guest, something primordial inside of me screamed in abject terror and I was out of that bed a lot quicker than I got into it! My dad, hearing my hapless cries of distress finally came up and flattened it under the heel of a shoe. I slept very uneasily that night!
Some years later, I photographed the fellow pictured on the right. Although you can't tell from the photo, its about half the size of an adult hand, green body with yellow markings and red spots. He's (or she's - do spiders have gender???) a tree spider I photographed from a respectable distance with a telephoto lens. Even then, I couldn't stop shaking. At the time he was suspended on his web which was spread between two trees near to where I was living in Singapore. They can give you a nasty bite, though I am told they are not fatal. A few days after this shot was taken, a friend of mine, not seeing the web, ran through the centre of it and spotted the spider when it was perched on the middle of his chest. He panicked when he saw it, and the spider very quickly met an untimely end! On another occasion, I was standing under a tree, when one of these same spiders dropped out of the branches and landed on my right shoulder. I felt it land, but my friend (the one just mentioned) told me to stand still and don't move. I didn't know at this stage it was a tree spider sat on my shoulder! If I had, I probably wouldn't be here now writing about it - I'd be dead with shock!! He then grapped a thick magazine, rolled it up, and zapped it off my shoulder. On yet another occasion, again in Singapore, I was sat on the toilet at the "Halfway House" Restaurant and Bar at Bukit Timah. I was sat very peacefully, when something black caught my peripheral vision. Turning my head to look at the wall beside me was a big black, hairy, fat bodied man-eating shit a brick spider! Well, I can tell you, I have never left a toilet in such a panic and at such speed in my life! In 2004, I took my wife on holiday to Singapore. Asking a local where all the spiders were - I hadn't spotted one, he told me there wasn't any! Somewhat surprised I asked him why, and he told me that some years previous, the government had taken a decision to spray the island to destroy all the crawlie nasties! No doubt, this was a ruse to attract more visitors to the island, including arachnaphobics! Sometimes money is more important than wildlife!
A couple of weeks ago, my wife asked me to clean out the garden shed - I get all the good jobs. Garden sheds are notorious for housing various varieties of our arachnid friends, and this fact probably had something to do with my wife asking me to do it! Well, I can tell you the place was crawling with them. I vacuumed them all up with our old cylinder vacuum cleaner. The bag was writhing with spiders when I deposited it in the wheelie bin. The shed was devoid of spiders. Long may it be so - but I doubt it!